Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Airline baggage restrictions have governed much of what we have packed, purchased, and carted about during this extended trip. Chicago to Vienna we were each allowed 2 bags/50 lbs per. One suitcase was dedicated to the gifts, clothing, and food items that we had been requested to bring or chose to bring to children and grandchildren. And, one of our 4 bags was the transport of KF's new stroller with all-terrain wheels--a fantastic eBay bargain.

The regional airlines--SkyEurope, Nikki, Ryan Air--each have their own baggage rules, usually restricting a passenger to one check-in bag and one carry-on. The weight limits varied from 15k to 23k--Nikki also weighed our carry-ons, limiting them to 12k. To put that in recognizable terms you take the kilogram weight times .6, i.e. not much leeway for acquiring any goodies.

We are learning to pack lighter--using our luggage space for U.S. purchases of clothes and housewares for our son's family. U.S. selection and prices can't be beat. Thank you Target, Kohl's, Home Goods, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Carson, Pirie & Scott.

Just try shopping for a family or outfitting a house in central Europe. Everything you need is here, but when you are accustomed to U.S.-defined needs you are always left feeling that there just isn't enough. Much is very over-priced, and acquiring what you need is far less convenient--you have to make multiple outings to multiple stores and then there is always that thing you forgot or never found... Part of adjusting to this new culture requires that you leave your acquisitiveness stateside. Shopping here is not recreation, it is a work-out.

At this stage of life I am totally signed on to less is more and am determined to learn to need less and less. Our house has been sorted through and streamlined several times in the 7 years we have lived there, and when I get home I intend to get rid of some more.

Not having a lot growing up influenced my shopping habits over the years. Making sure my family had the right clothing, shoes, and accessories was always important. And, we have always appreciated good food in our home--being willing to spend a bit more for quality and variety, but also learning where we could get the best for less. I still appreciate a good deal, but shop sporadically--not always in the mood. When I am in the mood, I have learned to stock up--gathering Christmas and birthday gifts throughout the year when I find just the right thing for just the right person.

As I consider baggage and all the planning it has consumed on this trip, my mind wanders to the emotional baggage that we accumulate and carry throughout our lives. It has taken me over 40 years to leave my childhood baggage behind. And, each year I seem to carry less and less of that baggage. Wish I'd known how to get rid of it sooner--recognizing it, naming it, and talking or writing about it appropriately provides release. My young adult and middle years were full of love and delight in the family we created, but my days would have been so much more enjoyable if I had a lighter spirit. Having been raised in chaos I learned to be over-responsible and hyper-vigilant to my environment--always taking in stimuli and processing and reprocessing while organizing and planning ahead for eventualities.

It will be interesting to learn what baggage our children feel they carry from childhood. We ask them occasionally and so far neither admits to too much scarring. We very intentionally parented our kids--unconditional love was the goal, underscored with accountability and consequences. Both DM and JE are good with money--never spending what they do not have. They have both chosen wonderful spouses and are themselves wonderful spouses. They love and discipline their little ones and are respectful of us and their grandparents. We certainly did not get everything right, but all those prayers asking for guidance and wisdom, patience and understanding were definitely heard and answered. God takes even our shortcomings and makes them work for his own good.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Pharmacy near Bratislava

The blogger world has been eerily quiet this week. Everyone is either comatose from too much family and food, or traveling to snowy mountaintops or sun-warmed places. And, I am up way too late because this is the only part of the day not punctuated with 3-year old squeals or 11- month old tears. This is a busy place daytimes, and when the little girls head for bed I turn on the laptop and, "What to my wondering eyes should appear..." No new entries from the bloggers I follow. My latest book is not overly compelling, and Slovak television is not tempting. Well, if there is little new in blog-dom, it must be time for me to send something into the blogosphere.

Because writing is cathartic for me, I can't resist the keyboard. I may go days and in some cases weeks without writing, but then I begin to feel spikey and unsettled. My internal circuitry is signaling that it is time to regurgitate [or girt, as LG would say] some of what I have been processing throughout my days here in central Europe.

This is the 5th week we have been traveling and both CA and I are a bit under the weather. He has a horrid [and very annoying, if I may say so] cough, and I have a mild [so far] sinus infection. DM made a quick trip to the pharmacy today to get his dad some drugs--something like Thera-Flu and a supposedly strong cough medicine. I am chugging hot tea with occasional double doses of ibuprofen and a clever little spraying thing that MK obtained for me from a different pharmacist just before Christmas. It soothes the throat and apparently has some antibiotic qualities to-boot.

Surely staying up until 2:00am is not the best idea, but here I am! I do not have an adolescent body clock, so there will be payback tomorrow. Amazingly, I was able to fall asleep in the midst of family life this afternoon. You never know what will happen when you fall asleep here. You might become part of a tent, or, as in great grandma's case, you might be tied up!

Time to head for my couch. CA has the bedroom tonight. Last night he kindly stayed downstairs to spare me the sound of his body-wracking coughing. Tonight I have couch duty so that he can sleep long and comfortably. It's lights out. Now. Really. Really. Now. That's it. Turn them off!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Our immediate family got together in Bratislava, Slovakia for Christmas this year. Who would have ever guessed that this would be part of our reality! Just CA and I, JE-MA-JA, DM-MP-LG-KF--6 adults and three little ones [3-1/2 years, 20 months, and 11 months].

In all the confusion [joy-filled] we were never sure that the little ones got the Santa Claus connection.The two Slovak-American little girls celebrated St. Mikulas on December 5th--putting their newly-polished shoes near the door so that St. Mikulas could leave them candy and oranges, if they have been good... LG has been taught at školka that the Christ child brings the presents on Christmas Day... KF and JA are too little to understand much of anything...

They were all excited and very much into the retrieving and unwrapping of gifts, with LG offering her services to speed up the process! JA loved his airplane, and KF loved the xylophone that friends gave to LG. There were books and art supplies, DVDs and suckers. Grandpa and grandma gave each child new clothes purchased at Du Paril Au Meme in Paris, so they will be the height of fashion this season. By agreement, the six adults focused on filling each others stockings and they were full to overflowing.

Growing up we were never allowed to believe in Santa Claus. Christmas was the birth of Christ and not to be tarnished by mythological and commercialized idols such as Santa. I always felt like I missed out on something--not believing--so I made Santa a very important part of Christmas for DM and JE. There was too little fantasy and too much reality in my childhood world, but in their growing up world Christmas was magical.

Each of the five little girls always had a new outfit for the Christmas program at church, and new pajamas from our grandparents. For many years there was a doll for each little girl. I got dolls way too long and was never big on playing with dolls at any age. My favorite doll thing was to cut their hair! Didn't matter if it was my doll or not, just needed some nice long hair--preferably braids.

We didn't hang stockings, but it was tradition that we would buy each sister a 5 or 10 cent gift. So, for most of my childhood I spent my money at Kresges on combs and candy bars, friendship rings, and Tangee lipstick.

We celebrated Christmas morning at home and then had Christmas dinner at G&G K's house with a few more gifts to open from our aunts and great aunt. There was always a lengthy session of posing for grandpa's camera on the front steps or sidewalk. He would squint and twist knobs and squint some more. Determined to achieve just the right lighting and exposure--nothing was automatic in those days.

