2015 – The Year of the Empty Nest & Rain (A Lot of Rain)

2015 is the year that DSH and I became true empty nesters. We no longer have kids living at home. We now only own two cars. We are the only two people on our auto and health insurance. We can no longer claim any children as tax deductions.

Our babies, our twins, graduated from college and commenced their adult lives.

Graduation Katy and Jacci 2015

Thankfully, the two moves out of college housing and two graduations in two different college towns occurred on different weekends. Four different weekends. We spent April and May traveling back and forth across the state moving furniture and attending graduation ceremonies (mostly in the rain).

I distinctly remember thinking, “I’ll never get them all off the breast.” “I’ll never get them all into school.” “I’ll never get them all out of high school.” (We survived 15 straight years of having kids in high school.) And now. Now they are all grown up and gone.


As I like to say to my friends with young families – the days are long, the years are short.

Katy Moves 06_2015

This kid (and her cat) moved back to another university town after she accepted a fellowship to become a graduate student. Smarty pants.

Jacci at Machu Picchu 06_2015

This kid backpacked in South America (here she is looking out over Machu Picchu) for a month after graduation before she returned to start her first career job. Adventurer.

2015 is also the year that rain ruled our lives. Not only did we move a lot of furniture and attend college graduation ceremonies in the rain, but the persistent rain events of 2015 significantly impacted our goals for the year as well as our budget and To Do list.

The Lake 20151

The lake on which on our little lake cottage sits flooded not ONCE but TWICE this past year. In July, our daughter was able to fish off our deck (dEck not dOck). In December, the water level rose AGAIN and reached a record level rising high enough to flow under our deck (again, dEck not dOck). I hope that the large and scary rodent-like critter that lives under the dEck was flooded out of its hidey hole. That’s me. Thinking positively.

The Lake 2015

Our little cottage never flooded, but the rain forced us to address a leaky roof. BEFORE we had a flat roof, and AFTER we had a new and improved pitched roof. Luckily, we were able to get this job completed before the torrential rains of mid-summer which would have definitely flooded the interior.

You know how one project leads to another? Well, the new roof meant that maybe it was time to paint the outside of the cottage.

I have never painted the outside of a house. I never planned on EVER painting the outside of a house. I can now say that I painted the outside of a house. I put it on my bucket list so that I could scratch it off.

The persistent rain throughout the summer also provided me with the opportunity (there I go being all positive again) to spend a LOT of time working on the interior of the cottage. I did a LOT of painting and repairing and replacing which all started with a leak in the ceiling that created a small stain that required repairing and painting.

Painting one ceiling led to painting the walls. Painting one room led to painting the next room and the next one and so on until they were all painted. Painting the rooms led to painting the old wooden furniture and decorating. Painting the rooms meant that I cleaned the floors. We stripped decades old wax off the original linoleum floors and re-waxed them. They look so good that I may not replace them for a while.

Blue feet 07_2015

I spray painted so much furniture and so many decorative accessories that my feet were stained for much of the summer.

We re-worked the kitchen, adding new countertops making the space more compatible for our needs. We upgraded the electric in anticipation of future renovations and replaced the old single-pane aluminum windows with new double-paned energy-efficient ones.

The rain and flood events caused a lot of adjustments to the To Do list.

The flooding not only impacted our lake cottage, but it also affected the To Do list for our quirky old home which was also water-logged much of the year.

See the blue arrow pointing to the stove-pipe? That is a stove-pipe that was disconnected a long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away – well, not really). After we removed the tree (which you see at the corner of the house on the advice of the plumber who replaced the old clay pipe from the house to the lateral line – aren’t old houses fun?), the stove-pipe stuck out like a sore thumb. I put its removal on my To Do list where it has resided near the bottom for over a year.

Until it rained enough to leak into the house.

Yes. Two roof jobs on two different houses in the same year.

Aren’t we lucky?

Houston stove pipe outside

Here is the roof now. You can’t even tell that a 12+ foot section of stainless steel pipe was removed from this section.

Houston Renovations 2015_2016

Here is what it looked like on the inside. The outside removal caused the inside section that had been capped off (and where it was leaking) to become loose. DSH spent Thanksgiving removing the cap and ANOTHER 8+ foot section of stainless steel pipe from the inside of the house / attic. Yes, 20 feet of stainless steel pipe (which we did recycle but didn’t get money for because it was just under 300 pounds of metal).

Well. Now we can finally finish painting and decorating the last two rooms. These room renovations were much higher on my To Do list anyway. Just a slight detour there.


Except that our cellar also flooded twice this past year. When we first moved into our quirky old home, we worked on gutters and drainage and tree removal to eliminate water issues in the cellar. They WERE eliminated. At least until we had record-setting torrential rains in July.

DSH cleaned up the mess in July, and we decided to put dry locking and additional work on the cellar to help with torrential rainfall issues on our To Do list. This was on the bottom of the list because really how often can we expect to have record-setting torrential rainfalls? Certainly not twice in less than six months.

That’s what she said.

December arrived. We had torrential rain in amounts greater than the Great Floods of 1993 AND 1982. In less than 3 days.

DSH spent several days (vacation days) over the holidays cleaning drains and bleaching and washing down the cellar walls and floors. We have moved the work on this area up on our To Do list.

My room renovations have been moved lower, yet again, on the To Do list.

I have video of the rain water rushing into our cellar, but it is just too depressing to share.

As we sat down on New Year’s Day, we reflected on the major changes in our lives, and we worked on our goals for 2016 (our To Do list).  We wondered how many changes we would experience this next year, and we wondered what would get added and moved on our To Do list by the end of the year.

Major life events. Goals. To Do lists. All subject to change.

Life. It’s an adventure.

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Letting Go and Moving On

The last few years have been a time of great change in our home. All five of our children are now grown and flown. In May our babies, our twins, graduated from college and this past summer, the last one of them moved out, and we officially became empty nesters.

We had to learn to let go and move on. Let go of the child rearing years, and move on to a new chapter in our lives.

In 2012, my brother-in-law, with whom I was close, was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer and died a little more than two years ago after going through about 18 months of radiation, chemotherapy, and hospice care.

We had to let him go, and we had to move on without him in our lives.

A little more than a year ago, my husband and his siblings had to make some tough decisions with regard to their mother, my mother-in-law, after she suffered a fall and emergency room visit that ended up changing her life in several major ways. She is such a strong woman who has persevered even though she was a young widow and dealt with some pretty significant family challenges.

My mother-in-law had to let go of her former life and move onto a new life. My husband had to learn to let go of being parented by his mother and move onto taking care of her.

Hummingbird on feeder Eugene 12_6_2013

Many of my friends are dealing with aging parents. Some are healthy and active, and I rejoice in that. Many of my friends have mothers and fathers who are getting sick or passing away, some unexpectedly, and my heart aches for them as they reminisce about how important these people were to them. I love seeing the pictures of my friends with their parents and hearing and reading the stories about them.

Everyone is in a constant state of letting go and moving on when it comes to issues with our own and our parents aging.

All of this comes to the forefront of my emotions as we enter the winter holiday season. A season that is filled with family and memories.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year according to the Andy Williams song.

Letting go and moving on is never more apparent than when we celebrate family milestones and holidays.

