Surviving a Year of Loss


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Last picture of my father, Christmas 2014

Last picture of my father, Christmas 2014

As the first anniversary of my father’s death approaches (he died on January 5, 2015), I find myself increasingly melancholy.

I’m no longer in shock, as I was for the first few weeks after he was gone. I recently read through my journal from those weeks, and I wondered how I managed to function. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. I burst into tears at the oddest moments. And yet I talked rationally with the funeral home, the accountant, and the lawyer. I collected the right documents to bring back home with me. I worked my way through the bank policies that kept me from getting access to my parents’ money for almost a month. I coped.

Why is my feeling of bereavement increasing now instead of dissipating?

His house, recently sold

His house, recently sold

Is it because I closed on the sale of his home in mid-December? But it is such a relief not to have the responsibility of caring for a house two thousand miles away. Still, I found myself mourning the loss of a place to call home, even though I haven’t lived with my parents for over forty years. Although I had some very nice visits with them in this house, it was also the place where I watched my mother’s decline into dementia and where I saw my father grieve her passing.

Is it missing him over the holidays? But I rarely spent much time with my parents over Thanksgiving or Christmas. Still, this year I found myself missing the stack of $25 Nordstrom gift cards that my father gave me the last couple of Christmases. (He used his credit card rewards points, and couldn’t get higher denominations. I was always a little embarrassed to pull out a pile of gift cards, but the Nordstrom sales clerks took it in stride.)

Is it that I now find myself without anyone supporting me in the practice of my religion? But I should practice my faith for myself and not for others. Still, I remember making a deliberate choice to continue my Catholicism past adolescence to honor my parents and fulfill their expectations. Now, is there any point when no one else in my family cares?

Is it that I am now the only one who remembers any of what happened in my first decade of life? But I treasure those memories—I had a reasonably happy childhood. Still, my parents are gone, the brother who shared many of those years with me is estranged, and I have few friends left from my childhood and no relatives with whom I was close. My loneliness is palpable when I think of those years.

It is probably all of these things, and more besides. I have read that there is no timeline for grief. I am finding that to be true. Now that the sudden shock of loss is past, it is the little things that stop me.

I used to call my father when I got home from Mass on Saturday afternoon. Now I have no one to call. My father used to know to the minute when I should get home after a flight. If I didn’t call him within thirty minutes of that time, he would call me. Now I have no one with whom to touch base.

On holidays, we would talk, even if we were not together. This year, I called my brother and sister on Christmas, and we had a nice chat. But there was still a hole. I had to wedge going to Mass on Christmas into the non-Catholic holiday celebrations, as if it were something odd for me to do, rather than being the central point of Christmas.

I debate whether to cancel his email account, which I check about once a week. All that is coming in is spam. I know I should delete his phone numbers off my cell phone, but I can’t yet.

In all of these little things, I feel alone. I know they will get easier as time goes by. I know also that I will be stopped cold by grief by new things. It is all part of the story.

When has grief stopped you? What made it easier to bear?

Sampler 1984


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Last week I wrote about an emergency sewing project (putting my daughter’s name on her Christmas stocking). This post is another emergency sewing project, one that took place on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1984.

I like to do needlepoint and cross-stitch, and I often have a project pending. But my projects tend to pend for a long time. Years, in fact. I have a needlepoint pillow underway now that I think I began in 2011.

I started a cross-stitch sampler sometime in 1982 or 1983. The design was based on a sampler done by a young girl during Colonial times. It wasn’t a difficult project, though planning out how to include my name and the year took a little calculation to make the margins on either sides of the words come out right.

sampler 20151213_161601

My sampler was still unfinished when we moved into our current house in October 1984, although I was through the “Give us this day our daily bread” portion. I worked on it that autumn, and by December I had stitched in the line that reads “the year of our Lord 1984.”

Well, once the year was stitched in, I became determined to finish the sampler in 1984. I really didn’t want to rip out the 4 and replace it with a 5.

Nothing is easy to squeeze in during the Christmas season, particularly with a two-year-old just understanding Santa, but I spent what time I could stitching. I still wasn’t quite finished. Finally it was December 31—New Year’s Eve—my last opportunity to finish it truthfully.