Every few years, randomly, we would make the 2 hour drive to Bowen to celebrate Christmas Day with my dad's parents. Grandma and grandpa would welcome us with enthusiasm and open arms. Grandma would have cookies in the jar, pies on the kitchen table, and soft and puffy 3-part dinner rolls baking in the oven. There would turkey and ham, potatoes and green vegetables, stuffing and cranberries. Grandma would have a table set up in the diningroom and one in the livingroom and we would fight over who got to sit next to her.

I remember being very excited about Christmas even though we never got a lot. It was enough, at least until I was junior-high age and had friends' Christmases to compare to ours, though most of my childhood friends were of modest means. My closest friends were twins with older parents--another sibling was born 15 years before the twins. So, they were very indulged and showered with Barbies and Kens, bikes and records, and beautiful hand-sewn clothing for them and for their Barbies. By high school my closest friends were from church where families were more well-off than in our neighborhood and school. The church friends had electronic gifts and trips to Florida in their world. I learned to stay under the radar at Christmas time.

In our grown-up world my siblings and I make a very big deal about Christmas. Everyone bakes and shops and wraps and cooks. The in-laws and out-laws gather with all the little ones and there are stacks and stacks of gifts and a table filled with homemade sweets. We do Christmas over-the-top! All the shortcomings of those childhood Christmases are long forgotten.

Our children grew up with big Christmas expectations and realizations. We made magic for them and now for their little ones. And, we do it all while still remembering that Christmas marks the birth of Christ--Christ who taught us how to live and then redeemed us with his death on the cross. Jesus Christ who is coming again. We live our lives in expectation of his arrival--following his word and serving him with the gifts he has given to us. Each of us--four living generations now--holds faith in God as foundational to our lives.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Mary Engelbreit

I'm a bit weary--temporarily peopled-out. It took me years to discover that I am not an extrovert. I am an introvert with very impressive people skills. I am stimulated by being with and conversing with intelligent, observant people. But, when I am again alone I need to be still. A quiet room with a book or beautiful magazine. An hour or so on my screened porch. An afternoon or early evening nap--just 15 minutes can restore and revitalize.

Traveling is never my favorite thing, but I love experiencing new places--the sites, the architecture, the views... I love to go to grocery stores in foreign countries. I love open-air markets with their displays of regional produce and flowers and specialties. I love touristy shops--always hoping for something well-made, clever, and well-priced.

This month we are traveling in southern Europe with others and we have chosen delightful companions. But, it takes a toll. I find myself talking too much and then feeling drained. There is a balance between being sociable and protecting my spirit and my energy. CA is much quieter than I, but he handles sociability far better.

CA and I travel well together. Amazingly we share an appreciation for much of what is listed above. And, we love to try the foods of new places--we take pictures of our food!

Growing up there was not much opportunity to travel. We went to small Midwestern towns and later to Chicago. The early years of our marriage we lived on the east coast--first New England and then the Virginia coast before returning to Illinois. We visited Hawaii in 1977, but not again until 1998. In the intervening years we took the kids many times to Door County, Wisconsin and southern Michigan. We went on a Bahamas Disney cruise in 1986, to Boston and Maine in 1987. We went to Virginia and the Carolinas; Cooperstown, NY and Vermont; and Disney World. The two of us visited San Francisco, New Mexico and Colorado, and white-water rafted in North Carolina and West Virginia.

Then in 1999 we took our first trip to Europe--10 days over Christmas in Paris. We loved it! Since then we have been to Kauai in Hawaii 4 or 5 more times, and to Europe again in July 2000, December 2002, July 2004, December 2005, July 2007, February 2008, and we are here now.

We chose to raise our children in the Midwest, always planning to relocate when they were grown. So far we have stayed in NW suburban Chicago--choosing to travel frequently while maintaining our home base. We have plans to stay rooted for three more years--our children love coming home and we both have contract work to keep us interested. But, we talk about a simpler, slower life-style where we might walk to a coffee shop or cafe, the library, and the market.

I am a person who appreciates home; one who delights in creating an inviting environment. My stuff probably matters too much. From childhood it has been important to me to be surrounded by graceful and lovely objects and comforts. I like dishes and serving bowls, cooking utensils and good cookware. My idea of artwork can be something clipped from a magazine and framed, a bowl of lemons or green apples, bottles of olive oil and vinegar, spice bottles from a French grocery store lined on a chunky black shelf... Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and much of what I consider beautiful is domestic--fabrics and books, comfy chairs with ottomans, and plenty of small pillows to prop up bad backs and knees.

We are readers. There are many well-lit spots for reading in our home--the red floral chair and ottoman in the corner between the fireplace and the plantation-shuttered window, the carmel-colored so-soft leather recliner that divides the dining area from the living area of our great room, my bed with pillows propped just so and a halogen light to ease the eyes, the screened porch, and the upstairs guest room... In childhood books were my salvation, my retreat, my comfort, my safe place. Reading offered me the hope of an enriched life with opportunities to learn and grow and become all that God created me to be. I always knew that my adult life would be far different from the life offered to me as a child. I don't remember being goal oriented--I remember trying to survive and to understand. Yet, I ALWAYS knew that when I had control I would do well.

I married well--one of the greatest gifts and blessings that God has given me. And, I learned from all that I observed, what was functional and good. I don't tolerate dysfunction--I had more than a lifetime of that as a child. From early on, I knew I could work toward whatever I wanted. My Grandpa K. instilled those values by example and by word. I was loved and valued, but expected to do my best and pull my weight.

I was a good student--in school and in life. There was rarely any help with homework or interest or support with school. But those who work hard and get good grades are noticed and validated.

Like the seedlings that peek through a cracked stone wall or pavement, this girl took root in the best soil she could find and bloomed where she was planted!

Saturday, November 15, 2008


My goose is cooked! The jig is up! I've reached the end of the line! Suffit! Say goodnight, Gracie!

I just read that no one should use more that 3 exclamation marks in their lifetime. I cannot write a blog entry without a few! And, what about my first favorite, the elipse... Am I limited on those also?

I tend to be dramatic... Maybe I learned that in order to be attended to, one had to make a STATEMENT! I gesture, too. Who would've guessed?! And, I usually screw my face up to emphasize my points...!!!

Is it wrong? In the past I would have attempted to dial it back a notch or two, but no more. As Popeye so wisely put it, "I yam what I yam." Take it or leave it. My goal is to do no harm, but I don't think that the personality will change substantially going forward.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Father has a business strictly second-hand
Everything from toothpicks to a baby grand
Stuff in our apartment came from father's store
Even things I'm wearing someone wore before
Its no wonder that I feel abused
I never get a thing that ain't been used...

My younger sister was telling a story last night and said she bought her oldest granddaughter a "stick-out" slip. That's what we called crinolines when we were kids! All these miniature fairy princesses need appropriate underpinnings to complete the look, and who knew that stick-out slips would be back in style!

We were given hand-me-downs, including underwear, from my grandfather's half-sister, Annie. She cleaned house for a very well-to-do family in Peoria. All of our best stuff came from them. I am sure our paths crossed with these girls in high school, but they never knew that we were the recipients. Thick cotton panties [granny pants in today's lingo], warm, thick undershirts--very high quality stuff.

