Saturday, December 30, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 47

As we creep up on the end of 2017, it seems appropriate to write about New Year's Eve celebrations of the past.

How did your family celebrate New Year's Eve? How has it changed over time?

When I was growing up we did not make a big deal out of the last day of the year. My mom and dad sometimes played cards with the next door neighbors, and as they had a daughter my age, the two of us would play records, eat junk food and usually end up spending the night at one house or the other.

Time's Square
After I was married, we kept things pretty low-key as well. If we went out for dinner, we tended to eat early so we could get home before the drunks made roads unsafe. We would usually watch television, waiting for the big ball to drop in Time's Square. As our children got older, they would try and stay awake until midnight, and we would listen to the neighbors clanging metal pots and shooting off fireworks. As we have gotten older, we now try to stay awake until midnight!

I used to make New Year's resolutions, but I don't do that anymore. It always seemed to lead to disappointment and feeling bad about myself. Now I set goals throughout the year, and modify them as time and situations change. It keeps things more realistic that way.

The one thing that remains constant at the end of each year is my reflection on what has taken place over the past 12 months. It is a wonderful opportunity to think back on the many adventures that have taken place, and a chance to reflect on the blessings that have come my way.

Wishing all of you a happy and prosperous 2018!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 46

It is the eve of Christmas Eve, so a Christmas writing prompt is in order.

What are your earliest memories of Christmas?

aluminum tree
While my dad was quite thrifty throughout the rest of the year, he went all out for Christmas. He decorated the exterior of the house, stringing lights across the roof line, setting up the two oversized plastic candles, and hanging up the blinking Christmas bell by the front door. Inside various decorations were hung, and the Christmas tree set up and ornaments added. I don't ever remember us having a real tree, but have vivid recollections of the aluminum one which was adorned with blue glass balls similar to the one in the photo at left. The color wheel cast a rainbow of blue, red, orange and green as it whirled around and around. At one point dad purchased a second color wheel, adding to the explosion of color on the tree. Later the tree was replaced with a flocked aluminum tree, though the color wheels remained.

The manger was set up along with the other decorations, but the baby Jesus was not added until Christmas Eve. My brother and I fought about who would get to place the baby in the crib, so mom decided we would alternate years. Then we fought about who had gotten the honor the previous year. Mom couldn't win, I'm sure!

For as long as I can remember, Santa always came on Christmas Eve, and that is when we got to open our presents. When my brother and I were little, we took baths together after supper, and that darn Santa would always come when we were in the tub! As we got a little older, but were still believers, dad made us go with him on a quick trip to the store at that time, and sure enough Santa would come while we were away. Wily old man, that Santa.

Wish Book
When the Sears Wish Book would arrive in the mail, my brother and I would spend hours pouring through the catalog. We would circle items of interest so that Santa (and later our parents) would know what we wanted that year. Today's Amazon Wish List just doesn't have the same appeal as thumbing over and over again through a catalog filled with shiny new toys.

Gifts were plentiful in our household, or so it seemed to me growing up. I'm not sure if it was because he had so little as a child growing up during the depression, but dad was very generous at Christmastime. I think back on the anticipation and excitement of Christmas Eve, with the kaleidoscope of colors bouncing off the walls and ceiling, the Christmas albums playing on the record machine and everyone I loved huddled together in the living room of Des Moines. On that one evening each year, everything was perfect in my world. I'm grateful for the memories, and the songs, that can take me back to that place and time.
Christmas in Des Moines

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 45

Yesterday was my biannual visit to the dentist. Well, maybe I should say visit to the office, as my poor dentist came down with the flu and wasn't there. They offered to still clean my teeth anyway, and since I had it on my schedule I decided to go ahead and get it over with. Anyway, this ties in with my writing prompt for this week.

Describe your first visit to the dentist.

My parents, or maybe it was just my father, did not believe in taking us to the dentist. Money always seemed to be tight, and only extreme illnesses even prompted visits to the doctor. At my Catholic elementary school, a dentist came in once a year and looked at our teeth. Each year he sent a note home with me, stating that I had a cavity in a rear molar that needed to be looked at. The notes were routinely ignored.

It was not until I got my first job out of college and had both medical and dental coverage that I made my way into a dentist's office. It was somewhat scary as I had no idea what to expect. By then, I had several cavities, and the rear molar had mostly disintegrated. It was a huge surprise to the dentist that the tooth did not bother me, and that no root canal was necessary. She was actually able to build a crown over what little was left of the tooth. Even more surprising is the fact that the original crown is still solid and in place to this day!

Since that first dental visit I have been pretty diligent in keeping my six month appointments with the dentist, whether we had insurance at the time or not. My dad went to the grave with his original teeth intact, and I hope to do the same.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 44

Earlier this week a friend was telling me about a harrowing flight she experienced while traveling from New Zealand to Australia. That made me think about the time I was truly convinced my plane was going to crash.

What is the scariest flight you have ever been on?

When I was the Vice President of Marketing and Risk Management for a medical malpractice insurance company, one of many responsibilities was to inform doctors and their office staffs about the reasons lawsuits were filed. In order to accomplish that, in addition to brochures and newsletters, I set up seminars around Missouri and Kansas. The program consisted of having various speakers, including the president of our company (a physician), one of our defense attorneys, someone from the claims department and myself, explaining how mistakes had been made, the consequences of the mistakes, and suggestions on how to prevent such mistakes from happening.

similarly sized plane
On one such occasion the president, claims manager and I boarded a small, six seater plane at a regional airport to head to northwestern Missouri for an evening seminar. As the pilot attempted to move the plane towards the runway, we kept experiencing a bump. After a couple of attempts, it was determined that the pilot had forgotten to move the wheel chocks. That ended up to be an omen of how this flight was going to go.

We flew first to Jefferson City to pick up the attorney who was going to be joining us on the program that night. He boarded the plane, and the pilot placed the lawyer's materials in the cargo compartment before resuming his seat. As we began taxiing, alarms went off in the plane necessitating a return to the terminal. This time the pilot did not tightly shut the door of the cargo area. Strike two.

