Monday, September 28, 2015



This was one of those golden, beautiful weekends which need to be plucked from the vine and preserved.

If only one could go to the pantry on a gloomy February morning to retrieve a few hours of the balmy, vibrant bliss of a sunny September Saturday! The closest we are able come is to crack open a jar of sweet raspberry jam, made from the fruit harvested on such days.

My thoughts now are not so much with preserving (my poor garden this year was pitifully neglected), but on preparing for winter. The necessary fence repairs, replacement of water tanks and heaters, barn and corral cleaning and set-up, making doubly sure to have enough hay on hand. I've learned it makes for a far easier winter if those tasks are thoughtfully executed well in advance of freeze-up. 

Let's hope October is kind to us as we batten down the hatches in anticipation of another Minnesota winter.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy 2015

After watching the sun set on the first day of 2015, I felt the prompting to write again, having been away from the keyboard for some time.  The first day of a new year is as good a time as any, isn't it?

2014 was a big year for me, full of lots of hard work, self-discovery and progress.  To say I leaned into the collar and shouldered the load would be accurate, and something of which I'm rather proud.  "Progress, not perfection" has been my mantra and has served me well, both here on the farm and in a new full-time career away from the farm.  So yes, one could say I now have two full-time jobs... and yes, its been a challenge. Sometimes more than a challenge... as in "Dear God, what have I done? Just how am I supposed to do this, keep everything running, everyone happy & healthy, and my head above water???"

Truth is, I DON'T.  I've had to learn to ask for, and accept, help when its available.  I've had to establish and refine routines that keep things on an even keel. I've had to learn the limits of what my body can handle, or suffer the consequences.  I've had to let some things go, learn to say "no", become a morning person and one who goes to bed at a decent time, and attempt to acquire the skills of self-care.  Right now I'm experiencing a great deal of back pain, something which had not been an issue for years, because I'd forgotten sensible limits. Its a not-so-gentle reminder that I'm not getting any younger, but definitely need to get smarter and learn some finesse... oh, and work on "strengthening my core". Yay.

This past year has not been a easy one, but it has been so valuable.  The truth is, I'm happy; probably happier than ever before.  I love my work at home, on the farm and in the floral industry.  I've made the decision that if something isn't necessary, beautiful or positive or inspiring or enjoyable, it does not deserve my time or attention. Yes, I still go to the dentist, clean the chicken coop and scrub the toilets, but just consider those things to be necessary and make the most of them.

I'm still overwhelmed sometimes, and other times just plain tired or hurting (or both). The good news, however, is that my family and friends are so incredibly helpful and supportive.  They have been there to encourage, to advise, to help with child care or chores or whatever was needed on a given day.  They have been patient with my need for rest and solitude when the opportunity presents itself. They have been my cheer team, comic relief, rescue squad and support group.  Without them, none of this would be possible.

I am so very, truly, blessed, and hopeful for the future.

Happy 2015. May it be the best year yet.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Best Job In the World

I have the best job in the world.

In this house, I am the one who dumps and rinses the sick pails.

I clean up the dog poop left in the garage by the elderly and somewhat incontinent old hound; she can't always wait for us to let her out.

I'm the hairball-cleaner-upper and the toilet-scrubber, as well as the lucky one who plunges them when necessary.

If there are gooey globs of hair in the drain, or slimy gobs of moldy food plugging the dishwasher, its my job to evacuate them.  The science lab in my refrigerator is my responsibility, as well.

My eye doctor laughed when I visited him with a raging infection, the result of manure juice splashing in my eye while cleaning a cow's stall. He said that was a first, for him.

There are days when I find myself shoulder-deep in the back end of a foaling mare, standing in fresh manure, while an ice storm rages outside and the vet inches his way to our aid.

I'm present for the messy breedings and births and deaths and the often grody doctoring of livestock, often in closer proximity to the action than most normal people would ever allow themselves to be.  As for the  inevitable deaths, some are messy, some are not, but I still cry over every one... then perform the clean up and disposal... and then, cry again.

Merchant marines have nothing on me when it comes to swearing over a frozen hose or broken fence or dead battery... not a skill I'm proud of, but sometimes, something's gotta give.

The good news is the next sentence after the curse is usually a prayer of gratitude. As in, "Sorry for that one, Lord... I know You will help me out here, You always do."  And then, He does.  Not always in the way I hope He will help, and not always in my time frame, but in His way and in His time, and it always works out for the best.

If something needs cleaning or painting or doctoring or praying or tending, I'm your girl; especially if  the job requires a strong stomach, extra dose of fortitude or wildy-irrational-yet-steadfast faith.