I was never threatened or embarrassed by hand-me-downs. Those were the best clothes we got until we were earning babysitting money and buying our own.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I do it. Always have. Always will. I have friends who claim to never do it. How can that be true? In a world with tests, trauma, violence, loss... everyone prays sometime. I'm convinced.

I was fascinated to read in a May 2008 National Day of Prayer message to Congress, Ravi Zacharias quoted a 5th century writer on prayer. I love words and was thunderstruck to realize the sophistication of the words and thoughts of John Chrysostom as he wrote of prayer in the 400s A.D.

The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire; it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, subdued evil instincts, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. Prayer is an all-sufficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by the clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, and the mother of a thousand blessings.

I had a mother who prayed. And, a grandmother and grandfather, and I have living aunts who pray for me each day. I can attest to the potency of prayer; the sufficiency; the blessings. I am convinced that my life would be much less without the prayers of those who love me--however imperfectly.

Why not pray? Is it the fear or the conviction that no one is listening? Zacharias also quotes from C.S. Lewis's Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer and a poem from an unknown author.

They tell me, Lord, that when I pray,
Only one voice is heard;
That I’m dreaming,
You’re not there,
This whole thing is absurd.
Maybe they’re right, Lord,
Maybe there’s only one voice that’s heard.
But if there’s only one voice that’s heard,
Lord, it’s not mine, it’s your voice.
I’m not dreaming; you are the dreamer.
And I am your dream.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Mine are helps, hospitality, and administration. Leadership is way down the ladder, but I can do it if no one else steps up. Bruce Bugbee's Network curriculum is life-changing and was the basis for many years of the mega-church's conviction that our time and energies were best spent in the areas of our spiritual giftedness. Completing the curriculum was required before your volunteer efforts were accepted.

Then, the church expanded and the volunteers were stretched thinly, so the new thought was "Just Jump In!" God will bless your efforts. No time to explore your giftedness. We'll do it later, or not at all. God can use you anywhere.

Such a fresh wind and a deja'vu reading John Ortberg's recent message at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. John is a truth teller; a psychologist and Bible scholar never timid in teaching the truth.

Paul says it like this to each person, “Everybody has been given the manifestation…the gifts, the gifting…of the Holy Spirit for the common good,” for the benefit of the body and, beyond that, the world, and here’s the plan:

  • The church should be led by people who have been given the spiritual gift of leadership.
  • The church ought to be shepherded by people who have been given the spiritual gift of shepherding.
  • The church is to be taught by people who have been given the spiritual gift of teaching.
  • The church is to be administrated by people who have been given the spiritual gift of administration.
Starting to catch on to how this deal works? There’s never been anything like this before.

By the way, this is not optional for the church. There is no plan B for churches based on credentials or religious bureaucracies or denominational structures or human-made traditions. God’s only plan for His church was that it should be organized according to spiritual gifts. Led by leaders, shepherded by shepherds, and so on. For any church to fail to do this is to defy the Holy Spirit and to deny the authority of Scripture. And, plus, by the way, it won't work so good.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Today in the news... a helicopter has crashed. A medi-vac helicopter carrying a one-year old little girl and three crew members.

How do you survive the loss of a child? Just barely, and not very well must be the answer.

When my husband's grandmother died 15 years ago, her life-long best friend Pearl came through the receiving line at the wake. As I was introduced to Pearl, her daughter Doris said that Pearl wanted her to tell me about her daughter Joan. Joan was hit by a car in 1943 and died--she couldn't have been much beyond 20 years old. As Doris told the story, I saw one single tear drop rolling down Pearl's cheek.

50 years after the loss and Pearl was still a grieving mother.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I know my words tumble out sometimes like ill-behaved children rolling down a hill after church while wearing their Sunday finery. Messy, messy words.
Pg. 94
Instant Love
By Jami Attenberg

For years I committed foul acts of messy, messy words. I spewed them freely, telling stories and details to countless friends and acquaintances. I considered myself interesting and outgoing. People would admire and hang on my words and exploits. My opinions were golden. My advice unfailing.

I am a verbal processor, but one still needs to use discretion with who's the processee. Share-check-share.

I think I had stuffed so much inside that I spewed all the current experiences and details because there was no room. The data cells had run out of memory--nowhere to put any more.

I would hate myself after a spew. I would walk away and think, "Why did I give that person such a huge piece of myself?" I imagined carelessly breaking off and handing off huge pieces of me, indiscriminately.

We never addressed this directly in therapy. It just stopped. With an appropriate listener, I no longer had need for inappropriate processees. I feel more whole, more relaxed, less regret, less fragmented.

There are no extra pieces of me available; no fire sales or giveaways. I save me for myself and those I hold dear.

Monday, October 13, 2008


You write your own story.

This has been the first year that my husband and I have been retired together, or semi-retired as we both do contract work. You know the stereotype--husband gets in wife's hair, husband portrayed as bumbling buffoon, husband hangs around the house too much...

I almost played into that stereotype. We were together too much in late winter, early spring. We always do very well together--really enjoy the life we have made. But, I was getting impatient and a bit nasty about too much time together. I do like my empty house and time alone.

One day I remembered... I write my own story. I want to have a beautiful, functional and fun marriage. I want to have the marriage other people dream about. We have gone 39 years into this one and it has been good. I want to value, honor, respect, and delight in my husband.

A quick prayer of forgiveness and plea for patience, asking God to let me see through his eyes. Problem solved. Not a perfect marriage, but a great one!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Whew! Just read Paula McLain's memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses. This should redefine my version of family dysfunction. I still have stories I don't and stories I can't remember, but McLain's story is a tribute to tenacity and determination and overcoming. As Sue Miller said in For Love, "Everyone has a story. It's what you do after that counts."

I will still tell my stories because telling them helps put things in perspective and lightens my baggage. I have just added a new filter.

We are all survivors. Life is hard. Whining is sometimes helpful. Thriving and celebrating life is the true measure of survival.

Friday, October 3, 2008

23rd PSALM

You know this one... I first learned it in the King James and that is the version that sticks.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He restoreth my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil.
For thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou annointest my head with oil.
My cup runneth over.
Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen

The summer I was ten and lived in Virginia with Aunt MK and MD for the summer, they made us learn tons of Bible verses. Both to get a discount on camp fees and for Vacation Bible School and Sunday School at their little Hope Bible Church. I remember both ladies getting impatient with the little boy who would always end his recitation with, "... shirley goodness to mercy..."

This chapter of Psalms came alive to me when John Ortberg first taught it at the mega church. He based much of his exegesis on Phillip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, a phenomenal small life changing. Keller takes it thought by thought and illustrates with stories from his life as a shepherd.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


The most outstanding outcome from my counseling sessions was the determination that I would finish a bachelor's degree at North Central College. It slipped out one day... "I can write. I'm a good writer." I re-enrolled. This time in the Organizational Communication program--something my company would pay for that gave me opportunity to improve my writing skills.

I was cautious at first. Took Introduction to Anthropology without telling anyone but my immediate family that I had returned to college. I loved it! Wrote my final ethnography on the culture of line dancing which was the rage at the time. I got an "A." In 3-1/2 years I completed two-thirds of the requirement for the degree and graduated in June of 1998 cum laude!

