September 5, 2016


My grandma June passed away this weekend at the age of 91.
Nana (what most of us grandkids called her) was a part of so many lives, perhaps something a little different to each of us.  This is what she was to me.
She was the oldest of three sisters and little brother, Jackie.  Her parents were Metta & Ernest Stewart. I never knew her dad, but Great Grandma Stewart lived a near-century life as well. Nana always called her "Mother."
She married my grandpa, John Darvin Simmons when she was 17. Had her first child at 20 (8 pounds, 8 ounces), delivering 11 babies over the course of 22 years, with children under her roof for 4 decades.  I thought of her often during my own uncomfortable 3rd and 4th pregnancies. Eleven. Uffda.
She had 29 grandchildren, 50+ great grandchildren, and half a dozen great-great grandchildren. Her genes carry on through nearly a hundred of us. Surprisingly, Mason and Eric are the only twins. (But they are definitely not the only ones with cowlicks.)
Add son- and daughter-in-laws, spouses and more, and family gatherings have always been big.  Holidays were a full house growing up.  
When I was very small, she had horses named Sugarfoot and Feiry (I've never tried to spell this horse's name before, I may have it wrong), an accordion, and a little dog named Heidi. 
Nana often stayed for extended periods with us when I was growing up.  We played many hands of rummy and games of 10,000.  She was not one to play down to grandchildren, we had to learn to play up to her.  She was always working on crocheting a blanket (one for each new baby and graduation in the family) and had a game of solitaire, a crossword, or puzzle of some kind going.  Nana was sharp and her handwriting was beautiful.
A fine seamstress, she altered my wedding dress with skilled hand.  Her chocolate chip cookies were thick. It made her smile with satisfaction that my kids always drank all their milk.  She did not like heights and didn't drive.  She was a weather watcher.
While she lived and traveled often between northern Iowa and northern Minnesota, she lived fairly close by most of my life.  We were even neighbors for a short while; we lived in an apartment 2 doors down for 6 months while building our house.
She was a meticulous housekeeper and laundress. She ironed.
I preferred visiting with Nana one-on-one in my adult years. When there wasn't a crowd, she had much to say. I enjoyed hearing her memories of being pulled to school over snowdrifts in a horse drawn sled, with heated slates tucked under wool blankets to keep their feet warm.
She carried with her memories of the Great Depression, her husband was wounded by shrapnel in the South Pacific in WWII, and she sent sons off to Vietnam.  She saw great change in her lifetime and wondered more and more what our world was coming to.  She disliked the internet.
She was healthy the majority of her 91 years, declining rapidly this past week.
Thinking of her kids, as it's been a tough and tiring time for them. 
She is remembered by many.

My maternal grandparents, June & John Simmons
Nana with her 10 kids, Thompson Park Family Reunion 1988-ish  

Nana and I, my wedding day 1997

Nana, Johnathan & Beau on her 90th birthday, 2015
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January 23, 2016

Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas

Last April we went on a Californian adventure so overwhelmingly full and varying in sights and experiences, I didn't know where to begin when we got home.  (I think we began by heading straight to the Canadian border for a high school baseball game.  Life doesn't pause.)
With some time gone by, many highlights stand out on their own. 
Recollecting one of them today..

After making our way down the breathtaking Big Sur Coast, 80+ miles of intense hairpin twists, turns, and cliffs behind us, our route evened out more low and smooth.  We'd had a full day already and were content as we settled into cruising speed and wide open spaces.  The ocean at our side, the late afternoon sun shining down, the Pacific Coast Highway stretched out in front of us.

Cruising along, I spotted what I thought were a good number of seals between curves in the shoreline.  A few miles further along, no doubt about it, I glimpsed more.
Then, I almost couldn't believe my eyes. 
We'd reached the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals.

We pulled into the gravel parking lot off the highway. No visitor center, no tourist shop, just a great long boardwalk for respectful viewing of thousands of these creatures.
I was tickled pink!

At one time, humans had killed elephant seals to near extinction. They were thought to be extinct in the late 1880s.  Now protected, they are one of the greatest recoveries our continent has seen.
At this site there were no elephant seals before 1990.  Now it's a safe haul out site for birthing, breeding, molting and resting for several thousand of them.  (About 17,000 according to Friends of the Elephant Seal.)

