An Unexpected Joy

A couple of weeks ago, we received an invitation in the mail to a birthday party.  The party was in Indiana and we live in Texas.  I immediately thought, oh, there’s no way we could go right now.  We would both miss work and it would cost an arm and a leg for just an afternoon of fun.

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As I sat looking at the invitation, I thought about my brother, Jeff, and what a proud grandfather he would be today.  I also knew that if he were still here, he would’ve been the first one at the party to share in all the fun with his daughter and granddaughter!


When my husband came home, I showed him the invitation and he said, “Maybe we can find a way to go.  We’ve been planning to visit Chicago for some time so perhaps we could combine the two trips into one?”  We looked at available flights and found one that cost just over $200 round trip for each of us.

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I texted my niece and told her we had figured out a way to come to the party.  I received a text back from her a couple of minutes later:

“That is GREAT, GREAT news!!!  I’m really so happy.  It’ll be like a part of my dad is there.” 

We flew into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Saturday night and drove to the party in Indiana on Sunday.  Little Audrey, my grand-niece, was as cute as can be on her first birthday.  My niece, Jessica, was a proud and happy mama.

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We enjoyed seeing all the decorations my niece had made to celebrate her daughter’s first birthday, including a scrapbook of her first year of life.

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Audrey scapbook

We laughed as we watched Audrey enjoy her first birthday cake…just as I had watched her mother enjoy hers 24 years ago!

Picture by Jeff Hull
Picture by Jeff Hull
Picture by Jeff Hull

Sometimes in life it seems like something might not be possible but then you find a way to make it work out.  I’m so glad we went.  It was so special to be at the party marking Audrey’s milestone first birthday and it was an honor to represent my brother and his family.

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Higher Education Hits New Highs

When I left for the University of Missouri in the fall of 1978, I was the first one in my family to attend college.  I didn’t think much of it at the time; I simply knew that I wanted to continue my education.  Since then, many others in my family have gone to college and have earned one or more degrees.


Nowadays, a college education seems like the regular course for most high school graduates and indeed is even required in much of the workplace.  The question isn’t will you go to college but rather, where.

In our country, 79% of high school graduates enroll in college by the age of 20.  By age 26, 88% of high school graduates have enrolled in either a two or four year college.  The number one reason for not attending college is “not having the money” followed by “already having a good job”.

College Decision Day is every May 1st and many high schools have adopted the tradition of having everyone wear a tee shirt that day from the college they will be attending.  I can’t help wondering how the students with no college plans might feel that day.  Do they wear a shirt with their high school name on it and “the end”?

senior decision day 2012

I once asked my mom why she didn’t go to college, and she told me that it really wasn’t an option for girls in the late 1950’s unless they wanted to be a teacher or a nurse.  Since she wasn’t interested in either of those careers, she didn’t consider college for herself.

My father joined the army after high school and got to live in Okinawa Island, Japan and received a whole different kind of education.

okinawa japan

In 1960 when my mom and dad would have been in college, there were 758,000 undergraduate college students in the United States and the average tuition cost was around $800.

When my brothers and I were growing up, it was an ongoing expectation in our home that we would all go to college.  My parents didn’t really know how to help us prepare for this, but we were all encouraged to work hard at our studies and to earn good grades.


By the end of my senior year of high school, my parents and I had been able to muddle through all the paperwork and deadlines that go along with the college-bound student.

National College Decision Day

As the date of my departure drew near, I was given a credit card to my dad’s account with strict orders that it was only to be used in the event of an emergency.  And, he said, paying off my clothing layaways at the local mall did NOT constitute an emergency.

I was also told that they would like me to call home and check in at least once a week.  Phone cards didn’t exist then and I was taught how to make a “collect” phone call to my parent’s landline phone number.  This later became a Sunday afternoon ritual, and I would walk half a block to a phone booth so I could have more privacy while talking with my parents.

Phone Booth 01

Since I was going to college out of state, I was able to take my car as a freshman.  In late August, my parents and brothers and I caravanned all the way to Columbia, Missouri using two cars with CB radios for communication.  Remember, this was 37 years ago before we all had cell phones in our pockets.

For those of you who may not know, CB or Citizens Band radios were a system for short-distance radio communication between people, and were widely used by long haul truck drivers.  The radios had 40 channels on the band with channel 19 being the one most frequently used.  The channels were shared by many people and were used for both business and pleasure.

