What’s Left Of A Life When It’s Over?

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” – French Proverb

I’m been thinking a lot about life and death this past week.  As my grandmother used to say, “New ones are born and old ones die.”  Sometimes the ones who die are not ‘old’ ones though.  Sometimes they are too young and we are not ready for them to go.  I bet God gets a lot of questions on that subject.

My brother, Jeff, was 41 almost 42, when he died.  Today would have been his 50th birthday.  He never got the chance to reach this “youth of old age” milestone birthday where we stand back to evaluate our lives and see what we have and haven’t done…and what we still need to do.


He did love birthdays though…his, mine and everyone else’s…and he loved celebrating them.  Every year on my birthday I would wait for it…the (land line) phone would ring and after I said “hello” I would hear, “You are getting so damn old!”  And then he would laugh that great belly laugh of his that always made me laugh too.

One year in my birthday card, he made a list of old things to compare me to…fossils, mummies, the pyramids, Java man…  Yes, he was THAT little brother!

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the average life expectancy for the almost 319,000,000 Americans right now is 78 years…80 years for women and 75 years for men.  This number is projected to get higher for both sexes by the year 2015 and even higher by 2020.

During the early part of the 20th century, the average life expectancy for men and women was 50 years.  Throughout that century, improvements in nutrition, medicine and our quality of life extended life expectancies far beyond the age of 50.  For modern Americans, turning 50 is a time for the second half of our lives to begin so we can enjoy grandchildren and do all the things we didn’t get to do earlier in life.

Two days ago, Jeff became a grandfather.  We don’t know exactly what happens to our spirits, our essence, when we leave this earth.  But knowing my brother, he is somewhere up in heaven high fiving God and passing out cigars in celebration of the birth of his new granddaughter, Audrey Anna Smith.

Audrey Anna Smith

Which leads me back to where I started…what’s left of a life when it’s over?

Since we are bonded through love with people, and if love truly is eternal, the love we share with others will not cease to exist with death.  What’s left of a life when it’s over, are the people we’ve loved and the memories we’ve made on this earth.

scan0003 (2)

The enduring gifts of our loved ones are the treasured memories of shared moments, the work they did in this world and its impact on others, the love they gave us, and the lessons we learned from them and their life…as well as from their passing.

We move forward and learn to live again by finding meaning in our loss and by finding meaning in the lives of our loved ones.  And every so often, we glimpse them again in the blue eyes of a daughter or the laughter of a son…or in the kindness of others who also knew and loved them.

Jess and Audrey (2)

 My niece, Jessica and her daughter, Audrey

*Author’s note:  I am now a great-aunt!


Patchwork Memories

When I was 15, I came home from high school one day to find a huge contraption sitting in the middle of our living room.  It was made from wood, about six feet long, and had two parallel wood bars.  We didn’t live in a big house and this thing took up about a third of the space in our living room.  Certainly it would interfere with the football throwing that normally happened in that room on game days.

My mother told me it was a quilting frame, and that she was going to make me a quilt, all hand-stitched, on that frame which stretched the fabric taut for sewing.  And she did.  It took several years and we all got used to the quilt rack in the middle of our living room.  When people came to visit, they would always stop and check the progress on the quilt.

When I was a young girl, my mother made many of my clothes and she taught me how to sew.  When I was in junior high and high school, she taught me to make my own clothes.  For one high school Christmas dance, I even sewed my formal dress.  Yes, I looked a bit like I had stepped off of the prairie…and my best friend, Karen, sewed one too and we double dated to the dance in our prairie gowns.

Quilt 009

Karen and me in our prairie dresses…about age 15

My quilt was a “flower garden” quilt and the flower petals were made from the fabric scraps leftover from the clothes my mother and I made during my childhood.  Of course, my mother insisted that I work on that quilt.  Perhaps she thought the sewing would encourage me to talk with her while our heads were bent together over the emerging patchwork design.

