Covid 19 Calico Stockpile Soup

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Covid 19 Calico Stockpile Soup

One of the many customized recipes I created while learning how to cook again after my Traumatic Brain Injury. I named this one after the Covid 19 Pandemic when I decided to use it as my launch recipe. It feeds a crowd and can be frozen for later. Follow my blog for more recipes in the future by signing up for email notifications. Check out some of my other stories and WELCOME TO THE JOURNEY!

 

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Ingredients:

From the Pantry:

24 oz. Jar of your Favorite Pasta Sauce

32 oz. Box of Beef or Vegetable Broth

2 Small Cans Petite Diced Tomatoes 

1 Can Kidney Beans – Drained

1 Can Great White Northern Beans – Drained

1 Can Black Beans – Drained 

1 Cup Ditalini Pasta – Uncooked (optional)

1/2 tsp. Tabasco Sauce (optional)

Salt & Pepper – To Taste

 

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Fresh Vegetables:

1- 1.5 Cups Sliced Carrots

1/2 – 1 Cup Chopped Celery

1 Large Onion – Finely Chopped

Meat: (Optional) – Choose One

1/4 – 1.5 lbs. Ground Beef – Browned

1 Cooked Chicken Breast – Shredded or finely diced.

2 Large Cans Chicken – Drained

1 Cup Water

Instructions:

Prepare pasta according to directions on box. Be careful not to overcook. Rinse with cold water and add a little oil to keep pasta from sticking together. Set aside in refrigerator.

Combine all other ingredients in a large 6-8 quart crock pot. 

Place on low, covered for 8 -10 hours or overnight. 

Add Pasta before serving. Or, cool and add pasta before freezing or serving later.

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My Tips:

*I like to limit the ground beef to 1/4 – 1/2 lb. 

*Sometimes I omit the pasta or the meat but never both. 

*I particularly enjoy this specific shape of pasta but others can be used.

*I often freeze the entire recipe in individual servings for quick lunches/sides.

*This recipe is very forgiving on amounts and options. Have Fun and ENJOY! 

Copyright: unveilingbeauty.net (Sandy Gruhlke) Please send your friends and family to my blog site to discover this recipe instead of infringing on copyright laws. Thank you!

Baggage Claim

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As I drove back to the hotel on my way back from visiting the church my reflective mood was interrupted. “I think that’s the exit we use to take coming home from church,” I said aloud. 

No one was in the car with me but this deja vu forced the words right out my mouth. I glanced in my mirrors and took the Second Street exit. The immediate right onto a one way street came quickly, followed by another right.

I found myself in the parking lot of the small apartment building my husband and I once called home.

 

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The lot was flanked by car ports to the right and concrete parking stops on the left, which pushed right up to the property line of the neighboring complex. Anxiously, I turned the rental car around, facing the building.

After clicking the console shift into park, a rush of excitement took my breath away, flooding me with emotions.

I felt like I’d run into a dear friend from the past and we were embracing after a long separation. The deep breath I took allowed just enough space for weeping to begin. I calmed myself, brushed away the tears instantantly, as if embarrassed, and then got out of the car and walked a short distance to the building. 

As I climbed the nine steps to the first unit, memories of carrying groceries up those stairs swept through my mind. A wobbling wrought iron railing distracted me while the pitted concrete landing told me this was no longer the level of housing we had enjoyed when we lived here.

 

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Approaching the door, I contemplated what to do next but before I could stop myself, my fingers were curling and knocking on the door. I barely waited before taking hold of the knob.

It was unlocked.

Should I go in? 

Something told me to stop.

This hadn’t been my front door for nineteen years and though I wanted badly to look inside, I let go. 

 

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Turning, I walked back down the steps, returned to the car, and headed toward the hotel once again. 

This was my first long distance trip without my husband and children. The opportunity rising out of a wedding invitation.

The bride was a triplet, one of the children in the daycare where I worked during the first years of our marriage when my husband was employed as a Youth Pastor. 

 

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Over the years, the triplet’s mother and I exchanged annual Christmas cards so I decided it would be fun to attend the wedding and see this family again.

The girls were all grown up and I knew their mother and I would talk as if no time had passed at all.

And we did.

Not long after my flight arrived she met up with me at the hotel I was staying and it truly was as if all the yesterdays became one moment in time. 

But the day after, which was the day before the wedding and just prior to my unplanned stop at our former apartment, I had ventured out to visit the church where my husband and I served.

Seeing the church again began the stirring of memories I had long forgotten. It all came rushing back once I pulled onto the black top parking lot of the church. 

 

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Meeting up with groups to board busses or cars destined for work days at  camp, weekend retreats, or gatherings in homes.

The sound of thunderous feet running up the back staircase to the upper level youth area echoed past the decades as I entered the building. 

 

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My mind’s eye pictured my husband’s office cubical partitioned off in the corner of the large youth room, his desk beckoning students to visit the nut machine I had given him for his birthday. It was a manual version so when kids stopped in for mentorship or a quick chat, they always left with a handful of chocolate candy covered peanuts. We still had that nut machine though it never again housed those little invites to come and chat with Pastor Dan.

 

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The memories sparked by visiting the church building and then our apartment caused me to reminisce beyond my husband’s role and my job as a daycare teacher.