The giant adult males (the ones who give elephant seals their names with their trunk-like noses)   were off diving the oceans deep during our April visit.  Adult males can weigh up to 7 times more than adult females.. up to 5,000 pounds.  I've seen video of those bulls, who fight violent, bloody battles.  They are a sight!   We visited the rookery at a more peaceful time when the "cuter" females and juveniles were there to molt. 
Elephant seals go through what is called a "catastrophic molt." 
They were at all different phases.  Some looked rough and tattered as they shed their old skin.  Others looked velvety smooth.  Juvenile males practiced fighting, but there was mostly a lot of napping or jostling for a better napping position going on.

Mitch didn't seem as smitten with the elephant seals as I was.  Maybe he thought they were awkward and made rude sounds and had snotty noses. (This was true. They smelled strongly, too.)  But I could have watched and taken photos 'til the sun went down.  There's just something about observing wildlife in its natural habitat.  I was absolutely enthralled with these seals!  Everything about them was interesting; their behavior.. how some were so still it seemed they couldn't possibly be alive.. I'd watch until they'd finally take a breath.  How others seemed intent on jostling, pestering, or stealing a spot.  The noise.  The way they use their flippers like fingers to scratch their bellies.  The way they flip sand onto themselves.  The trails they left on the beach. 

I had a hard time tearing myself away.
There were so many of them!  Even Mitch agrees that aspect was pretty neat to see.

When we got home I was intrigued to learn all about elephant seals.  They are remarkable deep divers with fascinating physical features that allow them to do so.
If you're ever in the San Simeon / Piedras Blancas area, you've got to stop and see this safe haven of theirs.. 
It was an unforgettable experience.

Peace, Love, and So Many Seals!

Sharing with Our World
Eileen's Critters

January 15, 2016

When Goals Become Habits

One of the good things about goals is that they have the potential to become habits.
My list of goals this past year was probably the most specific and complete set of goals I've ever compiled.  Reflecting on where I've been and where I'm headed, I'm happy with how they've steered me.  And some of these have indeed become habits.

One of which was to "Send at least one hand written note a week." 
My handwritten/snail mail correspondence had diminished in recent years, to a sad state. I wanted to turn that around.
At first, taking time to sit down and write a note was a deliberate, conscious task. A friend even suggested taking a weekly photo for accountability - I loved that!   It helped me get on track.
Then after a few months, I stopped paying attention to what day it was. I didn't always take a picture. I was writing snail mail regularly again, at random and often, because I enjoy it.   Because the goal had become a habit!

I wrote to my grandma, like I used to in the days before social media, and to tell her that the smell of Fruit Loops takes me back to mornings in her kitchen as a kid.  I wrote to say thank you.  For kindness.  To individuals who inspire me.  To my mom for "just about everything."  I wrote to a young Marine in training at boot camp, a friend of our sons, who wrote back in the dark from his cot.  I wrote to my aunt in Iowa, to thank her for smiling, for her laugh (it's a dandy) and that birthday cake she made me when I was about 9.  I wrote to my niece and nephew on a typewriter I got for $3.  I wrote to our kids' first grade teacher (our kids teachers have been some of our favorite humans and lasting friends.. I'm grateful. ) I encouraged the kids to write, too.   I wrote notes to friends I think of much more more than I see.  I wrote to someone special who's not technically a mom on Mother's Day.  I carried postcard stamps with me on vacation and visited post offices in far away places.
I got into the habit of writing down gratitude or a memory on a whim, sealing it up in an envelope for someone else to open.

In fulfilling my intention to write more to others, I was practicing the simple act of gratitude as well.  A win/win in the habit department.

A small helping of the photos I snapped before heading to the mailbox..

"Beginning today, make it a habit to count your blessings everyday."

I haven't set new goals this January. I'm happy with the path I'm on with my current ones.  My long term, big picture goals are more along the lines of my ideas to live by. 
But I suppose I might replace the smaller quota based goals that have now become habits with new ones.  I really, really, want to get back to writing here regularly as I used to.
Maybe stating that goal and going after it will get me back in the habit of making time.
You know what hinders me the most in that department? I have so much I want to share. So much going on around me, I'm learning and thinking.  I went into writing this wanting to cover all of the goals I'd made last year and where I'm at with them. Part of my goal should be rationing.  Dividing my thoughts, writing, and ideas up into doable amounts, little by little.  I think that subconsciously I've been working on that. Being consciously aware can only help.

So I'll leave my thoughts on a dozen other things for later.. :)

Peace, Love, and the Making of New Habits,