I have the best job in the world.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What Do I Expect?

On Friday night, my girls and I made a big deal out of watching the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.  After retrieving a pizza and some snacks from town, we gathered before the television to take in the pageantry and cheer for Team USA as they paraded through the stadium. I love pageantry, love the excitement and the tradition and especially love watching the faces of the athletes as they live their dream of representing their country as an Olympic athlete.

While expecting to learn something of Russia, its history and culture over the course of the ceremony  (and looking forward to it)...  I did NOT expect, however, to hear the television network narrator describe communism as "a pivotal experiment." The tone of the comment seemed approving of communism, and I found that disturbing.  Others apparently did too, as Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree.

My daughters are taught to value freedom, and that to fight and sacrifice for freedom is a worthy and noble pursuit. I find it appalling that our own media would glorify communism, the antithesis  of freedom, as if the autocratic leader of the host country had penned the narration himself. For them to do so in a show watched by kids from sea to shining sea, was a slap in the face to every soul who suffered the darkness of communism and especially to those who perished while fighting it.

While voicing my dismay to a friend, he asked me, "What do you expect?" He added that we've become so politically correct that our common sense and ability to do more than chase ratings and popularity have all but flown out the window. I could not agree more.

It got me thinking... what DO I expect, really? Can we, as citizens and consumers and viewers of the media which mistakenly assumes it represents us, really expect anything anymore?

This was my reply:

"Well, I expect that my children won't be brainwashed by a simpering television network. I expect people to say something, to rise up, to speak out against this. I expect that the memory of those who died fighting the darkness of communism would be honored, rather than diminished. I expect more of this country, of its leaders, of its journalists. And I expect myself to say so."

And so, contrary to my usual Minnesota nice and political correctness, I've decided to speak up, to say enough is enough, so make good on my word and say so.  

I've had it with political correctness outweighing common sense.  

I'm tired of a media that apologizes to the rest of the world for American excellence and perseverance and success.

I'm angry that the freedoms for which our forefathers fought, bled and died, are being tossed away by a bunch of whimpering sheep begging for the wolf of tyranny to save them in the name of "security".

SO... what do I expect?

Freedom.  Nothing less, and without apology. 

I expect to do business without overbearing government regulation and red tape.  I expect to raise my children as I see fit, according to my faith and values, and not those of a collective bureaucracy. I expect to work hard, enjoy the fruits of my labor, and to give generously where need presents itself to my heart.

I expect the freedom to assemble with like-minded folks without black helicopters hovering overhead and my photo added to some government database.  I expect to share my opinion privately, if I so choose, with those same folks via telephone, internet and mail without that opinion being read and judged by some anonymous chap in a cubicle on a sprawling not-so-secret-anymore-government-campus funded on the backs of my fellow hard-working citizens.

I expect children to be raised as beloved, cherished human beings with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness from conception to natural death.

As a citizen of the United States of America, I expect every right granted by its Constitution, Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, without cherry-picking, profiling or preferential treatment.

I expect a lot... but then, so did the patriots who declared their independence and forged this nation.   

They also expected that we would value those rights and fight to keep them. Its about time we lived up to not only our birthright, but to our responsibility in defending it...starting right now. Right where we are at, and with what we have.  Washington's troops were without shoes, many of them, and dying of dysentery, and yet they fought on for these freedoms we so carelessly take for granted. 

What's your excuse? 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Twenty Below Zero

Grace, ever vigilant.
Two days ago, I returned from a week-long trip to Montego Bay. It was lovely; the company and accommodations and food and libations were second-to-none.  The air was balmy, the ocean azure, the residents beautiful, the music reggae. My soul thanks me for the rest... my liver, however, just might deserve a note of apology.

Wonderful as it was to get away, I could not wait to return home.  Yes, to Minnesota, Land of the Polar Vortex, of back-to-back blizzards and subsequent -20F, -30F, -40F temperatures. After learning of my pending departure back to this frigid climate, a shopkeeper extended her condolences and exclaimed that she could not handle such cold; I assured her that both my wardrobe and I were designed for it.

While doing my afternoon chores today, it occurred to me that the ambient air temperature here is a full 100 degrees colder than when I was visiting with that shopkeeper in Jamaica. And yet, I could not be more content. Upon my return I was greeted with joy and enthusiasm by my children and animals alike; everyone was happy to see me and I, them.  It did not take long to put away the swimsuits and sundresses, or to replace them with long johns, wool socks and down parkas.