My husband and I rarely stay up until midnight, even on New Year’s Eve. That year, I was about four months pregnant with my daughter, and I didn’t want to stay up late, but the sampler called. My husband went to bed about 10:00pm. I kept stitching.

I put in the last stitch around 11:30pm—I think it was on one of the lions. I took the sampler off the frame I use to keep projects stretched while I’m working and smoothed it out with a smile of accomplishment. Then I went to bed.

When have you faced a deadline, and what have you done to meet it?

Mystery of the Old Doll Solved


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MTH first doll croppedWhen I was cleaning out my parents’ house last spring, I found an old doll. Its body was corduroy, it was stuffed with something soft, but had a hard plastic face.

I remembered the doll from my childhood, but I didn’t know where it came from. Was it mine? Or my mother’s? I couldn’t remember ever playing with it. All I knew was that the doll had been around as long as I could remember. Because it was so old, I kept it.

My sister, brother and I also found boxes and boxes of pictures in the house. Everywhere we looked, it seemed, there were more pictures. We didn’t go through them at the time. We stowed all the boxes in my sister’s minivan, then put them in her dining room in a Seattle suburb.

In late July, I visited my sister and went through the photographs my father had kept. I spent most of a day in her dining room, thumbing through envelope after envelope of snapshots. If one envelope was mostly me or my family, I dumped it in my stack. And envelopes that were mostly of my sister or my brother and their children went into their stacks.

I didn’t have the time nor the energy to sort picture by picture. Envelope by envelope was all I could handle.

Then I boxed up my stack of pictures and put the boxes in the back of my rental car. My husband and I were headed from the Seattle area to Cannon Beach for a family reunion with his side of the family. In Cannon Beach I transferred the boxes from the rental car to my sister-in-law’s car. She had driven out from Missouri and agreed to drive the boxes back to Missouri for me.

After my sister-in-law delivered the boxes to my house, I stashed them in my dining room, still unable to go through them one by one.

Finally, sometime late this fall, I decided to organize the pictures at least by generations. I thought some of them might be helpful in jogging my memory for this blog. There were a few old pictures of my parents. Many of my childhood. And many more of my children’s childhood. I found some gems, but I’m still missing pictures I know I saw in my sister’s dining room. They must be someplace—perhaps in one of my siblings’ stacks, if not in some box of mine I’ve misplaced.

One of the photographs I noticed as I went through the pictures this fall was of my first Christmas in 1956 and all the presents I received from Santa Claus as an eight-month-old.

Xmas 56 (cropped)

What Santa Claus brought me for my first Christmas in 1956

And there in the photograph next to Humpty Dumpty was the little doll I found almost fifty-nine years later in my parents’ house. So the doll was mine—probably my first doll.

(And as a side note, I think the cat-shaped rug on which the doll sits was the rug I later took to kindergarten, when I argued with another little girl over which of us got to use our favorite cubby. Many of the items I received that first Christmas remained in our family for many, many years. The rocking horse is still in the family today.)

I don’t know why my parents kept this doll. Since I can’t recall playing with it, it doesn’t have much meaning to me. Unless the meaning is in the fact that my parents kept it—it must have had meaning for one of them, probably my mother. Perhaps the doll brought back memories to her of her first Christmas as a mother, of a time in her life she treasured.

When has a photograph solved a mystery for you?

A Christmas Stocking Tantrum


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Decorated for Christmas, 2015

My Christmas preparations are about finished—the cards are mailed, the packages wrapped, and the house decorated. I still have some cooking to do, but it will get done.

I don’t do a lot of decorating for holidays. When the children were small, I made token attempts for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. I did a bit more at Christmas. Now, Christmas is the only season that gets any recognition at all in our home.

But we typically have a real evergreen Christmas tree (unless we are traveling for a week or more). I get out two tabletop artificial trees, and I line up the Christmas cards we receive on the mantel. I hang the children’s stockings on mantel hooks my husband installed many years ago, though the children (now in their 30s) no longer allow me to fill them.

Every time I hang the stockings, I smile at a memory of my daughter as a toddler.

