What’s Your Story?

Do you keep journals? Write in a diary?

What is a journal? Business people will tell you that it’s a “record that keeps accounting transactions in chronological order, i.e. as they occur. ”

Writers use journals to come up with story ideas or to make memory lists for memoir. Journals help us tap into our creativity.

Mental health professionals often suggest keeping a journal as a means to discover your inner self and identify issues you may have hidden from yourself.

Journals can be very private or shared with individuals or groups.

Journals and diaries are a way to:

  • leave your legacy for your children
  • sort out your feelings about the past
  • communicate with yourself and others
  • unleash the right side of your brain (creativity)
  • figure out day-to-day issues and time management
  • understand your life story
  • keep track of a specific event as it is happening in your life

I tend to use random spiral notebooks for my journals, but there are many more formal journals you can purchase. They may have “prompts” in case you aren’t sure what to write about.

Years ago, after the birth of my first grandchild, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a journal called “Grandma, Tell Me Your Story.” Each page had a prompt for each day of the year. There were blank pages at the end where I could write whatever came to mind. The topics were something like:

  • January 1 – How did your family celebrate the New Year?
  • January 2 – What were your favorite activities in the winter?

Most months had holiday-specific prompts (if there was a holiday that month) as well as general topics like “Did you ever get in trouble at school? What did you do?” or “What was your favorite Halloween costume? Describe it.” One particularly poignant page in September asked “Where were you on 9/11?”

I wrote in the journal each day and by the end of the year, I returned it to my son for my granddaughter to read in the future.

Recently, I found another “Grandmother” journal that I plan to write WITH my granddaughter. It’s a “back and forth” journal where one of us writes and tJounral grandmahe other responds.

I am scheduled for a major surgical procedure next week and have been journaling about it. It will require major lifestyle changes so I am ambivalent and a little scared. Will I be able to do what is needed to stay healthy? I’d planned to grab a regular notebook to write in, but my friend said I should buy a special journal since this will be a major change in my life. She thought it would be wise to write down the process as well as my anxiety and feelings of anticipation. Why am I having the procedure? How will it improve my life? What will I be able to do afterwards that I can’t do now? What is the doctor telling me day-to-day?

I saw some journals at the card store while I was looking for Father’s Day and birthday cards. One caught my eye. It was beautifully bound and combined adult coloring designs and lined pages. But, it cost $25 so I put it down. A spiral notebook would only cost $2 or so. I told my friend, an adult coloring book fan, about it and she said I needed to go back and get the journal. “You deserve it.”

While out shopping, I was near another card store, same company. I decided to stop in rather than driving across town to the one where I originally saw the journal. Disappointed, no journals like it were to be seen. I asked the cashier as I was leaving the store and she pointed, saying, “Check out the clearance table.”

I walked over and laying on the table among scented candles, stuffed Easter bunnies, and small Mother’s Day plaques sat a lone coloring journal. Spiral and paper instead of leather bound, the coloring areas were on the outer margins of each page instead of the top. Price: $5. I couldn’t pass it up. I took it to the cashier and she rang it up at $2.50. Even better. “Clearance” proved true. Being a spiral, it’s easier to open up flat and write.


With a price like that, I couldn’t resist buying a second one listed for $8. It was more elaborate with pale green binding and sayings inside as well as coloring at the top.

I should be set for awhile.

I’ve discovered that writing in the coloring journal isn’t as tiring if I write awhile and then color awhile. Different hand muscles are in use for each activity.

journal inside

I have other journals that I will leave for my children as legacy. There is one about Family Traditions. Each major holiday has page where I wrote about typical ways we celebrated when our sons were small or still living at home. Each page has a pocket side where I store mementos such as cards, place-mats or small items.

There are so many journals out there that are fun and useful. I hope you can find one or two you like. To paraphrase the beginning definition of a journal by accountants –” A journal is a record that keeps personal and family history in chronological order, i.e. as they occur. ” Or not.

Journal mothers


“And that’s the way it is.”

I was watching the Today Show while eating breakfast this morning when I pondered why is media the way it is? Where have all the reporters gone? (Apologies to Pete Seeger.)

Whmusic-notes-855908ere have all the newsmen gone, long time passing. Where have all the newsmen gone, long time ago. Where have all the newsmen gone, gone for celebrity every one. When will we ever learn? When we ever learn?

“News” flash: Megyn Kelly is moving to NBC!