It's a "snow day" today. Yesterday we hunkered down while a blizzard raged outside; today we dig out. The plows had some difficulty clearing the roads, school was closed...

...and I wait for days like this all year.

My family is here. We have plenty to eat, enough to wear, a warm house, running water, and a German Shepherd who bounds with joy when she gets to accompany me doing the chores, regardless of the temperature.

We will have homemade chicken and wild rice soup for supper. I will spend the evening reading or knitting or planning an upcoming event...

It's good to be home.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Month of Gratitude: This, Too, Shall Pass

In visiting with a friend of mine and discussing the theme of gratitude, he expressed his thoughts regarding the subject in this way:

""This too shall pass" has summed up my attitude of gratitude through years of chronic pain, depression, PTSD, becoming fully disabled, and dealing with various degrees of pain each day. "This too shall pass."

"What is a comfort to me should be a reminder to those who are not reveling in the good times. (And) If these are your good old days, remember they, too, shall pass. Enjoy them while in season."

It reminds me of the words of another friend who, when my eldest daughter was a toddler and the youngest yet-to-be-born: "Enjoy every moment. They grow up way too fast." I took those words literally and to heart. When my baby was colicky and I spent all night with her in the rocking chair, or when one of the children was sick all over the floor... the wall... the bedding... and me... those words would come to mind. (Sometimes as, "Oh, 'enjoy every moment' you say? Yep, you betcha, I'm enjoying the heck out of this... NOT."). While a colicky baby or sick-room cleanup is not anyone's idea of fun, I did find real purpose and meaning in the process of comforting and caring for my children, even in some of the most mundane (or stomach-turning) tasks. 

Of course there were (and occasionally, still are) times I had to remind myself, "Enjoy every moment... enjoy every moment... enjoy every moment...", sometimes through clenched teeth and with a horrible headache and having little sleep for days. Now, however, I look back on those days with great thankfulness. I DID "enjoy every moment" even if I didn't particularly enjoy every task. And while the hard days did pass, as all days and trials do, the fact that I was fully present in those moments with my children makes it so I look back on their early years with little regret. As they grow and spread their wings and start making their way in the world, it seems easier to let them do so knowing I gave their upbringing everything I had to give. 

These theories apply regardless of where you find yourself in life, not just to the days of parenting small children. Whether battling illness or grieving a loss, enduring a long and stressful legal fight, suffering the pain of betrayal or finding yourself overwhelmed with financial woes (or all the above... it happens), there is always, always, something for which to be thankful. The trick is to find it, to acknowledge it, to feel the gratitude. On the worst of days, it may be the smallest little thing: the smile of a stranger, a hot shower, a moment of quiet solitude.

The past few weeks have been busy for my family and punctuated by events that should have been rather stressful. Among other things, my vehicle broke down (nearly a $1,000 bill), my oldest daughter underwent a (planned) surgery and three-day hospital stay, and today we learned that someone used a duplicate of my husband's credit card at a bath house in Thailand... to the tune of $2,600 (that must have been some bath!).

Do I look at these things and bemoan the fact that life is not fair, breakdowns are inconvenient, having a child in the hospital is stressful and identity theft is not only the theft of money but of one's good credit and peace of mind?


Sure, those statements are all true, but here is how I look at it. In regard to the vehicle, it quit while sitting in my driveway just minutes before my husband arrived home. He was able to drive our daughter to the meeting she was to attend, and we arranged our schedules so that we could share his vehicle for our various appointments over the next few days while mine was repaired. And, it was fixed in time so that I could use it while our daughter was in the hospital.  

My daughter's surgery went phenomenally well; she has displayed a great attitude and her recovery has been remarkable by even the surgeon's standards. The dedication displayed by her surgeon was unbelievable; he showed up at the hospital at 8pm the evening after her surgery to check on her, gave us his home and cell phone numbers (what doctor does that these days?), and personally called us at home on a Saturday morning to check on her.  

Dear friends of mine offered their home as a place to stay if needed, while she was in the hospital; though my maternal instinct just would not let me leave her overnight, I was incredibly grateful to see them and use their shower after spending the night in a recliner in the intensive care unit. 

My mother and sister and good friend from high school came to the city to visit my daughter and have lunch with me; what a wonderful treat.

As for the credit card charge from the bath house in Thailand? Thankfully, the fraud department at the credit card company realized that my husband has not perfected time travel and could not enjoy a "bath" in Thailand, then attempt a purchase at our hometown Walmart five minutes later. They caught the fraud, canceled the card and assured him he is not liable for the charges in question.

