Sunday, February 7, 2016

My Own Mr. Fixer Upper

For a couple weeks one February, I lived with a table saw in the living room.

We had no garage at the time, and my husband was remodeling the bathroom. He'd already put in a new kitchen floor, so I was used to a stove and refrigerator setting in there, but that was only for a couple days.

This bathroom thing took awhile. And for a couple days, we took sponge baths. My good dishes set on the dining room table since the china closet had to be moved out of the way—and so did the table.

My husband hadn't even looked for a job yet because he'd moved at the start of December and had a nice sum of money from his house sale. His days were spent as Mr. Fixer Upper.

We hadn't really planned on changing things right away, but when the frig leak ruined the flooring in the kitchen, he went to work on other parts of the house.

All of the supplies and new furnishings were kept inside the house. Yes, inside. Where we were living. Toilet in its box. In the living room. Bath tub. In the living room. Table saw, bead board, caulking supplies. In the living room. And there was still room for us to maneuver onto the couch. I know. Crazy. Crowded.


I stored extra toilet paper on top of the small couch in our bedroom. The bedroom got another closet. One just for him.

I came home from a basketball game to him sanding the top of his dresser closet. The thing was so smooth. But he stunk. I don't think he'd bathed for a few days—even though the bathroom was done at that point.

"What's the use?" he said. "I'm just going to stink more tomorrow."

Those early days of married life taught me what it meant to live with other people, not just a dog. Oh, forgot to mention, we had two of those running around.

Have you gone through a mess in your living space? How did you cope with it?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Where Were You When the Big Things Happened?

Thirty years ago this week, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded killing the seven astronauts on board. 

Where were you when the Challenger blew up?

I was a sophomore in the library at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas, when students came in talking about it. Soon we surrounded the big screen TV in the student center watching the replays of the tragedy.

This is the event I use to teach the research paper process to my seventh graders, so I’m always aware of its anniversary. Thinking about it this year; however, caused me to chronicle where I'd been during major events.

Here are a few. 

Where were you when Elvis died?

I was playing outside with my best friend Gail and my second cousin Jodi Glanzer.  We were near the tree we played on as a couch since its trunk lay parallel to the ground. Mom came out and told us that he’d passed. Gail and I liked his "Hound Dog" song, so we were a little sad.

But my dad likes to tell a story about what happened that night at supper. He asked Jodi, a preacher's kid, what she thought of Elvis. She replied, “He’s not my type.” We all laughed at her respectful disapproval of Elvis.

Where were you when President Ronald Reagan was shot?

I was on the east stairway of Hitchcock High School when Larry Gilbert, a student a few years older, came in from shop class yelling, “The President’s been shot.” 

Our shop teacher, Coach Mike Satter, must have had the radio on out there, for  teachers didn’t have cable TV in their classrooms back the 80s. Later that night on the news, I remember thinking how bizarre it was for John Hinkley to shoot the President to impress Jodi Foster, the actress.

Where were you when Michael Jackson died?

I was at Conklin Cars in Hutchinson, Kansas, waiting for my Alero to get tured up. On television was a documentary of the life of Farrah Fawcett who had just died that week from a battle with cancer. News reports of emergency vehicles showing up at Jackson’s mansion interrupted the program.

When I got home, my step-daughter Brittany called on the phone and said, “I’m sure sorry about Michael Jackson dying, Melodie.” She knew I was a fan of his music. I was shocked, for I hadn’t heard that he was gone.

Days later I bawled during most of his funeral when it was televised on cable. I scrubbed away cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. Mad—not necessarily because he wouldn't be producing music anymore, but because of the choices he’d made that lead to the demise of his reputation.

Where were you when the OJ verdict was read?

I stood stunned beside my social studies colleague Peter Holton when we’d gathered a bunch of jr. highers into our largest room to hear it. Shock. The entire room. Quiet. No cheers. No sighs of relief. Just mystified by the decision.

Where were you when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists?

I was in my classroom teaching. My middle school communication students were critiquing videotapes of their monologue projects. The Today Show would come on between me switching out the tapes, so we heard the reporting of Tower One being on fire. The kids wanted to watch it, and I’d told them no and that we had stuff to do, so we kept on with our critiques. That was the class of 2007. Tiane DeVore, Kurt Lehner, Bill Rhodes. Some of the faces in that morning group.

Not until class break did I hear from other teachers what was going on. I tried to go on with my day as normal; however, some teachers watched the coverage all day long with the students. I’m glad I hadn't stopped to watch that morning, for I wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for young eyes seeing that second tower hit.

By mid-afternoon, teachers stood looking out the south windows of the school. Cars lined up out onto Main Street of our tiny town to get gas. I waited in line over 20 minutes that evening.