After arriving back at the hotel I spent the rest of the afternoon in my room preparing my clothes and thinking back on why we left this thriving church and community of believers who had embraced us “northerners” as their own.

 

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As most “pastor’s wives” in the 1980’s, I was heavily involved with church activities, especially with the youth but other events as well. Even after I started working in the daycare at a neighbor church, I was able to prioritize my pastor’s wife role at our church.

We were happily building a life around ministry, except when we were unpacking our relationship. We were young newly-weds, only married six months when we moved and began our ministry.  

Having grown up in the church we both imagined ministry to be a destination rather than the journey it is. We thought our dreams of full-time ministry would  be completely fulfilling.

But our lives weren’t perfectly happy and we didn’t understand why. Seeking help never entered our thoughts.Back then asking for help would have meant we were spiritually unstable and therefore not able to serve in leadership.

Neither of us knew we were experiencing normal adjustments to marriage, ministry, and a bit of loneliness for our families.We thought something was wrong with us.

So, my husband resigned, thinking himself not fit for ministry. 

 

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By the time I had finished ironing my clothing for the rehearsal dinner and wedding, I was in tears again.

I never realized how much it meant to stand next to my husband in ministry. I never knew I missed this place so much.

I missed the friendships we started, and being all on our own states away from our families. I longed for the position I held for that short eighteen months.

Not the status of being a pastor’s wife, but the opportunity to be confided in by those precious young people searching for significance and energized by every moment in life. 

 

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I missed the all-nighters, the missions trips, and our adult volunteers. The sleepless nights guarding dorm doors, and the exhaustion that followed those week long trips. I missed it all. But most of all I wondered what could have been. What would our lives have become had we stayed?

Setting this all aside, I attended the rehearsal dinner, and then tried to meet up with one of the youth volunteers who I had become quite close to when we lived here. However, after several attempts navigating road construction and the lateness of night, we missed each other. Since she and I were attending different weddings the same day, and I was flying home early the following morning, the opportunity slipped away as quickly as the years since we last saw each other. 

The wedding celebrations were sweet and lovely and everything beginnings should be. At the reception I was seated at the family table, right next to the Mother of the Bride. It was beautiful to see the “girls” again. They were only four when we left. I still cherish the catching up conversation with their mother the day I arrived. I indeed felt like family. 

The very same way our church had welcomed us, long ago, like family. I was so glad for this trip. The hugs, laughter, and even the unexpected closure I was so unaware I needed. But I was missing my boys now and looking forward to being home.

As I packed my suitcase the next day, I realized the loss of our dreams had been masked by moving back to our home state. Our jobless careers, diminishing bank account, and the ease of being close to family was a distraction from the pain. Starting over so soon after having just begun, even at our young age, was troublesome for us at times.

After five years of seasonal jobs, substitute teaching, paying school debts, and replenishing our savings, we were able to buy a house five minutes from the teaching jobs that finally came our way. 

Zipping my bag closed, I purposely left some things out. I left those dreams. I left my definition of what ministry is. I left the disappointment and grief I had unknowingly held so close for so long.

And into the side pocket of my bag, I placed the jewels of thankfulness for what this place and these people had meant to us. For the impact we made and the opportunity it was. 

When my husband and young sons greeted me in the baggage claim area, it was hugs all around, probably twice. They had no idea the journey I had been on. But God knew. I was starting over once again. This time with a lighter load.

 

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We didn’t know for many years, but God wanted us in a different kind of ministry. He wanted me to work with parents of young families and He wanted my husband to look eye to eye with five year olds, speaking their language and hearing their voice in ways no one else could, except for him. 

Now, thirteen years later, we are settling in to more thankfulness for what God did even when we did not understand and when our hearts ached to be in church work.

Thankfulness for our individual careers impacting thousands of families. 

For the times I see a Mom in the grocery store and she stops to ask me how I am because one day long ago she reached out to me when she thought no one else could hear her story. 

For the times when former students request my husband so their kid can be in his classroom too. And all the other faces and names we both see imbedded in between the letter sounds and counting cubes, parenting tips, lesson plans, screening tools, science experiments, and wonderment of young children.

But mostly, I’m thankful to have been an eyewitness to over 30 years of public school teaching, and hearing children call my husband, “Mr. G.”

 

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What I Learned in 2019

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Last year at this time I was lamenting over not finishing my book and failing to post on my blog regularly the previous year. I took heart though, and looked at what I DID accomplish in 2018. Self care had over taken my life.

(You can read about that here What I REALLY Did Last Year)

Though disappointing, I knew it had propelled me farther than any words in books or blogs could have. I determined to move forward with the writing knowing this and feeling energized by it as well.

 

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Now the sunrise of 2020 is here. No finished book, even less blog posts than in 2018. I am left with time gone by and an opportunity to wallow, fuss, and lament AGAIN about my lack, distraction, and searching for some bit of worthiness for 365 days of failure as a writer.

 

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Can I do this again? Can I even imagine a goal one more time? Even most of the 50 pounds I lost in 2018 came back and was re-lost over 7 times last year. Leaving me today with the exact same struggle to break into the 200’s.

Life happen again! But I had not planned this scenario.

What have I learned from this repeat of unwanted behaviors?

