Seeing the story

There’s only one time during the day that I question why I went back to work. 6 AM. The rest of the day, I’m pretty convinced I’ve been given the best job. This week that feeling only grew stronger.

Every morning I get to help in a couple of the elementary classes. One of the teachers knows how much I enjoy writing so this week she gave me the job of teaching the students how to write a fiction story. She gave me one photo-shopped picture of a zebra riding a motorcycle being chased by a lion and a stack of blank story maps.

You can guess the story each of the five groups thought of–it didn’t end with a happily ever after for the zebra! As we talked about knowing our main characters, using the supporting characters like a chef uses spices, and developed a problem that grows until the end of the story, the student’s began to get excited. By the end of today, we had five groups with five completely different stories. AND, I was able to save that zebra from certain destruction!

As I sat and wrote down the ideas popping up around the table, it became obvious that some of the best story ideas came from the students who struggle academically. To see their excitement and watch as they planned and pieced their story together was such a blessing.

I’d ask the groups, “Do you see it? Is the story playing through your head?”

Some of them shook their heads no, but others gave me a dimpled smile and nodded.

They could see the movie! I can’t wait to see what stories we actually write next week.

What fun to be involved with the process.

How generous of their teacher to let me have a chance to share something I love with her students!

Happy Friday!


Sleep,such a precious thing

I have loved Julane’s story of firehouse days. I think there must be many women out there who relate and take comfort in knowing they are not alone. Following suite, I believe I shall write, for a while at least, about my experiences as a wife left alone. I spent ten years as the wife of what we used to jokingly call a Transportation Relocation Engineer. I was the wife of a truck driver.
My hubby was a photographer. Trained in the Air Force he transferred his skills to “life on the outside” and we began our life with a studio in our living room and then eventually to its own location. Most of our life it was right outside our back door so that he was literally home all day.
I became the assistant and office help, We worked together. Then ate together. Played together and then slept together. When the truck driving career started it was a huge change. Like Julane, at first I didn’t sleep either.
Solitaire on the computer reminds me of those early days. I would go to bed at night and in the quiet hear all the strange noises that I had for years ignored. Traffic on the street outside, wind in the trees,
“What was that? ?
” Is someone here? “
“Are we ok?”
” Should I get up? “
“Or hide?”
” or call for help?”
Sleep would elude me and so eventually I would get up, traipse down the hall to the family room and play solitaire on the computer until my mind and eyes relaxed so I could finally sleep.
Sleepless nights continued for a while and finally improved. Still, there are times when being alone in my bed is not fun. When an unusual sound wakens and startles. I still get up occasionally and lull my mind back to sleep with a mindless computer game, however I have learned over the years to allow my Heavenly Father to hold me tight at those times. Snuggled safely in his arms, I let the words of memorized scripture fill my brain and heart until sleep comes again.

Like Minded

There is a special kind of bond that defines the firehouse. It’s more than just men working together–they live together 24 hours at a time. From the time they punch in on their shift, until they punch out again 24 hours later they’ve spent that entire time within the confines of a station house, sans fire calls or the other routine jobs that occur: i.e., fire inspection, hydrant testing, engine checking/cleaning, and yes–grocery shopping. They eat together, do dishes together, watch TV together, and sleep…well, NOT together in the sense you might think–but they do share a bedroom.

One of my fondest memories of those early years is the Fireman’s Auxiliary. The wives. In my first years was a fireman’s wife, there were few of us working outside the home, and we looked forward to that one night a month when we could meet together. Yes, it meant some of us had to have a sitter because our husbands were ‘on duty’. But we tried hard not to miss. It was a time of learning for me–and I learned from the best!!

Things the other wives taught me:

1. Firefighters’ wives don’t chase fire trucks

2. Firefighters’ wives don’t ask questions when there are blood splatters on their husband’s clothing (they’ll explain in due time–maybe)

3. It’s not unusual to be afraid to be alone at night–or to resent attending so many events alone (or with ALL the kiddos). HOWEVER–Get used to it, and stop whining!! Be proud of what your husband does, be glad he loves what he does, and support him every way you can.

4. Yes–some of the men were better cooks than we were. (I never could replicate Corny’s tomato preserves)

5. And–this was a big one–I wasn’t the first one to become  pregnant within the first year of hubby joining the fire service.

Of course there was much, much more. But I still value those times, and those women who welcomed me. We laughed and cried together, mourned and celebrated, and even in our diversity we were one–just like the men at the firehouse.

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The First Big One!

