The Late Shift at Michael’s

Dear the three employees at Michaels stuck working the late shift two days before Christmas:

So I had this great idea for a stocking stuffer for my husband. It’s not that interesting, it’s not that fancy, but it required finding a small item that was not as easily available as I’d hoped. First I looked on Amazon, and it’s available there (of course it is), but I couldn’t find anyone willing to send it in a timely fashion. I finally found it available at Walmart, with a pick-up date of Friday. Perfect!

Friday came. I made a special trip to Rapid to pick it up (and run fourteen other errands). I ran all fourteen errands and bought all 23 things on my list at Walmart. As I pulled off the interstate at Sturgis on my way home, I realized I hadn’t picked up my order.

No worries, we’d be coming back to town on Saturday for a staff holiday party!

Staff holiday party happened tonight. We cruised over to Walmart at 9:30, after the party, only to discover Pick-Up Hours end at 8:00. Any way to make an exception? Yeah, no. Okay, do you have anything in stock even close to what I’m looking for? Three employees all stood around and thought about it before unanimously deciding that no, there was nothing in the store even sort of like what I wanted. Maybe I should try Michaels?

On the way out of Walmart, I had an inspiration that was MUCH easier than Michaels. Walgreens! This is exactly the sort of thing Walgreens would have. We arrived at 10:04. Wanna guess what time they closed?

So off to Michaels we went. Dustin dropped me off and I headed inside. I asked the gal at the counter if they had my item. She radioed to the back. “Where do we keep this item?” she asked. (Not “do we have this item?” Very encouraging!)

Pretty soon, another employee was guiding me from one option to the next, coming up with increasingly useful ideas as I continued to explain my plan. Soon a third employee got involved, raiding overstock bins to try to find a missing item she was sure she’d just seen somewhere else.

I walked out of your store with the item I needed (and half a dozen other good ideas for next time), and a serious sense of good service after a day of customer service missteps.

Thank you for taking good care of me. Thank you for being open until 11pm. I hope you all get a little rest and a chance to enjoy the holidays in whatever way you celebrate them!

❤ Laura

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The Cast & Crew of a Tonsillectomy Survivor

Dear…

Can I even begin to name all the people I have to thank this week? I’m working on a funny (I hope?) post on my other blog about how this whole process has gone, but here are the vital stats on all the people who have rocked my week:

Dr. Jay White at Rapid City Medical Center. You are a superstar. You took every question I had before the surgery seriously, never once showing any sign that you needed to move on to the next patient, or that you had answered the same question six hundred times already this week. You were incredibly honest with me about what I was getting into (“by day two, you’ll want to call me up and shout nasty things at me, but you won’t be able to shout”), but also very reassuring about the whole thing. What’s more, when my meds went south afterward, you returned my call within minutes then gave me your personal number so I could get a hold of you directly if anything else came up.

The staff at the Same Day Surgery Center were first-class. You kept me as comfortable as possible before, (theortically) during, and after the procedure. Special shout-out to the anesthesiologists who took me seriously when I said I handle general anesthesia badly and doped me up with some stuff that really kept me together afterward.

Obviously thank you to my saint of a husband, who has been taking care of me ever since. I knew I’d need him to bring my popsicles and warm up my soup, but I didn’t realize how many extra trips to the pharmacy I’d be demanding, or how very many glasses of ice water I could go through. You are my food and medication cheerleader, and despite all the horrible faces I’ve been making about both (against my will, I swear!), I desperately appreciate the encouragement. Also thank you for picking up all the B&B communications while I’ve been down, for all the Christmas decorating, cat feeding, and snow shoveling. (Not to imply those are all things I would usually do instead – I’m just extra grateful I have you to do them right now.)

Thank you to my nurse-on-call Megan, who has coached me through a stupid lot of pain problems. You are sensible and wise, and next time you tell me to call the doctor’s after-hours line and ask for new meds, I will follow your advice immediately rather than “waiting to see how it looks after dinner.” Thank you for checking in with me every day, and for the happy pictures you’ve been posting of your holiday family that are keeping things cheery.

Thank you also to my pharmacist-on-call Andrea, who answered my super specific questions, and then celebrated with me when I got new drugs that made all the info she’d already given me irrelevant. And good heavens, thank you for the tip about using chocolate to hide the bitterness of steroids. I have to do this 18 more times, and I don’t think I could face that without knowing about chocolate.

