The Final Stretch

We have five kids.

Three are grown and flown.

Our babies, our twins, are getting ready to enter their last year of college.

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Our twins on their birth day.

I was smiling in this picture, but inside I was terrified. I knew how much work one infant could be, and now I was going to have to take care of two plus the two older ones, and I still had a full-time career job!

One of the first things we did was to decide that I would leave my job (and my career as it turned out). This decision did not come easily. In fact, I waited until the absolute last minute to decide and then I had to choke the words out to my boss that I would not be returning – to a job I loved working for a great company with great people.

I spent the next three years agonizing over the loss of my career. A career that I had worked hard to build and where I had spent many years since my twins were born when I was in my late 30s.

That is, I agonized over it in between the many sleepless nights and the endless feedings and non-stop poop patrol.

Having children over a 10-year span meant that just about the time I thought I was done with breast feeding and diapers and potty training, it started all over again.

I remember thinking I would never get them off the breast and out of diapers and all of them into school.

I remember wondering if I would ever be able to go to the bathroom alone again or take a shower without a kid watching me or get a full night of sleep. Or have uninterrupted sex with my husband again.

Yes, I went there.

These are vivid memories even as my youngest two turn twenty-two.

Having babies, though, is only the beginning of the journey. There are many times, as kids grow up, that you long for the simpler days of non-stop feedings, burpings, and diaper changes.

The challenges of parenting don’t go away once you leave the baby and toddler years – they just become different.

You have to learn to navigate kids going to school, friends and bullies, homework, extracurricular activities, sex and drug education, learning to drive, dating, snarky teenagers, high school jobs, college visits and applications.

Parenting challenges never seem to end. They just evolve into newer, different, and potentially more life changing challenges.

Oh, and sleepless nights return once you have teenagers. Teenagers have a way, similar to babies, of putting a damper on your love life, too.

Yes, I went there AGAIN.

Just about the time our lives started calming down, we added a fifth child to our family. Our niece came to live with us permanently when she was 13. She came to us through the Division of Family Services because her birth parents were not taking proper care of her.

Our family dynamics changed dramatically as we shifted bedrooms and our lives to accommodate another smart and beautiful young girl into our home. She fit neatly, chronologically, in between daughter #1 and daughter #2. In many ways, the transition was smooth. The most difficult part of this journey was dealing with the shenanigans of birth dad and step mom who did everything in their power to sabotage her success and happiness (but that is a story for another day).

So, we ended up with five kids.

My 5 Girls too

Our five girls in 2010.

It is true that good kids can come from bad families and bad kids can come from good families. We have plenty of evidence of that in our extended families.

We have five really good kids. We are truly blessed that they love us and each other. We have a good family.

We have worked hard to provide our five girls the best possible chance for success. It has not come without a little luck, but it has come mostly through a lot of hard work on everyone’s part.

Each of our girls left high school and college with a good education, a strong work ethic, and a lot of family support. They have all entered adulthood with good jobs and good futures ahead of them.

So, we are in the final stretch. As our babies enter their last year of college, we can rest more easily because they have already secured their futures after graduation.

One of our babies has already received a job offer from a company that she loves doing work that she enjoys! The other one is working on graduate school applications and has the support, advice, and encouragement of some really awesome college professors.

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Our babies move into college three years ago.

We are almost done with paying college tuition. One of the last piles of going back to school food and supplies for the girls is sitting in our living room waiting to be loaded into cars.

We have gone through fifteen straight years of high school and about the same number of years of college. Wow.

That’s a lot of sleepless nights, diapers, school supply lists, backpacks, shoes, back to school nights, school conferences, orthodontia, piano lessons, homecoming and prom dresses, fender benders, high school plays, track meets, band concerts, boyfriends, laughter and tears, and graduations.

As we look toward a totally empty nest, we are starting to set new goals for just the two of us. Travel, hobbies, retirement (maybe some weddings and grandchildren), and, yes, even romance.

Because we didn’t make it this far without a lot of love.

 

Posted in Faith & Family | 2 Comments

DIY – Shirt Pillows

In 2008, our oldest daughter got married in Hawaii.

