Happy 50th Birthday To My Sister!


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My brother and children seem to think they get treated unfairly in this blog, so this time it’s my sister’s turn. She turns fifty this week, so she is fair game.

My sister on her first birthday

My sister on her first birthday. Note the bruise on her forehead. It was a tradition in our family that kids fell down just before the birthday picture.

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My sister as a toddler

My sister was born when I was eight and a half. Too much younger to be a friend when we were growing up. Not young enough for me to seem like a “junior mother.” We fought a lot as kids, because I thought she should do what I told her to, and she was stubborn enough to think she didn’t have to. Our parents put me in charge as the Big Sister, and I often didn’t handle it well.

I left home for college as my sister turned nine, and the gap between us still loomed large. Our experiences were too different. Or rather, I had too much more experience than she did. I was almost twice as old as she was when I left for college.

But now that we are both in our fifties, the gap has shrunk. We have both been married and raised children. We have both had professional educations and lengthy careers. We have far more similar experiences, and I am now only 17% older than she is (which still sounds like more than I want).

Our lives are still different. I’m retired, and my sister is working. My kids have been gone from home over a decade, and hers are in high school and college. But the gap still feels smaller and the kinship greater.

One good thing to come from my mother’s illness and death has been that my sister, brother, and I have had to talk more. Both these siblings live in the Seattle area, and I am in Kansas City. But despite the physical distance between us, I feel as close to them now as I ever have.

I respect them as adults as I didn’t when they were preschoolers. And I have confidence that we can meet any family challenges with affection and good intentions.

Happy Birthday, Sister!

My sister about the time I left home for college

My sister about the time I left home for college

Memories of Friends and Mothers


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20140809_075624When I visited my father in August, I decided to make a peach cobbler and needed a recipe. I should have just turned to this blog, where I have posted a very good recipe for peach cobbler. But I went to my mother’s old cookbooks instead, because my father didn’t have any Bisquick, and my recipe calls for Bisquick.

I opened one cookbook, and a paper fell out. I recognized the handwriting immediately—not my mother’s, but my college friend’s. What could my friend have written that ended up in my mother’s cookbook?

It was a recipe for Chicken Riviera. And I remembered my friend’s mother making that for my family when we visited their home in May 1976, just after I graduated from Middlebury College.

Her mother was a wonderful cook and spent hours making fabulous dinners when I stayed with them during college vacations. The Chicken Riviera recipe was one of these Cordon Bleu level dishes.

My mother must have exclaimed over the Chicken Riviera, and my friend’s mother offered the recipe. Why did my friend write it instead of her mother? Probably because her mother cooked in Portuguese. She was Brazilian, and was more comfortable reading Portuguese. So my friend translated the recipe as she wrote it down.

20140809_075630I don’t remember my mother ever making Chicken Riviera, though I didn’t live at home much after 1976. I’m tempted to try it now, though it involves rich ingredients and many steps. Lots of butter and cream. You cook the chicken once, then you put the sauce on it and cook it again. It sounds like a lot of trouble, and I’m more of a fifteen minute cook.

I asked my friend after I found the recipe whether I could substitute margarine for butter and Half & Half for cream. Her response: “How should I know?” She’d never made the recipe.

Neither of us is the cook our mother was.

Both of our mothers are gone now, and their skills along with them. But our memories take us back. Our taste buds would bring the memories even closer. If only we were brave enough—or tireless enough—to follow the trail our mothers left behind.

What foods do you remember from your childhood that you never eat now?

Scrivener: Software for Writers


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I recently started using Scrivener, a software program designed for writers. I’ve used WriteWay Pro off and on for several years, but Scrivener is touted as the latest and greatest program for writers, and I wanted to give it a try.

A screen shot of my Scrivener file for this blog

A screen shot of my Scrivener file for this blog

Scrivener, WriteWay Pro, and similar writing programs are designed to take writers from the research and outlining stage through drafts to a final manuscript . . . and even to ebook publishing. Learning these program can be daunting, but the results are impressive. The programs help writers move back and forth between the big picture of an entire book to the details of each scene and sentence.