As we approached the airport of our final destination, the pilot made a series of sharp banks - so sharp that the alarms went off in the cockpit. I thought we were going to crash, and I'm pretty sure that our president, who was seated beside me, had my fingernail imprints in his arm for a week following this adventure. The pilot was able to right the plane, and we landed without further incident. But that was strike three in my book. And we still had to fly back with him that night!

It did not help my piece of mind to listen to the claims manager, whose previous job included investigating plane crashes, discuss our mishaps. If you have ever known anyone who worked insurance claims, they usually love to regale folks with stories they have come across. This was one time when I did not want to hear any of it.

We conducted our seminar, successfully dropped the attorney back in Jefferson City, and made it back to St. Louis without further mishaps. We drove to all future risk management seminars, and I have yet to fly on a plane of that size again. Perhaps we shouldn't have called the pilot Shirley? Ha, ha...

from the movie "Airplane"

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 43

Do you have any aunts or uncles who never had any children? What impact did they have on your life?

left to right, Marie with two of her sisters
Stell in middle and my mom
Catherine on the right in the '40s
My mother was one of eight children, not counting two who did not survive childbirth. The oldest child was Marie, and she never married or had children. She was very pretty when she was younger, and used to date, according to her sisters. But my dad speculated that a guy must have gotten "fresh" with Marie, as she never had a man in her life once she became a young woman.

Aunt Marie worked in the office of a major department store in Cincinnati, a job she kept until retirement. She took the bus downtown every day, having never learned to drive. She remained living with her mom and dad, so we got to see her when we visited my grandparents. She was always sweet and loving to us, and sometimes she would take a bus and come to see us in Chicago or Des Moines for her vacation.

I never saw her in anything other than a dress. I don't believe that she owned a pair of pants and certainly not any shorts. The small, shot-gun style house that she shared with her parents had no air conditioning, and the only toilet and shower were in the basement until my grandparents were older. Then the pantry off the kitchen was converted into a half bath.

My memories of my grandparents are fairly vague, but I can vividly see my aunt lighting the huge gas stove to make coffee or a meal, and see her standing at the old sink doing dishes. Sometimes when I kept her company in the kitchen I would sit on the old Formica table just to have her scoop me off with the admonishment, "Tables are for glasses, not for little asses!" Then we would burst into laughter, and it was all the more funny to me as Marie was not one for swearing.

One summer summer I stayed with Marie by myself, and I had arrived before she got home from work. I went in the kitchen to get some pop, and I heard squeaking noises from behind the refrigerator. Thinking it was a mouse, I quickly ran out to the front porch until it was time for me to meet her at the bus stop. As soon as I saw here I told her about the noise. "Oh, that's a bat," she nonchalantly stated. I stared at her incredulously. "A ba-a-a-t?", I exclaimed! All of a sudden a mouse didn't seem like a big deal. "It escaped from the attic", she informed me. Great, I thought to myself, I'm not going to sleep in one of the beds upstairs. I'll take the couch.

At the time I had waist-length hair, and the common perception was that a bat would fly towards it and get tangled in the hair. I had to come up with a way to get the bat out of the house - or I was going to go batty with worry. That night after it got dark we turned on the back porch light, then turned off all the lights inside the house. The thought was that the bat would fly towards the porch light. My job was to slam the door shut when the bat hit the screen door. Meanwhile, Marie was outside and would open the screen door to let the bat go. It was a perfect plan, right up until the time that I slammed the door on the bat, smashing it. Marie had to take a broom and sweep it up and into a trash can.

What a memory! All of my thought of Marie are good ones (well, maybe with the exception of the bat), as she was kind and caring and never had a cross word to say. She nursed her parents as they grew old, and she made by hand baby quilts for new additions to the family tree. An unfortunate accident later in life caused her to be paralyzed from the neck down, forcing her out of her childhood home and into a nursing home. She could no longer travel, read, knit, sew or do any of the activities that she loved. But we never heard her express a word of discontent over her circumstances. She died not long after celebrating her 90th birthday. After she died, I tried to put my feelings about her into the following poem, which was displayed at her funeral. She lived a long life in a manner that many people could learn a lot from. I hope that I emulate her, at least to some extent.

poem for Marie

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 42

As this is Thanksgiving week, I'm going with that theme as my writing prompt.

What is your favorite part of Thanksgiving? Why?

When Jim and I were first married, we alternated holidays with our parents. We drove to Des Moines our first Thanksgiving, and then to Charles City for Christmas that year. The next year we headed to Charles City for Thanksgiving and to my parent's house for Christmas. This went on until we had our second child and traveling two holidays so close together became too difficult. At that point our parents often came to our house for Thanksgiving.

While I enjoy the ritual of preparing the turkey and all the side dishes, for me the holiday is more about being with our families. Because we have lived so far away from them the entire time we've been married, the time we get to spend together is very precious, especially now that we are all older.

Thanksgiving 2016
The past two years we have celebrated in Washington, DC with our kids. However, this year we are sticking closer to home to enjoy the festivities with my in-laws. I'm beyond thankful for the time we will spend together reminiscing about the past and making new memories to hold onto in the future.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 41

Sticking with the job theme, this week's writing prompt is:

What was your first professional adult job that led you to a more long-term career? How did you get the job? What did you like and dislike about it?

After receiving my Master of Education Degree in Counseling in 1980, I applied for the position of Public and Professional Education Director with the American Cancer Society (ACS). The job market was still tight from the recession, so employers could be very picky with job applicants. In this case, the Executive Director of the ACS only wanted to interview candidates who had masters degrees in public health administration. However his secretary happened to live in Webster Groves, the same community as me, so she included my resume in the stack that he was to review. It is only because of her that I even had the opportunity to be considered for the position.

me with news anchor Tim Vandergelder
Following the interview I was hired, and for the first time in my life had a job (and an office!) that utilized my college degrees. There were many things I liked about my employment there. First of all I totally believed in the cause, and was eager to help people understand the causes and detection methods of cancer. As a non-profit organization, we relied heavily on volunteers to spread the word and mission, and I worked with some stellar, giving people. For the most part the staff was comprised of young, adult women, and they contributed greatly to my growth as a leader and team player. They were also crucial to my personal life as we had only lived in St. Louis for a few short years and hadn't made many friends. A lot of that stemmed from the fact that we could not acceptably answer the inevitable St. Louis question, "Where did you go to high school?" That is a topic worthy of a separate blog post.