No…I’m not going to write about the first big fire run for my hubby. Rather–our VERY FIRST paycheck from a job we knew was going to be steady. No winter layoffs. We’d get a check every two weeks..and the first one was a whopping $167.50 (gross).  His starting salary in April of 1965 was $335.00/month (gross).  With the shift being 24 hours on/24 hours off, one can assume that he worked fifteen 24 hours shifts, which would equal 360 hours a month. You do the math. But we felt rich!!

Our needs were much less at that time, though not at all different from our friends whether they were on or off the fire department. We had groceries to buy, a house payment to make, utilities, insurance and taxes to pay, and two little girls to feed and clothe. I think at that time we must have been making a car payment, too. And before anyone mentions it–yes, those dollars stretched a lot farther in those days. We were never hungry, always clothed, and never missed a payment on anything. 

NOW I’ll mention the first really big event for hubby. June, 1965. By this time I had started to settle in a bit more. I no longer needed to keep the lights on all night when he was gone, and found I could get to church on time all by  myself!!  So the morning of the BIG ONE I got my two little girls ready and we went to Bible School. I remember the skies becoming darker and darker, and I think we teachers must have even decided what we would do with the children should the tornado sirens sound. Out sanctuary was A-shaped, very high pitched ceilings, and windows lined each wall. The bathrooms were the only place we felt safe enough to scurry so many little ones.  And then the rains came.  Pouring rains…and it rained and rained and rained. Parents came after children bringing extra coverings for them so they could get back to their cars. And by the time I got home, we were all soaked.

Meanwhile–back at the FD they’d had a call to the Presbyterian Church.  Lightning had struck, they were having Bible School, too, and could smell smoke. Bob was on that call…riding on the tailboard in the storm–and they could find nothing, so they went back to their stations. It wasn’t long before they were called again–this time there was smoke in the church..there definitely was fire somewhere. And this time they did find it…high in the peaks, but they were able to extinguish it. 

By this time Sand Creek was beginning to rise and hubby was sent to station #1 (which at that time, you Newton friends (was still on 5th street) and the decision was made to move an engine to the park department building so they would have engines on both sides of the creek. They went west, and the creek rose steadily.  He remembers watching it come out of its banks and cross the park. By the time they got the engine moved to yet higher ground, they drove in water axle deep.  

The water rose quickly…and went down relatively quickly, but left a LOT of sludge in its wake. Later that night, after hubs had returned to his regular station, they got a fire call to a restaurant on the north end of Main Street–right close to the creek. Water had gotten into the building and all the interior fixtures had floated around, so that when they got there they had to climb over tables, chairs, counters, etc., to get to the fire. And it was well after midnight when they got back to the station and got their trucks cleaned from the debris they’d driven through. Those of you familiar with the fire service know that you never back a dirty engine into the bay. 

I wish I could sit and talk with the wives of that era again!! We were so new to everything, and had no scanner in the house, I had no idea this all was happening.  We lived east of the bypass–might was well have been the wrong side of the tracks–but we were nowhere close to the creek or anything that even resembled one so didn’t know it had flooded and didn’t hear the fire sirens.

Like with any occupation, there are tales to be told. And I will tell them. Right now, the best part of writing this blog, is that look in hubby’s eyes as he recalls different events.  Retired fireman are like retired fishermen–the tales get bigger with each telling, but it’s the stuff that forges the hearts of those who stationed together.

See you next week!!

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Dear Special Needs Mom….

Dear Special Needs Mom,

holding handsYou were ahead of me in line at Costco. You had a cart with two older children and a load of groceries. Behind you was your own mother pushing a cart that was empty except for a lovely young girl sitting in the front.

She had on a pretty pink summer dress and no shoes. Between her hands she held a long black sticker with the number “10” stamped down it in a neat row. No doubt she pulled it off some clothing item and you decided to pick your battles and let her keep it. She held the sticker close to her eyes and a then up in the air in triumph—twisting and turning that sticker as though it were an exotic treasure.

And she babbled to herself in a sing-song like manner with words that I couldn’t understand, although she was old enough to be understood. But you probably knew what she was saying. I tried to make eye contact with her and engage her, but she stared right through me and around me.

I looked at you and smiled. You smiled back but your eyes gave away your weariness. Your hair fell out of your ponytail and you pushed it behind your ear as you continued to unload your cart.

The cashier grabbed your bag of chips and said you’d have to select another, after all, they sell them in bulk…you can’t buy just one.

Your shoulders slumped in defeat. “Sorry,” you told the cashier.  “I’ll have to just leave it. I can’t run to the back of the store for a second one.” Your eyes darted toward your daughter. You knew that even a small change in plan would be too much for her.