Matt Lauer makes a lot of money. NBC just signed him up for 2 more years at $20 million a year. Lots of twos. He’s been there 20 years. He has a 2 year contract and he will make $20,000,000 a year. Maybe he should buy a lottery ticket with twos across the board (as if he needs more!) What would Walter Cronkite think? (Oops! Wrong network!)


For a few years, I’ve noticed that television anchors are not reporters but celebrities. We get our “news” from celebrities. Kim Kardashian could step in for many of the so-called reporters! (Wait, is that true? Is she going to host the Morning Show?) False…for now.

Why is hearing about an anchor’s pregnancy relevant to the world? Why is watching a celebrity perform some feat more important than the orphans being whisked out of Syria, in fear of their lives? Why aren’t problems like poverty being addressed or reporting on hunger in our own country? We seem to want to watch trivial things instead of being confronted by real news stories that are harsh realities.

Walter Cronkite was at CBS for 19 years. As a reporter and then anchor, he covered WWII, the Nuremberg trials, Vietnam, the assassination of JFK, then MLK’s assassination. He reported on Watergate and the Iran Hostage Crisis. He covered the news! We didn’t know when or if his wife was pregnant or what college his kids went to. He never told us what he had for breakfast that morning. He said, Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.” 


I wonder what he’d think of today’s world. I’m sure he’d be shocked by all the false “news” that has been bandied about this past year. He strove for objectivity in reporting. He said, Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine. Nowadays we are seeing more opinion being “reported” as “news” than truly objective journalism. There are someexceptions. I think photojournalism is still relatively forthcoming. Hard to lie when you take a picture of burned out houses or people running from a gunman or storms hitting a part of the country. I don’t think photo manipulation has entered the field. A cynic might think it’s only a matter of time, but I know some very reputable photojournalists (i.e. my DIL) who would never stoop that low.


Walter Cronkite had his faults. Some colleagues thought he was too proud or dictatorial, but we could trust him. The American people believed him when he reported something. I wonder what he’d say about this past year. Maybe something he said years ago:

“We are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting our leaders.”

Anymore, news is all about the ratings. How much money can a network make from advertising? The higher the rating, the more advertising income. The higher the ratings the higher the $$$ rewards to the anchors and reporters.

The news media is important for our democracy. The freedom of the press is usually the first freedom to go when a country is falling. But we need a strong, hard-hitting press that doesn’t cave to celebrity and the mundane.

“There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.”


Story Ideas and Techniques

Where do you get ideas for stories? Many of mine come from observations I’ve made and experiences I’ve had. Once in awhile something will just pop into my head. When I am on a “roll” and things are moving along,  it’s so exciting to me. I lose all track of time. Does that happen to you?

I recently wrote a short story (and I think it’s a work in progress) and ideas came so quickly, I couldn’t keep up. My fingers were flying across the keyboard. I couldn’t keep up with the thoughts in my brain.

I am grateful for my education in journalism in the 1970’s at UNL. As a student, I learned to type and think. It was much different than the leisurely handwritten thoughts that I was used to. I had to sit at the typewriter and, in rapid fire, put down my thoughts. It was daunting. But now I have difficulty putting pen to paper because my hand is slower than my brain when I write.

I have discovered that I like to write mystical stories. I’m a reader of mysteries, thrillers and spy novels so this has come as a surprise to me. My latest short story is called “Dream Catcher” and it’s about a museum curator who has the uncanny ability to sense things “other worldly.” I got the idea while looking at the dream catcher that hangs in my bedroom window.

Dream catchers started with the Native American of the Great Plains, the Lakota and Sioux. They believed the air is filled with both good and bad dreams. Dream catchers were hung in the tepees and on the babies’ cradle boards for protection.

According to legend, good dreams pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. Bad dreams are caught in the web where they die in the light of dawn.

Traditionally, the frame was made of willow hoops and animal sinew or cordage made from plants. The circular shape represented the sun and moon (and time) as each day moves across the sky.

Now, soft leather cord or synthetic materials are used. The hoop is likely wooden or plastic. They are often decorated with feathers and beads. Mine has an arrowhead in the center.IMG_3865

I have several dream catchers in various forms. I’m not sure when my “collection” started. Like many of my collections, it was inadvertent. I received some from the St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota after making a donation. I continue to receive them now and then, even if I don’t send a donation. I bought the one I have in my bedroom while vacationing in Colorado Springs. I also bought a dreIMG_3868am catcher necklace on another trip to Colorado. I’ve had one of my dream catchers so long, I don’t recall when or where it came from. It is made of leather and is very simple but beautiful with pinkish webbing. It’s one of my favorites.