There were a couple of things that I didn't like, which ultimately led to me pursuing another direction with my career. The first was the dismal pay. Because it is a not for profit, the ACS cannot compete with salaries offered by for-profit companies. As someone with an advanced degree, I knew I could make more money in the private sector. Added to that is the fact that I was often required to go into parts of St. Louis, sometimes at night, that I was not comfortable with on my own. I was putting a lot of miles on my car as well.

When one of my co-workers doubled her pay to go to work for a local utility company, I knew that I had to take a look at whether or not there were other opportunities available to me as well. As it ended up, it was my experience working with doctors and health care providers while at the ACS that led to my next job offer. My new job came with a salary that more than doubled my current pay. An added bonus was that the company was located in the same building as my husband's employer, so we were able to carpool each day. The next phase of my working life was launched.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 40

This week I wanted to follow up with a couple of stories regarding my first full time job.  Let's make the question:

Did anything unusual happen at your first job?

It took a few months for me to get my first job out of college, and as I mentioned I was hired as a bank teller. We had little money as we were newlyweds with college debt, but I went to a discount store and bought a pant suit so that I would look professional on my first day of work. I took the bus into Clayton, and was feeling strong and confident as I entered the main bank building. At least until I noticed that people were staring at me and whispering. The head of personnel whisked me into her office and asked me why I was wearing pants. Did no one tell me that pants were against the dress code for women in the bank?

In fact no one had told me, so beyond being mortified I was upset that I had spent money we could ill afford on an outfit I would no longer be allowed to wear. She did not send me home to change, but I was uncomfortable all day. What a way to start my new position!

But in reference to the question in the writing prompt, that is not the unusual thing that happened at work. One day I looking out the front windows of the bank as I had no customers at that time. I saw a black car with tinted windows pull up in front of the building across the street from us. Two men emerged from the car and I could see that the one closest to me had a holstered gun, which was covered as he shrugged into a jacket. Fearing that they were coming to rob the bank, I quickly consulted with my co-workers, and then dialed 911.

The St. Louis County Police headquarters was just around the corner from our bank, so their cars arrived in short order, lights flashing and sirens blowing as they surrounded the black car. And that is how I came to sick St. Louis County's finest on Chip Carter, son of then-President Jimmy Carter. As it turned out, he was giving a luncheon presentation in a nearby building, and the armed guys were Secret Service. Whoops!

Chip Carter photo
from National Archives

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 39

What was your first full-time job?

me with Jim in 1978
Like many starry-eyed college graduates, I fully anticipated graduating from college and landing a great job in the career I had dedicated four years of my life studying. For me, that was a Bachelor of Science Degree in Family Environment from Iowa State University. A well-known and highly-regarded program within the State of Iowa, the curriculum recognized and focused on the fact that if one person in a family had a problem, it was not just their problem but affected the family as a whole. The whole family needed to be involved in treatment in order for the situation to improve. In my opinion the program was very progressive in its way of thinking.

While I graduated in late May of 1978 along with my fiancé, I stayed in Des Moines preparing for our August wedding while my husband-to-be moved to St. Louis for his new job. I worked as a temp up until we were married, and didn't begin a serious job search in St. Louis until after our brief honeymoon. This was was before the age of the Internet, and the only way to look for a job was through classified ads in the newspaper. I painstakingly cut potential employment opportunities out of the paper each Sunday, and sat at my portable typewriter composing cover letters to attach to my resume. Then I waited...and waited...and waited...for a call asking me to come in for an interview. It was nerve-wracking, time-consuming and frustrating. Sometimes the ads were so vague that I had no idea what I was even applying for, let alone the name of the company or agency that was hiring.

When I did get an interview, the company or institution always seemed a little suspicious of my degree. It didn't say "Social Work", so they were unclear what I was trained to do, despite my explanations and a wonderful review from my supervisor following my internship with Catholic Social Services in Des Moines my senior year.

What I didn't realize at the time was that the country was in a recession in 1978, with high rates of inflation and unemployment. Budgetary cuts meant entry level positions in many industries were eliminated. Unfortunately my student loans were not put on hold due to a poor economy. So I took the first job that I was offered paying more than the current minimum wage of $2.65 per hour. I became a teller at Clayton Metro Bank.

You certainly did not need a college education to perform the tasks of my position, but the listening and personal relationships skills I learned came in handy when dealing with my co-workers and customers. I ultimately ended up in the commercial drive-up window of the main headquarters in Clayton, which was always busy since we were near the county government offices.

It wasn't long before I recognized that banking was not going to be my long-term career, even though I had pretty good people I worked with and an amazing supervisor. I began looking at master degree programs in the area, and left the bank after a year and a half to attend graduate school full-time. In 1980 I received my Master of Education Degree in Counseling, which opened up many employment opportunities for me.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 38

Today is my birthday, so I chose a writing prompt this week that deals with birthday celebrations.

How were birthdays celebrated when you were growing up?

mom, holding me, with brother Joe
This question made me think about the day I was born, and so I did a little research. I remember my mom telling me that she missed her baby shower, so I must have arrived a little earlier than expected. I was born at 4:36 in the afternoon on Friday, October 28th. The weather in Cincinnati, while cloudy, was an unseasonably warm 71 degrees. On that day 320,000 babies, including Bill Gates, were born around the world. I wonder how many of them are still alive after 22,646 days have passed? Eisenhower was president, and the top song in the nation was "Autumn Leaves" by pianist Roger Williams. It hit Billboard's number one spot on October 29th. Williams died in October of 2011. I'll think about him when "the falling leaves drift by the window..."

