So, I made it through my son’s college graduation, moving him home, figuring out where to fit all the stuff that got moved home, purging/cleaning/organizing the basement so we could have a graduation celebration at home, planning/coordinating all that goes into a party, setting up/decorating for the party, the actual party and all that goes into the day of a party, and of course the clean up after the party.
The clean up alone took an entire day because we set up throughout the house to accommodate moving people inside if the threat of severe storms came to fruition. It didn’t, but it was very hot, so I was grateful the option to move inside was available and because of the extra effort to decorate the entire house, the ambiance was festive everywhere in the house.
I was so busy with all of this though, I didn’t even have time to write a post last month. That’s the first time ever in the 8 years I’ve been blogging I didn’t even post just a mini-post stating what was up. I just didn’t have the energy to do so, mentally and physically I was spent.
Added to all of this, the week after the party, my Son was in a car accident en route to taking his girlfriend back home. They were both fine, thank God, but this happened out of state, which added to the complexity of the situation, especially when the car started to overheat when my Son started to drive home.
I won’t get into the details, except to say my Son was stuck out of state for a week until I could coordinate ways to get him and the car back home. Now we’re at the mercy of the supply chain waiting on parts to fix the car.
To say I was moving at full-throttle for month’s between home and work is an understatement, but I kept reminding myself once I got to the other side of the party I’d have some downtime. For me however, downtime just means no extra stuff beyond the normal day-to-day, and week-to-week stuff.
As I’ve noted, I tend to thrive on being busy, and love the feeling crossing stuff off my to do list gives me. BUT, the older I get, and the more I fantasize about retirement, the more I realize that there has to be more to my days than tasks, especially with my day job is gearing back up to pre-COVID shutdown pace, with regular over-time.
The busier I am at work, the more I see the need for me to lighten up at home, but that in itself is a challenge when my brain is hardwired to “be busy.” I know I’ve written about this in the past, and the fact that I’m once again circling back to the subject, just means I haven’t been very successful at “lightening up” on the TO DO List.
“Stop the glorification of busy. Busy, in and of itself, is not a badge of honor. It is OKAY to not be busy. Repeat this with me: It is OKAY to not be busy.” – Joshua Becker
When I saw this quote on Facebook, it hit me like a lightening rod. I knew the Universe was trying to make a point. A point I was very aware of, but obviously needed to be reminded of.
BUT, trying to reprogram my brain in my early 60’s is not going to be a simple task.
Normally I at least have our Summer Vacation to shutdown, and recharge, but this year we don’t have a real vacation or even a mini-vacation planned. Partly because I was so busy with other stuff I had no time to think about it. But, also because my Son’s post graduation plans where up in the air. I didn’t want to plan something only to find out he couldn’t go because he was starting a new job or even moving.
Vacation truly slows me down for a while beyond the actual excursion because I tend to try to bask in the “vacation chill mode” as long as I possibly can after I’m home. As I like to say “I’m trying to hang on to my vacation shine.”
I can honestly say I’m usually pretty successful with this, for at least a couple weeks, but with no real break on the horizon, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to achieve even just a minimal “vacation chill mode” if I don’t leave home for even just a long weekend.
Being away from home, even if just for a short time, allows me to disconnect from the day-to-day tasks at hand because of course I’m not at home with the stuff that needs to be done staring me down. Granted it will still be there when I get home, but the break, no matter how short, can usually be enough for me to lighten up on when and how soon a task gets done.
With that said, although my Son’s post-college plans are still somewhat up in the air, I do know he’ll be home for a little while longer and have decided I need to find a way to take a mini-escape, if not in August, then September. I’ve been contemplating this idea for a week or two, but confirmed it has to happen when I read today’s Touched by an Angel Calendar Quote “People don’t always have to be busy. Sometimes they should just sit back and enjoy the peace.”
To say the Universe is trying to tell me something is an understatement.
Of course this means I have something to add to my To Do List, figuring out the when and where to escape to, but it’s something fun to look forward to, and is a means to an end. Just knowing I’ve made the decision to do this helps with me learning how to lighten up on the business that has become my life.
When I was younger, I was not as hardwired with the “be busy” mentality, I most certainly took more time to play. It’s something that developed the older I got, especially when I became a single parent, doing double duty was the norm.
Now however my Son is grown, and while he’s home can be more helpful around the house. It’s just a matter of figuring out where he can be of the most help and learning to relinquish the reigns, which is easier said than done, when it’s been all me all this time. Basically I’m on autopilot most of the time, and have to learn to stop myself and allow someone else to step in.
We have had discussions about my Son helping more, and he is all in. He knows one day he’ll be on his own, and learning to be self-sufficient is a must.
Since I’ve been doing more OT, I told him helping with dinner is the key spot where I can use assistance. He helps with clean up, but I mean learning how to actually cook, not just throw frozen food in the oven. After all, his Father was a Chef; he’s got to have some cooking skills in his gene pool, right?
I know I have a long way to go when it comes to learning to “lighten up” on my To DO List, but acknowledging I need to and the Universe reinforcing it, opens the door for it to actually come to fruition.
And, acknowledging I could use a little help even with just the day-to-day is a step in the right direction. Granted it’s a baby step, but that’s the only way to start with a change this big.
The reality of the possibility of a very empty nest is quickly sinking in since my Son went back to school for the Spring Semester of his Senior year.
Granted, my Son doesn’t have a job lined up post graduation, or any prospects that I know of, just yet, but considering his major is video game design, I’m well aware that jobs in that field don’t exist in the area we live. So sticking around home post graduation for an extended period of time doesn’t seem like a possibility.
In addition, his girlfriend and he are getting pretty serious and she may be going to law school post graduation, which means he may very well consider employment near wherever she lands.