We shut off our motors and stood outside talking while waiting to pull up to the tank. I knew the man I stood by but can't remember who he was. We stood, Amercians, together. Talking, wondering, concerned. A crisis made us pause. 

The manager of the station came out twice to change the price on the sign. A few murmured at her. She was following orders from corporate. We all knew that, but it was disconcerting.

I was supposed to meet with my neighbors' brother-in-law that evening to discuss the addition of a garage to my home. We never met. Everyone hunkered down and stayed home. Then the reports of the heroics of the Pennsylvania plane came in. I sat in my house. Alone. And cried. Cried for America. Part fear. Part pride.

Did you wait in line during the 2000 presidential election between Gore and Bush?

I did. In small-town middle-America. I voted in the evening after basketball practice. I’d never seen our poling area filled with chairs and people let alone a line outside the police station, our poling place. I sat next to Jessa Albers, wife of a former student and now our school nurse. It's where we met. The turnout was incredible. Again, Americans. Together for a common purpose.

Something tells me election day will be like that again.

What details do you recall from the events I mentioned?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

3 Time Management Tips

What we do the night before prepares us for the day ahead. Sounds like common sense, right, but some of us get frazzled because we're not morning people. Or, we've got people other than ourselves to get ready.

Here are a few time management tips. Thanks to my mom, some of these are childhood habits. Others, I've learned the hard way.


Plan your meals. Make your lunch. Pack it. Get it ready. Do the same for your evening meal. Know what it's going to be. Everyone has a diet. Plan yours like budget. I try to plan our meals for the week.

When I first married, I never did that. I'd come home and then wonder what was for supper. I made a calendar and prepared menus like lesson plans. I knew on busier days that I might not want to come home and cook. Or sometimes, depending on what type of busy, cooking with the cutting and stirring, helped me slow down, relax, and be mindful of what I was doing. It was almost therapeutic.

Once you get a calendar going, you'll know what foods to cook after each other because you'll finish off the fresh ingredients you spent the money to buy. You won't be running to the store every night either and probably spend less.


Prepare your clothing. Mom would set out my clothes the night before, and even thought I don't actually do that, I do have an idea of what I'm wearing each day.

Make it appropriate for the weather and the day's tasks. If getting a haircut, don't wear a black turtleneck. Spending time in unfamiliar territory? Then wear layers to avoid problems with the temperature. If you still iron clothes like I do (I don't use the dryer for dress clothes. I have a thing about shrinkage), then iron everything at once. Put on your favorite TV show or music and get it done.

Why is this so important? Because everything in the closet is ready to go. Wear things more than once if they're not soiled. Saves time and money.


Go to bed. This is the most important thing of all. Why? So you can get up in the morning. I've learned this from my husband. It's never too early to go to bed if you're tired.

Get up early enough so you have built-in margin. But be careful not to piddle and use up all the extra time. That's my current problem—I'm using it and getting out the door later than I want to.

I wrote a draft of this post during a 15-minute free-write time on January 11 in the morning before work. I really liked moving my writing time to the morning, but last week it didn't work because I had duties at school in the morning and needed to get a move on.

Keep in mind that what works one week, might not work the next, but that doesn't mean you can't go back to it when the schedule changes. I'm no expert on time management, but I try to be efficient so I can relax and actually waste time and not feel guilty about it.

What tips do you have to manage time? Do you find you've gotten better the older you get or have you gotten worse?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Cherishing Those Lottery-Like Moments

I've won the lottery all-life long.

I hit it when I was born. My parents were seasoned, for they'd already raised three other children. My mom said she was thankful for me, a healthy breach baby of barely six pounds. Because of my size and near jaundice condition, I remained in the hospital for four days while Mom got to go home.

When I turned six, Mom threw me a party with a few of my cousins, church kids, and some school friends. After games and food, we went outside. When Dad wheeled a brand new bike around the corner, I thought I'd hit the lottery. I had no idea I was getting it. I'm not sure where they'd kept it hidden. Maybe at my brother's? Church friend Jimmy Joe Weems said, "That's nothing," when he saw the bike. He hopped on it to show how he could drive it without training wheels. He ran into the gas pumps.

In fourth grade, we were assigned to draw something representing our birthday month. I did as Mom suggested and drew a flag for July. Mrs. Schneider picked my picture as the winner. I don't remember any prize for it except her saying it, but I felt like I'd won the lottery. It was nice to be praised. I've kept that flag all these years. 

In high school when I earned the honor of representing my school at Girls' State in the summer of 1983, I was shocked. I was not the smartest in my class, nor the second smartest, or the third. But politics fascinated me, even back then—and not just in election years. My essay caught the eyes of the judges, and I got to go.