This was 2019:

We walked alongside our two adult children through incredible job stress, some of which was shocking and beyond any sense of human dignity.

We helped them move four times.

 

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We prayed incessantly for God to show up in ways we could not. Ways that would be clearer and more certain than the obvious or coincidental circumstances around us.

We spent two months traveling my Father-in-law’s end of life journey.

 

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We spent another two months recovering from logistical necessities of letting go and giving up our idea of how and why things happen the way they do when someone close to you passes away.

We celebrated a long awaited and intricately ordained union of two people incredibly dedicated to God’s plan for their lives and those they love.

 

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We heard our elder son speak the most honoring works I could ever dream of . . .

“Mom, she is so much like you.”

 

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We watched our second born begin a job he has worked toward for nearly five years. This is us, moving him BEFORE that job was offered. Significant faith step for him but more so for us because this guy teaches us so much about being a grown up.

 

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We experienced a new level of REST regarding home maintenance.

We prioritized differences between wanting, needing, and having time with each other in our empty nesting life.

We saw how God’s been going before us as we plan for the next years of my husband’s teaching career.

We found out that stress slides right off your shoulders when you REALLY hand stuff over to God.

 

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What I learned last year is life comes in layers. This year was layered with “we.”

And sometimes the layers are spread over time.

After 34 years of marriage, we started working together in a different kind of way. It did not happen overnight as it might have seemed. We did not know God was chipping away at each of us year after year, methodically transforming the “me” and “you” into “us” and “we.”

 

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Whatever the theme of 2019 has been for you, See it, Embrace it.

Love who you became because of it.

And know, as you move into 2020, you are more alive than you’ve ever been.

~Sandy

Mary’s Smile

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In the spring, everything seems possible. The winter melts away. The grass and trees bud all over again. LIFE. We watch it unfold automatically before our eyes. We all know it is coming. We long for it.

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Some of us start begging for it the day after Christmas. We only want winter as an add-on along side the sparkling tree decorations, homemade cookies, mixed nuts and old fashioned candy treats.

We get tired of putting on layers of clothing just to stay warm. The maintenance of winter shoveling, heating bills, and frosty car rides get old really fast. And that yummy hot chocolate by the fire, it’s fun until the scale starts screaming at you.

Then there are the fun things to do when spring comes. Weddings, graduations, lakeside parties, the SUN! Who doesn’t want all that?

We have a flower crab tree in our yard. Most homeowners choose to put this type of tree out front for “curb appeal” when they sell. Not us, we put it in the back where we can look out our sliding glass doors from the dining room table and enjoy it every day. It was a gift I bought my hubby years ago for Father’s Day. But the thing is, It blooms around Mother’s Day – in the spring.

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The exact time, of course, depends on weather patterns but this I know for sure, after it starts blooming, the flowers are gone in less than a week. Their peak is only one day. After that, we watch the blooms become less vibrant and begin the process of falling to the ground. In a few days, they are completely gone.

In 2018, our tree peaked on May 15th. By the end of the day, the blooms were already beginning to fall.

That morning, before I even opened my eyes, I knew she was gone. I felt it in my spirit. As my eye lids lifted, meeting the sun’s rays skimming through the blinds of my bedroom windows, the void was already there. My college friend Mary had lost her battle with Muscular Dystrophy. In a short month’s time, after inevitable complications, she had left us all with only memories of her life here.

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Mary and I went to a small private college in Minnesota. One of the last times I saw her was April 29, 1984 when we walked at graduation. After that, we had a short weekend visit including a serious discussion about her high school sweet heart with whom she had reunited. She later married him, moved to Washington state, and raised a family. We periodically caught up to each other with Christmas cards and more recently through social media.

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I knew the disease would take her life early. I remember her slight limp as she walked down the hall of our dorm floor every day and the devastation in her eyes when she told me about her diagnosis. She said four of her six siblings were also diagnosed, and one day she would be living in a wheel chair. If she had children, that day would come sooner. Not knowing what to think or say, the absence of her smile spoke all I needed to know.

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Mary’s Smile returned in a few days, life at college went on and though her limp grew worse, she didn’t “burden” anyone again with her struggle. That is how she was and that is what I remember most about her. Her smile. And her selfless love, being there for other people, serving them and caring about the most important things in life. People and God. This was her life, even with the disease, what it brings, and how it all ends.

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I had been planning to make time for a trip to see Mary. So, when she passed, all I could do was think about what our visit would have been like. I imagined she would tell me about her children, now grown, like mine. I think we would have “compared notes” about marriage and what we “thought” it would be like. There would be hilarious fun, and crazy wild stories to tell about our lives apart, mirroring stories from our college years. We would have been vulnerable and honest about ALL of our brokenness and need. Unlike our younger selves. We would laugh and hug and smile.

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Today is May 15th, 2019. One year since Mary left us.

Our crab tree is lingering. It hasn’t even begun to bud. But I know it’s coming.

One day soon LIFE will show itself and beauty will arrive, just like Mary arrived in our lives. And just as quickly, the blossoms will begin falling to the ground and be gone.

We all long for it. But it won’t be long. Until we see . . . Her Smile.

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Motherhood

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Mothering is unique. For me, it was long awaited, by design. We didn’t want school debt dictating two full time incomes while we raised our children, especially when they were young, so we took care of that first.