I do not pretend to be an expert after two weeks. But here are some of the things I’ve done since I started using Scrivener:

  • Set up a Scrivener project file for each of the two blogs I write. Each file contains pages for each of the next few posts I need to write, a place to park future ideas, a generic monthly plan for that blog (topics I want to write on each month), research on potential topics, and an archive of past posts (this will grow over time—I haven’t imported all my past posts, though I could).
  • Imported the novel I am currently working on from Word into a Scrivener project, divided the text into separate chapters in Scrivener, and labeled each chapter with the point of view character. I’m working on dividing it further into scenes, and I want to figure out how to identify each scene by subplot and characters. I think “keywords” is the appropriate tool, but I’m not sure. My goal is to be able to track how each subplot progresses through the book, so I can see where there are holes in the current draft for my next revision.
  • Set up another Scrivener project for short pieces I want to write—essays and short stories, etc.
  • And set up yet another Scrivener project to outline a novel idea I have. I have sworn that the next novel I write will be planned in advance—not written ad hoc and then edited into a story structure. Maybe I will finally learn to write a novel without countless revisions!

As I’m working through the learning curve, I’ve come across a few good resources for writers trying to master Scrivener. One is Joseph Michael’s Scrivener Coach training program. I have not purchased the program, but I have participated in a couple of webinars Mr. Michael has done, and he is a pretty good trainer.

Another resource is Gwen Hernandez. She also sells a training program on Scrivener, and has written a book called Scrivener for Dummies. I have not seen her training program or book, but her blog has wonderful Scrivener tips that I have found useful.

Finally, the Google Play Store has an Android app that is a Scrivener tutorial, with several videos on how to use Scrivener. I downloaded the app, and the tutorials are easy to follow.

Although I am finding Scrivener very helpful in organizing my writing, I also want to put in a plug for WriteWay Pro. Its author has kept it up to date over the years, and there isn’t much I’ve found in Scrivener that WriteWay Pro won’t also do. The templates for character sketches, scenes, conflict, etc., in WriteWay Pro are better than those that come with Scrivener.

Both Scrivener and WriteWay Pro offer thirty-day trial periods, and the purchase prices are comparable.

Of course, none of these programs does the writing for you. You still have to put butt in chair and words on paper (or screen).

Writers, do you use a writing program? If so, which one, and why? What’s your favorite feature?

A Rest at Lake Chelan, Washington


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In August, my husband and I were fortunate enough to take a couple of days after my mother’s funeral for a respite at Lake Chelan, Washington. There’s something so calming about staying on the lake shore, as I’ve written before (see here and here) Maybe because when I am by a lake I remember my childhood vacations I took on Coeur d’Alene Lake and Priest Lake in Idaho.

I love the ocean more than lakes, but the constant roar of the surf suggests a wildness that most lakes do not have. Lakes are more tranquil.

Lake Chelan was peaceful in the morning.

Lake Chelan, Washington

Lake Chelan, Washington

And equally peaceful in the evening.

Lake Chelan, Washington

Lake Chelan, Washington

In between, it was lovely. The haze was caused by forest fires, but they weren’t close enough to bother us. And the lake itself was so clear we could see the big trout swimming.


When have you taken a respite from your worries?

Family Resemblances: The Dutch Boy Look


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My mother, age 3

One of the pictures I found when I made the slide show of my mother’s life for her funeral was this photograph of her as a small child on a pony. I don’t recognize the building behind her, so I don’t know where the picture was taken. I have no idea what the occasion was for this pony ride in full cowgirl regalia. Was she in a parade? Was it just a neighborhood activity? Who else was involved? Those questions will probably never be answered.

I love the picture of her in her little Dutch boy haircut. By the time she was about five or six, her mother put her in pigtails, but her toddler pictures all show my mother as a little blond Dutch boy.

Sister in the Dutch boy style

Sister in the Dutch boy style

Most of the women in my family have straight, wispy hair. My sister was blond like my mother. (”Dishwater blond,” our paternal grandfather called it, which my sister took as a terrible insult.) She didn’t have much hair until after her first birthday, but in her toddler years, she, too, sported the Dutch boy look. The barrette on top of her head kept the wisps from standing straight up.

T as toddler

Me, in the Dutch boy style

I was a brunette from birth onward. My hair—though thick—was so fly-away that my mother braided the sides and held the braids down with barrettes. But in my early years, I also wore the simple Dutch boy style. I hated that my mother cut my bangs so short—a dispute that lasted until I was in high school. Then I cut them myself using Scotch tape as a guide, until I quit wearing bangs altogether.

M by piano

Daughter with curls

It’s a good thing I married a man with thick, curly hair. My daughter got his curls, which I loved and envied. Of course, since none of us likes the hair God gave us, my daughter straightens her curls now, much to my regret.

Son and Boppy

Son with straight hair

Among my kids, the Dutch boy look ended up where it should—with my son.

What family resemblances do your relatives discuss?

