Life Story – Nana, graceful in life and death

When my friend’s mom died I prayed for her comfort and peace. Over the years of our friendship I heard many stories about her mom and know my friend treasured the memories. I hope those precious stories are saved in writing as all the stories we tell verbally can be lost forever. While I still enjoy my mother’s friendship, I wrote a story about the day my grandmother died and interspersed memories of growing up with Nana with the story of her death. She died with grace and dignity and I hope the stories I saved about her in our family history book portray her generous soul. If you haven’t saved your stories yet I can help you create your own family history book as a legacy to your children.

Nana, Gentle Soul

The sweetness of my grandmother’s smile was marred by the loss of twinkle in her eyes, now just a trifle vacant. Nana’s hand gripped mine as if hanging on to the shred of reality she had left before she slipped away. Nana was not always sure who I was, but she knew I was family and that I loved her. As her life of 93 years was nearing an end I thought of all the ways she had shaped our family, the values she embraced, and the generous ways she gave of herself.

Holiday meal
Thanksgiving dinner with Nana and Granddad.

She loved to cook for her family and we all looked forward to her holiday meals. My granddad, their two kids and their families all gathered around her antique table with the blue checkered cloth that was laden with casseroles, turkey, ham, fresh baked rolls and pies that she had been preparing for days. A row of antique plates circled the walls above the chair rail; I can still picture the blue willow pattern that she loved.

Nana had the soft, round, sweetness that was the stereotype for grandmothers everywhere with her silver hairdo that she had done every Saturday. Her soft spoken personality belied an iron backbone and strong will. She graduated from Simpson College in 1932 and became a teacher, no small feat for a woman in those days. Her father was an educated man and wanted his daughters as well as his son to have college degrees. She taught school, took a break when her children were young, but spent years substitute teaching when her children were school age and beyond.

Nana loved to take her grandchildren fishing at Lake Okoboji in northern Iowa. “Just spit on the worm and you’ll catch more,” she said. So we would all dutifully spit on our worms just like she did. It worked for her; she always caught the most fish, even more than Granddad. Now I wonder if all that spitting was just a funny thing contrived to amuse her grandkids. “Nana, I caught a fish, take it off the hook for me, the fins are cutting me!”  She took them off for us, even though granddad said, “You catch ‘em, you take ‘em off!”boy fishing

During our reunions when everyone started to talk at once and the noise level grew, Nana would raise her hand in the air and say, “It’s my turn! I have a story to tell!” The talking would finally die down and we gave her a chance to talk and she always had a good story to tell. One we heard often was the time when she was a little girl and she fell down a well at her grandfather’s farm and got her little white fur muff dirty. She must’ve loved that muff, she was more worried about that than her fall, and did not understand why her parents made such a fuss over her.

UHaul OkobojiShe grew old gracefully and the time came for us to go help her and Granddad move their stuff out of their summer home at the lake. My family helped load all their furniture into a U-Haul truck. She was worked so hard at age 83 and insisted on keeping a card table and a few folding chairs and a frying pan out of the truck so she could cook us one last meal at the lake. We ate Reuben sandwiches on the patio. I hope I have her loving energy when I’m 83.

By the time she moved into a nursing home with Granddad in Quincy, Illinois where my parents live, she was 85 years old. For awhile she was still able to make pies for holiday dinners, but her body and mind started to slow down. “Where are you from, dearie?” she would say as she tried to place all of her 4 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. She would cling to us, knowing that she loved us, but was not always able to figure out who we were.

On a Friday in February my sister Leslie and I got calls from our Uncle John, that Nana was fading fast. He was frustrated to be far away in California and wanted someone to be with her when she died. Leslie and I dropped everything and within hours were on our way. Leslie drove two hours north from St. Louis and I drove 3 hours south from Cedar Rapids to say good-bye to Nana.

Holding Nana's handShe was in bed at the nursing home and either asleep or in a coma when we got there. We stroked her hands and talked softly to her. I braced my knees on the edge of the bed, knelt over and propped myself on my hands to lower my face to hers. The water proof pad crackled and the nubs of the old-fashioned white chenille spread poked pock marks into my skin. “Nana, can you hear me? We’re here with you now, you know how much we love you?” I gently ran my fingers across her creased cheeks, smile lines and crows feet witness to her good humor. I smoothed her white hair, soft and wavy even on this, her last day.

Tears welled up as I gathered strength to say good-bye. “Nana, I love you, it’s okay to let go now.” I hoped that somewhere in her heart or mind she heard me. It’s possible, she might have heard me, please say it’s possible. The nurses checked her vitals and told us that when we touched her and talked to her, her pulse became steadier and her breathing more regular. That gave me hope that in some small way she was aware of our presence.

Nana died later that night and we rejoice in the belief that she is in better place and we will one day see her again. She lived a simple life, a good life surrounded by family and friends and filled with loving deeds. Her legacy is our stake to the past, a reminder and inspiration to carry on her zest for life and generous spirit.




Life Story – Dad

In the last few posts I’ve shown how descriptions of special places in your life and love stories can shape your personal history. Character vignettes can also speak volumes about an important person in your life and yourself as you delve into the relationship. Who remembers being 14? What an awkward age! I love my dad and wrote a life story essay about him as part of my own personal history.