Birthdays were not a big deal in my house as I recall. In looking through old family photos, there is exactly one picture of a birthday party celebrating my sister, and none for the rest of us. Cards, gifts, and even cakes were not the norm. My sister probably did the most for me on my birthday, as she took me to see The Sound of Music and gave me gifts such as my first camera and a skate board, both of which I still have to this day.

The only birthday party I remember is one I threw for myself. In my sophomore year of high school I invited my three best girlfriends over and we played pool and had snacks and soft drinks in our finished basement in Des Moines. They gave me the highly desired new Jackson 5 album. It is even now in my collection of LPs.

Was it because my parents grew up during the depression that they perhaps felt birthdays were frivolous celebrations? Did their own parents do nothing for birthdays? I don't know the answer. But things were different in my husband's family. Birthdays were and are a time for family and fun, with cake, ice cream, cards and presents. Once he and I became a family, his traditions carried on first with us and later with our children. Even though they are grown and living on opposite coasts, we send them a card with cash and call them on their birthdays.

Everyone's day of birth should be honored in some way. Happy birthday to me!
October 2016

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 37

What was it like to be the baby of the family?

me in 1956
Though my mom and dad had five children, I grew up with just one sister and two brothers. The oldest child, Roy, died of aplastic anemia was he was only 7 years old. My sister Kathy was 5 at the time of his death, and my brother Ken was 3. I wasn't even a twinkle in my mom's eye when that happened. Following her first successful pregnancies, my mom suffered at least one miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy, which resulted in the removal of one ovary and all but a piece of her second ovary. She was told that there was a chance in 10,000 that she would ever conceive again, and a chance in a million that she would carry a baby to term. A couple of years passed, and my brother Joe was born. I followed 16 months later. So much for the statistics!

Since my sister is 11 years older than me, she was like a second mother to me. She was also saddled with a lot of the care and responsibility for both Joe and me. I've always felt like I was doubly blessed to have two women who loved me unconditionally. Because Joe and I were so close in age, I always had someone to play with when growing up.

Being the youngest in the family had its advantages. I think my dad mellowed a lot by the time Joe and I came along. He was much harder on Kathy and Ken than he was on us two younger kids. Having said that, I also think that I was an observant child. I watched what my older siblings did to set dad off, and I just didn't do those things.

As the baby, I felt secure in my place in the household. While my parents probably felt as though they were raising two families, from my perspective as the youngest, I had the best of both worlds.

Ken, Joe, me & Kathy 1959

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 36

Since I previously wrote about a treasured object I received from my mother, it only seems fair to do the same for my dad. This week's writing prompt is:

What is an object you treasure that you got from your father?

the chair
My mother died in a car accident in 1989, and when my father got older he told my siblings and me that if there was anything in the house that we wanted, we should take it. There is one chair that he and mom owned that had always fascinated me as it was solid wood and had a face carved in the back of it. I've never seen anything like it before or since. Even better, it had a great story behind it.

In 1944 my dad was stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. My mom, who was expecting a baby, and their 2 year old son Roy were with him. Dad received orders to ship off to Chabua, India, so he moved his family back to Cincinnati. They took up residence with my maternal grandparents. One day dad received a letter from mom telling him that the Koch's house was for sale, and asked if she should buy it. The Koch's lived right next door to Mike and Mayme Crusham, so she wouldn't have to move far. Before dad even had a chance to reply, he got another letter telling him, "I bought the Koch house!"

August and Louisa Koch left a few pieces of furniture in the house, including the above-mentioned chair. She told mom that the chair was 100 years old at that time. The chair moved with mom and dad from Cincinnati to Chicago, then to Des Moines, and then back to Cincinnati. After its final move, dad refinished the chair, removing the heavy, dark stain replacing it with a warm oak finish. Those of us who watch Antiques Roadshow know that the appraisers cringe when the original patina is removed from an old piece of furniture, but I have to say the results brought out the beauty of the wood grain as well as the features of the face.

As my husband and I live in a 1902 house that is filled with antiques, I told dad that I would like the chair. None of my siblings collect antiques or seemed interested in it. But dad would not allow me to take the chair. He said that Aunt Marie (my mom's older sister) liked to sit in it when she came over for a visit.

It was not until after my dad died in 2004 that the chair made its final journey to our home in St. Louis. I proudly display it in our entry foyer. When a new antique store opened by our house offering free appraisals, I did not hesitate to take the chair in for her to take a look at it. She told me that the chair was from the 1850s (so Louisa Koch was pretty close in her assessment of the chair's age), and was referred to as a North Wind Chair. The face carved into the seat was not intended to scare small children but rather to dispel bad spirits. The appraiser was excited to see the chair as she had only read about them. When I asked her if dad had diminished the value by refinishing it, she agreed that it was always best to have it in its original state. But then she said to me, "Do you like it like this?" When I told her the wood of the chair and the detail is much prettier this way, she said, "That is all that matters." Too true - I love it and am happy to have it in my family and my home.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 35

me with my brother Joe,
Christmas in Des Moines
Masochistic folks are already posting the dreaded "only X number of days left until Christmas." That made me think back on my days as a child when Santa was so anticipated. With that in mind, I chose the following as my writing prompt for this week

What was your favorite toy as a child?

When I was about 9 or 10 I received a Thumbelina doll as a present from Santa. The first Thumbelina doll was manufactured by Ideal Toy Corp. in 1961. She came in three sizes - OTT-14 (Tiny Thumbelina), OTT-16, and OTT-19. The numbers referred to the length of the doll, although the dolls are actually a little longer than their numbers would indicate. All the dolls moved their heads when a knob on the back of the doll was turned. Beginning in 1962, some of the dolls also cried. Thumbelina was Ideal's best-selling baby doll during the 1960s.

My doll was the OTT-19, and at 20" long she was roughly the size of a newborn baby. Her head moved, and she made a crying noise when you bent forward as if to lay her down, stopping when she was raised up. I was thrilled! If I had a baby doll before her, I can't remember it. There was just one problem with these dolls. Due to their size, normal doll clothes would not fit. Ideal offered some clothing for them, but they were expensive and out of the budget for my folks. Mom purchased real baby clothes instead, or she sewed outfits for my doll.