I bawled when Mom drove me there, for I was so scared. I'd never gone to an event with all strangers and stay over night for four days. A girl from my church, Heather Mendel, was attending, but we'd be in separate groups. I knew our paths would never cross. In addition, the NBA finals were on TV that week. I didn't want to miss them. This was the year Dr. J earned his ring, and I heard about it on the radio that night. I think I cried myself to sleep because basketball was such an important part of my life back then.

Me: in back, 2nd from left. My roommate, Heidi Shanard: front row, green skirt.

I did enjoy the week though and reported back to the American Legion. I remember them saying, "We've never heard anyone enjoying this quite like you did, Melodie." Their response made me happy. Seems we'd both hit the lottery.

When I landed the job at Cheney, I felt God's favor again. How many first year teachers are lucky enough to live near a big city but enjoy the safety of small town life? Years later, Superintendent Don Wells told me I'd yelled into the phone with excitement when he made the offer. I was pretty excited, for I'd been driving all over the state for interviews. But when I drove to the top of the highest point in Sedgwick County and saw the little town in the valley, I thought this place might be the one. And it turns out, it was. I got to teach English. To kids. It was work, but it didn't seem like work once I got the hang of it. And I was an assistant girls' basketball coach, part of a winning program that went to state six years straight. I'd hit the lottery.

And now decades later, with my husband and a little grand baby in our world, I feel once again that I've won the lottery. Dad is 91 and healthy. Our dogs, my favorite companions, are always nearby. Family seems nearby too thanks to FaceTime. Boredom and loneliness don't visit me much anymore. And I've got this writing gig going—this place to share my thoughts. Life seems good.

I call these blessings. Some would say, the favor of God. Others would say just luck. But tonight, hours away from the Powerball announcement, I'll call it winning the lottery because when my $2 ticket doesn't win tonight, I'll still be rich with these blessings, these memories, these relationships.

Money can't buy that.

What memories, honors, or events are priceless in your life? Ever bought a lottery ticket and fantasized what you'd do with the winnings?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Legacy Mom Left

I found a note today that I'd written on the back of a program. Seemed fitting to find it today, the anniversary of my mother's death in 2005. It's been eleven years. The year of the ice storm. What follows is a transcript of the note I wrote in 2008. 
As I sit here at the women's conference after the singing and worship portion, I'm so thankful that all the adult women in my family are born-again Christians. Our lifestyles are different. Professionals, moms, retired ladies, missionary-types,  single, married, and step-moms.
Mom, as a teenager babysitter
Oh, how precious it is for me to rest in the fact that Jesus is your Savior. My prayer is for all the little souls who will come after us, my great nieces and nephews, that they will have the faith we do and pass it on.
I think often of Yos, my great-great-grandpa on my mom's side. He'd be proud of us! He'd traveled here from Russia, left the colony to live the American life of freedom. I'm so glad he did.
May whatever you're doing today as you get my hand-scribbled note [it seems I'd planned to copy this and mail it but never did], may you remember that the choices we make affect future generations, just like Yos' did.
Just like Stella's did when she went forward to accept Christ as a young woman all those years ago. And Dad followed. Maybe you don't know that story [most do now since it was shared at a reunion this summer], but it's an awesome example of how one little, yet very important, decision changed the course of lives.

That's what it said. That note. Full of gratitude and yearning.

I must have come home from the retreat and stored it away. It was well into the morning today when I realized this was the day Mom had passed on. Then in mid-afternoon, I found the pink note. Seems Mom was giving me something to blog about at the start of this new year.

She wouldn't like today's world. We have strife. Seems worse than ever, she'd say.

Economical. Racial. Political. Religious. Even within our Christian faiths, Catholic and Protestant alike, we disagree on many so things. Mom would say, "Devil's havin' fun amongst us."

But one thing never changes: Christ's love for us. The gift of eternal life through His son.

I'll close with another one of Mom's favorite sayings when she didn't know what to say when people's behavior seemed to disappoint our human thinking, "I'm sure glad I'm not the judge."

I'm certain the judge on the throne found her faithful.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

6 Favorite Christmas Treats

One: peppermint chewy candies 

The only store-bought item on my list. Couldn't find them this year. Had to dig out the stash I buried in the cabinet. I like anything peppermint. These candies have a Christmas tree in the middle. For Valentine's, a heart. Maybe stores will sell them in February.

Two: Mom's cranberry relish 

As a child, I never ate it, but after my sister Brenda served it one time at Thanksgiving, because she knew our nephew Michael liked it, I tried some. Now I make it for my family. My little nephew-in-law Wesley couldn't get enough of it one year for Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's. It's quite a sight when I make it though. I have to stand on a chair to smash it down into the attachment to the mixer. Nothing makes me feel short like that does.

Three: peanut blossom cookies
The ones with the chocolate kiss on top made with a bit of cream peanut butter. I prefer Mrs. Elmer Hofer's recipe in the old Hutterthal Church cookbook that Mom gave me when I moved out on my own. I'll be making my second batch of these during Christmas break.

