Reunions and Relatives?

Last weekend my husband’s annual family reunion was held in the coolness of Michigan, a state north of my own sweet Missouri.  The chosen city was Ann Arbor, home of the prestigious University of Michigan, best known around my home for its slogan, “Go Blue!”

It’s that time of year when shapes of waxy green hanging above our heads were starting to turn yellow.  Edges of some were slightly curled.  Below our feet, several had been there for days or maybe a week.  Others floating down seemed to be waving. “Hello,” or “Good-by,” depending on your point of view, I guess.

Chairs of plastic mesh crisscrossed to make backs and seats on hallow metal tubes.  Bright colors of orange and yellow, blue and white or lime and turquoise sat ready and waiting.  Some were already filled and taken.  Semi-circles automatically made their way atop a stained wooden deck of dark cinnamon that seemed to flow right off a kitchen belonging to the host.

Inside, on every covered counter top of Formica white, trays of catered food were displayed.  Fresh sandwiches of turkey and vegetables, lean roast beef with lettuce and bowls of assorted chips and dips of green or cream sat together with a variety of salads.  Noodle or potato?  Lettuce or Kale?  Creamy dressing or plain?  In between were large plates of every crudité imaginable plus the mandatory sheet cake.  Decorated and frosted in white, it took center stage.  There was enough food to fill a plate for my husband’s siblings of eight.  Maybe two or even three.  No one had to wait to see.  “Come and Get it!”

As tracks of teeth left bite marks amidst three-layered sandwiches, there was another buzz floating among the trees.  A new name spitted out.  Harbaugh.  H.A.B.A.U.G.H.

One can’t live in Ann Arbor, perhaps anywhere in Michigan and not be excited about the new coach of U of M.  As members of die-hard Michigan fans, this was a great topic of conversation during our reunion.  “So what do you think about Harbaugh?”  “Isn’t that great about Harbaugh?”  “Can’t wait to see the first game coached by Harbaugh!”

Jim Harbaugh was a former Michigan Alumnus where he played Quarter Back for three seasons and led the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl in 1987, finishing third as a Heisman Trophy finalist.  He coached the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL for four seasons (2011-2014) where he led them to three playoff wins and one Super Bowl.  Now, he was coming HOME.  No wonder everyone was excited!

Sitting in my webbed chair of plastic color, listening to all of the talk about Jim Harbaugh, I couldn’t help but smile to myself.  Out of everyone attending the reunion, perhaps I had the most reason to be thinking of him.  No one knew, of course.  And, after all these years, centuries even, it’s not really important.  But, on that day, in that time and place it was my own little secret claim to possible fame.

Jim Harbaugh, the new coach of the University of Michigan may be related to me.  His early ancestors settled in the same few states that my own ancestors did.  My great-grandmother was a Harbaugh, the same as Jims’.  She was a German descendent of Casper Harbaugh who came to America via ship at the age of 13 in 1742.  His parents tearfully put him on a boat, all alone, hoping to give him a better life once he arrived in the new world.  How desperate they must have been!

Ironically, I’m lucky to be here and perhaps Jim Harbaugh is too.  Casper Harbaugh almost didn’t make it to America.  Like many who rocked their way across the sea on a wooden ship, Casper took ill with typhoid fever.  Thinking he died, his frail and limp body was quickly sewn into a burlap sack, ready to be tossed overboard.  Somehow God gave him the strength to make a slight movement within which saved his life there and then.

So, Jim Harbaugh, if you’re out there we may be distant relatives.  No, it doesn’t really matter.  My family will forever be Michigan fans!  So glad we are to have you back where you belong!  And, next year, feel free to stop by our reunion.  The food is great!

“Go Blue!”


The Next Best Thing

It was the luck of the draw if you will.  An oblong piece of paper, stiff, printed with computerized letters and numbers.  One letter larger than the others, a capital A.  One number smaller, leading me to a seat next to a window where I could see clouds of fluffy cotton candy high in the sky.  Floating by.

Beforehand, while waiting to catch a plane, I noticed her.  A young girl-woman excited to take a new adventure.  Her face was fresh and pretty, scrubbed clean and framed by long, strawberry blonde hair.  Straight, it was held back by a headband of leather.  She seemed perfectly comfortable alone, as if already a veteran traveler at a relatively young age.

Settling into my seat, I stuffed magazines into the back of the one in front of me.  All the while, people tall and short with kids of little, plus parents holding babies passed by, single file.  My head popped up from reading.  Smiles my way, a nod of a head or eyes straight ahead every few seconds…Or once in a while.

Then a backpack of black trimmed in royal blue plopped down next to me.  Jammed and filled to the brim.  Pockets with side zippers nearly split open.  Papers peeking out together with brochures depicting colored pictures of a world I had never seen before.  Clutched in a hand of right, a plush walrus, soft and cocoa colored with warm, comforting dark eyes and a fuzzy, tickling mouth.  A good-luck charm?

“Hi,” she said, enthusiastically!

How lucky was I?  It was the girl I had noticed in the airport waiting area.  The girl-woman surely about to take an adventure.  Although much younger, I sensed she was about to teach me…. Life Lessons.  Closing my book, I welcomed her, ready to absorb whatever she had to say.

Turns out Becca was a member of her high school Rotary Club together with a group of several students boarding other flights that day.  Each had been assigned to live with host families for the next nine months.  It was part of their high school education of which they were expected to journal, in addition to keeping up with all of their regular studies.  Becca was beginning the first leg of her journey to Thailand, where she was scheduled to meet one of three host families who she would live with for nearly a year.

