Stories of Friendship: The more things change, the more they stay the same {guest post}

Occasionally on Fridays, I post stories of friendship–mine and others’. Today is a story from a former co-worker, Beth Heldebrandt. She was my boss, technically but she wasn’t bossy and we sometimes had lunch together, so she felt more like a friend. Read what Beth has to say about friendship! (And if you’d like to share your own story, send me an email: lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.)

I can’t remember the day we met because my memory doesn’t go back that far, but I know that it was just after I had proudly learned how to tie my shoes. Dawn, Beth and I were three of the 10 girls in our small Catholic school kindergarten class (there were 16 kids in the class total, and three of us were named “Beth”). That was more than 40 years ago (40!), but as the saying goes, the more things (and people) change, the more they stay the same.

I was reminded of that phrase a few times recently when the three of us drove to the East Coast (and beyond) to spend a week in a beach house at Hatteras Island, N.C. I think we all had our moments of nerves in the weeks leading up to the trip. While I had spent time with each of them over the years, the three of us hadn’t spent any measurable time together since college. And now we were going to spend an entire week together? And more than 35 hours in a car?

beth's beach friends

“It’s the same old Beth,” I told Dawn when she expressed her excitement and anxiety a week or so before the trip. “It’s the same old Dawn,” I told Beth, in turn. But, I admit, I also wondered how our adult personalities would mesh on such a trip.  I thought, “Am I the same old Beth, too?” I didn’t think so.

Let’s face it, a lot has happened to us in 40 years – career changes, moves, marriages, divorces, births, child rearing, deaths, and all of the joys and stresses in between.

But in the end, I was right about one thing – life had certainly changed each of us, but deep down, we were still the same.

Within a few hours of the trip I felt that our old friendships had re-formed, and the past four decades were a blur. Despite all the curveballs that life had thrown us, we were still the same people at the core. The morning person was still a morning person. The night owls were still night owls. We were (in turn) bossy, sassy, anxious and moody.

But with Dawn and Beth, there was no need to be polite – we simply called each other on our issues the way lifetime friends can (and we took advantage of plenty of alone time, too!). We bickered and debated and laughed – and by mid-week we all admitted to feeling more relaxed than we could last remember.

A trip like this is full of reminiscing, together and on our own. Dawn, Beth and I were classmates through high school graduation, and then Dawn and I were roommates for four years of college. I remember Beth coming to visit us at our college and us going to visit her.

I remember having my first sleepover at Dawn’s house and being confused when I met her mom because I’d never seen a pregnant woman before.

I remember Beth and I shopping for prom dresses and having to be careful choosing the color because we were both dating boys with red hair.

We played basketball together. We were cheerleaders together.  We were in clubs together and hung out on the weekends. We double-dated, drove each other’s cars and broke plenty of rules as teenagers.

We’ll always have the shared fear of Sister Clementine (gasp!), the hours spent cruising Main Street (gas 99 cents a gallon!) and the music of Meat Loaf (“Paradise by the Dashboard Light”!).

The memories are endless, and I’m proud that we now have new ones.

Summer Fun Week 2

Just to be clear: I am not SUPER MOM. I have a shirt I wear sometimes that says otherwise–Super Mom, Super Wife, Super Tired–but I really only identify with the tired part. This is why I drink coffee. Parenting is tiring! Summer parenting is exhausting!

So, do not read these posts and think, wow, she’s such a great mom and I am not! I NEVER think that about me. I yell at my kids. I cry. I throw tantrums. I question the sanity of having had children at all. These pictures serve as reminders of the good times so I don’t try to convince myself it’s all bad.

You can check out our first week of summer here.

This is what this week looked like for us.

wpid-20150614_202319.jpgOn Sunday night, we headed out to a free concert in the park. A trio of fiddling sisters from Texas was the show, and man, were they good! After picking out some snacks from the food trucks, the kids got into the groove and took up a large stretch of the grass to dance. I love their freedom and was only slightly worried that other people might be annoyed by their antics, but whatever. It was a free concert.

And sitting outside on a blanket listening to music with my loves is the best. Even when one of them makes faces like this. wpid-20150614_200551.jpgSigh. Maybe we’ll have a normal picture sometime. But then again, I didn’t marry him because he’s normal.