I’ve been working on adjusting to my Son getting serious about a girl after not really dating through high school and the first three years of college. As a single mom with only one child, to say this takes some getting use to is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for my Son. It’s wonderful to see how happy he is with her. Plus, she’s not only a sweetheart of a girl, she’s also very ambitious and driven, which has been a positive influence on my Son.
BUT, having both the prospect of my Son really moving away from home, and a serious relationship running parallel is a lot for me digest at once, especially because the relationship itself is still very much new, having just gotten serious in August. The two have been friends since Freshman year, never revealing feelings for each other until the start of this school year, so to say it came out of nowhere is an understatement.
I knew the day would come, but I figured I would have a bit more warning.
With that said, we are here now, and with each passing day, I find myself bouncing between I’m good, to I’m feeling lonely and maybe I should get a dog. I honestly never thought I’d feel lonely, especially because between working full time, working on establishing my chalk art business, creating new chalk art, writing this blog, and all that goes into owning a home and daily chores, I have plenty to keep me busy and take my mind off the empty house.
BUT, some days it just feels extremely empty.
The irony is I’m actually quite content being by myself, and am basically more of an introvert than extrovert, and although the first semester of my Son’s Freshman year challenged me, as I expected, I actually began to get comfortable with everything. So why I’m going in and out of a funk now is a bit confusing for me.
I’m sure a lot of this ties to the fact that it’s Winter so I’m not out socializing with neighbors like I do during warmer weather. PLUS, because of the pandemic, my Son was home with me taking classes remotely from March of 2020 to August of 2021 when he started his Senior year. AND, during the Fall semester he and his girlfriend visited at least 3 times, and then he was home on Winter break from Thanksgiving till January 23rd, and during that time his girlfriend spent 3 weeks with us, so I had more company than I’m use to and loved it.
Needless to say I got very comfortable with having my Son home and really enjoyed when his girlfriend was there too. It was nice to have company for dinner every night and even hangout and watch TV with them sometimes.
The bottom line, it gave me purpose, I felt needed. The older my Son gets the less he needs me, and with a girlfriend to discuss problems with, I’m certainly not the first one he contacts any more. Which once again is a good thing, but to have it happen sort of all of a sudden, out of nowhere, is harder to adjust to than anticipated.
Now of course, having a child need you less as they get older is a natural progression, but because of how things have been since COVID my presence in my Son’s life was a bit more prominent for a bit longer, which is most certainly why I’m feeling this transition even more. Had my Son’s college years been “normal” I may not be feeling the emptiness as much. The transition would have been more gradual and I could have worked through these emotions each year leading up to graduation.
BUT, that’s not the case at all. The growth that started was stalled, and put on hold, sort off. Now however, I’m being thrown in the deep end so to speak, and trying keep my head above water.
With Spring and warmer weather not far off, I’m hopeful this will help shake that funky lonely feeling looming in my soul sometimes. Most of the time I’m pretty good, but every once in awhile, the emptiness of the house just really hits me regardless of how busy I keep myself. I know I’ll get past this, but until then I need to honor my emotions for what they are, growing pains.
Just as my Son is spreading his wings and learning to fly solo, I too need to learn to be more than my Son’s Mom. I need to rediscover me. Rediscover the woman I was before becoming a Mom. Which ironically is why I started to write this blog when he went off to college. And although I have had some growth, I’m now realizing I still have a way to go yet.
Discovering the chalk art has been wonderful for my creative growth, which in turn helps my soul growth, but that’s only part of “growth beyond parenting.” There’s certainly more growing than I ever considered when I stepped into this adventure I endearingly called “Waking the Woman”
Change is never an easy thing, but it is necessary for any real growth, and I’m guessing based on the loneliness I’m feeling at times I’ve been avoiding some aspects of me that need to change in order to get over this hurdle. What, I’m not sure of though.
As I have noted in past posts, I’m very good at filling my days with tasks. Some fun, some just every day stuff. Basing my personal fulfillment on how much I’ve accomplished. While this certainly helps me cover a lot of ground in a day, which was critical during my heavy-duty single parenting days, I’m now realizing, this behavior is enabling me, allowing me to avoid dealing with what’s going on inside or even keeping me from allowing myself time to “play.”
Not any more though, although the busyness does help most of the time, it doesn’t seem to be working that well any more, if it did I wouldn’t be writing this post.
SO, is the universe trying to tell me it’s not just about the very empty nest?
Could it also be about getting older and all that goes with aging, especially after the health issues I faced in 2021?
OR, could it be about learning how to lighten my to do list so I have more time to “play?”
OR, could it be I may not want to head into my Senior years alone?
OR, is it all of the above backing me into a corner now that I don’t have the serious distraction of parenting dominating my time?
I’m guessing it’s most definitely all of the above, which makes my journey of rediscovery even more interesting. Not sure I’m ready for that much discovery just yet, but I don’t think I have any say in this journey any more – the universe is in control.
Trying to stay positive can be quite the challenge with the pandemic still looming and the media trying to poison our thoughts every day with constant negativity. Yes, you can try to block it all out, but it’s not that simple. With technology what it is, we’re bombarded from all sides with news feed.
AND, that news feed is generally far from inspiring and uplifting.
BUT, by chance one day while scrolling through Facebook I came across the “Imagine Peace” page, which as a John Lennon fan instantly intrigued me, so I checked it out. It’s a simple site with retro images and artwork all promoting peace and harmony. I thought how wonderfully inspiring and uplifting, and decided to follow the page.