J stocking20151220_213218

Son’s stocking

As a baby, my son—our older child—received his stocking from my husband’s great aunt, Aunt Evelyn. She had a friend who made Christmas stockings of appliqued felt and sequins and other decorations. The stocking was a lovely gift for our little baby’s first Christmas. His stocking depicts Santa Claus making a list and it bears our son’s name embroidered at the top in heavy gold thread. (He now usually goes by James, but was “Jamie” as a child.)

By the time our daughter came along a few years later, Aunt Evelyn had lost her source for Christmas stockings. I bought a stocking at Hallmark for our baby daughter. But it didn’t match our son’s stocking.

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Daughter’s stocking

When our daughter was about three, I found a felt appliqued stocking about the same size as our son’s. It showed Santa and a snowman sledding, with a starry blue sky overhead. I bought it and took it home to show my daughter.

She didn’t like it. Her name was not embroidered on the stocking. She burst into tears. “I want my name on it!”

“Let’s just hang it up,” I said. “Everyone will know it’s yours.”

She cried more. Big sobs.

“I’ll embroider it for next year,” I said. “I don’t have time now.”

No deal.

“I don’t have any gold thread,” I said. “If you want it to match Jamie’s, you’ll have to wait.”

More sobs.

“Fine,” I finally said. “I’ve got blue yarn. That’s all I have. It won’t show up very well, but it’s your choice—blue now or wait until next year for gold.”

Blue yarn won. I whipped out a needle and the blue yarn and embroidered “Marcy” against the dark blue sky.

And so it has remained for more than a quarter century.

When have you as a parent had to placate your child? (Or been placated yourself as a child?)

The Orange Juice Incident


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I know it is un-American, but I do not like orange juice. The pulp in it clings to my tongue and doesn’t go down easily. The acid churns my stomach. And it’s just so orangey.

A&T Dec 1989 (cropped)

Theresa & Al, several days AFTER the Orange Juice Incident

I also don’t like to travel during the holidays. I started being responsible for my Thanksgiving and Christmas travels when I was seventeen and went to college three-thousand miles from home. Ever since then, I’ve lived far away from at least part of my family and have had to fly frequently on holiday weekends.

Once my husband and I started working, we tended to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his parents, who lived just ninety miles from our house. Those car trips weren’t too bad, unless the weather was dreadful.

But every third year we traveled to the Pacific Northwest for Christmas with my parents. Once we had children, we had to schlep their belongings—including all presents—halfway across the country. I usually shipped boxes in advance and hoped they arrived before we did.

Christmas 1989 was one of our years to travel west. My parents lived in Richland, Washington, at the time, which required two airplanes from Kansas City. My children that year were four and seven.

I had shipped our presents—wrapped and unwrapped—to my parents ahead of time. I only needed to pack clothes for myself and the kids. My husband was responsible for packing for himself. (He usually was, and we often had to go to Wal-Mart the day after we arrived to buy socks or underwear.)

Packing our clothes was a complicated endeavor. I had to decide on the appropriate garments for church, dinners at fancy restaurants, and everyday activities in the middle of winter. I had to limit myself to the number of suitcases that two adults could carry, because our children were not big enough to provide much assistance. One result of my logistical calculations was that I decided I would make do with one raincoat with a zip-out lining.

December 1989 was the coldest month on record in Kansas City. On the morning we left, the temperature was minus 22 degrees. We had to leave our house at 6:00am to get to the airport in time for our first flight.

The taxi arrived to pick us up at the appointed hour. The kids and I were ready. My husband and I carried the bags to the taxi, and the kids and I got in the back seat.

“I’m going to turn off the water,” my husband said.

I understood why he was turning it off. I didn’t want the pipes to burst while we were away any more than he did. But couldn’t he have done it BEFORE we were in the frigid taxi? I shivered in my coat, even with its zip-out lining.

Finally, hubby climbed in the cab, and off we went.

Check-in at the airport went smoothly. My husband announced he wanted breakfast before boarding. Our seven-year-old son chimed in, “I’m starved!” He was always starved, from birth until age 25. Maybe longer.

We entered the airport cafeteria restaurant, put food on our trays, paid, and found a table. I took coats off the kids and then myself, piled them on a nearby chair, and we sat down to eat. I was exhausted. Not particularly hungry, but exhausted with the effort of preparing for the trip, rising early in the morning, and getting myself and two children ready for a week-long cross-country trip.