My point here is that while any one of these events could be construed as stressful or inconvenient, something to gripe and complain about, I really don't look at any of them in that way. In each situation I remember that "this, too, shall pass", seek something for which to be grateful, and it seems to turn lemons into lemonade. My daughter's surgery and recovery, for example, has given me such joy in taking care of and fussing over her again, as when she was little; what a gift.

I haven't always been this gratitude-filled; unfortunately there have been plenty of moments when I've acted like an ungrateful brat. The "attitude of gratitude" is a skill cultivated over time in order to survive various hardships and heartbreaks, and one which I will continue to work... because it WORKS. 

Gratitude does not prevent bad things from happening, but just happens to make them seem not-so-bad, after all. It helps us to live life to the fullest, enjoy each moment for the gift it is, and remember that this, too, shall pass.

For that, I'm grateful.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Month of Gratitude

Fig Lake Sunset © Amy M. Dagen
It has become a tradition among many bloggers to write of gratitude during the month of November, and so I thought it fitting to dust off my keyboard and join them.

If you've read any of my posts in the past, you already know that the expression of gratitude is very important to me and a central part of my life.  A few years ago, a friend shared the practice of keeping a gratitude journal, and using it in which to write down ten things for which you are grateful, six times a day. While I will admit that its not a practice I follow religiously (being somewhat of a free spirit, there is little I do "religiously")... the "counting of blessings" eventually became like breathing.

Through some of the darkest moments of my life, it has been the counting of blessings, the expression of gratitude in the midst of difficult circumstances, which has brought light to overcome darkness, healing to defeat illness, joy to conquer despair.  The expression of gratitude is my lifeline and parachute and safety net.

When one looks at life through the lens of gratitude, somehow it shifts ones perspective from "I'm poor and will never have enough" to "I'm rich and so incredibly blessed". It doesn't matter whether in regard to money or time, health or relationships or career; when viewed with gratitude, it seems the good things in life multiply exponentially, and the bad shrink and fade into the background.

This does not mean bad things will not happen to those who live in gratitude; surely, and unfortunately, they will. Rotten, awful, tragic, inconvenient... stuff happens. Life happens. And those bad things really stink. This is, after all, earth and not Heaven... and we are all fallible human beings who make mistakes. Tragedies occur, natural disasters and financial pitfalls and personal betrayals and disappointments abound. People say and do crummy things, loved ones fail us. Beloved friends and family pass away. Quite often, it rains on our parade.

So what's to be thankful for?

Everything. All of it. Every single day.

You may be thinking that to be quite a Pollyanna view... thankful for EVERYTHING? Really?

Yes.  Because it is in the darkness that we learn to appreciate light.  It is while we are in pain, that we learn to appreciate the absence of pain.  In the lean times, we learn to appreciate abundance.  Challenges and disappointments are what spark creativity and transformation.

I'm grateful to have learned this, and yes, it was the hard way; by fighting through darkness, living with pain, enduring lean times, experiencing tragedy, healing from heartbreak. Its a lesson I need to keep revisiting because life still keeps happening; in no way am I perfect in my expressions of gratitude and there are days when darkness creeps in.

What I am pretty good at, however, is bouncing back. And through the month of November, I will attempt to share some of the ways in which I experience gratitude, in the hope that someone, somewhere, will benefit from it...

and maybe even learn to bounce.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Goodbye, Babyhood.

We've officially crossed the line I've been dreading for years, since the birth of my first-born.

Last week, we attended a "Back-to-School Night" at my youngest daughter's elementary school.  It was a Big Deal to the now 3rd-grader, a chance to drop off all her school supplies, find the classroom and meet her teacher.  We look forward to the event every summer; it really is a nice way to ease the kids into a new school year.

Dropping her older sister off at the high school to stash her slightly smaller stash of pens and notebooks in her locker there, we proceeded to walk to the elementary school a block away.  The parents and excited kids were streaming in its direction like a fall migration... in a way, I guess it was just that.

Out of habit, I reached for my little girl's hand like I've done a million times before when we've headed out on an adventure, be it down a jetway or the aisle of a grocery store.  And a million times, she's met me there, reached in my direction, grasped my hand in anticipation and squeezed it three times, our signal for "I love you."

But not this time.  This time, she pulled away. Her friends were there, and she didn't need to be seen as some kind of baby.

My heart broke in a billion pieces, but I smiled and teased her a little and proceeded into the school. A mom gets pretty adept at covering those feelings, after awhile... after all, we are continually watching our children reach milestones, achieve goals, grow up. As I write this now, however, the tears flow.

