Friday, December 31, 2010

Message from the cat

Ha! I finally got my paws on Mom’s laptop! She had all day long to write her blog, but she was just too lazy, so I had to say, “I will do it”. She rolled her eyes and went back to washing dishes. Little does she know that I am as good a typer as that stupid dog Dino. She calls him the Wonder Dog. Ha! I am the Wonder Cat. After all Wonder is in my name. I am named after Alice in Wonderland you know.

But to be honest, I don’t understand what this whole blog thing is all about. Mom says she writes about her trips and her childhood and stuff like that. Well, excuse me, but no one has ever let me have any adventures. I don’t even get to go outside like the other cats. Because I am too little, and they say because I am not fixed. Well, hey, why fix what ain’t broke, right?

My big adventure was two weeks ago when Moppet, Megan’s baby, came to visit. Except that I didn’t like her so much. She was the same size as I am and everyone kept saying how cute she was. And well, ok, I got jealous so I wouldn’t play with her. I would only hiss at her. And she was so stupid she wouldn’t even hiss back, she just went and played with someone else.

Well, I think it is time for a nap now. It’s been – like – twenty minutes I think since my last nap. Nick is having friends over tonight for New Year’s Eve, whatever that is, so I bet I won’t get any sleep, they will be making too much noise.

I hope I get to write on Mom’s blog again. Send me a comment, ok? So then Mom will let me on the laptop more often. Bye.
I am just a couple months old in this picture and Mom gave me a new toy. I didn't know what to do with it.
Here I am outside in the garden pretending to be a lion stalking a gazelle.

Here I am with my stupid brother, Cheshire. He is a big bully, but I still like playing with him.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree

Every fall, just as the weather was getting cold and the snow was sticking to the ground, the young farmer would take his ax and wander into the small forest behind the simple house he shared with his wife. Every year he would cut down the finest fir tree he could find and he would drag it back to the house.

Each year all of the trees hoped that they would be the one chosen. They would stretch their branches and look full and majestic. The scrawny jack pine at the edge of the wood hoped each year that he would be picked, but he never shared his hopes with the other trees as he was sure they would just laugh at him.

One year, a disease descended on the farmer’s herd of cattle and many of them were lost. Late summer rains flooded his fields, ruining half of the crop. The farmer’s wife was pregnant with their first child and he was desperate to make any money he could.

That fall as the first snows were falling, the farmer went into the forest and cut down the biggest, tallest, fullest fir tree he could find. Instead of taking it home, he dragged it to the manor house to ask if the lord would like to buy the fine tree.

The lord of the manor did indeed pay for the tree, enough money that the farmer and his wife would have food to eat through the winter. The lord did remind the farmer though that he was only allowed to cut one tree out of the forest each year for Christmas.

The farmer returned to his home, very happy and thankful that he had a pocket full of money but also sad that he would have no tree for Christmas. His wife assured them that they didn’t need a tree, that they should just thank God that the wealthy man who owned all of the land that they lived on and worked on was so generous.

On Christmas Eve, as his wife worked so hard in the kitchen to put a feast of wild partridge and old potatoes on the table for them, he snuck out of the house, grabbed his ax from the barn and headed into the wood. He knew he couldn’t go against the lord’s wishes, but he also knew that no one would miss the skinny, bent jack pine on the edge of the forest.

He chopped it down and took it home. The farmer’s wife decorated it with scraps of ribbon and stars cut from old newsprint. The jack pine was the happiest tree ever.

Shortly after Christmas, the farmer took the little pine out to the wood pile. As winter descended and cold gripped the young couple, each night the farmer would bring in an armful of hard wood from the pile, overlooking the scrubby pine.

One morning, when the farmer’s wife was nearly ready to deliver, the farmer looked around the small house and realized that there was no cradle for the baby. His wife told him that they would manage without one, that they didn’t need the luxury of a bed for their child. The farmer however went out to the wood pile to see what he could find.

All of the hard wood was too valuable; it was already dried and would make the warmest fires as cold winter nights dragged on. Finally he spotted the scraggly used Christmas tree. He immediately started to work on the cradle.

The jack pine couldn’t believe it. Not only had he gotten to be the Christmas tree in their house, but now he would hold their precious baby.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Stockings

The house I grew up in didn’t have a fireplace. We tried to hang our Christmas stockings above the vent which shot the heat into the living room from the woodstove in the basement. But Mom took them down, claiming that we would start a fire with that kind of shenanigans. Instead we had to hang our stockings on the built-in bookcase in the little alcove outside the bedrooms.

When I moved my own family into our house in 1990, I was so excited that now we had a fireplace and could have a place to hang the kids’ stockings. Over the years, I got a little carried away with the stockings. Everyone in the household had to have one, which of course included the pets. Theirs were smaller than the ones belonging to the people in our house, but all stockings had the names inscribed in the white fur trim.

Unfortunately, those pets started dying. And what was I to do with their stockings? A few years ago, I started the memory wall. I know, how Christmasy is that? But if you can’t remember family members who have passed on at Christmas, when can you remember them? And though she hasn’t passed on, our exchange student from Portugal has a stocking on the memory wall too.

Shadow and Pepper were our two cocker spaniels who died within a month of each other in 2007. Pebbles and BamBam were the cats I got from my sister. Keshia (whose sock you can barely see) was the black cat we brought all the way from Colorado. She died in 2004 at the age of 19. And Ines, my Portuguese daughter. Can you believe I never had socks for the two hamsters or the guinea pig?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
Luke 2:20 (from The Message Bible)

What a wonderful thing that the shepherds took a chance and went to see the baby Jesus. It changed their lives and they wanted to tell everyone what they had experienced. How this tiny newborn baby had such an effect on them is a mystery to us. Surely God was at work in their lives.
God works just as diligently in our lives; we just need to be open for His message. He probably won’t send a choir of angels when He has something to tell us, but if we watch for the signs, we will receive the message just as clearly as the shepherds had.