But I didn’t enjoy quilting.  I didn’t have the patience for it and I was all thumbs and the stitches had to be so incredibly small!  Usually, I would begin sewing, stick my finger with the needle and start bleeding on the quilt.  Then, I would get relieved of my quilting duties for the day.

When I was researching quilt history, one website said a quilt is a “cloth sandwich” with a top, usually decorated, a back, and filler in the middle.  The word “quilt” comes from the Latin word, “culcita” meaning a stuffed sack.  Quilts come in four basic types:

*Plain or whole cloth…on these quilts the stitching makes the designs on the fabric.

literacy library 013

*Applique…often made of whole cloth, with the design applied to a single large piece of fabric …applique quilts require more fabric and are considered the nicest kind of quilts.

*Tied quilts…made from whole pieces of fabric on both sides with batting in the center and yarn ties spaced evenly to hold the quilt together.

Depauw quilt

Tied quilt made by my mom for my son in DePauw colors

*Patchwork…these quilt tops are composed of cut pieces of fabric sewn together to form a design.  The pieces or quilt patches are usually made from new or saved fabric and cut into geometric shapesThey must be cut precisely so the edges can be matched and sewn to fit together exactly.

Anita's quilt

This is a patchwork quilt made by my friend, Anita Kirsch

My quilt was of the “patchwork” variety.  All the individual pieces were hexagons and were laid out and hand stitched together to form the flower garden pattern on the top of the quilt.  After the quilt top was completed, my mother added the batting in the center for softness and warmth, then pinned a whole piece of fabric to the back and hand quilted all three layers.  When the quilting was finished, she added a ¾” white finished edge around the perimeter of the quilt.Flower quilt 001

My flower garden quilt made for me by my mom

This was a long, slow process that took a number of years.  By the time I finally received my finished quilt, I understood and appreciated the time and effort put into my beautifully handmade gift and I’ve treasured it for over 30 years.

I also have a small patchwork quilt made by my mother’s mother for me when my first child was born.  I used it for all three of my children and hope to use it again when I’m lucky enough to become a grandmother.

literacy library 010

This baby quilt was made for me by my grandmother, Pearl Ritchie Wood

Recently, I pulled my quilt out to use on a guest bed and was distressed to find that the fabric in one of the flowers had rotted with age.  My mother is no longer quilting, so I turned to my dear and talented friend, Renee Lange, who knows how to make anything and everything.  You can see her charming blog and creations at www.sewnwithgrace.com

Renee first asked for pictures, and then asked me to ship my quilt to her in Michigan for the repairs.  So, this afternoon I am going to send it to her and when I get it back, I will share that with you.  I’m hoping Renee will write about this “love repair” on her own blog.   You can see in the picture below where I removed the rotted fabric.  If you have a family quilt story, I would love for you to share it in the comment section!

Quilt photos 001

*Author’s note:  For those of you who have my book, “The Button Box”, there is a picture in it of the quilt made for me by my mom.

The Button Box and Mother's Day 004


Here are some pictures of my repaired quilt.  Thank you to my dear friend, Renee Lange for doing the repair work so beautifully!

Don’t Lose Your Marbles

marbles and new car 033

Recently, while cleaning out a closet, I found my marbles.  To be completely accurate, I found a container of marbles that had belonged first to my brother, Jeff, and me, and then had been added to and played with by my kids.  I dumped them out on the carpet and sat there on the floor looking at all the different colors and sizes.  I put my hand into the pile of marbles and felt their coolness and thought back to the times my brother and I had sat on the floor of our parents’ house trading marbles from our respective collections.

marbles 001

On summer days, we would go outside and draw a circle in the dirt with a stick and then two lines on either side of the circle and play marbles.  I can’t remember all the particulars, but we would begin with a certain number of marbles from each of us in the circle, and then use the bigger “boulder” marbles to shoot at and try to knock the other player’s marbles out of the circle.  Those bigger, shooter marbles also went by other names such as popper, masher, bonker, (my brother’s favorite name for them) thumper, smasher, taw, bowler, giant and biggie.  Marble names were great fun and were my first lesson in the use of synonyms.