LeahRyan Hawaii

We weren’t able to attend, but we had a Hawaiian themed reception for them when they returned home.

Magic House Reception 2008

All of us wore authentic Hawaiian shirts to the reception.

They have hung in the closet ever since. I have tried selling them, but could not bear to just give them away since they were so darned expensive.

Shirt Pillows 1

We had four of the adult shirts (on the left) and two of the youth shirts (on the right). My sister, my daughter, my niece, and I have each moved into new, old homes within the past year or so and have been trading furniture and re-purposing household items between the four of us.

My sister suggested that we re-purpose these shirts by making them into pillows. I thought that was a great idea so I Googled the idea and, sure enough, it had been done before by none other than Martha Stewart (click on her video link here).

It is really a super easy project that doesn’t take a lot of time. I’ll go through the steps here along with some tips and hints that I learned by trial and error along the way. The only special equipment you will need is a sewing machine and the ability to sew a straight line.

Shirt Pillows 4

The first thing you will need to do is to determine the size pillow insert to buy. You will need to measure the shirt you are converting to a pillow right at the narrowest part which is across the chest by the armpits. Your pillow insert will need to be 1 or 2″ or so smaller than this to account for your seam and whether or not you want to have a flanged edge, offset the button holes, or do an oblong or other than a square pillow.

Shirt Pillows 2

I had some leftover packing paper from moving which I used to make my patterns. I made 14″ and 16″ pillows. The pattern is about 1″ to 2″ larger than the pillow insert to account for the seam and the “fluffiness” of the pillow. Press the pillow form down onto the paper to ensure that you account for how full the pillow is with your pattern. Add ½” to that around all of the sides for the seam.

Shirt Pillows 3

Here is my pattern which I used for several pillows.

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BEFORE pinning the pattern, you will want to iron the shirt making sure that the plackets along the button and button-hole edges is laying flat. Do not skip this step. Pin the pattern to your shirt.

Shirt Pillows 6

Cut out the pillow cover. Martha had a fancy gadget and self sealing pad, but I just used my regular sewing scissors.

Shirt Pillows 7

Remove the pattern. You are not ready to sew the edges yet!

Shirt Pillows 8

You will need to place the right sides together being careful to ensure that you make sure the pattern of the shirt is going the same direction on the front and the back.

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Time to sew those straight lines leaving about a ½” seam.

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Here is the pillow cover with all four sides sewn together.

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If necessary, trim any extra fabric so the seam edge is all neat and tidy.

Shirt Pillows 12

Turn right side out and iron those edges. You can add a sewn edge close to the edge for a more finished look if you like or sew an even deeper flanged edge, but I liked the basic pillow cover as it was.

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Insert the pillow form and button up the opening.

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Before and after – shirt is now a shirt pillow!

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I made five of these, and it only took part of an afternoon.

Shirt Pillows 16

I had an extra insert and an old canvas tote bag and made one more pillow.

My sister plans on  putting these on her porch swing on her newly finished screened-in porch. It will add nice color and the Hawaiian fabric will always remind us of my daughter’s wedding.

Wouldn’t this be a wonderful way to remember someone? Make a shirt pillow out of a deceased loved one’s favorite shirt – what a nice way to remember them. Make a shirt pillow out of flannel shirts, denim shirts, or other soft fabric. How nice for a vacation home or a special space. You could make small, oblong pillows out of your baby’s outgrown footed pajamas to create a sweet memory and a small pillow for a toddler for their first “real” bed or for traveling.

This has been a DIY, re-purposing summer for us, and I hope to share more of what I have been making soon!

Posted in Food & Home | Tagged | 6 Comments

Herb Garden at the Quirky Old Home

A little more than a year ago we downsized into a much older home in the historic district of a small city.

We now have a much smaller yard with a fenced in back yard. This is our first home with a fenced yard.

We have a detached garage and an alley in back of our new older home. This is our first home with a detached garage with an alley in back.

Our Moline House 2007

This is a picture from a few years ago of my second childhood home which was also an older home with a detached garage and alley in back. I lived in this house some 50 years ago.

