My Mom: Jan Nelson

With my mother’s memorial service coming up a week from Friday, I was asked to put together a few words about her for my pastor. Of course, I wrote three pages. But I wanted to share them with you, along with some of the pictures I put together for a photo slideshow which will be shown at the church. Here she is in my own words:

My mama was the sweetest, most gentle heart I’ve ever known. She got that from her mother, Marcy, and her generosity of spirit from her father, Wally. Mom was kind and loving and so accepting of others. It took a lot to make her angry, and when she did get angry it was over pretty quickly.

Underneath that sweet exterior lurked a quick and wicked sense of humor. It’s one of the reasons she loved my father so much, because they were well matched. (Obviously, there were other, major reasons as well, but the fact that they laughed together, even in serious situations, was a gift to their marriage.) She and her friends Pat and Marie could laugh themselves into fits of hysterics and often did when they got together.

Mom loved to travel. The two of us went to London for a week in 1997 – the one and only time she went overseas. She loved every minute of it. We walked everywhere and had aching feet at the end of each day, but we saw so much. We even took day trips to Oxford and Windsor Castle. She made three consecutive scrapbooks to detail our trip.

My parents and I always did a two week vacation in the summer when I was a kid. We would usually go camping somewhere out west and we were fond of the National Parks. Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Death Valley, Lassen, Sequoia and Rocky Mountain National Parks all saw us at least once, but we revisited our favorites many times. We also explored the beauty of the Canadian Rockies by visiting Banff, Lake Louise, and Waterton Lakes. Even though camping wasn’t her favorite (she didn’t like bugs or wild animals), she went along with it in good humor because it got her out to see the world.

Unfortunately, bugs and wild animals seemed to like her. Mosquitoes flocked to her arms and legs and one time when a June bug flew at her and hit her in the face she literally jumped out of her sandals. And while in Mesa Verde in Colorado, two inquisitive mule deer quietly came up behind her to investigate our campsite while we were washing up after supper. They drove Mom to the safety of the car while they innocently nosed the frying pan.

Mom also loved the North Shore of Lake Superior. She went many times as a kid, usually staying with her family in Halcyon Harbor. But we made quite a few trips ourselves when I was a child. I remember sitting on the rocky shore with her and arguing over who got to read our only copy of Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. She loved Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls, and wandering through the many gift shops that line old Highway 61, plus eating at Sven and Ole’s in Grand Marais, and Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors.

She and Dad had an absolute blast traveling around in their RV. Unfortunately, her health problems made them have to stop after just a year on the road. Her goal was to see all 50 states, and she made 47 of them, missing only Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia. She also collected pictures of state capitols and wrote a newsletter called the Roads Scholars that she sent out to family and friends.

She did have a multitude of health problems, but she never complained about them. She bore everything on her small shoulders with grace and fortitude. She had quiet strength that could withstand the most difficult situations. She had a fiercely strong spirit and was determined to beat the odds. In the end, her lungs gave out on her, but she fought all the way. She said she didn’t want to die because she had so many things she still wanted to do.

Mom was gifted with all creative pursuits. She decorated our home beautifully, but also loved scrapbooking, painting, cross stitch, sewing, and needlework of all kinds. Scrapbooking was a particular passion in later years, and she would spend hours slaving over pages of memories. She made two books chronicling my life, one for her sister, one for her best friends Pat and Marie, one for her mother-in-law Eileen, one for Disney, even one specifically for pictures of people wearing silly hats at Disney World. (Yes, she really had enough pictures.) She delighted in putting together colors, layout, pictures and words to create something truly eye-catching and special.

Mom had a few obsessions. Some of these included Disney, picture frames, Disney, soap dishes, Disney, scrapbooking, Disney, Department 56 houses, Disney, Christmas, Disney and Disney. She worked at Disney World for a period of several years and got to indulge that obsession as much as she wanted. She collected pins, Lilo and Stitch memorabilia and quite a few pieces of art from the local artists who worked with her at the Art of Disney. Her time spent at the Art of Disney, a high end art store where you could buy anything from a $5 keychain to a $40,000 painting she discovered she really liked helping people choose the perfect treasure and had a knack for selling.