Every day of our lives, we should want to tell everyone we encounter about our Lord and Savior. We have been given the same message as the shepherds. Now it is our turn to share that good news. Let the people we encounter decide for themselves if what we say is true or not. They won’t be disappointed.

(My daughter Val took this picture while she was in Kenya last summer. I just love it. Thought it was appropriate to this post; I am thinking that the goose and goat are on their way to tell somebody some wonderful news.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Wishes

Sorry that I haven’t remained diligent with my blog this week. I truly had good intentions and was going to stay on schedule. I thought that I had Christmas preparations well in hand, but here I am on Christmas Eve afternoon, not only with gifts still to wrap, but gifts to finish making. (And if I don’t get in the shower pretty soon, I will never be ready for church in time.)

Why do we continually let this blessed holiday get out of control? Why is it so easy to get caught up in the hectic busy-ness of the season and so hard to just focus on what is really important? Family and true friends really don’t expect expensive wrapped presents; they just want our time, our love. They want to know that we are happy and at peace, and in exchange we want peace for them too. We all just want laughter. And for all my family and friends, even those who only know me via this blog, I wish for you the joy in knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior.

My husband has finally learned to tie his own tie.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Cookies part 2

Like every good American woman, I carried the Christmas cookie tradition into my own household. My rollouts were not nearly as perfect as my mom’s, but the taste was nearly the same. The look? It varied. But every year, early December, I started loading up the freezer with whatever I could bake.

In the fall of 2007, in response to Val’s pleas, we acquired a foreign exchange student from Portugal. Ines (pronounced E-nish) joined our family the day before Thanksgiving. Though she had already been in America for several months, she still had lots to learn about our country and a whole lot to learn about how we did things in my house.

The Christmas cookie baking started the end of November as scheduled. Ines was in awe. She had never baked cookies in her homeland, and apparently no one else did either. She had only ever eaten store-bought cookies in Portugal. That was impossible for me to believe, but c’est la vie. (She also found cupcakes fascinating and couldn’t believe that they were just cake made in

The cookies went into the freezer as normal, but Ines couldn’t understand why.

“We save them and bring them out for Christmas.”

“But, why?” That turned out to be her favorite phrase.

December 24 arrived and I went down to the basement to fill a plate of cookies from the freezer. Most of the containers were still pretty full, but I did pull out a large Ziploc bag with only one Peanut Blossom remaining.

“Ines! These cookies were for Christmas!”

Her answer was “But, why?”

I wasn’t really angry, but I always try to learn from my misfortunes. By May I was busy planning the graduation party for both Val and Ines. I wanted to have some chocolate chip cookies on hand, so I baked a batch to put away for Memorial Day weekend. It dawned on me that the freezer wouldn’t be safe, so I hid them in a cabinet in the far corner of the basement.

Sometime, in mid-August, I was going through said cabinet and made a discovery. The chocolate chip cookies which I had hidden and completely forgotten. C’est la vie.

Nick, Ines and Val Christmas Day 2007

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.
Luke 2:19 (from The Message Bible)

Every mother has high hopes for her baby from the minute he or she is born. What will he grow up to be? Who will she look like? Will he be smart? Will she be popular? A million questions run through every mother’s head when she sees her newborn baby. Mary had the same questions, and one more that we wouldn’t ask. What will happen to the Son of God?
If you have read the entire Bible or have never opened one, if you’re in church every weekend or just for funerals and weddings, you still have heard the story, you know how this baby’s life on this earth ends. Unless you have lived your whole life under a rock somewhere, you know that the baby Jesus grows up, shares the truth about His Father, and dies an unimaginably painful death on a cross.

Imagine that you are Mary or Joseph and you could see your baby’s future and know that horrible end? How could you have any joy in your life? Believe it or not, God knew the horrible end His son would face and still He sent His son to us, so that we would not have to face that pain ourselves.

Friday, December 17, 2010


My daughter and me
Were planning a party of “C”
To serve things that start with that letter
There’d be chips, chocolate and cake
Carmel corn, cookies to bake
And much more to make it all better

So we made our guest list
And told them our wish
That they bring all things starting with “C”
When the day came around
Our friends brought what they’d found
All their “C” things to bring us all glee

My sister came last
Looking rather downcast
For she brought not a thing to the party
She said she had tried
But no food came to her mind
Only one word that started with “C”

She had been diagnosed
With what we all fear the most
The one “C” word we all hate to hear
But I said it’s OK
She came for the day
And her “C” word could be to bring cheer

Whether cookies or chips
Cancer, chemo or surgical clips
All are still gifts whether we feel hate or love
And when one gift we get
That we’d rather not met
We must put our trust in our Father above.

(Written October 26, 2001,
a little over two years after my sister, and best friend, died from uterine cancer.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Whether you guessed it or not, I am an obsessive planner. When the family finally pins down where they want to go for any vacation, I am all over it. BWWW (Before World Wide Web), I would send for all kinds of brochures and maps and triple A information on the places we hoped to see. Once I got internet at home, it was a whole new ball game.

I would calculate the route, find the most reasonable hotels, draw up a budget. That must have been before I had a life; when would I ever find the time to do that now?

The spring of 1999 was no different. The kids’ grandparents in Colorado wanted them out for another visit that summer. It was the same as in the past, fly Nick and Val out and we would drive out and pick them up, taking our time coming back home. I made the hotel reservations and Grandma C made the plane reservations.

It didn’t turn out that way. All the hotel reservations got cancelled. Grandma C changed the plane reservations to round-trip. I regret that I sent them but at the time, it seemed the thing to do. Nick was thirteen, Val was only nine. Wouldn’t they be better off spending that week in June with their grandparents, with relatives on their dad’s side of the family. Why would they want to spend that week in the nursing home, the funeral home, Woodlawn Cemetery?

It was bad enough that a few weeks before, they had spent the weekend swimming at a hotel in Wausau, so they could actually see me each day when I left my sister’s side for a few hours, and so they could see her while she still was conscious, coherent. Before the insidious cancer took its toll on her brain.