Not soon after that, the “Hippie State of Mind” page popped into my Facebook feed and upon checking that page out discovered a site similar to “Imagine Peace” with retro images and artwork, but their messages extend even further than peace and harmony. They touch on your overall mental state and well being from a “Hippie State of Mind.”
After discovering these two sites, I knew I was onto something that could truly help me attempt to attain a positive state of mind in a world full of turmoil and stress.
Since starting to follow these 2 pages, as is normal with the “Big Brother Watching You” Practices of Facebook, I continue to get more and more pages of similar content popping up. Although I’m not thrilled with Facebook tracking me, I do rather enjoy all the upbeat, positive and inspirational quotes with beautiful and retro images surfacing in my feed.
AND, it is because of this; I am working on retaining a “Hippie State of Mind” in 2022 and beyond. Maybe it’s because I turned 60 last year, and am a child of the 60’s and 70’s, or maybe it’s just because like most everyone else, I’m exhausted by how draining the world around me can be. The idea of living in a shack in the middle of nowhere with no TV, phone or Internet sounds extremely appealing some days.
In reality, I know physically running away is not an option, but that doesn’t mean I can’t mentally and emotionally, which in turn will most certainly help my physical health too.
Peace, Love, Harmony, Hope and Kindness are the traits that are fluid with the “Hippie State of Mind.”
All of which help to keep a happy, upbeat and positive state of mind, so, I’m working on keeping this upbeat and positive energy in the flow of my every day, regardless of what I’m confronted with. Granted, prior to this, in general I feel I’ve always tried to live by this type of mentality, but when confronted with situations that test this energy, I haven’t always stayed true to it and let the negativity rule and bring me down.
BUT now, I’m trying to pause when I feel my energy shifting, and remind myself of the importance on hanging onto my “Hippie State of Mind.”
Does this sound like I’m attempting to look at life through rose-colored glasses? Maybe, but with the state of the world right now I think those rose-colored glasses could be very helpful on those challenging days.
PLUS, if you look back at the state of the world that gave birth to the “Hippie State of Mind” to a point we’re not that far off, and if more people tried to adapt this mentality, we might just lay the ground work for a complete energy shift around the world.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
SO, with that said, if you’re up to it, why don’t you join me on this new adventure for 2022 and beyond, and see if we can shift the negative energy surrounding us to uplifting and positive.
I know it won’t be easy, especially for those who are facing great challenges. BUT, if you start out small, like seeking only positive sites to follow like I noted above, the info you see swirling around you will slowly shift to positive, and hopefully override the massive amounts of negativity trying to take hold.
In the immortal words of John Lennon “Imagine all the people livin’ life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one”
“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” —Dr. Seuss
And here we are again, at the dawning of a NEW YEAR.
How can that possibly be?
Where did 2021 go to?
It feels like time passes much to quickly every year, especially the older I get.
AND, this time of year, time passes at warp speed, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish all the extra tasks at hand, this year even more so. I’ve never felt a holiday season feel so compressed before. No sooner did Advent start it was Christmas Day.
Granted, I know it’s because Christmas fell on a Saturday, and like most people, I calculate my time available by the weekends available, so when Christmas falls on a weekend, technically you loose a weekend of time for the tasks at hand.
AND, had I been able to get an earlier start on things time would not have been chasing me down the closer Christmas got. BUT, dealing with health issues from mid-October into November certainly didn’t help with my time management. It did however force me to get a little creative with what time I had, and what I thought I was capable of achieving.
It also made me decide, I get done what I get done. If something doesn’t happen it’s not the end of the world. Did I still try to accomplish all that I had hoped to? Of course, but I didn’t chastise myself if I didn’t. That’s a huge accomplishment for me.
“Own time, or time will own you.” — Brian Norgard
In general, when it comes to weekends, I feel like there never seems to be enough time in the day to complete all the things I hope to accomplish. Maybe it’s just because I’m not moving at the same pace as I used to, or it could be because I tend to create lists that not even someone half my age could accomplish, given the time at hand.
You’d think by now I’d start to create more realistic lists instead of challenging myself with a mountain to climb and no hiking boots. Maybe my New Years resolution should be to do just that?
“We go back and forth between being time’s master and its victim.” — James Gleick
I’ve always been a list maker, and find great pleasure in crossing things off my to do list. I know that being this way is what helped me make it as a single parent. My lists were (and still are) my saving grace, especially when my Son got more involved with extra-curricular activities.
BUT, now that my Son is in college, and I hit 60 and am eying retirement, despite the goal I have set regarding establishing a chalk art merchandise business, I need to learn to be a little lighter on the to do list, and include a little more play time.
“As time goes by, you seem to weed out the things that were making your life hard.” — Tom Petty
NOW, a lot of the extra stuff on my lists is because of my goal of establishing a side business to allow me to retire with a cushion, but even with that, I have to start giving myself a break. I feel like I honestly don’t know how to just chill, unless all my tasks for the day are done, and that just never really happens. I technically just call it a day when it gets to be late and I need to get dinner.
I do take time to exercise, either bike riding or walking, and of course to do my chalk art, but other than that it’s chores or business related stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy some of the chores, and am inspired when pursuing the business related stuff, but my Son is a gamer, and I just couldn’t imagine sitting at a computer for hours gaming, to me that’s just wasted time.
“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.” — John Lennon
SO, how the hell do I find a happy medium between Type A List Oriented Mentality and Sit Around and Game All Day Mentality?
Granted, for my Son, gaming is a form of entertainment and relaxation, and as a college-student who’s majoring in game design, I get that this is what he fills his free time with. BUT, it seems to take precedence over things that need to get done beyond schoolwork.
I just can’t do that with anything. I fantasize about spending an afternoon reading or watching an old movie or binging some show, but I just can’t get myself to do that unless I’m not feeling well.