When you come from a dysfunctional family, the holiday season is often when familial issues rear their ugly heads and people with whom we’ve had limited or no contact all of a sudden re-appear. And usually not in happy, filled with good tidings, types of ways.

Rose Kennedy quote

My parents separated over 45 years ago, and have been divorced for over 43 years. Their separation and divorce was and remains acrimonious in spite of the years and the fact that my father died in 2008. Both of my parents abandoned their parenting roles when they divorced leaving 8 children ranging in age from 4 to 13 (I was the oldest) to fend for themselves.

I and two of my siblings attempted to fill the parenting gap while my parents used their children, emotional blackmail, and money against each other. We were often forced or expected to pick sides. My father would pro-rate deductions in child support for any time he spent with his children. We would often have no food or need clothes or have disconnected utilities, but my mother never ran out of cigarettes or booze. The tactics they used did not hurt them as much as they hurt us. We had to tend to our younger siblings when we were so young ourselves. We used our babysitting money and then money from our jobs to help put food on the table, buy clothes, and pay the electric, gas, or phone bills. My sister, as a newlywed, saved the family home from foreclosure – more than once.

anchor and drowning

My relationship with my parents since their divorce has been difficult. When my father got sick and died in 2008, I had spent two years, along with my siblings, taking care of him after a period of 7 years where we had a limited relationship with him due to his alcoholism and bad behavior. The limited relationship was the consequence of the intervention with him that did not go well. During his two-year journey to death, we did the right thing by him even though he fought us every step of the way. Going through the process with him, though, brought me closure in my relationship with him. I am proud of myself for being a good daughter. I am thankful that I was there for him when he died and worked through all of the estate stuff fairly and with very little drama.

My relationship with my mother has been even more complicated. I spent many, many sleepless nights worrying about this. While I had closure with my father and rarely thought about him, I thought about my mother every single day. In most cultures, mother / daughter relationships are special, and I desperately wanted one.

The preferred method of punishing family members on my mom’s side of the family has always been cutting off behavior. My mother learned this lesson well and chose to cut off from some of us multiple times during our lives. She missed the significant milestones of some of her adult children and the births and special events of some of her grandchildren.

My mother has never accepted responsibility for her actions and bad decisions, but rather always chooses anger and blame. I believe this is her way to assuage the guilt. If you aren’t in her good graces, you are “just like your father.” Those in my mother’s good graces must tow the line with her thinking or risk losing her maternal love which is the only power she has to offer. I totally get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. Everyone wants to be loved by their mother. It’s up to the individual if the price is too high or not.

Cutting off behavior has extended to me and my siblings and even to our children. One of my siblings left the family in the 80s and remains steadfastly alienated from everyone else. The remainder of us use various justifications to cut off from each other.

When we get to the holidays each year someone, inevitably, opens the wounds and words and emails and text messages fly back and forth. The result is more hurt feelings and more cutting off behavior – because that is the weapon that is used in our family.

Spring Break 03 29 2012 (30)

As we go through life, certain events trigger one to remember and think about the past.

That is what happened to me about two years ago. I had reached a stage in my life where I started spending a lot of time thinking about my own mortality, my parents and extended family, and my husband and children.

Two years ago, my mother and I exchanged letters. It did not go well. It was a futile and ill advised attempt on my part to try and repair the relationship with my mother.

For the first time in my life, I went to see a therapist. She provided me with a lot of validation regarding my choices and path in life. She also gave me permission to establish boundaries from the dysfunctional members of my family. Boundaries are different than cutting off. I knew this was the correct path, logically, but, emotionally, I was struggling. It just went against a lot of what I believed and tried to accomplish. It also went against a lot of what people say and write about family – that is, that you should love them no matter what. Move on. It’s in the past. Forgive and forget. Well intentioned, but clearly not good advice for everyone or all circumstances.


It was a goal of mine to bring about family change with my siblings, but I realized, through therapy, that that is never going to happen.

Rather than think about what I didn’t have, I started thinking in terms of what I did have. A loving husband. Five wonderful in every way daughters. Great friends. Family members who stand by me and my family through thick and thin and not just when they need or want something.

Therapy also taught me that I do not have these blessings in my life because of luck. I have them because I have worked hard for them and because I am a good person.

Our 5 Girls Thanksgiving 2011

My parents taught us that you build yourself up by tearing each other down. My mother and her family left us the legacy that you cut off from someone as a way to punish them. Many in my extended family have learned these lessons well. I am filled with great sadness that the relationships in my extended family are this way.

I’m glad I finally received validation from a therapist who was an independent third-party. It was also surprising and somewhat disturbing to know that these types of family situations are fairly common. That others share this pain and sorrow is almost unimaginable to me. I think we need to share more of these experiences with each other rather than think we are alone or hide them from others. We are not responsible for other people’s behavior even if we are related to them.

I am proud of the fact that my husband and I have broken the cycle of cutting off behavior – at least with our family and going forward.

In a way I’m sorry I didn’t seek professional help sooner, but I also believe that you have to do it in your own time. I didn’t need a lot of sessions or special treatments. I was already almost all the way there on my own and, thankfully, just needed the extra push to take the last, hard steps in self-care. Self-care. A hard concept for a woman. That being said, I would highly recommend therapy to anyone who thinks they might need it. The validation is enormously helpful.

The good news. I no longer worry about my relationship (or lack thereof) with my extended family. I no longer lose sleep over my mommy issues.

The biggest reward. I’m a much happier and better person, wife, mother, and friend. My circle may be smaller, but it’s solid and complete.

The last two years, it’s become easier to ignore those calls and emails and text messages. I no longer need to engage. It actually feels empowering to exert this control over my life.

March 2014

Bottom line is that I no longer let the holidays or our culture or societal norms bully me into being hurt and damaged.

How did I do that?

I let go and moved on.

Posted in Faith & Family | 7 Comments

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

In 1966, Simon and Garfunkel published an album titled Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.

Every spring, when I work on my herb garden this song goes through my head. (Listen to it here). It’s a beautiful song that was a traditional English ballad from the middle ages. The lyrics include two parts, sung simultaneously, one part being a love ballad and the other part (in the parentheses) is about war.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

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In Medieval times, parsley represented comfort.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
   (On the side of a hill in the deep forest green)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
   (Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground)
Without no seams nor needlework
   (Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain)
Then she’ll be a true love of mine
   (Sleeps unaware of the clarion call)

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In Medieval times, sage represented strength.

Tell her to find me an acre of land
   (On the side of a hill, a sprinkling of leaves)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
   (Washes the ground with so many tears)
Between the salt water and the sea strand
   (A soldier cleans and polishes a gun)
Then she’ll be a true love of mine

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In Medieval times, rosemary represented love.

Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather
   (War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
   (Generals order their soldiers to kill)
And to gather it all in a bunch of heather
   (And to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten)
Then she’ll be a true love of mine

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In Medieval times, thyme represented courage.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

I have always had these four herbs in my garden, and I use them frequently in my cooking and baking. But I grow many more each year – adding some and taking some away, too. Fennel and cilantro make sporadic appearances.

Garden 2015

This year I have many old favorites most of which wintered over in my garden – tarragon, oregano, marjoram, garlic (my first year for garlic which was planted last November and should be ready to harvest in July), basil, English lavender, chives, spearmint (a variety specifically for Mojitos), and dill.