Tossed over an empty seat between us, Becca’s jacket rested over her backpack.  Covering nearly every inch of the front were pins collected from countries around the world.  She proudly showed me many of them, gingerly rubbing her fingers over her favorite, a pair of smooth, cream-colored wooden shoes from Holland.  They were brightly hand-painted with tiny wind mills, surrounded by colorful tulips sprouting at the tips of the toes.

During the whole rest of the flight, Becca thumbed through page after page of what was to be her lifeline, a paperback book on the topic of Thailand.  Several sticky notes stuck to the beginning of chapters, marking the importance of black and white words written inside.  Where to go, what to see and do, political correctness together with the vast, endless beauty of a country never seen before.

Vibrant pictures of color were captured within Becca’s book.  People and places, food, culture and language, dress, customs, transportation and tradition together with life.  It was fascinating to me.  Even more so, was the thought of this young girl-woman off to another side of the world for nearly a year.

Becca taught me a lot in that short ride on the inside of two wings.  Beside all of the facts about Thailand, I learned about Becca, the person.  How very different life was for her than when I was a teen! Thrilling were her opportunities!  To see the world, to learn and grow like most would never know.

The best thing about meeting Becca was getting to know her personality.  So down to earth she was.  No airs about her.  She appreciated all gifts in life and looked forward to giving back.  I had a feeling that whatever she learned or received from the people of Thailand, they too were about to be given life lessons never imagined.

Most of the Thai people probably would never make it to America, but they would see it through Becca’s eyes.  Soon, many of them, families of young and old would take an imaginary trip across a great ocean of blue to stare wide-eyed at our Statue of Liberty where they would be welcomed too.

The world around us.  So much to see and do even if only through paper pages of a book.  Read one today.  Touch the vibrancy of spectacular colored pictures to imagine that you’re traveling all around the world.

It’s the next best thing.







Steamed Heat

Steamed Heat arrived in St. Louis recently, lasting day and night.  Never a break it seemed to me.  An odd season of weather this year.  June was a bath of rain from heaven above while July might have baked bread of rye.  I wondered why?  The heat stifled me a bit.  My body, mind and spirit seemed to shut down.  Although rested from cooling temperatures and the beauty of a trip north, the slap of 100+ heat index took a toll on me.

Silence in the back of my yard.  No forest friends to welcome me.  It was too hot for them to venture out from beneath their tent of trees.  Truth be told, I only peered from the inside of window panes above cool air blowing up from the basement below.  There, I hoped to see legs and tails.  Wings and beaks.  Fur and feathers together with animals playing hide and seek.  Not to be.  Sweltering you see.

When outside, my city felt like the inside of a sauna.   During the day, mist covered the glass of homes, dulling sunlight that desperately tried to part invisible curtains.  Itty-bitty bubbles, small and slight clung to sides of clear until they evaporated late in the day or perhaps not until the next.  Steamed heat moved into neighborhoods, hiding any sign of window screens while air conditioning ran 24/7.

Yet last night a break in the weather!  Cooler temperatures slid down into the 90’s with lower humidity and a breeze that floated under the skin of my nose.  Tiptoeing outside to water fried flowers, I stopped to sit without burning the bare of my feet.  As I often do, I gazed upward toward the top of the hill where crown vetch grows thick and tall this time of year.

There was movement to my left.  Slight, but I was right.  Except for eyes, I did not stir.  Darting this way and that, the two of blue searched for what my heart had been seeking. Suddenly, four pointed ears, copper in color, peeked above the tall of green.  Twin fawns, spotted in white munched on an endless dinner.  Surely their mother would not be far away   Seconds later, she stepped regally out of the woods in order to protect her young.

At the very same time, a blueish-grey turkey’s head meandered down the hill, gobbling all the way.  Still I didn’t move, afraid I’d spook the beautiful bird of feathered brown.  To my surprise, bobbing behind her were little rounds of balding blue.  1-2-3-4-5!  Five babies or poults as they are officially called.  I know this because I wrote a previous post that included them entitled What Nature Teaches You,  Still, it’s the first time I’d ever seen a hen leading five poults down the steep of the hill.  Gobbling every few seconds, they moved their necks backward and forward, pecking a path towards their home among the darkened trees.

Just above my head hanging on a shady tree limb was a hummingbird feeder.  Call me lucky, but while all of this was going on two different birds, one dressed in lime green feathers and the other black and white trimmed in red stopped to feed.  They darted, flapping unseen wings while pointing long beaks into pink plastic flowers.  Inside, the sweet of red colored sugar-water waited patiently.

In those moments of minutes I realized that life is all about timing.  If Steamed Heat hadn’t lifted, I would have stayed in the house.  If I hadn’t ventured onto my patio to water flowers, kick off my shoes or take a seat in those very seconds all would have been different.  The animals I love may have still been foraging for food near fallen pine needles within the coolness of the forest.  I know I have God to thank for timing as well as Steamed Heat!

For a brief moment I was disappointed a camera was not at my side to capture the glory of last evening.  At the same time, I believe any slight movement of body or chair, a tilt of my head or a click of the camera would have startled all of God’s creatures.  Although unable to share them, I’m fortunate to have the wonder of their pictures forever painted on the canvas of my mind.

Steamed Heat Children