reflections on Family, Fall and Music

As the days grow shorter and leaves turn brilliant colors, our minds travel to the holiday season— a time to gather with family and friends. For us, music has been the glue uniting our family and friends in one accord. It began with my mother, Alice Gram, who was the only one in her family of thirteen to go to college. She became a music teacher. Her father, Anton Berge, sold four cows to send her to Milwaukee State Teachers’ College, currently University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She would play lullabies on the piano for my sister and me while we drifted off to sleep. My older brother, Bill, has a voice like Frank Sinatra. My memories are filled with mom playing the piano and Bill and his friends gathered around the piano singing the latest musicals. Our home was filled with the warmth of music. The love of music has been handed down through the generations.

Music the great connector

I grew up playing the piano and singing in various choruses at church and school. My three children all played the piano and other instruments. I gave, Deborah, my oldest child, piano lessons. Getting her to practice was like getting a fish to swim in water.  She loved playing and quickly excelled in not only piano but violin. I sat next to her on the piano bench as she was playing a beautiful classical piece. Suddenly, we were interrupted by a loud boom that shook the house. We looked at one another and  said, “Daddy’s Home”. Yes, Larry had pulled into our down-sloped driveway and missed putting it in park, being new to an automatic transmitter. Now the van was on a run away course as it quickly picked up speed. “My first instinct was to try to stop it,” said Larry.  “But I soon realized  tangling with a flying van was not going to make me the winner. I watched helplessly; but fortunately, a newly planted evergreen slowed down the van’s momentum and it clipped the side of our attached garage with a two foot gash in the wall.” Being a builder/carpenter at the time, Larry cleverly turned the gash into a plant holder. It ended up being a life lesson for the family. Turn your lemons into lemonade.

Deb took to the piano like a fish to the water.

Deb and I often laugh about this memory. She is currently a music teacher at Headwaters Academy in Bozeman, Montana, and additionally has 45 various students sitting on her piano bench at her private home studio. I sure hope some hot shot doesn’t crash into the side of her home.

My nephew, Matthew Gram, plays the violin at a Christmas gathering

Enjoy the fall and the coming holiday season. Fill you home with music, the great connector. God has wired us to enjoy music. “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing—-Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Psalm 150: 3-6

Watch Out! timber

Larry’s volunteerism takes him to a friend whose husband has MS.

Dressed in his lumberjack outfit and sporting a helmet Larry comes to the aid of a wheelchair bound man with MS to cut down a dead tree that rests precariously over another tree and very close to a fence. It has to be cut down strategically. Larry surveys the situation and ties it down .

Our neighbor, his wife and I held our breath while Larry made his slice. The tree was very dry and fell immediately. “Timber” Now they don’t have to worry about it coming down in a storm, and we have more wood for our wood-burning stove.

Larry helps a neighbor by cutting down a tree and now has more wood for the winter.

Over the years, I have volunteered Larry to help our many friends and neighbors because as a former contractor and Industrial Arts teacher, he has developed so many skills. Larry has cut down dead trees in our yard and has the equipment to do it correctly. Plus, he has a heart to help others. He has an acting faith in God, and believes strongly in “Faith without Works is dead.” James 2:14. We remember what it was like to struggle financially. We never forget those who helped us while we were struggling. Another verse we try to live by is the following, “Value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4.

A Wonderful Surprise

I often pinch myself while thanking God for putting us in such a wonderful spot. We are three blocks from the Fox River and right across the street from Barrington Hills. I was like the Proverbs 31 woman in the late 70’s looking for a lot to build our first home. I made it to Algonquin on Route 31 and saw a real estate building. I stopped in and they took me up North River road to a vacant lot that slopped down. It was on a dirt road. The woman selling the lot was in her 90’s and was selling it dirt cheap. When I told my lawyer brother about it, he said, “Is it under water?” So with his help, we bought the lot and after two years put up a wonderful house. Little did we know at that time how strategic it would be to our future jobs and how close it was to enjoying our favorite sport, biking and hiking through Barrington Hills, just across the street. Yesterday, I hopped on my bike and 15 minutes into my ride came across a field of sunflowers. I stopped and pulled my bike over and met a couple who had traveled a distance to see this field they learned about on google. The flowers filled the field as far as the eye could see.

On Springhill Rd and Haegers Bend in Barrington Hills.
On Springhill Rd North of Haeger’s Bend in Barrington Hills. Can google for Information.

I took pictures of the married couple who had a bouquet they picked for their daughter and they took my picture. I recommended they have coffee at Ambrosia in Barrington Hills. The owner, Debbie, is a friend and they have delicious coffee with whip cream and a free refill plus they have wonderful award winning french pastry.

Here’s a closeup!