My herb garden is my favorite, but I will also grow some heirloom tomatoes and jalapeno peppers. I planted some blackberry bushes this year and have been working on adding perennials and annuals to my various planting beds. We are starting our third summer in this home, and I finally have all of the beds organized enough to start adding new plantings to them.

Baby Tomato Plants 04_2015

I grew Pink Lady and Green Zebra heirloom tomatoes from seeds saved last fall.

I am growing four types of tomatoes this year – Pink Lady, Green Zebra, Mortgage Lifter, and Amish Paste Roma. I am using a new technique that includes planting a five-gallon bucket with holes drilled into it into the ground, placing the plants around the bucket and surrounding with chicken wire. The goal is for the bucket to self-water the plants when we are away, to provide a frame for the growing plants, and to attempt to keep the rabbits from eating the produce. We’ll see how it works.

Garden_04_29_2015 (8)

Last year I also made up mosquito pots – the idea is to use certain plants to keep the pests away. I’m not sure how well this really worked, mosquitoes don’t really bother me, but they bother my DSH a lot. I guess he’s just sweeter than me. What does bother me is the smell and use of chemical insecticides. They make me nauseous and give me headaches so I thought using plants to try to ward off the offensive critters was worth a try. The pot contains lemon grass, lemon thyme, catnip, and yellow marigolds. If nothing else, it’s really pretty when the plants fill the pot.

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More on my flowers and other plants later!

Working in the garden gives me comfort. I feel strong after spending time dragging pots and plants around, digging holes, and planting herbs and flowers and bulbs and bushes. I love working outdoors. I feel courageous trying new things in the garden each year.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.

What are you growing in your gardens this year?

Posted in Food & Home | 2 Comments

Movie – American Sniper and Readin’ – American Sniper

I love to watch movies.

I love to read.

This past year I made it a point to see every movie that was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Here is the complete list of movies that were included in that category:

American Sniper
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

They were all good movies, and I enjoyed them for different reasons. The only movie on this list that I felt shouldn’t have been there was American Sniper. This was a big budget film with a high-powered director, Clint Eastwood. I like Clint Eastwood as a director more than I like him as an actor. I love the way Bradley Cooper portrayed Chris Kyle.

American Sniper movie

What I didn’t like and thought should have removed this movie from contention was the use of an animatronics baby in two scenes. The fake baby was obvious and creepy and, artistically, a big fail. I know that having a real, live baby in a film is a hassle and, according to reports, there were two lined up for these scenes. One was sick and the other was a no-show. So, rather than delay the filming of the scenes, Eastwood decided to use the fake baby. For me, that was a big mistake in a big budget film.

So my objection to its nomination was in no way based on all of the controversy surrounding the film. It was simply an artistic issue. American Sniper was nominated in other categories including Best Actor for Bradley Cooper, who I think did an outstanding job in this role, and the film won for Sound Editing. I had no problem with its other nominations and its one win.

When I commented about this film on Facebook, I was surprised at the responses. Again, my opinion is based on the artistic merits not the subject matter. It seems if you object to anything related to our military all of a sudden you are anti-veteran or anti-American.

I did not consider the controversy over Chris Kyle, his book and the lawsuit, or questions about his truthfulness in telling his stories in my assessment of the movie (for more on the defamation and unjust enrichment lawsuit which Kyle lost read this).

I liked the movie American Sniper. I just didn’t feel it was deserving of a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

I also read a review about the movie that said it followed Chris Kyle’s book closely. I decided to read the book, so that I could provide a more thorough review. Unfortunately, I was 439 on the reserve list at the library, and I just received and finished the book this past week.

American Sniper book cover

After reading the book, I feel that the screenwriter, director, and actors did a really good job portraying the lives of Chris Kyle, his wife, and others as written. Taya Kyle, Chris’ wife, included an excerpt at the end of the book edition I read that confirmed that she felt that they had done so, too. There were a few liberties with details in the movie that differed from the book, but they did not take away from the overall accurate depiction of Kyle and his life.

I rated the book 2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. Its average rating is 3.98 out of 5 so my rating is below the average. I did not give it this rating because it was poorly written. I gave it a reduced rating because of the actual story.

What did I like about the book? I enjoyed learning about the training and the weaponry and am amazed at how resourceful soldiers can be when they have a goal but are faced with bureaucracy and other obstacles and challenges.

What did I not like about the book? I did get tired of what I considered to be braggadocio. The actual facts of the excursions and experiences I understood and accepted, but Kyle’s role in some of them sometimes seemed . . . exaggerated. This is apparently why many people who I know in the military are not interested in seeing the movie or reading the book. What I’ve heard from many of them is that he spent too much time glorifying his personal experience. One of my relatives, who served two tours in Iraq and two more in the region, felt that his comments about the Iraqi people crossed the line of decency.

As one reviewer on Goodreads stated, the promotion of recreational violence, hazing, and the depictions of officers having no control over subordinates depicts a military that is in decline. It seems that Kyle believed that being a SEAL gave him and his military brothers special permission to participate in excessive drinking and violence outside of actual military expeditions. He boasted about his multiple arrests and getting off without being charged. He practically bragged about missing his daughter’s birthday party because he was in jail for a barroom fight in Tennessee while at training.

Perhaps that is what being trained to be an elite member of the military is all about. Perhaps that is what the military needs for special missions. The fact that Kyle is idolized for his 160 confirmed kills more than his actual skills speaks volumes, to me, about the love of guns and violence in our culture.

There is no doubt in my mind that Chris Kyle was devoted to his military career and approached it with a great deal of respect and hard work. He might have been the right man for the job he had to do in Iraq.

I read and felt that the movie, American Sniper, was a depiction of one man’s experience based on his life, personality, and temperament. Others in the military have other experiences based on their lives, personalities, and temperaments. One is not better or worse than others, necessarily. They are just different.

I know veterans and members of the military who are truly silent warrior types. Kyle claimed to be one because many of his missions were secret and he was a SEAL, but he spent a lot of time in the book being a lot less than silent. He demanded respect for himself and his opinions, but held those with differing ones with outright hostility.

Was Chris Kyle a hero? Going to war and facing the enemy with little fear and a lot of bravery probably qualifies him as one for most people.

Was Chris Kyle a deeply flawed man? Yes, by his own admission. He was confident to the point of arrogance about his role and job in the military. He neglected his family for love of the military and his country. At least he was honest about it.

Do I recommend the movie and book? Yes on the movie and no on the book. Artistically, the movie was flawed, but Bradley Cooper did a great job, and it is enlightening to see the experience through Kyle’s eyes. I didn’t need to read the book after seeing the movie, and, in any case, the movie was better than the book.

Who is the true hero of American Sniper?

In my opinion, Taya Kyle, Chris’ wife, is the true hero. Taya provided a lot of text in the book, but does not even get mentioned or credited as a co-author. Taya Kyle, the woman who loved this man in spite of him placing her and their children last on his priority list for most of their married life. Taya said it best when she realized that his true family were his fellow SEALs and military team. Her excerpts provided the best insight into the true sacrifices faced by military families, and I’m glad they were included in the movie. I’m also happy that Chris finally connected with her and his kids in a positive way the year before his untimely death.

