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.

Taking Stock

Checklist and a pencil

As 2016 draws to a close I think a lot of us take this time to reflect upon what we accomplished in the past year.  I know this was a tough year for a lot of folks, especially those of Generation X, who lost a lot of icons this year like David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher. We knew Bowie was battling cancer so it wasn’t a true shock when he passed, but the other three? Oy. Having grown up in the Minneapolis area, Prince was especially a knife to the heart. I think of all the amazing things he never got to accomplish because he died too soon.

And then of course was the election. I’m not one to talk about my political opinions in public, but I will say I have never seen such an ugly, divisive battle. It was truly heinous to watch. Although not having broadcast TV spared me from the political ads. I wish I could say I was hopeful but I have real concerns about the future of this country and the world.

However, I think it is wrong to say that 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year. On a personal level I had some really good things happen. I finished the first draft of my third novel. Now in 2017 I will begin the revision process and I hope to have something ready to go for my agent in the next few months.

I also had a revitalization at work. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a Reference Librarian for nearly fourteen years and working with the public has begun to wear me out. But I found a new project on which to work that has me extremely excited. I’m pitching the idea to my director a week from today. If I have her blessing I’ll share more about it then.

I took an amazing trip this summer with my husband. We saw Austria, Germany, and France, spent time with great friends, and drank lots of good beer. We nearly killed ourselves on the 700 steps inside an ice cave, visited the crypt at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, saw Mozart’s birthplace, took the Nightwatchman’s tour in Rothenberg, drank schnapps, saw the graves of Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine, toured Brittany, and climbed to the top of the world at Mont St. Michel.

Some not so great things happened as well. My Dad had triple bypass surgery while we were on vacation. Thankfully Pop has made a full recovery and is doing very well. Mom is still struggling with her health and there isn’t much hope for improvement. Adjustment has been hard for all of us but especially for her. She gets frustrated because she can’t do everything she used to. I can’t blame her, I would go mad.

And of course the biggest hurt this year was that my book didn’t sell. But I am hopeful and excited about my new novel. Think of it as a mashup between Pride and Prejudice and X Men. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it and I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and digging into revisions. I’m going to start tonight with reading the book through in its entirety and make notes as to what needs attention. Then my husband and I will go through, chapter by chapter and fix things. It’s going to be a long process, but ultimately so rewarding. I’m anxious to get back in the game.

I could never blame a year for being bad. The way I see it, I had another trip around the sun and got to do some amazing things. I look forward to the next year with optimism and hope you do too. No matter our opinion of the state of the world we all need to move forward and make the best of our situations however we can. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating 2017. It’s going to be a great year.

Le Moulin des Landes

On the western coast of France, sort of halfway between Nantes and La Rochelle is a tiny community that is tacked on to the village of La Chapelle Achard. This collection of houses in the middle of farmland is where our good friends Danielle and Sylvain live with their four kids and menagerie of animals.

Stone farm house of Danielle and Sylvain.

Stone farm house of Danielle and Sylvain.

This is our second time visiting and we love the slow pace of country life mixed with the chaos of four kids, two cats, a dog, and three sheep. There is never a dull moment in this house, even though it looks sleepy and peaceful from this angle.

Indi the English Pointer

Indi the English Pointer

This is Indi, quite possibly the sweetest English Pointer that ever pointed. He’s still quite young, only three, and is full of pep and energy. I’ve been told when he is out on the hunt everyone calls him “The White Bomb” because he tears across the fields with incredible speed. When he’s home, he thinks he’s tiny because he will try to crawl into your lap for a belly rub. He is not tiny. Nor is he fixed, and his plums are often the source of mirth in the house because they are so… well, plummy.

Who's a good boy?

Who’s a good boy?

Pan the sheep

Pan the sheep

This is Pan. He has a wife named Grovey, and a son named Lamb Chop. All three had just been shorn shortly before this picture was taken. Pan looks delirious with relief her, mostly because we had just been through a heat wave and I am sure he was feeling the burn.

Danielle's hydrangeas

Danielle’s hydrangeas

Danielle has incredible hydrangeas growing next to the garage right on the road. Tourists stop to take pictures of them. This tourist stopped to take pictures of them. They are truly splendid.

