Celebrating My Father On This Veterans’ Day

My father in 1954 with my mom and oldest sister Carol.

My father in 1954 with my mom and oldest sister Carol.

My Green-Eyed Perspective by Jan Sperry Astani

My husband and I have thankfully gotten back in our weekly routine of a Monday lunch date. Today, as we shared a jalapeno burger combo and a cup of chili at Braum’s, my attention wandered to an older couple who sat down nearby to share a banana split. She got to the table first. A man I assumed to be her husband followed a bit later, stooped over and walking ever so slowly. But what really caught my attention was the “Korean War Veteran” hat he proudly wore on top of his silvered head. Today, he and his sweetheart were spending Veterans’ Day 2013 by indulging in one life’s sweetest, simplest pleasures – a delicious banana split.

This man, who valiantly served our country during a much simpler time some 60 years ago, reminded me of my dad.

My 80-year-old father, William Franklin Sperry, is also a Korean War veteran. He proudly served in the Navy from 1952 – 1956. Back then, young men were required to enlist within six months of turning 18 or be drafted. He chose the Navy because he thought it was the safest of all the military branches. Serving in the Army might mean front line action, which could result in death. He believed the Navy was the safest option and least likely of all branches to see combat.

Billy, as my father was known in his youth, was a small town Missouri lad who had never traveled farther than 150 miles from the farm where he grew up. From a boy who trapped rabbits in his youth to earn money, he arrived at the Coronado Island Navy base in California as a mature, 19-year-old married man and father of one. His wife, Lois, and baby girl, Carol, soon followed. Lois had also never ventured far from her small Missouri town before heading out west with baby in tow. She was even younger than my father. They were two teenagers in love with the rest of their lives (and two future daughters) ahead of them.

My father’s four-year stint earned him a Yeoman 2nd Class designation, and his days were spent sorting incoming mail to send out to ships in the Pacific fleet. My father found his Navy career to be much easier than expected. It was a far cry from the manual labor he performed daily on his family farm while growing up. He was happier for the lighter work load.

Like a faithful husband, my father listened to my mom’s wishes and didn’t re-enlist in 1956. She was afraid that re-enlistment would take them even farther away from her family in Missouri or perhaps half-way around the world. Being a world traveler never crossed her mind.

My father can’t remember what his Navy salary was, but he does recall paying $16,500 for a new 1,100 square foot home in Independence, Missouri, using his VA loan eligibility in 1963. That was the home I grew up in – a home my parents finally sold in 2002. I still drive by it when I’m in town. Maybe one day I’ll knock on the door and ask to see my old bedroom and the garage where I played school and wrote math problems on the concrete walls.

On this Veterans’ Day 2013, my father recalls that the best thing about his time in the Navy was making it safely through his four years of service. He knows that God was watching over him.

My father’s bride of 58 years passed away in 2010. Because of his military service, my mom is buried in a beautiful, peaceful VA cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri. He will join her there someday.

Until then, I celebrate my father and his service to our country. I will send good vibrations my father’s way on this special day and ask God to continue to bless him.

That’s just what I did when I saw the couple at Braum’s today. They made me smile. And in my heart I said, “Thank you.”

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See The World Through Emerald Glasses Via The Land Of Oz

My very own "Wizard of Oz" lunchbox for when I'm feeling a little witchy.

My very own “Wizard of Oz” lunchbox for when I’m feeling a little witchy.

My Green-Eyed Perspective by Jan Sperry Astani

One of my favorite childhood memories was catching the once-a-year broadcast of “The Wizard of Oz.” If memory serves me correctly, it was usually on a fall Friday night featured on CBS. That was back in the 1970s, way before VCRs, DVDs and TBS weekend “Oz” marathons. Oh, to escape to my family’s basement (our makeshift family room), lay down on the floor only inches from the TV, nibble on my mom’s popcorn made in a cast-iron skillet, drink a glass of Pepsi and watch as Dorothy and friends made their lyrical journey to the Emerald City.

Imagine my recent delight when I learned that “The Wizard of Oz” was back on the big screen, in 3D no less, to celebrate its 75th anniversary (I still can’t figure out that math since I thought the movie debuted in 1939.) A date night was in the works, not with my husband who was relieved to be off the Oz hook, but rather with four dear friends, Patrick, James, Shana (a Kansas girl like Dorothy) and Shawn.

There we were, sitting in the Warren Theater in Moore, Oklahoma, supposedly the world’s largest IMAX screen at 100 feet wide and six stories tall, looking oh so fashionable in our 3D glasses. Then it was movie time. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this classic, and I couldn’t tell you when the last time was that I watched “The Wizard of Oz” all the way through without a potty break, a mom and son break or a snack break. There I sat, glued to the huge screen, goofy glasses and all.

