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Jane’s Mom and Mine: What’s the Same and What’s Not

Jane’s Mom and Mine: What’s the Same and What’s Not

Fiction writers, whether they admit to it or not, write from what they know. I’ve made it very clear that See Jane Run! is based upon the years my husband and I spent in northwestern South Dakota.

A major character in the book is Jane’s mother, Doris Stanton. She is fashioned after my mother Dorothea Stratton. The two mothers are similar in many ways, but they are not identical. No character, setting, event, or sequence of events in See Jane Run! is identical to the original. To give you a peek at how that works, at least in the case of Doris/Dorothea here are 5 ways the fictional character and the real person are the same, and 5 ways they are different.

What’s the Same

  1. Both women helped their daughters move from tame Iowa to the wilds of South Dakota. (See above picture with Dorothea standing on a hillside on the east side of Missouri River near Chamberlain.)
  2. Both women wear polyester pant suits they sewed themselves. (Again see the picture above.)
  3. Both women had bouffant hair styles, and the South Dakota wind did a number on in both cases.
  4. Neither Doris or Dorothea were excited about their daughters being a 12 1/2 hour drive from home.
  5. Both mother/daughter pairs shared a bed during the first night in the daughters’ new homes. Both mothers clung to their daughters through the night and repeatedly whimpered, “I can’t believe my baby is going to live here.” (I’m not creative enough to make a scene like that up.)

What’s Not

  1. While neither mother was thrilled to have a daughter living so far away, Doris is far more bent out of shape by it than Dorothea ever was.
  2. Both mothers gave their daughters advice over the phone, but Doris (she’s the fictional one, in case you’re confused) gave way more advice and it wasn’t as helpful as Dorothea’s (she’s the real deal) was.
  3. Doris was an unapologetic matchmaker on Jane’s behalf. Dorothea never, not even once, tried to find me a husband because I already had one. Mom’s always been good that way.
  4. Doris sent money so Jane could treat herself to a haircut and buy groceries. Such a thought would never have occurred to Dorothea. If it had, she would have taken two aspirin and gone to bed early in hopes of feeling more like herself in the morning.
  5. Doris was not a fan of Jane’s neighbor Merle Laird. Dorothea got a kick out of the real person Merle Laird is fashioned after. She even milked his cow, made butter, and talked gardening with him. I think he had a crush on her because he was always asking about her.

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Exciting Times on Our Gravel Road

Exciting Times on Our Gravel Road

This summer's adventure has been our dive into multi-generational living. We're still figuring things out, but these four ideas have made a difference so far.The Summer of 2016 will go down in history as a most exciting one. The Man of Steel’s basement project, with its main components being large dirt piles, big holes, and large equipment, has been an ongoing source of wonder for our three young grandchildren. (The above action shot, the action being the dirt pouring out of the bucket, was highly appreciated by the 3 1/2-year-old.) The Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) at Hidden Acres, the trip to Latvia to be part of a special needs camp, and family camp in Idaho each had their own exciting elements.

But, as the summer winds down I have to say that our adventures in multi-generational living, which began on May 20 when our daughter, our son-in-law, and grandson moved into our upstairs, leave all others in the dust.* All in all, the transition has gone well. The fact that the upstairs consists of three large rooms and a full bath that is completely their space, makes the arrangement easier. But, we’ve learned, and are still learning, much about how to live together in shared spaces: the kitchen, the laundry room, the dining room, and sometimes the living room.

Over the next few months, the daughter and I will be sharing our perspectives about what has worked, what hasn’t, and how we’ve resolved what doesn’t. To start things off, here are four systems we’ve put in place that make multi-generational living much easier.

First, a command center is a must. Ours is a giant whiteboard in the kitchen. It’s a monthly calendar where everyone posts their work and travel schedules. Once that’s in place, we decide who’s going to cook each night and plan menus. We also record financial reminders about what’s owed for groceries and utilities and payment due to the daughter and son-in-law for projects we’ve hired them to complete. Honestly, without this system, we couldn’t function.

Second, compile grocery lists. This one took a couple months to get in place, mainly because I was gone so much it was hard to plan menus. We now have 2 lists, 1 for our local grocery store and 1 for Costco, Trader Joe’s and a Mennonite market where we purchase hard-to-find baking ingredients. Everyone knows where the grocery lists are and they are encouraged to add items that are running low or used up. We visit the local grocery store weekly. I make the Costco/Trader Joe’s/Mennonite market run about once a month, usually after a visit to Dorothy since those stores are 45 minutes from our Gravel Road, but only 20 minutes from her.

Third, get a joint credit card for groceries. This card is used only for what’s on the menu and each family pays half the bill. This simplifies finances immensely.