Walking with Dad

The lawns glistened with dew, the morning sun slanted through the trees, and my dad and I headed out for a walk. dew on grassI was 14 and our relationship was tentative as two reserved introverts struggled to connect. Dad had spent long hours immersed in the formative years of his company Quintron and didn’t have a lot of time left to spend with his kids. My brother had rebelled, rejected Dad’s values, became antagonistic to the Christian faith and conservative principles Dad held dear. Perhaps Dad decided to spend more time with his girls after his experience with Larry. I’m not sure why we started walking, but I loved that time with Dad.

A lot of the walks were silent, and we just enjoying the morning. I had not spent a lot of time alone with my dad. As a little girl I loved watching him as he developed one new passion after another. I watched him tie fish lures with his tiny forceps and vices, I watched as he pushed his wheelbarrow through the backyard when he began organic gardening and landscaping flower beds. We enjoyed asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and sweet corn. I was amazed when he turned the bathroom into a photo lab dark room complete with photo developing slanted sink. He built Heathkit radios and a stereo system for Larry and I, and was a ham radio operator.

The project I loved the most was when he ordered a kit for a 22’ houseboat and built the huge boat in our garage and had a party so his friends could help him turn the hull over. He soaked the wood strips so they flexed to form the rounded hull. We even water-skied behind it on the Mississippi River and anchored at Hogback Island to relax on the beach. Dad sat on top of the boat with a beer and a little transistor radio to listen to the Cardinals baseball games. houseboat kidsHe went to Harvard business school for a program in entrepreneurship and spent hours in the living room reading business books as Quintron became a successful reality. He was also a runner and kept a detailed record of how far he ran. He ran the Duluth Grandma’s marathon when he was 59.  By the time he was 81 he had logged 31,833 miles of running and walking!Runner dad

I watched him hard at work with his hobbies, but we didn’t talk much. I was delighted when he wanted to walk with me. We kept a brisk pace and I remember sneaking furtive glances at his face. On one walk, wanting to connect, I finally started a conversation with my geeky engineer father. “How does a refrigerator work?” Not exactly fodder for a father/daughter heart to heart, but interest lit up his face and he proceeded to tell me all about how a refrigerator works. I just enjoyed hearing his interest, hearing his voice directed at me. The topic didn’t matter. How does a refrigerator work? I think it has something to do with compressed gas becoming liquid and then converting back to a gaseous state and becoming very cold in the process!

Out of sheer exuberance at the end of our walk I often burst into a sprint, arms pumping as I sped by the suburban driveways that emanated from the houses like spokes on a wheel. Our techie talk was a connection of sorts. I knew my dad loved me enough to spend time walking with me, and that was enough for me!

Life Story – Lake Okoboji

We all have special places where our memories live on. You could write a whole family history book just remembering the places where the moments unfolded that impacted your life. Where did you go to college, or meet the love of your life, go on your honeymoon, or vacation with your family? Sad memories also have those places we wish we could forget but still plague our sleep. The cemetery where a loved one is buried, the school hall where you were taunted as a child, your yard with the oak tree that dropped a branch that crushed your house during a storm; all places with inseparable memories.  Paint vibrant word pictures of the places your memories reside. Your life history will come alive. One such place in my life is Lake Okoboji in NW Iowa. My mother went there as a little girl, as did I, as did my kids. Writing about that wonderful lake teased out more details about me and my family, and still beckons across the miles.

Okoboji Patterns

I was chilled lying on the bottom of the boat, rocking gently. I stared up into the fading light and watched the bottoms of the clouds brushed with gold. I felt happy, it was true. I was 10 years old and out fishing with my grandparents in an old boat on Lake Okoboji in northwestern Iowa. I squirmed into a jacket, slightly damp. It smelled fishy and I ignored the slime on the cuff. I sat up to watch the sunset, the light dancing on the rippled water shimmered rose and orange. The patterns of the small waves and sound of endless lapping mesmerized me. A sliver of a moon was rising in the sky.lindaboat

Nana showed me how she spit on a worm before casting her line into the lake and swore that’s how she always caught the most fish. The segments along the worm’s back lined up neatly as she threaded it onto the hook, spit and cast away. I watched the end of her rod vibrate and bend to the water. The click of the reel and her gentle laugh always meant another fish and I watched a perch dangle over the water, dripping and twisting in the breeze, fins quivering. Nana grasped it and worked the hook out of its mouth and held it close to my nose before she plopped it in the wire basket hooked to the side of the boat. Granddad pulled in the anchor and the basket of flopping fish. I knelt down and tried to count them and watched the fish mouths open and close, the shiny pattern of the blue green scales, the eyes staring. At me. I felt happy, it was true.

nana with Okoboji fish

The motor started and Nana put her arm around me. We putted along the smooth water as the stars followed us across the sky winking in and out of the clouds. The boat nudged the dock and I jumped out onto the gray splintery dock swinging the basket of fish. I counted 32 steps straight up from the lake to the grass where a winding dirt path led to my grandparents small home, plucked a fluffy seed pod on the way and put it in my pocket for later. I plunked the basket down on my granddad’s workbench and waited for him to catch up so I could watch him clean the fish. He had to crank the big wheel that lifted the boat up out of the water, the squeaks of the boat lift drifted up from the dock. He brought me a dripping tendril of wet weed from the bottom of the boat and laid it on the cement to dry knowing I would want to examine it the next day. I felt happy, it was true.