“Be careful with that,” I said to my husband when he picked up his bottle of orange juice. He had a habit of shaking drink bottles before he opened them.

“It’s okay,” he said in that placating tone he uses when he thinks I’m being silly.

“You’ll spill it,” I said, as he starting shaking the orange juice bottle.

“Nah,” he said.

The cap flew off the bottle, and half the juice landed on my coat. Mostly on the outside, but some on the zipped-in zip-out lining.

I didn’t swear, because of the children, but I was damn angry. “That’s the only coat I brought!” I yelled. I grabbed some napkins and tried to blot the juice off my coat.

“Let me do that.” My husband tried to take the napkins from me.

“You’ve done enough,” I said through my teeth.

The kids’ eyes were wide, their mouths gaping. Dad had clearly screwed up, even worse than THEY usually did. What would Mom do now? They’d seen her go ballistic over smaller things.

I did my best to salvage the coat. We ate our food in silence, except for my caustic comments toward my husband, such as “Did you think I wanted to smell like orange juice all week?” and “I told you not to shake the bottle” and “You’ve done this before, you know. Why didn’t you listen to me?”

Then we went to use the restrooms before the flight. I took my four-year-old daughter into the women’s room with me. As we washed our hands, I dabbed at my coat again with water and paper towels, still fuming about “stupid man” and “thinks he knows everything” and “it’ll be sticky the whole vacation.”

My four-year-old sidled toward the exit.

“Where do you think you’re going?” I yelled.

She started to cry, huge tears welling out of her eyes. Many years later, she told me all she wanted was to get away from me.

But, of course, I couldn’t let a four-year-old loose in the airport. “Get back here!” She took one step closer to me, but still sobbed.

That’s how we boarded the plane—me reeking of orange juice, my daughter crying, and my husband and son silent.

The only good news is that I got the single seat, and my husband had the children in the row of three across from me. And the dry cleaners was open on Christmas Eve, so my coat got cleaned.

For the quarter-century since that Christmas, this has been known in our family as the Orange Juice Incident.

Xmas 1989 dinner cropped

Christmas dinner, 1989, with the exception of Grandpa Tom, who took the picture

What problems have you incurred during holiday travels?

Christmas Cards Through the Years


, , , , published an article on December 9, 2015, entitled “The History of the Christmas Card,” by John Hanc. According to the article, Christmas cards began in 1843 in London, when the very busy Henry Cole decided to send post cards instead of handwritten notes to his friends at the holidays.

Thus, it is likely that when the emigrants of 1847 in my novel Lead Me Home wrote back to their families after reaching Oregon, they would not yet have had the advantage of published Christmas cards. They would have had to make do with letters, assuming they could find a place to mail the letters back to the United States.

My Christmas card project is at the messy stage

My Christmas card project this year is at the messy stage

For many of us who work(ed) for Hallmark Cards, the article was old news. Hallmark has displays of old Christmas cards dating back to the 1840s, when the tradition of sending cards began. I used to love waiting for the elevator and perusing the display of old cards. And most of us at Hallmark knew about the most popular Hallmark Christmas card—the one depicting three little angels, one impish angel with her halo askew (though I personally have never liked this card).

Although the article was not news to me, it did get me thinking about my own Christmas card traditions.

When I was growing up, my mother always sent Christmas cards. She wrote letters on most of them. Sometimes we children helped to stuff the envelopes after she had written her notes.

I first sent my own Christmas cards when I went off to college. I sent fewer than twenty cards, and only to close family and friends. This pattern continued through my college and law school years, though I had to expand my card list after my husband and I married to include his family and friends. He never participated in the addressing, signing, or stuffing of the cards.

In my early years of sending cards, I never worried about the brand I sent. I typically picked up some pretty cards in the campus bookstore. In December 1975 I sent a lovely Black Madonna I found in the bookstore at The American University where I had spent the fall semester.

When I started working for Hallmark in the fall of 1979, I received a certain number of free cards as a perk. There was no excuse not to send cards, and I broadened the recipients to include my co-workers. And to my husband’s co-workers. It seemed to me that the people we worked with should be worth the cost of a first-class stamp, since the cards themselves were free.