marbles and new car 018

Words like “knuckle down” (the way you place your hand to shoot at other marbles with your thumb) or mibs or ducks (other names for marbles) and “quitsies” or “no quitsies” kept running through my head. Players can have quitsies which means you are able to quit the game at any time without losing your marbles or no quitsies but you must decide this before you begin play.  We played for “keepsies” which is a marble term meaning if you knocked the other player’s marble out, you got to keep it.

My brother liked the metal steelie marbles best but I liked the clearie marbles that looked as if they were full of colored water.  I also liked the “oilie” marbles that had an iridescent finish and looked like they had rainbows in them. We both liked the cat eye marbles and we used to hold our black cat named “Pepsi” and look into his eyes to compare and see if the marbles really did look like cat eyes.  They did.

marbles and new car 023

We were always on the lookout for the cool “onion skin” marbles that had layers of colorful swirls like an onion, or the elusive bumble bee marbles that were all yellow with two black stripes on each side.  I’m not sure which I liked better…playing marbles or trading with other kids for new ones in my collection.  If a cousin or a neighbor would come over with their bag of marbles, we would play and eventually end up trading for cool new ones to add to our marble bags. “I’ll give you two clearies and my toothpaste shooter for your steelie boulder?”

The oldest marbles found by archaeologists date from 3000 B.C. and were buried with an Egyptian child at Nagada. The first literary reference we have to marbles is from the First Century A.D. when the Roman poet, Ovid, mentions the game of marbles.  The ancient Romans played a lot of games and invented many of the games we associate with marbles today.

Early marbles were made from clay, stone, glass and rounded semi-precious stones.  Today, marbles are made from glass, clay, ceramic, steel, plastic or agate.  They come in different sizes but are most commonly ½ inch to 1 inch in diameter.  While many children grow up playing with marbles, some people collect marbles their entire lives for nostalgia and because they enjoy their aesthetic colors.

more marbles 006

Modern marbles were first manufactured in Germany in the 1800’s.  In the United States, marbles were made from clay in the 1890’s in Akron, Ohio and the first machine-made glass marbles were made there in 1903 by the M. F. Christensen & Son Co.  Also in Akron, Ohio where these early American marbles were produced, is the American Toy Marble Museum.

Today, there are only two American-based toy marble manufacturers: Jabo Vitro in Reno, Ohio, and Marble King, in Paden City, West Virginia.

Do kids play marbles anymore?  They are certainly part of a lot of the board games that are still available in stores…Chinese Checkers, Aggravation, Mousetrap, Hungry Hungry Hippos…and Mancala uses flattened marbles as part of the game.

When my kids were small, they had an old Discovery Toys game they loved called Marbleworks.  It was a construction game where they had to build a racetrack out of chutes and bridges and paddlewheels and tunnels.  When the racetrack was complete, they would race their marbles against one another.  The game would be slightly different every time because the track was never the same.  I loved it because it involved both creativity and competition.

marbles and new car 019

The year my brother was turning 40, I put together a giant box of memories in honor of his milestone birthday.  I put in many of the games from our childhood and a bag of marbles was certainly among them.  I still remember the laughter in his voice when he opened my surprise present.  One of my most treasured possessions is a beautifully finished wood Aggravation game board my brother made for me one Christmas about 25 years ago.  The marbles that go with it are still in the original purple “Crown Royal” bag he put them in.

marbles and new car 012

The marble industry is alive and well in our world.  There are pages and pages of marbles for sale on ebay with prices ranging from $.99 to $203 for just one marble.  There are websites and events devoted to marbles…check out www.moonmarble.com and www.landofmarbles.com where you can sign up for their email newsletter so you can be informed of upcoming marble events and competitions.

