Sometimes, You Can Go Home Again

IMG_0800Last week. I went home again. Actually, I went to my hometown to participate in the presentation of the first Roger Hallum Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship was created to honor Roger Hallum, who led the LeMars Community Schools drama and theater department from 1969–1975. Erica Urban, a senior who will pursue a degree in creative writing at Grandview College, won the scholarship. During a delightful visit with her after the awards assembly, it was obvious she was the right recipient.

In addition to meeting Erica, I was able to spend a lovely spring afternoon with Mr. Hallum’s children, Randy and Kourtney. We stopped at the house the Hallums built during their years in Le Mars. We toured the church they attended, which happened to be the church I attended, too. And we stopped by the high school where Mr. Hallum worked his magic: his classroom, the Little Theater in the high school and the larger theater in the junior high school.

“Do you remember how we called your dad on stage after the last night of The Great Cross Country Race?” I asked Randy as we stood in front of the junior high stage.

“I do,” Randy said. “And I remember how reluctant he was to go up there.”

“That’s because he’d given us strict orders N-E-V-E-R to do that. But it was our senior year and our last show with him. We loved him too much to let him stay in the audience.”

I looked at the stage and saw Mr. Hallum, surrounded by his students, a forced smile on his face as he held up the tortoise and hare cookie jar we gave him as a cast gift.

“Dad had that cookie jar in his kitchen until he died,” Kourtney said. “And the director’s chair, too. He cherished both of them, and the scrapbook your Thespian troupe gave him, too.”

With those words, I was back on the stage. Seventeen. Wearing my hedgehog costume. Crying. Thinking that my relationships with friends and Mr. Hallum would soon end. That I would never see these people again. That they would never think of me again.

But Mr. Hallum thought of his students, just as his students thought of him over the decades. Our gifts graced his house and became part of his children’s memories. Our memories melded as we toured the town. At the scholarship awards program, Randy even wore a polyester suit in honor of his dad.

IMG_0797By the end of the evening, we were fast friends. It was hard to say good-bye.

IMG_0796Hard, but not impossible. Because that day I learned–thanks to a cookie jar, a director’s chair, a scrapbook, and memories–you can go home again when you’re heart’s been touched by a dedicated, talented teacher who cared.

Petticoat Envy for this Fantastic Friday

Family weddings + Mad Men=petticoat envy on this Fantastic Friday.Tomorrow afternoon, many of the people I love will be dancing together at a family wedding. Thinking about what to wear for the celebration made me think of the petticoats we used to wear to weddings in the 1960s. Which is why this Fantastic Friday I’m engaging in one of the bouts of the petticoat envy that have plagued me since watching the first episode of Mad Men in 2013.

Mad Men.

The show’s been hot for several years, but I didn’t start watching it until lately. It didn’t take long to get hooked, since the show’s first season is at about the time my first childhood memories kick in. We were a from a family of teetotalers, so I can’t speak for the drinking. But the hair styles, the furniture, the technology, and the unrestrained smoking are truly a blast from the past.

So are the petticoats.

And that is something I can speak about having been a bit of a petticoat connoisseur way back then. Though that may not be strong enough word to describe my preoccupation with petticoats. My heart’s desire was to have a petticoat poofy enough to make my dresses stick out like the dresses on the front of the patterns Mom bought at the dry good store.

But, to get that kind of poof required several petticoats. My sister and I each had one petticoat like the one pictured below. Rows and rows of gathered netting were stitched to the cotton outer petticoat. But to get quality poof, a second half-petticoat of almost pure netting could be slipped (hence the name slip) under the full petticoat.

Our family, like many others, couldn’t afford two petticoats per daughter. So our full skirts, along with those of most of the girls we knew, had more droop than poof. And that returns the conversation to the subject at hand. When those Mad Med actresses wear shirtwaist dresses with wide skirts, their clothes exhibit maximum poof. We’re talking not just two petticoats. But three. Maybe even four. And I covet every one of them.

Because I have petticoat envy.

And I’m not ashamed to admit it. In fact, if the show was casting extras for a crowd scene, I would audition in a heart beat. And I wouldn’t care if it was a non-speaking part. I wouldn’t care if they edited me out of any shot I was in. I wouldn’t care if the pay was lousy. Or nonexistent. As long as I walked away with a picture of me wearing a dress with enough petticoats to achieve maximum poof, I would be happy.

And resolved never to wear an under-petticoat again.

Because, if memory serves me right, those gathered layers of netting were extremely scratchy. So scratchy they went out of fashion and never made a come back. Except as an outside layer of foo-foo, a style which is way cute on a 6-year-old, but not nearly so cute on a 56-year-old.

Then again, it wouldn’t hurt to try one on…

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Back from Alaska, no more empty upstairs, and bathroom etiquette in today's three thoughts.