Sunday night would set the tone for the week. We spent A LOT of time outside. On Tuesday, we got to head out to a park playdate with some friends from preschool at a park we don’t visit often enough. (For the record: park playdates stress me out on multiple levels, especially if port-a-potties are involved, but we go because it’s good for all of us! Even me, the introvert!)

My kids are becoming fearless in their play, and I think this is a good thing.

wpid-20150616_093143.jpgThis same day we spent 90 minutes in the waiting room of the auto repair shop so our driver’s side window would go up again and we wouldn’t have to duct tape a garbage bag over it when rain threatened.wpid-20150616_163940.jpgwpid-20150616_164530.jpg

Fortunately, Chick-fil-a had its monthly family night later that day, too, so the kids had more outdoor fun.We didn’t have to spend any money on rigged carnival games and they STILL got a prize. And time in the bounce house! And ice cream!

The next day we ventured over to Oregon Dairy for their annual Family Farm Days. A wagon ride through the farm and then a fun-filled day of free activities, with free samples of milk and ice cream and yogurt. It’s a really generous day and the kids always want to stay longer, no matter how long we’ve been there. (It was close to four hours by the time we left!)

Corban is happy as long as he gets to see tractors. Izzy has fun no matter what’s going on.wpid-20150617_121015.jpg

And we always enjoy seeing animal mascots.

In this case, Cylo, the Barnstormer. Corban was afraid he was going to try to take his hat. (Don’t be alarmed. We are not Mets fans. Phil and I scored these hats when we went to see the Cubs play the Mets. And the kids love the hats. But not the Mets. Just to be clear.)

 

wpid-20150617_100245.jpgOur one trip to the library this week was for a Lego program. The kids heard a story and then had to create something having to do with superheroes. They worked together to create a superhero house.

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It has a pool on the roof and a weapon hanging off the side of the roof. It must be a wealthy superhero’s house–someone like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark.

Creativity is fun!

We ended the week having dinner with friends. Our kids played till almost 10 p.m.!

How’s your summer going so far?

 

 

How this garden is growing me

On a hot and humid day, the sky took on a dark blue hue as clouds carried a storm our way. Thunder rumbled as I rushed the kids into the car from our quick errand. I’d hoped we could get home before the downpour started. A cool breeze escorted us home and we ran inside just before the drops started falling.

I’m not the kind of person who gets giddy about thunderstorms. Rain dampens my spirits in the same way it dampens the ground, and my senses go on high alert with thunder and lightning as I worry about tornadoes and storm damage.

But we’re experiencing a dry spell and our fledgling garden is in serious need of a soaking rain. So I welcomed the storm, praying that it would last long enough to revive our plants and save us a day of watering.

Five minutes later, the rain had passed, and my disappointment was palpable.

We haven’t had a garden for long, but this is one way I’m growing right along with it.

Since we moved into a house with overgrown and untended landscaping, my husband has been brushing up on his pruning skills. Every now and then, he’ll head outside to trim a limb here or there on the trees in the yard. Last year, he attempted to tame the rose bushes which have taken on an interesting shape from their neglect. He snipped and trimmed and I cringed at every cut. What if we ruin them?

The good news is: we didn’t ruin them.

wpid-20150526_120032.jpg

Last year, this yellow rose bush had two, maybe three, buds that bloomed. This year, we have a whopping seven on it!

Pruning, it seems, has a purpose and though the wait is long, the results are worth it.

I am one who does not embrace the pruning seasons of my life. The idea that I need to cut back or cut off anything is distasteful to me. I love and enjoy a lot of things and it’s hard to say “no” or “not now.” But when I try to do it all, I’m like the rose bush before it was pruned–so stretched out that I don’t have the energy to bloom. Cutting back allows me to focus my energy and produce more of the good and beautiful.

This, too, is how the garden is growing me.

These roses, they’re teaching me.

Like a cliche, I stop and smell them just because. The pink bush is more plentiful so I’ve been cutting off a few here and there and bringing them inside. The smell is almost intoxicating as it drifts through the house. I’ve never been a fan of the manufactured rose smell in perfumes, but there is nothing to compare to the scent of fresh roses throughout the house.

