Friday, August 28, 2015

People I Know Series: PIKS 004: Ruth

Diane and Ruth

I have known my friend Ruth for about 15 years.  We worked together at an insurance company in Des Moines, and my first memory of Ruth was a business trip to Toronto to meet with our insurance systems vendor.  

We enjoyed many lunches while we were working, both commiserating about work and laughing at the crazy stuff going on in our lives. 

Ruth was my role model for early retirement as she retired 1 year before me, and I watched how she adjusted to the change.  Ruth and I remain good friends today, and Mike and I especially enjoy her annual visit to Indy each summer.

1.     When and where were you born?

I was born in 1954 in a small county hospital in SE Nebraska.  My hometown of Steinauer was 10 miles away, population 120 at that time.  No escaping it, I was raised as a small town girl.  I was the first girl in my parents growing family.  There were 5 young boys at home to greet me.  Rumor has it that in my toddler years I was a bit spoiled after they fielded a basketball team with boys.  Trust me that did not last as like all members of the family weekly chores were started at a young age.  Four more children (3 girls and a boy) arrived after me.
Ruth and sister Susan 
2.     What is your first, most vivid memory?

I was quite young (3 yrs) and the memory is brief.  There were two gentlemen in either jumpsuits or a pant and shirt of the same dark color coming to the front door.  Out where we parked our cars was a large boxy like vehicle.  No idea why it stuck with me other than in a small town there is routine and most everyone recognizes everyone else.  After explaining this memory to my mother years later she came to realize it was the day an older brother (age 9) who had been ill passed away while sleeping in the recliner.  The tone of the household was quite different which I likely picked up on.

3.     What were you like as a child?  What did you do for fun? 

I recall being rather carefree and enjoying playing outside immensely.  I loved the outdoors and going barefoot.  I had 5 older brothers so until I entered my elementary years it was all about trying to keep up with them.  We created our own games, played hide and seek and hop scotch.  During the summer it was all about catching lightning bugs in the evening.   

My parents allowed pets, and “mine” were 2 dark gray cats named Thundercloud and Raincloud.  They were just one part of an ever changing family pet menagerie that included a very old dog, toads, turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs, a parakeet, hunting dogs, rabbits, goldfish, etc.

4.     Who is/was the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about them?)

Longevity runs in both sides of the family.  Several relatives have lived to the age of 96 including my grandmother (dad’s mother) who lived on a farm a few miles out of town, and my Aunt Ruth (mom’s sister) whom I was named after and a favorite of the whole family. My mother is currently 93 and dad turns 95 in October.  

Aunt Ruth was loving, laughed a lot, had spirited discussions and always played penny a point Yahtzee with us kids and never let us win.  Grandma was a work horse and always had chores lined up for us when we visited the farm.  She was not a doting grandmother.  With that said I fondly remember her treating us to homemade bread, covered with hand churned sweet butter and then topped with honey from my uncles hives.  Delicious!

Here is a picture of Aunt Ruth's 90th birthday.  Three sisters with three sisters.
Front: Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Ruth and mom.  Back: Sharon, Ruth and Julie.

5.     Describe your parents.  What were they like? Where did they meet?

Mom and dad worked hard.  When you have 10 children there isn’t a lot of relaxation time, however during their middle years they did hire babysitters and went out dancing a few times a month with long-time friends.  They met at a dance hall in Omaha, NE while dad was home on leave from the Navy.  They married in 1945. 
Dad traveled for his work and was home only on weekends. That bothered me as I thought he didn’t have the right to tell us what to do when he was home as mom was the one who raised us.  In college someone asked me when my father died as I never spoke of him, only mom.  Was that ever a wake-up call!  By then I realized he had been out earning a living and putting food in our belly and a roof over our head.  As a child I did not understand him being on the road all the time.
Ruth's mom and dad
6.     What was the best gift you remember as a child?

By now you may have surmised that I do not succinctly answer the question presented.  I specifically recall two gifts from my childhood (pre-teens).  I recall one year when I received a store bought subtle plaid wool pleated skirt and fancy solid curly wool like top for Christmas.  Key words in that last sentence were ‘store bought’.  My aunt had purchased them in the city and we had not made them ourselves.  That was a big deal and I still remember the color combination.