This delay brought health issues which limited the number of children we were able to have. It was hard to accept, and I often wondered what our family experience would have looked like with more children. Looking back, it was the very best plan.

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I am the mother of two sons. I feel tremendous gratitude, being chosen by God, to be their Mom. The hours of everyday effort involved in keeping our household sane was at breakneck speed during their young years.

One never stopped talking and the other never stopped moving. Literally.

Month, after month, after month, the first words out of my mouth every morning were a prayer, “Lord, help me make it through the day and thank you for my healthy children.”

My love for them is inexplicable.

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But for some, their longing to be a mother never comes, evoking feelings of being “less” or even “lost” without this womb-fruit. I admire the women I know who have taken this reality and become mothers in other ways. Caring for, nurturing and loving, advancing the cause and mentoring young and old alike.

Any version of this is no less important than my own experience.

And for those whose bellies have held life and said hello and goodbye all at once, I mourn with you. I understand this pain. The constant wondering about details in faces we never saw, the futures never planned, and countless days of looking forward to “some day” when we will see them. Though it is for another story, I have found a blessing inside this loss of mine.

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For the mothers who hear their children’s voices from the grave, and “gone to soon” attributed to their loss, it all seems trite and of little comfort for the incessant sting of loss. The celebration of Motherhood is tainted, silenced only (in part) by the presence of their other children. The grief is indeed overwhelming and ever present . . . always . . . Forever.

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If you’ve lost your mother, yesterday, last year, or before she ever knew who you became, she is with you. You carry on, with her, for her. You would, and do make her joyous, even in her absence because . . . You. Are.

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And for the ones who bear scars from your mother, wear them the best you can.

It is with deep hope, more than you may ever know, that I mourn with you this loss of something great missing in your life. A piece of you that should have been.

Know this, your mother loved you the best she could.

Because that is what every mother does . . . The best she can.

For the mothers looking back on choices you made for your child, and you sob.

Your tears are not in vain.

They are the tender mercies of knowing you wanted it to be different.

Let those droplets of pain roll down your face and neck, to caress the skin between your breasts. Let them sink deep into your heart. Forgive yourself and be at peace.

To every woman who sacrifices a part of her soul to love beyond herself, you bear Motherhood. Even in your brokenness, you deliver and bring forth abundance and beauty.

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What I REALLY Did Last Year

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I couldn’t find it. The new year had begun and last year’s calendar was no where to be found! How was I going to look back and see all my accomplishments? It was lost, again. Considering my ‘paper wars’ since suffering a traumatic brain injury, it was perfectly understandable. 

During my two day search, I threw away eleven inches of paper. Even with this impromptu purge, there still remained two seven inch deep baskets waiting for . . . Most likely . . . The garbage can. 

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This was the same paper I had moved a month ago! 

All I REALLY did was move it around my house from place to place, hoping to find the time to sort it, later. In between special occasions, cleaning, and the urgencies of life, the papers traveled from near my work area at our dining room table to far away in big totes shoved into closets. 

No wonder my calendar could not be found. I wasn’t REALLY using it! The only thing distinguishing it from the other papers was it’s spiral binding. It too was randomly entering and exiting different places around my home.

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Was this my fate for the coming year as well?

As is often the case after a failed searching expedition, I called upon my memory. And for me, that can be even more chaotic than the paper searching. 

I began to think. 

What was on my calendar to do last year . . . ?

My goodness!  

How could I have forgotten?

I was going to finish writing my book! 

It was at this moment, I questioned if I had indeed lost my calendar at all. 

Maybe I ‘lost’ it on purpose to hide from my inevitable look back on the year’s accomplishments, knowing I had failed miserably at something important.

The rotten cherry on the top of the entire disappointment was my failure to make regular posts to my blog for my faithful readers.

The plan had been to launch the book on the ten year anniversary of my Traumatic Brain Injury the next year – which is . . . TODAY!

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My book wasn’t done! How did this happen?

The blog was intended to be a place for all my extra stories. I had hoped it would give people a taste of what was to come in the book. 

A year of writing, all neatly tucked inside those parameters, adorned with my signature bow of “The Perfect Plan.” 

My stomach turned over and I felt that familiar ache of regret and embarrassment with my failure. It was painful to realize I barely noticed the time passing. What was I REALLY doing all those weeks and months? 

I had thought about writing. 

I had done a ton of organizing, processing, and rearranging chapters. 

I even found some missing words on my computer. 

All of which were necessary but none of that REALLY mattered if I didn’t reach my goal to finish and launch the book.

Now I felt completely defeated, unmotivated, and like I had disappointed everyone who was anxiously waiting.

I wondered if they would even trust me to come through in the future. Had I failed before even finishing?

I started to feel the disgust of invisible people asking, “How’s the book coming? Are you published yet?” 

Then there was the blog. I originally planned to post weekly, then bi-weekly, and finally monthly. I failed at that TOO! 

I was overwhelmed. How could I call myself a writer? How could I even suggest such a thing? I wondered if I REALLY had anything to say to anyone.

As I sat completely and utterly deflated, discouraged, and dejected I began to think about those invisible people inside my head. Who were they anyway? And why are they so important that I would listen to them? 

DISTRACTION had set-in while I was looking through papers to find my calendar. 