In my story, the protagonist, Frank de Salle, is a museum curator who was born with microtia. The character is loosely based on my brilliant younger brother who is deaf. My character’s name is Frank de Salle, named for the patron saint of deaf persons, St. Francis de Salle.

Frank and his sister, Christine, a reporter, travel to the Pine Ridge reservation where they attend a powwow. Things happen as they journey onward to the Black Hills and into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower. All culminates when Frank returns home and is visited by a ghostly figure one night.

Excerpt from “The Dream Catcher”

Frank de Salle was born with a missing ear.   He could speak but he knew he didn’t articulate very well. Strangers treated him as though he was retarded. He sensed it was because of his slurred speech and very loud nasal voice. But he held advanced degrees in both anthropology and history.

 He worked at the college museum as a curator where he set up traveling exhibits,  cataloged museum pieces, and conducted research on artifacts. He worked alone and lived alone and he was fine with that.

His modest two-bedroom home sat ten blocks from campus. He had a drivers’ license but preferred to walk. Pedestrians didn’t cut in front of one another or flip each other off as they hurried down the sidewalk. A nod or smile made it a much more genial mode of getting from point A to point B. Oh, he’d drive in the winter sometimes but leave early in the morning before there was much traffic.

When he spoke, he could hear his words echo in his head and thought they sounded fine, even though strangers looked at him in an odd way. “Don’t yell so loud,” Christine would say, but then he couldn’t hear his words. His speech therapist explained that, with his hearing aid on, he could hear about as well as someone underwater in a swimming pool might hear, whatever that was.

Sometimes he’d feel a vibration before hearing a sound through his hearing aid. Doctors told him that his other senses were heightened. He overcompensated because of his deafness. An oncoming car felt like he was holding an electric razor with the sensation passing through his entire body. He liked vibrations, his connection to the world.

Want to read more? Let me know. Leave a comment below. 



“Everything the Power does, it does in a circle.” Lakota Proverb

“A man’s life is a circle from childhood to childhood, and thus it is in everything where the power moves.” Black Elk


Writing Class

An opportunity presented itself to me this winter. I found out about a program at the local university called the “Senior Passport.”

I hate to admit that I celebrated my “Medicare Birthday” this year but being 65 has given me some new opportunities. I signed up to audit a class on writing short stories. It has been a wonderful experience.

Each Monday, we meet and discuss short stories and present short stories we have written since the previous class. The professor packs the classes full of information and activities. Fortunately, we are a small group so there is time to get most of it in.

Each week, one of the students presents a short story to the class. The story I chose was “Train” by Alice Munro. With the stories, we discuss the author’s background, the story plot and twists, the characters and the setting.

Then we critique short stories we have written. This is my favorite part. It is fun to read what other people have written and to offer suggestions to one another. The other students are all fairly young but they offer many good suggestions on how I can improve my stories and in turn, I offer my opinions on their stories.

Writing in a group has a way of bringing people together, of bonding with one another. Being the “old lady” of the class, when we first met, the others were more interested in looking at their i-Phones than chatting during break. But as we began to share our stories, we talked to each other more. We got to know one another through our writing.

When I presented my story about growing up in small town America in the 1950’s, many of the other students came up to me afterwards with comments. One young man asked me about Roger Maris. He lived in Fargo, SD, for awhile and told me about a museum dedicated to Roger Maris in that town. We talked about the excerpt from my story (below) and shared some laughs.

Leaving their dogs to roam the streets, they’d head to the theater four blocks away.  Once inside, they bounced on the padded flip-down seats and waited for the lights to dim. “I hope they show Bugs Bunny today.” Gloria grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bag.

“I like Woody Woodpecker best,” Bob said.  They both made the classic “Hahaha-ha-ha” laugh of the cartoon character.

            The bouncing stopped as they heard the whirl of the reels begin. A black and white circle with a grid appeared on the screen, “Please Stand By.” They clapped their hands. A countdown flashed with numbers and they chanted, “Five, four, three, two, one.” Then the newsreel announcing “News of the Day.” Black and white pictures appeared on the big screen. Large white letters announced that Queen Elizabeth christened a ship somewhere. Roger Maris hit another home run.

            “I love Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle,” she whispered to Bob.

Another student talked to me about anorexia, a topic I breach in my story.