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Jeff Hull still has his CB cell phone of the 70’s!

We drove the 500 miles to my new home and I began college life, which incidentally involved writing for the Missouri Maneater student newspaper, and the following year after I transferred to Purdue in Indiana, the Purdue Exponent.  I earned five cents per word writing for college newspapers!

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In 1978, there were 1.6 million students attending a four year college or university in the United States.  Starting in 1974, more girls than boys attended college and this trend has continued without fail through 2015.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the average undergraduate cost of tuition, room and board at a four year university for the 1978 – 1979 school year was $2967.

I paid for my schooling with the help of part-time jobs, summer jobs, and student loans.  My loans came from First National Bank in my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana.  The loan officer answered all my questions while explaining that the bank was investing in my future.  I was granted four loans with just a signature and a handshake.  I cringed at the amount of money I borrowed each year and wondered if I would spend the rest of my life paying it back.


Recently while cleaning out some folders in my desk, I came across my Indiana Guaranteed Student Loan Program Repayment paperwork.   According to the paperwork, I borrowed a total of $9000 during my college years…$2000 to $2500 each year.  It doesn’t seem like quite as big an amount as it did back then!  And yes, I paid those loans back…120 payments of $104.50 for ten years.  The day I made the last payment, my husband and I went out for a celebratory dinner.

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In 2014, the average annual undergraduate cost of tuition, fees, room and board at a four year university was $15,640 at public institutions and $40,614 at private ones.  My how times have changed!

Approximately 17 million students are attending American undergraduate colleges and universities this fall, and colleges are expected to award 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees during the 2015 -2016 school year.

According to the May 8, 2015 Wall Street Journal, 71% of bachelor’s degree recipients this year will have at least one student loan.  The average 2015 graduate with student-loan debt will have to pay back just over $35,000.

obtaining a student loan

Three of our four children are now college graduates.  Each of them was fortunate to make it through their undergraduate years without student loan debt.  As higher education costs continue to rise, that may not be the case with our fourth child who is still in school.


I cannot imagine what college will cost for future generations and I wonder how people will even be able to afford to go.  I did hear recently that student loan debt can be forgiven for teachers who teach in low income schools for five years and for those who work in certain occupations such as public service jobs.  (For more information on this, check out the website at and look under “How to repay your loans”.)

College costs actually went down slightly in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s so perhaps they will decrease again.

acted on higher education

My advice to parents today is to start saving for college as soon as your child is born.  You may not have enough to cover the full cost of a college education, but every dollar will certainly help and will be an investment in your child’s future!

College may be a long way out

Author’s note:  Thank you to my friend, Kourtney, for the idea for this blog post!







Mind Your Manners

When my kids were growing up, their teachers often complimented their manners.  In fact, it happened so often, that I began to wonder if it was that rare to find a family of children who practiced good manners.


Manners don’t just occur out of nowhere; they are taught.  I’m convinced that the very best way to teach good manners is for adult role models to set the example of good manners through their own behavior.

Teach Manners to a Toddler

According to author Pier Forni, “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction.  They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behavior.  Our ancestors developed behaviors to show others respect, fairness, and kindness. Those have evolved into today’s manners.”

Manners provide a structure for expected behavior within society and help instill a level of respect between people.  There is a difference between etiquette and manners.  Etiquette provides specific rules for conduct while manners are general guidelines.

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If we practice good manners, we show those around us that we are considerate of their feelings and respectful of them.  By setting high standards for our own behavior, we encourage others to treat us well and with a similar level of respect.

I was brought up in a family where good manners were taught and expected.  While many of our rules for good manners have changed over the years, there are still some manners which stand the test of time and societal progress.

Years ago, men always removed their hats whenever they entered a building.  This, along with a few other lost manners, was something we taught our sons when they were growing up.  Once, when my family was riding the monorail at Disney World, the train stopped at a hotel to pick up more guests.  When my teenage sons saw that there weren’t enough seats for everyone, they both jumped up and offered their seats to the women who had just boarded.  It was a proud mom moment.

Men used to always open doors for women, then during the 1970’s when the women’s liberation movement was in full swing, some women would sneer at the men who practiced this social nicety.