Thank you to my dopey cat Kepler who will not leave my side. I don’t know if he can tell something is wrong and wants to make me feel better, or if he’s just beside himself with joy that I’m home all day for him to snuggle with. Either way, the company and cuddles have been appreciated.

And finally, thank you to all of you who have checked in to see how I’m doing. It’s kind of awesome to know I have all those people out there thinking about me. I love that the marvels of modern technology also mean I can communicate coherently with you. My spoken communication skills right now are slightly below those of the Edgar alien from the first Men In Black movie.

Given the form of medication I was taking, this is almost a perfect reenactment of my life last Wednesday.

All my love,
❤ Laura

Grandma Lorena Wenk

Dear Grandma,

You would have turned 98 today. I last got to see you on your 95th birthday. You were feisty as ever, letting new great-grandson Brody climb over you and letting me know just what you thought about my blue hair (“Your hair used to be so pretty!”). I most remember your mischievous smile and your extra-fierce euchre skills. To this day I marvel at the way you could throw your cards down, two rounds in, already knowing who would win.

You were always the Games Grandma. Coming to your house in the summer meant getting to pull out all the marvelous games that hid in your attic, in the days before we could appreciate the nuance of euchre. Marbles, Chinese Checkers, Snakes & Ladders, Twister, and every card game under the sun. There were also Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and Legos. Coming to visit you was an exercise in creativity and cleverness.

Better yet were the days we’d spend with you, curating our stamp collections and raiding your piles of extra stamps for just the right missing president/flag/cactus to fill in our holes. You taught us how to figure out how old a stamp was (or at least make a good guess), how to search our stamp albums for the right spaces, and how to use those silly little mounting tabs, to keep our collections as tidy and professional as they come.

And for some reason, ever since I saw BJ’s post about your birthday this morning, I’ve been thinking about pork roast and niffles. (Whyever would that be??) Despite having what I thought was the best vegetable garden in the world, you were never kind to the vegetables once they arrived in your kitchen (the poor, poor, grey vegetables), but no one made they hearty German classics like you did. I cannot smell sauerkraut without being thrown immediately back to your kitchen. (I must say I appreciate sauerkraut more as an adult than I ever did in your kitchen, though.)

I miss you! I miss watching you make magic with cross-stitch and crochet. I miss the ringlets you used to make in my hair and the way you would laugh when I lost at cards to you (which was every single time). Thank you for being such a colorful and wonderful part of my childhood and beyond. With very much love,
❤ Laura

Dana E, who gave me a sheep

Dear Dana,

This week, I’ve been working on a complete inventory of all my belongings. It’s a rotten task in a seven-bedroom house, but apparently it’s something I need if I’m going to sell 90% of my stuff when we sell the business, and also the insurance guy wants to know. This process has involved going from room to room, making a list of every thing in that room, and assigning replacement and resale values to it. Finally, I have to decide if each item will go with the house, or come with me.

I sat down today in the room I call the Old Library to start my inventory there. Bed, dressers, many many books, racks, TV, random decor. And then, there is the sheepskin on the floor.

You gave me the sheepskin as a wedding gift. It seems like such a goofy thing, but at the time, you told me that you knew I’d be leaving my cat behind, and this would give me something warm and furry to put on my lap at night when I missed him. I can’t think of any other gift that touched me so deeply, and ever since then, I have loved that dumb sheepskin.

I’ve never written a note to someone without including a last name before. I want people to be able to find themselves here, if they ever google their own names. I want other people who know them to recognize them and appreciate what lovely people they are. And while I want to thank you – so badly – the thought of you finding this note, and then the rest of this blog, hurts too much in its implications. If you see what I’ve become, you will think worse of me and actively turn away from me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked to you. You moved away before I was married, and I only saw you once after that, when we drove through Iowa and stayed a night with you. I miss you. You were so kind and funny when I was an itty-bitty post-college student, trying to find my way in the metaphysical world. You took the task, when I called the local Kingdom Hall and asked for a Bible study, and the gentleness you employed to answer my hardest questions and emotional challenges was remarkable. I liked you instantly.

When we met, you were the age I am now. I remember this because you had just been turned down for the last time from service at Bethel, which only takes people 36 and younger. I remember thinking how wise you were, admiring your dedication and your knowledge, even your circle of friends. You were kind of a cooler older sister. (I never had one, or was one, so I have to imagine what that might actually look like). I never made another friend like you, and my life is poorer for it. I simply wish the tenants of your beliefs didn’t require you to turn away from me, now that I no longer share them. I’m still really nice. Well-rounded, even. We could laugh at the same jokes, drool over the same recipes, debate the same books.