If I don’t schedule my walk, bike ride or chalk art into my day, it won’t happen.
Now of course my Son is still in college and unencumbered by the chores/tasks involved with the world of a work full-time, homeowner, grown-up, but I know my Task Master mentality is not that of every grown-up.
I tell myself when I’m retired I’ll have more time to play, but in reality if I don’t learn to lighten up now, I’m quite sure I’ll still be filling my retired days with more tasks than play.
“The way we spend our time defines who we are.” — Jonathan Estrin
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish beyond every day tasks because of my time-management, and I’m grateful I actually have that skill set, but when I’m so consumed with doing that just being falls by the way side, I know something has to give.
Add to it, I am slowing down, and have to learn to accept that it’s OK to take longer to climb the mountain. AND, honor the fact that I’ve earned more down time. It’s the down time I need to refuel for that climbing, and that will help inspire me for more playful pursuits.
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” — Napoleon Hill
Of course this quote is in reference to pursuing your dreams, which ironically I have used to inspire me to keep pushing, but where I stand now, I feel it’s a reflection of the fact that I need more balance between pushing and playing. AND, no matter how hard that may be for me, I know that needs to be a “goal” for me in the New Year. Especially with all the past 2 years have dumped on the world.
SO, with that said –
I hope you all have a very happy, healthy, and “time” balanced 2022.
AND – REMEMBER – “There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.” — Leo Christopher
As the world starts to attempt to come out of it’s COVID cocoon, it’s hard to not look back and take stock of the impact this year in isolation has had on my Son and I.
For my Son, who is a junior in college, a year off-campus, with all virtual classes has taken a toll on him in a very negative way. It has induced apathy and put him into a dull state of depression, something I don’t often see with him.
As an online gamer he spends a lot of time in the virtual world, so I figured he’d adapt well, but as the quarantine lingered longer, the lack of in-person learning and time with friends hanging out on campus began to wear on him.
For me though, I’ve found the quarantine and isolation time somewhat invigorating. I love being home, but up until shut down, if I wasn’t at work, I was out running errands, and when I was home, my time was dominated by chores.
During shut down I continued to work from home, but the work was limited because of the nature of the business.
SO, the in-between time finally allowed me the luxury to just appreciate being home.
I could actually ponder things that would be nice to change, or that could use a little updating: nothing over the top like renovation, but something as simple as new curtains, or rearranging furniture.
AND, purge stuff that has accumulated over the years without the necessary time to address it.
PLUS, for the first time in years I could finally start to conquer projects sitting in limbo, like my Son’s high school graduation scrapbook and framing.
In addition, I could take time to relax and read a book, which is something I can honestly say I hardly ever do despite the fact that I love to read. Up until shut down, reading the paper or an occasional magazine article was the extent of my reading.
The most important thing though, I could finally truly focus on my writing as a business. Something I knew I had to do in order to supplement my income leading up to and during retirement, which is a must in order for me to actually retire.
Yes, this does sound like a lot to cover in any day, week, or month, but considering prior to COVID shut down I was working a 9 hour day, plus travel time to and from work, I now had 10 hours each day, 50 hours a week, and 200 hours a month to play with.
Minus of course whatever work I had to attend to, but that was never more than maybe 5 hours a day, so I still had 5 hours free, which to any mom is a like an entire day free.
Note, this extra time began to dwindle by mid-May, but any time not already plotted into my day was a gift. So I took advantage of it, and jumped head first into exploring my writing as a business.
In so doing though, I discovered monetizing a blog that is a bit esoteric, as this blog is, is not an easy feat to accomplish, without a lot of time and SEO know how, which I do not have, especially being back in the office every day since June.
Fortunately though, by the time I discovered this, I had also unearthed a new creative outlet. An outlet that I would also discover has far more potential than monetizing my blog.
And that new creative outlet turns out is something I could have never fathomed even in my wildest dreams.
Custom designed chalk creations done on my driveway.
What started out as a simple Easter greeting for my neighbors at the beginning of the pandemic has turned into a weekly thing. All it took was a passerby commenting how cheerful the creation was, noting how much we needed that, and adding I should keep it up.
Every week I tried something new, and about a year ago tried my hand with a mandala.
Once I did that I knew I was on to something. Even during the winter I continued to create new art. Of course on a smaller scale, but I would hang it in my front window and post it on the Facebook page I created to share my art with those not in my neighborhood.
I even came up with a name for my chalk art alter ego “the CHALK Charmer” which is what my Facebook page is titled.
Upon sharing my creations friends commented that some of the art would look nice on mugs, or t-shirts, or bags, etc…
This got the wheels in my head turning.
Could my creations actually become something more than therapy for me on weekends?
Could they actually become a source of income?
So I began to explore the idea and I’m happy to say I’m on the precipice of starting a business to sell merchandise.
Right now this idea is very much in it’s infancy.
Turns out the avenue I was considering, which is a third party company that would host my shop, do all the fulfillment from printing-on-demand, to shipping, to collecting payment, may not be the route I want to take.
Although this seems like the perfect route for someone who works full-time while trying to start a side business, the samples I received may look good, but upon showing my co-workers, I discovered the quality of the base product is not up to par, which doesn’t sit right with me.
I may work in the print world, but I don’t handle merchandise like some of my co-workers do, and I trust their judgement. The last thing I want is my reputation tarnished by a poor product.
In addition, this third party company would also handle the customer service, which makes me twitch, because as someone who does customer service for a living, I know how critical it is to making or breaking a business. In general the CS reviews I’ve read are pretty good for the company I was considering, but it only takes one bad experience to screw your reputation.