I loved college. I had life experience that was applicable to our readings and discussions. The required papers stimulated and polished my writing skills. And, I got positive reinforcement. I determined from the first that if I was going to devote time and energy to this endeavor, I was going to do my very best. I did.

I can't say enough about a liberal arts education. You are exposed to so many facets of art, life, and experience. Talk about paradigm shifting! [That was a big catch-phrase during those days.]

Throughout these days, randomly, I remember that I completed my degree. And, I smile.

I planned a graduation party at a tapas restaurant for just those friends and family who encouraged and supported me during my college days. Then, my brother-in-law and mother died just weeks prior to graduation and I wasn't in the mood for a big party.

On graduation day just my husband, in-laws, and daughter accompanied me to Emilio's--my son was in Europe or he would have been there, too. I drank too much sangria! Or, almost enough if I think about it a moment!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


There's a joke about Christians--not really funny and all too true. Christianity is the only culture that slays their wounded.

I am still amazed that hurts from childhood still hurt and even though you forgive, you just have to keep forgiving.

I am not a joiner. Never had a great experience in organizations and as it turns out I am really an introvert at heart, so there you go... Why join?

In elementary school we were sent to Pioneer Girls. Like Girl Scouts, but church-based. Of course you needed a ride and mom didn't drive or have a car, so again we were forced to beg a ride. I despised begging rides.

There were badges you should earn and crafts that were undertaken every so often. The best part of going to Pioneer Girls was that the friends I held dearest were my church friends. HS, PF, and MLF. Especially MLF. She was a wild child--red-haired and simply exuberant.

One week we cast plaster of Paris molds and painted them in preparation to assemble them into bracelets. For whatever reason--too much time and too many thoughts--I decided that week to work on badges. I really worked on badges. I did crafts non-stop and took them along the next week for pre-badge approval. Again, for whatever reason the leader rejected one of my offerings. Then suggested maybe I had started a bracelet the week before. I had!

She called me a liar. Goofing around during the casting process, my friends and I were putting boyfriends' initials in the wet cement instead of our own. When I pointed out my bracelet it had a "ST" on it. She said it wasn't mine and why did I try to claim ST's bracelet. Lying is a sin. I was too embarrassed to say why the ST, so I got no badge. Shortly thereafter I quit Pioneer Girls. Like so many things, mom just didn't have the energy to insist.

Then, in high school we had a vibrant, social-climbing YFC leader. He was visionary. He had energy and ideas. I babysat his kids; I rallied friends; I organized events; I showed up for everything. But, he was more interested in the connected kids. The student leaders. The rich kids who held sway with other rich and popular kids. Learning the hard way about worker bees and belonging and being good enough. I didn't quit going, and he was soon gone. Replaced by one who led-by-example and appreciated all comers.

I grew to distrust religious organizations while at the same time supporting some. I just didn't join. Then I worked for a Christian not-for-profit and suffered some of the worst hurts of my life. I was not alone. The bodies were everywhere and stacked deeply. It was all for a good cause--collateral damage.

You stuff the pain; you deny or dull the realities. But they bubble up from others and from you. You leak sewage. You get leaked on. I tried to be self-aware and to be ironic but never bitter. You had to keep a clear perspective. It was sometimes shocking how hateful and evil we humans could be and still be doing "God's work."

I used to say, "You can't stuff that much pain and anger without leaking toxic waste." There were many leakers. I should have worn a bio-hazard suit.

Still, I learned how to put the pain in perspective: expectations - reality = the size of your pain. And, that anger is usually the manifestation of disappointment. I learned about the tunnel of chaos and I learned about polarity.

I don't regret the 7 years of not-for-profit experience. I consider it my advanced degree. And, I survived. I thrive. I celebrate! It's just as Kenny Rogers said, "You have to know when to hold and you have to know when to fold..."

Monday, September 29, 2008


Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
King James version
Point your kids in the right direction— when they're old they won't be lost.
The Message Bible
Proverbs 22:6

We learned all our Bible verses in the King James version. Then came Living Letters, NIV, Living Bible, and now the wonderful Message Bible.

When you turned to mom for advice, encouragement, consolation, help... She always said, "Pray about it." or quoted a Bible verse. Sometimes you just need a hug, or a wise word, or loving understanding. We never got that. It was so frustrating, yet we did not rebel. Why? It baffles me still. I remember being intensely frustrated. There were no answers or comfort.

Yet, I do pray about things and I continue to seek help in God's word. I know hundreds of Bible verses and God brings them to my mind when I most need them. I remember being told that it was no good unless you remember the reference. I don't remember many references, but with the Internet you can always find what you need, now.

They used to spank us... on our bottoms. We were rarely hit, almost never slapped. But, they did spank us in anger and frustration. The worst was when GJ was in 8th grade and Dad insisted she wear JA's dress from the year before to graduation. GJ cried and complained. He grabbed a paddle [NC and I had brought back from Kentucky camp the year before--thinking it was funny... Hello?] and whacked GJ. Now, GJ was a good child and almost perfect. He broke the paddle on her rear end. We were horrified. He was immediately sorry, but of course could never say it. GJ got her new dress, I think. NC readily volunteered to wear JA's dress two years later. It was never an issue when I graduated the year after that.

My dad never apologized. I wrote a song and played it on the piano for him. I could neither play nor sing, but, somehow, I did it. I now remember the words,

Some people always pick on me,
and never say they're sor-r-ree...

He chuckled and walked away.

I was the biggest challenge. I never obeyed the 11:00pm curfew. My high school boyfriend didn't even know I had a curfew. My dad really liked him, so he never yelled at him. In frustration, Dad moved the curfew up to 11:30pm. I came in around midnight, because I thought that was fair--that was the curfew of my friends. He would start flashing the porch light at 11:30pm. I would ignore it. He would yell when I came in, but I didn't care. It was an ongoing battle that I always won.

I got good grades, worked at the Kroger store and earned my own money, had a nice boyfriend, hung out with mainly church friends. I was a good kid, just more stubborn than the other 4 girls. He had met his match.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


We lived outside most of the year, running around the neighborhood and doing simple things like sandlot baseball, climbing trees, riding bikes, hop-scotch, and jacks. I was never very good at jacks and double dutch totally escaped me. I could turn, so often volunteered to be a permanent turner.

Mostly I remember my late grade school and high school friendships that were away from the immediate neighborhood. But, as I press backward I remember Petey Popel. He was a year younger and my best friend before I was six and maybe just a bit after. His Dad drank beer. He kept it under the sink. It was Pabst Blue Ribbon. Sometimes he shocked me by giving Petey a swig. Once he offered it to me, and laughed at my shocked reaction. Petey had airplanes hanging from fishing line in his bedroom. He had a baby sister, Laura Jane. They moved because their rental house was too small for a 4-person family. We visited them once after.

During the polio epidemic of the early 50s, Marty and Bob Popel had a scary few days when the doctors suspected that Petey had contracted the disease. He was fine. He loved the drama. I prayed for Petey.

Spike and Mike were best friends and mostly had no time for us, but once in awhile deigned to play with the little kids. Daily they would run towards each other's houses yelling, "Ee-ock-ee! "Ee-ock-ee!" I loved it, but they forbid us to use their special language. Spike had an old tool shed in his backyard where one day Petey and I climbed through the window and played a game of "I'll show you mine, if you'll show me yours. We bored very quickly, climbed out the window, and headed home.