Chris Kyle and a companion were killed at a gun range in February 2013 where they had taken a veteran they were helping who was suffering from PTSD. It seems to be the ultimate irony that Kyle ended up being killed by one of his military brothers with one of his own weapons.

The movie was being filmed when this happened, and a decision was made to include it as the ending to the movie.

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. And sadder.

Note: So what was my pick for Best Picture? I felt that Birdman would win and it did. Why? Because it’s a story about actors and the award is for acting. They were rewarding their own angst. This doesn’t take away from the movie which I thought was really good, and I really love Michael Keaton in general and in this role. I would have been happy if Boyhood (seamless transitions considering the length of time over which this movie was shot), The Imitation Game (Benedict Cumberbatch, what more can I say?), The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne totally killed it and deserved Best Actor), or Selma (should be a must see for high school history classes) would have won. The Grand Budapest Hotel was artsy and quirky, and I love that. Whiplash was really intense, and I am so happy that J.K. Simmons won for Best Supporting Actor.

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Readin’ – My Love Affair With Books

I’ve been an avid reader for almost my entire life. My love of reading originated when my 3rd grade teacher read the book, Charlotte’s Web, to us. A little at a time. At the end of each day if we completed all of our work and were well-behaved. I was captivated not only by the story, but by the story-teller. She made it come alive for us.


As I grew older, I spent my hard-earned money buying books. Rather than candy and Hostess Twinkies and Ding Dongs from the local 7-11. (Well, I may have had a few of those, too.) Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. They helped me to survive my rapidly deteriorating family life. I could escape the screaming and yelling and cursing and physical violence by becoming immersed in their stories of adventure and familial support and happiness.

Nancy Drew

I loved to check out the books in the bookmobile that came to our school. I read every biography of every famous woman that they stocked – Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great. My early heroes.

SLC Bookmobile

As I grew older, I read everything that I could get my hands on. The woman across the street was also a reader – mostly Reader’s Digest condensed books and romance novels. She invited me to borrow and read her books. I read everything on her bookcase. I’m not sure some of them were really appropriate for my age, but no one ever bothered to check on me so long as I was tucked away in a corner somewhere reading. The squeaky wheel gets the attention, and I was no squeaky wheel.

As I grew older, school became my escape. I loved school and learning and even reading textbooks. I was probably one of the few kids to actually read the books assigned in English classes. I even read the novels that my kids were assigned from their AP reading lists in high school. Many of them were already on our bookshelf anyway. I have an appreciation for the classics and have read and re-read many of them. The classics take on new and different meanings with life experiences, and I recommend that you try re-reading something you read when you were younger.

I also read the few books that my father brought home including In Cold Blood. I was very young when I took it from his bookshelf. I realized that this book might get taken away from me so I read it secretly. I don’t know what this says about me that I hid books to read rather than other, more normal, kid things. I also read The Exorcist and Helter Skelter. I loved Agatha Christie and John le Carré. These were my early forays into crime and spy novels which I enjoy to this day as my guilty pleasure or beach reads. The darker the better.

I eventually became addicted to science fiction and fantasy which I read avidly through high school and college. Adams, Asimov, Bradbury, Clark, Heinlein, Herbert, Huxley, Tolkien. My forays into women authors in this genre (Atwood, Butler, Le Guin) and more recent works (Gaiman) would come later.


After college, I moved away from reading fiction and concentrated on self-help books. Books on babies, parenting, and marriage became my resources to try to avoid making the mistakes of my parents and to build a happy and healthy family. And, after having four children including a set of twins and adding my niece as our 5th child, I spent most of my time outside of working, running a household, and raising kids – sleeping. Not much time to read for pleasure.

baby and child care

I read a lot of children’s books during this time, and I loved reading Harry Potter and other series with my kids as they, too, developed a love of reading.

I spent four years attending the Biblical Studies program at The University of Dallas. We studied the entire Bible, and I learned a lot about my Catholic faith through this course and through teaching religion classes. I have an entire bookcase of really good books about the Bible and religion from this time in my life.

I gradually returned to reading for pleasure – fiction and non-fiction. I will read just about anything except the bodice rippers and horror. I lean toward dark novels and particularly enjoy dystopian and apocalyptic literature. Neat, clean, and tidy endings aren’t for me.

One of the things that I do, when I find an author that I like, is to read their entire body of work from start to finish. It’s fascinating to see the development of an author in this way. I did this with several authors I mentioned already and others like John Irving and John Grisham (until I got tired of them) and Jerzy KosiÅ„ski (one of my early dark authors). One of my top 10 books of all time is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I have gone back to his earlier works to fill in the gaps with those books of his that I haven’t read. He actually used punctuation early on.

The Road

It adds much to the reading of a book to understand the background and time period in which an author lived. We are all products of our experiences, and this applies to authors, too. Artists of all types – authors, artists, actors, poets – provide us with a unique perspective on our world. They become timeless when they transcend the era in which they produced their body of work.

I also make sure that I read books by women authors and authors from other cultures. I appreciate the expansion of high school AP reading lists from primarily white, male European and American authors to include women authors and novels from other parts of the world. The perspective gained by expanding your reading list in this way is invaluable.

During the 18 months I spent traveling back and forth to Minnesota to help my sister as my brother-in-law battled cancer, I read the books on their bookshelves and e-readers. Lots and lots of books – sometimes a book a day. My brother-in-law expanded my reading list to books and authors that I would never have picked up on my own. I recently finished Saint Odd by Dean Koontz, a series which he got me started on, but which he was not able to finish.

In 2014, as I dealt with family issues through therapy, I returned to reading in a big way. Rather than a book a month or so, I made a goal to read 50 books in 2014 and ended up reading 80. I filled in the gaps with a lot of books and authors from the period when I was concentrating on raising children rather than reading for pleasure. I caught up on many popular books and authors that I hadn’t read, but were recommended to me by my friends who read a lot. I re-read a lot of books that I enjoyed when I was much younger.

All the light we cannot see

I also read a lot of WWII books, fiction and non-fiction, in 2014, and All The Light We Cannot See is at the top of this list. I joined a Book Club in November and purchased this book to share at the book exchange in December. Five others in the book club also chose this same book to share so I expect to see it on our list in 2015.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve read a good book, try it. Our local library is on-line. I can add a book to my reserve list, order it (even in advance of publication), and drop off and pick up through the drive up window. They even allow me to renew on-line and send me email notices if I happen to have a book due soon.

Reading has always been a big part of my life. It is not only an escape from the harsh realities of life, but a source of enjoyment. Reading allows one to expand outlooks, learn empathy, and become more educated. Becoming an empty nester is allowing me the time to carve out a little of each day to read. It’s more than a hobby for me.

If you want to see what I’m reading or follow my book recommendations, feel free to friend me on Goodreads. My user name is tdepaepe.

Posted in Bucket List | 2 Comments

2014 – The Year I Took a Sabbatical

Like most people, at the end of each year I think about resolutions or goals for the next year. As I entered the last quarter of 2013, I made a decision to reach out to a family member with whom I had a difficult relationship. A relationship that had been rocky since I was an adolescent. My goal was to start 2014 repairing that relationship so that we could move forward in the last years of our lives. I wanted a more traditional relationship with this person that would also extend to my children.