When I first brought my doll over to a neighbor girl's house, she told me I wasn't allowed to play with them because my doll was too big! I went home in tears. Isn't it strange how the hurtful words of someone you considered a friend can stick with you years later?

My affection for Thumbelina was not diminished, however, and I still have her to this day. She no longer cries, and the head motions are much slower when she is wound up. Like many aging ladies, she has lost a lot of her hair. I have her dressed in a newborn sleeper that was once filled with my daughter, and a crocheted sweater and hat that was lovingly stitched by my mother when I was expecting my first child. I have to say that it looks a little better on Thumbelina than it did on my son - haha.

In Thumbelina I'm reminded of the love of my parents, and days filled with a make-believe world when all I had to worry about was making sure that my precious doll was not crying.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 34

What is an object you treasure that you got from your mother?

There are many items I inherited when my dad died, such as the family photo albums. There is no question that those are a treasure. However, they did not come from my mother as she predeceased my dad. The one thing that my mom specifically said would be mine one day was her diamond cocktail ring. She would tell me that when I was a still living at home, and I would always give her a hug and say that I wanted her in my life, not her ring.

original wedding bands
 My dad had enlisted in the Army Air Corp when he and my mom got married in 1942. As with so many war couples, they had little money so their rings were simple. At a later date, my dad gave mom a bigger engagement ring and a new wedding band. She also bought him a diamond wedding band. Mom gave her original engagement ring to my older sister, who in turn passed that along to her daughter. I guess that is why mom felt like I should have the cocktail ring.

cocktail ring
But there is a funny story behind this ring. My dad liked new cars, and once in Des Moines when he purchased a Cadillac, the dealer gave him the cocktail ring. Can you even imagine? Mom only wore it when they were going out someplace fancy, which wasn't very often. After she passed in 1989, dad made sure that I received the ring. I, too, wear it only when we are going someplace fancy. Every time I look at it, I think longingly and lovingly about my mom. And when I wear it, I feel as though she is going someplace fancy with me.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 33

Today is my mother-in-law's birthday, so I wanted to use a writing prompt that involves mothers.

Who are some other important mother figures who have been influential in your life?

My mother-in-law and I first met at Iowa State when I was 19 years old and dating her son. She has been a part of my world for over 40 years, and I can't imagine my life without her in it. Lorraine is a very loving, compassionate and affectionate woman. She is called Honey by her family, and the nickname is perfect for her. I know that I have been extremely blessed in the in-law department. You hear so many stories and jokes about mother-in-laws, and honestly I just can't relate to any of them. Early on in our marriage, I gave her a framed photo of the poem shown below.

Through our relationship I have learned to be a better cook (she gave me wonderful recipes), experienced the rare pleasure of conversing with someone who actually listens attentively when I speak (she truly cares about what people are telling her), and most importantly been a better mother to my own children (I hope) by observing her interactions with her family.

I was only 32 when my own mother died, and Lorraine has filled a very large whole in my heart. She has been an outstanding grandmother to my kids, having the kind of relationship with them that I was never able to have with my own grandparents. I hope to someday have the opportunity to be that type of grandma myself.

The bonus mother that God gifted me with has enhanced my life beyond words, and I could not love or respect her more were she the one who gave birth to me. It's just an added bonus that she makes homemade brownies and cinnamon rolls that could put the mall bakeries out of business.

Happiest of birthdays to my mother and my friend!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 32

What was the first foreign country that you visited?

In 1984 my husband had a business trip that would take him to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for three months. At the time, any income earned in a foreign country was tax exempt in the United States, and Jim received an increase in pay for the time that he would spend overseas. So we decided to take advantage of the fact that his flights were paid for and enjoy a European vacation at the end of his work schedule in Riyadh. We settled on a 17 day, multi-country tour beginning in Rome.

The trip was booked, Jim had been ensconced in his duties in Saudi Arabia for two months, and I was working full-time at MOMEDICO when I found out I was pregnant with our first child. Surprise! This was way before the Internet was widely used, and home land lines had exorbitant rates for continental long-distance phone calls, much less international calls. I decided that I would not tell Jim about the baby until I saw him face to face, which meant no one else got to know the secret until we returned from our trip.

Making my first international flight by myself was a little scary, but I survived and Jim met me at the airport in Rome as our flights arrived on the same day. After catching up with all he had done and what had been going on with work and our families back home, I let him know that he was going to be a daddy. We had planned on having a family at some point, so fortunately he was overjoyed by the news.

Being in the first trimester of pregnancy, I was experiencing some morning sickness. Diesel fumes in particular made me nauseous. Fortunately Ritz was the universal cracker, and eating those helped immensely.

We met up with our tour group the day after we arrived in Rome, and the bus took us on a site-seeing tour of the city. One thing we liked about traveling with this particular group is that in each new city we visited they offered a half-day bus tour to get us acquainted with the area. Then we had free time to go back to see what interested us on our own. We were definitely among the youngest people on the tour, with the exception of a college student who was traveling with his grandfather.

Vatican - so young and skinny!
In Rome it was a great thrill to see the Forum, Pantheon, Colosseum, Arch of Titus, the Vatican and St. Peter's, and of course, Michelangelo's David. All the places you learned about in school, church, or saw in the movies - to see them in real life was a bit surreal.

We took side trips to Villa d'Este, a 16th century villa in Tivoli known for its terraced hillside gardens and fountains, as well as to Pisa to see the leaning tower. We climbed to the top of it, despite the lack of guard rails to protect from falls. Unfortunately our visit was marred by the fact that someone stole Jim's telephoto lens right out of the backpack he was wearing! That was particularly maddening in light of the fact that we were only days into our trip and would not have the use of the lens for the rest of our travels.