After Spike moved, the Nordvall's moved in and we finally had another girl our age in the neighborhood. Doris' brothers were high school-aged and had girlfriends. We were fascinated. One day Doris showed me a lovely gold slim-line compact that one of the guys girlfriends had left at the Nordvall's. I coveted that compact. Stealing is a sin. I sinned. But, what could I do with it and not get caught? I gave it as a gift to Kathy Charvat. Her mother questioned such a nice gift, but I assured her that it was mine to give. Mrs. Nordvall called mom to see what I knew. I knew nothing. I never lied.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


We now see through a glass darkly, but then face to face...
A day to mourn and a day to reflect. A good friend's mother died rather suddenly. They have no faith and neither did she, so what to do? A very classy solution. They had a luncheon to celebrate her life. There were two short eulogies and lots of laughter and friendship.

From the luncheon we drove into Chicago so that I could take the South Shore to Michigan City, IN to meet JA and drive to her home for a few days. I was early for my train, so I sat in the sunshine in Millenium Park, read last Sunday's paper :) and people-watched. World-class people watching.

Death without hope of eternity is a very hollow experience. My friend is mourning without hope. She is mad at her mother for poor health choices... There are many unresolved family issues--nothing earth-shattering. There was always a vying for position and although the oldest, she generally lost. She doesn't lose well. She is an extremely beautiful and gifted woman who always has an opinion--took me years to realize she was right less than 50% of the time. She is a doer, a mover, a shaker, a fixer. She knows a bit or a lot about a lot. She is a good friend and resource. Her mother was much the same, thus their natural disaffinity...

When my mom died it was a death that I had mourned for much of my life. It was the final act of dying that ended the pain for her and for me... God graciously took her. She didn't suffer then, although her mental illness was a life-time of suffering. I needed mothering that I would not ever get.

Now, I have a very dear friend and we mother each other. It is a joy to be her friend. She is wise and truthful, creative and giving. I am blessed to have her in my life.

Never stop looking for what you need. Do not give up. Needs are many times filled in unexpected ways. We have both lost our mothers and we both never felt mothered. We are mothers and we know what we missed. We have each other.

Friday, September 26, 2008


There is a lovely Mississippi River town, Nauvoo, IL. Gas was very cheap for all my growing up years, so when we were in Bowen we took lots of Sunday afternoon rides in the car. Grandpa would sometimes drive over to Nauvoo and we would go to the park for a picnic, tour a museum or two, wade in the river, and once we road on the Addie Mae paddle-wheel boat.

When grandpa retired, they held his party at the Nauvoo Hotel. As classy as that part of the state got back then.

One Sunday afternoon as we headed home from our adventures--surely the trip included a cemetery visit or two as Grandma was fascinated. It was hot and Grandma was squirming in her seat. She was a large woman--impeccably dressed at all times. But, her bra was chafing... She reached around and inside, did a couple of quick turns, and slid it out the sleeve of her dress! I was shocked, appalled, and very impressed. Probably my first observance of a truly pragmatic decision.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


When I came back from errands today our neighbor had a very cute black pirate's chest, complete with skull and cross-bones, sitting on his saw horses on the driveway. Now, he intrigues us on several levels [more later].

I couldn't help myself, I rolled down my window and said "Great chest, what's if for?" He is making it for a friend's small son. Lucky boy. He told me that he used to make furniture all the time.

Seeing the pirate chest prompted me to remember the day Christopher Petruzzi found a pirate's chest filled with jewels behind my grandpa's carpenter's workshop. It was fantastic. Just too, too cool. I told Christopher that he'd better check with my grandpa because it was on his land. I had visions of claiming the prize... Grandpa later told me that Mr. Petruzzi set it up--asking grandpa ahead of time for permission to use the chest. Wonder how he even knew it was there? Maybe Christopher spotted in on a reconnaissance mission, reporting back to his dad.

Wasn't Bob Petruzzi just the best dad? He owned/worked in a night club so was around most days. Their yard was a playland, and if we were around we were always invited to play and to birthday parties.

I remember one of Christopher's birthday parties. They served the cake and ice cream and were busy filming the party. My ice cream was gonna melt, so I took a bite. One of the adults pointed at me and said, O, Look! How cute. That little girl started eating already. I was embarrassed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I have always loved the rain. I don't get tired of it. Maybe because I sunburn so easily? I don't remember rainy days when I was growing up; though I do remember snowy days. Funny. Those are imprinted on my memory maybe because of how much fun it was to be outside in the snow.

Anyway, I love the rain. I have never been afraid of thunder or lightening. The more the wind blows, the better I like it. Once I was in our playhouse in Bowen at grandpa and grandma's with my cousin. A tornado blew through and did some damage around town and out at the cemetery where my grandparents are now buried. It was exciting. Something to tell at show and tell about what I did this summer.

We no longer have to waste our energy on denial, because we now sense and see things for what they really are. We don't stand in the rain anymore and pretend it isn't raining.
Whitfield, again. (Isn't he great!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


My Grandpa K was a world class gardener, and a generous man. He encouraged his neighbors to plant gardens on his rich bottom land along the creek that ran near the edge of his property. Mostly they were vegetable gardens, but some planted flowers and he had his own nursery of trees and prize-winning dahlias. We ate very well during summers and harvest season.

One summer NC and I were swinging from the hanging branches of the Willow tree that sprawled on the side lot by the house. We broke off branches and whipped each other. Grandpa was appalled that we had torn branches from a tree and verbally chastised us. He then found two quart Bell jars and filled them with a mix of sand, soil, and water--I think. He explained propagation as he reinforced these life lessons on the evils of vandalism and respect for life. He later planted those two seedling Willow trees on the far side of the creek and they grew to be fine Willows. I always claimed the larger as mine--NC's was a runt!

There was a spreading black walnut tree just up the rise. Mostly the nuts fell to the ground and became compost. But, sometimes we gathered the black walnuts and shelled them around the dining room table. Such work! And, for so little reward as I had no taste for black walnuts. Grandpa considered them a delicacy

He was a baker in his later years when his eyes failed him for carpentry. His favorites were Lazy Daisy Cake and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies--the recipe off the Quaker Oats box. At Christmas he would recreate the fruitcake of his youth--this is the one that originated the fruitcake legends... Unpalatable. You know, the same fruitcake has passed from person to person for years--each one re-gifting the despised fruitcake. There was also something called "hard sauce." Not memorable.

Grandma was a decent cook of plain food. When she felt fancy she would look up a recipe in "Meals from the Manse" a Methodist church-lady publication. We loved the egg-a-la-goldenrod--creamed eggs on buttered toast. Just a couple of years ago I realized that our pronunciation was very Midwestern and surely the recipe was for "Eggs Ala Goldenrod." Grandpa's Lazy Daisy Cake originated from the same cookbook.