Back to School Across Two Generations


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Pee-Chee folder, photo from Wikipedia

Pee-Chee folder, photo from Wikipedia

In recent weeks I’ve been following all my Facebook friends’ pictures of their children headed back to school—from the kindergarteners to the college-bound. I’m glad those days are behind me, though I have good memories both of my own back-to-school days and my children’s.

When I was young, school never started until after Labor Day. Labor Day weekend was the last chance to get sunburned, play in the swimming pool or lake, and relax without a care in the world beyond who got the biggest cookie for dessert.

But Labor Day was also tinged with excitement. Change was coming—a new teacher, maybe new classmates, and new books full of new information. I went to the same school from second through eighth grade, so I could predict much of the change that was coming, but not all of it.

Big Chief tablets are still sold today, by American Trademark Publishing

Big Chief tablets are still sold today, by American Trademark Publishing

Even before Labor Day weekend, change was in the air. When I was a child, my mother took my brother and me to the local drug store to buy school supplies. In the early grades, we didn’t need much more than a Big Chief tablet, crayons (Crayola brand, of course), pencils, and a Pee-Chee folder.

Later, Elmer’s glue and blue-ink pens (no other color was permitted) were added to the mix. And in high school, we included binders, protractors, compasses, and other more sophisticated tools. Even a hand-held calculator, once such things became available.

A generation later, my children had similar experiences. They went to the same school from preschool days through eighth grade. My daughter started in the baby room in the preschool, and had seniority over all but two teachers by the time she graduated.

Shopping for school supplies with my kids seemed far more complicated than when I was a child. Each grade had a list of what was needed, and many of the teachers specified the particular color of folders needed for each school subject. Trapper Keepers replaced Pee-Chee folders. Paper had to be wide-ruled, not college-ruled. And Kleenex and paper towels provided from home reduced the school’s budget.

Then there was college . . . But acquiring the necessities for a dorm room will take a whole post to itself.

What traditions did your family have to mark the beginning of a new school year?

News of California Gold Decimates the Population of Oregon


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Word of the Sutter’s Fort gold discovery reached Oregon in the summer of 1848. Oregon learned of the gold finds indirectly, not from travelers arriving straight from California.

Ships from California came to Oregon after stopping in Hawaii that summer. They brought the news about the gold. In July 1848, the brig Honolulu docked at Fort Vancouver in Oregon. The captain bought all the mining supplies he could find, intending to hurry to California and sell them at a huge profit. He claimed to want to supply coal miners, but word of the gold mines leaked out.

Siskiyou Trail (from Wikipedia)

Siskiyou Trail (from Wikipedia)

Oregonians then flocked to the gold fields. Men traveled from Oregon City and other points north down the Siskiyou Trail to California. (Interstate 5 follows the same approximate route from the Willamette Valley to California’s Central Valley.)

Their journey took several weeks. The Siskiyou Trail began as Native American footpaths along river valleys. It was so rugged that at first only mules and horses could make the way through the Siskiyou Mountains (in southern Oregon and northern California). A good day of travel meant covering fifteen to twenty miles of the 600 miles journey.

But soon wagon trains as long as those that had followed the Oregon Trail made the trip to Sutter’s Fort and the burgeoning town of Sacramento. Wagons took even longer to make the trip—a couple of months at best.

Despite the rigors of the trail, by the end of 1848, two-thirds of all adult males in Oregon had left for California to seek their fortunes. These men were adventurers by nature. Most of them had made the dangerous journey from the East to Oregon within the past five years. Still, desertion of their new home of this magnitude left Oregon bereft.

The Oregon Spectator, October 21, 1848, page 2

The Oregon Spectator, October 12, 1848, page 2

By September 7, 1848, The Oregon Spectator, the first newspaper published west of the Rockies, had to shut its operations for several weeks, just as the San Francisco papers had halted publication earlier in the spring.

Oregon farms could not harvest their crops. The families that remained in Oregon suffered from the loss of labor and a lack customers for their produce.

The Whitman Massacre was forgotten. The militia that had fought the Cayuse Indians was disbanded. It would take another two years before five Indians were hung for the crime.

All in the lust for gold.

When The Oregon Spectator resumed printing on October 12, 1848, the editors apologized:

The Spectator, after a temporary sickness, greets its patrons, and hopes to serve them faithfully, and as heretofore, regularly. That ‘gold fever’ which has swept about 3000 of her officers, lawyers, physicians, farmers, and mechanics of Oregon from the plains of Oregon into the mines of California, took away our printers.

The publishers went on to say:

Some of our fellow citizens express their fears that Oregon has been ruined, by the discovery of the late extensive gone mines of California. They ask—who will cultivate the ground when from $10 to $100 per day can be realized at the mines?