I don’t wait for a man to open every door, but when a door is opened for me, I respond with gratitude at the act of kindness.  And, whenever I have the opportunity to open a door for another, I do so.

Recently, I was at the downtown post office in Denton.  I held the door for an older lady, then stood there being the doorwoman for another minute or more because so many people were coming and going that day.  It was kind of fun seeing the surprised looks on people’s faces!

We cannot be too polite to one another.  In today’s society where people go out of their way to be rude and even to hurt others, those of us who believe in basic humanity and good manners must stand our ground.  As I used to tell my children when they were growing up, if we don’t have rules for good behavior within our society, chaos will reign.

Miss Manners' Guide to

Manner are our informal rules for good behavior and there are some that should always be practiced.  So, here they are in no particular order because they are all important.

Good manners don't cost your

*Open doors for others.  Do this especially for people older than you, people with their arms full of packages, and most definitely for people carrying children or pushing a stroller.  Someday that might be you who could use a little help!

*Use the magic words.  Please, thank you, you’re welcome and excuse me really are magic words.  Politeness begets politeness in return.  By using these words, we show respect, consideration and appreciation toward others.

to work manners at school.

*Be on time if you have an appointment with someone.  It might be okay to be fashionably late to a party, but being late for an appointment is rude…always.

be on time

Recently, my parents had a 1:30 appointment at their house with someone who was coming to talk with them about the changes in Medicare and how it could affect them.  The man arrived at 2:00 and my dad said, “I’m sorry but we cannot meet with you today.”

The latecomer became irate and couldn’t believe it.  My dad said he probably assumed that because they were elderly, they had no other plans and it was just fine to arrive half an hour late because they weren’t doing anything anyway.

What he didn’t know, is that my dad is a stickler for people being on time, and is also a crossing guard at a local school.  There is no way would he be late for his job keeping kids safe.  My dad informed the man that if he had known he was going to be late, he should have called and checked to make sure the late arrival time still worked for my parents.

you practice good manners,

*Acknowledge people.  We now live in a head down society where people are always looking down at their phones, iPads, or laptops.  People walk into a room and others don’t even bother to look up because they are so engrossed in social media on their devices.  Good manners call for us to acknowledge people when they enter our general vicinity and even to speak and say “hello”.


*Introduce yourself if you don’t know someone.  And yes, it is appropriate even for women, to shake a person’s hand and say, “It’s very nice to meet you.”  Make sure your handshake is firm and not of the limp fish variety.  Look them in the eye and shake like you mean it!

Coloring Pages Shaking Hands

*Be fully present when talking with others.  The art of listening seems to be going by the wayside in our fast-paced world.  In a way this is understandable because our world is filled with so many distractions.  Out of respect to others, we can give people our full, undivided attention and listen carefully to what they have to say until they are finished saying it.

*Do not begin eating until everyone has their food.  This may seem old school to some, but it is the polite thing to do.  Whether we are in a restaurant or at home, we can wait until everyone has their plate before we begin eating.  Meals are an opportunity for time together and social interaction while enjoying our food.

*Practice good phone manners.  According to the Washington Post, 90% of adult Americans own cell phones, and there are more cell phones than people in the United States today.  You would think that proper phone manners would be taught in schools by now.  Believe it or not, there is a proper way to make phone calls, especially those of a business nature.

Rotary Phone | eBay

Hello, my name is Janet Sever Hull and I’m calling for whoever is reading my blog.  I’m calling today to see if you practice good manners.  Thank you for your time.  

You get the idea.

How many times have you been in the grocery store and someone is walking down the aisle talking away on their phone.  The first time I experienced this, the person was using a hands free device and I thought they were talking to me.

Really?  We can’t even go into a store for groceries without taking a call?  How in the world did we survive without a phone at the grocery store 20 years ago?

Manners quotes and pictures

Along with proper ways to make and receive phone calls, there are times when it is appropriate for us to turn the sound off on our phones or to simply put them away.  You would think these would be obvious but let me list them…at school, at work, in libraries, in hospitals, doctor’s offices, at funerals, on airplanes, buses or trains, in church, at concerts or lectures, in movies, in stores, at drive through windows, in restaurants…and especially at the dinner table at home…any place that our ringing or dinging phone might disturb another person.