I had spent the previous few years dealing with end of life issues. My father died in 2008 after two tumultuous years of decline. After that, I helped my sister and brother-in-law with his parents – their aging, decline, and subsequent deaths. Then this same brother-in-law learned he had cancer. I spent the next 18 months helping him and my sister until he also passed away in July 2013. I saw many of my friends dealing with aging parents and their anguish over that, but I also saw many of them having some really great relationships with their older parents, too.

Day with Diane 07_15_2014 (2)

David, my brother-in-law, and I spent many hours talking about life and love and family. He had a difficult relationship with his only sibling, a brother, and, sometimes, with his folks. In spite of that, they had always remained connected. We talked about my extended family and the impact the acrimonious divorce between my parents had on us that resulted in a lifetime of cutting off behavior. Behavior which followed a pattern that existed, historically, with my aunts and uncles and among their children, too. It’s interesting how some families stay connected no matter what and others cut off from each other over the most trivial things. Research bears out that these patterns tend to exist in families.

After my brother-in-law died, I spent a lot of time taking a 360° look at my life. I looked back. I looked at the present. And I looked forward. When I closed my eyes, I pictured myself standing in a field on a sunny summer day with wildflowers up to my knees as I turned around and around with my arms outstretched and eyes looking up into the sky. The realization that life can be so fleeting and short made me decide to do two things in 2014.

#1 Repair the relationship with my family member.

#2 Take a year off. A year off from doing most things other than the basics. A gap year. A sabbatical year.

I started working on #1 by sending a letter to my family member in December 2013. I knew it was a difficult letter. I asked difficult questions. I made difficult observations. But they were my questions and observations. I felt that my emotions and desires came through. I did not call names. I did not make accusations. I stated what I felt were facts. Facts that I wanted changed for what I felt were all the right reasons. It was heartfelt, and I thought it was obvious I was hurting.

I was wrong. I was wrong about how it would be interpreted. I was wrong about how it would be accepted.

I learned a few months later, via email, that the letter, the private letter between me and this person, had been scanned and disseminated among a select group of family members where I was vilified. Where my feelings were dismissed and misconstrued.

I made a mistake by responding to the question posed in the email, the email about the letter that had been inappropriately shared.

I didn’t respond in anger, but I did share some of the most egregious actions that impacted me and my relationship with my family member. These things were not pretty. They were pretty awful in fact. But they asked, and I shared. I shared with only those few people who were included on the email. People who were there and had knowledge of these events. I was hoping that by sharing these things that there would be a greater understanding of how I felt hurt, and how I wanted to mend.

I was wrong. I was wrong to respond to the email. I was wrong about how it would be accepted and interpreted.

My response was then shared without my knowledge or consent with a broader group of family members including many nieces and nephews. Nieces and nephews who had no knowledge of what had happened all those years ago. Nieces and nephews who were now traumatized to learn of the actions of this family member. This family member with whom they had a good relationship.

One of my nephews, “speaking on behalf of the family” told me in no uncertain terms that I was no longer going to be considered to “exist” as a family member and that I should “drop dead.”

So, the cutting off behavior was going to be continued to a new generation of family members. Our children.

It wasn’t over yet. My family member, perhaps emboldened by the support of all of the others, decided it was their turn to weigh in with me.

I received a letter. A letter so filled with vitriol and hate that it made my head spin. I was accused of being the one and only reason there were problems in the family. I started this 45 years ago. When I was 12 years old. I was living in the past, and I had a significant mental health issue for which I needed help and medication. My husband and children were “saints” to have put up with me for all these years. I was just like my father. The worst insult one in my family can receive. I was not worthy of having a relationship with, and I was effectively cut off from the family. I was “garbage.”

Was I really this horrible person?

Rose Kennedy quote

So #1 expanded to include a trip to therapy. A trip that I should have taken years ago. A trip that allowed me to finally let go of my past and my goal to create a family where none really existed. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is the saying that comes to mind for me now.

Therapy helped me to understand what I already knew intuitively. That some things are just not repairable. That some things will just never be fixed. That it is okay to let go of significant family members in spite of what the pundits and memes all expound.

I also learned that I do not have a significant mental health issue, and I do not need medicine.

Hurray for me!

But, seriously, I knew this already. And so did those who truly know and care about me. My husband, my children, my two closest sisters, my really good friends. These are people who have spent much more time with me over the years than many of my own family members. These are people who have been in my life for decades. They all knew I was okay, too, but they all encouraged me to seek validation from a professional.

I would encourage anyone who has considered therapy but not taken the step to do so. I was lucky to find someone with whom I connected, and I walked away a much happier person.

It did take me all of  2014 to process my pain and grief, though, and I’m glad my immediate family, my new and improved smaller extended family, hung in there with me because I went through some pretty shitty emotions in 2014.

Rejection is never easy especially when it comes from someone who is supposed to be there for you, to love you unconditionally, and to help you if you are in need.

So, my family circle got significantly smaller in 2014. Apparently, there is now a “good” side of the family and a “bad” side of the family. Guess which side I’m on.

Being bad never felt so good. I am still sad. But I feel free. And that is empowering.

The consequence of my initial letter is that there is a more permanent rift in my family which is the opposite of everything I have worked toward for over 40 years. A rift that had existed for a long time, but had been simmering below the surface.

I’m sad that this happened. In fact sadness is not a strong enough word. The word that describes my feelings about this is sorrow. Deep, deep sorrow.

Is the rift permanent? I don’t know. Probably. While I have learned to never say never, I have no great expectation that this will ever change. And I’m okay with that.


So the other unintended consequence of #1 is that I really needed my sabbatical year which was goal #2 for 2014.

I took a year off from just about everything. Yes, I still took care of my home and my family. I kept up with the basics. I just didn’t take on anything extra. I spent a lot of time in introspection and self-reflection. I felt that I was at a crossroads in my life. In my life as a wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend.

I allowed myself a year to go over my past, look at my present, and prepare for the future. And, yes, I know that I am exceedingly blessed to have a loving, supportive husband who allowed me this time along with two sisters and many precious friends who have always been so kind and understanding during the ups and downs of my life (and now my sabbatical year).

I took a year off from volunteering. That was hard since I’ve been an active volunteer for all of my adult life.

I took up reading for pleasure again and escaped by reading 80 books in 2014.

I spent a lot of time writing. Writing stuff I will never post or share. Writing stories. Writing about my life, but also writing fictional stories about people in my imagination.

I worked on my garden and yard and other projects around my new old home. Doing work with my hands, physical work, is a way for me to relieve stress and feel a sense of accomplishment. I learned new things that I never thought about doing like upholstering chair seats and other DIY stuff. My sister and I do a lot of antiquing.

I went through the grief process with my sisters as we processed the death of my brother-in-law, but also the loss of a large part of our extended family. Us baddies have to stick together.

David 65 Birthday clouds bringing relief from the heat 07062012

In 2015 I will step back into volunteering. I’m signed up for the citizen’s police academy in the city in which I live. I asked to be considered to be a third-party reviewer for family support team meetings for kids in foster care. I will continue to read and even joined a book club. I am committed to writing something every single day. I will continue to work on learning new things – I have quite an extensive DIY list for my home, my yard and garden, and our little cottage at the lake. Our two youngest children will graduate from college this year, and we will transition to being full-fledged empty nesters.

