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What We Leave Behind #SOL22 Day 10

Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad–A must read for writers. Now out in paperback.

Between Two Kingdoms, by Suleika Jaouad is one of the best books I read last year. I was so inspired by it as a writer and a human. Suleika started a writing community during the pandemic call The Isolation Journals. I receive her weekly newsletter which always contains a writing prompt. Today, I’m writing to the prompt “What We Leave Behind” by Joy Juliet Bullen. The heart of this prompt is to find an old object or picture and examine it for clues about the person that left it behind or what might have been happening in the moment.

As a child, this is how I spent every Wednesday of the summer. A day on Lake Monroe. My dad’s pride and joy, Bubba, a 1967 Chris Craft, was given to him by his father when he was a teenager. It is a beautiful wooden boat that he has cared for by hand for over 50 years. It is not just a relic; it doesn’t just sit to be looked at. My dad takes it out and enjoys it. My parents now live on a lake, and Bubba is still running and gets noticed every time my dad putters around the lake in him.

Clues about the past in this picture:

  • Who is taking this picture? My Grandad. He was sitting on the back bench in the boat. He would often join us on our Wednesday boating trips. He was so proud of my dad and his love for water and this boat. I remember looking for geodes with Grandad. We would sink in the mud and at the banks and pull big out big geodes and try to get them back to the boat.
  • My dad is driving the boat. He was always the driver. Never my mom. Never my Grandad. Never my brother or I, even when we got older. That was his role.
  • My dad’s hair blowing in the wind. He was blessed with a full head of dark hair, and still has it to this day. My Grandad has been bald for as long as I can remember.
  • My mom’s hand has probably just pushed her hair back out of her eyes. Of course it was windy on our boat rides. I remember how tangly my hair would be after a day at the lake. Matted down from repeatedly getting in and out of the water, drying, getting wet again, blowing in the wind. It was a rat’s nest by the time we got home.
  • My brother and I lying face down on the motor box. We loved riding on the motor box. The vibration from the engine would lull us into a peaceful rest, sometimes even to sleep.
  • The strap from the scratchy orange life jackets. They were so uncomfortable, but it was the rule. You wore your life jacket on the boat when it was moving. I remember what a treat is was to take your life jacket off for lunch.
  • My feet curled over the back of the front seats. I can feel the sticky upholstery under my left foot and the cool sheet under my right foot.
  • The Mini Mouse towel behind my mom’s back. The polka dotted sheet draped over the front seat.
  • The leg of the ladder that hung along the back of the front seat. It was a challenge to get in and out of the boat. And we were always reminded to make sure the legs were out on the ladder or the boat would get scratched.

Boating with my family was a huge part of my childhood. I have such happy memories from it. My love of the sun and water was definitely a trait passed down from my parents.

This is my third year to participate in the Slice of Life Challenge. 31 days of writing about small moments in life. Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting this challenge
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Pink Little Pill #SOL22 Day 9

I opened the bottle and there was one lone pink little pill hiding in the very bottom. Josie, my almost 13 year old yellow lab, is on a daily thyroid pill. Why do I always let it get to this point? I want to be the kind of person who is more intentional, more organized. Someone who calls the vet when there are about 2 weeks worth of pills left to get a refill. Someone who is not always rushing around at the final hour to get things down. I knew I didn’t have time to run up to the vet’s office to get a refill today. And, when I did have time on Friday, I had called and the office was closed. I shoved the pill into the back of her cheek followed by her “chewy” pill for her joint health. She choked them down.

Then I remembered! Sometimes, she manages to spit her pink little pill out, and I find them around the house. I remember seeing one in the corner of the laundry room behind her dog bed. Is it still there? I rummaged around under the edges of her well worn, flattened dog bed. There it was! One more pink little pill. I added it to the bottle, and now I am set for one more day. I must call the vet today! (unless I know of one more place where there might be a discarded pink little pill)

This is my third year to participate in the Slice of Life Challenge. 31 days of writing about small moments in life. Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting this challenge
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One Hour a Day Challenge #SOL22 Day 6

After reading Britt Decker’s post, I was intrigued to try the #onedayhh challenge. I know this typically takes place in November, but I decided to give it a go yesterday. I knew I was going to have a fun filled day visiting my daughter in Chicago, and I wanted to document the day together.

6 am–rise and shine

4 scoops, 10 cups of water, and a little half and half = liquid gold
My morning routine of scripture, prayer journal, poetry, and writing grounds me for the day ahead.

7 am–packing up

A small bag of essentials for our weekend in the Windy City.

8 am–taking the dog

Loaded up and ready to drop Josie off at Mimi daycare for the weekend.