There is an annual four day national marble competition where competitors compete for bragging rights, prizes, awards, and college scholarships.  The national marble competition has been held every summer in Wildwood, New Jersey for almost 100 years.  Competitors are called “mibsters” (marble shooters) and will play more than a 1,200 games over the four-day tournament.  There are also marble making demonstrations and opportunities for collectors to buy or trade for new marbles.  For more information, see www.nationalmarbletournament.org

On a final note, I will leave you with some marble idioms that are commonly used in our American speech.  If you have forgotten, an idiom is a word or phrase which has a figurative meaning that is separate or different from its literal meaning.  Marble idioms just for fun:

Pick up your marbles and go home…to abruptly leave an activity you have been involved in because you don’t like what’s happening.

Lose your marbles…to begin acting strangely or forgetting things or become mentally disabled.

Have all one’s marbles…Not have all one’s marbles…to have or not have all of one’s mental faculties.

Cold as marble…to be very, very cold; chilling.

Lose all one’s marbles and lose one’s mind…to go crazy.

I found my marbles…I’m over an upset and back in my right mind.

It’s for all the marbles or to have all the marbles…to compete for or to have all the winnings, spoils, or rewards.

and more marbles 002



Some Days Are Like That

Smith Corona

My favorite quote about writing…and the one I think is most accurate, is from a journalist named Gene Fowler.  The quote goes like this:

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Now obviously, we would insert “computer screen” for paper now, but Mr. Fowler died in 1960 so it really was paper at the time.  Writing is like everything else in life.  Some days it is really easy and some days it is really hard.  Most days however, the difficulty level falls somewhere in the middle.

Some Days 001

The hardest part about blogging every week, is finding a quiet block of time to write and then deciding what to write about.  Interruptions and distractions are the enemy of the writer. They make it too easy to get up and walk away from the keyboard.  And once you escape, it can be difficult to find your way back.

The research part of writing is always interesting because I learn something new every week.  When I’m writing for the magazine…Lifestyles of Denton County…I stick to the facts and do a lot of research before writing.  When I blog, I also do a lot of research but I get to add some personal stories to the mix.

Some Days 002

Taking or finding pictures to use with the different blog posts is fun too.  Sometimes I have to reach out to friends (thank you Galyn) or family (thank you Caelli) to either take or send me just the right picture to go with the writing.  And then the fun begins.

Most authors will tell you they have a ritual they must perform before they write.  Think of it like the basketball player who has his own ritual before every free throw, or the singer who has to do certain warmup exercises before they sing, or the pastor who prays certain prayers each week during his sermon preparation.  We all have our own special preparation or superstition or prayers or whatever we need to do before we can do the really important things.

By Sunday or Monday of each week, I begin thinking about my next blog post and doing some research on several topics.  I think about all the things that I’ve done in the past week…about the sermon I heard at church…about what’s in the news and what’s coming up on the calendar that might be of interest and timely.

Sometimes something on Facebook will interest me and I will want to know more.  For those of you who read my blog regularly, that’s why I wrote about the Mason-Dixon Line.  Someone mentioned it on Facebook and I wanted to know where exactly it was.

Sometimes, I am simply curious about something and figure there must be other people who are too.  I wrote about birthdays in “And On the Subject of Birthdays…” because a friend was about to have her 60th birthday.  Other times, I simply tell you about things that have happened in my life like my son’s wedding in “To Everything There is a Season” or meeting and helping Richard and Lois in “Road Trip…I-70 Exit 129” or driving to Greenville, Mississippi to drink the water in “Do Drink The Water.”

Ryan & Paige 223

Some weeks, I don’t have a clue what to write about until I actually sit down to write on Tuesday or even early Wednesday morning.  Other weeks, I am deciding between two or three topics and end up writing two blog posts and choosing my favorite.  But it all starts with a cup of coffee and a prayer.  It’s a prayer of gratitude for the ability to write and a request for God to help me honor Him and honor the people I write about in my posts.  Pretty simple really…and then the words begin to flow.