“So you gonna split those guts this time, Linda?” my granddad said as he tousled my hair and thrust a perch in my face. I giggled and stepped back. He picked up his special knife and quickly scooped out the guts and filleted the fish, one by one, throwing the translucent fillets into a bucket of water and stacking up the fish heads neatly to the side. Even the fillets had an intricate pattern; I lifted a hunk of fish flesh up to the light bulb and studied the even lines where the bones had been. Granddad snagged a fish head on his finger and carefully sliced out the eye, “These eyes are tiny magnifying glasses, see on this newsprint?” I had my own little bucket of water and carefully cleaned the eye lenses before drying them off and storing them in my little metal Sucrets box. A bunch of them rattled inside and after a whole week at the lake I had 73. I felt happy, it was true.

From a young age I noticed patterns; the ridges and whorls of a shell, the lace of a dried leaf, the bumps on an acorn cap, and the tiny sparkling frost on a windowpane. I counted, collected and catalogued. Fish eyes, leaves, pebbles and even soil. On one of those trips to Lake Okoboji from my home in Illinois I was a young girl in the backseat watching the spring fields change slowly from the dull brown clay of my hometown to the startling rich black soil of soil patterns “Dad, stop!  Please, can I collect some soil?!”  My dad understood. He catered to my whims. I got out and filled a baggie left from lunch with the black soil; fine and crumbly, so different from the sticky brown Illinois clay. I felt happy, it was true.

Someday I wanted to be a scientist and one summer took a small microscope to the lake to examine a drop of water dancing with miniscule life, an insect wing, or a maple seed helicopter. I looked at nature and the amazing complexity and something resonated in me, I wanted to know more. As I grew and studied I continued to be amazed by the small things. The study of the mechanism of a cell, tiny machines moving to and fro with specific purposes, fluids moving in and out, not random movement but an orderly orchestrated dance worked to crack my soul wide open, incredulous at the life force, the grand scheme of cells stacked up in such a way as to create.. me. I felt happy, it was true. It was true.

I eventually went on to Iowa State University and studied microbiology, so many wondrous things, a microscope opened up whole new worlds. I got a job as a research assistant and as a young adult got paid to count, collect and catalog. But then I met a man, and married. For a while I found pleasure in teaching biology labs at a small college in our new town. But when our first child was born I made the choice to stay home to raise her and her two siblings who came along in the next few years. Until my firstborn was old enough to talk and notice the world around her, I wondered if I had a made the right choice. When she was about 4 years old, I looked out the kitchen window and watched her play in the backyard. She was squatting down looking intently at something in the grass, and came running to the house waving a Blue Jay feather. “Mom, look, look!  See the stripes of blue on this feather!” That was the confirmation I needed, nothing satisfied me as much as teaching my children to appreciate the small things, the amazing world around them. I was happy, it was true.


Life Story – Passage of Time

Life stories can be written many ways. In the following story I include several vignettes from my life but also inject some fun observations on the passage of time. Telling about the incident of being late to meet my boyfriend because I was doing an experiment in a college chemistry lab shows details of our relationship and perhaps insights into my personality. You’ve heard the writing tip, Show Don’t Tell… here is my example of that:

Stuck in Time

When I was a kid bored in class, I escaped by reading a book under the edge of my desk. Books worked for me as I once again got lost in my own little world where time stands still. But during one such escape my shoulder was tapped and I looked up to an empty classroom and the bemused face of my teacher. She confiscated my book as my feet hit the floor joining the march of time as I headed to the next class. Late. Again.

God is eternal, not bound by time constraints, while the mere mortals He created are stuck firmly in time, always looking over our shoulders at things past or towards the future in worry or eagerness. Is this a celestial joke, with the constraints of time restricting our freedom to enjoy the moment? Sometimes I feel like one of my feet is unstuck. One foot is firmly stuck in time, but does the other  flailing foot allow my head to be in the clouds, lost in my imagination, so involved in the moment that my clock stops ticking? That unstuck foot is forever causing me problems, tripping me up.


As the years sailed by, my life was often suspended in the imaginary world of yet another book, another flight of fancy. I’ve learned to compensate. I can make it to appointments on time; can honor commitments to people and not rudely make them wait while I clamber back into their time zone. Is that my husband snorting in the background? He’s no doubt remembering the time I stood him up because I was too busy setting the air on fire in my chemistry lab. Okay, so I had a learning curve. Years ago when we were dating I had agreed to meet him on the steps of the chemistry building. He was adamant about the time but wouldn’t tell me why and annoyed me with his repeated reminders. Be there, don’t forget! Bunsen Burner life story

When I am involved in a project everything else fades away. I was juggling an intricate apparatus with my lab partner, a geeky guy with dark curls and wire frame glasses. We were trying to get some corks to seal our tubes before we released some fumes into them from our beaker. He painstakingly weighed the powder we were supposed to mix over a Bunsen burner. I added some liquid. Gosh I wonder what that was! We both leaped back as the mysterious invisible fumes bypassed our tubes and burst into flames inches from our faces. Instinctively we both checked our foreheads to feel for our eyebrows and stifled nervous giggles as the professor walked down the aisle to see what the commotion was about. That was when I glanced up at the clock, threw my stuff into my bag, an apology over my shoulder and ran for the exit.

My sweet guy was hunched over on the steps watching the sun sink behind the building across the street. How was I supposed to know that he had planned for us to climb to the top of the bleachers in the old football stadium? It was a special place we shared, the place where we first fell in love. How was I supposed to know he had planned to watch the sunset up there with me? diamond ringHow was I supposed to know that he had a diamond ring in his pocket that he wanted to give me as the sun sank beneath the tree line and that now he sat there trying to figure out plan B?  I ran down the steps. “Sorry I’m late, but I had to finish my experiment, I was flubbing up and set some fumes on fire.” “Uh, right in front of my face,” I added hoping his concern for my safety would trump his disappoint. He is a patient sort. We ended up going out to eat and he did give me that ring. So hey, it turned out alright!  Time marches on with or without me.