With all this in mind, I’m now looking into my own e-commerce site. Of course this means I need to stock inventory, do all the shipping and payment collection, but I would be able to control all aspects of the business, starting with selling a quality product I believe in.
Starting a business is not something I take lightly, and to be honest is very scary, yet exhilarating at the same time. It is also something I would not venture forth to do without guidance, which is why I have reached out to my local Small Business Council.
After all, this is my future and I want to make sure I do everything right from the very start. I don’t want to half-ass this in any way.
SO, although this means my actual shop for the CHALK Charmer will be delayed, my vision for the future is getting clearer every day. AND, after speaking with the Small Business Council, I know it’s a valid vision, which means I can look to the future with great excitement knowing as long as I put the work in, my dreams will come to fruition.
AND, the kicker is, without my quarantine time, I could have been spinning my wheels for years trying to monetize my blog and in so doing been forced to give up on the hopes of retiring at any age, let alone 65.
As for my Son, knowing he’ll be back on campus for his Senior year has been enough to help lift him out of the funk that consumed him over his year in isolation.
Come August I’m sure I’ll be going through withdrawal having an empty house again. BUT, I’ll have my new adventure to focus on, and I’ll know my Son is where he needs to be to fulfill his dreams.
PLUS, I’ll be able to look back over our year in isolation together knowing despite all the anxiety and stress we became closer, and faced the challenges together.
AND, all of this made us stronger individually and together.
Logically it would make sense to honor each sister in the order of their birth, but because Helen, my Mother, would have turned 100 this month I decided to start with her, even though she is the middle sister.
Helen and her Sisters, Kassie, Mable, Betty and Mickey were as thick as thieves as the expression goes. Even with a huge age gap between them.
Kassie, the oldest, born in 1911, and Mabel, the second oldest, in 1912, were 9 and 8 when Helen was born in 1920.
Then there was a gap of 6 years until Betty was born in 1926, and Mickey 2 years later in 1928. So Kassie and Mabel were teenagers by the time the youngest two sisters were born.
The older siblings always helped with the younger siblings, but there was no resentment. The love they had for each other was too strong. And this love grew even stronger as the sisters aged and ventured out on their own journeys. Their bond was stronger than any I have ever seen.
As individuals they were unique in their own right, paving their own paths, but united by the belief of kindness and compassion for all, something that came naturally for all of them. And something they saw first hand in their home growing up.
The story surrounding Helen’s birth is one that has become cemented in family history, and can even be considered legendary.
As the story goes, when Sallie, Helen’s Mother went into labor, her father David noted “But Sallie there are no fresh baked goods in the house.”
SO, before giving birth Sallie made sure to baked 12 small shoofly pies so David’s sweet tooth would be satisfied while she tended to the new infant in the house.
This in itself isn’t what makes the story legendary, the fact that Helen became an amazing baker in her own right proved it was in her genes from birth, and as my sister noted she was “Born to Bake.”
Of course her first teacher was her Mother Sallie, teaching her all the traditional foods unique to their PA German heritage, like shoofly pie, fastnachts, whoopie pies, apple dumplings, Moravian sugar cake, strudel, and sugar cookies (both the thin cut ones and the thick ones with icing.)
Over the years though, Helen would expand her baking skills beyond that, learning traditional foods of her husbands’ Slovak heritage like kiffle and nutroll, and experimenting with her own ideas, often entering baking contests. Unfortunately she never won though, why I’ll never figure out.
Helen was also a fantastic cook, mastering cuisine from both cultures, especially with traditional foods of the Easter and Christmas holidays, like cirak (homemade cheese) at Easter; and bobalky (poppyseed dumplings), noodles with cottage cheese and lekvaur and sour mushroom soup (machanka) at Christmas.
Plus, there were dishes not related to holidays like halupki (filled cabbage) and huluski ka pusta (cabbage and noodles), plus homemade pizza. Helen mastered the perfect thin crust and no chain restaurant or manufacturer will ever match it. Plus her homemade bread was better than any bakery.
Some of the holiday dishes are still continued in our family, which is all due to Helen’s intense desire to keep traditions alive.
Family heritage and traditions meant a lot to Helen, and she instilled the rich history of both cultures into her children, who in turn continue to share these traditions with their children.
Helen’s PA German heritage wasn’t just about food though, it was also about faith. She was raised Dunkard Brethren, which is similar to the Mennonite and Amish, and classified as Anabaptist. They don’t believe in baptism at birth, but when the individual is old enough to understand the teachings of the Bible and accept them. If a child was baptized at birth, they would be baptized again. Their baptisms took place in a body of water, not in the church.
Which is just how Helen was baptized, in a creek near their church by Reverend Harry France. As Helen told the story, after the baptism she asked the Reverend if he was Jesus. His response “No, but I work for his office.”
Clever comeback for a man of the cloth, don’t you think?
Helen took her faith very seriously, and it is what carried her through every challenge she faced through out her life. One of her most popular words of advice was “Put it in God’s hands.”
At her core was an unbreakable belief that the Lord will always see you through, and that with every challenge is a lesson to learn or stage of development to reach. You might not see it right away, but with time it will come to you. You just need to pause, ponder, and pray, “putting it in God’s hands.”
Then, put it aside, and patiently wait. As they say patience is a virtue and this is something Helen mastered at an early age.
From all accounts, Helen had a pretty normal childhood. She was somewhat quiet, and spent a lot of time with her grandfather Jonathan at his bike repair shop. He was her buddy.
She often spoke of a sledding accident, which caused her to loose a few teeth, and left a scare on her cheek. It occurred on a Saturday and when she wanted to stay home from church on Sunday her Mother Sallie stated, “If you had time for sledding, you have time for the Lord.”