9 am–on the road

Getting a little Breathe For Change work done on the 3 1/2 hour drive up.

10 am–still on the road

The city is in view

11 am–Lakeshore Boulevard

The first mild day of the season in Chi-town. So many people were riding bikes, walking, running just on the other side of the bushes.

12 pm–but first food

Filling up before we hit the town-YUM

1 pm–Field Museum

Such a beautiful, light, airy museum.

2 pm–Field Museum

Quick family picture with the huge hanging plants

3 pm–Field Museum

Obligatory picture with what we thought was Sue, the T Rex
As we were trying to find our way out of the dinosaur exhibit be stumbled across the real Sue 😂😂

4 pm–Shedd Aquarium

Cool jellyfish

5 pm–Shedd Aquarium

Seeing the beluga whales was a highlight of the aquarium.

6 pm–leaving the city

Exiting the museum to a beautiful view of the city. The wind was brutal and we headed to the parking lot. A storm was approaching the area.

7 pm–dinner time

We walked to a restaurant in G’s neighborhood—The Bad Apple. I’m always the one taking the pictures. So thankful for this one of just the two of us.

8 pm–pub grub at its best

Beer flights and burgers—double YUM

9 pm–family time

No picture 🙃 But it was so great to hang out on the couch, cuddle and just visit.

10 pm–bed

It was a great, but exhausting day! We made the most of every moment.

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Sarah #SOL22

I looked over at her, asleep in the front seat after a night of celebrating the New Year with friends and saying her goodbyes. Car packed, we were on the road to Chicago to get her settled in her new home for the next four months. She would begin student teaching in a first grade classroom in Chicago Public Schools on Monday.

That’s when it struck me…Sarah. She was holding the ratty, faded blue, stuffed hippo tight in her arms while her head rested on a pillow. When did she become this young woman? Almost twenty two and the world at her fingertips? Wasn’t she just a six year old getting a Sarah as a birthday gift?

Sarah had always been there. Sleepovers with friends, summer camp away, her first year at college and then her apartments. Now Sarah was on her next adventure. You’ve got this, Gretchen (and Sarah!)

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If I Blink #SOL

my hands touch the warm rubber
hard, dried and cracking along the curves
I grab and pull back
one, two, threeee
my hand releases

if I blink, 
my mind transports to 20 years ago
our almost daily trips to this park
late mornings,to return home for lunch and naps

the rhythmic pushing 
feet high in the air
little fingers grabbing that same metallic chain

if I blink,
I see our red wagon filled with snacks and stuffed animals
and always pacifiers (extras just in case)
hands gripping the sides
bodies leaned back against the rails
traveling in style

chatter bounces around the playground
kids chase up, around, over, under
toddlers waddle with caretakers protecting their every move

if I blink,
you are exploring as hover and I predict your next step 
you are running to and fro
playing with friends, plotting your games

You've grown too old for this
I begin again with the next generation
But, oh how I savor the memories of old
if I blink






A morning at Donner with my great nephew
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Morning Porch Sittin’

Our rustic home for 3 days in Happy Valley, Tennessee

I turned over in bed and noticed the faint light penetrating the thin muslin curtains. Ah, morning time. I love the first streams of light and the soft nudge they give me to wake up and start my day in the stillness.

Brewed coffee in hand, I step out of the 100 year old cabin onto the front porch. The wooden screen door creaks on its hinges. I catch it carefully so it doesn’t slam. I breathe in the damp mountain air; feel the moisture on my skin of the fog rising off of the Smokies. I settle into the rocking chair with my books and notebook. THIS is what I came for. These next 120 minutes of time to think, reflect, observe, and be at peace in my mind.

I notice the chorus of little birds on the hillside across the quiet street. Swooping and calling in playful movements. So many varieties playing chase in the meadow.

My devotion and prayer time come first. I picked up a bible from the end table inside, inscribed with “Bobby Christian.” It molded to my hand, soft and malleable from years of use. I wonder what life was like for Bobby? Did he and his family attend the church two lots down?

A deer appears near the top of the hillside. His head on a swivel; frozen in place and looking for enemies. I beg him to relax and feel the safety of this place. He knows the area much better than I and the risk of being out in the open. Finally, he settles and feeds on the dewy grass.

Next up, notebook time. I let my mind process some of what the last month, last year has held. My role as instructional coach was put on hold to address many different needs in our building…tech support for teachers and families, teaching 6th grade math online, teaching 3rd-5th grade writing online, teaching in a very challenging 5th grade classroom in person for the last nine weeks, preparing for my son’s high school graduation and the open house that followed. Putting these thoughts on the page allows them to leave my mind; breaking the cyclical thinking attached to them.