Yeah, the ugly cousin of LIES. They both hang around me sometimes, unannounced and most certainly unwelcome. I don’t always notice them right away, but they were back. I needed to find some truth.

The truth about last year is important. Every last second of it. It REALLY is!

It was my real life. It happened. I was there. As I remembered . . . now with my own wits about me . . . I realized why it was important and worth cherishing.

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I started a blog last year. ALL. BY. MYSELF! I did it with a brain that has trouble processing and learning new things, especially technology. And, I brought my tribe NINE posts crafted with my own brand of agonizing beauty.

I spent a month sicker than I have ever been in my life. When I could finally make it out of bed, I didn’t tell my doctor how bad it was. I was worried she would admit me to the hospital, so I lied. I was REALLY sick!

I cried for the next month mourning the passing of a life-long college friend. Her smile could break an ugly attitude into a thousand pieces. She had MD. The end came REALLY fast. The day she left, our flowering crab tree peaked in color and as I watched the blossoms fall to the ground I realized how long it would be before I’d see her again. 

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My son’s moved out within two weeks of each other. Being that kind of Mom was over.

Launching. Kids. Is. Hard.

Tearing down their wallpaper and painting over the memories makes you long for more. And, it’s never the same again.

I cried and worried and then I wondered why because we were all so ready – it was time. It was a good thing.

But it was also REALLY sad.

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Then, for the rest of the year, I did the thing that wasn’t even on my calendar. 

It was the thing that was NEVER on my calendar – ever.  

It was ME.

I got out the checkbook (REALLY, it was a MasterCard) and paid for the things that had long been set aside, by me, as just too costly (right now) to have done. 

I reversed the 9 year pain pattern in my body by getting the massages I knew would accomplish that for a fraction of the price worker’s compensation had paid for ineffective physical therapy.

I whitened my teeth and finished the post-braces dental work that had gone undone for 40 years. 

I got my ears re-pierced and bought a few very nice pairs of earrings because I just wanted to be simple but elegant and that takes a few bucks. (I finally used some of the gift money from my In-laws that had been stashed away for years.)

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After 30 years of wearing mostly white leather tennis shoes every day, I discovered a brand for my hard-to-fit feet. I heard the average woman has 30 pairs of shoes. I have 8 so I’m now boasting about being ‘below average.’

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I became thoroughly immersed in a handbag brand that has brought me dozens of on-line friends and a tribe of over 10K ladies who love beauty of all kinds. I’ve got 8 or so handbags too – they sort of coordinate with my shoes but I don’t care. Not REALLY. I care about the process and the ladies. 

(You can read about that journey in my post entitled: The Carry)

And, I released 52 of the 172 pounds of excess fat that resides in my body. I am letting go of the reserves I accumulated and carried over the years. The reserves which enabled me to place everyone and everything above my own worth and value. 

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I let go of the coping mechanisms that kept me alive through the emotional turmoil of my childhood, the baggage I brought into my marriage, and the codependency that fueled the decisions I had made most of my adult life.

I never needed a calendar to do what I REALLY did last year. 

All I needed was myself and Mercy.

 

. 

Just Begin

Featured

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Six months ago I decided I had too many words for the book I’m writing. There are so many stories within my story. As a writer, I almost never want to give up words. I love each and every one I craft. However, my message was becoming muddy with all the intertwining story lines. Every time I wrote I heard a voice in my head. It was a writer friend from my critique group.

“If you want your story to be about all these details, that is fine.” She would say, “But remember your reader doesn’t need every detail. Sometimes less is more.” (Paraphrased)

Then my story telling son’s voice would join in, “Mom, is that important to the story?”

What was I going to do about all my words?

I thought on this for three months.

Should I work on more than one book at a time? Perhaps a devotional?

Another three months passed and here I am with a blog.

In the past week, since I named and paid for the blog site, I’ve been A MESS!

I feel frozen. How can I do this? Everyone in the whole entire WORLD is going to see my words. What will they think? How will they react? What about my grammar issues!

I had no idea starting a blog would feel so complicated.

Even though I have several blog posts ready to publish, I can’t decide which one should be first. I keep evaluating possible reader responses and contemplating whether or not my target audience will keep reading my blogs. I even had a thought that maybe I should tell my readers what I intend to communicate before the beginning of each post. Hmm, I can’t even find a word for that (bad) idea.

I stalled. I fussed. I drove my blog tech helper crazy. I told myself I could not start until everything was perfect.

There it was! That word. The word which represented the ideal I had been a slave to most of my life. PERFECTION. It crept up on me again, in of all things, a blog where I hoped to help others see beauty in their darkest places.

YIKES! I need to JUST BEGIN.

So, here I go:

Whole Wide World,

Target Audience,

People.

I hope you all stay with me.

Perfection, Leave. Me. Alone. I’m starting no matter what.

Sandy Gruhlke is unveiling beauty.

 

 

The Big Adventure

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The summer before we married, my fiancé had a sample, an adventure if you will, of what it’s like to live in a small town – emphasis on small. And, it was more than a sampling. It was in fact, the biggest day of summer for the town’s few hundred residents. There wasn’t a celebratory name, banners declaring it a “must come to event”, or any other signifiers of it’s importance. It was simply a word-of-mouth kind of knowing that everyone would be there. 