Villa d'Este and Tower of Pisa
From Rome we went to Venice before heading to Lucerne, Switzerland, then on to Paris (with a side trip to Versailles), and ultimately ending up in London. Since this post is about the first country I visited, I won't go into more details about the rest of the journey. For the most part we enjoyed traveling with the group as the company took care of all transportation, luggage, language barriers, etc., and breakfast was included each morning. Though we soon learned that the breakfast was the same each morning - no matter what country we were in. It included coffee, tea, juice and a hard roll with butter and jelly. By about the 8th day, one of the couples was missing from breakfast. When we saw them later, the gal explained, "We couldn't eat one more damn roll!" The rest of us could relate. But overall, it was a good way to be introduced to foreign travel.

Rialto Bridge in Venice, Eiffel Tower in Paris, and Buckingham Palace in London

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 31

Since I wrote about eating in the last post, it seems reasonable this week to discuss who cleaned up after the meals.

What were your chores as a child?

My mother did not work outside the home (with rare exceptions), so most of the housework fell on her shoulders. As I got older, I was responsible for cleaning my room, dusting, vacuuming and raking the rug. Yes, you read that correctly. I raked our living room and hallway rugs.

Do you remember shag carpets? They were a thing in the 1960s and 1970s. Due to the length of the fibers, these carpets would become flat when people walked on them. Plastic rakes were used to fluff them back up. I understand shag is making a bit of a comeback. My advice? Don't go there. Who wants to add an additional step to the already long list of household chores?

When we got big enough, my brother and I were enlisted to take over washing and drying the dishes. That had been our older sister's domain, but once she got a full-time job the dishes were passed down to us. Dad was a stickler for clean dishes. If he inspected our work and found any food remnants, EVERYTHING would come out of the cabinets to be washed and dried. I think that only happened once. Quick learners, my brother and I.

My brother took out the trash and mowed the lawn, but I like mowing as well so I asked to cut the front lawn. Getting to the back yard involved traversing steep hills on either side of the house, so my dad didn't want me to attempt that part. I also enjoyed washing the car, so I did that when I was free.

My chores at home continued even after I began my part-time jobs when I turned 16. Those skills served me well once I went away to college and even more so after I got married and we had a home of our own.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 30

Let's talk about food for this week's writing prompt.

What did a typical mealtime look like?

Growing up our meals were always eaten as a family, and that included breakfast, lunch and dinner (though we referred to the latter as supper.) The six of us would gather around the table to eat, except if someone was working or out of town. During the week my mom was responsible for the cooking, though she and dad did the grocery shopping together. On the weekends, my dad was right in the kitchen with mom. Dishes were the responsibility of the kids.

Mom with Duke
The household rule was that you had to eat everything on your plate, and dad made us sit at the table until the plate was clean. On several occasions that meant that I sat there until bedtime. There were some things even our German Shepherd Duke wouldn't eat, despite my best efforts to feed him under the table. Rutabagas come to mind. Dad mellowed a bit in later years, and mom was allowed to make me a hot dog for times when things like liver and onions were on the menu.

Both my mom and dad were excellent cooks, and most things they served tasted really good. While they never were into baking goodies like cookies or brownies, dad could whip up awesome pineapple upside down cakes, lemon meringue pies, apple or peach pies, etc. My dad's pineapple upside down cake was so good that I took the pan he baked it in after he passed so that I could try to duplicate his masterpiece. Regular cakes were pretty much reserved for birthdays. But the best part of eating was getting to catch up with everyone on what their day had been like.
pineapple upside down cake
My husband experienced pretty much the same thing in his house growing up, so sharing meals was something we carried through to our married lives. When our children came along, we made it a point to sit down together for meals despite both of us working full-time outside the home. We learned a lot about their daily experiences by being tuned into the conversations that flowed as we ate. The greatest compliment my kids ever gave me was the fact that they both planned their extracurricular activities around our dinner time whenever possible, so that they could eat at home. I hope that is something they will continue to do now that they have households of their own.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 29

This week's writing prompt:

What sports or other extracurricular activities were you involved in?

As a young girl I was always interested in dance lessons, but there never seemed to be any extra money for me to take them. I got to live vicariously through my friend across the street, Sherry Coon, as her mom invited me to Sherry's recitals. It was also through Mrs. Coon that I became a Brownie and Junior Girl Scout.

When I was in 7th grade I joined a girls' softball team with some classmates at Holy Trinity. We were the Carnations. All of the teams in the league were named for flowers, and I thought that was stupid and sexist even back then. Since I wasn't the coach's kid, or even a friend of the coach's kid, I got stuck out in right field.  I hated every minute of it. I'd been playing baseball with my brother and the neighborhood boys for years, so I understood the meaning of being placed in the outfield. It was hard for me to adjust to the larger, softer ball and wider bat. I did okay, I guess, but only stuck with the team for a couple of years.

Hooverettes junior year
When I got to high school (which at Hoover High was only 10th-12th grades) I tried out for the Hooverettes, a precision drill team run by an ex-military guy. Out of 72 candidates, only 17 of us made the team. Mr. J. conducted weekly weigh-ins, and if you were an ounce over your recommended weight, you didn't get to march that week. Fortunately weight was not an issue for me back then. One of his other requirements was that you could not participate in any other school activities. There were a lot of rehearsals before school, and we marched at every football and basketball game, as well as various parades throughout the year.

Normally the parades were in Des Moines or nearby towns such as Pella for the Tulip Festival. But when our band was selected to march in the Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, DC, that was a huge thrill. Due to expenses, only two sophomore Hooverettes were allowed to go, and that was as alternates in case one of the junior or senior girls couldn't march. All the sophomore names were thrown in a hat, and mine was one of the two drawn. Diane Howdle was the second, so we ended up as roommates in the DC hotel. It was my first time flying on a plane, as well as my first time in the nation's capital. Neither of us got to be in the parade, instead following along the route with numerous cameras taking pictures for those who were marching. When we were returning to Des Moines, there was a blizzard and we were stranded in Chicago for a day. From April 8-10, Des Moines received 14" of snow. We ultimately made it back home. It was quite a trip.
Cherry Blossom Parade 1973

At the end of my junior year our school sponsor quit and we were told the Hooverettes were disbanding. Later on, another sponsor took over but by then I had it in my head to try other activities my senior year. I helped with student council, was a track clerk, and got involved in the theater department - both on stage and behind the scenes. My senior year I was also a Voter Registrar as I had turned 18 in October. I was enlisted to help register other students so they could vote in the 1974 presidential election. I also went throughout my neighborhood registering voters. In retrospect, I'm glad I branched out senior year and got involved in other things as it gave me a chance to meet many other students in the school.
The Miracle Worker                                  voter registrars

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 28

Today is our 39th wedding anniversary. In a happy coincidence, the couple who sang at our wedding is here in town visiting us. It is fitting to go with this writing prompt as the question of the week.