They are thorny and so must be handled with care, not unlike myself with my prickly edges and ability to wound. They are delicate. A strong breeze knocked all the petals off the half dozen or so we had in a vase on the dining room table and now the table and floor look like a flower girl has been through practicing for her big day. They don’t last as long once I bring them inside, preferring the wild outdoors to the confines of a vase. (I think I can relate to this.)

And they don’t all bloom at the same time.wpid-20150526_120056.jpg

These two in particular caught my eye the other day. I wondered if the one in the foreground was bothered by the one in the background that had already opened into fullness. I wanted to reassure it.

“It’s not your time yet, beautiful.”

Sometimes I need the same reminder.

When it looks like everyone around me is in full bloom and I’m still a closed bud, I need the assurance that it’s just not my time yet. Heck, four of these buds didn’t even exist last year.

Maybe that’s a better metaphor for me. Maybe I’m a not-yet-bud in need of more pruning.

Almost daily since we planted the garden, I walk out to the pot on the porch and pinch off a couple of leaves of basil or rosemary. I am somewhat addicted to the use of fresh herbs and the convenience of having them within walking distance.

wpid-20150511_164938.jpgMy recipe and Pinterest searches have revolved around these two ingredients, and I’ve tried numerous new recipes including fresh basil and fresh rosemary just because I can. I even created my own tuna salad recipe using the basil and I’ve eaten it more days in a row than I’d care to admit because it’s just that good.

I’ve long believed in theory that local, fresh ingredients were better and possible, but until we planted the garden, they seemed just a good idea and not practical. Now I’m wondering how much fresh and local stuff I can buy and use this summer, spending less money on substandard food at the grocery store and more money at local farm stands. (I’m still skeptical about whether our garden is actually going to produce, oh me of little faith.)

I’m even daring to try making a jam from the berries that grow on our dogwood tree in the front yard because why not? Living off the land is not in my DNA. Or maybe it is and I just have to nurture it.

I tell people all the time about my horrific gardening skills and they laugh, saying, surely it’s not that bad. But until this summer, the only thing I’ve kept alive multiple years (not including children) is a cactus. A freaking cactus that doesn’t really care if you forget to water it. Do you see what I’m working with here?

But I’m giving it a shot. We’re watering and paying attention. I’ve been on my hands and knees in the dirt planting flower seeds and teaching the kids about waiting. I’ve dug out a flower bed and now that we have a small plot that we’ve tended, I want to keep going. To keep pulling out the weeds and turning over the soil and planting beauty where only chaos has reigned.

I’m watching the skies, praying for rain, sticking my hands in the dirt (it’s there underneath my fingernails), watering plants and working up a sweat when I could be doing anything else. And where I’ve feared failure I’m learning to let go because the fate of these plants is not all up to me. I have a part to play, yes, but there is a bigger force at work in making them grow and thrive.

I could say the same thing about me, too.

We’re growing a garden, yes, but this garden is growing me. And if we never eat a single tomato or pepper or cucumber, we will have done well.

Stories of Friendship: The one who taught me to be an adult

On Fridays, I’m resurrecting my series from the fall, Stories of Friendship. You can read them under the “friendship” category on the righthand side. If you’ve got one to share, e-mail a short post and a picture to lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

I can’t believe I did a series on friendship and haven’t yet introduced you to my friend Amanda.

Here we are on college graduation day. Isn't she lovely?

Here we are on college graduation day. Isn’t she lovely?

Amanda is the friend who taught me, showed me really, what it meant to be a grown-up.

Our friendship began freshman year of college through a friend of a friend, I think. (Isn’t it funny how I can’t always remember how the best of friendships begin? Maybe that’s how it is.) Amanda was bold and outspoken, friendly and sure of herself. That’s how I saw her anyway. And even at 18, she’d been a grown-up a long time already, helping out in her single-parent household.

I could always count on Amanda to tell it like it was, even if the truth hurt. She was the first person to tell me something along the lines of “let go and let God” when life was overwhelming and I didn’t think I could handle it. She was and is full of wisdom. She is funny, sarcastic and I’m smiling just thinking about her smile because it is so contagious.