Bible 002

Sometimes I think I will be writing about one topic and a completely different topic takes center stage during the creative process.  Whenever that happens, I just figure God decided I needed some help or thought my chosen topic was not the right one for the week.

This week, I was going to write about Labor Day since we just celebrated it on Monday.  I was going to tell you that Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 and is a holiday in which we celebrate the social and economic achievements of the American labor movement as well as the contributions our American workers have made to the strength and prosperity of our country.

I was going to tell you that the most common ways Americans celebrate Labor Day are with parades and cookouts.   In the northern part of our country, Labor Day Weekend is traditionally the last weekend to have pools and lake houses open.  After Labor Day, the nights begin to get too cool for water activities.

Dallas pic

I was also going to write about what I did on Labor Day because I won’t do that again.  We went to Dallas with plans to go to two or three museums on Labor Day.  The first museum parking lot was completely full and wouldn’t have more parking for at least another hour.  So we headed to the second museum on our list and stood in line for 20 minutes to get inside.  After that, we inched along with a huge crowd from exhibit to exhibit.  It was so crowded and slow that we gave up in frustration and didn’t see some parts of the museum.  Apparently, not everyone goes to parades and cookouts on Labor Day.

So I was going to write about Labor Day but I ended up writing about writing.  Some days are like that.  And now, I have to wipe the drops of blood off my forehead.

Some Days 005


Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”


Baseball Heart

It’s a holiday week and I’m a bit out of my writing routine so I decided to post something I wrote years ago when all my kids were still at home.  It’s a true story about baseball and about kindness…with it being baseball season and the beginning of the school year, this seems appropriate.

Labor Day Weekend 029

It was during the extended season of little league baseball; approaching the dog days of summer, when all but the diehard baseball lovers had already had enough of the game. The extended season lasted for a month after the regular season ended, and worked like old time, pickup baseball.

Each evening, the boys would show up at the little league fields to play ball and would pick sides.  A few parents were there to provide equipment and structure, and other parents would stick around to watch.  There were usually enough boys for two teams, but a parent or older brother might fill an empty spot.  Anyone could participate, and the purpose was simply to have fun playing the great American pastime.

Most of the boys were 11 or 12, and had played organized little league together every summer for years.  Many of them attended the same school.  All of them loved baseball or they would surely have been in someone’s swimming pool on those sultry July evenings, instead of out on the dusty ball diamond.  That common love of baseball created a bond between the boys that made their different sizes and skill levels insignificant.  They were the “boys of summer” and they just wanted to play ball.

The beauty of the extended season was that every kid got to pick a different position each inning, and could play in the spots he only dreamed about during the regular season, when statistics drove the coaches’ choices.  Some of the games became very competitive, but they were always fun.

About two weeks into the extended season, a new boy showed up to play.  Pete had moved to Michigan from Chile and didn’t speak English.  He had never touched a baseball in his life, but his dad wanted him to make some friends and learn about this American ball game.  His parents and siblings were at every game, and would watch from behind the first baseline fence.

It soon became obvious that Pete hadn’t developed any baseball skills.  Even though he would swing hard and try, he struck out every time he was up to bat.  He had played soccer in his native country, so he understood the concept of anticipating where the ball would go, and he did a little better in the field. He was by far the worst player on the baseball diamond, but he wouldn’t give up, and he was there every night to play.  This particular group of boys didn’t seem to care how badly he played.  They accepted anyone who wanted to play ball, and they seemed to have respect for Pete for trying so hard to learn the game.

My son, Ryan, was a pretty laid back kid most of the time, but when it came to baseball, he was a serious competitor.  I used to joke to friends, that Ryan would play baseball in the snow if he could get anyone to play with him.

Baseball cards 003

One time, Ryan told me his idea of a “perfect day” would be to play baseball all day, then to go to a major league baseball game that night.  Baseball cards littered every surface of his bedroom, and at any given moment he could tell you what kind of season any of the major league players were having.  The kid lived and breathed baseball.