The end of June, my sister Pat’s husband brought the pop-up trailer over. He said that it was mine now. Inside was still her sleeping bag, the tin dishes she had bought at Fleet Farm, her inflatable mattress. Pat’s stuff, all Pat’s. Now and forever. Could I ever use this camper, would it ever be mine?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another Family Getaway

Have you noticed how it is very rare that you can recapture the moment, a time when you were content, with people who make you smile, in a place you feel at peace?

In the fall of 1996 we went on that wonderful family getaway up near Ironwood, with both my sisters, my mom, others, ten of us in all. So many things went awry, but it created such fond memories. In September of 1998, we tried to recreate that time. It wasn't a bad weekend, in fact nothing even went wrong. I think one of the kids got a scratch.

So what was different that weekend? We rented a double cabin at North Twin Lake in Phelps. Let’s see. It must have been my two kids, my mom, my sister Judy, her husband, their son, his girlfriend and four of Judy’s grandchildren. Maybe I was just out of sorts because my husband had stayed home to build a garage for us.

The weather was beautiful, the kids got to go swimming, we took a leisurely pontoon ride around the lake. But the magic just wasn't there. Was it because my sister Pat was becoming too weak from her cancer to join us? Was it because we had too many kids to balance out the adults? I don't know, and I suppose it is nothing to sweat. Hopefully, others in the family took away warm memories from the weekend.

I mostly took away melancholy. Would things ever be the same?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Gift for the Granmas

Since Christmas is right around the corner, let me share the story of the 1998 Christmas gift for the grandmas.

You know how certain people, like your parents, always say, “Don’t get me anything for Christmas. I don’t need anything.” In the never ending search to get my mother and my mother-in-law the perfect gift, Himey and I came up with this great idea.

Sometime in September or October, we gave each of them an early Christmas present, a gift certificate for an all-expenses-paid trip to the House on the Rock, redeemable only on November 14.

I picked the mothers up at their homes and the kids up at school on Friday afternoon and we headed south. We stayed at the Cedarberry Inn in Sauk City that night, and let Nick and Val swim in the pool for a while before going to bed.

In the morning, after free continental breakfast, we drove to Spring Green to the famous House on the Rock. My mother had been there many times, even more times than I had, if that is possible. My mother-in-law, however, had never seen it before and was totally enchanted with the whole place.

As I’ve already shared in previous blogs, and as you already know if you have been there, the House on the Rock is so much more than that. The House itself is cool enough, but then there are these rambling buildings that take you through time and space, around the world and back with seemingly endless displays of toys, dolls, music machines, ships, even paperweights. It’s a huge crazy place; though filled with antiques, it is nothing like any museum you’ve been to.

So, for the person who has everything, it is just an idea. Or take them to the Mall of America, or a ballgame or maybe even just to a new park.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. Luke 2:6-7 (from The Message Bible)

Whenever I get to this part of the story, I can never quite believe that Mary and Joseph traveled to the city of their ancestors and there was no one in the little village who would take them in. Also, being as Bethlehem was a little village, did they really have any inns, anyway? It wasn’t like Bethlehem was just off the interstate and there was a Super 8 to cater to the camel drivers. The word here, inn, would be better translated to inner room.
Joseph and Mary probably found some relatives who would give them lodging, but they already had house guests sleeping in their inner room, or guest room. The only space left for company was the stable, which wasn’t a cave out back, as usually depicted. Homes at the time more often had the area for the animals in the same building. It made more sense that way, the animals would be kept safe and they would throw off body heat to warm the house in the cold of night.
Yes, Jesus was probably placed in the manger - what a perfect crib that would make, don‘t you think? But I picture that Mary was surrounded by female relatives along with the cattle and donkeys.
Why do we always see Mary and Joseph in this cave by themselves with the baby Jesus and the farm animals? Because Jesus was born in the most humble of places, as foretold in scripture, and from these humble beginnings he would become king. But at that time, you had to be born in a palace to ever become a king. So whether he was born in a cave, or in the stable within the home of a common, working class family, he would never be able to rise to a position of ruling a kingdom. Of course, they did not realize at the time what it really meant to rule the kingdom, to rule the world.

If you have children, were they born in a clean bright hospital? Can you imagine giving birth any place else? Your bathroom floor? The back seat of a car? A barn? The women of the Bible never gave birth somewhere sterile. There was no such place back then.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Doe

Since this week is pretty much shot, let me entertain you with something new. Not really new. It is 35 years old - holy cow, that ages me!

The Doe
She was standing there
With head held high,
Without a thought
Or care gone by.
A velvet nose
That twitched at the breeze,
An ear she turned
To listen with ease.
A glittering eye
That caught all sights,
A fidgety tail
Underside white.
She was a deer,
A young lovely doe,
Who stood in the clearing
Knee-deep in snow.

(Written December 1975 and actually published in Poet's Review in 1995. The next scary revelation is that I have a folder of 129 such poems, so you let me know if you want to be mortified by any more of them. Maybe I can put a weekly poem into my schedule?)

(One other thing. The picture isn't mine; it's clipart. And it is also not a whitetail; it's a mule deer.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mom has been in a funk all week, so I thought somebody better put something on her blog or all her followers will forget her and then she will really be down. The first of the week she had something called a “my grain”. It doesn’t sound like it would be so bad, if you were a horse or goat. “My bacon” sounds better to me. But back to Mom.

Whatever this “my grain” was that she had, she pretty much didn’t do anything except crawl in bed when she was home for three days straight. Like usual, I tried to help by being sure to jump on the bed with her and sleep on her feet. They don’t call me the wonder dog for nothing.

She is feeling better now, except that she is still down in the dumps. I think she is worried a lot about Dad and my boy and my girl.

Christmas is coming and well, if you read this Mom, you don’t have to buy me anything this year. Don’t tell me that Santa got it for me. I know you do all the shopping for Santa. I know you buy all our presents so that Santa can get stuff for the little kids who really need toys from him, coz, well, little kids need toys.