Friendships come and go through life, that’s a simple fact. We parted many years ago on very nice terms, and did not keep touch. That’s okay, because although I really would enjoy having you back as a friend, at least I can imagine that the possibility for it still exists, as long as you remember me just the way I was, eleven years ago, sleeping on your pull-out bed.

Thank you for the sheepskin. It will be making the trip with me to my next abode.
❤ Laura

Barbara Wenk, maker of the best Halloween costumes

Dear Mama,

I’ve been looking at pictures of my nephews and my friend’s children dressed up for Halloween this week, and it got me to thinking: you made us the best Halloween costumes when we were little. And I do mean you made them. Weeks or months before Halloween, you would ask what we wanted to be that year. I always came up with some preposterous little-girl fantasy (unicorn! princess! butterfly!) and you always made miracles happen. That unicorn suit was full-body. The butterfly had wings I still envy to this day. I must have gone as a princess six times, and back in the ’80s, you didn’t just run down to Target and buy a pre-made Disney princess costume. No, you invented a princess costume so that I was only ever Princess Laura, in my own one-of-a-kind ballgown.

I’ve not done very well as an adult. For my first adult-celebrating Halloween, I started months ahead and made myself a really good costume. The next year I started weeks ahead and just barely had a costume in time. Last year, I wore striped socks and a string of christmas lights around my neck because at least that felt festive. This year, I put on my cat apron because at least it was colorful. Next year, will I forget it is Halloween?

Some of the children’s costumes I’ve seen in pictures have been pretty impressive, and the little girl who came to my door dressed as a spider was ahmazing, but I noticed this year that quite a few of the costumes weren’t very… thorough. Or maybe it was just because many costumes were a bit hidden under fluffy jackets. I wasn’t thinking about this in a critical way, but in a way that made me feel warm and fuzzy. Many Halloweens saw us marching around as angels wearing parkas, but that never dampened my spirit. When I put on my princess dress, I was a princess. When I put on those butterfly wings, I became a butterfly. All I needed as a child was a single prop, and I transformed.

The adult perfectionist in me looks at someone wearing kitty ears and a black sweater and thinks, “oh come on, you could have tried a little harder,” but child me, wearing just those same ears, would have been the happiest house cat on the planet. (Not that you ever would have left us with just cat ears. Surely, at least, you would have added a tail.) I feel a little sad that I’ve lost so much of that capacity for fantasy. Maybe I just need my mama to make my costumes again. (Haha, just kidding.) (Sort of.) (No, really, I’m kidding.)

You were an enabler of the very best kind. You gave us the props and ears and wings and dresses and horns that made childhood so fantastic and vivid. May my nephews all be so lucky, and may I dig up that chance for myself again someday soon.
❤ Laura

Happy Anniversary to This Blog!

Dear all you people whom I love,

One year ago today, I started this blog with the goal of writing a thank-you note every day for the next year. I wound up writing 331 notes. Some of them were the kinds of notes I meant to write: thoughtful, detailed, and adequate to express the gratitude I felt for the marvelous person in question. Many notes were much less awesome, and a few were even painful.

I went 89 days in a row before I missed my first day, the result of simply forgetting due to travel-weariness. I decided that I would not write make-up posts, but I also promised myself that I would not let a single missed day derail the ultimate goal. I started missing a lot more days as I rolled into my busy work seasons (topping out at 8 days each in August and September), but all told, 34 missed days is not so shabby. As far as I recall, only two of my missed days were conscious decisions not to write a note. All other days were forgetfulness or lack of computer access while traveling.

When I started, I envisioned this project as a great literary endeavor. Every note would be not only meaningful, but compelling and lyrical. For the first month, I often wrote my notes during the day, or started them early and finished before bed. Here, at the end of my year, I cannot remember the last time I started a note before 9pm. My compellingness and lyricality take a sharp nosedive after 9pm. (Yeah, that’s it…)

But for all that, I did write 99,729 words in the past year. (If only I had written one more post!!) That’s a lot of words. That’s, like, half a Lord of the Rings novel. (All you people about to write 50k words in just November, hush.)