I remember one winter when my mom and us kids built a LARGE snow man and placed it directly in front of the garage door. When my dad came home from work, he could not park the car in the garage. Somehow, my mom and the next door neighbor, Gus, got the local newspaper to come by. They published a picture of him scratching his head in front of the snow man and wrote an article about it. I can still visualize the picture and article, and I wish I had a copy of it.

Houston planting bed before

This is a real estate picture of the back patio when we bought our quirky old home. The overgrown yews were home to rabbit burrows. Apparently, many many many rabbit burrows.

Remember the rabbits in The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

Yes. Those rabbits.

The rabbits living under these yews were like those rabbits. They were eating everything in sight. Including the woody parts of the plants in the yard. They ate an entire holly bush and three knockout rose bushes down to the ground. These were rabbits to be feared.

One rabbit lived under our sunroom for the entire winter, and they have taken to chewing large holes in the lattice-work around the porches of our quirky old home.

Those wascally wabbits.

The yews had to go. And the red mulch. And the 23 weird rocks strewn throughout the landscape.

See the pretty water fountain? The previous homeowners left it, and I love it as well as the butterfly bush behind it which really does attract the butterflies.

Unfortunately, in order for the water fountain to function it has to be plugged in. In order to plug it in, the previous homeowner snaked the electric cord that was plugged into an extension cord under the soil and along the side of the house into the basement window and hung from the low ceiling by an outlet where you could plug it in (and out) by descending into the cellar. Really.

There are absolutely NO electric lights or outlets or lighting in the backyard space other than an overhead fan in the overhang by the door to the detached garage.

There is no lighting by the back door so when you come in at night you have to fumble to unlock the door and let yourself in.

Getting this rectified is on the list. The list of homeowner projects that is never-ending.

Houston planting bed cleaned up

This is a picture of the patio earlier this spring. We removed the yews during one of the few warm spells in late winter. We removed the funky rocks and are slowly finding new homes for them. We fixed the edging that needed to be straightened and raised. We scraped up the red mulch from all of the planting beds and replaced it with black mulch.

The house next door, which had been vacant for a few years is being renovated and a lot of the overgrown trees and weeds in that yard have also been removed.

Houston fence with rabbit barrier

The rabbit burrows were gone, but the rabbits were used to feasting on all of the plants in our yard. I knew that I would not be able to add any new plants including herbs and vegetables so long as they were around. And I needed solutions that would be safe to use with the dogs and around plants that would end up in our food.

Some other friends in our new neighborhood have resorted to installing rabbit fencing onto existing fencing. So that is what we did, too.

The first time the dogs chased a rabbit and one ran into the fence and couldn’t get out, it was actually funny. They do have an uncanny ability to find ways in and out, however, so although we have significantly slowed them down, but they have not been eliminated. We have slowed them down enough for us to be able to start adding new plants though.

Houston herb garden side 1

The L-shaped planting bed around the patio has now become my herb garden. This side includes English lavender, Italian parsley, leeks, basil, and dill.

Houston herb garden side 2

This side includes rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, and marjoram. You can see the butterfly bush and water fountain, too. When we worked on the edging, we uncovered edging around the water fountain and added some rock around the base.

Houston Herb Garden 2014

I love my new herb garden. I have mint and chives in pots and a “mosquito pot” with catnip, lemon marigolds, lemon grass, and lemon thyme which is a natural way to keep away mosquitoes from the area.

The back fence still needs work including the addition of rabbit fencing. It is a shady area that becomes a mud pit when it rains. For some reason, it’s the first place the dogs go when it’s wet resulting in muddy footprints tracking into the house.

My plan is to have a mulched bed along that fence which is also the home for my new compost bin, the miscellaneous weird rocks, and the leftover wood from the large tree limb that fell in the yard last fall after a storm. Later in the season, we’ll work on rearranging the plants in the back bed by the garage wall.

We didn’t have time to put in raised beds this year so we have tomato plants in pots, too. We’ll add raised beds later this fall or next year. I would also love to have some berry bushes and strawberry beds, too.