My eyes search the unruly overgrown wire fence separating the road from the hillside. The green of the trees brings peace and calm to my being. I’m not sure what it is, but trees have this immediate effect on me.

I open Mary Oliver’s collection called Devotions. “I Worried” spoke to me. I love the last stanza: Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang. Then I read “Passing the Unworked Field” about Queen Anne’s lace, how it stands straight on its thin stems how it scrubs its white faces with the rag of the sun how it makes all the loveliness it can. Sitting in a rocker on the porch of a 100 year old cabin reading Mary Oliver. The perfect setting to feel the essence of her poetry.

I hear a rustle in the cabin. The others wake to the start of the day. My solitude time is over, but I am filled up and ready for the family time ahead.

The view from the front porch
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The Everglades: A Photo Essay

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Soup Sunday #SOL21

Yesterday was the last soup Sunday of the season. Soup Sunday occurs every Sunday at the Bless household between Fall Break and Spring Break. Our evening meal is some type of soup usually paired with a bread. I always seek to try out a few new soup recipes each year. This year we tried a buffalo chicken soup that will stay in the rotation, and a hamburger soup that was a “once and done” recipe.

The first and last Soup Sunday of the season is usually a crowd favorite: Bless chili. My mother in law is famous for her chili recipe. It is always a hit at tail gate parties, post game celebrations, and family gatherings. My husband loves this chili and would eat it every week if I would make it. I’m surprised he didn’t write into our wedding vows that Bless chili would be made at least four times each winter.

Bless Chili

Brown 1 lb hamburger with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

Drain grease and mix in minced onions, one packet of Brooks chili seasoning (original or hot if you like it spicy), and a can of tomato soup. Simmer on low while you prepare the beans.

In a blender, blend one can of Brooks chili beans until smooth. Add beans to the hamburger mixture. Thin out with V8 tomato juice. This is what make this chili different from most…you have the bean flavor without the bean texture.

Cook macaroni noodles; about 1 cup. Drain and add to the hamburger mixture. Continue to thin with V8 juice until desired consistency.

Top with Fritos, oyster crackers, sour cream, and shredded cheese.

The best part about Soup Sunday: it is usually followed up by desert. This week was apple pie a la mode. I’d say we went out with a bang this year!

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Bottle Up the Moment #SOL21

  • little man in his khakis and two toned blue Columbia fleece jacket
  • stubby legs running, full of energy
  • tuft of blondish red waves of hair
  • crossing his arms emphatically
  • having a conversion with made up words
  • sneaking into the kitchen to investigate
  • What does a sheep say? “BAAAA”
  • What does a cat say? softly with a shy nod of his head “meeooow”
  • “Doggie” over and over
  • hugs and pats for Josie
  • grabbing a blanket to cover Josie “night night”
  • sending the cars flying on the laminate floor
  • attaching the trains and pushing them over the tracks
  • still loves the Baby Colors book; now knows many of the objects: ball, baby, doggie
  • finding the lids that match the toy tubs
  • sitting in the tub of books
  • pushing the tub around the house
  • fell down; brief tears and crying; quickly soothed
  • big hugs for us
  • wrestling him into his PJs
  • playing “boop” with the stuffed hippo; cracking up laughing

My nephew’s son, Hudson, is 20 months old. Their family relocated to our town when Hudson was 2 months old. It has been a joy to watch him grow and change. Sometimes I feel like as a parent I was not able to enjoy these stages (and I definitely didn’t write about them to keep them as a lasting memory). With Hudson, it’s been different. I am able to fully focus on him when I am with him. I can appreciate and notice the ways he is growing and learning. With COVID, we haven’t seen them as much, but when we do, I cherish our time together…I want to bottle up the moment.

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Coach and Player, Father and Son

They communicate via hand signals on the field. They huddle around the ipad watching film. They discuss plays over a dry erase board. They stand shoulder to shoulder on the sideline analyzing the game execution. Coach and player. Father and son.

Watching from the stands, I am on the outside looking in. But I know what I see. A season in life that will be bitter sweet. One we will look back on with fond memories. One that is slipping away and will be gone before we want it to be.

It’s part of the family DNA. Coaching, teaching, making an impact on young lives. My husband and his 2 brothers were coached by their father. All three went on to become high school teachers and coaches. They have impacted countless young men, but their most valuable impact has been on their sons and learning life lessons through the game of football.

As I prepare my heart for what might be the last game where father coaches son, I am not ready. One is still the young coach holding his infant son smiling after a victory. The other is still the 8 year old ball boy running on and off the sideline. Eighteen years of father and son together on the field. I’m sure in those final hugs there will be tears of joy and sorrow but most of all tears of gratitude for getting to experience something so special.

Three generations of Bless men