Flipping to the next page, she found several greeting cards. “Happy 6th Birthday” in big red letters.  A chubby cheeked girl in pink drawn holding a bunny on the front of another said, “You’re Turning Six!” One caught her eyes in particular. It was from her big sister, Barbara. She recognized the exact loops, uniform and clear, marking her signature. Always perfect. Her sister was ten years older than she and the oldest, making her the boss of the family. Whatever Barbara wanted, she got. She was talented, smart and pretty. But she was also a tyrant.

Gloria thought she probably had anorexia. Back in 1957, no one knew about anorexia nervosa. Mental illness was considered a character flaw. Barbara hid her problem from adults, but the siblings knew something was amiss.  She ate a lot of celery.

Others talked to me about my story in general and commented on what they liked about it as well as some pitfalls in my writing. It was interesting to see how the story brought us together.

Writing is a powerful tool. We are reading “Fortune Smiles” a book by Adam Johnson, a Pulitzer prize winner. His short stories are very intriguing. Our professor asked if we thought writing was just for entertainment or was there a deeper purpose? Most of us agreed that writing can change minds and promote social justice. Why else would tyrannical governments burn books if the words inside didn’t offer threat?

Books like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” brought the plight of slavery to the forefront. Dozens of books including “To Kill a Mockingbird” shed light on the law and people’s prejudices. The short stories in Johnson’s book touch on topics such as cancer/death and dying, living with a disabled wife, pedophilia, and the Cold War attitude of an East German prison warden.

The class has given further proof that “The pen is mightier than the sword.” The most exhilarating feeling for me is when my writing touches a soul. I may curse the Muses and wonder why I were given this “need to write” but then, once in a while, something magical happens and people are influenced by something I’ve written.

Have you ever had that happen? Tell me about it.



A Room of My Own

Virginia Wolfe wrote, ““A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I am in the process of converting a small room upstairs into my office.

When we bought the house, the description counted this particular room as a bedroom. Supposedly our home is a 5-bedroom house. No way! A crib might fit in it, but there’s not room even for a twin bed and dresser.  It might make a nice office, though. We shall see.

Currently, my “writing room” is on the main level in what was identified as a family room when we bought the house. Dennis and I use it as an office-library. Against the south wall, the computer and printer sit. Dennis’ big roll top desk is against the north wall. The fireplace and built-in bookshelves on to the west and another book case is to the east.

In the room hangs a plaque on the wall above the space where the  computer sits.  The nurses on the maternal-child unit at University gave it to me after I was awarded the NCC Neonatal Nurse of the Year Award.  The award itself, a beautiful crystal that sits atop a gray marble base, is hidden away upstairs somewhere.  The calligraphy reads:

That Woman is a Success–

Who loves life and lives it to the fullest;

Who has discovered and shared her strengths and talents that are uniquely her own;

Who puts her best into each task and leaves each situation better than she found it’

Who seeks and finds that which is beautiful in all people and all things;

Whose heart is full of love and warmth with compassion;

Who has found joy in living and peace within herself.  Barbara Burrows


As I sit down to write at the computer, the plaque is a reminder of what my colleagues thought at the time and it inspires me to seek meaning in what I do.

To my left as I sit, is the mantel and fireplace with bookshelves on either side of the hearth.IMG_3615IMG_3614A myriad of books stack the shelves–non-fiction, fiction, inspirational books, children’s books, large tomes, small paperbacks and the Bible.  Each of the eight shelves, four per side, holds at least 25-30 books, well over 200 books total.

Against the wall on my right is a tall 5-shelf book case.  The bottom two
shelves hold more books, primarily books on writing, a couple of dictionaries, some writing materials and papers and a big book with the title of “Just Do It!”  The top three shelves display family pictures, my grandmother Grady’s old marble mantel clock, and an antique anniversary clock on the shelf above.  A Madonna and child statue sits next to the anniversary clock and an old German barometer is on the shelf above.  The barometer is a red and white chalet with the little man in Lederhosen and the little lady in a plain blue dress.  The chalet is adorned with flowers below the little window.  Today the little people are both inside the chalet with their backs to me.


I have many things surrounding me that offer inspiration, but also distraction at times. My digital speakers for my I-pod sits next to my computer screen, allowing me to plug in the device and listen to music, preferably Golden Oldies for writing and  Irish tunes for cleaning.  A 1-½ inch wooden rectangular token with the image of San Juan on the front sits next to the speakers.  On the back, it tells of San Juan (St. John) the apostle who is the Patron Saint of Writers, Editors, Publisher and Printers.   A souvenir of my trip to Colorado Springs with my friend, Deb, it remind s me that writers can shape the world and inspire others to seek the truth.