They made us clean our plates. There was wheeping and wailing over creamed asparagus. And the biggest deceit--Oyster Stew. I hated the thought of those slimy, non-redemptive little shell fish. I kind of liked the neat round cardboard carton they were freshly packaged in at the butcher. They made a veritable festival of the Oyster Stew event. Grandma promised us that we didn't have to eat it, she would give us broth. I loved broth. Then, I made the mistake of going into the kitchen and saw that she dipped the broth out of the same pot as the Oyster Stew. HORRORS! Grandma lied to me! I exclaimed wildly and it took lots of talking by lots of relatives to convince me that I misunderstood. The jury is still out.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Wrigley Field

My husband loves the Cubs. My son loves the Cubs. My daughter loves the Cubs. They played baseball/softball with gusto every spring and summer. My mother-in-law watches baseball on television all throughout the season. There is a lot of baseball talk in our family.

My only real childhood memory of baseball is getting hit in the head and almost knocked out in a sandlot game. We had neighbors on the corner who let us play in their huge yard. I don't know if I was any good. No one ever said that I was. I was pretty young that day. I don't remember who all was playing, but the Cassidys were, because either Marty or Jim swung the bat back--I was catching--and caught me up-side the head. If I did pass out, no one took me to the emergency room. I remember a powerful headache and missing out on some family event.

Before we had kids I was CA's choice for companion at Cubs games. I am so much fun, because as a fair-complected freak I have to avoid the sun. Baseball games are usually sunny--preferably sunny. Once we sat in the bleachers before the bleachers were so very cool. Our tickets were $5. That was a long time ago. Once CA caught a fly ball. Once CA ripped his coolest Levi's reaching for a fly ball. CA is rather laid-back, but plug him into baseball, or any sport, and his mind is a fighter jet plane. He's almost totally left-brained and processes much mechanically, but add a ball to the equation and his mind and reflexes are razor sharp and faster than a speeding bullet, or jet!

My dad loved the Cardinals. He loved and played baseball, but I do not remember him ever throwing a ball for me or suggesting catch. I was a girl and not worth the effort. He had 5 girls and never bothered. By the time he had a son he had almost forgotten his ball playing days. I remember going to Von Steuben Grade School for church team games. He played when I was small. He was Jake in high school and played baseball. His brothers were Jake, too, and they played baseball. Was he any good? He must have been, because if he wasn't good at something or got criticized, he always quit. I am sure of that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


In January 1995 I reflected on what changes I had made from 1994 and prior, I would never have remember all this if Í hadn't been blogging and looking through my recovery journal.
  • 10:00 - 10:30pm bedtime
  • walk AM and PM; 4 miles/day
  • cleaned up relationships
  • healthy prioritizing; knowing what's "deeply important
  • less hurried
  • back in college
  • keen awareness of personal goals
  • no longer shopping for entertainment
  • no more excessive sleeping
  • no dieting--awareness of healthy eating habits and exercise
  • realize the importance of "beauty & solitude" in my daily life
  • prioritizing times for personal grown--study and reading
  • managing family finances--trust myself with all the money because shopping is no longer entertainment, i.e. escape
  • keen awareness of important relationships to my life--the need for valuing and nurturing
  • long-term financial management goals set in place, with short-term disciplines
  • I don't give pieces of myself away indiscriminately
  • I no longer need to please everyone
  • realization that my job is not hard, but is worthy and fits my life right now
  • content with current house until college costs and empty nest motivate the change--and the choice will be a factor of the current finances and needs of that time
  • stepped-up savings and debt reduction to afford JE's college and also prepare for the next stage of our married life
  • not seeking to fill the empty places in my life with activity, travel, people, noise
  • awareness of separateness from parents lives and dysfunction
  • no longer feel the need to "fix" everything, i.e. control

Monday, September 8, 2008


And, from mid-November 1994.
  • find time to focus / center
  • don't do multiple things at once--just because I can doesn't mean I have to
  • stay out of wasteful, unproductive conversations
  • limit exposure to excessive negativity
  • don't spread petty frustrations
  • insist on exercise
  • prioritize personal devotional / growth
  • realistically evaluate home responsibilities--redistribute or revise
  • keep a tight hold on social commitments, excursions, even conversations that distract, confuse, and frustrate
  • pursue healthy, nurturing connections and relationships

"He is able more than able to accomplish what concerns me today...

If I could look through your eyes, I would see that I'm worthy...

I'm learnin' how to lean and depend on Jesus. He's my friend and He's my guide...

Little by little I've been learning to depend upon the Savior. I know He's gonna provide for my every need."

Willow Creek Community Church Ever Devoted CD (c) 1994, Rory Noland & Greg Ferguson

WOW! Such wisdom then and just as applicable now. A great reminder

Sunday, September 7, 2008


An entry from my journal November 7, 1994, a Monday...

A sad, difficult weekend... DM called very, very early Saturday A.M. His college girlfriend broke up with him within 24 hours of his arrival in France to visit her. He really seemed to be handling it well, but still he was very hurt, as we were for him. He was quite proactive... determined to make the trip and expense worthwhile. He had already had dinner with Frank--a French young man he met on the train from Avignon to Montpelier.

Talked with DM again this morning. JP doesn't want to proceed with the relationship because she doesn't feel he's the man God has for her long-term. Wants to remain friends. DM is cooperating--still hurt and rejected. Me, too!

I reassured him--he is the young man God created him to be--constantly evolving, but he can't change to suit JP or anyone. His heart is to please God. He's 22 years old and doing quite well--he's seeking and gaining godly maturity.

When he gets back to IL he'll have to refocus and re-establish his social life. The future is exciting.

I told him God might ask, "Can you continue to trust me now, even if I never tell you why?"And,
"When you ask for bread, will He give you stones instead?"

14 years later and so much is clear now. DM has continued to grow and to serve God in full-time ministry. He lives in Europe and has married a beautiful, intelligent, gifted, loving, sparkling young woman and has two gorgeous and vibrant little girls.

What a ride! If JP had hesitated to end the relationship, we might have all missed out on all the adventures that God has taken us on--so many trips to Europe. Experiencing and living in new cultures. The foods and markets and cities of Europe. The love and joy of doing family in two languages--finding ways to communicate without just words. We will just hang on and let God continue to take us over mountains and through valleys and across fields of sunshine and harvest. We will remember to thank Him when we are in the valley of the shadow of death and feeling there is no sunshine, only sorrow.

Friday, September 5, 2008


The personal power that comes from principle-centered living is the power of a self-aware, knowledgeable, proactive individual, unrestricted by the attitudes, behaviors, and actions of others or by many of the circumstances and environmental influences that limit other people.
7 Habits by Stephen Covey

I quoted that excerpt in my healing journal on August 9, 1994. That was the summer I began to see things as they ARE instead of what I was told they should BE.

By centering our lives on timeless, unchanging principles, we create a fundamental paradigm of effective living. It is the center that puts all other centers in perspective.

The reason 7 Habits resonated so, so deeply with me is that I got it! My center was my salvation and relationship with Jesus Christ. I have known since I was small that He is my center. Talk about timeless, unchanging...

Correct principles function with exactness, consistency, beauty, and strength.

HAPPINESS: The fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually.

HABIT: The intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Colby College

Home on this earth is being all levels of our awareness or consciousness in our own unique fashion.

We have a choice.

We can remove the blocks (blinders) to realizing our Higher Power by:

  • experiencing (living in the NOW)
  • remembering
  • forgiving
  • surrendering
    Whitfield, pg. 137

Writing this blog has opened up my mind and hopefully my heart to what came before. The writing classes I took 1994 - 1998 cracked the vault a bit, but there is still much hidden and not remembered. The key word is "choice." I have choices. I am not a victim, I choose my reality. I write my own story; create my own reality. Living in the now is a very beautiful thing. I thought it would be too scary, but it is energizing and freeing.