Years later after I married that patient guy (no, I wasn’t late for my wedding!) I lucked upon a job where I worked from my home. I had a required number of reports to produce each day, but my time was my own. I spaced out at will, surfed the web, read a book, took flights of fancy with no boss looking over my shoulder. As long as I got my work done by the end of the day it didn’t matter where I went, my boss never knew how convoluted the path. On glorious sunny days I suspended my work day, switched to full escape mode and went for a walk. Minutes snuck by unnoticed as I meandered among a stand of trees looking for buckeyes. The dark brown nuggets gleamed in the sunshine before filling my pockets. The sunlight filtered through the leaves and time stood still as I relished my escape.buckeyes

So many phrases try to capture the tyrant time. Time stands still, time is fleeting, you kill time, yearn for the time that has gone by or is still to come. Time is of the essence, time can be the enemy, passing by too quickly for all I want to accomplish. However I view time, happy in my moment, dreading its passage or wishing I could revisit the past, I am forever swept along like a piece of driftwood, riding the current, always moving toward the day I die. Ultimately there is no escape, but I can enjoy the ride!

So many books to read, buckeyes to find, meanders to make, delightful escapes all, but my computer calls. My work day marches on, I’d better reenter my time zone and get back to work!  Is there someplace else I’m supposed to be?



Life Story, Love Story

When I interview people to create an heirloom family history book as a legacy for future generations I am often hired by an elderly couple’s children who want to have certain questions answered. A common question that kids want me to ask is how their parents met and fell in love. It’s fun to interview a husband and wife separately as they will emphasize different parts of their love story. Some couples hand me a written love story, or participants in my life story classes tell their own love story.

In the next 2 or 3 blog posts I will demonstrate different ways to make your life story unique. A story can be told in first person, or as I did in the following story, a third person account allows for a new perspective. The way the passage of time is written about can also give your life story a unique quality about the ways you’ve viewed a relationship over many years. I would love to hear your own life stories or your parents’ or grandparents’ stories in the comments below!


The girl looked to the top of the bleachers which seemed to graze the stars. Her frayed bellbottoms swept the dew off the grass at the old football stadium, shuttled into history by the big new stadium east of campus. She held hands with her boyfriend, he pulled her close, his head bowed towards her, brown hair long, waving around the pilled collar of his gray sweatshirt. They strolled through the gate and started the climb to the top of the bleachers. She looked at the back of her boyfriend’s red suede Puma sneakers as they thumped up the seats of the metal bleachers, leading her higher and higher. Then she held back, resisting the pull upwards. She watched him reach the top, hugged her sweater against the cool breeze and followed.

They sat at the top, alone, hip to hip, his arm holding her close. He looked at her, brown eyes seeking hers. She looked down, fingers playing with a navy thread as she worked it loose from her sweater. He lifted her chin. Her brown eyes avoided his. He kissed her. “I see our future, Linda, up there in those stars.”  She was a freshman and things were moving too fast. She murmured and looked up, all her hopes and dreams strewn along the Milky Way. She blinked back a tear, her heart uncertain. She felt pulled inexorably toward him, away from her charted course, losing herself. Sweet kiss, yes.

milky way clouds-life

Her future was wide open and her feelings were unsettled as the young man stumbled around a profession of love. He was a senior, his stars hung lower in the sky, dreams ready to be realized; plans for the future lining up. She was part of his plan. The stars climbed slowly in their charted paths as the earth moved, oblivious to this young couple, paths merging.

The young man and the girl clambered down the seats of the bleachers and he spread a blanket over the wet grass and they lay flat on the grass to watch for shooting stars. The black heavens were ablaze with stars, quiet and mysterious. The bright sparkles seemed both benign and omniscient, harboring secrets in the dark. No revelations, no comet with their futures strapped on its back, just the random shooting star passing silently into other worlds. Her heart rose to meet them, resisted this man; not yet. Her thoughts and feelings were amorphous, unformed, the night sky a backdrop for her confusion. A loud clang disrupted their reverie, a man swung the gate shut, a padlock clicked shut and he walked away. Too far away to flag him down, too embarrassed to try, they sat up and contemplated their fate.

The young man loped to the gate and shook it, rattled the lock. The girl looked to the top of the gate high over her head, the sky marred by metal links. Trapped. The young man said,  “No sweat, follow me” and within minutes, sneakered toes wedged quickly in and out of the chain links, he swung his leg over and shimmied down the other side and landed on the grass. He looked through the fence at the girl, body and face neatly hatched by the pattern of the links, perplexed look on her face. Her heart beat fast, she looked back through the links at the young man, on the right or wrong side of the fence?


She reached up, curled her fingers through the cold metal diamonds as her toes caught the holes. When she crested the top she hesitated, looked down at her boyfriend so far below, rooted safely to the grass which was beaded with evening dew. She teetered, her jeans caught on the spikes of metal twisted at the top. She heard the soft slur of a tear, felt the prick of barb on tender skin and carefully disengaged her jeans, finally able to swing her leg to the other side. She slid down, lost her balance and landed on all fours. She stood up, rubbed her wet hands on her jeans, adjusted her sweater and took the young man’s hand reached out to her. They laughed at their plight now that she was safe. Safe?  She looked back up at the stars which blinked back, silent, secrets pinned to the black sky.

milky-way-life story-

The earth glided 35 elliptical paths around the sun while the stars rose and fell gracefully through the sky, moving through time with the aging man and lady. The man and the lady had three children, a lifetime shared, the good and the bad. She looked up into the night sky. The Milky Way beckoned, a shooting star whizzed into the black recesses of space and she was lost in the memory of the night on the bleachers, on the field with the young man so many years ago. Had she been listening?  Were there untold secrets, paths untaken? Had the stolen kiss tempted her fate? The man called from the house. Blinking back a tear she went to him. Tear of joy, tear of sadness, tear of loss, tear of thanksgiving?  Yes.