After waxing eloquent about the many advantages of Oregon, the editors said:

Oregon is temporarily injured by reason of so many of her citizens having left their farms, and shops, for the purpose of gold digging; but only temporarily.

The editors firmly believed in the bounty of Oregonian land, for not only the West, but for the nation as a whole. They argued that in the future Oregon would be seen for its great capacity to feed the nation.

[I]s such a country ruined, because gold mines are discovered in the neighborhood? Surely not; it should rather be regarded as a rich blessing, at the hands of the great, and wise Ruler of the Universe.

“All that Oregon has wanted, was a good market, the facilities for carrying her goods to market, and the protecting care of the home government; the home government, we trust, is about to extend her fostering care, the mines have already brought the desired market, the mines will bring facilities for carrying provisions to the mines; and the mines will materially contribute to make Oregon known, and develop her great resources.

Meanwhile, news of Californian gold reached back East. The St. Louis paper reported the gold find on August 8. The New York Herald reported the news on August 19. The Herald’s story was the first major East Coast mention of the gold discovery. However, its report was not confirmed, and did not immediately elicit any mass migration.

That would soon change.

Have you ever heard news that turned your life quickly from one path to another?

Break a Leg (Or At Least a Foot)


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An aerobics class; not mine.

An aerobics class; not mine.

Those of you who have read my story “Competitive Yoga” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You (story available online here, and book available from Amazon here), know that I took up yoga several years ago. You also know that I hate exercise.

My experience described in “Competitive Yoga” was not the first time I made a foray into regular trips to a gymnasium. In my mid-thirties, after constant nagging by my husband (an exercise fiend who currently works out strenuously six times a week), I tried an aerobics class.

Actually, I tried several aerobics classes, but there was only one instructor I could follow. The others jumped around too much, and their routines were hard for me or too complicated. But Debbie—though she adopted the cheerleader yell approach to leadership—was easy to follow and only changed her routines every couple of months.

I still had a full-time day job at the time, and although Debbie taught evening classes three times a week, I was lucky to make it to the gym once a week. But I kept at it. For four years.

And felt quite proud of myself for my perseverance.

Then on Monday, August 28, 1995, Debbie announced that for family reasons she could no longer teach the evening class I attended.

I groaned. How was I going to find another aerobics instructor I could follow?

“I guess I’ll have to find some reason to stop aerobics,” I told her as I thanked her after class that evening.

On Tuesday, August 29, 1995, I broke my foot.

Now mind you, it wasn’t a deliberate act on my part. It was the end of a very horrible and rotten day.

My day at work had been long and hard. Several messy lawsuits in the middle of discovery, and I was scheduled to give a management training presentation on workplace violence the next morning.

I came home that Tuesday evening to find the hanger rod on my side of the closet in the master bedroom had pulled out of the wall, dumping all my clothes on the floor. My husband took the opportunity to complain about the volume and weight of all the clothes I owned.

And after dinner my checkbook wouldn’t balance. It was $10.00 off. (This was back in the days before online banking, when people actually balanced their checkbooks.) I went through it several times and could not find the error.

I was tired and cranky.

I carried the bank statement down the stairs, staring at it to see if my missing $10.00 would magically appear. In trying to count my pennies, I failed to count the stairs, and I missed the last one.


I heard the bone snap.

I immediately went into shock.

I yelled for my husband, who came running.

From the top of the stairs, my ten- and thirteen-year-old children stared wide-eyed as I laid on the floor shivering, my head on the floor and my injured foot raised on the step above me. They’d never seen Mom laid low before.

“I’ll take you to the ER,” my husband said. “Kids, get yourselves to bed.” He found me some shoes (I only put on one) and my purse, carried me and the purse and unneeded shoe to the garage, and sat me in the front seat of his car.

My teeth still chattered, and I babbled incoherently.

We sat for three hours in the suburban hospital Emergency Room nearest our home.

crutches“It’s cracked,” the ER doctor told me. “But you can put as much weight on it as you can tolerate. No need for a cast—here’s a padded shoe. Keep it elevated, and let’s fit you for crutches.”

“Should I stay home from work tomorrow?” I asked. I was out of shock and a little more rational after three hours of sitting, and worried about my presentation at work the next day. But it was two hours past my bedtime, and I hurt and I was exhausted. I needed to get to work, but I knew I would be wiped out.

The doctor looked guarded. I think he was used to people wanting to drum up excuses to stay home from work, but I just wanted to know if I had to find a midnight substitute for my management training program. “It’s up to you. I’ll write you an excuse if you need it.”