Even though he was a city boy who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, he loved trips to his grandparent’s rural home in southern Minnesota. It was those boyhood memories, treasured times in the outdoors with his grandpa, that first ignited his excitement for country life. He loved everything about it, his grandpa’s quiet and gentle ways, especially with him. So, when we got engaged, he looked forward to visiting the small town in the north woods of Wisconsin, where I grew up.

Tourists came summer and winter alike to enjoy the backwoods life of mom and pop hotels, tiny restaurants, acres of untouched timber and pristine rivers. My first job, like many of my peers, was in the tourist industry. At thirteen, I began cleaning resort cabins and serving up burgers, fries, and ice cream to “Berry Pickers.” These were the city folk who spent their vacations and money in our town. We could spot them a mile away, trying to fit in and look like us. But they never did. Most of them did not know how to pick berries, either.

My soon-to-be hubby’s adult experience in a small town was a bit different from his childhood memories. It began with the usual weekly Saturday morning house cleaning chores, except we started an hour earlier than usual. Then we went “up town” for groceries just like every other Saturday when I was growing up. 

Keep in mind, this ritual, when I was a kid, even without the added activities, was exciting all by itself. Following my Mom around the grocery store was something I looked forward to each weekend. No electronic anything, just down time and pestering, depending on which of us waited in the car.

Upon arriving in town on this special Saturday, it was apparent there was more to do than the usual shopping. The smell of bratwurst gently passing through the air led us right to a stand set up outside the local grocery store. There was pop too!  A dollar, maybe even fifty cents for both. Everyone was there. The whole town gathered in the store’s steamy hot asphalt parking lot to eat a brat and drink some pop. There were no barriers between the parking lot and the road running right through town but if you were lucky and came early you could secure a seat on one of those concrete stops that prevented cars from driving up onto the sidewalk next to the store. We didn’t get there early.

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Just after we got our food my fiancé looked around noticing – well, he noticed nothing. The look on his face clearly indicated he did not get why we would do this. His forehead wrinkled ever so faintly as he lifted the mustard covered brat toward his opening mouth. After the first swallow, and looking around once more, he said, “Is this it?”

“Well, this IS a big deal but there’s more.” I replied.

He found a spot on the blacktop with us and we ate our brats next to the people who knew, without anyone saying a word, that HE was the Berry Picker who had asked me to marry him when I was away at college. He had no idea everyone was noticing him, noticing us.

Then it was time for the “more” I had promised. My Mom went into the grocery store, just like when I was a kid, and instead of following behind her or waiting in the car, we proceeded to the single street in town which was right along the other side of the grocery store.

The original store, dating back to 1927, was across the street. In it’s time, this country store sold everything from fresh meat to dry goods and all manner of store bought items. Now, it was a small assortment of clothing and a few gift items, much like when I was growing up. Back then, you could call up the elder Mrs. Owner on a Sunday morning if you happened to snag your pantyhose and she would come down from their upstairs residence, open the store, and let you buy a new pair of hose. 

After we looked over the sale items on the table in front of the store we crossed over to the second of two blocks representing the town’s “main street.” First, we passed the bank where my parent’s borrowed money for the house I grew up in. Then we strolled in front of the elementary school where my Dad and I had the same first grade teacher, Mrs. Fink.

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A few of the buildings had changed hands since my younger years but basically everything was the same. Across from the school was the post office. Next to that the drug store. They too had a small table with sale items, which we also checked out.

That was it. We were done for the day.

Home we went, not more than ninety minutes from arriving to get our brats and pop. We put the groceries away and took naps. Right after supper, my fiancé asked, “So where’s the place in town that rents videos?” 

I looked at him, thinking, really? Then I answered, 

“Well, the only place that MIGHT have them would be that place on the left, just as you come up over the big hill when you get to town. Across from the Corner Bar.

I continued, “But I’m positive they don’t have videos.”

He looked at me like I was from another planet. 

He had no clue about the way we lived here. He couldn’t fathom the economic concept of waiting to access something new because there just were not enough people to support a business upgrade like video rentals. We were happy doing the dishes by hand, fixing each other’s broken stuff, and waiting for . . . Everything.

I knew he was bored out of his mind. So, I did the only thing I could. 

“If you go the back way out to Hwy. 63, there’s a little gas station. They have frozen pizzas and and vanilla ice cream. Maybe chocolate too. They close at 6:30.” 

 The words were barely out of my mouth and he was up with his keys.

My future husband didn’t understand how important it was to sit, once a year, and eat with the people who always waved at you when passing on the road. The people who loaned you money even though it might take a good long while to get paid back. He hadn’t experienced setting aside the nasty parts of humanity when you live in a small town because one day you might need something more important than a pair of  hose on a Sunday morning. 

You might need them to go to town on their snowmobile when the temperature drops to 60 below zero. It could be your tractor that needs repairing in the middle of hay season. One of those folks might be giving you rides to work for a week because your paycheck isn’t going to last the whole month. And, when the graveyard keeper’s son dies, it might be you who needs to step up with your shovel to ease that burden. 

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It was years before I fully realized the value of living in a small town in the middle of the woods. To me, it was just the way things were. It was the reason city folks came to our town, spending their money, trying to capture a little bit of what many of us took for granted because we were just making ends meet, loving our families, and helping our neighbors the best we could.