  1. I recently spent 10 days alone at our house while the Man of Steel visited his brothers in Alaska.
  2. Tomorrow my daughter and her family are moving into our empty upstairs.
  3. #1 & 2 explain why today is devoted to a crash course in remembering to shut the bathroom door before availing myself of the facilities.

What are your bad habits when you have the house to yourself? Leave a comment.

Low Sugar, Non-Dairy Rhubarb Crisp

Rhubarb season means rhubarb crisp. Man of Steel means making a low sugar version of this delicious dessert.Rhubarb season is here and the crop is bountiful. After picking and freezing three bags full, just enough remained to make a small rhubarb crisp. With the Man of Steel watching his sugar intake, I decided to see how much sugar could be cut from the recipe in my 1977 Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Below is the adjusted recipe, which the Man of Steel and I agreed was still a bit on the too sweet side. However, when I took a small helping down to Mom, she made a face and said it was too sour. So adjust the sugar to your taste buds and enjoy rhubarb season.

Low Sugar, Non-Dairy Rhubarb Crisp

4 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks
1/2 cup unbleached flour1/2 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°. Place rhubarb in an ungreased baking dish (10x6x1 1/2″ baking dish). Measure brown sugar, flour, oatmeal, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Mix well. Cut in shortening until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle mixture evenly over rhubarb. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until topping golden brown and rhubarb is bubbly. Serve warm.


Top 10 Reasons Blog Posts Have Been Hit and Miss

calendar-924930_1280Just in case you’re wondering why Gravel Road blog posts have been hit and miss lately, today’s top ten list explains why…starting from the event farthest in the past to the one farthest in the future.

10.  Going to the Access Summit near Washington, DC.

9.  Attending a Heartland AED class about how to teach adult learners, a requirement to be qualified to teach a teacher certification class to teachers, even though I’ve been teaching adult learners for over 10 years.

8.  Totally blowing off a speaking engagement at our local hospital…the first time that’s happened in over 10 years.

7.  Spending Mother’s Day weekend with my kids in Wisconsin while the Man of Steel was in Alaska…and who wants to spend Mother’s Day weekend alone?

6.  Being awakened by my own snoring while falling asleep, putting in earplugs to solve that problem, and sleeping in an hour and a half because of the earplugs. (I am not making this up.)

5.  Making a quick overnight trip to my hometown to present the first Roger Hallum Memorial Scholarship and meet his children.

4.  The daughter and her family moving in with us at the end of next week.

3.  Dancing at a family wedding in the Twin Cities on Saturday evening and flying to Michigan for the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability on Sunday morning.

2.  Attending planning meetings, preparing to train volunteers for the Wonderfully Made Family Camp, and attending the camp June 10–12.

1.  Wondering when there will be enough time to prepare for speaking at the Latvia special needs camp scheduled for the end of June.

What’s making your schedule crazy these days? Leave a comment.


Some Days 87 Looks Really Good

After a visit in which Mom had dessert first and last, 87 started looking pretty good.When I walked into Mom’s room last Wednesday, she was sitting in her favorite chair reading a book and munching on Russell Stover’s chocolates.

“Did my little brother give you those for Mother’s Day?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied and, with a twinkle in her 87-year-old eye, held out the box.

“No thanks,” I answered.

“Oh, I forgot,” she replied, still twinkling as she flashed a mischievious grin, “you’re allergic to chocolate.” She took another bite. “Yum!”

We played a few games of Rummikub and went to Chili’s for supper. We ordered a fried pickles appetizer, a classic 6 ounce sirloin for her and margarita grilled chicken for me. While we waited for our food, we read the dessert menu to pass the time. When our food arrived, we both ate our fair shares of the fried pickles and dug into our entrees.

After 2 bites of mashed potatoes, 3 bites of meat, and not a speck of her steamed broccoli, Mom laid down her fork and declared, “I’m full.” Then she flagged down the waitress. “Bring me one of those toffee brownies,” she said.

Full as she was, she managed to down the ice cream, the caramel sauce, the hot fudge sauce, and over half of a good-sized brownie. “Mmmm,” she exclaimed and held out a spoonful of ice cream in my direction. “Want a bite?”

Some days, I thought while declining the offer and reflecting on Mom’s agenda for the day–reading a good book, eating chocolate for an afternoon snack, going to dinner with her darling daughter, eating fried pickles, ignoring green vegetables, and eating more chocolate for dessert–87 looks really good.

Muffin Mysteries for a Fantastic Friday

When the biggest mystery in the house is muffins in the microwave, does it mean the residents of the house have memory problems?In the four years since this post first appeared on Down the Gravel Road, memory issues at the Philo house have only gotten worse. So much worse that this Fantastic Friday’s muffin mystery is one I don’t even remember. Which is why it’s worth solving a second time.

This morning, I was up bright and early. At 6:15 I left the house to walk, my back exercises, Bible study, and breakfast already completed. Ten minutes later, my phone rang.