And I drank it all in.

And I saw my favorite movie with brand new eyes.

And it was gorgeous.

The twister scene at the movie’s beginning took on a whole new significance. I now realized how hard that scene could be for many of my friends, business associates and Moore residents to watch. After all, I was sitting in a theater that was right in the path of an EF5 tornado that ripped through the town just four months earlier. Watching this scene had never affected me this way before. (By the way, the Warren sustained little tornado damage on May 20. However, homes and businesses just yards away to the west, north and east were destroyed.)

I noticed the burlap lines on the scarecrow’s face. They had been there for 75 years. Why had I never seen them before?

I noticed the silver shininess and glow of the tin man’s face along with dark bolts and hardware surrounding his head.

I noticed Dorothy chuckling and smiling in several scenes, almost as if she was laughing when she wasn’t supposed to be. And her ruby slippers. Had they always been so sparkly?

I noticed the deep lines around the lion’s mouth and found myself giggling at his constantly swishing tail.

I noticed the green vividness of the witch’s ugly face and hands. Was the Emerald City always so…emerald?  

Why had I never noticed these things before? Why had these details failed to catch my attention in previous years? Although I had watched “The Wizard of Oz” dozens of times, that night in the Warren Theater I was seeing it for the very first time.

Was it the 3D glasses that made the difference?

Was it was the Lasik surgery I had several years ago?

Was it was my hazel green eyes that contributed to this sharp new outlook?

Good assumptions, but I don’t think so.

I was reminded of something I often speak of in my motivational programs.

Perspective.

How often in everyday living do we look at the same thing over and over and over and fail to notice its beauty, its details, its uniqueness?

How often do we walk by the flowers on our front porch and fail to notice a beautiful yellow butterfly that flutters nearby?

How often do we go through the motions of evening dinner in front of the TV and fail to see the delight in our child’s eyes as he tells of a new friend he’s made at school?

How often do we walk by a garden and fail to stop and notice the delicacy of soft rose petals? And taking the time to smell them? Who bothers anymore?

We must not be afraid to step outside our safe perspective zone, put on those attractive 3D glasses and begin to look at the world through new lenses.   

For it’s when we do that that we begin to see the world with new vision. Like burlap lines on a scarecrow’s face. The silver shininess of a tin man’s face. The deep lines around a lion’s mouth. The vivid green of a witch’s ugly face.

The details will amaze you.

Open your eyes and experience a new perspective on life. You’ll be amazed at what you see and what you’ve been missing. No 3D glasses or trips down the yellow brick road required.

Happy birthday, Wizard of Oz! You look marvelous for 75. Thank you for letting me celebrate with you. It was a lovely evening with dear friends that I’ll never forget.

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Bringing In The Mail And A Boat Load Of Guilt

mail

My Green-Eyed Perspective by Jan Sperry Astani

Stop. Oh yes, wait a minute Mr. Postman. Wait, wait oh wait Mr. Postman.

Please Mr. Postman look and see if there’s a letter in your bag for me. Please, please, Mr. Postman.

(Lyrics from “Please Mr. Postman” by the Carpenters)

Yesterday was not a good mail day at the Astani Inn. Once I finally sat down to sort through the pile that I’d dropped on my kitchen table, the contents were a bit bothersome.

First, there was a donation request from an Oklahoma City homeless shelter. They politely reminded me that it had been five years, yes, five years, since they last received anything from me. Ouch. Thanks for the guilt trip. (A disclaimer is in order here: Please know that I have several non-profit organizations near and dear to my heart that I support in a variety of ways.)

Next, my local YMCA, of which I’ve been a member for umpteen years, mailed me a postcard promoting “Fourth Fridays Free” starting this week. It’s a way for non-members to experience the benefits of Y membership with the hopes they’ll soon sign up and join. As a marketing person who’s done numerous direct mail promotions over the years, I didn’t understand why I, a current member, was receiving this information. However, it did make me realize that it’s been way too long since I’ve shaken my bon-bon at an energizing Zumba class. Darn my almost-50-year-old knees. They hurt when I Zumba, and they hurt when I don’t Zumba. It’s a vicious Latin-infused cycle. In all honesty, I admit that this postcard was a nagging reminder that it’s been way too long since I have been on a regular exercise kick. Why, oh why, is my desire to sweat and burn calories not nearly as strong as my desire to curl up with a good book or scroll through Facebook? If Facebook “liking” and “commenting” were a sport, I’d win a gold medal.