The moral of the story—–hop on a bike or take a hike and wonderful things will be in store for you. Enjoy the end of summer and take time to smell and be engulfed by flowers. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the the skies declare his handiwork. Day after day they pour forth speech.” Psalm 19:1- Make this your day!

I stopped to enjoy the beauty of a moment.

what’s been left behind?

Have you ever left something important behind while traveling? How did you handle your problem? It was the 5th Anniversary of our book club’s summertime get-away. I meticulously packed my suitcase for our two night escape to beautiful Lake Arrowhead in Central Wisconsin, 4 hours away. I had all my bags ready to pack in my van. I stopped by Michele’s house to pick her up and put her things in the back of the van. We excitedly made our way to Renee’s house where we transferred our things. Renee loves to drive and she is like Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rainman—–an excellent driver. After our 4 hour drive talking non-stop, we finally made it to Chris’s summer home at Lake Arrowhead. I ran into her house to use the bathroom while they unpacked the car. Renee said that’s it—everything is out of the car. “What,” I said. “It can’t be. My suitcase is not here.” “It’s all out of the car,” she said again. My glee at having arrived quickly evaporated to depression. How could I have left my suitcase behind? Yes, I put it behind the passenger seat not the normal place. As I was figuring out how I could live in my current clothes for two days. My friends quickly piped up. “Sue,” we will take care of you. ” That is exactly what they did. I got night clothes and a tennis skirt and top from Chris. I got a lovely blouse to wear on our evening out from Michele. Then there were jeans and a necklace from Annette. I got two pairs of shoes, toothpaste/brush and most importantly makeup from Cleora. With a sigh of relief, I could enjoy the two day extravaganza planned for us. At least, I had my food contribution and I gave the book club sisters a chance for a hearty laugh. Never have I loved them more as they offered me more clothes than I ever could have worn. “A true friend is always loyal, and a brother/sister is born to help in times of need.” Proverbs 17:17. Now I don’t recommend leaving your suitcase home, but I didn’t miss the lack of clothes to wash when I got home. This is not a story, it’s life with Sue! See the next entry of another blog that happened when I got back home.

Getting ready to go out for dinner. I put little heels on.

Will We Ever Get Home, No We’ll Never get Home

Will we be home today? Maybe once I get Larry up and moving. But Larry deserves much rest. We went to a wedding in Colorado Springs on our way home from visiting our kids and grandkids in Montana. We met a sweet Hispanic couple who flew into Denver for the wedding instead of Colorado Springs. They took a train and then a taxi which cost them $160. When they told us of their dilemma, Larry offered to take them from Colorado Springs to the Denver airport, an hour away. But not only did Larry drive them to the airport to return to Chicago, but he had to get up at 4:45 AM to get them to their flight. Now Larry is not a fan of early mornings. So sleep Larry, sleep and get us home today. In addition, he changed a flat tire for a young boy while instructing him about how to change a tire, and just as we finished helping the boy, we see another elderly gentleman on the campus of the Air Force Academy where we were camping, examining his flat tire. We ended up taking him home. We may never make it to our house today if he sees others in distress. But I do love the man I married years ago on July 6th.

What makes Montana unique

We are getting ready to head to Montana to see our family and friends. A unique culture exists in Montana like none other. Here’s an example. Larry bought a kit at Cabellas for making his own beef jerky. He spent an afternoon making some pretty tasty jerky for our hikes. We eagerly looked forward to a family reunion. Our son, Aaron, rented a newly built rustic cabin tucked away in the woods and surrounded by rivers, hiking trails, and the Crazy mountain range beckoning us to adventure. The spacious Bennett Cabin outside of Clyde Park in Montana is a work of art. Its sturdy 80 year old logs are accented with green cedar shingles. It’s very reasonable to rent since it’s devoid of plumbing which means a 2 AM run to the outhouse.

Aaron and his wife Lynelle climbed out of their van with our three energetic grandsons August, Jasper, Isaac and their trusty chocolate lab, Gracie. Family fun would now begin. But it didn’t take long for Gracie to discover a strange substance she enjoyed chewing. She also rolled into some foul smelling pond and only a bath in the nearby stream could get rid of the stench.

We shared Larry’s delicious beef jerky with the family while hiking along the stream. But after a half hour or so we were stopped by fallen trees that were the result of a June tornado that swept through the area. That evening, we came across a visitors’ journal describing their time at the cabin. We were told to look for a fantastic view of the stars, a visiting owl, and an occasional bear sighting. But what caught our attention the most was an entry from the previous week. It went something like this.