As far as lessons learned, the primary thing I learned is that I have a LOT of awesome people in my life. When I set out, I meant to thank 365 distinct people. I compiled a list of all the people I wanted to thank so that I’d have something to refer to on days I was having a hard time thinking of a subject. I was only able to think of 126 names, and I confess that some of them were stretches (yes, “my cats” was on that list, along with several instances of “that person who [fill in the blank]” because I’ve forgotten their actual names). Once I’d started, though, I quickly learned that the people in my closest circles deserve so much gratitude I couldn’t limit myself to only thanking them once. (Shout-out Dustin, Megan, Mom, Dad, Anne, and my employees). And that list of 126 people? I only managed to write notes to 45 of them.

That leaves a lot of people left to thank. Do I really need to thank that boy I had a crush on in fourth grate for being nice to me? No, I don’t need to, but why shouldn’t I? Many of the people still on the list are more important to me than my fourth-grate crushes, and they very much deserve their notes, so my intention is to keep this project going.

So, my dear 49 followers, and those of you who swing in once in awhile, stay tuned. I will keep writing notes. (From now on, though, I give myself permission to skip notes on those long hard days when the best I could do was, “Dear September, Thank you for arriving.”)

Until then, thank you ALL for making the good parts of the last year so great, and thank you for supporting me in so many ways big and small through the parts that weren’t so great. Thanks to you, the coming year has the makings of being even more amazing.

Much gratitude, much love.
❤ Laura

 

Grandma Shirley Michel, sassiest of grandmas

Dear Grandma Shirley,

I’ve been watching Brody and Garrett with Mom and Dad lately, and thinking about how lucky they are to get to spend all that time with them. We didn’t live so close to you when we were little, but we were still awfully lucky. We got to come out and spend three weeks with you ever summer, and you came out to visit us in South Dakota at least once a year as well. After Grandpa ran us out of energy at the park, you were the one who made sure we had delicious dinners and something good to read. I loved going to the Livermore library with you to pick out books that our little Rapid City library had never even heard of.

It’s been wonderful to have you so much closer to us for the last several years. At 92 years old, I’ve never met anyone as self-sufficient and determined as you are. I love the lunches we get to have together and talking to you about life back in Wisconsin, and in the early days in California with Grandpa. I’ve even enjoyed going along to your PT appointments and watching you harass your therapist (though I do wish you would stop doing things that result in you needing PT!).

Thank you for being such a central part of my life. Thank you for all the energy and will you put into every day, for being a role model and such great company. I love you, and I’m looking forward to seeing you for another lunch date soon!
❤ Laura

My Trick-or-Treaters

Dear adorable kids (and your adorable, long-suffering parents),

Thanks for coming out. Thanks for wearing your cutest ever costumes. This is the time of year I get to practice not running and hiding when the doorbell rings because I know there will be something adorable on the other side.
❤ Laura

PS: I gave y’all two pieces of candy each so you could share with your parents. Just sayin’.

Bob Joachim, my senior prom date

Dear Bob,

Happy anniversary, a few days late! I’ve been thinking about you a lot since I saw your anniversary posts on Facebook last week. Actually, I’ve been thinking about writing this note since I saw your wedding photos two years ago. I wanted to tell Dan what I lucky guy he was, and thank you for the outsized role you played in my happiness and self-esteem twenty (gah!) years ago.

Twenty years ago, I met you (maybe for the second time?) at the South Dakota Presbyterian Youth Rally in Pierre. You had already graduated, so you were there as a group leader and I was in your group. I’d been having a rough year. I can’t remember why, but I’d made myself a promise while on the bus in from Rapid City: I was going to put all my crap aside and just have a really great time. I threw myself into the goofy dancing and singing and worship times and whatever other silliness was going on that weekend, and it worked. I had a great time.

I don’t know if it would have been such a great time if you hadn’t been there. To start off with, you were funny and smart, and I loved having conversations (sometimes low-key arguments) with you in our small-group sessions. In between activities, you often struck up what became huge, unruly sessions of The Animal Game. I don’t think I’d ever laughed so much in my life. Even though I can’t remember the rules, I still remember the sound Dirt makes.

And then there were the “dances” they hosted in the evenings. WHY does a gathering of church youth groups even HOST dances? It’s still the most ridiculous thing I can imagine. In fact, I think I may have been making this exact comment at the time, when you piped up. In my memory, it goes something like this:

Me: Why do they even have dances at these things? No one actually dances. It’s the most ridiculous idea I can imagine!
You: No way, dancing is so much fun.
Me: Wait… do you dance?
You: I love to dance!
Me: Wait… Do you SWING DANCE?!
You: Uh… yes?
Me: YOU HAVE TO TEACH ME!!!

And so you did, or some reasonable approximation thereof. I’ve never had that much fun at any dance (no, not even the prom).