Mom was really smart. She got very good grades in high school and had an amazing memory and was a quick learner. She loved to read and devoured books voraciously. If she wasn’t occupied with one of her obsessions, you can bet she had a book in her hand. She adored mysteries, fiction, biographies and Harry Potter. She instilled a love of reading in me, leading by example.

She loved art, especially the Impressionists, and loved museums. She liked to write and was quite accomplished at it. She always thought she would have made a good librarian, and was so pleased when I made that my career. She was a bookkeeper and would have made a fantastic accountant if she’d had the chance to go to college. She loved learning of all kinds and was always looking for ways to expand her knowledge of the world, whether it be through books or travel.

In addition to art, she loved music too. Every Easter she got excited because our church service usually ended with the Hallelujah Chorus, in which she loved to participate, and Lorie Line was her go-to Christmas music. We saw her several times in concert. She loved singing in Mount Calvary choir and joined the Disney employee choir which sang at the EPCOT Candlelight Processional. She got to be on stage with Neil Patrick Harris, John Stamos, Eartha Kitt and Phylicia Rashad.

And she was always playing music in the car. When I was still in a car seat, she would strap me in and subject me to large doses of Barry Manilow. I, being an extremely good daughter, took her to see him in Fort Myers a couple of years ago, and was surprised that I knew the words to all but one of the songs, which was in itself a little frightening. But it made her so dang happy it was hard not to enjoy it.

She loved her family. On her father’s side she was the youngest of 25 first cousins. She adored her sister, all her nieces and nephews and their children, and had a special friendship with her cousin Kay. She was proud of her Swedish and Norwegian heritage. She loved her parents fiercely and was devastated when she lost them just six months apart. Being only seven at the time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of her loss. But now I have a very keen understanding of what she went through at just thirty two years of age.

She loved animals. From her collie Chloe, when she was a girl, to my cats Shady and Fingers now, she lavished as much attention on them as they would let her. She loved the softness of fur and animals recognized the gentle spirit that lay within her, and loved her back.

Most of all, I think, she loved my Dad and me. When my husband Kosta joined the family, she gathered him right in and loved him too. We were a tight unit with inside jokes and a rubber chicken that used to get passed to unsuspecting recipients at Christmas. No one has a perfect marriage but as the years passed Mom and Dad settled into the comfortable roles of best friends and soul mates. And yet, they included me in their love so that I never doubted it for a moment.

Mom left us too soon. She didn’t want to go, she wanted to make her 50th wedding anniversary in 2019, and see me be a published author. She wanted to visit Disney again and go to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. She had books to read, and scrapbooks to finish and so much living to do and most of all: people to love. And even though her spirit was strong, her body crumbled away before our horrified eyes. She has left such a large hole in our hearts and knowing that I may have to live half of my life without her is almost too much to bear sometimes. I’ll never see her beautiful eyes again, or feel her soft hand touch my cheek. She was one of my best friends. I’ll never stop missing her and will remember her daily for the rest of my life.

What Is Your Word?

I had a text conversation with my friend Tammy last week. She asked me out of the blue the following question: If you could choose one word to set your intention for 2017 what would it be?

I had to think only a moment before I answered her: TENACITY. As in never, ever, ever give up. Never give up on what, you may ask? My writing most definitely, but it applies to all areas of my life – my career as a librarian, my marriage, my family, my friends, my spirituality, my creative endeavors in general. Writing a book and getting an agent has really taught me this lesson well and I can see it working in different ways that are surprising and wonderful to behold.

I thought it was a random thing to ask, but a very good question. Imagine my surprise when a week later I received a package in the mail containing this:

2017-02-05-09-03-50The bracelet comes from myintent.org. You can customize your bracelet to say any word that means something to you. It’s a really cool idea because every time I look at it I remember my determination to do the things I am passionate about. It also reminds me what an awesome person Tammy is.

Make ‘Em Laugh

I'm a dish, ain't I?

I’m a dish, ain’t I?

I have this marvelous little app on my phone called Old Booth. It takes old-timey portraits and lets you impose another face on them with your camera.

Sometimes I’ll just lie in bed and make silly faces to make myself laugh. I was raised in a family with a pronounced sense of humor. We can laugh even at the most difficult times.