A few years after we married my husband and I moved half way between a big city and the wilderness of Minnesota. We raised our children with the gentleness of his grandpa and the availability of all the big city had to offer. I learned to lock my front door and he learned to appreciate the benefits of boredom. We still like a good frozen pizza . . . and a movie. As it turned out, merging the lives of a country girl and a city boy turned out to be a big adventure for both of us. 

Listen

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God is not ever silent. 

It is We who fail to see the sound of His Voice.

He speaks Truth in His Word.

He spoke Life through Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.

He speaks in ALL the beauty of our world.

He speaks through People in our path.

He speaks PEACE in the Rain and the Sunshine.

He speaks Strength in the mountains of Colorado and the Oceans at our borders.

He speaks Beyond our pain and suffering, and loss. 

He speaks when He saves a 51 year old Father from a heart attack so he can help his sons in life.

He speaks when He rescues a Mother from cancer.

He speaks when He spares an Only Brother from being killed by a semi truck.

He speaks in the quietness of a young man’s heart who is about to marry a woman who will consume and trap him for the rest of his life.

He speaks when the triathlete inspires other young men to reach for things bigger than themselves.

He speaks through gifted individuals who get fired for no good reason.

He speaks through education, and sermons, books, parents, friends, family.

He speaks through jobs we hate and fading dreams.

He speaks regardless of mistakes and failings, and sin.

He speaks into abandonment and abuse.

He speaks and the wind and waves obey.

He speaks.

And even when we do not listen, He continues to speak His Love.

 

 

The Underling

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“Make sure you get that fixed immediately!” Commanded the superior. 

The underling, though fully understanding his job, protested, “Really? Can’t I catch a break and sit the next one out?” He was not happy about the thought of going back into the field the next day.

“Absolutely not! We are headed out at daybreak. Everyone in our legion will be needed, especially YOU.”

The underling was shocked at being deprived of what he thought was a well deserved break from his duties. And yet, he was intrigued by the emphasis put on his participation in the next day’s intervention. It seemed more important than previous missions.

Still, he just wanted to rest. He wasn’t up for a repair appointment. So, he decided to take a quick nap first and slip into one of the walk-in slots later in the evening. Then he would be good to go.

As he lay down, a wince of pain caused him to adjust himself in order to be in a restful position. While drifting off, he thought about the stupid mistake he’d made that day. The novice error was embarrassing for someone with his level of experience. He’d been lazy and his resulting injury proved it.

Suddenly, light was everywhere. Streaming in all directions like brilliant facets of perfectly cut diamonds. Then, deafening alarms and the whooshing of a thousand giant wings filled the once quiet night.

The underling had overslept.

“What? It’s not even dawn yet.” He mumbled in confusion. 

“He’s on the road! We have to hurry!” Came an urgent command from the superior.

Pain from his injury was agonizing but he knew there was no time left for quick fixes. He might literally catch hell for his disobedience but until then, he had a job to do. He readied himself in the only way he knew how. 

“God help us. And help me be the warrior you created me to be. I serve at your bidding.”

With that prayer of surrender, the underling’s pain disappeared.

He advanced instantly to the scene, along side his cohort. 

Usually, upon arrival, there is little time for clarification. Each must follow orders immediately. But the underling, ignoring protocol, questioned his assigned position.

“You want me where?” He asked.

“Right THERE!” his superior pointed, “Right in front of that mirror. Hold firm your position! Don’t bat a wing!” 

The underling obeyed, finally realizing this might be his only chance to be redeemed from the failures of the last twenty four hours. However, inside he seethed at the demeaning assignment of protecting this vehicle’s side mirror when four of his buddies were inside the car with the human.

He saw it coming a split second before impact. Knowing the cost, he twisted, exposing his entire wingspan, injury and all, between the side mirror and the on-coming semi truck.

He blinked . . . It was over . . . 

The sun penetrated his eye lids, beckoning him to wake up. Slowly he opened them, letting himself take in the overwhelming brightness. His mind caught up with the raging pain from his shoulder blades through his midsection. He knew he was in critical condition.

“Looks like you’re going to ‘catch’ that rest break after all.” Came the familiar, yet calming voice of his superior.

“How long am I in for repairs?” The underling asked.

“It’s going to be a while. It was a total loss.”

“Oh, I see. Rehab then, right?” 

“Yes. And, FYI, they had to remove some of your originals. But no worries, you won’t have any use for those now.”

“Originals?” Inquired the underling.

“Yes. The complaining about assignments and breaks will completely stop now.”

“I don’t understand?”

“This wasn’t a standard replacement. He decided to upgrade you. And with the upgrade, they remove some of the originals. A side affect is the inability to complain. It is rather necessary and you will find no reason to think twice about your assignments from now on.”

At this point, even without his throbbing headache, the underling was completely confused.

“Could you give me the short version of what you just said?” He asked.

“Of course,” his superior continued, “You’re on Life Assignment from now on.”

“But?” He felt the blood drain from his face.

He started again, “But, you only get Life Assignment when you . . .” 

“Yes, when you save a life.”

“But you assigned me to the side mirror.” Said the underling, “I just thought the kid couldn’t afford a new car.”