Sallie was tough; there was no getting around her. Her word was the be all and end all.
Helen also noted she was called “Little Fat Hellie” because she was chubby as a kid, and had a sweet tooth. Who wouldn’t with a Mom who was a baker?
As Helen hit her teens though that nickname was far behind her. She got involved in sports and cheerleading. Playing basketball and teaching herself how to play tennis with a racket she bought for .25¢. She was also an avid ice skater.
She was a determined young woman, and didn’t let her humble home life stop her from exploring the world around her.
While in high school, Helen was also involved with a singing trio who sang radio commercials and even opened for the famous big band leader Kay Kyser. How she was able to do this with the strict rules of the church and her Mother, we’re still not sure. Must have been a covert operation on her part, although her cousin Vivian was part of the group too, so maybe that helped.
With a large extended family, Helen was very close to her cousins. The two that became her close buddies though were Harry and Charles Forry, sons of her Aunt Lizzie, who had 10 children. Both went to the Hershey Industrial School because their Father passed when they were young and it was too much for Lizzie to care for all of them. This of course broke her heart.
Later Harry and Charles became soldiers and fought in WWII. Harry was a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps and was reported missing in Australia and ultimately declared dead on July 14, 1942, while Charles was captured by the Japanese and was a prisoner of war. Based on the story Helen told us, Charles escaped and even brought home kimonos he took en route to safety. Because of their bond, he gave two to Helen. My sister Pam has one, but where the other one is still a mystery.
Helen was a natural caregiver and it was this observation on her father David’s part that would land her at St. Luke’s Nursing School in Bethlehem after graduating from high school in 1938.
Helen would be the first Dechert Sister to leave her hometown of Myerstown to venture out beyond the comforts of her home to learn a trade.
And it was this decision that set in motion the true path Helen was born to take, that of a nurse. A profession that truly encompassed the person Helen was at her core; kind, compassionate, caring, helpful, loving, and trustworthy. If you were in need, Helen was there. She always put others first, no matter what her own personal circumstances were.
Helen started her career at St. Luke’s Hospital after graduation in 1941, working the ER, and becoming the Assistant Night Supervisor. While working one night, a handsome young man with coal black hair named Bill, brought an injured co-worker from the Bethlehem Steel in for care.
As the story goes, Bill took an instant liking to Helen commenting how beautiful she was, but added she needed to do something about taking care of her hands, which looked awful. He did however make sure to make note of her name and boldly called to apologize and ask her out on a date.
And, the decision to say, “Yes” to that date would change the course of Helen’s life. Having been offered a scholarship for Columbia University, Helen was seriously considering this opportunity to pursue a career as an obstetrician.
Not wanting to lose Helen, much to Helen’s surprise, Bill proposed. Upon popping the lid on the ring box, he said, “Well you love me, don’t you?”
And the truth was, Helen did love Bill, so she followed her heart and married Bill, never once looking back.
William (Bill) Henry Danko, and Helen were married on January 23, 1943 at the Rectory of St. Theresa’s Church followed by a reception at the Bethlehem Steel Sunshine Club in Hellertown, PA.
Early on in their marriage, Helen and Bill lived in an apartment in a building owned by Bill’s Mother Agnes. This situation as can be expected came with some challenges not just because Helen’s Mother-in-Law was the landlady, but because Agnes was not happy that her Son married a girl who was not Slovak or Catholic.
Helen did not let this get between her and Bill. Being the kind of person she was, she accepted Agnes for who she was, and understood it was part of her culture. Not that it didn’t hurt at times, especially when it came to the dislike of her PA German heritage.
Helen had already endured enough teasing and harassment about her PA German accent while in nursing school, she had hoped that discrimination would be behind her. Unfortunately it was not.
Helen knew she couldn’t change her heritage, but her religious affiliation she could.
At some point in their marriage though, Helen converted to Catholicism. This could have upset her Mother, but her response was “Well they’re good people too. They believe in Jesus Christ.”
Helen took her religious training seriously and became an active member of St. Theresa parish. Joining the guild, singing in the choir and making sure to contribute fresh baked goods for the guild bake sales. Once it got around what a phenomenal baker Helen was, parishioners would wait for her contribution so they could be the first to purchase them.
It wasn’t long after their marriage that Helen and Bill started a family. By December of 1943 their first child Carolann was born, with Georgene following 18 months later in 1945. Then Pamela in 1951 and Francine in 1956.
Much like Helen’s own family, there were age gaps between the children, but that didn’t impact the camaraderie between them.
Once children entered the picture, Helen left her job at St. Luke’s to become a full time Mom and housekeeper. Something she adored. Being a Mom took precedence over everything else.
Stopping housework to make oatmeal box houses for the girl’s dolls, or to have a picnic inside on a rainy day throwing a blanket on the living room floor and making peanut butter sandwiches with sprinkle sugar cut out with cookie cutters, or walking Carolann and Georgene to the Steel Club (miles away) for swimming lessons in the middle of doing laundry.
Agnes was not happy with Helen’s actions, she thought they were frivolous, but Helen and Bill knew the needs of the children where more important than any housework. The children would remember time spent with them, not how clean the house was.
Fortunately for Helen, she had also bonded with their neighbor Anna Killian and her husband Charlie. They would become a buffer for Helen when Agnes’ criticisms were too much to bear. They were also like surrogate Grandparents for the children.
Helen would also feed the hobos who would hang out at the picnic table in the back yard. As she told the girls, Christ is in everyone. As a matter of fact, Georgene even asked one of them if they were Jesus. Their response was “Hardly.”
Granted in these days, this would be quite dangerous, but back in the 40’s and 50’s it was a different world.