Case in point: my Dad had an emergency appendectomy ten years ago, and unfortunately he landed back in the hospital a week later because of an abscess. My parents were living in Orlando at the time and I drove the four hours to be with them in the emergency room. The second I got there and walked in, I looked at my Dad lying in the hospital bed, obviously in pain, and I said, “So, I hear you’re full of pus?”

Hey, you could dry dishes behind those ears.

Hey, you could dry dishes behind those ears.

We all burst out laughing but the nurse who was in the room looked at us like we were nuts. And so we were. But that’s the point, isn’t it? If we lose our sense of humor life becomes a huge chore. But if we can laugh every day we beat the system and have an easier time remaining positive.

And so I make it a point to laugh every day. It certainly helps that I married a man who fits right in with our goofy family aesthetic. And the cats (little shits that they are) are often doing something ridiculous that make us laugh too. There are too many people out there who are miserable because they were either born without a humor gene, or let the harshness of life get the best of them.  I talk to hundreds of people every week at the Reference Desk every week and I can tell you within a few seconds who laughs every day and who doesn’t.

My darling husband as the scariest bellhop you'll ever meet.

My darling husband as the scariest bellhop you’ll ever meet.

My husband befriended an old man many years ago. Henry has since passed on, but for the last ten years of his life my husband was his only friend. He was intelligent, artistic, and had plenty of money to keep him comfortable. But he was bitter, lonely, and cheap and lived a life where he used to shout at the television and rail against everything with which he found fault. Smiles from Henry were few and far between, and laughter even more rare. Kosta, bless his soul, went to dinner with him every Wednesday night for ten years and even though it was hard for him to sit and listen to the same tirade every week. But he stayed with Henry to the end because that’s what you do for people who don’t have anyone.

No sense of humor will leave you like this...

No sense of humor will leave you like this…

Sad story, right? That’s why that will never be me. I have learned over the years to amuse myself, find humor in almost everything, and never take myself too seriously. Once a person starts down that path, it becomes a slippery slope into bitterness. We all have the power within us to make our own happiness, to comfort ourselves, and to stay positive, no matter what life slings at us. If something  bad happens, I just dig out my phone and sling it right back.

 

Christmas Goodies

We had a nice Christmas. It was quiet–just my husband and my parents, but we had a relaxing couple of days. We watched movies (Holiday Inn and To Catch a Thief), opened presents, and just generally enjoyed each others company.

But you want to know about the loot, right?

2015-12-25 16.03.49

This was my gift from Kosta: a Pelikan fountain pen. It is so beautiful, writes so smooth, and totally gave my inner office supply nerd a real thrill. (Yes, that kind of thrill.) I am waiting for a little sleeve I bought from Zenok Leather on Etsy so that it doesn’t get damaged rattling around in my purse. My Mom and Dad gave me monnogrammed notecards and now I want to write everyone thank you letters. So do something nice for me so I can send one, will you?

2015-12-26 19.51.44

Ignore the eggnog Frappuccino. This was one of the things I gave Kosta. For those of you who don’t know about Greek culture, this is a set of worry beads called “komboloi.” (You pronounce it Comb-BOW-loy)If you’ve ever been to Greece you will have no doubt seen mostly men fiddling with these, swinging them around their fingers, etc. Every time we go to Greece he can’t stop buying different sets. So why, you ask, another set? Because last time we were in a shop in Delphi and he was debating between a solid silver set and an amber and silver set. He chose the all silver but I think he regretted it. I found a shop on Etsy called The Beaded Garden (from Athens, no less) and found a silver and amber set. He adores them, I don’t mind mentioning.

2015-12-30 06.51.34

Since I found out just how much Kosta spend on my fountain pen (GULP) I felt I needed to get him something else. A month or so ago he saw this pair of coffee mugs on Etsy (oh how we do love Etsy!) and he could not stop laughing about them. They came from Ruddy Waters Pottery. They were a little expensive, but hello, PEN, so I bought them. He went back a few weeks ago to look at them again and saw they had sold and he was disappointed. So wasn’t he surprised when he opened these beauties:

2015-12-30 06.51.44His and Hers ugly mugs. Graciously, he is letting me use the one on the left. I call her Three-Tooth Tillie. They are our new Sunday morning mugs. Yes, we have Sunday morning mugs. We are weird. But if we ever get rich, we’ll merely be eccentric.

Did you get any goodies you want to share?