What my kids don't know, what most people don't realize, is that oftentimes I would hold my little ones close as much for my comfort, as theirs.  For over fifteen years now, I've had a baby or small child close at hand. When the oldest reached the age where she gained more independence, the youngest was born. I had another hand to hold, at least for awhile.

Now, the youngest has found her independence.  While she will still cuddle and hug (hopefully forever), that public hand-holding is now off limits, at least if any of her peers may be nearby...

It's a double edged sword.  The longer I know my girls, the more I love them (if that's possible), and the more they amaze me. Their kindness and empathy and manners and intellect and pretty much everything else, surprises me at every turn, and its always the best kind of surprise.  Watching them grow and learn and spread their wings really gives me such joy.

Except for this part.  This getting-too-old-to-hold-Mom's-hand part. It kinda bites, as I'll never be too old to hold theirs.

Before my youngest was born, a very wise friend counseled me to "enjoy every moment".  I took that advice to heart, using it as my mantra during the up-all-nights and terrible two's and the potty training and doctor visits and stomach-flus-with-projectile-vomit.

Sure am glad I did.  I held her hand every chance I got, and will never regret it.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Good As Any, Better Than Most"

 It has taken me six months to work through my grief and muster the courage to write this post. In that time, I’ve written very little; sometimes one just doesn’t have the words. Once the muse visited, however, I worked through the night and well into the next day, to write it. 

This one cuts as close to my heart as anything I’ll ever write for public consumption, so please bear with me. It is my tribute and final gift to a precious, forever friend. 

If you wish to judge, critique, raise your eyebrows or make assumptions... you are more than welcome to take a long hike off a short pier. :) 


"Iowa" Dave Sterner
 David Sterner was the childhood friend I didn’t get to meet until I was thirty-two years old.  His reputation as “the nicest guy in the world” preceded him, and on one brisk, sunny April morning in 2005 I could not believe my good fortune in finding out for myself the truth of those words. 

With a camera and a pen, still fairly unschooled in the ways of the motorcycle world I was covering for the local bike rag, and arriving on just my second assignment… I was nervous as a mouse in a lion’s den.  Nervous, that is, until I met “Iowa” Dave.

That fateful morning, I noticed the “Western Iowa” rocker on his back, walked up to him and introduced myself. When Dave told me his name I instantly recognized him as the guy who had given a lift in his semi, from Florida all the way back to Minnesota, to a very grateful mutual friend who later described him as “the nicest guy in the world”. 

Soon as we shook hands, I smiled and said, “Word has it you’re the nicest guy in the world.” True to the 1% diamond on his chest, Dave narrowed his eyes for a moment and said, “I should kick the ass of anyone who says that.”  His subsequent laughter betrayed him, however; it rang out like church bells on Easter morning, carrying joy on its gossamer wings.  My nervousness vanished, never to return. We bonded over coffee and doughnuts and were instant friends.

The event we were attending was a charity ride, with a subsequent party that lasted until the sun rose the next morning.  Dave teased me relentlessly to leave my cage (vehicle) behind and ride with him on the bike; I smiled and replied that I needed to preserve my "journalistic integrity".  He laughed uproariously at that, and conceded. (Truth was, I love riding more than just about anything else on Earth, but needed my rig as I was working on two different events that day).  

When I returned to the party from covering the other event of the day, Dave and I shared a few beers, shared our stories, sang along with Dago under the full moon, and we shared laughter.  Oh, the laughter. I don’t know that anyone on the planet could laugh, or make me laugh, as he could. I was a little sad to see the sun come up that morning; he was a long-haul truck driver from Iowa, and I lived on a farm with my family near the Canadian border.  The chances of seeing him again any time soon were plenty slim.  I chalked the meeting up to one of the awesome benefits of the job, having a great time meeting some really amazing people.

A few months later, however, while at a regular weekly “Bike Night”, who should walk in but Dave, fresh off the road with his semi parked outside.   He’d been passing through and stopped in to visit with his local Brothers.  He had a great big hug for me and when I asked him how he’d been, he replied, “Good as any, better than most!”  Little did I know that hug was the first of many joyful reunions, and that phrase would greet me countless times in the years to come. We traded phone numbers and promised to keep in touch.

You’ve heard it before, the idea that true friends can go for long stretches of time without being in touch, get together again and pick right up where they left off.  That was Dave and I.  My role shifted over time, from a columnist for the local magazine to working on a project that allowed me to attend various motorcycle club events around the country, events Dave also attended.  The people became like family to me, but David, especially so.