Gardening and creating our outdoor space will always be a work in progress, but next spring will start the first full season where all of the work of moving plants and adding new plants and splitting bulbs and making the garden spaces and planting beds and yard and patios our own.

I’m enjoying our new yard, and I’m looking forward to seeing it as each new season progresses!

Posted in Food & Home | 2 Comments

Exterior Makeover at the Quirky Old Home

A little more than a year ago, we purchased this cute little house in the historic district of a city in the Midwest.

123 Houston Street (32)

This was the facade of the house when we bought it. I loved the arbor and the ivy and the smaller yard.

But, we also wanted to make this house our home and add our own touches to it. We thought the brass fixtures and hunter green paint made the house look dated. And we felt that the front of the house looked somewhat naked.

Houston House facade (1)

So last fall, we started making changes to the exterior of our quirky old home. We updated the landscaping and removed the wisteria from the arbor. We changed the fixtures, and we painted the porch and lattice-work going from green to a charcoal gray on the porch and white on the lattice. And we added shutters, painted in the same charcoal gray, to the front of the house.

I, personally, painted each and every shutter on this house with two coats of paint. Painting all of those louvers is tedious and time-consuming.

It was time well spent because we feel that these changes make quite a difference!

But when we looked at the house from front to all the way to the back, we felt something was missing. We decided that we could add continuity by putting shutters on the side of the house along the walkway as well as on the wall of the detached garage that faces to the front.

Houston Facade Updated

So, this spring we made those changes and here is how our house looks today. I also primed and painted the arbor in the same aged bronze as the fixtures and added some solar lights to it that look really cute at night.

There are many other, more subtle changes, too. We changed from the red mulch to black mulch. We have moved many plants that were misplaced or overgrown. My daughter and I planted over 100 bulbs that were moved and removed from other areas.

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This is what the wall of the garage looked like when we bought the house.

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Here is the wall of the house after removing the overgrown vines and cleaning up the landscape a little. I loved the window boxes, and wanted to keep them. Unfortunately, they were ready to fall apart, and we removed them so that DSH could repair them. We were only able to salvage two of the three since one was too badly rotted to salvage so the one on the side of the garage that no one really sees anyway was tossed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The window boxes were being held together by finishing nails so DSH added screws to hold the sides together as well as brackets on the inside. I sprayed the interiors with rubber paint so the wood would be protected from the soil, plants, and water. They already had drain holes, but the previous homeowner used plastic trash can liners which defeated the purpose of drain holes. I painted the exterior to match the shutters.

Houston Garage Shutters and Flower Boxes

Here is what the garage wall looks like today. The medallion was on the wall under the overgrown vines so I spray painted it aged bronze to match the other fixtures. I added rock and top soil and plants to the new and improved window boxes. I moved another hanging basket to the garden bed to add some visual interest. We raked up the red mulch and added black mulch. We still have to remove and move around the plantings in this bed since it is such a hodge podge of different things that are overgrown and misplaced, but that is a project for this fall.

The day we were putting the final touches on these changes a car stopped in front of our house. When we looked over they told us that they loved all the changes and thought our house was adorable. The man that came to service our air conditioners told me that our house was “cute.” Kind of a funny word coming from an older guy.

Living in an older neighborhood is much different than living in a subdivision. Each home is very different from the next one. We have residents that range from college student rentals to single people to young couples with and without children to empty nesters and older retirees.

We have sidewalks and lots of people out walking all throughout the day and evening. Most everyone is friendly and talkative.

We are having a great time getting to know our neighbors and neighborhood and making the outside of our quirky old home a reflection of our personalities!

Posted in Food & Home | 6 Comments

What’s Cookin’ – Old Fashioned Strawberry Jam

I’ve been canning and preserving for a few years now. I was fortunate to acquire my DSH’s Grandma’s canning supplies. I’ve been very cautious about the canning process and faithfully use my Ball Blue Books as guides to proper technique and for the recipes.

As I’ve become more proficient, I’ve started to explore other resources. I ran across a book, The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard, in an antique store. It was published in 2007 so I’m not sure how it ended up in an antique store booth, but since it was only $1.00 I bought it. I also follow a few sites devoted to canning and preserving including one, Punk Domestics, which I find very interesting and informative.

