I started an apprenticeship in “joy-finding” from the moment I was born. My parents taught us to appreciate each day. To be thankful for simple things. To be satisfied. My parents were not people who delayed happiness. They didn’t wish the hours away. They trained us to pause and to notice beauty in everyday moments.
A bluebird, feathers fluffed and ruffling, perched on a fence post.
A doe and twin fawns standing silently in a field’s mist.
A newborn calf on knobby, wobbly legs, nursing for the first time.
Treasures—beautiful, preserved vignettes—cut from the long-running films of our early life. Colored slides I can scroll through, select, and savor at any time.
Even during my father’s difficult final days, he found joy in togetherness. In the changing seasons. In the touch of my hand in his.
I am good at finding similar delight in my life today. I know I am lucky to have studied with such skilled joy-finding masters. If I find my mood sagging, I know I can summon those early lessons. I can live in the moment. I can pause and seize a snippet of happiness.
Sometimes I feel it in my chest. A warming. A blossoming. It sometimes brings tears. Sometimes, soaring lightness.
My husband’s blue eyes and smile as he comes in the kitchen door.
The taste of a sun-warmed tomato, the soil rubbed from its ruby skin.
My grandbaby’s tiny head on my shoulder, her breath tickling my neck.
Throughout my life, I have encountered many models of resilience: people who demonstrated making “the best of a situation.” People who were somehow able to pick themselves up and keep moving, even when things were difficult. People who could see beyond the crisis or problem they were facing. Merriam-Webster defines resilience as “the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” It is something we learn from our own life experiences and by watching how important people in our lives react and behave.
Our reliable, day-to-day example is our mother. She is unflappable. Unstoppable. She sees situations and people in their best light. She is our Mary Poppins — always offering a “spoonful of sugar” to help with some bitter medicine. I can hear her voice when I feel discouraged or am trying to push through something hard.
Many of my former students were remarkably resilient, despite their circumstances; I imagine that family and friends also modeled persistence for them.
The more I learn about our family’s past, the more I realize how lucky we are that resilience became part of our legacy.
My maternal grandmother was raised in rural Kansas. When she was in elementary school, her mother died, leaving my grandmother and her five sisters with their father who was unable to care for them. The reason for this inability is unclear. What is clear, is that my grandmother and her sisters eventually moved to town where they were surrounded and loved by aunts, uncles, and cousins. The sisters — Ethel, Eula, Mabel, Maxine, Helen (my grandmother), and Agnes were taken in and raised by these families.
And the sisters eventually thrived.
Gever Tulley, writer, educator and speaker, pushes in on acquiring resilience. “Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.” For my grandmother and her sisters, this opportunity existed.
How fortunate that these supports were in place! How wonderful were these aunts and uncles! The love and compassion shown the sisters at this vulnerable time provided a haven and fostered their self-esteem. They survived a traumatic life event, and thankfully, they had the unfailing support of extended family.
And because they received uninterrupted love and care, they bounced back.
During their early adult years, the sisters relied on one another. They helped each other financially; when they had some extra money, they sent it to a sister. When one of them wanted to attend college or receive additional training, they helped by sharing housing or providing assistance of some kind.
They learned that life was good, that things would work out, that they could count on each other.
They learned perseverance.
Despite the loss of her mother and her original family structure, my grandmother was full of love and optimism. She learned frugality and how to make do with less, but she also believed in the future and the opportunities it would hold.
For most of us, there have been people in our lives who helped us with their words, generous acts, and examples.
I am thankful for these people who taught us resilience.
Teachers have always been important to young people and the communities they serve. Strong educators are vital to our country and the overall health of our democracy. There are many studies that show significant academic growth when students receive skilled, specific instruction in the classroom, and when teachers are clear in communicating what they want students to learn. Our school districts invest in training, helping classroom teachers learn, practice and implement important instructional methods which help students.
Academic growth and the techniques employed to foster student achievement are, of course, important. But exceptional teachers not only spur academic growth, they also leave an impact on their students, providing direction for their lives, positively affecting relationships, career choices, and even their character.
These teachers leave a legacy.