Although Helen and Bill’s apartment was not big, they made it work for their family. There was a decent size backyard where Bill built a sandbox for the girls, a large vegetable garden, and dog pen for Bill’s hunting dogs.
That sandbox was just a simple homemade one, with old coffee cans and muffins tins to play with, but the neighbor kids always ended up there, despite the fact that they had fantastic ones with fancy toys.
As my sister Pam has said, “Mom knew how to make the ordinary into something special.”
There was also a large basement that opened up into the backyard, which extended the girls play territory. Using the basement to perform plays, create an ice cream parlor, and of course celebrate birthdays.
The basement was also where Bill had his workbench where he created original furniture designs, and even had a dark room. Photography was one of Bill’s passions and he even had a little side business doing portraits.
Both Helen and Bill were very creative and playful and it showed in their style of parenting and how they approached the holidays, especially Christmas. It was most certainly a magical time.
Bill would create the most amazing Putz with real moss. It was so large it took over the living room in their small apartment. Staying up till the wee hours of the morning preparing stockings and gifts. One key feature was the Surprise Balls filled with little toys rolled up in paper that unraveled.
AND of course all the amazing baked goods created by Helen. Baked goods Helen had to be a “culinary sleuth” (as my sister Pam stated) to figure out because Agnes did not willingly reveal the recipes for the traditional Slovak dishes of the Christmas holiday.
There is also a story of one Christmas Eve when a woman and her baby showed up at the side door. She appeared to be in some sort of danger and it was believed she had gotten out of the car with her husband and somehow found the side door to the apartment. Bill took her somewhere, but where no one knows for sure.
The mysteriousness of the story, just added to the magic of the season, and further shows both Helen and Bill’s kindness toward their fellow man, which is why this story is still told today.
In 1958, Helen and Bill would find their emancipation from living in Agnes’ home when they built their own home in Bright Acres/Bingen, which was just outside of Hellertown.
This was an exciting time for the whole family, a place to finally call their own. Bill would plant a huge vegetable garden surrounded by raspberry and currant bushes, which Helen would use to create wonderful jelly and can and freeze their harvest.
As an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman, Bill was in his element in this more rural setting and would decide to raise German Short Haired Pointers to be sold for hunting. He would also make his own lures for fishing and do custom designed carved gunstocks.
Helen would also learn how to prepare wild game and fresh fish. There is story that she even helped to gut a deer while she was pregnant.
Helen and Bill were green and sustainable before they were the trend. Starting a compost pile, and harvesting fresh organic produce and cooking from scratch, every day.
They would recycle everything they could, which back then took effort. Cans went one place and bottles went back to the beverage distributor.
Plastic baggies and aluminum foil were never used just once either. If they still had some life in them Helen would wash them out and dry them on the dish drainer. As Helen would say “This could come right handy in.” I have to confess I do this too. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
The neighborhood was the perfect place to raise a family too, all young families with children of similar ages. The women would gather for coffee klatches, often at Bill and Helen’s where they could enjoy Helen’s fresh baked goods.
AND, an Annual Halloween Parade was organized with reception and prizes to follow. The location was rotated through different households every year. A visit from Santa was also initiated with the Fathers taking turns to play Santa.
All this was done with donations from the neighborhood, each household rotating the chairperson duties each year.
When word got out that Helen was a nurse, she quickly became the nurse of the neighborhood. Never once hesitating when someone was in need.
In 1961 Helen and Bill would expand their family, with Mariann being born in March of that year, and then William, born in December of 1962.
Bill loved all his children, but was overjoyed to finally have a boy he could take hunting and fishing. He had always wanted a large family and hoped to one day have a boy.
In 1964 though, this happy household would be dealt the cruelest of fates. After a long battle with the Asian Flu, Bill would be diagnosed with colon cancer. On October 1st he would pass, leaving Helen a young widow with 4 children still at home.
Carolann had recently graduated from St. Luke’s Nursing School, and Georgene was a student at Kutztown University. Both moved home to help with the younger children; Pamela, 13, Francine 8, Mariann 3, and William (Billy) 18 months old.
Helen had to fall back on her faith and every deep reserve of strength she had to overcome her grief and focus on caring for the children.
Bill had no pension to draw on, but there was a small life insurance policy, plus, Bill had very wisely purchased Mortgage Insurance that insured the mortgage would be paid off when he died, thus providing a place for the family to live. This enabled Helen to stay home with the children for about a year and figure out where to go next.
First thing she had to tackle was learning to drive. One neighbor, Buddy Gress, was willing to help, but after neighbors started to talk, he had to step back. Helen would not only learn to drive, but also learn basic car maintenance because she learned early on no man in the neighborhood would help because their wives would not allow it.
It was sad that the neighbors she would drop everything for would turn away during her most desperate times.
Fortunately she had her sisters who were always there for her, Anna and Charlie, her friends from the old apartment and a fellow widow, Helen Barndt, who lived in neighborhood. These two would become close allies in their quest to overcome the heartache of grief and discrimination.
Throughout all of this though, Helen didn’t turn her back on her neighbors. It was not in her nature. She continued to be the kind, caring and compassionate woman she was before her loss.
Her children were her priority and she knew that neighborhood was where they needed to stay. After all it was the home she and Bill bought specifically to raise their family. And that was what she was going to do, no matter how many challenges she would face.
In July of 1966, Helen would embark on a new adventure that would ultimately help her heal and move forward. She took on the task of starting the first Health Service for students at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, which would later become DeSales University.
Over time she and her partner Jean Mauer developed a Health Service Department that lured other directors of health services from local colleges to come and tour their facility.
In the beginning she had to bring the two youngest children, Mariann and William (Billy) with her to work every day. As she told the school when she was interviewed, my family comes first.