And finally, another postcard appeared advertising two wonderful incentives directed at menopausal, chubby girls with wrinkles, age spots and gray-highlighted hair…liposuction and face lifts. Lose my muffin top, suck away the pounds and look 10 years younger. Wow. Talk about kicking a girl when she’s already down (or almost down since her knees hurt when bending.)

For some strange reason, I have a funny feeling about today’s mail. Why do I have this hunch that I’ll hear from a lady with a very popular name who’s offering a fantastic incentive to shed those unsightly pounds? You might know her…Jenny Craig? If she shows up, I’ve decided that I’m changing addresses and taking all my cellulite, wrinkles, age spots and gray hair with me. Do you think my husband and boys would miss me? After all, who would bring in the mail?

P.S. I’m happy to report that today’s mail was back to normal. I received a Payless Shoes coupon, a Domino’s Pizza menu and an invite to a jewelry party. No need to move after all.

Life is good once again at the Astani Inn.

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From Darkness Comes Sunflowers

A wild sunflower sways under the stormy Oklahoma sky.

A wild sunflower sways under the stormy Oklahoma sky.

My Green-Eyed Perspective by Jan Sperry Astani

 

Each time over the past few months I have traveled back and forth down I-35 between Oklahoma City and my home in Norman, Oklahoma, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a bumper crop of wild sunflowers this year. There they are popping up along the highway, shooting up in the empty fields and snaking their way through fence posts that separate interstate drives from the striped lanes of bustling, speeding traffic. Their randomness is beautiful, surprising and prolific. It’s like an abundance, a cornucopia, a feast, a plethora of these brilliant beauties have randomly dotted the Oklahoma landscape this summer with their yellow petals and button brown eyes. Have these sunflowers always been around, or is it just now that I see them with new eyes?

For many of my Oklahoma friends, today is an anniversary. It’s not a cause for celebration or balloons. Instead, it’s a day of reflection, a day to look back and see how far they’ve come in the last four months. On May 20, around 3 something in the afternoon, an EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, a community about five miles north of my home, a community with wonderful people that I have grown to love over the last few years. In the tornado’s aftermath, precious lives were lost, devastating injuries were sustained and countless buildings and homes were destroyed. A newly built 7-11, where I often stopped to get gas and a Big Gulp iced tea, was blown away. Tragically, people died inside.

Little children died at their school despite the heroic attempts by their teachers and school staff to save them.

Life was awful and changed forever in Moore, Oklahoma on that Monday in May, just four short months ago.

I’ve lost count as to how many friends and business associates lost their homes or sustained personal or commercial property damage from the tornado. My heart aches for them, and my soul prays for them.

The randomness of the destruction was mind-boggling. One friend who rode out the tornado in her underground backyard storm shelter described how her home was gone, but her front door remained standing, complete with a wreath still hanging. Her home was gone, but her back yard hot tub was still intact. The Koi in her fish pond didn’t fare so well. And my favorite story she shared…her master bedroom walls and ceiling were gone, but her family Bible lay untouched on a table, along with four quarters that never moved.

Another friend rode out the tornado while at work, and she piled all her credit union staff and customers into the vault. When the roaring tornado finally passed, she and her vault companions were untouched. The credit union, however, stood no more.

I was at a recent Moore Chamber of Commerce meeting when a conversation somehow turned to sunflowers. It was either my credit union friend who survived in her vault or my library friend whose home was destroyed (ironically, she recovered her DVD, “Twister,” while sifting through the debris) who asked what was up with all the wild sunflowers around town. Where did they come from?

An assumption was made that perhaps during the tornado, all the sunflower seeds got sucked up in the funnel and then spit out across the land. With the cleansing rains that followed the next few days, those seeds burrowed beneath the dirt and magically sprouted to dot the landscape with beauty once again.

I loved that idea. It’s like when a patch of grass burns in a wild fire, the new grass that grows once again is a vivid, luscious green. Whether or not that’s how all those sunflowers made their way along I-35 this summer…who knows. But I like the theory.  

From destruction comes beauty. From darkness comes light. From tornados come sunflowers. 

Four months ago today Mother Nature unleashed her dangerous and deadly fury on a community near and dear to my heart. But she obviously didn’t know who and what she was dealing with. Today I honor all my friends affected by the Moore tornado, and I wish them bountiful blessings as they bravely navigate their road to recovery.

We are Moore Strong!