Out of everything that I preserve, I love making jams and jellies the most of all. And I love sharing my jams and jellies with others.

I love finding fresh fruit in season, in bulk, and on sale. I used to obsess about getting the stuff “put up” in the moment, but have learned that you can start the process and use the freezer if you don’t have the time (or are out of jars or lids) to “put up” your stuff later or when more convenient.

The one thing about making jams and jellies is that they take an enormous amount of sugar. I’ve resorted to buying the really large bags of sugar from our local super store. I often wondered how women during the Depression or in the pioneering days managed to get so much sugar. Well, the answer is that they didn’t use as much sugar as we do today.

The trick in canning and preserving jams and jellies is to provide enough of a balance of sugar and acid so that the product will gel. I have been almost maniacally cautious about not deviating from those old Ball Blue Book recipes. My jams and jellies have been good, but also very sweet.

Two recipes, one in the Small-Batch Preserving book and the other on Punk Domestics, gave me the idea to try making a batch of jam without using so much sugar and using no added pectin. Less sugar. No pectin. And one other piece, recommended by both of these sources, was to prepare the fruit and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. One source recommended a two-part cooking process which I decided to avoid. Five small batches cooked twice! No thanks!

The Ball Blue Book recipes almost always have you using about the same amount of sugar as you do fruit. I ended up combining the suggestions from both of these sources and using about half the “normal” amount of sugar in my strawberry jam made with freshly picked berries.

The result was a strawberry jam that my daughter described as tasting “just like a fresh strawberry.” I have to agree. I have NEVER liked strawberry jam until now. Most of the time it’s too cloyingly sweet with a gritty texture. This jam is fresh tasting and velvety smooth, too. I can’t wait to try this technique on other berries – raspberries will be ready in a few weeks!

Because I wanted to preserve my version of the two recipes I used as inspiration to make a lower sugar, no pectin Strawberry Jam, I decided write about the process.

Thies Farm Strawberry Fields June 2014

First you will need some fresh strawberries and what better than freshly picked berries from a local farm? This is Thies Farm near where we live. The berries, fresh from the field and locally grown, are so much better tasting than the ones you can buy at the grocery store.

Thies Farm Strawberry Plants June 2014

Don’t these look delicious?

Thies Farm Strawberry Pickin 2 June 2014

It only took my daughter and me about an hour to pick what we needed. We arrived shortly after the farm opened early in the morning so it was still cool outside. And by cool, I mean not oppressively hot and humid as it got later in the morning. The early bird pickers are all older people. My baby was younger than everyone else in the field by several decades.

She was amenable to doing this since strawberries are her absolute most favorite fruit in the whole wide world! When she was a young child, she would eat entire containers of strawberries and always begged me to buy them. Strawberries are like candy to her.

Shari and Mama at Lorence's MN strawberry picking

Last year, I went strawberry picking in Minnesota with one of my sister’s neighbors.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries Trio

We made chocolate covered strawberries.

Homemade strawberry ice cream

And homemade strawberry ice cream.

But no jam.

Thies Farm Strawberry Pickin June 2014

I had other plans this year. We picked 2 large boxes of strawberries, and I ended up with nearly 20 pounds of fruit after cleaning and trimming.

To clean fruit, I fill my impeccably clean sink with cold water and add 1 cup of vinegar. Allow the fruit to soak for a few minutes and remove carefully to sheet pans lined with clean towels (or paper towels) to dry.

Strawberry Jam RTU June 2014

I made 5 small batches of strawberry jam which resulted in 4 pints, 15 half pints and one partial jar that went right into the refrigerator to be eaten immediately.

I made a non-pectin, lower sugar old-fashioned jam that my kid described as tasting just like a fresh strawberry. I have never been a strawberry jam fan, but I LOVE this stuff! It is so good and so fresh tasting!

Strawberry Jam RTE June 2014

The beauty of making small batches is that you can skip the processing step if you don’t have the supplies and simply store the finished product in the freezer or refrigerator. The incredible taste of this jam is totally worth the hour in the field picking and hour (per batch) making it at home.