Well hello, my deer.

Well hello, my deer.

Sylvain is a part owner in a deer farm. There are three types: Sica, Red, and Fallow deer. These are the red deer. We went to visit them all and bring them lunch, which Mr. Himself is munching on here.

 

Our hosts, Danielle and Sylvain in Nuremburg.

Our hosts, Danielle and Sylvain in Nuremburg.

And this post wouldn’t be complete without Danielle and Sylvain themselves. We found we traveled very well together. They are wonderful friends and Kosta and I love them both very much. It would be nice if we could see each other more than every few years. But (!) they want to visit Greece with us in 2018. It is ON.

Note: I didn’t post any pictures of the kidlets because I haven’t asked permission from their parents yet. If they say okay, I’ll tell you about all four of them in turn. They’re pretty fantastic, as far as kids go.

We gotta say goodbye for the summer…

The Friday morning breakfast club met this afternoon for coffee. It was our last time together until the end of August. As early as Tuesday we all go our separate ways for the summer. It was bittersweet, because I love these people so much and yet I am raring to get on with vacation.

The weekend started out with a birthday party. Miss Tammy, my rainbow girl, turned the big 5-0 this week. There was a long table of us at Wyld’s Cafe in Bonita Springs to help her celebrate. There was great food, fantastic company and a decadent chocolate cake from Norman Love to complete the night.

Because cake is so important...

Because cake is so important…

Like I said, this afternoon we all met for coffee to say our goodbyes. Tammy is off to the Jersey shore for three weeks before she and Diane jet off to Peru to see Machu Picchu. Then later they will be joining family in Seattle and perhaps do an Alaskan cruise.

Of course, Kosta and I are set for our trip to Europe. 18 days! And dear Cary will be stuck at home, keeping the breakfast table saved for us until we return. Don’t think we’ll forget you! There will be a special present for you, our keeper of the Eternal Breakfast Flame.

Summer is going to be full-throttle, but so much fun. Before you know it the end of August will be here and everyone will be back. And I can’t wait to hear all about the adventures.

Of course, our day was marred by the horrific news out of Orlando. I don’t understand why this keeps happening. I suppose my head does, but my heart cannot fathom why. All those fallen and their families are in my prayers. Other than that I don’t have the words to convey my heavy heart.

ZING!

ZING ZING ZING went my heartstrings.

ZING ZING ZING went my heartstrings.

Vacation is 27 days away and plans are really starting to come together. Every day, every few hours or so, I get a zing of excitement surge through me. Here is what the plan is:

  • Leave 30 June for Vienna and arrive on 1 July. We will spend the 1-3 July  in the city, soaking up the atmosphere, drinking coffee and sampling pastry.
  • 4 July we will collect an rental car and drive from Vienna to Salzburg, stopping in little towns that tickle our fancies along the way.
  • 5-6 of July will be spent in Salzburg and the environs. Kosta is wildly excited about visiting Hohenwerfen where there is a medieval castle that was featured in his very favorite movie: Where Eagles Dare.
  • 7 July will take us by train to Munich where we will meet our dear friends Danielle and Sylvain, who live in France. We will spend the night in Munich, perhaps drink a little beer.
  • 8-12 July will be touring Bavaria. I booked a darling Airbnb in the little village of Bad Windsheim. We’ll be making day trips from there to places like Linderhof Palace, perhaps Oberammergau, Garmische Partenkirchen, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Wurzburg, Nuremburg and others. We haven’t made a hard plan for this and I am kind of excited to see where we go.

    Isn't Bad Windsheim adorable?

    Isn’t Bad Windsheim adorable?

  • 13 July we fly from Munich to Paris and then take the train to the Vendee where our French friends live. We will stay with them for about a week and have fun with the whole family.
  • 22 July we take the train to Paris and check into a hotel near Les Halles and a short walk to the Louvre. We plan to spend the whole next day at the museum and then fly home the next day on the 24th.

As my dear friend Danielle would say, “Roll on, June 30!”