The game that will forever be etched in my memory started like any other.  Even though it was early evening, the heat of the day still lingered on the metal bleachers and on our bare arms and legs.  It was the kind of hot, sticky evening when our shirts clung to our backs, and nothing tasted as good as ice-cold water.  Enough boys had shown up to field two full teams and the heat didn’t seem to bother them at all.

Pete was there, and his family members were cheering from the sidelines.  Ryan’s dad was standing next to Pete’s family at the fence, but I had decided to watch from the bleachers.  Later, I would see some irony in the fact that the two dads were standing side by side that night.

The first two innings passed quickly with three up and three down on both sides.  Ryan hit a line shot right into the center fielder’s glove to end the first inning.  The second inning had both sides sending balls right into waiting gloves.  It looked like it was going to be a quick, uneventful game.

Going into the third inning, I saw Ryan run to the pitcher’s mound.  Ryan loved to pitch and he had a good fast ball that he loved to throw right past the surprised batters.  The first boy up swung after each of the three pitches, and then headed back to the dugout.  Next up was Pete and I thought, “Oh, this is not going to be pretty.”  Pete stepped into the batter’s box and dug in; ready for anything Ryan was going to throw.  Ryan fired his fast ball right down the middle, and Pete swung hard and missed.

All of a sudden, something in Ryan’s demeanor changed and being his mom, I saw it immediately.  I looked over at his dad at the fence just as he looked at me.  He had noticed the difference too.  It felt as if the rest of the world stopped and we were alone, watching the events of the next few minutes play out in slow motion.

Ryan did his regular windup for the second pitch, but it was as if he couldn’t throw hard anymore.  He lobbed the ball over the plate and Pete was ready.  He swung and foul tipped the ball over the backstop.  It was the first time his bat had ever touched the ball, and his dad let out a whoop of pure pride that I won’t ever forget.  I knew exactly what Ryan was doing, and I knew that he knew exactly what he was doing.  He was in complete control of that ball, and it was as if he was going to make Pete be a hitter by the sheer strength of his will.  The third pitch fell short and was called a ball by the umpire.

Ryan’s face was the picture of pure determination as he wound up for the next throw.  Pete was standing in the batter’s box poised, bat ready to fly.  I watched the ball go into the strike zone and I heard the crack as bat and ball collided and became Pete’s personal triumph.  Pete headed for first base as the ball rolled to a spot right in front of the pitcher’s mound.  I saw Ryan reach for the ball and for a second he paused, ball in hand and looked to first, as he made his second important decision that evening.

The coach for the extended season team walked over to Ryan’s dad at the fence and said, “That pitcher is all heart.”

I’ve thought about that baseball game and what Ryan did many times since that hot July night.  I remember the look of surprise and disbelief on Pete’s face when his bat made contact with the ball.  I remember the joy on his father’s face and the tears in his mother’s eyes.  I remember Pete’s smile as big as the day, as he stood on first base and looked over at his cheering family.

And, I remember my son Ryan, who stood on the pitcher’s mound and watched Pete enjoy his moment, then silently turned back to the plate and fired six fast balls, one after another, right down the middle to strike out the next two batters and end the inning.

Pete played the rest of the extended season.  He was still the worst player on the field, but he had gained some confidence and could hit the ball regularly by the end of the summer.

Recently, I took my children to the annual baseball sign-ups and Pete and his dad were in line in front of us.  I was glad to see them.  I couldn’t help wondering if Pete was there in part because of one split second decision my son made, when he had the means and the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.

I tried to talk with Ryan about the game only once, and he would have none of it.  He looked at me with his kind eyes and said, “My pitching was just a little off, mom.”

I wonder if Ryan realizes what he did that night.  Was he old enough or mature enough to realize how one seemingly small action on the part of another person can have the power to change the course of any of our lives?

Labor Day Weekend 027