And I will continue to work on my new-found happiness centered around those people who truly take the time to know and love me. I will no longer waste time and energy on those who are not interested in having a healthy relationship with me. Life is just too damn short.

My husband and I have a key word for 2015. Understanding. He will need it as he now deals with the issues of aging with someone who is very important in his life.

I hope that I will be able to give him back some of what he gave to me in 2014.

Posted in Faith & Family | 5 Comments

Bedroom #2 Makeover at the Quirky Old Home

I finally finished the last room I had left to paint and decorate upstairs in our quirky old home.

This room belongs to my daughter who spent a semester studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I wanted to do something to personalize her space and make it special.

Jacci's Room (7)

So I surprised her by stenciling this quote onto her wall above her bed. I don’t know Spanish well enough to come up with something on my own, so her bi-lingual friend who she met in Argentina suggested this.

Jacci's Room (5) cropped

Basically, it means wherever you travel becomes a part of you. (At least I hope that’s what it means!) Since this trip was a life changing event in my daughter’s life, I thought it was appropriate.

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I replaced her furniture with various antiques and other older furniture including this dresser which is identical to the one in her twin sister’s room with a slightly different finish and mirror.

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This little secretary looks cute in the corner along with a refinished dining room chair.

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This was the hardest room I have ever painted. There are two dormers, multiple doorways and closets as well as extra trim. I had to paint both the ceiling and the trim so the entire painting part of the project took me about 7 days to complete. DSH removed the paint from the hinges and latch on the dormer closet and cleaned the wood floor.

Jacci's Room (15)

The paint color is a heritage color called Mackinac blue, but is really more green than blue. The former color was that 80s era pinkish mauve color.

We also checked and replaced all of the electrical outlets and switches. Our home has a mix of aluminum and copper wiring and not all of the fixtures that include aluminum have the correct outlets installed. One of the outlets that was wired incorrectly had actually melted inside the metal box. Scary. Changing these all out to white really made a big aesthetic difference, too.

I can’t help but go up to this room and just stare at it. The overall transformation is just amazing.

The first dormer holds a quilt rack along with quilts made by my mother-in-law which I am so happy to be able to finally display.

The second dormer includes a bookcase as well as my daughter’s pictures, bean bag chair, and special stuffed animals from high school.

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I purchased the same toile bedspread (along with curtains) that I used in her twin sister’s bedroom only in red rather than gray / black. Then I found this repainted table in the same red as the trim.

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Here is a shot of the bed and window with matching curtains as well as an old picture my sister had of “three little girls” and the second chair. I added a modern, white shag rug to the floor so the effect is one of old and new.

I am so glad I finally got this room done. And my daughter loves her new room, too, even if it’s “a little too floral” for her taste. Bonus – She even gave me a big hug and thanked me for doing this for her even though she will probably be moving into her own space after graduation next May.

And double bonus! When I went upstairs after the girls left to go back to school after Thanksgiving break, I found that both rooms were cleaned and the beds were even made!

We will eventually work on the two storage closets on this floor, but I am going to concentrate on the main floor and the game room attached to the garage next.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Food & Home | 5 Comments

A Visit to Ferguson, MO

The Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, some friends and I decided to visit Ferguson, Missouri, which, unless you have been living in a cave recently, has seen more than its share of attention, mostly negative, since the Michael Brown shooting last August 9.  My friends and I wanted to support the community and its businesses by visiting and spending time and money there.

I was born in northern Illinois, but have lived most of my life in the St. Louis area (other than a few adult years in Chicago, Boston, and Dallas). My husband and I raised our five daughters here, and we believe that it is a great place to raise a family.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is made up of East St. Louis and 4 counties in Illinois as well as the city of St. Louis and 6 counties, including St. Louis County, in Missouri.

Those of us who live here identify three distinct areas in St. Louis County – North County, South County, and West County. The city of St. Louis is not considered part of St. Louis County and is usually referred to separately.

I grew up in West County, but currently live “across the river” in the city of St. Charles. Ferguson, Missouri, is a little less than 15 miles from my home and is located in North St. Louis County and is made up mostly of middle class working families.

Ferguson_TCD_11_2014 (3)

Ferguson Brewing Company in Ferguson, Missouri, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Lunch with some of my twin mom friends. Between us, we have 17 children ranging in age from 3 to 31 years.

I have a lot of friends who live in Ferguson or who have lived in Ferguson or the North County area. One of my twins, who is in college, has a sorority sister / roommate who is a life-long resident of Ferguson.

Our entire community is hurting as the images of the Michael Brown death and subsequent protests and riots have brought a lot of (mostly negative) attention to our region. Watching the news, you would think that the entire community has gone down in flames, and that the civil unrest is widespread and all-inclusive. I have other friends who won’t even consider driving to North County due to the media coverage and the fear it has generated. They fear for their lives even though not a single life has been lost as a result of the protests. As I posted on Facebook the day I visited. “Not scary. Not scared.”

The friends and people I know who have connections to Ferguson and North County are proud to live there and are understandably upset by the negative portrayal of their hometown. Many of us who live in the surrounding areas are also upset.


Photo courtesy of Parisa Faramarzi. Painting colorful murals of hope on the boarded up buildings in Ferguson, Missouri, over Thanksgiving.

My daughter’s roommate currently lives in Ferguson with her sister and her mother. Her father, who passed away a few years ago, and mother were dedicated to the city of Ferguson and built a successful business there. She loves Ferguson. They never once considered leaving Ferguson or their home even during the height of the rioting which they could hear from their home close to one of the two areas of the city targeted by the rioting, looting, and peaceful protests.

At lunch, one of the women who owns a home in Ferguson and whose children go to school in the district talked about all of the businesses and people who are dedicated to the community. She named names and businesses. She knew my daughter’s roommate’s family. This is a tight-knit community.

Five of the other women have also either lived in Ferguson or in a community close by. They all have worked in Ferguson or nearby. They talked about the good things that happen in the community and area.

After lunch, I toured the city of Ferguson and parts of Dellwood with my friend, Kim. She works throughout the region and has had several jobs in Ferguson, one as recently as last September. She owned her first home in Ferguson. She grew up in North County.

Kim drove me through the two commercial areas that have been hit hard by the violent actions and which have dominated the news. There have been about a dozen buildings in Ferguson and the adjacent community of Dellwood that have burned down. A few more have suffered some incidental damage. Many buildings house businesses that remain open, but have their windows boarded up.

Trust me. They look bad. Very bad.

Those that took advantage of the volatile situation and looted and rioted did not help the community or the situation. Almost every business in Ferguson has taken a financial hit because of this situation.

That, however, is not the entire story.


I ♥ Ferguson signs dotted the community before Michael Brown’s death. Driving through the commercial and residential areas, these signs are in abundance.

Ferguson is and has been a racially and ethnically diverse community of mostly middle class families. It is a community full of pride. It has an award-winning Farmers Market. The city has been around since the 1850s and has a long history. The library, which is on the stretch of road that includes some burned out buildings, remained open during the unrest and served the community’s children when the schools were closed. The community is served by four school districts and includes three private schools, and a branch of the county community college. The University of Missouri – St. Louis is adjacent to Ferguson. One major business, Emerson Electric, is located in Ferguson and several other major business are also located nearby including Boeing and Express Scripts.