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Mother Nature, Please Give Me A Break

vitamins

My Green-Eyed Perspective by Jan Sperry Astani

Dear Diary,

Why does Mother Nature have it in for me?

Why did she wake me up for a 2 a.m. potty call and then not allow me to fall back asleep? (The 20 minutes of shut-eye in the living room recliner from 5:30 – 5:50 a.m. during “19 Kids & Counting” didn’t cut it. Sorry.)

Why does she let me turn the shower off only to find that my hair is still full of shampoo? Why does she make me weepy when I listen to beautiful songs like “What A Wonderful World” while driving down the road?

Why does she randomly show up as an unwelcome monthly visitor just when I thought, after more than a 180-day hiatus, I had graduated from the punctuation club?

And why, oh why, does she make me live under the same roof with two teenage boys who are held hostage by raging hormones? Oh wait, stop just a minute…those raging hormones are holding me hostage.

At least she hasn’t brought back the lovely hot flashes that randomly appeared out of nowhere and made me feel like my face, neck, arms and chest matched my signature hot pink attire. I’m sure they’ll find their way back to my alien body soon. But if they got lost along the way, I wouldn’t cry. Oh wait, stop just a minute…I probably would.  

Diary, I hope Mother Nature takes pity on my sweet husband, who is caught between a rock and a hot place at home. Between middle school woes from a 13-year-old and an itching-to-drive 15-year-old, it’s rough going. But then throw in a wife whose emotions are on a constant roller coaster, and it’s Hormone H— at the Astani Inn.

Mother Nature, please take pity on my soul. You’re a girl. You’ve been there before. Please lighten up on me. My husband, my boys, my family and my friends would be deeply grateful.

And I’d finally be cool. And dry-eyed. And able to get a decent night’s sleep.

P.S. I’m thinking of re-thinking my vitamin choice. “Mature” – that’s debatable. And “50+” – I’ve got a few more months left before that’s true. Perhaps I’ll go back to Flintstones vitamins. Life was much simpler then.

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Bowls Of Ice Cream And Barrels Of Blessings

chocolate ice cream

My Green-Eyed Perspective by Jan Sperry Astani

When I was awakened around 2:30 a.m. this morning by thunderstorms, I couldn’t help but think about ice cream and frozen yogurt. A rather strange topic, you might say, when most of the world is fast asleep and snoring away. But the question that kept popping into my mind: How, exactly, are ice cream and frozen yogurt different? They’re both sweet, creamy, delicious desserts that typically put a smile on a face (and brain freeze in a head if eaten too quickly.) But more importantly, does it really matter that they’re similar yet different? Does anybody really care? Does anybody really notice?

It’s kind of like blessings and favor. What exactly are they? How are they alike, and how are they different? Or are they really one and the same?  

Recently I coined a short daily prayer where I ask God for four things for all the loved ones in my life: blessings, favor, guidance and protection. But I couldn’t help but wonder if I wasn’t being redundant by mentioning both blessings and favor in the same prayer. After all, aren’t they one and the same? If not, how are they different?               

Since this question has weighed on my mind for the last few days, I decided to seek out guidance from my friends via Facebook (a place I admittedly spend way too much time!) What was their take on the favor vs. blessings debate?

My retired friend Nancy said blessings rain on everyone – the just and the unjust. When it comes to favor, though, Nancy mentioned Mary as being highly favored of God along with David. For her, blessings and favor are both different and desirable.

In true dictionary fashion, my library / church friend Cindy listed definitions of both words: Blessing – a thing conducive to happiness or welfare, approval, encouragement. Favor – aid, assistance, a right granted, special privilege, advantage, partiality. She viewed blessings as “freebies” that everyone can receive.

“But I think favor is something more directed and ‘assigned’ or earned for one reason or another,” she concluded. (On a side note, Cindy was intrigued by my favor vs. blessings question. That made me feel good!)

My mom friend Sherry liked Nancy’s explanation and added, “Favor is a condition based upon a path that we chose, like a higher degree of God’s blessings.”

Perhaps my Show-Me Missouri friend Michelle offered the most basic analogy: “I think favor is the key and blessings the car. God shows you favor by sending you blessings!”

Joel Osteen said we need to ask God for “floods of favor” (which I do). I’ll piggy-back on that statement and say that we should also ask God for “barrels of blessings” (which I will start).  

Are they one and the same, blessings and favor? Are they different? When all is said and done, I’m still not quite sure. But what I do know is that they’re powerful and wonderful and bountiful. And they always come from God, which is a beautiful thing. And when you discover one or the other or both in your life, you simply say, “Thank you.”