Anyway, to all Mom’s loyal fans, here are pictures of the cats. They make Mom smile so I hope they make you smile too.

Betty and Fred - Betty has a really pretty face, but I couldn't get her to look at the camera, and Fred is just weird. He thinks he's Dad's cat and is a snob to everyone else.
Alice and Cheshire are the babies. Aren't they cute? Alice gets to stay in the house all the time, but the rest of them only come in for a few hours in the evening.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendent of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. (Luke 2:4-5, from The Message Bible)

The people of the time placed a lot of importance on their ancestors. Various characters all throughout the Bible will have whole lists written of their descendants. It would only make sense to them that if they were all going to be counted that they would go to the hometowns of their ancestors.

Looking on a map, Nazareth appears to be fairly close to Bethlehem, approximately 90 miles. It would’ve taken them at least several days, though, to walk that distance, especially with Mary being pregnant. We always picture Mary riding a donkey with Joseph walking beside her. There’s no mention though in the Bible that she rode a donkey, and being that they were relatively poor, it is possible that she was walking right along with Joseph.

When we take a trip somewhere, we make plans. We study a map and pack our bags. Things were different in Jesus’ time. There was no GPS, no triple A, and not even a spacious SUV. The donkey might have been their only luxury. Maybe. If they had a donkey. Imagine taking a week-long trip without any of the comforts we are used to. Now, imagine being pregnant besides.

(Two years ago I wrote a devotional, The Christmas Story in 40 Days, describing the events leading up to the birth of Christ. Through the month of December, I will share a passage from that book each week in my Sunday blog. I hope you enjoy – I will as during this busy time of the year, I won’t have to write one each week! Have a blessed Christmas season.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

What are my strongest memories of the 1998 family vacation to Kentucky?
Hmm? A hotel room that looks like a tepee? An insanely hot and noisy boat trip? A whiny daughter? An orphaned puppy? And I never even wrote about the Louisville Slugger Bat Factory.

I remember best the walk to the Laundromat two blocks away from our hotel in Winchester where I sat watching the clothes spin while Himey and the kids swam in the outside pool as storm clouds brewed. Back in the room, as everyone else crawled into bed for the night, I found a mesmerizing show on PBS. Himey mocked me, but I just had to watch it for the entire two hours. “I’m not insane, I’m just plane crazy.” It was about some guy building a light-weight airplane from scratch. I don’t know why, but I had to see it through to the end.

The next day we went to Lexington’s Horse Park.

Why is it that so many girls, when they hit about eight or nine years old, fall madly in love with everything horse. By the time they reach their mid to late teens that infatuation has waned, often times giving way to boys. But for that five to seven year stretch, they drive everyone around them nuts by talking, reading, sleeping nothing but horses.

I was no different. Pat and I would ride our imaginary horses everywhere we went. Mine was a dull brown quarter horse mare named Patches, but in the spring, when the Triple Crown approached, I trained my thoroughbred, Eagle River.

We knew all the horses who had won the Kentucky Derby and every year we yearned for another Triple Crown winner. 1948’s Citation had been way, way before our time. When Secretariat roared into the scene we were ecstatic. Who would be the next horse to defeat his Triple Crown record?

Two years later, in 1975, Foolish Pleasure won the Derby, but he wasn’t the only horse making headlines. A large filly had impressively won the ten races she had entered. She hadn’t run in any of the Triple Crown races; it’s never been common practice for the females to race their male counterparts in the big races, though several fillies have won these races against the boys.

Ruffian was as tall as any of the young studs and was dark brown, nearly black, in color. She was entered in a match race against Foolish Pleasure in July of ’75.

I was an emotional thirteen-year-old that summer. I cried the entire day after that match race. Guess things don’t change that much though, because I got pretty emotional when I picked up the book of Ruffian’s life at The Kentucky Horse Park all those many years later.

I regret a lot of stupid things in my life. And to this day I regret not buying that book. I need to go now and check out

Thursday, December 2, 2010

So, now you know how the kids faired in Kentucky. What about my dear husband?

While Nick and Val were in Mammoth Cave for two hours, we decided to take a boat tour of the Green River. It was so beastly hot that day. We thought that maybe riding down the river there would be at least a cool breeze, some air movement. No such luck. Add to that that there was a toddler on board who only quit screaming long enough to listen to his mom scream back at him, and well, it was just a whole lot of fun. Gotta have those memories.

After the night in the Wigwam Village, we headed into the Daniel Boone National Forest. Our first stop was Mill Springs Mill. It was historic and picturesque and all that touristy stuff, but what got us was the puppy.

A man who appeared to work there held in his lap a young hound, its skin too big for its bony body. “Someone just dropped him off by the side of the road.” He rubbed the soft brown ears. “How can anyone do that to such a sweet thing? You know anyone who would take him?”

“Well, we’re just here on vacation. We’re from Wisconsin,” I rationalized, while Himey gave me the ‘look’.

“He’d make somebody a great dog.”

Himey continued to give me the look. “Boy, we gotta get going.” I nudged the family to the car.

Even though Shadow, our neurotic black cocker, was waiting for us at home, this little mutt came mighty close to getting in that car with us. It crossed our minds that it would cut our trip short but we still almost made the sacrifice. Then we came to our senses and left the little fella behind.

Yahoo Falls was physically more painful. A beautiful falls and reportedly the tallest in Kentucky, it is at the bottom of a quarter mile trail, straight down. The hike down was bad enough, crawling back up the path in the 90 plus heat with dripping humidity was tortuous. Even dangerous, as sweat ran off of us with more force than the water over the Falls.

We made it though, and each chugged a bottle-full of water before we got to the next stop, Cumberland Falls. While Yahoo Falls may claim to be the tallest, Cumberland takes the largest category. Himey especially liked this place because the trail to the falls rated a much lower sweat-factor. Also, some little old lady befriended him and they walked back to the parking lot together, possibly hand-in-hand or at least hand-on-arm.