Fourth, only one joint meal is served per day. That meal is usually supper, though depending on schedules, it is sometimes lunch. The freezer, fridge, and pantry are stocked with breakfast items and everyone serves themselves. The same is true for lunch, at which leftovers are also fair game.

From my point of view, these four systems are life savers. We’ll see what the daughter has to say at a future date. It could be interesting!

*Please note: The use of this idiom was deliberate in light of the name of this blog.

Do you have a multi-generational living arrangement? How do you make it work? Leave a comment.



Geranium Whispers on a Fantastic Friday

Geranium Whispers on a Fantastic Friday

Change, rain-kissed geraniums, and the sorrow of Alzheimer's in this week's Fantastic Friday offering.This Friday’s post from July of 2009 was selected for two reasons. First, it shows how much life has changed in the last 7 years. Second, I love this picture. Rarely does this geranium plant produce such a perfect bloom and even more rarely are the blossoms so beautifully rain-kissed. Enjoy!

Geranium Whispers

On this rainy Friday morning, I bustled around the house, opening window shades. The clouds were thick and the house was gloomy, so I eagerly coaxed the weak light that penetrated the clouds inside for a visit.

When I opened the shades to the patio, the blossoms of an heirloom geranium took my breath away. Mom gave me the plant over a year ago, when she still lived in her own home and had no idea she would soon break up housekeeping. Decades before her mother, Josephine Newell Hess, had given her a slip from the plant her mother, Cora Rose Newell, had given her a slip from in the 1940s.

Had Mom waited one more winter, it might have been too late to pass on the plant and the history behind it. In the past twelve months, Alzheimer’s has taken its relentless toll on her memory, stamina, and abilities. Our daily phone calls get shorter and shorter as she finds it increasingly difficult to hold up her end of a conversation. She still loves to read and do crossword puzzles, but has no interest in visiting friends or going new places. Quilting and jigsaw puzzles confuse her. She can’t make decisions.

Slowly but surely, Alzheimer’s is turning my steely, determined mother into a soft, hesitant whisper of a woman. But this morning, when I opened the shade and those bright red blossoms waved at me, they comforted me and reminded me that all is not lost.

“She’s with you,” they whispered. “She’s right here.”

“Thanks,” I said, and then I waved back.

The Demise of a Barbie Zipline on this Fantastic Friday

The Demise of a Barbie Zipline on this Fantastic Friday

What happens when you combine 2 girls, 1 Barbie doll, a huge tree, a clothes hanger, and a second story bedroom? A Barbie Zipline, of course.Hard as it may be to believe, our staid yard used to be home to a zipline that provided ours of entertainment for our daughter and her friends. This Fantastic Friday post shows how a tree, a clothes hanger, a toy, and two creative little girls can make memories to last a lifetime.

Bye, Bye, Barbie Zipline

In last Friday’s post about the felling of a huge sugar maple in our yard, I neglected to mention a major repercussion of the grand tree’s demise.

The Barbie zip line is no more.

Yes, you read that right. The Barbie zip line. Anne’s Barbie zip line, to be exact. Of course, it hasn’t seen much action in the last decade, but in it’s day, my daughter’s rope and clothes hanger contraption provided hours of entertainment.

At the time I wondered why Anne and her friends kept running in and out of the house.

Turns out, the little girls, many of them Anne’s cousins, had taken the screen out of her second floor bedroom window. It was located about six feet below the peak of the highest roof in the above picture. She and her partners in crime creativity would then throw a long rope out the window, and finally run downstairs and outside to tie the end of the rope around the huge trunk of the old sugar maple. Then they would run back upstairs, strap Barbie dolls to metal clothes hangers and send them down the zip line. Once all the Barbie’s had succumbed to gravity’s relentless pull, the girls would clump down the stairs, and run outside to retrieve the Barbies and haul them back upstairs for another ride.

Had I known, I would ended their fun, worried the girls might fall out the window.

But, I didn’t investigate too closely since they happy since they were occupied so I could do my own thing–work on scrapbooks or freeze meals for the start of school. Besides, none of the children fell out the window, and they still giggle and grin when the subject of Barbie zip lines and bungee jumping Barbies (that’s a subject for another post) enters the conversation.

Today, looking out the window at the fallen tree, I’m homesick for the Barbie zip line days.

I miss my summer-tan little girl flashing her self-conscious smile as she runs past me and out the door. I miss her little friends saying, “Hi, Mrs, Philo!” and her cousins yelling, “Aunt Jo, this is so much fun!” as they rush by. I miss Anne’s tissue boxes lined with torn paper used to house her Beanie Babies. I miss her tempera paint all over the bathroom sink.

Those days are long gone, but until Friday the Barbie zip line tree stood tall.

Why, I wonder, as I lean my head against the window and gaze at the fallen memories littering my front yard, do the best things have to end?