In other words, this is a strong community made up of real people who care about it and each other. People who live and work together.

The restaurant, where we ate, was full. Full of families and friends. Full of people of various ages, colors, and ethnic groups. It was closed for one day, but has done a booming business since then feeding both law enforcement personnel, protesters, residents, and visitors.

There are businesses boarded up next to businesses that are not boarded up. There are businesses that have been damaged next to businesses that have been untouched. Some of the damage seems totally random.

Next, we drove through many residential areas. We drove by Kim’s first home, and, as we drove I was struck by a few things. First of all, not a single home in any neighborhood that we drove through had any damage from any rioting or looting. Many of these residential areas and homes are directly behind the commercial buildings that were damaged. People in the neighborhoods were out raking leaves and putting up holiday decorations. They were going about business as usual. I ♥ Ferguson signs were everywhere. If you drive through a residential area in Ferguson, you would not know what has been happening there.

There are many businesses, adjacent to damaged ones, that were untouched. The Target parking lot, which continued to house media vans on Thanksgiving weekend, was untouched and not boarded up. If you were in that parking lot, you wouldn’t realize that one of the damaged businesses was less than a block away.

We drove down the street and by the spot where Michael Brown was shot and lay for over four hours on that August afternoon. It is a narrow residential street. There are homes along the street up to the front of the apartment complex where he was shot. None of these homes or apartment buildings were damaged in any way. The buildings are about 40 feet from where he lay. That is not far. Look out the front window of your home to the middle of your street and imagine seeing a person laying there for four hours bleeding onto the pavement.

This struck me because the aerial video led me to believe that Michael Brown was walking down a major thoroughfare and was blocking traffic. The aerial video also blurs the image of the body of Michael Brown which the residents, including children, saw as he lay most of the time uncovered and unblocked from view. No wonder people were upset.

In fairness, this residential street is a major street into several neighborhoods. It is not a thoroughfare to any businesses unless you are leaving the neighborhood. Should Michael Brown have been walking down the middle of the street? No. But how many times have I driven into a neighborhood and had to wait for kids to move out of the way because they are playing street hockey or ball or just taking up space? How many times do I drive down a driving lane in a shopping center and have to wait for people, who are walking down the center of the aisle like it is a sidewalk, to move to the side so I can pass?

In my humble opinion, the aerial footage and reporting just have not depicted this scene accurately.

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Photo courtesy of Michelle Evans Photography, November 30, 2014. The holiday sign in the old town area of Ferguson, Missouri.

My first marriage was to a police officer. In 1977 he was directing traffic at the Hussmann Refrigeration plant during a worker strike. In an act of anger, one of the union workers struck him with his car. He was not badly hurt, and I worried about the police officers every day, many of whom I knew personally. I also sympathized with the union workers who had gone without a contract for many months.

I believe that there is enough room for empathy, sympathy, and understanding for all sides. Law enforcement has a tough job. Law enforcement is not all bad. Rioters and looters are not the same as peaceful protesters. Most of the actions in the community and around the country in light of other, similar cases, have been peaceful. But even peaceful protests have been criticized by people who do not want to try and understand the cause or even hear about it.

There is a huge middle ground here, and we, as a community and a country, need to try to find that middle ground to make a better place for everyone to live. I am disappointed in so many people who are choosing to take a polarized position on the situation in Ferguson (and other similar situations that have come to light since) which, ultimately is a reflection on the issue of race in America. That seems to be the way of the world these days. Pick a side. Have polarized opinions. Make hateful comments about those whose opinions differ from yours.

I had a conversation this past weekend with a young man who is in the military. He said that while he doesn’t necessarily understand or support the cause of the people who are protesting, he absolutely supports their right to peacefully protest.

My sister had a conversation with a friend of hers who lives in Wisconsin. Apparently, the pastor of her church had a sermon about Ferguson which alluded to the community being destroyed and how wrong it all was. I was glad that I was able to share my experiences with my sister who could then share them with her friend to let her know that what they are seeing and believing is not the entire story.

I’m glad that I made the effort to visit Ferguson to learn more about what is happening there. What I learned is that there’s almost always more to the story, and the truth almost always lies in the middle. I, for one, am going to make more of an effort to seek additional information and truth before passing rash judgments especially on the volatile issues of the day. My hope is that others will do the same.

Note: I have disabled the Comments section for this post. I am not interested in opening up yet another discussion resulting in polarizing comments and accusations. I believe that there is a middle ground. I believe we can support our police and law enforcement, and at the same time try to understand how we can improve race relations not just in our area, but in our entire country.

Posted in Home | Leave a comment

Readin’ – Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The historic district in our town recently held their first holiday open house, and my sister, niece, and I went to visit our favorite antique stores.

I was in the market to find a side table for my daughter’s bedroom which I have been working on painting and re-decorating (I’ll blog about that later).

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Here is the side table that I found. Perfect size. Perfect color.

The interesting thing about this trip to the antique stores was not finding the perfect side table, however.

Before we went shopping, I had been preparing to write a blog post on the book, Charlotte’s Web.


Well, every year or so, friends publish their top 10 favorite book lists. I have published mine a few times, and I have only been able to pare it down to a top 12 list. Some of the items on the list include an example of my favorite book in a genre so it really is even more than my top 12.

Here is my list:

  • Joy of Cooking by Rombauer, The Fanny Farmer Cookbook by Cunningham, & Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child & Beck. I have an entire bookcase of cookbooks as that is one of my passions, but these three I cannot live without and use almost every day.
  • Webster’s Dictionary. I have 2 shelves of dictionaries, thesauruses, and other books like The Chicago Manual of Style. My favorite is the oldest, most tattered dictionary because I can always find the word and definition I am looking for in it.
  • The Holy Bible. I have 2 shelves of bibles, old prayer books, and reference books from my 4-year Biblical Studies degree which is why I know that the brand of fundamentalist Christianity out there right now is not Christ-like.
  • The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias. I’ve had this book for decades. It is what I used to break the cycle of poor financial planning modeled by my parents, and it is how I achieved financial independence. The book is based on common sense, and I have given copies to my children.
  • The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings by Tolkien and most older science fiction (love Isamov). This is what I read in high school and college, and it provided me an escape from real life. I love fantasy and science fiction literature and movies to this day.
  • Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Anything by Charles Dickens, but this is a love story and social commentary in one that is timeless.
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This story haunts me to this day.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Read everything he writes, but I am an avid reader of dystopic and apocryphal literature and this is an example.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A must read for every woman.  Love everything she writes.
  • Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. We literally wore out copies of this book reading it over and over again to our children.  We buy it for friends having babies.  Other favorites include The Piggy in the Puddle by Pomerantz because it speaks to remembering to have fun (we had to buy the book because we checked it out of the library so much we were prohibited from ever checking it out again) and Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes because it speaks to being authentic and true to yourself.
  • Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling. We read a LOT to our kids, but this was the last series read aloud to them (into middle school).  Love the book and the movies, but most of all love the memories of snuggling with my kids.
  • Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.  Our favorite Christmas book.  We all have bells that we hang up at Christmas time.

You’ll notice that Charlotte’s Web is not on my top 12 list. But it should be.


Because this is the book that turned me into an avid, life-long reader.