Entry 7/8. We were sitting around enjoying coffee and conversation when a very polite forest service man informed us that our serene time was coming to an end. A downed tree caused by a tornado killed a cow and now they, meaning the forest service, were going to have to deal with it. Yes, they were waiting for an expert to arrive from Bozeman who would help them with the situation as a resident bear had discovered the beast which made it unsafe for cabin residents like us. More trucks began to arrive— some seven or eight of them donned with helmets and chain saws as they cut through the tree. They then covered our cabin windows with plywood and asked us to park the cars behind the cabin suggesting we take a hike. We went toward Target rock over fallen trees not knowing what to expect. Soon an explosion ripped across the mountain—-an earth shattering and auditory resound of military impact. What we were hearing was the sound of an exploding cow. An exploding cow! It took a legend to blow up one single cow. There was enough gusto to take down a herd of cows. Any resident bears must have fled completely out of the Crazies for good——with need of therapy. We went back to our cabin and were greeted by a considerate and good humored forest service employee informing us that the danger was now over. I felt it was my duty to walk to the gate where the deed was done to investigate. The dirt road was strewn with clumps of red meat the size of salmon servings and flies were swarming in mass. The smell was prehistoric. I was witness to something that looks simple, but is complex. Now little critters will nibble the bits. As for bears—the therapy continues.

You can almost touch the sky in Montana

Now we understood why Gracie was having such a feast. The mysterious substance was nothing other than—Montana beef jerky. Her last treat resembled a cow’s ear—Yuk! Coming from Illinois and chewing our own beef jerky, we knew we were witness to the aftershocks of an event done only Montana style.

I Know It’s Going to be a Good Day when we gather for book club

Our summer Wisconsin Get-away

Today we will gather at a home on the Fox River for light snacks and a discussion of our latest book by Mark Sullivan’s, Beneath A Scarlet Sky. Our favorite genre has been historical fiction, books about World War II. Considering that today, June 6th, is the anniversary of D-Day— it’s appropriate. One of our members recalls her German grandmother having two pictures on her dresser—-one a nephew in a German uniform and the other her son, in a US uniform. They looked so much alike, it was hard to distinguish them one from another.

A book club is a fascinating way to learn about your group and to share history with one another. We are tuned into one another’s lives throughout the month even though we only get together once a month. We even have a member over seas in Sydney, Australia who reads the same books we do and writes wonderful reviews.

Here is one she wrote for our book club today—straight from Sydney. Spoiler Alert.

Pino Lello, what an amazing man and what an amazing life. Being a huge Historical Fiction fan, I loved this book.

I kept having to remind myself Pino is still alive, while I sat clutching the book tightly, as Pino once again eluded death or capture.

Also, to my shame, I knew very little about this part of WW11, I knew Mussolini was a tyrant and he ended up being hung, I have seen those terrible photos.

But I was unaware of the dreadful toll put on the Italians by the Nazi’s and the fascist fighters.

While the writing of Mark Sullivan didn’t thrill me at times, I think he took poetic license to a new level at some points knowing the fact that Italian history is well documented.

I was so happy to read what had happened to the rest of Pino’s friends and family, at the end of the book, it was also a really good way to tie the book up in a neat fashion.

I was devastated when Anna was murdered and wonder what Pino’s later life would have been like if she had lived??? Did anyone else wonder about that? I feel he was so in love with her that he wasn’t ever going to get a love to match it. I found it interesting that so many of the other characters received awards after the war for the but not Pino.

The author, Mark Sullivan, is from Bozeman, Montana where my daughter lives and where my son used to live. He now lives in Livingston, on the other side of the mountain pass. But his art work is at the Montana Trails Gallery— I am hoping to meet the author while I’m visiting my children and grandchildren.

Leisure in Lexington KY

McConnell Park Hike and Bird Watching Event

After celebrating Mother’s Day with Julie and family by volunteering at Humble Design/Chicago, we drove down to Lexington, Kentucky for a change of scenery and some warmth. It’s the home of the University of Kentucky. Lodging here is very reasonable and we are staying at a motel that is right in town. There’s a delicious Indian Restaurant in town. We read about the McConnell Park Bird Program and decided to begin our adventure there. Here are some pictures of the Owls at the Bluegrass Birding Festival. These owls have been wounded and that is why they are out of their natural habitat.

Visit the many restaurants and coffee houses downtown. Have fun taking pictures at the Village Idiot restaurant, but the food was marginal.

It’s not ever day that I have an owl on my shoulder. Hoo would have guessed.
Visit the Kentucky Home Park and Museum. They have an interesting store, too.
Have fun taking a crazy picture at The Village Idiot Restaurant but the food was not great.

four Steps to a thriving retirement

Hats the new owner gave us to combat the intense sun.