The second gift I still have today.  My grandmother on my dad’s side of the family had 65 grandchildren and 65 great grandchildren by the time she passed away so you can understand gifts were only presented when you were younger and usually a pair of slippers made from two thin washcloths. One Christmas I received a ceramic lamp with a hand painted floral design inside an oval trimmed in gold.  It wasn’t washcloth slippers!  That lamp is still in use today in our guest bedroom.

7.     What did you want to be when you grew up?

A dancer.  I always admired the grace of those that I saw dance on the occasional TV program.  I preferred those that had a contemporary style with the gracefulness of ballet.  Why is this childhood dream odd?  I lived in a small community and never had access to a dance lesson, am not tall nor slender in build.  Those ladies were simply cool.  I thought them to be more glamorous than a movie star. 

8.     Describe your first job.  What did you do with your first paycheck?

I mowed the town park.  Since we lived in farm country the boys in town often ended up working for farmers even at a young age.  I landed the park gig because my dad owned the lot adjacent to it and since I was already mowing there as part of my summer chores it made sense.  I don’t recall the pay so maybe I did not get paid and it was just expected of me. 

When I did earn a dollar here and there I used it for the occasional bottle of pop (soda) and a bag of peanuts.  Remember the glass bottles of Pepsi and trying to drink up the fizz when the nuts were added?  Shortly after that I graduated to the occasional purchase of a 45rpm record.

9.     What have you liked best about your life so far?  What is your happiest or proudest moment?

It has been a good life without serious calamity or illness.  I left a small town and became successful in what I did.  Happiest moment may be the birth of our first son, and a great moment of pride was when our second son played the guitar and sang to his bride as she came down the path in their wedding ceremony in our backyard.  It was a surprise for all the guests.  We had no idea it was part of their plan, he pulled it off beautifully.  There were many teary eyed guests at that time, this mom included.  It was a point in my life when I realized I had been successful in raising my son and that he truly was becoming a man and had self-confidence.
Ruth and Don on their wedding day
Sons James and Andrew
Hiking with Andrew
Andrew, Ruth and Don
10. What has been the most frustrating thing or biggest challenge in your life?

Change.  I do not adapt well and that scares me.  I know that it is inevitable, can be productive and necessary yet it still challenges me.  I cannot seem to cross that barrier and jump on the wagon.  It is like running alongside the train and never sure whether you should grab hold and then discovering you were left behind.

11. What job did you do most of your life?  What did you like most about it?  Least?

I worked within the insurance industry most of my life.  For the majority of my career I was within an area that served as the liaison between customer service administration and Information Technology.  Computer problems were often reported to us, we researched to identify the issue and documented the problem often testing solutions to smaller issues. 

Most enjoyable was working with my staff and those that we served.  Relationships were important to me.  The least happy time of my career was when there was too much to be completed with too few resources in an area I knew very little about.  The long days and weeks burned me out.  This led me to retire early.  The pendulum swung and happiness returned.

12. If we asked a relative or good friend about your best and worst qualities, what would they say?

The first word that came to mind was ‘caring’.  I recall one point in my career when I was exceptionally frustrated and my superior said I cared too much.  Post retirement this trait got me into trouble as I over volunteered and found myself working (unpaid) a tremendous number of hours.  As for my worst traits, I do not handle conflict well.  I often shut down instead of trying to work through it or at the least do not address it.   

13. What do you do for fun now?  Hobbies? Special Interests?

My husband got me into gardening many years ago and post retirement that became a passion.  I spent long days that first summer revamping my perennial gardens.  A couple years later my son was married in my backyard, and it was also selected to be part of the Polk County Master Gardeners Garden Tour.
Backyard garden

My passion for gardening carries over into my church where I am co-chair of the landscape gardens, and I also co-chair a 1.75 acre Demonstration Garden for the master gardeners.
Master Gardener's Demonstration Garden

I chair a mission group which prepares and feeds a meal to 200-250 shelter clients once a month, designing the menu and seeing that all supplies are donated in advance and volunteers available to prepare and serve the evening meal.

14. What one item in your life would you never give up?  Why?

Tough question, and not one I have considered. I love my sweets so sugar may fall into that category.  I would give it up, but it is not something I would do happily.  Maybe owning a car would be more appropriate.  I like and appreciate the independence of being able to go whenever I want and not rely on others.  