The college community, staff and students, would become a second family for Helen. And she quickly became a second family for the students. Often bringing the extremely homesick students home for a home cooked meal. She knew the students needed more than medical care, they needed a listening ear, and someone who could “hear what they weren’t saying” as she put it.
In 1990, DeSales honored Helen with the DeSales Award, the highest non-academic honor awarded by the college to recipients who had given outstanding contributions to the development of the college through personal service. This was the first time it was ever given to an employee; it was usually presidents or monsignors.
As it was noted at the service “ Helen Danko is a living symbol of the humanity of this college. She is distinguished for the witness she gives in her life work to the ideals most highly prized by St. Francis de Sales, the college’s patron saint.
Later, in 2013, DeSales would create the Helen Danko and Jean Mauer Wellness Award, to be awarded to a student who exemplified the qualities both Helen and Jean embodied.
When Helen passed in 2015, the outpouring of love from former DeSales students was overwhelming and a reflection of Helen’s true character.
Helen would be part of the DeSales community until she fully retired in her late 70’s, after slowly cutting back her hours from 5 days to 1 day. Her reason for retirement was to turn her energy to helping care for her grandson Billy, one her son Bill’s children, who was born in 1997.
Her Grandchildren were her pride and joy. And she helped all she could with every one of them. Dustin, Georgene’s son was born in 1971, then came Ethan and Dylan, in 1989 and 1991, both Bill’s sons and later Roy, in 1999, Mariann’s Son.
She was also blessed with one Great Grandchild, Ian, Dustin’s son, who was born in 2004.
Helen also had two Step-Grandchildren, Crystal and Dale; and two Step Great Grandchildren, Damian and Aiden.
Even in her later years Helen still had a childlike and playful outlook on life, despite all she had endured over the years. It was this childlike quality that made her the Best Grandmother any child could ask for.
From playing super hero; to lion, crawling on all fours; to coloring and painting; to playing with Legos and board games; and most of all baking cookies. Helen did whatever the Grandchildren wanted to do.
One of the best stories though is the time she and Billy got locked in the laundry room until Judi, Helen’s daughter-in-law got home from work. They were playing hide and seek, and when Billy found Helen in the laundry room he pulled the door closed behind him, thus locking the door from the outside. Helen made the best of it, singing songs, playing games and telling Billy they would play make believe hide and seek with Judi, so when she came home she could find them.
Needless to say, Judi was quite surprised when she came home and found them in the laundry room. She thought they were there to greet her, little did she know they had been locked in there for hours.
As my sister Pam has said, “Mom knew how to make the ordinary into something special.”
Her family was her priority, and being able to spend time with them was what brought her pure joy. Whether it be with her immediate family, a visit with her sisters and their families, or large gatherings with the extended family, Helen would be beaming, swelling with love and gratitude for the greatest gift bestowed on her, family.
AND, if there was music playing at any gathering, Helen would be sure to be up on her feet dancing. Even in into her 90’s she would kick up her heels if the mood hit her. Especially if you put on some Big Band music, she just couldn’t resist. Something I know for a fact all of her children inherited.
The last 15 years of Helen’s life, she lived with her Son Bill and his family, but would spend weekends with her daughter Mariann and her Son Roy. In the beginning it was because Mariann was working weekends and needed someone to watch Roy, but when the weekend work stopped, Helen still came. Weekends with Grammy were something both Roy and Mariann looked forward to. Roy would anxiously wait at the window every Friday, looking for Grammy to arrive, greeting her with a huge hug and kiss.
Some weekends Carolann would join them and they quickly became the “Four Musketeers” doing everything together. With Roy as the ringleader, and Helen going along with whatever he so desired.
Being part of these two households was extremely fulfilling for Helen. She would help not just with the children, but also in the kitchen and with the laundry. I dubbed her the “Laundry Fairy” because some how she magically got everything folded and put away before I even knew it.
Helen was a pure joy to have around. She always had a kind word to say. As her daughter-in-law Judi noted, every morning before Judi left for work, Helen would tell how beautiful she looked in the color she was wearing. Didn’t matter what color it was, she always looked beautiful. It was these kind words that were the sunshine Judi needed to make it through the day. As she told her co-workers, “I have the best Mother-in-Law.”
One of Helen’s catch phrases when something pleasant and unexpected happened was “Well that wasn’t in my Star Gazer today.” Something tells me if she could read this post, that’s exactly what she would say.
Helen was a woman of great integrity, coming from humble roots, overcoming discrimination, and major loss. Never once feeling sorry for herself and always putting others first, her compassion for her fellow man can only be rivaled by one other person, Mother Theresa.
And it is this quote from Mother Theresa that I feel encompasses all that Helen stood for and what guided her every day of her life.
“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
Many thanks to my family for their contributions of stories and memories which enabled me to pull together Helen (Mom’s) story.
Please check back next month when I will feature Kathryn Dechert Krill, the oldest of the Dechert Girls.
As the month of June was beginning I couldn’t help but ponder how fast the halfway mark of the year was upon me?
AND, I wondered how could it creep up on me so quickly when I felt like I’d been standing still since the end of March?
OR, was that precisely why it crept up on me?
When stay-at-home orders were enacted, for all intensive purposes, time stopped. What was, was no more, at least temporary, and what would be was still up in the air.
At first this was all a bit unnerving, but once I settled into the notion of being forced to stay home, and knew my work from home would be limited, I embraced this time as time to focus on my dreams and aspirations for retirement.
I was actually a bit happy to finally have the time I needed to focus on my writing and this blog.
AND, I actually welcomed this time after the hiccup I hit in January that set me back as far as my goals for 2020 were concerned.