Himey, though, was due for his misfortunes too. As mentioned in an earlier blog, his family came to Wisconsin from Kentucky, Breathitt County to be exact. We stopped one day at Jackson, the county seat, to see if we could find any family history for him.
After driving around town for a bit, we found the Breathitt County Museum. It was closed because the woman who runs it had a stroke. I am an absolutely awful person because for some reason I thought that was humorous.

I picture her being 90-years-old, half-blind, deaf and tottering around the museum with her walker. The poor little thing. Couldn’t some high school student from town help her out over the summer and do all the work so she doesn’t have to stroke-out with all the records she has to archive, all the tourists from out-of-town tracking down long-dead relatives?

Needless to say, we didn’t find anything out about the history of my husband’s clan.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Since last night’s blog seemed to focus on Val’s misfortunes, let me spend tonight on Nick, my boy scout.

A little known fact is that in 1998 the National Scouting Museum was in Murray, Kentucky. If you think you will look that information up on line, don’t bother. The museum on the campus of Murray State University in western Kentucky opened in 1986, but was moved to its present location in Irving, Texas, in 2002.

An even less known fact is that on Sundays it didn’t open until 12:30. Which we didn’t know either, until we pulled up to the door at 9:10am on a Sunday and read the sign. Himey and I were disappointed, but were more worried about Nick. He’d been a boy scout for four years and his dream was to get his Eagle. I asked him if he wanted to wait around until it opened.

But being the polar opposite of a drama queen, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “whatever”.

As mentioned in last night’s blog, later that day he took the elevator up the Jefferson Davis Monument. He took some pictures from the top of us ants on the ground, but other than that didn’t return to us overly emotional.

At Mammoth Cave, however, he let out all the stops. Several months before our trip to Kentucky, I bought tickets for both the kids to take the Trog tour. It’s a spelunking experience designed especially for kids to get a taste of the off-the-trail cave, to feel what it would be like to be the first one to explore the cave.

We hadn’t told either Nick or Val about it until we got there and sprung it on them. They both did have a good time, and I don’t think Val even had a complaint when they came out all dusty and hot. I take that back, I think they both whined that the tour was over and we had to get going.

That night, we sprung another surprise on them. We stayed at the Wigwam Village. It is something right out of the 1940’s. The picture pretty much says it all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My husband Himey hales from Crandon, where everyone is proud to say that they are “Kentucks”. Thus, in 1998, he thought it would be great fun to discover his roots and take a family vacation to Kentucky. Any time it requires getting in the car and leaving town, I am game for it.

The goal for the first day was a Motel 6 in Paducah, 648 miles from home. Our only interesting stop all day was in Illinois, just before crossing the river into Kentucky. That little town in Illinois would be none other than Metropolis, the home of Superman, or so the Chamber of Commerce would lead us to believe.

We drove down to Main Street to get our obligatory picture taken next to the giant Superman statue. Just prior to that, however, Val had a camera crisis and so refused to get out of the car. We all love Val to death, but if anyone is going to have a meltdown on any given day, it will be my daughter.

Val had several more misfortunes that trip. She left her brand-new shoes on the picnic table at a road side park. Later that day, at I believe a Pamida-type store, it took her 15 minutes to find another pair.

At the Jefferson Davis Monument, Nick got to take the elevator to the top, all by himself. For some strange reason – was she too short? – Val couldn’t go, so Himey and I waited in the park with her. She was not happy about that. “Why does Nick get to do everything?”

And at the Horse Park in Lexington, there was no food that she would eat. After the rest of us had finished our BBQ pork, potato salad and corn on the cob, Himey took her to the car for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

In the Travel Log, I documented two other times –“Val is bummed’ and “Val is already miserable” – but I don’t even remember what that was all about. Poor kid.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

(Two years ago I wrote a devotional, The Christmas Story in 40 Days, describing the events leading up to the birth of Christ. For the next five weeks, I will share a passage from that book each week in my Sunday blog. I hope you enjoy – I will, as during this busy time of the year, I won’t have to write one each week! Have a blessed Christmas season. )

"The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced."
(Matthew 1:18-19, from The Message Bible)

In Biblical times, to be engaged to someone was as legally binding as being married. The only difference was that the couple was not yet living together, and thus, unlike many couples today, not having sex. Joseph’s only option, when he found out that Mary was pregnant, was to cancel the marriage contract and divorce her. He could do this publicly, which would mean the masses had the right to stone her. Or he could do it quietly, in front of only two witnesses, which would hopefully save Mary’s honor and her life.

Joseph had a lot to think about. When we are faced with difficulties, do we look at all possible solutions? Or do we just plunge in and do the first thing we think of? Next time you have a challenge to face, look at all your options before taking action. And most importantly, take time to pray.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Raise your hand if, when you were a kid, everyone fit around the dining room table for thanksgiving. If you raised your hand, I think you are in the minority. Most of the people I know put the young ones at a separate table – the kids’ table – because there is not enough room around the kitchen table. And if you had small rooms in your house, like the one where I grew up, the kids’ table wasn’t even in the same room.

I used to think, man, I can’t wait until I’m older so I can sit at the adult table and listen to adult talk. I remember joining the grown-ups for one year and quickly decided that the kids’ table was more fun. If the kids couldn’t be at the big table, I didn’t want to be either.

Ever since I was one of those kids, segregated to a different room whenever there was a large family gathering, I dreamed of having a dining room big enough to accommodate all the guests. One big table like they have in TV shows and on the Hallmark channel.

Well, I don’t have a dining room big enough. I can sit eight comfortably around my dining room table, and can put two more at the kitchen counter, a card table in the hallway. Not what I had pictured all those years ago.

Suddenly, about four years ago, I think, I had an epiphany. I don’t have a big enough dining room, but I have a big enough living room. It was only through the good-naturedness of my husband and my son, that every thanksgiving morning since then, the dining room table gets dragged into the living room, muscled through three doorways. Aunt Helen’s little side table with its amazing features pulls out to six feet. And the two tables combined comfortably fit as many people as I need it to. Chairs don’t match and some of the silverware has questionable origins (i.e. a dorm in Madison from the 1980s), but we are all at one table in one room. Not quite as pretty as TV, but it works for me.