Four: fudge 
Simple ingredients from Laura Goosen's recipe. She was our pastor's wife when I was an elementary student. Wrote about her famous bun recipe here. I have to freeze this fudge it to cut it otherwise it's too gooey. One small piece satisfies me for hours.

Five: cheese ball 
Mom's recipe with pimentos. Son-in-law Nate almost ate half of it in one setting the other day he liked it so much. My niece-in-law Amy in South Dakota loves it when I make this at Christmas time.

Six:  Mom's fruitcake 
Yes. Fruitcake. I make it every year for my seventh graders. because of "A Christmas Memory," a short story we study by Truman Capote. Kids gag, spit it out, eat it fast to get it over with. I tell them it's okay, they don't have to like it, and that they won't hurt my feelings.
But many do the opposite and come back for more at the end of the day. Past students hear I've brought it again and pop in for leftovers. And teachers peek in to say, "If you have enough, may I please have a piece?" And of course, I oblige. This too is my mom's recipe in that old church cookbook.

What I didn't list 
Notice I didn't say sugar cookies? I do enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth ones made by my friend Paula Voth, but I cannot make them. My husband and step-daughter Brittany joke that I'm not good at making the simple things: mac and cheese from a box, eggs, pancakes—so it doesn't surprise me that I can't make these.
Mom couldn't make them either, but that didn't stop my Kansas sister Brenda and me from trying sugar cookies one holiday season. We took them home to the family in South Dakota. People didn't seem interested in eating a Christmas stocking that looked like a cowboy boot, so they got dumped to the hogs.
I also enjoy homemade caramel, but this too, Mom and I couldn't master. Janice Peterson, the mother of my childhood friend and classmate Adele, made incredible caramel. I have the recipe in a classroom cookbook from third grade. Each of us brought family recipes for Mrs. Gilchrist to organize in a cookbook that we gave to our moms for Christmas. I need to find that thing and try the caramels again.

Soon holiday celebrations will cease and so will the treat making. No. Wait. Valentine's Day brings more of the same. I'll make more fudge. And peanut blossom cookies. And look for the peppermint chew candies in the stores. Then after that, it's Easter. Oh, how I love solid chocolate bunnies! And peeps. And candy message hearts. And Russell Stovers.

Oh, how my sweet tooth rules. I have a mouth full of cavities, capped teeth, and an implant to show for it too—but that's due to not brushing my teeth when I was little and lying to Mom about it.

What are your favorite holiday treats? Which ones are the must-makes? Which ones belong in the hog pen? Are there some holiday treats you make all year round?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Worst Christmas Gift Ever

I asked my seventh grade students about the worst present they've ever received at Christmas time. The discussion came up while reading my favorite tear-jerker holiday story, "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote.

Responses: a phone book, a sack of dog poop, a gift card with $1 on it. Not the greatest of Christmas gifts.

After hearing those, my worst-present-ever story isn't so bad, but I'm going to tell it anyway. Not out of ingratitude, out of humor.

I'd asked for typewriter one year because I loved to type. I had the "every good man must come to the aid of his country" phrase down. Piano playing from age eight came in handy when typing. After counting my errors on an exercise one day, I had typed 90-some words a minute in Mrs. Zieman's business class at HHS

So, I wanted a typewriter. Bad. Begged for one. Really begged. I knew that's what was in the rectangular heavy box under the tree when I was a young high school student.

To my dismay, that's not what was in it. No modern Smith Corona for me.

It was an electronic foot soaker. My dad's idea.

Grandma Katie, my mom's mom who'd lived with us when I was younger, frequently soaked her feet in a tub of sudsy hot water. I would do it too. Read more about Grandma Katie here. Long after Grandma was out of the house, I still soaked my feet. In fact, I still do it today. It's especially relaxing with a cup of hot tea, a dog or two, and a good book or the remote tuned to the Lifetime Movie Channel.

With the foot soaker gift, my observant father believed he was giving me, his teenage daughter, a present she'd appreciate, but the snotty only used it once. Mom was scared I'd electrocute myself.

So that was my worst Christmas present ever.

I did end up getting a typewriter—maybe for my birthday that summer—and in typical Dad-fashion, it was the Cadillac of typewriters. He tends to go overboard on things. Gets the deluxe version when the typical will do. I married a man just like him. I'm lucky, but I admit, the unappreciative girl comes out in me sometimes.

My best Christmas present? If we're taking about material things, I'm not sure I have one. But the best present was Jesus Christ whose birth is celebrated by Christians around the world. I call Him Savior. He is the one still shaping this girl into the woman He wants her to be.

And with that I say, Merry Christmas!

How about you? Want to reveal your least favorite Christmas present? Who was it from? Why did they give it to you? Or, maybe you want to share the worse gift you've ever given.