Top 10 Reasons I Love March 8

For more than 40 years, March 8 has been a favorite days of the year. Here's why.10. The pre-March Madness gives everyone something to talk about other than this year’s debacle of a presidential race.

9.  The sun’s up in time for an early morning walk.

8.  Plus this March 8th predicted high is 61°.

7.  No ice storm is predicted to follow the beautiful weather…as happened in 1990 that left most of the town without electricity and our family (the Man of Steel, a 1 1/2-year-old and a 7-year-old) moved in with friends for almost a week.

6. Easter is only 19 days away which means only 19 days to continue this year’s no snacks Lenten fast, which has thus far been an epic fail.

5.  Every teacher friend has a twinkle in the eye in anticipation of spring break.

4.  Nineteen years ago, my mom, siblings, and I were amazed by how many people remembered Dad and came to his funeral.

3.  Nineteen years ago, the Man of Steel agreed to share his birthday with Dad’s funeral, so in future years  its anniversary wouldn’t fall on the anniversary of my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding day.

2.  Every March 8, I get to ask the Man of Steel if he remembers that his twin is celebrating a birthday. That joke never gets old…at least for 1 of us.

1.  March 8 is the Man of Steel’s birthday, which means our family gets to celebrate the birth of the best man I’ve ever know. Happy #60, Hiram!

What do you like about March 8? Leave a comment.

The Shadow Valley Guitar: Recycled

With a book deadline breathing down my neck, this summer has required some difficult choices. The hardest was the decision not to attend the July Family Camp at Shadow Valley in Idaho. Another, not nearly so difficult, was to cut back on blogging. Today’s post combines the two decisions by taking a peek back at a historic moment at last year’s Family Camp.


Yesterday, this view was the backdrop for Sunday morning worship at family camp.

IMG 2642 1024x682 The Shadow Valley Guitar: First You Cut Down a TreeBeautiful guitar music accompanied the singing.

IMG 2626 682x1024 The Shadow Valley Guitar: First You Cut Down a TreeThe beautiful guitar was made from wood cut from a tree that grew only yards away from where we gathered to worship.

Hiram guitar 1024x682 The Shadow Valley Guitar: First You Cut Down a TreeThe only missing link was Hiram, the man who made the guitar, unable to be present because of limited vacation time. But everyone in attendance was thinking of him and grateful for his gift to Shadow Valley Camp, the gift of music to a family who loves to sing.

To learn more about how the guitar was made, the story is online at First You Cut Down a Tree. As wife of the guitar maker I may be biased, but the process is fascinating. So take a look and if you like what you see, leave a comment at either blog or both. Both the guitar maker and his wife would love to hear what you think!

P.S. Our grandson is so fascinated by his Papoo who makes guitars that we are using the photos of the process to make a picture book for his birthday. He’s gonna love it!

Top 10 Uses for Spring-Loaded Clothespins

clothespin cell phone stand

The versatile spring-loaded clothespin doesn’t get enough media attention. To rectify the situation, today’s top ten list pays tribute to the tiny wooden wonder.

10.  Let’s start with the obvious answer: hang clothes on an outdoor line. And the benefits of the obvious use: money saved on the electric bill, fresh smelling sheets, and a healthy tan.

9.   In a pinch (no pun intended) clothespins and a wire hanger make excellent skirt and trouser hangers.

8.   Readers of Little Women know that clothespins can be used to reshape one’s nose. However the process tends to be painful. Don’t ask how I know this.

7.   Two or three clothespins can be used to fasten shut a half-eaten bag of chips.

6.   They double as clamps on small objects being glued together.

5.   Clothespins are an essential component of refrigerator magnet clip projects made by kids at school, Scouts, Sunday school, and the like.

4.   Ditto for Christmas tree ornaments.

3.   They are effective pinching weapons in sibling wars Don’t ask how I know this, either.

2.   Barbie and Ken place their trust in clothespins that fasten them to a zipline.

1.   Four clothespins in the hands of the man of steel morph into a handy-dandy cell phone stand when using the speaker phone feature. It really, really works!

What’s missing from the list? Leave a comment of uses you’ve found for the lowly spring-loaded clothespin.

Top Ten 36-Years-of-Marriage Perks

Hiram and Jo Photo booth

By 2:00 this afternoon, Hiram and I will have been married for 36 years. Here are the top ten perks of our long partnership:

10.  We’ve both come to prefer water at meals. How easy is that?

9.   36 years later, he’s as handsome as he was when we met at the college freshman orientation dance in September of 1974.