X is for…

XXanthi’s house

Kosta’s aunt Froso has a good friend named Xanthi, and bless her that her name starts with an X! When we were staying with Froso in Nafplio we spent an afternoon at Xanthi’s house having lunch. She used to own a restaurant with her husband and is an amazing cook. Although I have yet to meet a Greek woman who wasn’t an amazing cook. We had roasted lamb, potatoes and greens in an avgolemino sauce. When my husband took his first bite he burst into tears because it reminded him of his mother’s cooking. That of course, endeared him to them even more. He was pronounced a “good boy.”

A "good boy."

A “good boy.”

Xanthi was so sweet. Even though she didn’t speak a word of English and we only had a handful of Greek words, we had a wonderful time at her house. She each gave us gifts too– a set of komboloi (Greek worry beads) even though she doesn’t have a great deal of money. What a lovely, lovely, woman.

Froso on the left, Xanthi on the right.

Froso on the left, Xanthi on the right.

Roasted lamb and greens in avgolemino sauce.

Roasted lamb and greens in avgolemino sauce.

W is for…

WWoodstock

Just outside the spreading grounds of Blenheim Palace is the little village of Woodstock. It is one of those charming little places that seems to transcend time. Well, if there weren’t so many dang cars parked up and down the streets, that is. But the houses are old stone, the windows full of flower boxes, and the doors have adorable little fox and lion door knockers. After we exhausted ourselves at Blenheim we were revived by the charm of this little village and its loveliness.

woodstock

Charming streets of Woodstock

What knockers!

What knockers!

U is for…

UUpper Broadheath

This little hamlet is the birthplace of one of Britain’s most famous composers: Edward Elgar. Everyone knows Pomp and Circumstance, which is played at nearly every graduation in the world, but he was an amazing composer well beyond that lovely piece of music.

The cozy little cottage where Edward Elgar was born

The cozy little cottage where Edward Elgar was born

Elgar was born in a tiny brick house in 1857. Being one of my husbands favorite composers, we made the trip to Upper Broadheath to see the house and the small museum erected nearby. It was a lovely little spot–the house small but cozy, the garden lovely with fall flowers and apples trees heavy with fruit. The museum was well put together and had interesting displays, artifacts, and of course, listening stations to hear his music.

And the gardens in their fall splendor

And the gardens in their fall splendor

T is for…

TThermopylae

Everyone who has seen the movie 300 knows about the last stand of the Spartans against the massive Persian army. My husband, being Greek and constantly reading books on Ancient Greek history. By proxy, I learned quite a bit about the Persian wars fought between the united Greeks and the invading hordes.

Where the last of the 300 Spartans died.

Where the last of the 300 Spartans died.

Thermopylae is the place where the 300 died fighting, losing the Spartan king, Leonidas. It’s not much to look at today, but there is a lovely little memorial at the top of the small hill where the last of them lost their lives. But they fought like motherfuckers and held off the Persians long enough so the Athenians could regroup and defend the city of Athens. It was a turning point in history, for sure. If the Spartans hadn’t given their all I believe the world would have been a much different place today. They saved the western world and preserved their culture. Which is the foundation of our democracy, philosophy, art, mathematics, drama, and so many other things we still appreciate today.

Leonidas, King of the Spartans

Leonidas, King of the Spartans

Leonidas, King of the Spartans was told by the Persians to surrender his weapons. He replied, “Come and take them,” knowing it would mean certain death. Our action heroes of the silver screen have nothing on him. He was the real deal.

Q is for…

QQuinto Books

In London there is an area around Charing Cross Road that is loaded with used bookstores. It’s not as packed as it was when I first visited in 1995, but there are still a fair amount still around. Quinto Books is one of them.

Quinto Books

Quinto Books

I don’t mind mentioning that we came home from this vacation barely making our luggage weight because of all the books we bought. Not only did we spend a serious amount of hours in Blackwell in Oxford, we also spent the better part of a day knocking around Quinto’s and others like it on Charing Cross. Kosta was looking for history (Ancient Greek or WWII) and music books, while I was intent upon handsome old volumes of fiction and life in Tudor England. We each came away happy, as you can see.

Heaven!

Heaven!

Heaven part 2!

Heaven part 2!