As I ponder on my surroundings, I realize that this is my own secret space, my writing space, my thinking space, my prayerful space.  It is the space that connects me to the world as well as keeps the world out.  I can communicate with my friends via email or Face Book or I can focus on my stories, shutting everyone else out.

Time stands still here.  I can sit down to write and time becomes irrelevant.  Then suddenly, I realize that 4 hours have passed in an instant.  It is 12:00 in the kitchen, but it is still early morning in my space.  I want to stay in my space but I must go to the kitchen because the world beckons.

My space is a little cluttered and sometimes the world invades my space such as in March when Dennis chooses to use my space to do the taxes. If I would change anything about my space, I would remove all the non-writing parasites that creep in and start to take over—the amoebic bank statements, the overgrowth of committee work, the pestilent to-do lists.  What my space really needs is the Orkin personal secretary and DeCon killer organizer to take care of the pests that get in the way of my writing.

Maybe the little room upstairs will provide that bastion for “the writer only.” Stay tuned. I will let you know how the room conversion goes.


Good Advice

Our city newspaper carries a column called “Ask Amy.” In a recent issue, the column titled “Conflicted bride is in the wrong movie” (Omaha World-Herald Living section, Nov 26, 2015.), a young woman asks Amy if she should go ahead and marry her fiancé, a “sweet successful man” or her old beau who is less than successful. Her former boyfriend “wanted to do the right thing but couldn’t afford to get engaged.” She misses his passion and the joy and love she felt with him. “My heart is torn,” she writes.IMG_2816

Amy tells her to decide which Julia Roberts movie she in – Runaway Bride or Pretty Woman. “Marriage is not a contest wherein various men compete over who can take better care of you.” Marriage is what each partner can to give the other. For better or worse! She points out that the future bride is the problem, not the guys. “If you are at all torn, then you are not ready to get married.”

The column reminded me of my past self. As a college student, I liked the movie, “The Graduate.” I thought it was the best. So romantic how, at the end of the movie, Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ben, rushes to the church where Elaine, played by the beautiful Katherine Ross is about to marry Carl, a boring, stable man she dated before Ben came along. Ben arrives just as the bride and groom are about to kiss.IMG_3524
I remember the scene vividly. Dustin Hoffman finds out Elaine is marrying Carl. He jumps into his little red Alfa Romeo sports car and races to the wedding. He parks and runs down the block, the hood of his off-white squall jacket bouncing with every step. He gets to the church and leaps up the stairs of the narrow passageway. He arrives in front of the huge windows separating the loft from the outside wall. The background is covered by white sheer curtains that allow the light to come through. Such a pure scene.

Ben looks down at the wedding taking place, throws his arms up and leans against the glass pane. “No!” The camera zooms in on the preacher and his prayer book. The bride and groom are facing the preacher. Dustin Hoffman yells “Elaine! Elaine!” several times. Katherine Ross and Carl, played by Brian Avery, turn and look up at Hoffman. She answers back “Ben!” and runs out of the church where they meet.

I was 16 years old when the movie came out but I didn’t see it until I was in college and probably around 21 years old. I thought it was great. A wonderful movie. So romantic. So beautiful.

Fast-forward about 40 years.

My son gave me “The Graduate” DVD for Christmas. I was excited to play it and relive my memories.

As I watched, I started to wonder what the appeal had been back in the early 1970’s. Why did I think this movie was so great? I noticed things that I hadn’t noticed when I first saw it.

At the beginning of the film, when Ben arrives at a party in his honor, people are all excited to see the “award-winning scholar.” One woman asks him, “What are you going to do now?
“I was going to go upstairs for a minute.”
“I meant with your future, your life.”
Ben answers, “Well, that’s a little hard to say.”

Right away, I think Ben really isn’t good marriage material. He recently graduated from college and is trying to figure out where to go to graduate school. He can’t decide because he is enjoying sitting by the pool and not working, all the while having an illicit affair with Mrs. Robinson who happens to be Elaine’s mother.

An impulsive cad, Ben doesn’t have a moral compass, let alone goals for the future. Yet Elaine runs off with him towards the end of the movie instead of marrying nice, stable Carl who had goals for the future and good job offers.