For many former Vicksburg High School students and athletes, one such person was Mr. Paul Schutter, former math teacher, track and football coach and long-time community member. Mr. Schutter passed away last month, and his family and friends are being reminded of the exemplary legacy of this kind, gentle man.
Mr. Schutter was a servant in his commitment to organizations and others. His funeral home page is filled with comments from former students, neighbors, co-workers, and lifelong friends. These comments emphatically speak of the words of encouragement he gave them and the excellence he firmly demanded both in the classroom and on the playing fields. They speak of his innovation and creativity as a teacher. They speak of his good, fun-loving nature.
There was never a doubt about the depth of his commitment and love for his family. He and Marilyn were married for over 65 years. They created a loving, stable home for their three children, a haven where their children’s friends always felt embraced. They eventually welcomed many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mr. Schutter also lived a life of faith. He daily “walked the walk” of humility and compassion. He showed up. He spoke carefully. He lived with intention. He was a blessing to many people, and, in turn, he was blessed in his relationships with his family, friends, and community.
One of his granddaughters, Danielle, shared with me how amazed she was by all the kind words and stories about her grandpa. “He just had the best life. You couldn’t even write a story about a better life than my grandpa had.”
His example of a well-lived life is a gift for everyone he leaves behind, a comfort for all of us who loved him.
How lucky we were to know him. To cross paths with him in our lifetime. To witness his ready smile and twinkle in his eyes. To feel his strong handshake or firm hand on our shoulder. To receive his guidance when we needed it.
A quote by Colin Powell tells us that “Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.” By all measures, Mr. Schutter’s long, fruitful life reflects success.
Thank you, Mr. Schutter, for the many lives you touched and your life of integrity.
I thought I had lost her, but today I found her tucked in a little box in my top dresser door.
This tiny ornament.
I’m sure she doesn’t look like much to most people. She’s very small, a bit faded, and starting to crack. But she is a symbol of how special I was to my grandmother.
My grandmother never spoke those words—I doubt she spoke words of affection to any of her eight grandchildren. That just wasn’t her way.
She wasn’t a traditional grandmother who baked cookies or babysat. She was often gone on trips or wintering in Florida during her retirement. She didn’t appear especially sentimental.
But when I was a child, I often went up the hill to her house to decorate her Christmas tree. She didn’t like wrapping presents or decorating. I did, so I was enlisted. Each year when she opened the ornament box, she would pick up this little angel and say, “This little angel decorated the first gift I ever received from you.” It always gave me pause. It always made me feel loved.
When my grandmother died, I found the little angel when we were going through her belongings. Grandmother hadn’t put up a tree in many years, but the tiny ornament remained. I took the little angel home, looked at her from time, and eventually forgot where I put her.
Now she’s back on our tree where she belongs, reminding me of the importance of grandparents. Of how their words and actions last well beyond their lifetime.
It reminds me to be intentional and to speak of my love to my own grandchildren.
During our childhood everything seemed heightened during the holidays: The village was decorated with lights and garlands; retailers enticed shoppers with beautiful displays; Christmas trees glowed in front windows.
In my memory, this season in our childhood was magical.
In elementary school, we spent under $2 for a gift for a classmate; boys bought a boy gift, girls bought a girl gift. And after lunch, recess, and reading time, we had our Christmas party and exchanged those carefully selected gifts. I remember paper dolls, coloring books, candy, cap guns, and tiny toy cars. We played games, we sang songs, we ate delicious treats.
My mother marked the yearly showing of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” on our family calendar, and on the much-anticipated night, my brothers and I sat on the floor in front of the television—a Zenith color console—and watched the holiday special. We raced to the bathroom during commercial breaks—there was no pause button or rewind. If we missed a scene, we wouldn’t be able to see it until the following year.
Our childhood joys were simple and uncomplicated.
Vicki (Cross) Ackerman shared similar sentiments with me this month, attaching several photos in her emails. Her dad, Tom Cross, contributed to the festivities around the village by decorating his Shell Station with light and bright decorations during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Adding to Vicki’s family’s excitement was an annual visit by Santa—her dear Uncle Duke Wdowicki–who filled waxed bags with “peanuts in their shells, orange slices, ribbon candy, and chocolate covered cream drops.” Vicki said she has searched everywhere for those cream drops and has “never found any that tasted quite the same.”