At some point during that weekend, my friend Carlynn made a comment about how sweet you were, and how she might have a crush on you.

“BACK OFF,” I told her. “I’ve already called dibs.”

Of course, I hadn’t called anything, because I was 17 and completely useless at relationships. All romantic notions I had about anyone stayed in my head, where they couldn’t get anyone in trouble. Crushes were fun, but only daydreams.

The last morning of the rally, you were weirdly quiet. That was a pity, because I’d become particularly bubbly and attention-seeking since all that dancing, and I was a little disappointed you were being so weird. My friends and I got on the bus to go home, and you barely even said goodbye. I was settling into my seat with friend Andrea when she said, “What did Bob stick in your bag?”

“Huh?” was my articulate reply.

“He put something in your bag back there.”

(Insert here what I recall as sitcom-style diving for my bag and rummaging through it.)

You had written me a note. The note said that you thought I was really special, and that you liked me quite a lot, and you kind of had a girlfriend at home, but…

I melted all over that bus. No one had ever said anything like that to me. No boy had ever shown even the slightest lick of interest,* and to have this gorgeous note in my hands all the sudden from a boy I’d spent all weekend swooning over was almost more than my little teenage heart could stand.

That’s the most interesting part of our story, in my recollection. That moment of finding out I was liked, that there was something about me worth liking, worth writing a scary note for, worth returned affections. It was huge.

After that part, we got in touch by email and (with the machinations of my sister in the background) you wound up driving out from Yankton to take me to my senior prom. I’d been planning on sitting home and watching movies in my pajamas, but the appearance of you in my social sphere changed everything. I was suddenly cool enough to have attracted a prom date, and he was in college.

Dang, I was cool.

Ermagerd, we were adorable.

It was a super awkward “date,” as far as dates go (and my only date in high school, if one wants to get technical). You slept in my brother’s room. We killed time before the prom driving around the Black Hills. We went to the prom and danced all night, until they shut the dance down and shooed everyone out to the lame-ass after-parties. You left the next morning after a suitably awkward goodbye. My hunch is that each of us was wondering if someone should be trying to kiss someone else, and neither of us could make up our minds, and so no one got kissed. It’s okay. I deserved someone as awkward as I was on that first go-round.

We lost touch after I left the state for college myself, although I have never stopped thinking about you, and that note that still rides around in a fabric bible jacket I’d had along in Pierre that weekend. For a lot of years, until I found Dustin, you were my shining “What If,” a perfect, dancing boy who liked me and could have been my Happily Ever After if circumstances had been just a little different.

No seriously. I still have it.

Even when Facebook appeared and made the world small enough that I found you again, we didn’t have anything in the way of a reunion – just a sort of long-distance, technology-enabled nod at each other. I didn’t know anything about what had become of you after college, where you’d gone or what you were doing. When I saw your wedding announcement, I stared and stared at the few photos you posted. You and Dan look so happy, and I am so incredibly happy for you. You deserve someone who makes you feel as special and loved as that dorky note made me feel for those few shiny months, twenty years ago.

I’m sorry we lost touch. I need more interesting people in my life. Next time I find my way to DC or if you  happen to find yourself on the Black Hills side of the state, let’s get together and catch up? I’d love to meet the guy who’s lucky enough to be your life-long dance partner. Dustin doesn’t know it yet, but he’d totally like to meet you too.

Again, happy anniversary, and many best wishes for all your adventures!
❤ Laura

*Dear Dustin: sorry I didn’t see the signs. But I guess that all worked out okay, huh?

Gratitude

It’s been a lovely day, and I should write a nice thank you note, but … I stayed up too late watching The Good Place and Futurama and now I’m sleepy and all the nice notes I can think of to write require too much attentive sincerity. I owe all you people who remain to be thanked said attentive sincerity, so here we are with another cheater note.

Today I’m grateful for guests who ask for breakfast at 10:00 even though I actually only offer it until 9:30, because that means I get to sleep in a lot. I’m even more grateful for having a morning totally off tomorrow in a big fat empty house. I’m gonna watch so much bad TV tomorrow. (Just kidding, I’m actually going to go to Rapid City to have some of my parts tuned up. I’m grateful for that too.) I’m grateful for all the people I know who are happy to suggest tasty recipes every year when I get around to my annual solicitation of some kind of themed meals. (This year is vegetarian meals. More ideas continue to be welcome!)

I should also spend some time tomorrow thinking about a Halloween costume. That’ll be fun.
❤ Laura