By the time I fished it out of my pocket and untangled the iPod ear buds wrapped around it, and I inadvertently pressing several buttons, the caller gave up. The screen said it had been Hiram, so I tried to call back. But somehow I hit the mute button and had to hang up. Eventually he called back, and after explaining I really hadn’t hung up on him twice, he remembered why he called in the first place. Which is a miracle in itself, as the rest of the story proves.

“Did you put muffins in the microwave this morning?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered, and then added. “And I ate them. For breakfast.”

“Okay,” he said. “So these in the microwave are mine?”

I pondered the question for a moment.
I didn’t remember putting more muffins in the microwave.
But the older I get, the more I forget what I’ve really done.
The older I get, the more I confuse what I only considered doing with what I actually did. And the older I get, the more reality seems like a day dream and the more my day dreams feel like reality.

That’s when I realized Hiram and I have been married for a long time, and he’s rubbing off on me. As my internal dialogue confirms, though I have spent the last 35 years pulling him out of the anti-memory-time-and-space vortex where he lives, growing older is gradually sucking me into it with him. My days as household memory queen are numbered. Maybe even over already.

Hesitatingly, I answered. “I don’t think I would put a second set of muffins in the microwave. And my stomach feels full, so I ate mine.”

“Okay.” His voice remained cheerful and unperturbed. “They must be mine. I just don’t remember putting them there.”

I laughed. “We’re pathetic.”

He agreed, and we both hung up. I slipped the phone back in my pocket and felt something long and stringy wrap around it. I pulled the phone out again, along with a tangle of iPod ear buds.

Where in the world did those come from? I wondered. Then I stuffed them in my pocket and walked down the road cheerful and unperturbed.

Just like my husband.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Empire Falls, Paul Newman, spring all around, and another career path dashed in this week's three thoughts.

  1. Baby bunnies in the flowerbed, a flock of twitterpated goldfinches in a grassy ditch, and broken robin egg shells on the road. Spring has sprung!
  2. After serving on the steering committee for an upcoming weekend camp, I have realized that event planning is not my calling.
  3. The HBO adaptation of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls is wonderful in so many ways. A favorite book by a favorite author who wrote the screenplay. Perfect casting of so many top tier actors, including Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Newman, in his final film role, nails his part. And his blue eyes still shine.

What My Mamma Taught Me for this Fantastic Friday

2 days until Mother's Day and 7 lessons from Mom that have made a difference in my life...and I hope in my daughter's life, too.What could be better on the Fantastic Friday before Mother’s Day than a look back at this post from 2013. These 7 lessons taught to me by Dorothea Lorraine Hess Stratton are ones that have made a huge difference in the way I live. Thanks, Mom!

My mom raised 3 kids and taught school for 38 years. She’s a mom and a teacher through and through…still asking if I get enough protein and correcting my grammar during our Tuesday visits. The older I get, the more I appreciate the life lessons she taught and is still teaching me. In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m passing along some of those lessons to you.

Lesson #1: A strong family will be a constant support throughout life.

Dorothy Wayne's kids

As a teenager, Mom babysat many of her nieces and nephews. Those nieces and nephews open their homes to her whenever we travel back for funerals or reunions. Their love and respect for her is a touching tribute to her influence on their lives.

Lesson #2: Every woman should get an education so she can support herself.

Teacher Dorothy

Mom’s 4 year college graduation

Dorothy Masters

Mom’s Masters in Education Graduation

Mom went back to school to finish her 4 year degree after Dad was diagnosed with MS in the late 1950s. She went on for her Master’s Degree in the mid 1960s. Our lives would have been very different had she not pursued those degrees.

Lesson #3: Some school pictures should never see the light of day.

Teacher Dorothy 7

Thanks to this lesson, some of mine never will.

Lesson #4: Sewing = an inexpensive wardrobe

Dorothy pantsuit

Once you know how to sew, you can also be your own polyester fashion statement. And don’t forget, some of the best buys are found in the remnant bin.

Lesson #5: The library is an excellent place to hang out


Carnegie Library from my childhood, now a Fine Arts Center.

Mom checked out a lot of books and taught her kids to love to read. This photo is a little ironic since I’m selling my books in about the same spot where we checked them out for free when I was a kid.

Lesson #6: Teaching Is More than a Job


Mom and me at the party thrown by my co-workers when I left teaching.

Teaching is not just a way to support your family. It’s a way to inspire a new generation and help them realize their own potential.

Lesson #7: True love never fails

Dorothy Harlan 86

Mom cared for Dad at home from 1959 when he was diagnosed with MS until 1983 when he required nursing home care. Once he moved to the nursing home, Mom visited him daily, unless she was visiting her kids and grandkids, from 1983 until his death in 1997.

Every now and then someone asks why I drive 45 miles to visit Mom Tuesday after Tuesday. The answer is simple. It’s what my mamma taught me.

Love bears all things,
hopes all things,
believes all things,
endures all things.
Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:7–8