Oh to be 20 again, Me@20

Who didn’t love being 20?


I was in my junior year at Iowa State and my boss Louisa, a PhD in biochemistry, bought me a cake which we ate during our break. I remember sitting surrounded by scientists in white lab coats, who peered at me with the wisdom of age and intellect, and feeling very humbled that they would honor my birthday with cake. I worked in a lab which did research on Brucellosis, a cow disease, very apt for Iowa. I loved my job and learned more from Louisa than from any professor at the University. My birthday is in February; a month later on March 21, 1977 I got engaged. Yes, I was in love that year and every time I looked at my new diamond ring I was amazed. Amazed at my life, my love, at my new hopes for the future. I envisioned working in a research lab and starting a family, all dreams that materialized before my 30th birthday.

In the fall of my freshman year I met Kim who would later be my husband and father to our 3 children. He loved music and would sing to me as we made our way around Lake Laverne, not always saying a lot as two quiet introverts struggled to connect. It was usually a Beatle’s song called Her Majesty… just 27 seconds long, but one that will always be well loved as part of our history together. I’d be watching him, long brown hair waving over the collar of his jacket and looking out at the swans gliding on the lake as he sang:

Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl
But she doesn’t have a lot to say
Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl
But she changes from day to day

I wanna tell her that I love her a lot
But I gotta get a bellyfull of wine
Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl
Someday I’m gonna make her mine
Oh, yeah, someday I’m gonna make her mine

Me@20, Pauline at 80!

Kim and I also enjoyed visiting my great- grandmother Pauline. She loved getting out of the nursing home as we took her for shopping and car rides around her small town. On a warm sunny day we took her on a picnic in the park after loading up on Kentucky Fried Chicken.

She talked and licked her fingers while eating a chicken drumstick, looked around at the green grass and trees and exuded a simple joy. I learned a lot about gracious living from her, and more of my family history as she regaled us with stories of her father who immigrated to Iowa from Sweden in 1867. She was a strong personality and talked a lot. Her refrain, “That’s how it is at Pauline’s house” became my catch line as I learned to accept whatever came my way with the good grace of my great-grandmother. Sometimes she would nod off in the middle of a sentence and we patiently waited til she woke up and picked up the line of conversation as if there was no nap interruption.

Kim and I saw Crosby, Stills, and Nash in a concert. I loved their sweet harmonies and folksy rock sound and my favorite song that year was their Just a Song Before I Leave, short and sweet and mellow.  Later when we purchased our first home their song Our House resonated. Isn’t every life punctuated with the songs of the day? Music is embedded in the memory, a melodic background to all the stories of our lives.

Side note: The U.S. president was Jimmy Carter and he pardoned the Vietnam war draft evaders in 1977. Household median income was $13,500.  The federal debt was $706 billion.

For more interesting Me@20 blog posts please visit:

Mary Beth Lagerborg’s post:

Steve Pender’s post:


What were YOU like at 20? Create your own Me@20 blog post today, or share the Me@20 questionnaire in your social networks:

Include your answers to the Me@20 Questionnaire in your post:

  1. Where I lived @20
  2. What I did @20
  3. What I dreamt @20
  4. My favorite song @20
  5. What I wore @20
  6. Who I loved @20
  7. What made headlines when I was @20

About Me@20 Day:   Me@20 Day celebrates personal history and the 20th anniversary of the Association of Personal Historians on May 20th 2015. APH supports its members in recording, preserving and sharing life stories of people, families, communities and organizations around the world.


Honor your Mother

Mother’s Day is almost here. I want to honor my mom, Marilyn, a very special lady. No flowers, no candy, no more stuff. . . so I came up with this essay. I did send mom a card, a Snoopy card, my mom is bigger than life, no silly sentiment, curlicues and nicety nice sappy stuff will do. . just an exuberant dancing beagle, so much more fitting!

Mom and Dad in Hawaii. SMom and Dad in Hawaii. She has a wonderful smile!

I think Larry, Laura, and Leslie would agree, the mom of our childhood was full of life and fun. Back then, when she entered the room it felt like the prelude to a summer storm, the air was charged, electric, as if she had flipped our switch to ‘on’. She talked. She talked a lot, her trademark bright red lipstick, colorful clothing and huge earrings a fitting punctuation to her upbeat litany. We felt braced against a fresh gale, buffeted by the anticipation for fun.

She loved people, her laugh was infectious and loud, her insight on the lives of the people around her sound and witty. We were the lucky kids. While our friends’ moms were preoccupied with the minutia of living, our mom would drop everything and take us swimming, ice skating, to the park or a movie. She would talk to everyone around us, had so many friends in our small town and was a positive example of generous living.

My friends loved her because she would do stuff with us instead of just drop us off, and was always interested in their lives. I remember mom asking them questions and then thinking, “I didn’t know that”, she actually helped me get to know my friends better!

Mom reading with Leslie perched on the side of her chair.