Now, getting back to the ice cream vs. yogurt thing. All I know is I enjoy them both and have no problem eating either one. Can I tell the difference? No. Does that matter? No.

The yummy chilled dessert, in any favor, is a delicious blessing.

 

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My Sentimental, Sappy Side Sneaks Out

My Green-Eyed Perspective by Jan Sperry Astani

Our Mother's Day picture tradition started in 1998. This one is from 2002. William is 4, Thomas is almost 2, and I'm 30-something.

Our Mother’s Day picture tradition started in 1998. This one is from 2002. William is 4, Thomas is almost 2, and I’m 30-something.

Even though he’s known me since 1986 and been my “Mr.” since 1991, I still don’t think my husband understands the sentimental, sappy side of me. What husband does, right?

Today is a special day for me, one that I reflect on every year when it rolls around. You see, 5,475 days ago, April 3, 1998, to be exact, my husband, our six-week-old son and I moved into our newly built home. At the time I worked for a home builder and had the wonderful experience of growing a baby and building a home at the same time. It became a race, if you will, as to what would happen first: would the home be finished or would the baby arrive? William Sperry Yadollah Astani won the contest by arriving about 18 days early. For those of you who know my skills in the kitchen, it was no surprise that I couldn’t even bake my bun in the oven for a full 40 weeks. William was a little underdone at slightly less than six pounds. He was a scrawny little thing. Fifteen years later, I still haven’t figured out how a baby could only account for six of those 40 pregnancy pounds.

It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since we’ve called this place “home.” It’s busting with lots of special memories, lots of laughter and lots of loved ones. I had many addresses in my previous life as a single gal. But I can’t help but think when you have a home that you’ve brought babies home to, the memories and sentiments run just a little bit deeper, and the urge to move isn’t quite so strong.

We welcomed the arrival of baby #2 on May 27, 2000. My parents drove down from Kansas City and were here with big brother William when we brought Thomas Stone Nasouti Astani home from the hospital. Once again, I undercooked my son, but only by two weeks this time. Hey, I was getting better.

I have special memories of family gatherings over the years at my home for 4th of July, birthdays and Naw Ruz, the Persian New Year. We always had a loud mix of my side, the Americans, and my husband’s side, the Persian’s. The delicious food flowed freely.

I have special memories of our annual Mother’s Day photos taken on the same spot on our stairs every year. The tradition started in 1998, and we haven’t missed one since. However, it was much easier to appease boys younger than 10 to do photos than ones who are raging with hormones and puberty.

I have special memories of my parents visiting several times a year and my dad always coming downstairs in the morning singing, “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” to my boys. I’ll never forget my mom sitting in a recliner and rocking baby Thomas for over an hour to soothe and quiet his colicky tummy. There’s nothing like a grandmother’s special touch.

I have special memories of planting trees and flowers over the years and watching birds splash with delight in my patio bird bath (the one that broke off the base and now sits flat on the concrete.) I have special memories of Easters from their toddler years when the boys delighted in hiding Easter eggs outside, when they didn’t quite understand what “hiding” meant.

I have special memories of the growth chart penciled on one of the bedroom walls. Unfortunately, the markings were covered up when we painted in 2009. Now all I know is that I’m the shortest person living under this roof, and that seems to make my boys very happy.

I have special memories of our favorite babysitter, my niece, Nanny Leah, living with us two different summers to take care of her little cousins. I’m sure it was the best birth control ever, although she may have been too young to understand that then. She will never forget the time William locked her out of the house or Thomas pooped in the bathtub.

I have special memories of decorating for the holidays and constantly picking up Hot Wheels, Legos, books and balls that covered every spot on my family room carpet. I had to smile last spring when one of those Hot Wheels was uncovered under a mound of mulch in the front yard flower bed. It was as if I had unearthed a time capsule when those sweet memories came flooding back.

I have special memories of those early years when a full night’s sleep was unheard of (for babies and parents)…when night terrors kept my first-born awake at 1 a.m. and when I figured out that it’s not only weirdos who were awake in the middle of the night watching 3 a.m. infomercials for Richard Simmons’ “Deal A Meal.” We always said nighttime prayers, and I told them, “You are my gift from God.”

My boys are growing up, and while the family memories are still being made, it’s the sweet ones from those early years that hold a special place in my mommy heart. Dorothy was right when she said there’s no place like home, especially when it’s where your babies grew up.

For the last 15 years of home-sweet-home memories, I am truly thankful and grateful and blessed. It’s been a wonderful 5,475 days. Here’s to the next 15. May they go a little slower than the blink of an eye.

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