Hope you had as blessed a thanksgiving as we did.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

One Friday in June 1998, Pat and I decided to take a ride up north to the Porcupine Mountains. We took Val along for fun. We needed that.

I can think of three times when I stayed in a hotel room with my sister Pat. This trip. A swank hotel in Milwaukee with our parents for my cousin’s wedding in the 1970’s. And that dumpy hotel near the University of Wisconsin Hospitals, where we went for one last ditch effort at a cure for Pat’s cancer.

What am I thankful for this thanksgiving and every thanksgiving since 1999? That God gave me those 37 amazing years with my sister Pat. And the knowledge that some day we will go camping together again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

After Himey settled me down with the journal purchase, my next crisis occurred about four hours later. Several people had given us JCPenneys’ gift cards for the wedding and we thought we could get something with them on our way through Madison. About the time we were eating lunch at the Perkins in Marshfield, I realized I didn’t have the gift cards with me. The last time I remembered seeing them, they were with the stack of thank you cards. The stack I had dropped in the mail slot much earlier that day.

A frantic call to the post office turned out to be fruitless. All we could do was wait until we could call the kids after they got home from school and see if the gift cards had gotten left behind on the kitchen counter.

Several stops and many hours later we checked into the Lamb’ Inn in Richland Center. What a charming farmhouse and what an absolute sweetheart of a hostess. I had never stayed in a Bed and Breakfast before and it was a such treat, a wonderful experience. If you have never been to one either, it is something you need to try.

Bright and early the next morning we arrived at the House of the Rock. I have been there so many times before, but it just never gets boring. It is always a new adventure and was made even more so by being able to show it to Himey for the first time.

The southeast area of the state really has a lot of fascinating things to see. Dodgeville, Mineral Point, Mt Horeb, New Glaurus are all charming little towns with just enough tourist-ism to keep them interesting without being garish. (My barometer is that Wisconsin Dells and Las Vegas are garish.)

Grandview, on a hill just outside of Hollandale, was an unexpected surprise. In the 1930’s immigrant Nick Engelbert began creating concrete sculptures, not stopping until he had over 40 of the figures on his small farm. He even covered every square inch of his house with concrete embedded with pieces of glass, beads, buttons, and anything else he found lying around. What we call American Folk Art at its best.

(Oh, yes, and the $120 worth of Penney's gift cards were on the kitchen table when we got home, and we didn't spend them until a trek to Madison on February 6, 1998, but that is another trip.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

“Oh, shoot,” I said as we pulled the car up in front of the post office. “I forgot to bring along any paper so I can write about this weekend.”

“Well, you run in and mail the thank you cards, and I will run across the street and buy you a notebook.”

That would be why, on October 4, 1997, I had married that man. Himey was the friend of a friend. As soon as my divorce from Dan was final, a friend of mine told me that as soon as I was ready to date, she knew a guy who would be perfect for me. Well, no guy is perfect, as we all know, but Himey did turn out to be my soul-mate. And that is about as good as it gets.

That particular day, two weeks after the wedding, we were leaving town for a weekend honeymoon to southern Wisconsin. Himey ran across the street to the Ben Franklin and bought the most amazing book. “Project Planner” is inscribed in gold on the cover. He told the checkout at the store what the book was for and even the checkout agreed that it would be ideal.

So guess what? My main reference for the next twelve years’ worth of travels will be this perfect travel log. Unless it is pertinent to the particular trip, I will try not to bore you with the mileage or the money we spent, even though it is all documented. I’ll also try to skip some of the potty breaks and benign purchases we made along the way. But it is always hard to tell what I might find interesting on any individual journey.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:18-20 (New Living Translation)

As I was driving down the road last weekend, I noticed all the different storage units for rent. I started wondering, “who puts their stuff in a storage unit and why?”

I am sure there are many valid reasons for storing your things in some place other than your home. You are in transition from one place to another and don’t have room right now. You are going to down size, come spring when you can have a rummage sale. You are waiting for your new college-graduate to get settled and take his stuff with him.

I look around my basement and think to myself, “I could use a storage unit. Then I could clean up this place.” Or better yet, I could just get rid of all that junk. What am I saving it for anyway? My rationale usually is, “This stuff is too good to just throw out, but nobody else wants it, so I will have to keep it until I find a use for it or someone who does want it.”

I think we all have material objects throughout our homes that we really don’t need or want, but for some reason, we keep hanging onto them. We have to remember that it is all just “stuff”. It can be replaced or we can simply do without it. There are more important things which we cannot live without.

The basics like food, shelter and clothing. Family or friends to support us, defend us and comfort us. A reason to roll out of bed every morning.

Find what is really important to keep in your life and get rid of the rest of it. And maybe then there will be more room in your life for a saving relationship with your Heavenly Father.

This strange little building near Saikeri in Kenya, Africa, reminds me of some of our storage units. But guess what, people in Kenya have no extra stuff to store away somewhere. They use everything they've got.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The SS Meteor is the last of the remaining whalebacks, ships so named for their rounded hulls. Designed by Captain Alexander McDougall, the Frank Rockefeller, as she was originally named, launched from Superior in 1896. Over her many years of service, she carried a variety of cargos on the Great Lakes, including iron ore, grain, cars, and oil and was originally registered at nearly three thousand gross tons. She was big and sleek and ran throughout the Great Lakes until 1969. In 1972 she was brought home to Superior and is now permanently berthed on Barker’s Island.

It always causes my head to fill with romantic visions of brave men spending sleepless nights keeping the ship on course when the winds of Lake Superior blow cold and fierce. It brings to mind the men of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Maybe that has always been a part of the draw for me to the Great Lake among the Great Lakes. Hard work, perseverance against stacked odds, a hand-numbing cold, life hanging in the balance - literally - on an ice-covered deck.