How special our childhood memories. How amazing when tastes and smells can nearly take us back in time.
Like most parents with young children, we worked to create some holiday magic for our own family on a tight budget.
During the late 1980s, we could still “layaway” Christmas presents, making payments—without interest—for gifts or even items we needed.
I had a layaway at Boers Dress Shop, and in mid-December I visited the store to make my final payment and take the items home.
Bella Dekker would be working that day. I had known Bella my whole life. I went to school with her children, and she had a wide network of friends in the community and strong family connections.
Bella had a loving, giving nature. She was strong and direct, and you could always count on conversation. The twinkle in her eyes. And a huge hug when parting.
She was a village fixture.
She asked about our little girls, whose new pajamas and holiday dresses she was bagging. I told her that they were fine, but I suspected they were beginning to question the whole Santa Claus thing.
“Ohhhh, Kaaathy,” she replied, “I always tell my kids I believe in the magic of Christmas. Of the season. How else can you explain all the good things that happen? The gifts? The food? The kindnesses?”
Exactly right, dear Bella.
During this season, we recognize the spirit of kindness and the joy we can find in togetherness. The importance of words spoken. The surprises and tokens of love we give.
One of our plans for the first fall of my retirement was to go on a fall color tour. Dennis and I have always taken fall color drives. One year we took a long weekend and drove north to the Petoskey area, but we had never been able to really make a trip out of it.
But my recent retirement made a getaway possible.
Initially, we talked about going east to view New England in October, but as fall grew closer, driving north through Michigan and ending at the family cabin in Ontario made the most sense.
We enjoyed exploring and seeing the sights in Traverse City and Marquette. We discovered restaurants, visited parks, and took scenic drives. But the time at our family place on the northern shore of Lake Superior was the most memorable.
The journey north from Sault Ste. Marie was breathtaking. The mountains were a tapestry of color: reds, oranges, golds, yellows and greens glowed in the sunshine. My pictures don’t capture the beauty and vibrancy of the trees. Every turn of the highway presented another breathtaking view of Lake Superior and the glorious Canadian forest.
We arrived at the cabin on a sixty degree day, set up camp, and walked the property. That night the temperatures fell into the thirties and the rest of our stay was windy, damp, and cold.
It didn’t matter.
We were buttoned up tight in the old cabin. We kept a fire going in the fireplace and woodstove the entire time.
We talked, played cribbage, read books, and prepared simple meals.
It was cozy.
It was relaxing.
It was a perfect reminder to be thankful for simple things: warmth, shelter, food, family and friends.
Hope. Hope for the future. Hope for better days. Hope for healing.
My family is holding fast to hope.
I often write about the “good old days” of my childhood, but when it comes to health and the well-being of my loved ones, I am thankful we live in 2022. These are good days in so many ways.
Within the last year, my brother Scott became critically ill, and after many appointments, phone calls, and a trip to Mayo Clinic, my brother was diagnosed with a rare cancer. In late spring it was determined that he needed a bone marrow transplant.
We four siblings were tested, his children, nieces and nephews were tested, but his best match lives somewhere in Europe.
Can you imagine the communications and technology involved in the securing and shipping of a donor’s cells? These cells have been frozen and delivered to the University Hospital in Ann Arbor’s transplant unit where my brother is currently going through the grueling process of preparing his body to receive this life-saving gift.
What an amazing world!
What an amazing medical community!
What an amazing donor—a person willing to disrupt his or her life to save my brother’s life.
We are praying for my brother’s health. Holding fast to hope. Trusting in this process.
I recently returned from a week in Ontario, a time of rest and renewal at our family retreat on the northern shore of Lake Superior.
I look forward to our days there all year long. We travel north, cross the Mackinaw Bridge, skip across the Upper Peninsula, hold our breath at the border, and then wind our way along the rocky Lake Superior coastline to our cabin. It takes most of a day, and when we finally leave the confines of the car and stretch towards the pines, it’s like we’ve left our worries behind.