Tell the story of how you met your own true love, what first attracted you to him, and how long it took for you to know he was “the one”?

Alpha Sigma Phi
Jim and I met our freshman year at Iowa State University. Having neither the interest nor the cash to try to get into a sorority, I lived in Freeman Hall. Jim, on the other hand, pledged the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity located on the other side of campus. A friend from high school, Todd Buckton, also pledged at the same time as Jim. The Alpha Sigs had a Little Sister organization in the house. These organizations were formed in the late 1960s to early 1970s as an opportunity for the brothers to have social interaction with gals without the stress of dating, for the fraternity to receive help with service projects, etc. Each new gal received a Big Brother to help with the transition to college life, and the upper class gals were assigned a Little Brother to do the same for them.

The new pledges were expected to invite freshman girls to the Little Sister rush party in the fall, and Todd called and invited me to come over. I went, and was later asked to be in the organization. While I met all the brothers at the party and later the Little Sister initiation ceremony, Jim first stood out to me at a mixer between the fraternity and the Little Sisters. Held at a bar right before spring break, I clearly remember spending a lot of time talking to him and his two roommates, Jon and Steve. Jim mentioned that he was going skiing with some friends back home during our time off, and I remember being jealous because 1) I had never skied before, and 2) we never did anything during school breaks.

May 1975
When classes resumed I decided that I was going to invite Jim to a dance my dorm was planning for later spring in Des Moines. I didn't want to call the frat house and ask for him in case the person answering the phone that night recognized my voice. I had a friend from the dorm call instead, and when he got on the line I popped the question. He said he would like to go. Because he wanted to become more acquainted before the dance, he came over to the dorm one day and helped my roommate and me paint our room. Then he asked me out to see the movie Jeremiah Johnson. He borrowed Todd's Volkswagen Beetle to pick me up as he didn't have a car. We had a very nice evening, and it smoothed the way for the dance.

We dated exclusively all through college, and the more time I spent with him, the more I realized how much we had in common. Meeting his parents when they came to Ames to attend a play was the icing on the cake as they were great, and he got to meet my parents when we went to Des Moines for the dance. In fact, six of us spent the night at my mom and dad's house after the dance ended. 

Alpha Sigma Phi pin
The only time we had a brief breakup occurred during sophomore year, over something inconsequential. We were soon reunited, and never looked back. By junior year I was wearing his fraternity pin, and senior year we got engaged. We married less than three months following our graduation from Iowa State and the rest, as they say, is history.

Wedding Day August 19, 1978

Footnote: The Little Sister organizations were abolished in the mid 1990s for various concerns including liability, suggestions that the organizations discriminated by gender, and other obscure reasoning.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 27

This week I am going back to school with my story.

Who was your favorite school teacher? Why?

Mr. Wadden 1974
There are several teachers I remember throughout my school years, which is amazing since my memory has never been the greatest. Sister Mary Geneva from second grade was young and very kind. Sister Liguori, while older and more stern, was very supportive of my poetry writing in fifth grade. Mrs. Yelick in 8th grade reinforced my love of English, and Mr. Parker in 11th grade understood that American History would be more interesting to his students if he let them select projects that appealed to them while at the same time imparted knowledge about our country's history. I still remember my presentation that discussed how the music of the roaring '20s contrasted with that of the '30s as the country fell into the Great Depression. The music was a reflection of the tone of the country. But the teacher who most influenced my life was Mr. Wadden, who taught A.S.P. English.

I signed up for Advanced Special Placement English, which would be called AP English today, my senior year of high school. I had heard that it was a challenging class, which most kids tend to shy away from their final year of high school. But hey, it was English, so I wanted in. My friend Kim was in the same class as me, and we tentatively made our way into the room together on the first day. As Mr. Wadden explained the curriculum and work load for the class, you could see the looks of dismay on the faces of many of the students. He said that if any of us did not want to put in the full effort for the class, we were welcome to leave. And a handful of students did exactly that.

Kim and I stuck it out, and while the class did entail a lot of work, Mr. Wadden was mostly bark and no bite. I think he just wanted to separate the serious students from those who were looking for an easy ride their last year in school. There was a lot of reading required in the class, and he taught us to critically examine what we were reading. From there we had to write papers discussing the meanings of what we had read. His class not only changed the way I read books, but my writing skills improved dramatically.

Those skills carried through in college as well as every job I have held since then. Mr. Wadden is one of the biggest reasons that I am a published author today. I am so grateful that I was able to tell him exactly that when we met at my 40th high school reunion a few years ago. He attended the reunion because I invited him. It was humbling to learn that I was a student he remembered out of all the thousands he had taught throughout the years. He recalled my friendship with Kim and the unique name we called ourselves. Way before Brad and Angelina became known as Brangelina, we were the Kimlers (Kim Kubler and Kim Taylor). Mr. Wadden also asked if I had indeed gone on to Iowa State University. (I did.) At any rate, it was wonderful to see him and his wife at our reunion. It's not often that we get to show appreciation to our teachers, and let them know that they made a difference. Thanks, Mr. Wadden!

me with Mr. Wadden in 2014

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 26

In my post for Week 22, the prompt asked about how my parents met, and then also how my grandparents met. While I knew the story about my parents, I was unsure about my grandparents. I was in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago and took the opportunity to ask my two aunts the question of how their parents met.