Your mother offered to run back, but you just shook your head. “I’ve got her and we can’t do it.”

How I wanted to hug you and tell you that I’ve been there. I know what it’s like—a simple shopping trip can be like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The simple and mundane things in life can sap what little strength you have left some days. I wanted to applaud you for bringing all your children out together, taking the risk that it could go wrong and then to endure the glaring stares of those who don’t know.

I wanted to tell you to hang in there. Remember all her successes, no matter how small. I wanted to remind you that your daughter is beautiful and perfect just the way she is. I wanted to tell you that as long as you try your best, you are not failing as a mother, even if you feel that your best is not enough. Believe me, it is.

I wanted to say that this road we walk may be complex, but the rewards are high. There is beauty in learning to give your time, strength, energy and resources to those who can only give love in return. There is great joy in serving the vulnerable. And though it may be hard to lose independence, we have an opportunity to learn about interdependence and the richness in community.

I just wanted to let you know you are not alone. Not ever.

There is One who doesn’t promise to magically make all our challenges go away, but He does promise to be with us every step of the way (Heb. 13:5).

We need to feel the strength of others around us. We need others to help us and return that help when we can.

But sometimes others just can’t be there.

Some days that promise from Christ is all we have. And for me, that is enough.


Another Special Needs Mom

Cherie Gagnon- Cherie

What I did this summer

Julane in the barn. Check out the windmill ceiling fan.

Julane in the barn. Check out the windmill ceiling fan.

Summer is a subjective season in adulthood. It is not determined so much by the calendar – since my work schedule is the same year round – but by a state of mind.

This year, I decided I’d take a summer. For the first time in many years, I took a whole week off work. And it wasn’t for a mission trip or a writing conference. And it was wonderful. During the week, I visited my precious Pages from Stages pals in Kansas. Sara showed us a cool barn where we talked about our lives and read from our writing and refreshed our souls. Later in the week, I celebrated my sister Tammy’s 50th birthday with her.

At the Big Daddy Weave concert.

At the Big Daddy Weave concert.

Reviving one of the best traditions from summers of my childhood, I went to Vacation Bible School, studying the Bible with kindergarten and first graders for a week. I took part in a worship service and Big Daddy Weave concert with some friends and 1,000 other believers on the lawn of St. Joseph City Hall.

Dad and I sat in lawn chairs under the shade tree and looked out over the farm. My sister Paula and I took off on a Friday night to Kansas City to pig out on barbecue. My friend Lori and I became frequent visitors to the ice cream parlor. The Fourth of July was a blast at my brother and sister-in-law’s cookout.

Here on the blog, we did a “free wheel” summer where we tossed out the schedule and just wrote about whatever we felt like. I skipped some meetings for the sole reason I didn’t want to sit under flourescent lights on a summer afternoon.

Not just one but two state fairs were on my itinerary – The Missouri State Fair with my job and the Nebraska State Fair with my sister and her family. We even rode the skyline!

My sister and I riding high over the Nebraska State Fair.

My sister and I riding high over the Nebraska State Fair.

It was a summer for big adventures and simple pleasures.

Taking time for summer has made me ready for fall and even anticipating its return.

I think I’ll take a summer every year. How about you?



Living IN This Moment

There are those times when I’m with someone whose story causes me to look at my own self deeply. That story that leaves you wondering how the person is even standing upright, how they’ve managed to live joyfully in the midst of the pain.

We spent time with extended family over Labor Day weekend. Every other year we all get together so while I don’t know any of them deeply, they have touched my life and it’s always a joy to get back together.

For the last four years, we’ve watched a couple in their fifties go through a deep valley. This year only the wife was there. Her husband had to be put into a nursing home because a disease has left the front part of his brain paralyzed. He can’t even communicate with her in any way.

She talked. She smiled. She encouraged. She praised God.

And I left the weekend completely convicted. If I knew what the next moment held, would that change my life? If I knew I wasn’t going to have those golden years with my husband, would I throw myself into the now? Do I love my family in a manner that I’ll never question why I didn’t show them more?

People have stories that take my breath away. Stories that break my heart. Stories that make me question. Stories that scream at me that I am blessed and at this moment, I should take full advantage of those blessings.

I need to live my relationships IN this moment so there won’t be the would’ve, should’ve, could’ve.


In the Beginning…

It was time for a change. We’d been married seven years, bought our first home, had two little girls, and struggled from paycheck to paycheck. Hubby hated his job. Weekends were just plain awful–he so dreaded Monday mornings . And during the winter we could expect layoffs, we couldn’t afford them but we could expect them.