We would call one another occasionally, and could talk for hours at a stretch, on any topic… about our faith (we’d both been raised Catholic), about our beloved families, about growing up as farm kids, about our hopes and dreams and troubles and disappointments. 

Much of what I learned about the biker life came straight from him, and some of my best work, he inspired. He never judged or ridiculed me, and always patiently answered what questions he could, no matter how basic. I once asked him about the black ribbons of fabric hanging from his vest; he explained they were cut from the t-shirts of Brothers of his who had passed.  Caressing each one with a far-off look in his eye, he named the Brother each ribbon represented. For some reason that moment really touched me; it drove home the weight and importance of remembrance and symbolism in a way I’d never before understood.

Dave didn’t enjoy reading all that much, but he loved what I wrote and so I would call him with a new piece and read it to him over the phone.  If he said, “Damn, girl, you’re gonna make me cry…” that told me I was on the right track.  If my words about his lifestyle and belief system could be strung together in such a way that it moved a bad-ass biker to tears, especially one who didn’t much like to read, I felt I was getting it right. 

I don’t know if there ever was anyone more solidly in my court than Dave.  He believed in me, in my talent, in my dreams, and he wasn’t afraid to say so, to encourage me or go to bat for me if needed.  In retrospect, what moved him may have been the depth of the friendship, and the fact that I grasped what mattered to him, rather than the quality of my writing.

When something terrible happened in our shared “family”, which it did on more than one occasion, he was usually the first person I called (or vice versa); if something wonderful happened, same thing.  Over the years we relayed the news of accidents and deaths affecting those we both cared about; we prayed and cried over them, right there on the phone. And we shared the joys, as well… news of births and weddings and career successes and happy news of all kinds. 

Best of all, however, were the few times a year when we found ourselves in the same zip code. The reunions were always joyful and much anticipated. I would grow hoarse, talking so much. And laughing.  Oh, the laughter.

We looked out for one another, Dave and I, and rescued each other when necessary… usually from ourselves, if truth be told.  I once found myself in a situation over my head, texted him for help and he showed up at my side in 30 seconds; he was half guardian angel, even then.

One of my very favorite places on the planet, Spearfish Canyon, I experienced for the first time from the back of Dave’s motorcycle.  He seemed to delight in showing me the beauty of the place; Dave had a somewhat innocent, childlike wonder about him.  And yet, at the first hint of trouble of any sort, he would snap to attention and be off like a shot.  Rumor has it he could be one tough S.O.B., of the sort you really want to have on your team in the event of a dust-up; I was never privy to that but have no doubt as to its accuracy.

Our friendship grew to the point few really ever do. I knew I could call him, any time day or night, for any reason.  If he was busy and could not visit, no harm, no foul; he always called back when he could.  He knew he could call me, too, and often did.  In the years that passed, we each went through our own very dark and difficult times, but neither of us was ever truly alone.  We shared a tendency to want to retreat from the world when things got really tough; that also meant we both knew what worked in building up and coaxing the other back out into the light of day.  More than once, one of us said to the other (usually with a smile), “Do I need to come up there?” Or, “Do I need to go down there and kick your ass…?” There was never any ass-kicking, of course.   There didn’t need to be.  The point was made, and usually, the course corrected.

So many conversations we shared, so many topics, but there are a few that come to mind time and again.  Once, we touched on the topic of forgiveness; Dave said, “I HAVE to forgive, or I just can’t look myself in the mirror each morning.”  I believe it stemmed from the knowledge of his salvation. Knowing that he was forgiven and saved, he couldn’t bear the thought of not forgiving another.  It’s just the kind of guy he was.  And speaking of salvation, Dave seemed to have no doubt whatsoever as to where he would go after his death.  “I know where I’m going,” he said. “I’m saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.” And he said it with enthusiasm, like a rooster announcing the dawn.  In a way, I guess he was.

Dave was motivated most by his love for his family; he would do anything for them, it seemed, and our conversations always included family updates.  It felt like I knew his entire family, even though I met just one of daughters.  When my own daughter fell gravely ill, Dave was a major prayer warrior for her, and called me often during her hospitalization to check on both of us. 

Being the father of daughters, Dave was no stranger to female topics or emotions and was skilled in navigating both.  I could talk to him about anything, and know with complete confidence that it would stay between us and go no further.  There was trust between us; an easy, comfortable friendship like a favorite soft flannel shirt. We didn’t always agree on everything, and neither of us was afraid to tell the other the hard truth; in trying to remember if we ever had cross words, however, I can’t recall even one. Nor do I recall him ever betraying a confidence.  He wasn’t one to say anything bad about anyone, either. Only once did I ever hear him do so, and even then it was for my benefit.