“It wasn’t about the car. We couldn’t afford to lose the human.” The superior continued, with a lowered voice, “His life had advanced directives in place.”

“How old?” Asked the underling.

“He was in circulation less than twenty two years.”

“So, I . . .?” The underling, now realized why this mission had been so critical.

“It was a team effort,” replied the superior, “But yes, everything hinged on your placement.”

“What can you tell me about Life Assignment?” The underling asked.

“Well, no more middle management telling you what to do. All your orders will come straight from the top.”

“So you’re not my supervisor anymore?” 

“No.” Answered the superior, heading toward the door. “The most important thing about Life Assignment is to remember He only makes one of each human, you lose one and you’ve lost something irreplaceable.”

“How’s the ‘kid’?” Asked the underling.

“He’s fine. Made it out of the ditch and to work only a few minutes late.” 

“And the family?” Probed the underling.

“Oh, I sent your buddies over to the house immediately. They arrived just in time to delay the Dad leaving so he would answer the phone when the kid called. The mom was pretty shook up but she’s fine now. Your buddies set up a temporary aid station for her after the Dad left for work.” 

“An aid station! It took four of them to settle her down?” The underling rolled his eyes.

“She’s a MOM. Give her a break.” The superior answered with a wink and continued, “She started writing a blog and that settled her down within the hour.”

The underling thoughtfully tipped his head, “A blog?”

“Yes, something about an April snowstorm?” 

 With that, the superior gave the underling a thumbs up adding, “I’ve gotta run, I’m late with the paperwork.”  

Raindrops on Tulips

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The burns on my fingers, hands and forearms were not mild but that’s how the traumatic brain injury (TBI) was defined. MILD. Even after six months of in-home occupational and speech therapy, I could barely manage a simple, one dish oven baked meal.

I tried. I planned. I wrote down meals for each day of the week. I made grocery lists with an individualized template my therapist created for me. But none of this helped get a consistent meal on the table. I was better at slicing my fingernails than chopping onions.

Burns, cuts, tears, explosive messes in the kitchen, forgotten meat in the trunk of my car, that’s what I produced after my extensive efforts.

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My injury happened at work, so my recovery was controlled by worker’s compensation. Everything was about labels, doctor’s orders, and documentation. I had a “WID” (worker identification) number and, in the end (of that), I was compelled to give up medical care, retraining possibilities, and employment benefits. There was nothing mild about any of this. It was a kind of hell no one outside our home could see.

Cooking was just one of the many activities of daily life affected by the TBI. Failing my kids on a daily basis and excessive marital stress topped the list of casualties. Baskets of unfinished paperwork, scheduling nightmares, overwhelming distractions, sleepless nights, chronic pain, and the loss of my 20 year career loomed over me constantly. My daily goal became “accomplishing” one less failure than the day before.

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Even larger was experiencing the discrepancy between my pre-injury level of function and what remained. Accepting I’d never be the same was emotionally excruciating. The mountains before me would always be endless, swallowing up every waking moment of my life. I was told to “find something you enjoy doing” to cope, but exhaustion was my intimate friend.

Can’t you just hear Julie Andrews singing?

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens . . . these are a few of my favorite things . . . when the dog bites . . . when the bee . . . I simply remember my favorite things . . .”

The quintessential song marketing optimism.

I suppose “tulips” wouldn’t have sounded right in the song, but three years post-injury, tulips are what brought a fragrance of hope to the less-than-living life I felt trapped in. I needed perspective badly.

We were in Washington, DC on a family vacation, grossly delayed because of my injury. Our “kids” were fifteen and eighteen, and I was determined to not let the short time we had left together as a family (before their college years) slip away any further. I was on maximum doses of narcotics 24/7 with an Ibuprofen kicker at night just to manage the pain on this “walking required” vacation.

Our older son loved the historical context of the area, while our younger son the culture and art. My hubby was the perfect efficiency expert, scheduling back to back events, coordinating wheelchairs, and dealing with details at the end of our long days.

With the help of drugs, my physical pain was at bay, enabling us to take in sixteen venues in ten days including the Washington Monument. Out of habit, because of my neck injury, I didn’t look up to view the towering structure. Instead, I looked down at the flowers around the base of the monument.

It was there I found my perspective.

Yellow was everywhere. It reminded me of my pre-injury life, begging my unattainable return. Then I saw It. A single pink tulip. Right there, framed by the others yet alone and different.

“Honey, look!” I called out to my husband.

He attended me with a simple, “What . .” As he tried to understand my excitement.

“Look at that flower.” I replied.

His eyes scanned the massive bed of tulips.

“No, THAT one.” I urged, now pointing.

“You like the pink one?” He asked.

“Don’t you get it?” I demanded, pointing to the pink tulip again, “That’s me!” My voice was now escalating, as it often did when others didn’t understand the broken communication caused by my TBI.

He pulled himself close, to quiet me.

“That’s what I feel like.” I whispered.

We stood there, silently looking across the sea of tulips surrounding the huge monument.

I thought about the obstacles I faced every day. So big I could not see beyond them.

Until now.

As tiny droplets began to fall, they landed on my nose and eye lashes.

God had planted something deep in the soil of my adversity.

As the sun peeked through the heavens, I embraced the beauty of what was blooming in my soul.