In 1974, I got married. I remember having “cold feet” and wishing someone would whisk me away like in the Graduate. (Years later, my husband confessed that he felt like running that day, too. We had a good laugh about our younger selves.) Maybe the reason for the big ceremonies with all the friends and relatives present is so we don’t run. Maybe the best man and maid-of-honor are there to make sure we go through with it. Maybe when we add up how much money was spent on the wedding, we decide we might as well go through with it.

(Nowadays, people spend even more money and time planning their weddings. I often say that, if people spent as much effort and time on their marriage as they do their weddings, the divorce rate would be lower. But that’s a topic for another time.)

Our modest little ceremony “took.” Neither of us ran. We have been married over 40 years now and have grown closer through the years. We have learned to put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies and differences. In fact, we enjoy our differences. We have seen some hard times and many good times, but mostly day-to-day times. We are a couple, yet maintain our separate identities. We don’t try to change each other. We enhance each other. I think that is what Ask Amy meant when she pointed out that a person needs to figure out who they are first before committing to marriage.


40 year anniversary dance

Marriage is a partnership, not a prize won. Maybe a lot of people get “cold feet” as the wedding day approaches. It is a big decision. But if you are wise and have chosen the right partner, it can be the best decision you ever make in your life.

Fighting the Bad Guys

Since the Paris attacks last week, people have posted all kinds of negative things on social media. But today, I watched a very touching video of a Parisian father whose wife was killed in the attack. He is a now a single father of a 17-month old son. He has vowed not to let the terrorists win. He will do this by doing every-day things and teaching his son to be a caring person.

I was raised in a small town in Nebraska in the 1950-60’s. I felt safe. Why? Because I knew people. People watched out for me. I knew people who knew people. We didn’t have electronic devices to communicate, so we learned to watch and observe. We could recognize strangers. We learned to recognize potentially dangerous situations. We knew there were risks of going to certain parts of town after dark. We were taught to observe people, places and things that might harm us. We knew our environment and people watched out for one another.harvest time Cozad 1958

I went off to college to the “big city” of Lincoln, Nebraska. But I still felt safe because I lived in the college community. I knew practically everyone in my dorm and many people in the other dorms. I knew classmates and professors, cleaning people and cafeteria workers. I recognized other college students as we passed, taking the same route to classes every day. We often nodded and greeted one another. I was in organizations on campus and I went to Sunday Mass at the Newman Center where there were more familiar faces. I knew a lot of people in the student section of the stadium, cheering the Huskers to victory. (It was 1971-73 and a great time to be a fan!)

On campuses today, people seem much more isolated, walking around with their heads down, texting or looking at their smart phones. We have not taught our children to be aware of their surroundings, to pick up on signs of danger.

I married a small town boy who had grown up in a more isolated area than I did. He took a job in Omaha. Scared me to death. Big, bad Omaha, where they shoot each other. At least, that is what we read in the newspaper. I soon discovered that Omaha people were friendly. Many of my friends were much like me—raised in a small town, but ended up in the city as adults. I felt safe. My childhood rearing had paid off. I knew what to watch for and how to avoid risky situations. Or at least, recognize that the situation might be risky before I did it anyway.

A few years ago, we moved to Chicago and it was quite a shock.
People in large cities are anonymous. Most people don’t give  eye contact. With all those people, it can be a very lonely place. If you don’t care to know your neighbor, you can have 100 neighbors but no contact with them.IMG_1957.JPG
Our new neighbors must have thought I was a crazy woman because I made cookies and took them to the houses around us and introduced myself. I got to know my neighbors, at least by name, because I took the initiative. Had I waited for them to introduce themselves to me, we would have waited a long time.

Four years later, we were transferred back to Omaha and moved into an established neighborhood.

Immediately, the neighbors came over with cakes and cookies and introduced themselves. One couple had an evening “coffee” with all the neighbors there to meet us. They wanted to know more about us, not in a nosy manner, but an inviting way. And they told us about their jobs, families and situation.

Our society seems to be losing that sense of community and neighborliness. We are so focused on work and making money, that we are becoming more isolated and within ourselves and small group.

The old adage “There is safety in numbers” is true. The more people you know and understand, the better off you are.

So, what does this have to do with terrorism? I think one of the biggest deterrents we can use against terrorism is being neighborly. Get to know people. Don’t be afraid to ask their names. Get to know their backgrounds. Show an interest.

Imagine if people had made an effort to know some of the guys before they shot up movie theaters or college campuses. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe someone would have recognized that this person was dangerous or was “on the edge” and got help or reported their behavior.