Red Hot Chili Peppers for a Fantastic Friday

Red Hot Chili Peppers for a Fantastic Friday

Once again, Mom uses her wit and age to finagle a few dollars off our lunch bill. It didn't work, but she had fun trying.This Fantastic Friday post was selected for one simple reason. I like stories that show off the wit that once defined Dorothy (a.k.a. Mom). Our lunch date at Chili’s was in July of 2014. Two years later, Mom can’t count out her own money,  but her sass still makes an appearance on occasion.

Dorothy and the 5 Little Red Hot Chili Peppers

Okay, so neither Dorothy (a.k.a. Mom) or I ate red hot chili peppers on Tuesday for lunch. But Mom reminds me often that The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was her favorite book as a child, so I threw that in. The “red hot” bit just sounded good, so I threw it in, too. But, we did eat at Chili’s, and the weather was hot. So hot that Dorothy, in an impressive break from tradition, ordered iced tea instead of coffee.

Yes, it was that hot.

It was so hot that young moms galore, along with their young mom BFFs, and the small fry that made them moms decided to eat lunch at Chilis. As did some families with two parents accompanying their kids and a few grandparents with little shavers in tow.

That made for a plethora of children.

Beautiful children, all with summer tans and sun-streaked hair. All wearing bright sun dresses or bright, baggy shorts and tank tops, sporting flip-flops, sun glasses, colorful hair ribbons, and gap-toothed grins.

They were well-behaved, too.

I’m not kidding. Mom and I both remarked upon how well the children listened, stayed in their seats, and talked quietly. At least as quiet as kids can talk, that is. We also remarked upon how we weren’t the only ones who decided to beat the heat at Chili’s.

“And the food’s good, too,” Mom said.

Then we eavesdropped on the people in the next booth. “Keep your coupons,” the waitress told the young mom and her young mom BFF. “Today, kids eat free.” The moms tucked the coupons back into their purses while a light bulb appeared over Mom’s head.

“That’s why there are so many kids here,” she said. “KIds eat free.”

Just then the waitress came by with our bill. Mom examined the slip of paper, sighed deeply (as she does every time forking over money is required), and counted out her money. Soon after, we stood to leave. On the way out, Mom actually went a few steps out of her way to address the hostess. “Ma’am,” she said sweetly. “Do kids eat free today?” The waitress nodded. Mom pointed at me.

“She’s my kid.”

The hostess stood, open-mouthed and staring, as Mom smiled innocently. She walked slowly to the door, which I held open. She looked at me and winked. “Well,” she explained with a shrug and a twinkle. “It was my money. It was worth a try.”

Gotta love that woman.

No Sweat for This Fantastic Friday

No Sweat for This Fantastic Friday

This Fantastic Friday look back recalls a favorite Family Camp memory and showcases the Jolly Green Giant on a mountaintop.This Fantastic Friday post looks back at a favorite camp memory…four generations of family enjoying a magical evening on a houseboat. Though that was our one and only houseboat adventure, my camp job is still photographing the week’s events while other people sweat and toil on logging, construction, and cooking crews. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Camp Photographer, No Sweat!

Though we’re not at Family Camp any longer, I wanted to share a photo taken during Friday night’s jumping-off-the-top-deck-of-the-cruis-boat-highest-cannon-ball-splash-contest. I took hundreds of action shots, hoping to get a few good ones, and ended up with this one of the Jolly Green Giant crouching on a mountain top.

One of the pillars of Family Camp is a couple hours of hard work for everyone, every morning. Some people do sweaty and generally disgusting work like digging trenches, insulating walls, hanging sheet rock, mudding seams, logging, or hauling rocks from the river. Others do fun but complicated work like fixing three meals a day for 30 – 40 people.

A couple years ago I was asked to be camp historian and photographer. “So,” I asked by way of clarification while stilling the little flutter of joy that comes with being excused from sweaty, disgusting work and kitchen duties, “you want me to take pictures and write commentary about people doing sweaty and disgusting work and the cooks in the kitchen?”

“Yes,” the boss man said. “That’s what we want you to do.”

I waited for him to say, “Fooled ya’. Grab a pick ax, sucker,” but instead he said, “Have fun,” and walked away. I jumped on that order like a tick on a dog’s back and have been wielding my camera and computer ever since. But guilt has plagued me all along, when cool, clean and sweat free, I record the hard work and play of others.

But this year the guilt evaporated when I started running a slide show of each day’s pictures after supper. People smiled and laughed and remembered as the pictures floated by. And I finally understood the boss man’s wisdom in rustling up a camp historian. The construction and preservation of memories, while not sweaty and disgusting, is as necessary as cabins and meals. The record of our time together is shelter and food for our souls.

Thanks, Tom, for knowing what our hearts need and allowing me to provide it. I’ll do it again next year, no sweat.