And, of course, I only sent Hallmark brand cards.

For many years I took my Christmas cards and my address list to wherever I celebrated Thanksgiving. It became my tradition to address all the cards by hand over Thanksgiving weekend. I might not get all the cards signed and the envelopes stuffed, but the envelopes were addressed. That was the hard part, and I tried to get it done early. The cards were usually ready to mail the first week in December.

Fortunately or unfortunately, our universe expanded. Each year there were more and more cards to address. My husband’s law firm merged and grew. My circle of acquaintances at Hallmark increased. I still wanted to send them to everyone we worked with, as well as to the families that we and our children were friendly with. But the task became daunting. I couldn’t address all the cards on Thanksgiving weekend. Every year it seemed I was later in mailing the cards.

I shifted to computerized labels. Perhaps Miss Manners wouldn’t approve, but it made the job easier. I had watch that people didn’t move on me. I used the same computer list from year to year, and if I wasn’t careful to note everyone who changed addresses during the year, I would get cards returned to me in January.

My only helper is Langley, my daughter's dog

My only helper is Langley, my daughter’s dog

The task continued to grow. I tried to get my kids to stuff envelopes, like I had helped as a child, but they weren’t very cooperative. They hated the taste of the envelope glue, even though I bribed them with hot chocolate.

And no way could I write notes on all the cards. I began writing a Christmas letter, of the ilk that so many people hate. The older relatives to whom I sent the letter always said they liked it, Everyone else was too polite to tell me to stop.

Except my children. They complained each year, not wanting their deeds and misdeeds published to the world. But I didn’t listen to them. I did give them editing privileges on the paragraphs that related to them. And I gave my husband complete editing authority, then did what I wanted with his changes.

My mailing date grew later in December. If the cards were sent before December 15, I considered it a victory.

My husband’s firm merged again and doubled in size. There were lawyers in the firm he didn’t know. He was not participating in the Christmas card project. I told him I would only send cards to the people he specifically named. He didn’t name very many, and the rest were scratched off the list. Bah, humbug. I felt guilty.

Still, my work group expanded, and my list expanded along with it. At the high point, I was sending close to 400 cards. And the mailing date approached Christmas itself.

In December 2006 I retired. No more free Christmas cards. I had some boxes left over from earlier years. I bought some new and used some old, and continued to send cards, though my list dwindled. I continued to write a letter, though we have less and less to write about, it seems. (Except this year I published a book, so Lead Me Home gets featured!)

I have now been retired for nine years. I winnow the list more every year, though new people have been added as I’ve joined new boards and found new friends. This year I will send cards to about 150 people.

I will send only Hallmark brand cards. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they get mailed before Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all, whether you’re on my card list or not!

Ashes to Ashes: Requiem for a Tree


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We moved into our brand new house on a block of other brand new houses in October 1984. Within a few weeks after we moved in, the city of Kansas City, Missouri, planted trees in the parkway up and down our street.

My husband and I were both at work the day that the trees were planted. That evening our next door neighbor came over to make sure we knew that he had selected the best trees the city had on its truck for his house and ours.

The tree in the parkway in front of our house was an ash tree. Ours grew to be the biggest ash on the street—even bigger than our neighbor’s, though I bet he had taken the best tree for his lot and given us second best. I certainly didn’t mind—we had a fine tree.

I believe the reason our tree grew to be so tall and strong was that my husband fertilized it regularly in the years before we hired TruGreen Chem Lawn to care for our trees and shrubs. My husband carried buckets of water mixed with carefully measured tree food down to the curb every few weeks through the growing season. It may have been a city-owned tree, but we provided its care for decades.

house w trees marked

The ash tree in the parkway overshadows our house and the magnolia

Soon the tree provided shade to the west side of our two-story house. In the three seasons of the year when the ash tree had leaves, the foliage grew so thick I could not see the houses across the street from my second-story office window.

ash tree canopy marked

The ash tree canopy spread from the street to our house.

emerald ash borerUnfortunately, the Midwest has been hit by the emerald ash borer, a beetle native to Asia that destroys North American ash trees. The larvae chew through the bark and disrupt the tree’s ability to transport nutrients and water. About two years ago, the city tagged our ash tree and all the others up and down the street. The trees were treated, but the treatments do not always stave off the bugs.