Dave eventually gave up the motorcycle life (temporarily, he thought) to care full-time for his father who suffers Parkinson’s disease.  That, too, was the kind of guy he was.  It got to the point he couldn’t bear to leave his family for more than a few hours, in case he was needed or something happened to his dad while he was away.  We had a lot of visits about that and it was just so ingrained in him, his devotion to family and his desire to keep his father at home rather than in a nursing facility. 

I so admired his selflessness, though truly mourned his loss of the life he loved on the road, of Brotherhood, and especially the fact we no longer had the opportunity to see each other in person. By then I’d been away from the bike world for a few years (not by choice, but circumstance),  and many of the friends made there had drifted away, but never Dave.  He was my friend regardless of the situation, no matter what, and he made sure I knew that. We continued to visit on the phone as always, and texted often.

The last time I spoke with Dave was on his 49th birthday. We always called on birthdays. He was on his way home and eager to visit; I was busy working on multiple projects, and so I cut the visit shorter than usual with an “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Tomorrow, I was too busy, and the next day, too.  

The day after that, Dave woke up in the morning, made coffee, went back upstairs to his bed for a while, and died.

I hadn’t called him back. My friend, confidante, open-24-hours-at-your-service cheerleader and tear-dryer and prayer warrior died and I HAD NOT CALLED HIM BACK.  Because I was busy being busy, meeting a deadline, making a buck.

I’ve had a hard time living with myself, ever since.  Failing to call my friend back went against everything I am, everything he was; it was not an act of the person I thought I was.  And since Dave lived 500 miles away and things didn’t work out for me to go, I missed his funeral, too.  Dave would understand, he would forgive me… but I do not. 

David would want me to write, and would be so disappointed if I did not, but I just could not write anything else before writing about him, and it took me all this time to be able to do it. I needed to do it, in order to move ahead and write about other things, as he would want me to.

Every day, however, I think of my friend, miss him, grieve... Its been as if I were a three-legged stool with one of those legs kicked out from under it; makes it kinda hard to stand upright and do my job.  We didn’t visit every day or week or even every month sometimes, but Dave’s friendship was a constant presence and support in my life, a true and precious gift from God.  When life was cruel, Dave was kind, and I could count on that kindness as surely as the sun rises in the East. The hard part is that life still can be so very cruel at times, and yet Dave’s kindness is no longer so readily available, its not just a phone call away.  I must be very quiet and still now, and concentrate, to receive it.

They say one shouldn’t cry because its over, and instead smile because it happened.  I’m not quite to that place just yet. Not many people, only a very few, get close to me; those who do, matter to me so very much. I defend my friendships with a vengeance and have a hard time with loss, probably because when I do invest in a true friendship, I’m all in; totally, completely, without question or hesitation.  There is little I wouldn’t do for my precious friends-like-family.

In one of his last texts to me, on Thanksgiving Day, Dave wrote, “I thank God for you every single day, you are so special to me.”  It brought tears to my eyes at the time, and the memory of it still does; Dave was just honest and forthright and didn’t care what people thought of him or if they saw his heart.  He didn’t care what people thought of our unusual friendship and was not afraid to stand up for it, or me. This world would be a lot better place, a whole lot happier and more decent, with more men like him in it. Hell yes, I miss him; the world lost a beautiful soul, kind and true, the day he left us. The only good thing about his passing is I no longer fear death; instead, I just know when my number is up it will be time for the most joyous reunion of all, and my friend Dave will be there.

When things are hard or I have news and would normally have picked up the phone to call him, I often look to the sky and talk to him anyway.  In those moments, I can almost hear what he would say in return, and remember the beautiful music that was his laughter. I wonder what its like where he is now, that Heaven we both so looked forward to, and wish he could somehow tell me about it. His description would, without a doubt, be breathless and filled with wonder.  

Sometimes I’m angry that he was taken so suddenly, and sometimes I’m jealous as hell; seriously, who gets to just wake up in the morning, make coffee, lie down and take the fast lane to Heaven?

Apparently, David Sterner does.  

Because he was good as any, and better than most.

Thank you, Dave, for your precious friendship, for teaching me so much about so much; for your patience, for watching my back, coming to the rescue; for showing me Spearfish Canyon; for your unfailing belief in me, your encouragement, for sharing your light and your laughter. For being there. All I have to thank you with are my words, which you so encouraged... and my actions, in moving ahead as you would have wanted.... so here you go.