8.   When we’re on vacation and he says, “Jolene, take a picture of __________________,” I now know we’ll both be happier if I hand over the camera so he can capture the essence of whatever he sees, and I don’t.

7.   We both agree Panera’s is the best place to stop for a quick meal on the road.

6.   He’s an eternal pessimist. I’m an eternal optimist. Somewhere between our two points of view, we usually find reality.

5.   He learned to love wilted lettuce. I learned to prepare and love his mom’s turkey hash. We agree both are delicious.

4.   He knows I don’t like tramping in the wild woods, I know he doesn’t like big crowds, and we’ve quit trying to change one another.

3.   Our shared memories of people and events are interpreted from differing points of view, but we’re learning to be happy to have memories to share.

2.   We agree that watching our children become the adults God created them to be has been the most rewarding, terrifying, satisfying, and fascinating work we’ve ever done.

1.   Shared faith brought us together, kept us together, and continues to mold us into the people we didn’t know we wanted to become when we wed on July 9, 1977.


36 Years Ago Today…

Hiram and Jo Kodiak

36 years ago today, Hiram and I were…

Sitting on the second raft at the Le Mars sandpit cultivating sunburns,
Hangin’ with Hiram’s twin brother, his wife, and their baby son,
Shucking sweet corn for wedding rehearsal supper at Mom’s,
Practicing our vows and getting ready to begin our marriage,
Grateful God brought us.

Today, we are…

Toting umbrellas and wearing raincoats and sweaters to explore Kodiak, Alaska,
Hanging with Hiram’s twin brother and his wife, sharing pictures of our grandkids,
Fixing salmon for our final meal together on the island,
Ready to honor our vows for however many more years God grants to us,
More grateful than ever to have met at college all those years ago.

Our Personal Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven

News flash!

The Philo School of Home Repair is proud to announce that the hall and stairway remodeling project which began in April of 2012 is finished.

Looking good.
Ready for use.
A wonder to behold.

To be sure, the effort began with an initial spate of optimism and took 12 months longer than expected, ravished our bank account, and proved to be sexier than any home remodeling project in recorded history. These days, we call the finished product our personal stairway to heaven. (Cue Led Zeppelin music here.) It’s so heavenly, the man of steel has created his own mantra, which he repeats whenever he ascends or descend the stairway:

Oh, it feels so good on my toes.
Oh, it feels so good on my toes.
Oh, it feels so good on my toes.

He’s right. The carpet runner does feel good on the tootsies. And the hardwood floor in the upstairs hall is much cleaner and brighter than the blue-gray carpet it replaced. But, me–I’m just glad it’s finished and am ready for lavish compliments. In case our stairway to heaven as rendered you speechless, appropriate responses are listed below. Please choose one and leave it in the comment box:

A.   That’s the best looking stairway I’ve ever seen.
B.   If you ever think of selling your house, contact me first. I’ll pay double the asking price.
C.  Send all future remodeling project bills to me.
D.  All of the above

Round Steak Roll-Ups

Round Steak Roll ups

Last Friday was Hiram’s birthday, and as is the tradition at our house, the birthday person chose the menu. So what did the birthday boy choose? Round Steak Roll-Ups, a dish I made for him when we were dating in college, and we looked like this:

Hiram and Jolene engaged

Instead of like this:

Hiram & Jolene '11

I haven’t made the dish in at least 20 years, probably longer. After a diligent search of my old cookbooks, it seemed the recipe, like Hiram’s hair and my unlined face, was long gone. Today’s recipe is my best recollection of the original, and it received the coveted Hiram seal of approval…though neither of us could eat quite as much of it as we did the first time it graced our table.

Round Steak Roll-Ups

1 1/2 pounds tenderized round steak
1 4 ounce can mushroom pieces, finely minced
1/2 cup onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons sweet pepper, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Cut round steak into 4, roughly rectangular pieces. Put a couple teaspoons of sweet pepper, onion, and mushroom on each piece. Roll each piece up, from the long side, and secure with toothpicks.

Heat oil in frying pan on medium-high heat. Put rolled up steak pieces in pan and brown, turning periodically until all sides are brown. Add remaining onion near the end of browning process, and continue cooking until they begin to caramelize. Add 1 1/2 cups water and bring to boil. Add any remaining mushrooms and pepper. Turn down heat until liquid simmers gently. Put lid on pan and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check liquid level in pan every 15 minutes, and add water if needed. After 2 hours, remove meat to serving platter and cover.

Gravy: Measure remaining liquid and add enough water to make 1 1/2 cups. (You can use potato water for this.) Return liquid to pan and bring to slow boil. Put 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water in a jar or gravy shaker and shake until all lumps are gone. Slowly add flour/water mixture to liquid in frying pan, stirring constantly. Return to a slow boil and continue cooking for 2–3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with meat and mashed potatoes.