In November of this year, a large slab of bark fell off our ash tree. I don’t know if the emerald ash borer had attacked the tree or not, but we worried about the health of the tree. So we contacted the city. After a couple of weeks, they sent a crew to inspect it. Their remedy—they would cut down the tree.

On Saturday, December 5, a contractor’s truck showed up, and they sawed away at our ash. Chainsaws roaring, first they sawed off the small branches on top, then the larger limbs, and finally the trunk, until all that remained of our lovely ash was a pile of sawdust.

House without the ash tree

House without the ash

All that's left of our ash tree

All that’s left of our ash tree

The city says they will plant another tree. But we don’t know when. And we don’t know what. And it will be years before the shade of any new tree will be of benefit to the west side of our home. We probably won’t live in this house by the time the shade reaches the second story windows.

Perhaps the only benefit of losing the ash will be that the magnolia tree, which I also love and which grew in the shadow of the ash, can now receive more sun, spread its branches, and bloom more brightly.

What plants have you lost that you loved?

Langley on the Loose


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My mother and her mother both became grandmothers at age forty-eight. My father’s mother was even younger when her first grandchild was born. Here I am, closing in on sixty, and I don’t see any prospects for grandchildren any time soon.

But I do have a granddog.

Langley for Xmas ltr 2015

A year ago, my daughter adopted Langley, a rescue dog from Houston. In the Hupp family tradition, Langley is named after the first aircraft carrier. Our last two dogs were named Saratoga and Lexington (aka Sara and Lexi), after other aircraft carriers.

This fall, my Seattle-based daughter has had to travel a lot on business. She decided the best place for Langley during her travels was with my husband and me in Kansas City.

So in early November, my daughter flew Langley to Kansas City. We will keep her through Christmas. The timing is unfortunate, as my husband has returned to his law practice temporarily to fill in for an attorney on maternity leave. That leaves me as primary dogsitter.

Langley is a lovely dog. Although she is a mutt, she is a beautiful female with a sweet personality. Except when she’s feeling feisty. Which she often does. Particularly at dog parks, when other dogs want her ball. She is also exuberant, needing at least an hour of exercise each day.

When she first got Langley, my daughter thought she was pretty stupid. The dog growled at her reflection in mirrors and windows. She could be bribed into doing anything for a dab of peanut butter.

But when she went to obedience school, the trainer said, “Oh, Langley is so smart! As soon as she realized there are consequences to her behavior, she shaped right up.”

Consequences. What a concept. Worked wonders with my kids, and it seemed to work on the dog also. Her behavior is much improved over a year ago.

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Langley, when she was free to roam the yard

We have a fenced backyard, much bigger than what Langley has at home. She immediately loved it—ran back and forth, bounding like a rabbit or deer all the way across our lot. She threw her ball off the deck and chased it until she wore herself out. She hunted the rabbits and squirrels that found refuge in our yard in the pre-Langley era.

Sara and Lexi had also loved the backyard, but they were not often left alone in it. They dug holes. They fought with the neighbor dog over the top of the fence. But they never escaped.

Unfortunately, Langley, though smaller than Sara and Lexi, quickly learned to jump the fence. Well, not so much jump as climb it. No one saw her first escape, but my son observed her second.

We have a four foot fence, with crosspieces top and bottom to hold the vertical slats. She put her front paws on the top board, scrabbled her back paws onto the bottom board, and with a mighty heave of haunch muscles clambered up and over. Looked kind of like Spiderman, my son said.

The yard behind us is not fenced, so after her leap Langley was free. Free to run. Free to nose other dogs through their fences. Free to chase those pesky squirrels until they scampered up a tree.

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Langley, now leashed to the deck and regretting the consequences of fence-jumping

Freedom has consequences. The consequence of Langley’s freedom is that she now must be on a leash anytime she is in the backyard. We forgave the first escape, thinking that perhaps it was a fluke. But we could not ignore two.

None of us is happy about the backyard leash. Not Langley, who cannot understand why we changed the rules after the first week of her visit. And not the humans who have to go out with her no matter the time or weather—in the dark and the cold and the rain.