Oh. If you don’t want to pick your own fruit, most of these farms will sell the fruit already picked and ready to go.

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Let’s Talk Turkey!

Our kids are interesting people. They are smart and independent and loving and generous people. We like to believe that we have provided them with an environment where we not only modeled good behavior, but also where they have felt safe and encouraged to try new things.

We have a saying in our family. When something new or unexpected happens, we refer to it as having an adventure. Our kids have had interesting adventures. Most of them have been good adventures – thankfully! Some of their adventures have been because they were willing to try new things and have resulted in them having hobbies that are dramatically different from ones we have.

Katy Mothers Day 2013

One of our babies went to a college where a lot of kids come from small towns and the country where outdoor activities like hunting is common for both girls and boys. So it wasn’t surprising that she learned how to shoot a compound bow and has shot guns and gone hunting. Her willingness to try new things, to have new adventures has turned into a hobby.

Katy with turkey April 2014 2

She recently went turkey hunting and look what happened! She shot a wild turkey! This darn bird is almost as big as she is!

I’ve always wanted to try cooking and eating wild turkey. I’ve cooked venison and love deer sausage and jerky. I’ve cooked pheasant. I’ve cooked freshly caught fish. I’m willing to try cooking just about anything – so long as the hunters bring the game to me cleaned and ready to go.

Katy with turkey April 2014 4

This bird looks huge, but it was a jake which is a juvenile male turkey. If you want to know more about wild turkeys here is a link to the page about wild turkeys on the National Wild Turkey Foundation (NWTF) website.

Smoked Wild Turkey (1)

Thankfully, the bird was prepared and cleaned, and I received the breast and thighs which weighed a total of about 6 pounds. After a lot of research, I decided to cook the turkey in the smoker using cherry wood. First, I brined the meat overnight. I wrapped the pieces in bacon since it came to me with no skin. This was to ensure that the meat was moist after cooking. In addition to the breast and thighs the heart was included. I put the breast on first and added the smaller pieces about an hour before the breast was done.

Smoked Wild Turkey (2)

Here is the breast when it was done cooking. I was surprised at how white the breast meat was and how dark the thigh meat was. The meat was moist and good and much more dense than the domestic turkey we are used to eating. It did not taste funny at all, and it didn’t taste like chicken either. I guess not everything we aren’t used to eating tastes like chicken after all!

Her next goal is to get a deer, and I’m already looking forward to many meals made with venison.

We love that our baby has developed this hobby and is having interesting and new and different adventures. And we loved tasting the results of her efforts, too!

Posted in Home | 2 Comments

Readin’ – Lily’s Own: Stories of a Childhood by Nadine Pedron

I talked about my reading challenge for this year (here). So far, I’ve read a lot of books this year that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. A very long time. Life . . . raising five kids . . . working . . . volunteering . . . managing a household . . . all seemed to get in the way.

I’ve always been a reader, and I am blessed to have kids who love to read, too. I’m one of those people who has trouble putting a book down once I start to read it. I’m not normally a late night person, but if I am reading a book I turn into one. When I was a young girl, I used to take a flashlight to bed with me so I could read late into the night presumably without my parents knowing what I was doing.

My reading list includes a lot of books that have been recommended to me by friends and relatives who read a lot and who share my love of reading. I even joined, Goodreads, a social network for those who love to read where you can track the books you’ve read as well as list those you want to read. The site includes book reviews that may help you decide whether or not a book will interest you or not as well as a Recommendations list based on how you have rated the books that you have read.

I just finished one book, suggested by my cousin, that is “a merging of autobiographical and fiction elements.” Lily’s Own, Stories of a Childhood by Nadine Pedron.

Lily's Own Bookplate

It spoke to me on so many different levels that I felt compelled to write about it.

Lily feels that she is different from the rest of her family. She has trouble fitting in at home and at school. At home, she talks a lot and asks a lot of questions. She is considered ornery and her father beats her with a switch. A lot.  Lily talks about the switching almost matter of factly but does not ever say or lead you to believe that it makes her a better person. It does not change her “stubborn streak” or her ideas or her feelings.