I remember one of the most important lessons she taught me was the value of reading. She sat in a brown easy chair and enjoyed a cup of coffee or a glass of tea and a good book. Always. Not that our house was ever dirty, but there was some cleaning freak who lived on Rogers Court and she was the example of how not to be. Mom would say, “She doesn’t read, she cleans”.  So now I read too. One time when I was all grown up, a friend said she had to do her spring cleaning. I said, “Huh?”  I think it involved moving furniture away from the walls, ain’t gonna happen. That friend of mine didn’t read either. Mom would recommend books and we’d talk about them. I loved that we had no TV in our living room, we all sat around reading. One of my junior high teachers, Mr. Radel, commented on the books I read in my lap beneath my desk while he was teaching and I told him about my family’s love of reading. I’ll always remember when he said, “Your family really sits around your living room reading?!” That was one of my first clues that my family was pretty special.

Mom was sitting in the same brown chair when she tried to tell me about sex. I was 17, no ha, maybe 12.  I was sitting on the gold couch under our bay window practicing my inscrutable look; I learned that from my dad. I was laughing inside, of course my brother Larry had already told me everything I would ever need to know. He told me that the man took a sperm out of his ear and placed it in the women’s belly button. Mom’s version was quite different and I had to keep my chuckles inward as she stumbled around what to call a certain crucial male part. But when my little girl Andrea was around 3 and astutely observed that little brother Kyle was different, I used the words peanut and wizzer. Perhaps the terminology can progress with age; I was 12 for heaven’s sake! Yes, Larry was always a fount of information, he helped mom out with the sticky wicket issues. He was also the one who told me that Leslie was adopted and mom and dad were trying to find her real mom so they could give her back.

Every year mom was challenged by a trio of fruit trees in our backyard. She was cursed with her frugal dad Gene’s frugal gene and thought she had to use every single plum produced by this crazy little tree. I remember plum pulp bubbling away on the stove and a big strainer thingie to separate the juice, sticky mess all around. Jars of plum jelly lined up on the counter. What I don’t remember is anyone actually eating the stuff. I’m sure it was quite good, but we weren’t really a jelly family. She did make wonderful cherry crisps with cherries from another one of our prolific trees which forever spoiled me. After the real deal, I can’t stand the syrupy sweet artificially red cherries that come in a can. Mom was fun in the kitchen too, always experimenting with new recipes. She introduced us to artichokes, my sibs and I would peel off the little leaves and dip them in butter, none of my friends got to do that!

Mom grew up going to Okoboji and always caught a lot of fish.

I remember her willingness to carpool us all over Quincy. At one point she drove a little white VW bug and kids would unfold themselves and pile out. I’m sure we looked like the proverbial phone booth with an improbable number of bodies being ejected. Mom was a very jerky manual stick driver, or was that the little gold car that she backed into the car behind her in the driveway? Or did she back into the boat, or the side of the garage? All three? Or did I do one of those? She would also drive us to and from Lake Okoboji, a 9 hour road trip.As I got older I remember learning that my mom was a bit directionally challenged. Quincy is definitely east of Okoboji but I had to point out we were driving into the setting sun at one point on the way home. That just didn’t seem right and we got turned around. I would guess I was snotty about telling her too.

The danger of writing my mom an essay like this is that she has a much better memory than I do. Did I make all this stuff up?  No, I’m pretty sure the memories are true to life, but I fished them out of the depths of my memory bank, a spotty place at best, got that from my dad… but hmm… I think I may have already written her an essay with some of the same stuff. Will she remember?   Ah, well…  Happy Mother’s Day to the best mom ever!



Are you a Wordsmith?

Anyone who journals or is working on writing a memoir is a wordsmith. Today’s blog is about my love of juggling words in the quest for an accurate expression of thoughts and feelings. I am sure many readers share that love, and have also experienced the frustration when the words don’t come together easily, and the joy when they do.

The Maker of a Sentence

  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:1.  We are image bearers of the One who revealed Himself through the written word, sacred writings that are as relevant now as they were eons ago.  God chose the written word to communicate and put that same desire in my own heart as I strive to be understood. Whether it be a mundane grocery list or the tender words of a love letter, my ideas form themselves into written words as I convey my thoughts to others.

My thoughts define who I am and what I’m all about. My true essence is forever trapped without the words that give flight to the thoughts that are uniquely mine. Of course, I can speak words, strike up a conversation, but often my thoughts are foggy and vague until I fetter them to ink and paper first.

CloudsSunriseLarryAnchoring my scattered thoughts is like holding my hands up to try to shape a cloud in the sky. I can sight down my fingers and see the shapes, but they’re fleeting, always forming and changing, with a strong breeze threatening to blow them away. That’s what happens when my conversation tapers down to, “I lost my train of thought”.  Sheepish grin, wheels spinning as the thought I wanted to express blows away to the next county!

When my spoken words fail me, the written word brings clarity. The act of writing slows the flow of thoughts, giving time for them to fully form after the sluice of my tripping tongue caused a logjam of flotsam, meaning shifting, ideas unfocused, the frothy scum needing the filter of pen to paper. Murky thoughts transformed, one word after another like the drips of clear filtered water, into coherent prose.  How often do I wish I could take back the words gushing from my mouth without the benefit of a thoughtful filter!

Words tumble around in my head seeking release. I hope the process will be wild and spontaneous, giving sweet relief when my thoughts find written form. When I know I’ve finally nailed a coherent thought to paper, it just feels right and my soul reverberates with a YES. It’s a sweet eureka moment, vague feelings crystallizing into words that convey that subtle meaning I’ve been striving for. Finally I sit back and revel in the moment which I know will soon pass as the next seeds of ideas struggle to become fully formed.