“Someone is sitting  in the shade today, because someone planted a tree along time ago.” (Warren Buffet). Now you have time and the World is your Oyster! But you won’t know it at first. In the beginning, retirement can be difficult as you step into the new you. It takes time to shape who you will be next. My advice, step in and out of many doors.  I was eager to start a blog named to share  what I have learned over the years and my life experiences with my husband, Larry.  As a mother of three, and grandmother of five and as a former high school teacher, I gained wisdom about how to live a fruitful life.  Being a mentor to the next generation and using my talents and skills have been a priority. Now is the time to spend time with grandchildren if you have them or help children in your neighborhood. Of course, if funds allow, travel. I have reconnected with many through Facebook and have visited them personally. While I was still teaching, we connected with Vantage Financial in Arlington Heights, Tom Vislisel, who helped us with a financial plan for our future. It has worked very well for us in our retirement.

Now I have the gift of time. Time to develop interests and talents. I love waking up to the sound of birds and being able to have a second cup of coffee. I live by the PSSS acronym.  To be fulfilled, it is important to cover the following facets of your life: Physical, Social, Service, and Spiritual.

Physical/ I love the outdoors so hiking, biking, and skiing are some of my passions. I joined a health club to be able to use weights and as an avenue to meet new friends I have friends now from Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico. They teach me Spanish and I help them with their English.

National Lake Shore

Social/ I started a book club. We meet once a month at Panera. There are 7 of us and we have bonded through our love for books and nature. We have gotten to know each other well. Each summer, we go to a WI summer home for two days and hike, bike, kayak, play tennis and discuss our books. I also joined Toastmasters both for social and intellectual enrichment. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. Never, say I can’t. I keep my connections with teachers and friends by getting together for coffee. We open our home by having potluck dinners with themes like Italian or Mexican Night. I am both an extrovert and an introvert. I love being with people and I try to look at each one as I would an interesting book. What story do these individual have to tell me? How can I learn and grow as a human being? Yet, I need time to steal away and read a book, write and play my piano.

Service/ Finding My Passion through Volunteering My first serve was with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes after Karina. It took me 12 times to pound a nail into a wall. But in time, I got better. Then I took my love for playing the piano to the lobby of our local hospital. At first I was very nervous but with practice, I have improved as a musician. I also took advantage of writing opportunities with Compassion and Justice issues and writing clubs. My memoirs have been published in several anthologies. I’m a Guest Host for a Care Center which has prompted me to learn Spanish by doing a Duolingo App on my phone and Synergy Spanish on my computer. I join my husband and daughter by volunteering for I would recommend trying many service organization to see what suits you best.

Habitat for Humanity Build

Spiritual/-At the age of 18 when I was searching for meaning and purpose in life, I looked up at the sky and told God ” I don’t think you are there: but if you are, please show me.” That night, I met my future husband and became a follower of Jesus Christ. The big change came when my focus was no longer focused on me but in helping others. I love reading Psalms, Proverbs, and  the New Testament. There is wisdom about how to live an abundant and fulfilling life. Over and over again, I see his presence in my life and in the lives of others who have been transformed by Him. I found God looking at His creation, not in a church. If you seek Him with your whole heart, you will find Him—–and your purpose in this life. It’s a big adventure for me.

A Celebration of Life/ 2019


National Lake Shore

I heard a flock of sand hill cranes overhead beaconing the end of winter. I even saw three fox pups frolicking in our yard. Despite the April 14th snow storm, the trees are budding, the crocuses have pushed their faces through the snow and the days are getting longer. Yes, what looked like death is certainly now alive. Nature is such a beautiful picture of the resurrection of Christ. In the background, I love listening to Handel’s Messiah and the song, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”. It is the perfect Easter message.

I am so thankful that Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman regiment, existed in Christ’s time, because he gave us a picture of God’s love for all mankind. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing. But they were not followers of Christ. He gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. As a result, an angel spoke to him and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. He was then instructed to get in touch with Peter who was visiting Simon, the tanner. At about the same time, Peter was praying and had the same vision three times where he was instructed to eat meat that was forbidden to the Jew. He then heart a knock on his door and was instructed to go to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. When Peter saw that God was opening the door to the Gentiles, he said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who reverence him and do what it right. Then he told them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ. As a result, before he finished speaking—the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, as recorded by Dr. Luke in Acts 10.

We are thankful to the Hebrews, who faithfully and accurately penned the Old Testament with the prophecies of Christ. (See Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and google the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls for examples.) Also read Acts 10. “You will seek me and find Me, when you seek me with all your heart, “(Jeremiah 29:13.) This is the perfect time to do your own search.

Just like nature is filled with a diversity of flowers and trees, so God has many ways to call his own to himself. Most of us have a thirst for more than this life can offer. We know deep inside that the end of life is not the end. It’s written in our hearts.

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