I will tell a story that I don't like to think about, because it is laced with fleeing and quitting. I was a good student in high school and would have been a better student had I not worked at night instead of studying. I did study, but usually the minimum. I was tired. I still made the honor roll and got A's and B's. I could have been a high honor roll student. No one noticed or encouraged. Although, it would have been unacceptable to fail or even be mediocre.

My counselor in high school called me down and offered me the opportunity to go to a fine college--Colby College--on a scholarship. She was an alumnus and she would lead me through the process. I didn't know any better. I shied away thinking I should go to a Christian college. So... I looked for one I could afford and settled on Lincoln Christian College in Lincoln, IL. It was still more than I could afford, but they had a Kroger store and I knew I could work there.

It was unacceptable in the culture we lived in--upper class church and upper class school [lower class neighborhood!] that I not go to college. My friends that mattered at the time were going to college.

There were no college visits. No parental support offered or expected. I just packed up on the appointed day and my boyfriend [future husband] drove the one-hour trip to drop me off. This was orientation week--lots of meetings and doctrinal brainwashing. It didn't take very many days for me to realize that my view and the college's on eternal security and God's grace were WAY different.

One morning the President of the college spoke to the incoming freshmen. He said that his door was open, and we were to come to him with any concerns or questions. So, I headed to his door that afternoon. It wasn't open. He didn't see me, but another executive did. I voiced my concerns and quickly surmised that I wouldn't change their stand on these or any other issues. This was the Church of Christ, after all. How could they be wrong? I was a Presbyterian and eternally secure in my knowledge of my Lord preparing a place for me in heaven where I would without a doubt go when I died. No matter how many sins I commit in this life--I am forgiven. I only need to confess my sins and I am forgiven. That is the way of the cross.

I called home and said come and get me. So, that weekend Dad and CA drove down to retrieve me. I was forlorn. I had failed. Would I have to go to the brand new junior college and be humiliated? I cried and I prayed. CA was gentle and kind. He took me to see The Sound of Music. Later that afternoon I heard him talking to NC and they both said that they wouldn't have given up; they would have stuck it out at least for a semester at that college. I was furious at CA and told him so. I would tolerate no disloyalty. We both learned something through that experience. I was learning to trust, but this was a bit of a set-back. In the 42 years of our relationship he has never betrayed my trust--maybe little things--but CA I trust with my whole heart.

Two days after arriving back from this misadventure, my Christian college of first choice called to say they had an opening and I was off to Bible college. I had a fun roommate and lots of friends. The classes were absolutely challenging and the competition unbelievably tough. These Christian kids were SMART. I was just an hour from CA's college and we liked that. But, ultimately I wasn't cut out for a Christian college. I wanted more academics and I had no money. I left at the semester, got a full-time job and went to the junior college part-time until getting married after CA's junior year in college. It was the Viet Nam era and CA faced either the Navy or the draft. We wanted to have one full year together before he entered the military for an uncertain future. He was 21 and I just barely 20 on the day we married.

For years I felt shame in running away from school #1 and not sticking it out at school #2. During counseling 27 years later I realized that I did the best I could. I was so busy getting my basic needs met... I was so very young and on my own with no financial resources... Where were my parents in all this? I remember mom wanting me to stay at the Bible College #2 and offering to get a job to support me. I didn't believe or trust her. She was incapable and I knew it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


[Love] ...it is an energy that is manifested by a commitment and a will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's total growth, which includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.

Higher Levels of Love: p.133

  • caring through conflict
  • forgiveness
  • trust
  • commitment to growth in ourself and in a loved one
  • unconditional empathy and acceptance
  • pure peaceful BEING
Whitfield is the very best thing that came out of my counseling sessions with JF... A close second would be making the list of "What Children Need from Their Parents..."

I think that I put the skin on love after devouring Whitfield. It began with my parents, who did love me, and then my God the Father and Jesus my salvation. And, at 20 years old I was certainly "in love" with my young husband. From the moment of birth and before, I loved our son and daughter. But during this period in my life, I learned to define love and to practice love and to celebrate love of myself and of others. My heart began to grow.

I recognized that I had much growing to accomplish--I had learned years earlier that I was a "kid under construction" and not a finished product--signed, sealed, and delivered. I began to set goals for growth and to pray for growth in my loved ones. I adopted Paul's prayer for the Philippians as my prayer for my family...

My prayer for you is that you will overflow more and more with love for others, and at the same time keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight.
Philippians 1:9
Life Application Bible

And, Whitfield yet again, Love is what God uses to heal us.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


We grew up with:
  • Don't cross your eyes or they will get stuck that way.

  • Don't step on a crack or you will break your mother's back [my mom didn't need any more problems].

  • Keep your knees together--we always wore dresses--and, not bad advice at any age!

  • Little pictures have big ears.

  • Children should be seen and not heard.

  • Using the word "hate" is a sin.

  • Saying "gee" was an abbreviation for Jesus, and a sin.

  • Same for "golly" or "gol."

  • Grandma said "pshaw" instead of words she couldn't even imagine.

  • Mind your manners.

  • Don't speak unless spoken to--didn't they know that you don't end a sentence with a preposition. Sometimes it is just necessary 'cause it takes too long to reword the sentence.

And then, there were the longer cautionary tales:

When Aunt MK was a little girl she had a new tricycle and begged and begged to go out after dinner to ride it. Finally grandma gave in and away MK went, only to take a spill and knock out her two front [permanent] teeth. The moral to this story was, "Don't beg after being told 'no' or bad things will surely happen.

Monday, September 1, 2008


We loved going to our dad's parents house. Usually we would go two-by-two for a week each summer. Grandma was a wonderful cook--homemade soft rolls, chocolate cream pie... everything she made was so good. And, she had a cookie jar. She made sun tea and Koolaid. She planned ahead and tried to dazzle us.

We would play pinochle at night on the back screened porch, and sometimes in the backyard if grandpa had sprayed for mosquitoes and it was too hot inside. We weren't allowed to play cards at home. Mom would dig out and discard all the playing cards grandma would send home with us.

Grandpa worked as a foreman at a seed company. That's a place that gathers, cleans, bags, and stores seed corn and soybeans and other stuff. There were warehouses with cotton bags stacked as high as a house and higher. They had conveyor belts and after hours grandpa would send us up the conveyor and back down again. When we were brave enough he wouldn't stop the belt and we would drop onto the bags. Then we would run, jump, hide and let our imaginations run wild. We would whoop and laugh until grandpa had enough. Then he would put nickels into the Coca Cola ice chest and and treat us each to a cold one.

Our days with grandma were simple and unique. We would walk into town--two or three short blocks--pick up the mail at the post office and visit Meacums Market for a few provisions. Sometimes grandma would drop an article off at the Bowen Chronicle. Something gossipy or about the Methodist church ladies, or just a blurb that announced that Oren and Dessie had out-of-town guests visiting. If she was in the mood to visit a friend, she would let us wander into the Dry Goods Store. They had the neatest stuff. Chinese finger pulls, clickers, paddle balls, and the best--bean shooters for those spare beans we had stuffed into our pockets at the seedhouse. No one ever lost an eye, but we were warned, repeatedly... I don't think grandpa and grandma worried about it, but every other adult felt the need to admonish.