As seniors, we lived together in an apartment, one of the more interesting buildings on campus. It was old and brick and I think there were only two apartments, maybe three in our building. Our kitchen window looked across to the apartment in the building next door where some other friends lived and we often danced and made faces across the way through our windows.

It was in this apartment that I learned what it meant to be a grown-up. When you live in the dorms you don’t have to cook for yourself or wash dishes. You have to do laundry, but you don’t have to keep a lot of space clean. I have hated housework long before I knew what it was, and I was not always held accountable in my house for helping out with things like dishes or cleaning the bathroom. (I struggle with these chores to this day.) But Amanda was different in that she helped take care of her household.

I remember one time when we lived in the dorms and a student said something about “that lady who cleans the bathrooms,” referring to the dorm’s cleaning lady, and Amanda lit into her because at her house, she was the lady who cleaned the bathroom. She had taken the time to get the cleaning lady’s name and get to know her. To Amanda, the woman wasn’t just a servant to us spoiled college students. She saw her as a person and identified with her.

Similarly, she often had to have a chat with me about the dishes. She was more likely to do them than I was and that became a problem when she was the one always doing the dishes. I knew almost nothing about cooking and she taught me some things. I think she was the first person to teach me about no-bake cookies.

I have fond memories of our year of living together. Like many of my college friendships, over the years the bond has been stretched. Amanda is another person I haven’t seen since my wedding, I think. I didn’t make it to hers because I was grossly pregnant with our son and travel was not a good idea.

Earlier this year, I needed to call her for some advice on planning a catering-style menu, and the first words out of her mouth when she picked up the phone made me chuckle and assured me that my friend Amanda was just like I remember her. (Not to say that she hasn’t changed because I think everyone changes with time.) It was a business-like call but it was so good to talk to her and receive encouragement for a hard task, and it made me want to find a way to see her, too. She lives closer to my hometown now than she ever did when I lived there and I still haven’t made it to her area of the state to see her!

When I think of strong women, I think of Amanda. She is the kind of fun and sassy friend with a depth of wisdom that everyone needs in their life. It’s a rare combination but one I treasure.

And did I mention that she’s super creative and began exploring creative writing at the same time I did? She is high on my list of people who will be first readers of my novel because I trust her opinion and know she’ll give it to me straight.

I’m happy to say that being roommates didn’t ruin our friendship. I think it strengthened it.

Stories of Friendship: The one who’s been through it all

Last fall I started a Friday series about friendship. I’m resurrecting it for a few weeks to tell you about a few more friends I appreciate. If you’ve got a story of friendship you’d like to tell, I’m happy to post it! E-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com. You can find all the Stories of Friendship under the “friendship” category on the right sidebar.

We met in junior high, though I can’t tell you the circumstances for certain. Maybe we had a class together, I don’t know. What I do know is that we bonded over some typical junior high drama–a boy and a breakup. We became friends even though I was envious of everything about her. She was outgoing and a little bit flirty, confident and beautiful. In junior high, those things stand out, especially to someone who feels none of those things. For many years, I felt like I lived in her shadow, but I was mostly okay with that.

Katrina

I dug this photo out of an old album. But this is how I see Katrina in my mind.

Being friends with Katrina was a gift from an early age. That our friendship survived the junior high and teenage years is practically a miracle, hormones and drama and all of that.

Partway through our high school years, I think we were juniors, she moved to another town, graduating from a different high school. We kept in touch by letter (yes, old school because the Internet was still brand-new and hardly anyone used it), telephone, even the occasional visit. I clearly remember the day we were talking about our college plans and discovered that one college was on both of our lists.

We visited together one weekend, riding to southern Indiana in a van driven by an admissions counselor with a handful of other prospective students. We had different experiences that weekend but both of us eventually decided to become Aces at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Going to college 7 hours from home was a frightening and thrilling prospect for me, the girl who almost never left home, and it was made less scary by knowing that I’d know at least one person on campus.

I believe it was Katrina who advised that we should not be roommates, and I  see now the wisdom in this. It would have ruined our friendship, for sure.