15. What frightens you? Why?

When aging, the possibility of losing my connection to reality, and having short term memory loss.  Like most individuals I would prefer to stay both physically and mentally vibrant until the end. 

Also for many years if I heard the orchestral score to Peter and the Wolf it instilled a sense of fear.  I learned later in life that in my first few years of life my ill brother played it over and over and over as it was his favorite music.  Enough time has passed that I can now listen to it without the same level of cringing. 

16. What is the best advice your parents gave you?

My parents lived their advice.  Mom was loving and giving.  She felt that memories counted, not the material things.  Dad was the original recycle and re purpose guy.  He repaired instead of replacing (although this was later taken to an unhealthy extreme).   He gardened extensively to save money.   I swore I would never have a vegetable garden as I hated all the weeding as a child but a year into marriage we decided fresh produce was worth it.
Dad, Mom and family at the homestead

17.  What’s your best advice for living a good life?

Focus on the positive and those things that make you happy.  Give gratitude.  I do not always manage this but I do make an effort.  Being thankful for what you have takes the focus away from the negative.  A yoga instructor always reminded us to be thankful for even the smallest things like healthy feet as without them life would be quite different. 

Also consider ‘want’ vs. ‘need’.  That isn’t to say you should not treat yourself on occasion (after all we have worked hard to get to this point) but I have observed so many individuals stressing over finances because they over extended themselves.  Do not focus on the material side of life. 

Links to other PIKS articles:  PIKS 001: Diane;  PIKS 002: Mike;  PIKS 003: Brian

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The beauty of the West

Wyoming grasslands
Sometimes a change of scenery helps you clear your head and regain perspective.  And a trip out West did just that!

We decided on a driving vacation to visit friends Mel and Cathy in Big Sky, Montana.

I absolutely LOVE the mountains.  Now don't get me wrong.  I love the Midwest where I've lived my whole life.  But there is something about the mountains that simply makes me happy.  I could look at the mountains every single day and never get tired of the scenery.  So here's glimpse of the beauty that surrounded us every day in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana...

Where sky and fields meet

Amazing evening light
Lake in the Tetons

Driving through Wyoming

A beautiful valley in the Tetons
Hiking around Jenny Lake in the Tetons
Grand Teton National Park

Waterfall near Jenny Lake
View from the mountain top in Big Sky, Montana

Pretty in pink

Mel and Cathy have a beautiful home, and the views from their deck are incredible.  Here is a sampling of what we enjoyed:

View from front of house
Across the golf course toward the mountains
Lone Peak

And it was a wonderful relaxing week with Mel, Cathy, Chuck and Melanie.  Lots of stories, laughter, food and drink.  

Mel and Mike

With Chuck and Melanie visiting the first homestead in Big Sky

With Chuck, Mike and Melanie at The Garage in Bozeman, Mt.

With Melanie and Cathy at Beehive Basin Brewery 

Mel, Chuck, Mike and Melanie at the brewery

No words necessary...

Enjoying Thai food in Big Sky

We've been home for one week now, and I still see the mountains in my mind's eye.  And I'm already thinking about how and when to get back there.  And dreaming about how we could live there...

Have a great week!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"There ain't no bears in there"

"There ain't no bears in there", or so we thought...
Maybe you've heard this lyric in The Who song, "Cache, Cache".

I never thought much about it until our recent trip to Wyoming and Montana.

Now this tune runs through my head whenever I view our trip photos... .

Imagine our surprise to see a black bear about 100 feet away!

Cute face!  But believe me, I was ready to run to the car!

Although we were thrilled to see a bear, we were very aware of the danger.  Mike carried a can of bear spray when we hiked in the Grand Tetons.  And while we were on vacation there was news coverage about an experienced hiker being killed by a bear in Yellowstone.  In retrospect, we should not have been close enough to take these pictures...

We were fortunate to see other animals during our trip. Some familiar, and some not...

Cows grazing in Wyoming

Big Horn Sheep along the road in Big Sky, Montana

Hummingbird feeding

After a 5 mile hike in Grand Tetons, we saw a huge elk grazing in the parking lot!

From the familiar to the exotic animals, we felt like kids as we stared in wide-eyed wonder at the bear, elk and Big Horn sheep.  And maybe that's what vacation is all about, seeing the world through kid's eyes...