Grandpa came home for lunch most days and grandma did a full meal. Some days we packed a lunch and hiked out to the Y for a picnic. Not the YMCA or the YWCA. The Y was a place were the 2-lane highway divided forming a Y shape. Kind of like a rest stop with a picnic table. My sisters and I tried to take a picnic to the Y last summer, but the highway has been "improved," and there is no Y. We found a picnic table next to the Methodist Church.

Afternoons we laid around and read our Augusta Public Library books and eavesdropped on grandma's telephone calls. They had a wooden crank phone and a party line. There were ears burning in Bowen as grandma and her friends never let anything slide by. I remember one day NC and I must have been particularly obnoxious because grandma sent us outside and locked the door so that we couldn't get in. Eventually she came to the door all combed and polished with fresh lipstick and a suggestion of something fun we could do.

Sometimes we walked along the railroad tracks and worried about trains. Grandma must have known train service was scarce. We climbed the fire escape at the old high school and talked many time about climbing the water tower that shadowed the backyard.

Sometimes there was a county fair and we would ride the Ferris wheel. Grandma was terrified, but we could usually talk her into it. Grandpa ran the concession stand at the local baseball field and was usually good for at least one treat per game.

One time we got to ride a hay wagon and help with the harvest. If they could find someone with a horse, we got to ride. Grandma loved cemeteries so many weekends we drifted from town to town and read the funny epitaphs. The Eastman's were from southwest-central Illinois. Grandpa drove us by their mansion. They were the original Eastman Kodak people.

Grandma would take us visiting. It was boring, but she liked to show us off. Marion and Isol lived next door and Isol's sister Viola lived in the most falling down unpainted house I had ever seen. I don't know whether she was poor or just complacent. They were from Scandinavia. I don't remember their stories. Marion died when I was quite small. He is just a shadow in my memory

Isol's house was even tinier than grandpa and grandma's. She had a voracious weeping willow that bordered grandma's front yard. Grandma hated that tree. She would sneak around and trim its branches when she knew Isol was away.

Grandpa built the first treehouse in an apple tree in the side yard when JA and GJ were about 8 and 9. AJ, a boy cousin, was visiting from Missouri or Arizona. It was a wooden box with no lid. Just big enough for three small children. Later he took a reclaimed wooden door and fit it across an almost horizontal branch on the apple tree. We spent hours and days in those treehouses. I don't remember sleeping out there. Still later grandpa built a playhouse with small salesmen's samples for windows and a Dutch door. He used it for storage in the winter, but it was ours the rest of the time.

There was always a bag or tire swing, and later grandpa made several platform swings. We rode on the trike years later than was age appropriate. There was a scooter and a wagon and we burned up the one long sidewalk.

I just barely remember having to go out to the barn for the toilet facilities. I hated outhouses. I was still very young when they added an indoor bathroom. The barn became the two-story garage. Grandpa worked on and displayed his vast butterfly collection in the loft. And, after grandma's sudden death in 1971, he hooked a hose up to his car and killed himself in that garage.

We were shocked, yet not surprised. He couldn't live without her. My parents had brought him along when they visited my Navy officer husband and I in Norfolk earlier that summer. There was a palatable cloud of black grief that hung over grandpa. His usual dry wit and quick sense of humor had completely evaporated. He wasn't my grandpa.

They buried him before they even called me in Virginia to tell me he died. He waited until his Social Security check came, cashed it, and left the money on his dresser in their bedroom. It was a very hot August and he had been dead for a couple of days. The mortician gave dad a cleaner and he scrubbed down the garage floor trying to eradicate the smell of death.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I was ten years old before I saw a dead body. The summer after mom's crack-up when Aunt MK came and took care of us, NC and I went back to the Blue Ridge Mountains for the summer. MK lived in a coal mining town and it was surrounded by hollars where moonshiners reigned freely. Chickens wandered in and out of the shanty houses, and pigs lived beneath. When we drove back into a hollar to collect kids for Sunday night services at the little Bible church, the roads were so narrow that we would extend our arms and collect leaves and flowers.

Somebody died. A newborn baby. I don't remember whether girl or boy, but the mommy was very, very young and overwhelmed with grief. I had never been taken to a funeral, but MK and MD didn't think twice. The wake was in the grandmother's home and HORROR of HORRORS the infant baby was laid out on a buffet in the dining room--unembalmed! I had nightmares for weeks. I quickly exited and found much to do on the porch and in the yard.
A few days later an older man or woman died. I never left the car. It was years before I could or needed to go to a funeral or wake or visitation and I went with great trepidation. My friend's brother was killed in a bar fight and neither the body nor the family was on display. They were sequestered away while the guests listened to a minister [my mom's crush from years before] give a tribute to a young man he didn't know and an exotration to the living toward a clean and godly life.
Then a good friend's mother died and I had to go again. A sad story and a timely end. Death was easier this time. This funeral became a long running family story. Not to dishonor her life, but for some reason when my sisters and I would see each other after a time away, one or the other of us would ask, "Did you hear that Ruth Smith died?"

Friday, August 29, 2008


Our neighbor was a spiritualist. She had seances in her basement, while her husband repaired cars in his garage. Well, maybe not at the same time. He worked nights.

Her name was Daisy and I remember her with very dyed black curly hair and the brightest blue eyes.

We loved going to Daisy's house. John had a dog he called Yardbird, a medium yellow mongrel dog. John loved Yardbird far more than he loved Daisy. He loved Daisy once, but they had so many unresolved conflicts that it seemed that they were the Cold War. After Yardbird died John let Daisy buy Scottie dogs and she always named them Mr. Stormy. She loved her Scotties.

We weren't allowed to go to Daisy's house because of the seances. We all went, anyway. No one ever kept track of where we were. And, even though we weren't supposed to go there, we were allowed to take care of her bird when she and John went on their fishing trips. And, we went to the store for Daisy. She always gave us a dime for our trouble. That was enough for 2 candy bars.

So... we went to John and Daisy's as much as we wanted.

I only ventured downstairs once to check out the seance venue. It spooked me. I doubt that I saw anything because I didn't know what to look for, and what is there to see, anyway? A table and a few chairs. There was no crystal ball. I don't think that's required for a seance...

I don't know who she wanted to contact. They never had children. She had been married once before but I don't know that story. I think she had a brother who she had loved and maybe he was the motivation.

At some point Daisy gave up the seances. Before she died she was a Christian and had given her life to God. My mom had taken to visiting Daisy's house. My mom was an evangelist. She never had a neighbor who she didn't win for the Lord. Really. She was mentally ill, but God used her in many, many ways.

John died before Daisy and the Cold War ended, but John got the final victory. He left everything to a nephew. Daisy barely got away with the house and the brand new car, which she promptly took back for cash.

I knew how to get Daisy's goat and did regularly. I was a tease. She had a lot of chotskys on her mantel, etc. One was a little black angel. I knew better and never, ever said these words in my daily life, but whenever I visited Daisy I would point out "that little ni---r angel." She would be irate!