Rest in peace, David, until we meet again. 

Donec Mors Non Separat

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Adventure Sandals

This morning, I received a text from my fifteen-year-old daughter stating, simply, 

"I can see the castle!!!"

Those words heralded her arrival to Disney World in Orlando, and I was insanely excited for her.  Having never visited anywhere "Disney", I am also a bit envious... as is her younger sister.  We attempt to take comfort in the idea that the elder daughter will act as scout for a family visit sometime in the future.

In the meantime, however, I'm thrilled to death that my growing-up-way-too-fast girl is off on such an adventure.  She will be performing with her high school band this week at the theme park, and while that performance is the main reason for the trip, it is also filled with lots of new experiences, sights and fun.  Selling cookie dough and candles, wrapping paper and kitchenware via fundraisers for three years, and working a Saturday job sorting eggs at a local chicken farm since December, helped to pay her way to Orlando.  

So, in addition to being insanely excited for her, I'm ridiculously proud of her.  My shameless pride stems, in part, from the fact that of her very own accord, she packed my adventure sandals in her bag for the trip.

This girl of mine is very down-to-earth and tends to live in jeans, grey hoodies and sneakers.  Shopping is not a favorite pastime of hers, and since she is disinclined to ask for anything at all for herself, we oftentimes find ourselves on the brink of an impending event, scrambling to find her some proper attire. Or, as in this case, footwear.  

As she was packing for this trip, I raided my own closet and deposited my fairly scant sandal collection at her feet.  In doing so, I pointed out the pros and cons of each pair, i.e. "cute but relentless devices of torture until you get used to them" or "comfortable but not up to the demands of walking all day on hot pavement."  

Then, however, we got to the adventure sandals.

Those kicks are an old pair of leather Borns, approximately the same vintage as my traveling daughter. They are comfortable, sturdy, all-day walk-able, and they have served me well.  Despite many attempts to find suitable (and possibly, more chic) replacements, I've never found a more comfortable, serviceable pair.

Those sandals have stories.  

They've boarded the crazy, smoke-belching city buses in Puerto Vallarta which race pell-mell through the streets, clad with the sort of oversize tires one would expect on a pickup running a mud bog.  Thankfully, they've safely disembarked those same buses.

They have booze-cruised, whale watched, and sailed the coastlines of Mexico, Jamaica, and three Hawaiian islands.  They've dangled from a doors-off helicopter ride over Kauai, been to luaus, peered from the summit of Haleakala and explored the depths of the Iao Valley. They have trod the markets and quietly caressed my feet as I've haggled with vendors, walked the length of the Vegas strip and back again, perched on the dash of the rented Jeep with Sheryl Crow trilling about "soaking up the sun" as we've cruised the Maui coastline, played in the sand with my daughters on Waikiki.

My adventure sandals have been fishing, barbecuing, fireworks and parade watching, flea-marketing, road-tripping, bon-fire tending and Jamaican-dancing. (Thank you Lord, for the lack of video cameras in the vicinity on that last one.)  Speaking of dancing, they've danced to Garth Brooks in Jamaica and to LMFAO on Kauai and to the Beach Boys on the swaying deck of a Mexican charter boat and... I digress.  

The point is that it wasn't just a worn old pair of sandals that my daughter decided to pack in her bulging suitcase.  

It was a part of me that I've passed on to her... a sense of adventure, a gypsy soul, a "let's do this" attitude, a practicality vs. fashion statement sensibility (after all, its no fun to be sidelined by blistered feet; been there, done that, got the t-shirt, not-going-back).  The best part is that my daughter made the choice, not me.  I left them as an option, then left the room.  Upon my return, my adventure sandals were in her bag; the cute-blingy-uncomfortable sandals were discarded in the corner of her room.

In all that I've taught my daughter in the past fifteen years, my hope is that what she remembers when I'm someday gone is that I taught her to say yes.  Yes to life, to adventure, to opportunity.  To spring for the  good shoes and the doors-off helicopter ride, to try the sushi (or calamari or jerk chicken or that weird fruit they don't sell in Minnesota), to dance on the beach when you get the chance, because we only live once and the ride is sometimes way too short.  To be curious and bold, to always jump at the chance to see a new place or meet new people or try new food or ride on your belly in the net at the front of the sailing cat, because that's where you are closest to the dolphins...

I really hope she takes lots of pictures, and can't wait to see them. :)