How did your grandparents meet and fall in love?

Margie, me and Betty
There were eight children in my mom's family, with only two surviving today. Aunt Margie turned 95 recently, and her surprise birthday party was one of the reasons I was in Cincinnati. Aunt Betty's birthday was last month, and she turned 90. They are both an inspiration to the family as they are fairly healthy, active and living on their own.

While at the party, I took the opportunity to ask them if they knew how their parents had met. Aunt Margie did not remember ever hearing the story. Betty believes that Michael Crusham and Mary Barbara (Mayme) Metz met at a picnic in a park in Delhi (a township in Hamilton County).

I explained to them both that as I was looking through notes in preparation for some research I was going to do while in Cincinnati, I had found a reference to an interview I did with their older sister Marie back in 1994. Marie told me that Mayme had a friend named Rose Kenney, and she would sometimes spend the night at Rose's house. She thought that is where Mike and Mayme met. But she said that Mike also may have been a friend of Rose's future husband, John Buchanan. I shared this story with Margie and Betty, and neither one had heard this version.

So the bottom line is that I really don't know for sure how my grandparents met. What I do know is that they were married at St. Aloysius Church in Cincinnati on 21 June 1911. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June of 1961. By November, Michael was dead.

Mike and Mayme, seated, along with Mike's brother
Edward and Mayme's sister Helen

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 25

Last week's post reminded me of another story that involved plane travel. Here's my follow-up question:

To date, what has been your strangest plane experience?

me with Clinton Kelly of
What Not to Wear fame
I have previously written about this event on my other blog, but it is a good story and bears repeating. In May of 2010 I traveled to New York City to attend a book publishing conference. The conference went well, and I was eager to get back home to my family when the conference ended on Thursday. My first clue that it would not be smooth sailing was in the cab on the way to the airport.The cabbie asked me if I had called the airline as some flights had been canceled due to storms. I called my daughter on my cell phone and had her look up my flight on her computer, and American Airlines showed it to be on schedule. The weather in New York was fine, but apparently storms in the Midwest were causing problems.

At the gate it was apparent the flight would be late as there was no plane there. At 5:20 we finally boarded, and the plane left the gate around 5:45. Then we sat out on the tarmac for 2 hours. I counted 17 planes on the runway ahead of us. In the meantime I chatted with the gal in the center seat next to me, and the guy in the end seat. The gal had grown up in Ferguson and was on her way home for a baby shower. Her own, as it ends up. She is 7 months pregnant with her first baby, and since she now lives in New York the family was hosting a virtual shower so that everything would be shipped to her home in New York. Smart! The guy was on his way back home to Chicago via St. Louis, which I thought was odd since there are lots of flights direct to Chicago out of LaGuardia.

After 2 hours the pilot took us back to the gate because nothing was flying out, and with the new FAA guidelines he could not keep us on the plane longer than 3 hours. He knew there was no way we would get out before the 3 hour timetable was up. If the plane returns to the gate, then the 3 hours can start over again. Back at the airport we were asked to wait 10 minutes until a decision would be made on whether we would fly out that night or not. Then we de-planed and they said it would be 8:45 before a decision would be made. Around 8:30 the flight was canceled. No flights heading west were allowed to leave that night.

The people on the plane who had smart phones were able to schedule their flights for the next day. Those of us stuck in yesterday's technology had to do it the old fashioned way - we stood in line. One sole AA rep was trying to handle the entire flight. My pregnant seat mate and I decided to go upstairs to the AA counter where there would be more agents available. Big mistake! Since all flights were canceled, the line was atrocious. We headed back downstairs to collect out luggage, and seat mate got both of her phones (yep, she carries two of them!) going on the AA 800 number. She finally got through, and after she booked her flight she took my information and changed my flight as well. For herself, she was able to get a direct flight at 9:00 p.m. Friday night. For me? A 5:30 p.m. flight to Dallas, with a flight from Dallas arriving in St. Louis at 11:30 p.m. Friday night. Are you kidding me? According to the agent, that was the best thing they could do.

The luggage finally arrived and I bid farewell to my pregnant friend who was lucky enough to be able to head home to her apartment, and I went to tackle the next issue. Where was I going to sleep that night? I waited for my turn at the Airport Hotels phone bank, asking each person I saw if they could recommend a decent place in the area. We were all in the same boat, with no idea of which way to sail. I struck up a conversation with a nice, younger woman who also needed a place to stay. She had one hotel phone going and I had the other. We agreed that if either of us found a hotel with rooms, we would grab 2 of them. It was soon apparent that all the canceled flights had resulted in a run on neighboring hotels. A number of people headed back to NYC for the night. But new friend and I persisted. I was on hold with Holiday Inn Express when she struck gold with the Comfort Inn. YES! They had openings. Could we have 2 rooms? No, only 1 was available. I looked at my new BFF and said, "I'm not an axe murderess." She replied that she was not an axe murderess either, and with that we agreed to share a room. She told the man she would take a room with 2 beds. Uhhhhh.....the only room available was a king bed. Alrighty, then....We had agreed to share a room but did we want to share a bed? It was that or the airport floor. We booked the room ($180 per night for a Comfort Inn!) and headed out in the now rainy New York night to catch the shuttle.

At the Comfort Inn I called AA and again asked about a different flight. The frazzled agent said there were no direct flights available, but if I would hold she would check on some alternatives. She came back with a 10:00 a.m. US Airways flight to DC followed by an AA flight to St. Louis, arriving at 1:55 p.m. Much better than the 11:30 p.m. arrival time I was currently scheduled on. My new BFF Michele and I settled in for the night, but I have to say I did not sleep well. I never did get any supper with all the delays at the airport, so my stomach was a little upset. I didn't want to pass gas and embarrass myself with my new BFF. Plus I was afraid that since I had slept so poorly on my trip I might snore. Also not a cool way to impress a new friend. It was not a restful night. Michele got up at 6:00 a.m. to make her flight, so we bid each other a safe trip. Slept with Michele on a first date and never even got her last name. I am so loose!