Langley would like to run freely. She’d like her privacy as she does her business. But she eyes the fence as if she would most like to make another break for it. She has proven herself an untrustworthy dog, at least in the matter of fences.

If only she understood the reason behind the consequence. But my explanations have not helped her. I’ve upped our dog park schedule to allow her some freedom to run, but she’d like more.

I think this will be Langley’s only trip to Kansas City. For both our sakes.

What stupid (or smart) pet tricks does your pet do?

Google Alert on the Oregon Trail: The Small Pleasures of Being a Writer


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I have set up a Google Alert for references to “Oregon Trail.” Every week in my email inbox, I get a list of internet articles referencing the Oregon Trail. My purpose in setting up the alert was to keep up on what is happening along the trail.

Most of what shows up in the Google Alert doesn’t help my writing or my marketing at all. Most articles relate to local events in Oregon, or to people writing about the old Oregon Trail computer game. (Remember? The game in which one player always died of dysentery. Well, that did happen to many emigrants.)

But last week, I was surprised to open my Google Alert to see a picture of the Lead Me Home cover!

Google alert LMH

And a very nice article in The Marshall Democrat-News, the local newspaper in Marshall, Missouri.

Marshall Dem News LMH

I am doing a reading and book signing at the Marshall Public Library on Thursday, December 10, 2015, and I knew the library was preparing a press release. But I was still surprised to see the article in the local Marshall newspaper.

Being famous for a day is one of the small pleasures of being a writer.

Another is going off to run errands for an afternoon, and coming back to check your book statistics to see that two—or maybe even three!—people somewhere in the U.S. bought your book.

A third small pleasure is having your friends and family—and sometimes mere acquaintances—tell you they loved your book. And they want you to get the sequel done right away. (Well, maybe this last bit isn’t a pleasure, because I know how much work lies ahead to get the sequel ready.)

I suppose John Grisham and Larry McMurtry are past those small pleasures. But for just-published authors, it’s still fun.

I hope any readers in or near Marshall, Missouri, will come to the reading on Thursday. It’s at 6:00pm.

No one will die of dysentery in the selection I read.

Lloyd Center, Mickey Mouse, and Santa


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I’ve written before about the time that Santa came to visit my brother and me at our house. That’s the only time I remember Santa coming to visit me as a child before he dropped off our presents. But I remember one time when we went to visit Santa at the mall.

I was four or five, and my paternal grandparents lived in Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Our family visited these grandparents for Thanksgiving in 1960 or ’61.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my parents took my brother and me to Lloyd Center in Portland. Lloyd Center was a large shopping mall. It still exists today, but in 1960 it was brand new, and it was still a novelty in 1961.

I had never been to a shopping mall before. My parents, brother, and I all dressed in our Sunday finest for the expedition. I wore my good tweed coat and my red velvet hat with the white fur pom-pom. I loved that hat, which my mother only let me wear during the winter. But it fit for several years, so I got to enjoy it until I decided it was too babyish.

(I know there is a picture of me in that coat and hat, but I can’t for the life of me find it.)

Not my Santa at the mall, but similar

Not my Santa at the mall, but similar

The stores were overwhelming. I knew about J.C. Penney’s, because those stores were everywhere. I knew of Meier & Frank, the big Portland-based department store, though I’d never been in one before. I’d never heard of most of the other stores. The shopping mall had at least two levels, with an escalator running between them.

I was scared to death of the escalator. I’d seen a Mickey Mouse cartoon, in which Mickey got flattened in an escalator. He went round and round until somehow he popped out, magically three-dimensional again.

It didn’t help that my mother kept telling me, “Hang on! Hang on! Don’t let your shoe get caught.”

Petrified, I let several escalator steps pass me by, until one of my parents grabbed my hand and pulled. I stepped on and rode to the bottom, nervous for the entire flight, scared I wouldn’t know how to get off. That’s what had happened to Mickey. He’d been sucked in at the bottom.

Another jerk of a parental hand, and I stumbled off. Still in one piece.

And off we went to find Santa.

I don’t remember a thing about sitting on Santa’s lap. But I know I wasn’t disappointed on Christmas morning, so it must have been an effective visit.

What are your first memories of a shopping mall?


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