Maybe even more surprising than our friendship surviving the teenage years is that it survived the college years. Our years at UE were filled with major life stuff as we broke out of our previously set molds. I can’t speak for her entirely but I know I made decisions I regret during that time. Still, I always had a friend in Katrina.

But she was also the reason I made the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

Katrina grew up in a church family. They were involved and she was always going to these lock-ins and retreats. I didn’t know much about this part of her life but I knew that it sounded kind of fun. When we got to college, I took a few baby steps toward faith. Katrina, at the invitation of her roommate, took a bigger leap and became involved in a Christian group of students on campus. I was not so brave or bold initially. But I trusted Katrina so I watched and waited.

And when drama caught up with me at college and I felt my world spinning, I stuck out my hand for balance and found Katrina and a new group of friends who were super weird about their beliefs but also super nice. They included me in their group, and even though I continued to struggle with envy of Katrina (a result of my deep insecurities), I was glad to belong. That  belonging led to a decision to follow Jesus and to be sure that I would not turn back, I asked Katrina to help me take the next steps that were harder than the first ones.

Partway through our college years, we had the chance to study in England for a semester. I use the word “study” loosely because we were 20-year-olds in England for an entire semester. We sat in classes and we had assignments and did homework but we also traveled a lot and tried new things. Having Katrina in England at the same time was another blessing even though we had our moments. I remember how much she and a few others friends hated Paris because it was so French. I think I was the only one of the group who had taken French in high school and had dreamed about Paris for years. I drove them nuts with my constant declarations: “Look! There’s the Eiffel Tower.” (FYI, you can see the Eiffel Tower from pretty much everywhere in Paris.)

After college, our paths took different turns again but our friendship was constant. We got real-life grown-up jobs. We kept in touch. We both found the men we would marry pretty much right under our noses. We had kids. We moved. We had crises of health and marriage and family.

Our communication is not constant and we haven’t seen each other in person in probably six years or more, but Katrina is the friend who has  been there through it all and is the person in my life who knows me the best. That’s weird to say about someone who isn’t your spouse, but she knows the childhood me and still loves me.

We chatted by phone recently, the first time in maybe a year. And it was like no time had passed even though she had another child in her house and so much had passed for both of us.

I recently learned something new about Katrina. When you’ve known a person for 25 years, you think maybe there’s nothing more to learn. Good thing I’m wrong about that. She posted on Facebook about her Myers-Briggs personality type (Google it if you don’t know what I mean) and I learned that my confident, beautiful, outgoing friend is an introvert. An introvert! I couldn’t believe it because I’m an introvert and I spent too many years believing there was something wrong with me and that everyone else was better than me and there was no possible way I could ever be like Katrina. (Not the right goal, just in case you’re wondering.)

So, it’s true. You can learn something new about someone you’ve known for two-thirds of your life. There was a time when Katrina and I were planning some 40th birthday madness in a few years, but I’m not sure I can wait that long. Though she is one of the few people I will willingly and gladly answer the phone for, I miss her and need to hug her neck and play with her kids. (Plus our sons–my only, her older one–need to meet. They sound like kindred spirits who will destroy something in the name of fun.)

She is my best friend. And maybe the first person outside of my family to tell me “I love you” and mean it.

Do you have a best friend? Or a friend you’ve known for decades? What’s your relationship like? And have you told them how much they  mean to you?

The one who makes room

One of my best memories of high school (and there are few) is the lunch table where my friends and I gathered daily to share a meal. We always chose a circular table, rather than the long, rectangular ones. Maybe it felt more intimate or inclusive. I don’t know why, really, but I remember the tradition of finding a circle table and pulling up chairs and squeezing in around it.

The table was meant to seat six, maybe eight, but as the year went on, we found ourselves making room for one more person, and one more. There were days that 10 or more teenagers squeezed around this table, elbows bumping, food overlapping, personal space non-existent.

And it wasn’t that any of us was popular or well-known or even particularly well-liked. No, we were more like a band of misfits. We worked on the school newspaper, played in the band, got good grades. You know who we were. We were not flamboyant or funny. In a crowd, we’d usually blend in.

But at lunch, we came together as a group.

And we made room.

Paweł Wojciechowski | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Paweł Wojciechowski | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Read the rest over at Putting on the New, where I blog on the 12th of each month.