In any case, that summer of 1997, my sister Pat and I took Nick and Val into the belly of the SS Meteor. Granted, she was cleaned up for tourists and sitting still, harbored forever in the city of her birth, but in her narrow passageways, it was easy to run a hand along her cold steel and know where she had been, the stories she still stored away in her spirit.

Wow. Was that a little bit too much?

The next place we visited that day was Fairlawn, a mansion built in 1890 by wealthy lumber and mining baron, Martin Pattison. The fascinating story behind this house is that it was a children’s home from 1920 to 1962.

That’s where my imagination really took off. And someday I am going to write a story about some of the nearly 2000 children who called Fairlawn their home. Anyone want to give me ideas for plot lines?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don’t you love looking into other people’s cars when they are driving down the road and they just are totally oblivious to the fact that you can see everything they are doing?

Pat, the kids and I were tooling down the highway in northern Wisconsin one summer, towing the camper, on our way to Amnicon Falls State Park, when we noticed this beat-up green Vega in front of us. It looked like there had to be at least four kids in the back seat, none in car seats. They ranged in age from maybe five to ten years old. One kid would hit someone, then that kid would hit someone else. Then all of a sudden another head would bounce up in the back window and someone would grab him and throw him down on the seat. This kept going on for miles. Pat and I kept thinking, what is going on in that car and are there any responsible adults in it?

Boing, there went another head bobbing up from the seat. Smack, there went someone else’s head against the window. I am not kidding you. It was crazy.

We hate to admit it, but we are all used to the guy passing us in his 1978 Chevy pickup, and we look over and he’s picking his nose. But this little compact car we followed for ten miles was nuts.

That was just the the start of a short camping trip to the area around Superior, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One other really memorable thing came out of the first trip with the new camper back in 1997. The now world famous Happy Dance.

I have talked to enough people to know that my sister Pat and I are not the only ones with this idiosyncrasy. Now, be honest. When you travel somewhere, do your bowel movements get off track? I mean, don’t you sometimes get constipated when your schedule is different or you can’t get comfortable in a strange bathroom or you just don’t have time to sit like you usually do at home?

Complicate that by trying to do your business in a smelly, dark, spider-infested outhouse. And I think you can sympathize with us. We usually end up with backed-up bowels within a day or so of any camping trip.

So, it was with sheer joy, that Pat came two-stepping out of the latrine the second day. She even sang a song. Something like, “I can sing, I can prance, I can do the happy dance. I went poo and you can too.” (I am sorry, I really have no idea what she sang that day, but honest-Injun she did sing something that she had just made up.)

Ever after, on any trip which Pat or I went on, when we took a good healthy dump, we came out of the bathroom dancing. And in the first paragraph of this blog, when I say it is now world famous, I mean it. I don’t know if you were with me when I blogged about my African trip, but before we came home, the rest of the team which I traveled with were also all doing the happy dance.
Waiting to use the facilities during our stay in the African Bush.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Well, nuts, somehow or other I managed to miss an entire camping trip. I cannot believe that in my photo scanning frenzy, I didn’t catch any of these pictures. You will just have to use your imagination.

Early in the spring of 1997, Pat, on a drive west of town, spied a pop-up camper for sale in someone’s yard. She called me up, all excited.

“What do you think about getting a camper, a pop-up trailer? It would be so nice, don’t you think?”

I honestly don’t remember going to look at it; I think I may have just say, “Go for it, and let me know what I owe you for my half.”

It didn’t take us long to try it.

Our first trip was to a rustic campground in the Nicolet National Forest just past Eagle River. Luna and White Deer are the names of the two lakes which border the campground, one on each side. The lakes are small, so small that they don’t allow motorboats, which is ideal for us. It meant peace and quiet. White Deer also had a fairly decent beach.

We chose a site along White Deer Lake. This site was also right next to the outhouse, but neither of those were reasons why we picked it. We settled on that site because Pat felt she could best back the camper into it.

Shortly after we got the camper set up, it started to rain. We took cover inside and played cribbage. And said to each other, “Ha, ha, ha! This rain is not going to dampen our spirits. We are high and dry in the trailer. Ha, ha, ha!” We were pretty full of ourselves that time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

He said, "Go, and tell this people:
'Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.' Isaiah 6:9 (New American Standard Bible)

I’ve had “cheaters” for years. In fact for a long time I had a pair of reading glasses in every room, until I wised up and bought one of those eyeglass holders for around your neck. I call it my eyes on a rope.

Four years ago when I was at the eye doctor, I told him, “I think I’m going blind.”

“No,” he casually answered. “You are just getting old.” As if that would make me feel better. And then he offered me bifocals, which I declined.

Two years ago, he told me the same thing. He put a pair of lenses to my face, opened the door and let me look out into the department store.

“Hmm?” I said. “So things at a distance really aren’t supposed to be blurry?”

Needless to say, I got bifocals.

In another few months it will be time for me to go back to the optometrist again. I am hoping he doesn’t say I need trifocals. That will be the next thing.

But my eyes can be corrected with glasses, and then I can see. What about people who see without perceiving? Or people who hear without listening?

In the Bible, God told Isaiah that that was exactly what was going to be the case. He didn’t want the people to understand what was going to happen. Why would He do that?

It was not yet time. If the Israelites in the Old Testament book of Isaiah understood what God was telling them, what was happening to them, they would have learned nothing. It all would have been handed to them.

They had to go through all the rough spots, learn their lessons, come to appreciate what an awesome God they had. And if you have read the Old Testament, you probably realize that it took them many times to figure things out, to come to trust God unconditionally.

How many times does God have to show you and tell you something before you get it?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bear Country, USA. Believe it or not I had never been there as a kid. It is one of those animal parks where you stay in your car and drive through. The thought is that you are seeing the wild animals up close and personal and in their own environment. We all know it is totally natural for cars to be driving around in the backwoods where bear and wolf and bison used to live in the days of the Wild West.

We went early in the morning, thinking that the animals would be more alert, but most of the residents were either sleeping in or had already had their breakfast and were taking their first nap of many for the day. None of them were very rowdy.