Nebulous feelings lurk on the tattered edge of consciousness. The thoughts take shape like a Polaroid picture swimming up from nothingness, the final image surprising in its clarity. I hope for clarity, strive for clarity. If my trembling hands jar the camera the image will be blurry. Do I feel a tremor in my mind? Each thought a fragile tendril, some fledging thoughts becoming stronger and others mere cobwebs swept away, up and out, or submerged in the detritus of my brain. Lost that thought! But if the tendril becomes fully formed, that lovely eureka moment returns, my eyes see the results racing across the page, fruit of my fingers, each keystroke a delayed reaction of neurons firing, synapses flowing data and letters following each other dutifully across the page.

letter-writingThe sweet reward comes when someone reads what I’ve written and I get the feedback of understanding.  Once I wrote an email and my friend wrote back sharing that she’d had a glimmer of understanding, and felt privileged for that glimpse into my soul. Those words deepened our friendship as we both basked in the pleasure of being understood just a little bit better.  On a personal level the written word, ordinary, sublime, triumphed in connecting two friends.

In the grander scheme of things, the written word wends it way from one person to the next, a speech, a letter, a proclamation. Revolutions ignited, hearts of kings turned, passions stirred, crowds persuaded, all by the power of the written word. Words give birth to the thoughts of genius, the wild flights of fancy fettered by ink and paper. Through the ages the one true thing fighting for expression is the heart of man, the heart of woman. In the beginning was the word, and the words go on; from your heart, and mind, and soul to mine, and the gift returns multiplied down through the ages.

The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight. 

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Pets by design or default

Oscar was carried on his first walk.  He’s 10 weeks old, 4 1/2 lbs!

Pets can be such a meaningful and fun part of our lives! Oscar joined me a few days ago and has been such a joy. He’s a sweet black and tan Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Many people love telling their favorite pet stories in their memoirs, or even want a small book produced as a tribute to a beloved pet after the pet passes on. I planned for Oscar and researched breeders and drove a few hours with a friend to pick him up. But the pets of my childhood were often acquired in a more haphazard way. Are your pets by design or by default?

Pets by Default

Shakespeare was a black blur thrown furiously across the front yard almost into the street. Actually the black cat hadn’t been named Shakespeare yet, she was just a stray my brother Larry had picked up at a picnic and smuggled home. Have you ever heard a mad mom shriek? My mom was shocked to find a cat in my brother’s bedroom. The cat was no match for mom and was trucked down the stairs and hurled across our yard in record time. The cat ran into the bushes and was retrieved by Larry who quietly snuck her back up to his room.

The next day my brother was ordered to take that cat and get in the family car. Sisters Laura, Leslie and I loved drama so went along for the ride. We were headed to the pound, in mom’s mind the logical place for strange unwanted animals found in her house.  As our car turned into the parking lot, the sound of gravel scrunching under the tires added to the cacophony of dogs barking. There were no other cars. Great timing for the cat, the pound was closed! But mom was determined, grabbed the cat and started walking up and down the chain link fence, I guess looking for the cat section. She called out, but no one appeared. She actually tried to throw the poor thing over the fence; I can still see that black furry body flying through the air once again. But the cat landed lithely on all fours and ran back to Larry who gathered her up and nestled her under his jacket, rescued again. Mom knew when she was beaten. It was a quiet trip back home except for the rumbling purr in the backseat. That cat was very elegant, all shiny black with bright gold eyes, a white star emblazoned on her chest.  She staked out our yard and was good at keeping stray dogs at bay so she stayed… by default… and was formally named Shakespeare.

We got pets by default, or maybe our family had trouble with commitment. Our first pet was a beagle named Andy and we ended up trading him in for my baby sister Leslie. Andy used to drag mom around by a leash, never was quite sure who was walking who.  My brother Larry was 8, no match for Andy when he tried to walk the dog.  What good is a dog that no one can take for a walk? The leash stretched taut as Larry thudded to the sidewalk, arm outstretched by the sheer force of the scent crazed beagle in olfactory heaven chasing a teaser rabbit. Actually we had Andy and Leslie both for awhile but Andy couldn’t stand her crying and asked to move to a farm. Or was it Leslie who did not like his howling to the moon at night? However the story went, Andy was history.

canstockphoto1044332Do rodents count?  We were more committed to our wee pets, perhaps because they didn’t live as long and didn’t require a lot of commitment.  Larry had a gerbil named Pythagoras who had a love/hate relationship with Shakespeare. I had a mouse named Algernon who was debilitated by a science fair experiment and was finally humanely euthanized by my granddad who clobbered it with a shovel in our backyard. Algernon was followed by a gerbil named Hippocrates. Shakespeare found this influx of prey intriguing so Pythagoras lived lofted in his cage dangling by wires from the rafters in the basement. Not sure how Hippocrates survived in his cage in my bedroom but I was saddened when his brown tail fell off. Perhaps he was stressed by the gold cat eyes peering in? Hippocrates ran like the wind on his treadmill but those gold eyes never receded safely to the distance. Yeah, that could be unnerving enough cause for his tail to fall off.