Welcome Back, Prodigal Tweezers

Prodigal tweezers

2012 is ending with a bang at our house. Not because we’ve been invited to a rockin’ New Year’ Eve party. But because our long lost, prodigal tweezers have been found.

Some of you may recall the sad fairy tale this grim mother wrote in May. The fairy tale that bemoaned the loss of the excellent pair of tweezers we had owned for many, many years. The fairy tale about our inability to replace them with a pair of comparable calibar. For those of you who don’t remember the tale or never read it, now you understand the unibrow I sported all summer and fall.

But not anymore.

Because the man of steel found the tweezers in his toiletry travel bag. The discovery was so exciting, we greeted our prodigal tweezers with open arms. “So you don’t care that the tweezers were lost for six months in my toiletry bag?” Hiram asked.

“Not one bit,”I replied. “Let’s kill the fatted calf and have a feast! Let’s dress the tweezers in a fine robe and slip a gold ring on its finger.”

“Tweezers don’t have fingers,” the man of steel reminded me.

With a perky little shake of my head, I answered, “That’s okay, because I’ve got ten of them.”  Then I used my fingers to pick up those tweezers and start plucking.

How can 2013 possibly be any better than this?

Hopelessly Lost

Hiram and I are hopelessly addicted to the TV series, Lost. Those of you in tune with popular culture realize we are also hopelessly behind the time, as that series ended in 2010. But thanks to the advent of digital television, which left us with one channel even though we installed a converter box, our location which doesn’t allow us to get cable, and a daughter in college, which left no money for satellite TV until last year, we haven’t watched much TV for the past several years.

Until Hiram’s convalescence after surgery this summer.

That  momentous event forced the issue and we signed up for Netflix. That’s when we discovered Lost. It’s kind of like Gilligan’s Island meets Lost in Space meets Wild, Wild West meets soap opera. And now, like I said before, we’re hopelessly addicted to the silly show. So addicted we might need a twelve step program. Or at least a notebook to keep track of six years worth of plot lines, flashbacks, crises, cliff hangers, and deaths.

After all, Hiram’s convalescence is pretty much over.

He used to lay on the couch to watch Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Charlie and John and the rest of the gang uncover mysterious hatches, untangle the mystery of the Others, and munch on provisions dropped by helicopter from the mysterious Dharma Initiative powers-that-be. Now Hiram watches while doing a hopping/balance exercise prescribed by the PTs.

It’s pretty cool.

But not as cool as all those sweaty people running around the island, flashing back to their former lives, doing the time travel thing, and finding more new outfits to wear than could possibly be packed in a carry on bag. To think, we wouldn’t even know about them if Hiram hadn’t had back surgery.

But thanks to one ruptured disk, we’re now addicted to the silly show.

The doctor never once mentioned this as a side effect of surgery. Which proves there are some things modern medicine can’t predict or prevent. Even though it does a really good job with ruptured disks.

For which we are extremely grateful.

But we won’t be so grateful if someone spoils things by leaving a comment that spills the beans about how the series end. So if you want to leave a comment about the outcome of the series or some plot twist, please begin your missive with the words “spoiler alert.”

We’re hopelessly addicted to Lost, and we want to stay that way.

Man of Steel Update

Many of you have asked how the man of steel’s recovery from May’s ruptured disk and June’s back surgery is progressing. Obviously, an update is in order, so here goes.

The man of steel:

  • Is back to work full time.
  • Can now ride in a car for an hour before needing to get out and stretch.
  • Puts on his shoes and socks in half the time and half the huffing, puffing, and groaning required before the surgery.
  • Mows the lawn again.
  • Received an okay from the neuro-surgeon to begin a running program under the guidance of his physical therapists.
  • Goes to physical therapy 2 – 3 times a week to build strength, gain flexibility, and work on the above mentioned running program.
  • Willingly dons what the physical therapists call “tutu shorts” so he can run on their anti-gravity treadmill.

Having a hard time picturing the man of steel running on a treadmill in tutu shorts? Then take a look at this YouTube video for a better idea.

YouTube Preview Image


Pretty cool, huh?

Much as I love the idea of Hiram running in tutu shorts in the comfort of our own home, it’s not gonna happen any time soon. Anti-gravity treadmills cost beaucoup bucks, which we don’t have. So I’ll have to come up with a different photo to adorn this year’s Christmas letter.

Which should make the man of steel sleep easier at night, don’t you think?