Same with the terrorists, who were members of a cell living in Belgium. Belgium, not Syria. NOW people share stories about these people, telling us how bad the neighborhood is, how they felt uneasy around these guys, how they witnessed suspicious behavior. What if these “witnesses” would have shown the same concern before the attack happened?

Of course, there are no guarantees that someone won’t attack, but it might help if we were a little more aware of our surroundings, aware of our neighbors, aware of potentially dangerous or risky situations. And act on them.

  • Get to know your “part of the world.” Observe your environment. Don’t walk around with your nose in your smart phone.
  • Notice things.
  • Ask people about themselves. Be friendly. Get to know them.
  • Become less self-absorbed and more interested in other people.
  • Protect and help those around you. Teach your children what to look for without frightening them.
  • Remind them of their strengths and abilities so they grow to be confident, aware individuals.
  • Focus more on others than your bank account. Check your priorities. What is really of value to you?
  • Broaden your circle of friends. Get to know friends of friends.
  • Don’t let the terrorists or shooters “win.” Live your life without fear.
  • Avoid lumping any group of people together. We Americans are all different. America is a country of refugees and our family roots show us that, at some point, we, too, were refugees. No color, religion, or form of dress defines us. We should not define others by color, religion or dress.

Our country was founded on freedom. We want to protect that freedom but we should also want that freedom for others.

Many times in our history, we have helped others find freedom. Americans helped free the world from Nazi terror in WWII. Our example helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Numerous people are living free today because of American sacrifice. We haven’t always gotten it “right” but we shouldn’t let that stop us.IMG_2872 (2)

Our forefathers didn’t say “Only Christians can come” or “America belongs to only certain people.” One person’s freedom isn’t more important than another’s and we need to show that to the terrorists by living as we always have, an open society willing to give others a chance at freedom.

As I wrap up this blog post this morning, I overhear a gentleman being interviewed on television about how to fight terrorism. He said “Be alert. Be aware. Don’t be afraid.” He must have read my mind.

“Be alert. Be aware. Don’t be afraid” should be our mantra.

Found Treasure

The crumbled paper lay in the bottom of the file cabinet. Picking it up and smoothing out the wrinkles. I noticed words on the back written in grade school scrawl. “To Mommy. Love, Mike.” The front side of the paper revealed several brightly colored flowers in a vase. The style might be considered impressionistic had it been hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago. The water colors ran together a bit and the vase was off-centered but it reminded me of an abstract still life by a famous painter. The edges of the paper were frayed but I decided to mat it and see how it looked.

That day I went to the hobby store and found a clear frame, the perfect size for my little artwork. I put the picture in the frame and hung it on our bedroom wall. The pinks and purple of the flowers blended well with the color scheme of the room. The little green vase added the perfect accent to the picture.

Going about my other chores and errands of the day, the picture became an afterthought.

My husband arrived home as I started dinner. He climbed the stairs to the bedroom to change out of his work clothes. Emerging from the room, he kissed me on the cheek then said, “I see you’ve been out spending your money today.”

“What do you mean?”

“Looks like you went to the art gallery today.”20151019_154534

I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about.

“The picture in the bedroom. Who painted it?”

I told him how I had cleaned out my file cabinet and found our son’s school artwork. We laughed about my found treasure.

Neither of us are art aficionados but we know what we like and what is meaningful to us. Our son is now 24-years-old and living on the west coast, but the painting remains on our bedroom wall for us to admire and remember. Painted approximately fifteen years ago, the colors are as vibrant as ever, just as our love for our son is.

Care vs Cure

IMG_3290  Listen to link below


As I grow older, I wonder what my end will be like.

Recently, I received the above link in my email. A friend sent it with the comment “Inspiring.” (Unlike me, my friend is a person of few words.) She is right. It truly is inspiring.

As a nurse, I have long said that if I were ever diagnosed with pancreatic or ovarian cancer, I would opt to go on a cruise as opposed to going through treatments. I have seen too many people spend their last days in the hospital. I am not brave enough to be one of the “pioneers” that allows myself to be treated for a thus-far incurable disease. If I am going to die anyway, let me do so without all the surgeries and chemotherapy that have not been proven that successful.

Of course, if I had a disease that has been shown to be treatable such as breast or colon cancer, I definitely would give it a shot. But some diseases have proven to be difficult, if not impossible, to “cure” or even extend life that much. I’m all about “quality of life” not “quantity.” Why rack up major hospital bills, costing my family dearly, and why put myself through the pain of surgery and the side effects of chemo if its not going to help. In the end, we all die of something. Bless the people who have been strong enough to suffer through unproven treatments to help find cures. But I am not one of them.