canstockphoto12889553Then there was Elephant, another small creature requiring little forethought or commitment.  I was lucky to be a kid back when it was still legal to get a baby chick for Easter. She was a cute, yellow handful of fluff and I called her Elephant, Ellie for short. But I was amazed by how fast that chick grew and rather perturbed when she morphed into a gangly chicken with long white feathers. The cuddle factor and most of the cute factor was gone, much like a toddler growing into a preteen. I kept Elephant in a cage rigged from plywood and chicken wire in the backyard and was at a loss to know what to do with her. She just hung out pecking disgusting stuff out of the grass and was no longer a nice little handful of fluff. Ever try to pet a chicken? Not very satisfying; the peck factor was a big turn off. The sweet peeps became clucks, a sound highly overrated. Elephant ended up having a guttural cackle like the witch in Hansel & Gretel. But Leslie would actually chase Elephant around the yard and solved my indifference by forgetting to close the lid on the cage.  From inside the house I heard growling and hysterical clucks and screams. I ran out, but was too late to save Elephant. Our dog ate her, smugly licking his chops after a nice chicken dinner, white feathers wafting in the breeze. Leslie was screaming in the background, she said later it was more out of fear of what I would do to her than witnessing the violent death of Elephant. Sister Laura was screaming just to be part of the scene; her quiet nature was often upstaged by drama queen Leslie. Laura’s scream did play well that day.

Yes, it was our dog that ate Elephant. Our neighbors across the street had a beautiful gray spotted German pointer named Smoky. We weren’t sure who the dad dog was, but Smoky had a litter of adorable black and brown puppies. My brother and sisters and I were allowed to carry them around and agreed on a favorite pup and named him Barney. Laura was particularly smitten. Soon Barney was at our house more than the neighbor’s and Shakespeare seemed to like him, so he just stayed. By default. By then I was old enough to have a boyfriend named Andy. I never liked Barney as much when instead of greeting Andy politely by offering him his paw; he embarrassed me by trying to mount Andy’s leg.  I blushed.  Andy shoved Barney away and stammered.  What do you say after that at the tender young age of 16?

They arrived by accident, hung from the ceiling, had their tails drop off, were replaced by the latest baby,  devoured by the pet next up in the food chain,  clobbered by granddad, and vented sexual energy in embarrassing ways.  Andy (the dog, not the boyfriend), Shakespeare, Pythagoras, Algernon, Hippocrates, Elephant and Barney were part of our family, loved, or not so much, for better or worse.


Bubbles, Serious or Silly

“There is something pretty amazing about watching friendships form between children from different continents, cultures, and without a common language. Who knew discovering bubbles together could be the bonding agent?” said a good friend who teaches preschool refugee children from all over the world.

bubblesShe was trying to communicate with a little boy who had only been in our country for a few weeks. He was overwhelmed and timid and would not play with the other children. To reach him she shared a bottle of bubbles. As the children watched him become a playful giggling playmate, they began to include him and he blossomed. All because of bubbles.

I started thinking about bubbles, and the fun, but often elusive act of trying to catch them. Sometimes a simple concept can help illustrate truths in your life. I wrote a little ditty on bubbles that helped me solidify my feelings about some heartbreaking experiences. But notice I don’t need to be specific on what those experiences were. I want to reach a broader audience and protect the privacy of those I love who hurt me. I was simply unpacking some ways I’ve chosen to deal with the hard stuff and share how much my faith impacts my responses.


Questions like bubbles lift into the air, waft on the breeze and pop before the next one forms. Pursed lips blow from a dripping wand; shimmering, shiny, floating bubbles wobble and burst. I ask the same questions and they morph into prayers. Why did that happen? What should I do? Where am I going? The color of a bubble is changing, sheer violet and blue, lifted high, glimmers of hope. I reach out, grasping before they pop.

What is God trying to tell me? I want to anchor my thoughts on His truth and know that He is the wind moving my heart, answering my prayers. When I ask why, He shifts the wind; the bubble wobbles and drifts away as my thoughts ponder the inscrutable. As I accept not knowing the why and settle into the aftermath, He is there, unshakeable, scattering my doubts to the wind. His answer is absolute. All I need to know is that He is unwavering, that His purposes rise above the pool of messy soapsuds I create when I grasp for answers that are not for me to know.

Pop, pop. I watch. But instead of the dismay of uncertainty, I praise Him for being the I Am. For being All Things, All Answers. I praise Him that I can rest in not knowing. I praise Him for the sheer joy of the shimmering suds, the beauty of the color, the rest of my soul knowing that He knows, knowing that He is God, and knowing that my questions don’t need an answer to enjoy peace that surpasses understanding.

Or take the same topic to create a more lighthearted thought on bubbles… and giggles:


Giggles, soft pebbles of sound, rising gleeful, high notes, melodious, four toothed smile. Gentle splashing, tiny hands swirl warm water scented with foaming oil. Chubby feet, sweet smile, frothy bubbles. A baby in the tub. Slippery, smooth skin, soft and shiny, who knew a tiny arm could have rolls of fat, pudgy dimples at the elbow? Giggles, chortles, baby mirth. And what are those sweet dimples above the baby bottom, one on either side, dripping soapy water? I told my kids they’re fipples and they didn’t find out ‘til they were teens that I just made it up. Or thought I did. Giggles at the fipples. Oh my, it’s actually a word, added giggles as they grow, finding the meaning of fipples. Fipple flute mouthpieces on tin whistles and recorders, a wood air block, now you know. It’s a fipple flute, making melody, notes rising with the giggles. But also the soft little dimples above my baby’s butt. Giggles over fipples, baby mirth so simple. Smiling chuckles, four tooth grin, small hands grasping at bubbles rising in the warm air, out of reach, pop. Bath time.

Practice that with different ideas as you experience your days. Use the idea to write something about how you live your life, then flip it over and write something silly and fun!