When I was in 3rd grade, some 49 years ago in 1965, my teacher, Mrs. Allensworth, read this book aloud to us every single day. Well, every single day that we were good and completed all of our work. We had a lot of work in 3rd grade. We learned multiplication tables and long division. We learned to write in cursive.

But if we finished our assigned work, Mrs. Allensworth would read a few pages of Charlotte’s Web to us. I was transfixed. She added life and passion to this story, and I could barely wait to hear more.

So, I decided to write about this defining event in my life, and I was researching the origins of Charlotte’s Web.

I learned it was originally published in 1952. I learned that it continued to be one of the most read aloud books to 3rd graders in 2004, nearly 40 years after I was a 3rd grader listening to this story. It routinely appears on teachers top 100 books of all time lists.

So, when we were going through our favorite antique store, I ran across a booth filled with old books. I always stop and go through piles of old books in antique stores. Mostly, I find those few week wonders in the piles. Biographies of celebrities and politicians and old, fad diet cookbooks. Not antique books.

I spent awhile going through the books when I ran across a 1952 edition of Charlotte’s Web in near perfect condition including the dust jacket and all.


The book was selling for $3.00 so I scooped it up. I mentioned that it was an original edition to the woman who checked me out, and she said that she didn’t realize that. Apparently, it was in her booth.

Sometimes things happen that feel like a sign. Like I was meant to find this book.

When I got home, I researched how much this book might be worth. Turns out this isn’t an original First Edition, it’s an original Book Club Edition. A regular First Edition is worth between $1,000 and $4,500. This Book Club Edition is only worth about $35. The book along with the dust cover are in almost pristine condition, and it was printed before I was born which means it’s very old. Ha.

Which I think is very, very cool.

I love books. I love e-books. I love library books. I love borrowing books. I love sharing my books. I love owning my own books. I love the smell of books.

I love going through bookshelves in libraries, bookstores, and antique stores (apparently). I like to look at my friend’s bookshelves, including electronic ones like Goodreads, to see what they are reading.

But, most importantly, I love to read, and this book spoke to me when I was very young resulting in a life-long love of reading.

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web


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What’s Cookin’ – Thanksgiving Recipes and the Almost Empty Nest

As our nest gets emptier, our holidays continue to evolve. For the past several years, our daughter who lives in California has come to visit on Thanksgiving and our daughter and son-in-law who live in Arizona come at Christmas. Our middle daughter lived away from our home town for a few years, but moved back this past year. So, for the past few years, we’ve seen all of our kids at the holidays. Just not all on the same holiday!

This year all of us will be together. At the same time! In the same place! Six of us will travel to Arizona to spend Christmas with our oldest daughter and son-in-law. We will continue our themed Christmas which will be . . . Southwest. Can’t wait to see how creative everyone will be with this theme this year.

Our five girls and their food babies

Thanksgiving 2011 – the last time all of us were together at the same time in the same place!

But before Christmas comes Thanksgiving. My sister, who lives three blocks from us, will be hosting the holiday this year. It will be a quiet holiday with only 8 of us there. And that is all right with me. We will not be those parents who insist that their children spend every holiday with them. We love spending time, including the holidays, with our children, but we have known too many people for whom holidays were stressful because of overbearing and demanding relatives. So, we will be respectful of our adult children’s decisions regarding holidays (and other matters, too).

This has made our holidays so much more fun for everyone. They are casual. We have good food. We play cards and games. And our children feel free to come and go as they maneuver in-law’s and boyfriend’s holiday schedules.

My sister, niece and nephew, and I decided on our Thanksgiving menu last week. My sister ordered the fresh turkey and is in charge of roasting it this year. Hopefully, the sink won’t detach from the counter, fall into the cabinet, and create a massive water leak and mess at the crack of dawn like last year. Yes. That happened.

My niece and nephew are in charge of side dishes except for the regular rolls, cranberry sauce, and desserts. My niece and sister have Celiac Disease so they will also provide their own bread.

I am in charge of the pies (including homemade whipped cream), cranberry sauce, and yeast rolls.

Our three kids who will be with us at Thanksgiving are in charge of beverages. We used to provide sparkling grape juice, white and red, for the kids. I think it’s safe to say that the grape juice will be of the wine variety this year. At least until we start having young kids around again.

Yesterday, I bought the cranberries to make my homemade cranberry sauce.

Cranberries 3# size

Last year this 48 ounce bag cost me $4.97. This year the price was $4.98.

Making homemade cranberry sauce is frightfully easy. You can see my recipe and tutorial here. The beauty of this recipe is that you can (and should) make your cranberry sauce a few weeks in advance. You can make it and refrigerate it for up to two weeks, or you can process it and keep it on the shelf for up to 12 months. Making it a few weeks before you serve it allows the flavor to completely mellow.

Cranberry Sauce Ready to Eat 2012

Homemade cranberry sauce.

My kids LOVE cranberry sauce, and I used the canned stuff for many years, but the homemade version is so much better and so easy I guarantee you won’t go back. I make a plain and a spiced version (using orange, cloves, and cinnamon), and this is one of my most visited posts on my blog. This is so easy to prepare that I make extra to share with friends. Kind of an early Christmas gift.

Cream of Mushroom Soup ready to use

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup.

If you have friends or family who are gluten intolerant, many holiday recipes present challenges when it comes to using canned “cream of” soups. I started making my own Cream of Chicken and Cream of Mushroom soup. You can make these gluten free or not by using all-purpose flour rather than rice flour. There are three reasons to make your “cream of” soups homemade: #1 The homemade versions are so much better tasting, #2 they don’t require a lot of extra effort or time, and #3 gluten free canned soups are very expensive.

The standard size on canned soups is 10¾ ounces or slightly more than one cup so be sure to measure the homemade soup for your recipes. And eat the rest as regular soup. Seriously, would you ever eat the canned cream of whatever soups as regular soup? I know I wouldn’t, but the homemade cream soups are so, so yummy.

Green Bean Casserole ready to eat

My version of the iconic Green Bean Casserole.

If you like Green Bean Casserole, I have a homemade version that is also really, really good. I saw a version of this on Cook’s Country and re-created it in a gluten-free version as This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Green Bean Casserole.

Cranberry Salad ready to serve

Some other recipes that I love for Thanksgiving include Cranberry Salad. This recipe is from my friend, Cathy. It is very good, but if you want it for Thanksgiving dinner, you need to start to prepare it two days in advance. I made a few tweaks to the original recipe, and it is easily halved for smaller gatherings.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

My version of Nantucket Cranberry Pie.

The other cranberry recipe that I love is for Nantucket Cranberry Pie. There are a lot of versions of this recipe out there, but this one, from The Pioneer Woman, is the one I use. I admit that I use more than two cups of cranberries. I use an entire 12-ounce bag (about 3 cups of cranberries). The recipe calls for 2 heaping cups and that is just not enough.  Think cranberry cobbler – easy to make and so good to eat!

Turkey Cookie step ready to eat

Turkey Cookies.

Finally, here’s a fun Thanksgiving treat to make and share – Fudge Striped Shortbread Turkey Cookies. My kids loved these cookies when Grandma made them when they were younger. I made them a few years ago and plan on making them again this year because even older kids love them.

I hope that your Thanksgiving plans include time with friends and family who you care about and who care about you!

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