So, like the priest in this podcast, I would opt for palliative treatment only, which means, a treatment that just keeps me comfortable as I die, not a treatment to “cure.”  To me, all the money spent at the end of life is often money poorly invested. I am not being “hopeless” or advocating euthanasia but rather being pragmatic. Options should always be weighed and educated decisions made. For example, if I were a young mother, I probably would not feel the same as I do now. This decision is not for everyone.

As a nurse, one of the problems I have seen is that people believe there is a cure for everything–we just need to find it. They put a lot of faith in the doctors. Keep in mind, too, that U.S. doctors are trained to “cure” so their focus is to prevent death. often at all costs. It is a futile endeavor, but they may try everything they can think of to keep someone alive. I have known doctors who view the death of a patient as a failure on their part. Nurses focus on relieving suffering. It is good we have the two professions. If all is going as it should, they balance each other out perfectly.

The saying is that “Doctors cure. Nurses care.” Nurses focus on the entire patient and how the illness will affect not only the physical well-being, but also the family, their socioeconomic happiness (how will she pay her bills, how will the illness affect her ability to work or care for her family, etc), her psycho-social health, etc.

Since I began my career in 1978, many changes have occurred. Now a “team approach” is more likely than the old “captain of the ship” approach where the doctors had the only say in what treatment should be given. (The smart doctors always listened to the nurses since it was/is the nurse who is present at the bedside and knows what is happening to the patient hour-by-hour.) Patients and families are included in the decision-making, instead of “the doctor knows best” approach.

As I age, these matters come to the forefront for me. It is never too early to plan for the end. Let your family know your philosophy and hopes for the future, be they short-term or long-term.

And, if you hear that I have booked a cruise, maybe, just maybe…(or it could be just my crazy cousin wanting to go on a trip.)

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

With texting, social media, smartphones and all the variations of such, letter-writing is becoming a thing of the past. Our mail is filled with catalogs, pleas for contributions, ads and other junk mail. Rarely do I get an actual letter anymore. If I do, it is usually from someone older.

Recently, I have received a couple of thumb drives from my brother, filled with what he refers to as “The Family Archives.” Old pictures, letters, certificates, and newspaper clippings have been scanned by him and placed on his computer. He oftentimes emails me snippets, but the thumb drives contain massive amounts of material.

As he scans the “archives,” some questions have arisen. (Fred is a stickier for details and wants to have the dates and events clearly documented.) Some of the questions include “When was the trip to Washington state?” and “What illness did Joe have in 1993?” Some things I remember and others I don’t recall at all. The lesson I am learning is that, my memory isn’t as great as I thought it was. The letters are reminding me of past events that are long forgotten, or as my husband says, “put in the recycle bin of your mind.”

I also realize that my parents were avid letter-writers. As a kid, I knew Mom wrote letters to her sisters and mother back in Pennsylvania and I was encouraged to do so as well, but I didn’t realize that my parents wrote to each other every day when they were apart!

My dad was a hospital administrator and frequently traveled to conferences and meetings. Mom wrote him every day he was gone and he wrote her back.

My brother recently sent me a series of letters that Dad and Mom had exchanged when she was on a trip back East with my sister. I was amazed at how my father figured out exactly where to send the letters as my mom traveled. She stopped in St. Louis along the way and stayed with my aunt. There was a letter in St. Louis for Mom! She stopped in northwestern Pennsylvania to visit other relatives–there was a letter waiting for her. She stayed with her family in eastern Pennsylvania–there was a letter for her every day she was there. Mom had it easier because her daily letters went to Dad at home, but somehow Dad figured out where she would be every day she was gone and he sent her letters to those locations. Amazing!

The letters are filled with mundane, every day things but also lots of love. They are giving me a sense of what I was like as a teenager and the relationships with my siblings and parents. Some things are quite the eye-openers!

The letters also help me remember handwriting. I recognize my mother’s hand right away. My grandmother had distinctive handwriting, even as she became blind from glaucoma. Even my own handwriting–as it has morphed with age.

I also am getting a glimpse of some the paper/stationery we used back then. I am including a letter on stationery with a homesteader’s picture from my dad (he usually typed his letters as his handwriting was difficult to read) and a letter from my mom on plain paper.

mothertofamily1965-06-12-01                      fathertomother1965-06-16