I was my employer’s expert on the Family and Medical Leave Act. I knew what documentation I needed for the absence. But even if I missed the presentation, how many days would a broken foot keep me out of work? Surely not the “more than three days” required for an FMLA absence. “Not a problem,” I said.

“Here’s some Tylenol 3 for the pain, and a referral to an orthopedic group,” he said. “You should make an appointment with them later in the week.” And he sent me home.

I decided I was too tired to go to work the next day, so I left voice mails messages for a couple of possible substitute presenters. I missed the training program on Wednesday, but had lots of return messages asking whether workplace violence had caused my injury and whether I had completed my FMLA paperwork.

I couldn’t get in to see the orthopedic doctor until Thursday, so I hobbled around my house until then.

“No way should you be on that foot,” the orthopedic surgeon told me on Thursday. “You’ve damaged your ligaments. You’ll need to be in a cast for at least six weeks. No weight bearing on that leg. But your foot is too swollen to cast today. Come back next Tuesday after Labor Day to get your cast.”

So that’s how long a broken foot kept me out of work—from the Tuesday evening when I broke it until the following Tuesday after I was put in the cast.

And it kept me out of aerobics far longer—over eight years, to be precise, from August 1995 until September 2003, when my second stint at the gym began. I didn’t really start yoga until the start of 2007.

What desperate measures have you taken to avoid something you didn’t want to do?

Parenting the Parents: On Being a Sounding Board


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free-vector-man-and-woman-icon-clip-art_116853_Man_And_Woman_Icon_clip_art_hightAugust 1979, thirty-five years ago this month, was the first time I felt I was more of an adult than my parents. After my husband and I graduated from law school and took the bar exam, he had to go on his two weeks’ annual training with the Naval Reserves, and I went to visit my parents.

My parents were typically rational people, and they’d known each other since high school. I thought they didn’t have any secrets from each other. (I’d only been married twenty-one months at the time—I hadn’t yet realized that a few little secrets are good for a marriage.)

During my trip to see my parents that summer, I learned that each of them had a secret they were keeping from the other. A big secret. And they each told their secrets to me.

My mother needed a hysterectomy, but she said, “don’t tell your father.” The surgery would require several weeks of recuperation, and my mother was my younger siblings’ chief chauffeur, as well as doing everything needed to keep the family’s home running smoothly.

My father was considering taking a new job across the state, but he said, “don’t tell your mother.” Any move from the house my parents had occupied for seventeen years would obviously impact the entire family.

In the wisdom of my twenty-three years of age and newlywed status, I knew these were secrets my parents needed to share. “Don’t you think you need to talk?” I told them both, in separate conversations.

Well, my parents did talk not long after I left to return to my home. My mother had the surgery and recovered just fine. My father took the new job, and the family worked out the transition to new home and schools.

And I learned that even responsible adults sometimes need a sounding board.

In the intervening years, I have encountered many more occasions when people I relied on have needed my attention and concern. My mother, as she declined with Alzheimer’s in her last few years. My father as he cared for her and now faces her estate issues. My husband as he dealt with his own disappointments in life. Bosses, who may have wanted to seem omnipotent, but needed to bounce ideas off someone they trusted before making information public.

The trick to being a good sounding board, I discovered, is to listen. I’m told I interrupt my family members too often. But I hope when it counts, I can listen.

I hope also that I can let others come to their own realization of the appropriate next steps. Sometimes they can use a nudge. But most people appreciate the opportunity to develop their next steps in their own time.

I can’t say my husband and I have always been completely open with each other in our thirty-seven years of marriage. We’re both introverted and like to think things through on our own. But I have always remembered those conversations with my parents in August 1979, and tried to be sure I didn’t keep big secrets from my husband.

And he’s usually a pretty good sounding board for me.

When have you served as a sounding board for others? When have you needed a sounding board yourself?

I’m a Guest Blogger Over at Jill Weatherholt’s Blog


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A friend I’ve come to know from blogging, Jill Weatherholt, asked me to be a guest blogger on her blog, and my post was published last Friday.

If the links don’t work, paste the following into your browser:


I told Jill’s readers all about my novels and my blog. I also answered some questions for Jill, like what celebrity I look like and what I don’t understand about the opposite sex. (Doesn’t that make you want to read my answers?)

So head over to Jill’s blog to see what I had to say. And while you’re there, check out Jill’s own posts and those of her other guest bloggers this summer.

Did you find any other blogs on Jill’s site you’d like to follow?




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