I was the oldest child of eight born in slightly less than nine years. My parents, particularly my father, believed in corporal punishment.My father beat us with a belt – sometimes making us pull down our pants so he could strike our bare bottoms. This form of punishment never did anything to make me change my behavior or ideas – it simply made me resentful and risk averse.

Lily’s family moves from Texas to California during the Great Depression and the “Bowl of Dust.” When she starts to attend school in California, she is different because of how she talks and dresses and because she is poor. She has few clothes and those she has are either hand-me-downs or hand-made from flour sacks or re-made from other discards. Her shoes aren’t the original Bucks worn by her peers, but cheaper knock-offs. They are so poor that her parents cannot even afford to buy paper lunch bags, and Lily re-uses paper bags that she customizes to try to mirror the store-bought lunch bags used by the other kids.

My mother was frugal. She attributes this to my father being a cheap skate, but it was probably a combination of having so many children and his cheap nature. We wore hand-me-downs and had to take lunches to school and never had the latest styles or fashions. In fact, we shared underwear and socks. Even these items were washed and thrown into a communal pile to be used on a first-come, first-serve basis. As we got older, some of my siblings took to taking the best items and stashing them under their pillows and washing them on the sly so that they could have their own underwear that was not shared.

Lily’s parents and, in particular her father, are bigoted. Lily is not allowed to have her “Meskin” friends over and has to tell her black friend that he has to leave her party. In Lily’s words, “I don’t believe what you believe. I don’t think the way you think. I can’t be what you are. I’ll never be one of you.” (page 172) They are also “Baptist, Hard Shell” and make fun of Holy Rollers and those from other denominations.

My parents were also bigoted. My mother’s nickname at work was DMD for dirty mouth D. No one escaped her verbal wrath – our Jewish neighbors, blacks, feminists, Democrats, even her own children. Everyone was fair game. A conversation with her today lasts about 15 minutes before it devolves into some sort of rant against some group of people with whom she objects. I remember thinking, at a very early age, that these opinions just did not seem right or make sense.

Lily, for all the faults attributed to her by her family, loves to read and learn. Her teachers see her potential and push her to excel. One teacher pushes her to be on the debate team and learn public speaking. Another teacher pushes her to consider college and helps her to achieve that goal by taking her on college visits and helping her get scholarships. Another teacher helps her with geometry so that her college dreams can come true. She has a knack for always coming in second – in a debate match and as salutatorian of her high school graduating class.

I was the first in my family to get a college degree, and I did so right out of high school. I was told by my mother that I was just going to college because of pressure from my father. My father told me, when I married while in college (to escape my family), that I would never finish. But I not only received a degree in 4 years, I did so without any support, financial or otherwise, from my family. It was a belief in myself and from others that got me through.

The book shows the maturation of Lily from young girl with a young child’s Texas twang to a more mature young woman ready to head to college. Each short chapter is a vignette in her life and shows the progression of her life with the last vignette one from her older adulthood that shows the culmination of the impact those in her life have had on her. The dedication to her book is a thank you to “teachers of the world who change the trajectory of students’ lives in positive and profound ways.”

There have been people in my life, outside of my family, that I have looked to as role models. Many were teachers. Many others were happily married couples. Many were my peers. Most of them have no idea what significant impact they have had on my life. For the better.

In closing, while Lily’s family had their shortcomings and challenges in life, the most important way that they were different from mine was that they truly loved and supported one another. They didn’t tear each other down or sabotage each other’s success. Sometimes they didn’t realize better ways to support Lily or see her potential because of their circumstances, but at the end of the day, they did the best that they could to raise their children, keep them safe, help them when they were hurt, and give them guidance. It’s a tribute to Lily (and to the author whose story this is really about) that she was able to see the world beyond her birth family to make a different one for herself and her husband, children, and grandchildren.

I hope that my “Down the Road” vignette will be a positive summation of my life’s experiences.

This book was published in 2013, but was not available through my local library district nor on e-books so I ended up buying a copy which I will now proudly store on my bookshelf and recommend to others.

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