Then it did change.  A close friend suggested he apply at the fire department. Really? Neither of us had grown up in a city large enough to have more than a volunteer department. It was not his little-boy dream to grow up and ride in a fire engine, siren wailing, while they careened through traffic to save someone’s life–and property. But it was a job that was steady. They don’t lay firemen off during the winter. And the pay? Well, it wasn’t much–but it was steady, too.

He applied, was hired, and thus began a 32-year career. And thus began a whole new lifestyle for me.

I’d never been alone at night. I went from my bed in my parents’ home, to OUR bed in our new home, all in the twinkling of an eye and those magic words–“I DO”.  Now, I wanted to say–“I’m not sure about this”–not a life with hubby, but I did not like the idea of being alone at night. Believe  me–I got used to it.

When he first started the shifts ran 24 hours on duty/24 hours off duty. Period. If Christmas fell on those 24 hours on–you worked Christmas. Birthdays, Christmas programs, family gatherings–it didn’t matter. HOWEVER–there were four days a year that he would get an extra 24 hours off–they were called Kelly Days. (more about that in a later post).

Hubby remembers his biggest fear at the beginning was that he wouldn’t wake up if they had a call.

My biggest fear at that I’d never be able to sleep on the nights he was gone.

He learned very quickly there was no sleeping through an alarm.  I was a  much slower learner.

We both learned, this time at the same pace, that most firemen worked a second job on their days off. Thus–hubby followed the leaders. This now meant he would go to work (for example) Monday morning, come home Tuesday morning just long enough to change clothes, leave for second job and return again for supper. Then the routine would start again Wednesday morning.

I hated it. I hated his evenings at home being spent studying streets and hydrants. Even if we ventured out of an evening (those first months) to go to the DQ, I couldn’t talk because he was still studying names of streets, and where the hydrants were located. Up and down streets we’d drive, the girls licking their ice cream and giggling in the back seat…with me licking my shallow feelings sitting beside hubby and feeling totally ignored.

I had a whole lot of growing up to do. He was happy. For the first time in all our married life, he looked forward to going to work.

And that’s what mattered most–


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As 2014 Slips Away….

autumn leavesSo here we are, the second of September. The day after Labor Day. The first day of school for many. Two-thirds of the year has passed. Six weeks until Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and in 12 weeks Americans will have their turn with turkey and pumpkin pie. And dare I mention that are only 16 Saturdays before Christmas?

The point is, the year is flying by.

One author posted yesterday that September 1st is the new January 1st. I would have to agree. A new starting point. And this time of year always finds me reflective.

What were my goals this year and how am I doing with them?

What goals do I need to scrap?

What do I need to start doing?

Have I been paying attention to my ‘word’ for the year?

These goals are not always about doing or trying to conquer the world. They may be about doing less and just being. Perhaps it’s realizing that certain things are taking a lot of my time and energy when they should be taking less. And maybe those things that need more of my energy have taken a backseat. Relationships need nurturing, too, and shouldn’t always be sacrificed on the altar of projects/productivity.

How has this year been for you? Crazy, too?

If you are feeling like you’re carrying a heavy load, Jesus wants to offer you rest.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. – Matt. 11:28-30 (The Message)

If you think your priorities are out of whack, Jesus has a solution to get things back on track.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matt. 6:33 (NIV)

If you need direction, He’s got that covered.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. – Psalms 119:105

If this year has left you in a tailspin, feeling all alone, there is One who is crazy in love with you and promises that nothing separate you from this love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Hang in there. This year is nearing to an end – 2014 can be a year worth remembering.

Cherie Gagnon- Cherie

And then it’s…Wednesday!!

You would think, after two years, I would have it down pat. I’d know when I finished the blog for one week, that in seven days I would need to come up with something again. While I fancy myself fairly dependable–blogging is not on my list of achievements.

I’ve noticed that the really successful bloggers have a theme–be it recipes, fashions, devotionals, or whatever. And we’ve tried that…having one topic a week that we all (the five of us who contribute to this blog) use as our topic. Then we’d throw in a ‘free wheel’ week, ever so often. Now, I’ve lost track–sorry guys–but free wheeling seems to be the theme right now.

So this is what I’ve decided to do. Because we are all at such different stages of our life (thus pages from stages, duh), and they say one should write what one knows, I’ll write about my life as a fireman’s wife, the mother of two firemen, and where we are now in this ‘retirement’ stage of our lives.

Stay tuned for next week–when I begin this new venture…may also glean stories from my hubby and sons. I’ll call my portion “Tales from the Tailboard!!”  Catchy? I thought so.

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