When you have a birthday

I woke up on the first day of my 37th year full before the day began.

This is not the norm for me.  On my birthday or any other day.

The weather promised to be perfect–sunny, 80 degrees, not too humid.

And the day was pregnant with promise.

Birthdays are, for me, a love-hate affair. I enjoy the celebration. I love cake and ice cream. But in recent years, my birthdays have been anti-climatic, to say the least. While my husband was in seminary, he almost always had finals the week of my birthday and May 4 would become like any other day. I got used to lowering (or abandoning) my expectations for the day. I’m not big on surprises, but a part of me has always wanted to feel special on my birthday.

That’s normal, right?

So, on Sunday night, knowing that Monday was packed full of meetings and a birthday celebration was going to be hard to squeeze in, I did something I rarely do.

I asked for what I wanted.

“It doesn’t matter what we do,” I said, as we finished up dinner. “But tomorrow, I’d like to do something special for my birthday.”

Rather than feel selfish or needy by that declaration, I felt grown-up and free.

Maybe that’s why Monday dawned with such hope. I was grateful before the day began for this life I’ve been gifted, with all its messes and miracles.

What happened throughout the day was icing on the proverbial cake. (There was actual cake, too.)

As my husband got up to make my coffee and breakfast for me and the kids, I read tweets from my brother, and opened an e-mail with a generous gift inside from him and his wife. Breakfast is my favorite meal, so it’s always a gift to have someone else make it. (And for it to not be cereal or toast. Egg sandwiches, in case you were curious.)

Phil and our son left to head to the grocery store to plan a special dinner, and the Facebook greetings rolled in from across the country and across the years of my life. I said, in reflecting on the day, that a Facebook birthday is like “This is your life.” College friends. Hometown friends. Online friends I’ve never met in person.

Some made the tears come, like this one from a pastor friend in Illinois:

Today, look back in awe at how God has shaped and led you; then look forward in anticipation of all that God will do to complete the beautiful work of art that is you. Experience God’s blessing on your birthday!

Look back. Look forward. Both together, not either or. A day before, I read this quote from Madeleine L’Engle, and it is fitting for birthdays:

madeleine quote

I have wanted to lose some of the ages I’ve been, but in my 37th year, I am increasingly grateful for the ways those years have shaped me.

When the guys returned, I headed out to my counseling appointment. Going to counseling on my birthday might not seem like a treat, but it’s becoming a valued part of my life and routine.

“Don’t cry too much on your birthday,” my husband said as I left because I have left a lot of tears in my counselor’s office. I did cry, but they were mostly happy tears because maybe for the first time in my life I love who I am and who I am becoming and I feel loved. By others. By God. By me.

I spent the afternoon with my son. We volunteered at the school library, which we hadn’t done for a couple of weeks. We enjoyed the outside weather. The porch is my favorite place in the spring/summer/fall. I read. I tended my small collection of plants, including a hanging basket of flowers that arrived while I was gone. A sweet couple from church dropped them off just to say “thanks.” I continued to read the messages of well wishes. I talked to my grandparents. I picked up my daughter from the bus.

And I watched my husband prepare a birthday feast for dinner. He grilled some of my favorites: bell peppers, shrimp, steak. Paired with rice it was a satisfying and special meal, topped off with a moose tracks ice cream cake. The day would have been perfect without it, but I’m glad I said something the day before.

We headed off to church for meetings my husband and I lead, once again grateful that we are part of a community of faith that recognizes and values our gifts and lets us use them.

We fell into bed exhausted and my heart was fuller than it had been when I woke up. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my birthday than being with people I love, doing ordinary things, celebrating life and health. It was extraordinary in its ordinariness.

This morning it was a little harder to get out of bed, but more birthday wishes trickled in, including a video from our 3-year-old nephew. In the middle of singing “Happy birthday,” he asked his mom if they could come to our house and share cake. We are too many miles apart for that, but the sentiment warms my heart.

We still have cake, and a birthday date night scheduled for Friday, but for all intents and purposes, the celebration is over.

The gratitude continues, though, and my hope for the year to come is to find these ordinary graces in my life no matter the day.

I am 37, and it is good to be alive.