Except the bear cubs. They were just adorable. They sat in a line, chewing on each other’s ears, and making noise. Noise which would be purring if they were cats or sighing if they were human babies drifting off to sleep. It was a cross between a moan and a whine. They kept changing positions just enough so that no one cub went without an ear to suck on for very long. I am sure it all gave them great comfort, as if they were suckling on their mommas.

The next adventure that day, another one I never partook of in my youth, was the Black Hills Maze, a labyrinth of family fun (or so their website claims). They turn you loose in over a mile of walkways, bridges, etc., with a card to be stamped at each of the four corner towers. After you get your card stamped you just simply find your way out. Right.

Himey, being the party pooper he can be on occasion, sent me in with the kids, choosing to stay outside and wait for us. He also hugged the western wall, where I somehow managed to always find him.

“Himey, are you out there?” I would call through the fence, when I thought I saw his sneakers pacing the perimeter.

“I’m right here. How are you doing?” He knows how claustrophobic I am, so what kind of dumb question was that.

“I think I’ll be ok. But I lost the kids.”

“Do you want to crawl out under the fence and we will just leave them?”

This is why I married that man a few months later. We always read each other’s minds.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oh, South Dakota. The Black Hills. The Badlands. Custer State Park. Mt. Rushmore. Crazy Horse. If you have been following my blog since day one (or about day – I don’t know - ok, I had to count) – day 120, you know that I have been to that part of the country several times before. Hmm?? So what do you want to hear about this time?

Well, for starters, what should have been a simple straight shot from Colorado Springs to Rapid City, South Dakota, was full of events. I rolled up Himey’s finger in the window while we were sailing down the freeway. Then he rolled up Val’s finger in window. Then the kids were bored. I just hang my head whenever I hear that phrase. I can’t imagine ever saying “I’m bored” when I was a kid. I would have been cleaning out cupboards for a week. “Are you bored now?” Mom would continue to ask.

My goodness, I digress. So, anyway, to stave the boredom and because there were no radio stations we could agree on, we picked up a cassette tape (remember this was 1997) of the Peanuts sing country classics. Oh, my goodness, we had that entire tape memorized by the time we were out of Wyoming. ("I Got Friends in Low Places", "Any Man of Mine")

About that time, we stopped at a scenic overlook to overlook the scenery. And disaster struck.

Val’s grandma had bought her this tray of 1000 beads in every shape and color imaginable. For some reason, Val thought she had to have it at that time and pulled the box out of the safety of the trunk. In the blink of an eye, 950 beads were all over the gravel parking lot. And they could hear Val wailing all the way to Idaho.

It was not pretty. Well, I shouldn’t say that, the parking lot filled with sparkly beads was actually quite lovely.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park

In July 1997, my former in-laws decided they wanted their grandkids to come out to Colorado for a visit. Nick and Val flew out of the Minneapolis airport July 12 and the following week, Himey and I drove out to get them.

We left on a Friday afternoon, planning to pick up the kids at their grandparents sometime Sunday afternoon. Having made this trip many times before, I told Himey ahead of time that there just wasn’t much in Iowa, Nebraska or eastern Colorado. Somehow, he still managed to enjoy it.

Being as we spent Saturday night in Fort Morgan, Colorado, we knew we had a good portion of the day to waste before picking up the kids. We drove through Estes Park and the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park, then down to Castle Rock where I showed Himey the house I used to live in. I even took him to Daniel’s Park to get a great view of the castle on the Cherokee Ranch just west of Castle Rock. Since I had been there last, some developer had built an elaborate golf course on the land between the park and the castle, so he was more fascinated by that.

For it being our first long trip together, we were doing really well, no disparities at all, until we got into Colorado Springs. Having been there before, I had decided that I would drive, thinking I knew where I was going. I know that Himey will roll over, laughing hysterically, when he reads this, but I am without a doubt, the first to admit when I am lost.

“Honey,” I said, “Can you reach into the backseat, get out the map and tell me where we are and how to get to the hotel from here?”

“I don’t do maps,” he answered casually, making no move whatsoever for the backseat.

“What do you mean you don’t do maps?”

“I mean I don’t do maps.”

I felt my blood pressure rise, as I continued to navigate the unfamiliar streets, obviously on my own.

“What do mean you don’t do maps?” I asked yet again.

“I mean I don’t DO them.”

“Is this a personal conviction you have that I was not aware of? Or what? We are lost and I need you to read the map and tell me where we are.”

He read off the name of the street sign which we just passed and said that that was where we were.

Was he just trying to make me homicidal? Was he just being stupid? What was his problem? Just get out the stupid map!

About that time, I had a blackout. Oh, I kept driving and somehow we found the hotel, but I don’t remember how we got there. I just kept seeing black spots in front of my eyes. You know the ones I am talking about. The ones caused by an overload of anger spilling out all around your eye sockets.

Pike's Peak, I believe from our hotel in Colorado Springs

Monday, November 8, 2010

(Taken from the first page of the notebook that I kept of this trip)
What: Summer Vacation
When: July 18 thru 25
Where: Colorado and South Dakota
How: Driving my car many hot miles
Why: Because we like to go bumming
Thoughts prior to the trip:
Nick’s (age eleven: I may have seen the Black Hills, but there’s always something different to see. I can’t wait to see Grandma and Grandpa.
Val’s (age seven): I think it’s going to look cool out there.
Himey’s: Our first real family vacation. I hope we all have as much fun as I hope to. I’m looking forward to seeing land I’ve never seen before and doing it with the people I love.
Chris’s: I can’t wait to just get away from home and travel. It’s been a long time since I was out West and I’m anxious to how things have changed and how much I remember of the things that have stayed the same.

This is the first vacation where I turned anal about documentation. Tomorrow I will tell you how many miles we drove each day; how much money we spent each day on food, gas, hotels, etc.; and what time we did everything. Not only what actually happened, but also the estimates I calculated before we left home. Can’t you just wait?

I’m just kidding. I’ll try to make the trip more exciting than that.