It is rustic, but not too rustic, as we do have indoor plumbing and electricity—but it’s rustic enough that I have no cell service, that the nearest shopping center is an hour away, that our favorite entertainment is gathering around a fire and watching the stars appear in the clear Canadian sky.
Here, we have no garbage service. Cottage owners cart their weekly refuse to an area landfill, a twenty-minute-drive from our camp. Yes, it’s a bit inconvenient, and out of a sense of duty, I take the dump trip with my mother, a woman who has never met a stranger.
She loves conversation and is actually lookingforward to this journey to the dump saying, “I need to see if my buddy is still working there.”
“You have a buddy there?”
“Well, yes, I talk to him every year.”
Of course she does.
She has a “buddy” at every stop we might make—the gas station, the camp store, the lodge where she buys her fishing license. This is no surprise, especially since she has spent time up here every summer of her life.
So we roll the windows down, and my mother and I, along with her dog and two extra-large leaf bags of garbage begin our trek.
On our way we pass a tiny roadside restaurant—open but neglected—its surrounding yard and even edges of the parking lot are decorated with several cast-off lawn mowers, a couple old grills, and numerous rusty and broken lawn chairs. The place has been on this road a long time. A decade ago, it held some promise, but no more.
I can’t imagine opening the tattered screen door and entering the establishment.
Across the faded cedar siding of the low building is a banner that reads, “Grand Opening.”
My mom says, “I heard that Grand Opening was long time ago.”
“Well, maybe they have lots of Grand Openings?” I reply.
We discuss this and conclude “Maybe every day is a Grand Opening?” And we smile.
Isn’t that how we want to greet each day? To embrace people we love? To treat those we encounter along the way?
We repeat the phrase several times as we pull into the dump. I climb out and grab the garbage as my mom talks to the attendant–her buddy–and he smiles, remembering her from the year before.
It is true that “April showers bring May flowers.” How we all look forward to those early daffodils, crocuses, and tulips. Their hopeful, fragile tips are stretching and surfacing in our gardens.
And our moods are lifted by the eventual sight of flowering shrubs and trees decorating yards, wildflowers adorning area roads, and dogwoods brightening edges of Michigan woods.
But when you live on a farm, April showers bring mud.
Mud on boots. Mud tracked into the house. Mud up the back steps. Mud clinging to clothes. Mud in the barnyards.
Everywhere mud, mud, mud!
In the early 1970s, our 4th grade class took a field trip to the “Conserv-A-Rama,” a program for elementary-aged kids where we learned about the water cycle and soil erosion. Mr. Dick Bailey offered hands on activities, demonstrating these interesting ideas at the Kellogg Biological Station.
When we returned home, my brothers and I applied these concepts as we played in the mud around the barns, digging tiny trenches to connect the various puddles, watching water run from one miniature pond to another, imaging the eventual emptying into the sea.
We relished mud: the slurping of our boots as we trudged and explored; our boot prints filling with water behind us; our experimental handprints; the mud pies and cakes slapped and shaped in whatever container we could find; and our happy presentation of the sloppy creations to one another.
“Here you go! It’s delicious!” or “Happy birthday, brother! I baked this for you!”
At the end of the day, we were incredibly dirty and satisfied with our unsupervised adventures. After those April showers and our uninterrupted play, our mother met as at the back door, firmly directing us to remove our boots and outer layers.
Eventually, our parents included a “mudroom” when they renovated our farmhouse. After we children had been outside, or our dad came in from his farm work and chores, we each had spots to hang our coats and place our boots. This sure was a wise and practical addition.
After raising three children—and operating a daycare when our children were young—a mudroom would have been wonderful. Like most tri-levels built in the 1960s, after outside play, our children stepped into our kitchen, where I was usually busy with meal preparation. Our little ones kicked off their boots, their little faces grimy and full of joy.
Mudrooms are still popular today. These spaces are showcased in design magazines, and you can find pictures of them on home renovation websites.
I hope children who live in these featured homes in the glossy magazines get good and muddy.
I hope they need and use a mudroom!
There are things I miss about living on the farm: the quietness of the evenings and the sunrise over the fields. I miss the planting and harvesting traditions and living so close to the land.