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My local nail spa actually has a sign asking people to turn off their phones because they want to maintain a calm and serene environment for their clients.

Good manners cost nothing and take very little effort.  Manners are even more important and more impressive in a world that neglects them.  Good manners make a positive impression.  By practicing them, we show our consideration and respect for those around us.

Though rarely but we still

Author’s note:  As always, I welcome and encourage your comments.  What manners do you think are most important?  But please, mind your manners when making your comments!  


Family Treasures From The Past

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I wrote a story about my family’s button box and the role it has played in our family history.  It was passed down from my grandmother to my mother and from my mother to me.  Someday, I will pass it to my daughter.  Every family has those sentimental items and stories around which their memories are made.

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I bet you can think of at least three things right off the top of your head which hold special memories for you and your family.  Perhaps it’s the table where you shared many family dinners over the years.  Or maybe it’s the family cookie jar which held so many delicious homemade cookies.  A family Bible is full of special memories for a lot of families, as are handmade quilts that are treasured and passed down through the generations.

It isn’t always the value of an item which makes it special to us.  Sometimes it’s simply the memories connected to it which make it meaningful.  When my daughter was a young teenager, she asked if she could have the old, orange Tupperware pitcher someday.  She remembered all the fun times she and her brothers had making and drinking Kool-Aid from it.  It’s still here if she ever wants it.

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One of my daughters-in-law received a beautiful handmade wedding ring quilt from her grandmother on her father’s side as a wedding gift.  Paige’s great-grandmother had received it as a wedding gift and then passed it to her daughter, Paige’s grandmother, when she got married.  She then passed it to Paige, on the occasion of her wedding to my son, Ryan last year.

Paige's quilt

Paige's quilt with note

My husband has a wooden box his father built as a keepsake box many years ago.  Since his father died when he was just a young boy, the things he has from his dad are very special to him. The top of the box had come off and pieces were loose or missing.  My husband gave it a facelift a couple of years ago and now after the combined work of father and son, it is a fine looking piece.  He uses it to store his flashlight collection.

Dad's box

Dad's box open

He also owns a pocket watch that once belonged to his grandfather.  He said his grandfather received it as a gift when he retired from working for the railroad.

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Whatever your family treasures are, they become a part of your family’s stories and memories.

On a recent visit to my parent’s house, they gave me a clock.  It wasn’t just any old clock; it’s the clock that hung in our living room when my brothers and I were growing up…pretty much for the last 50 years. It was given to my parents as a wedding present.

When my dad handed it to me, he said, “It doesn’t work anymore but I thought you might like to have it and see if you can get it fixed.”  He was right, and I was very touched that they offered it to me.  I always liked that it had Roman Numerals.

Family clock

Throughout my childhood, my teen years, college years and years of marriage and having children, many things changed in my family, but that clock was a constant. It was a part of all of our lives for so many years.  It watched over us like a trusted friend and got us where we needed to be on time.

I have so many memories which include that clock…so many snapshots in time…especially from my childhood.  There’s the picture of my brother, Jeff and me on the first day of school in 1971 standing under the clock.  The time reads 7:30 which meant it was almost time for the bus.  I bet my mom was wearing her long, light blue bathrobe when she snapped the picture on our old Instamatic camera.  It seemed like so many of our important family pictures were taken under the watchful eye of the clock.


The clock’s in the picture of me the day I was baptized into the Methodist church when I was 12.  There are several pictures of a teenage me with various dates to proms and Christmas dances standing in front of the clock.  It was always there.


A slumber party picture is from the blizzard of 1978 when school was closed but we still managed to get everyone through the snow to my house. Later that year, the clock’s just barely in the graduation picture of me with my best friend, Karen…her in blue and me in red.  We were not happy that the city had made us attend two different high schools.



My parents moved two more times after I graduated from college.  They found a place for the clock in each new home too.  After their move to Texas three years ago, they didn’t put the clock up.  I’m not sure why.  I guess because it had stopped working by that time.

So I brought the clock home with me from my parent’s house.  My old friend who had watched me grow up had come to live with me now.  I like the idea of passing down family treasures.  It’s a form of recycling which often comes with interesting family stories.

The website, lists the 10 most common heirlooms that are passed down in families…other than money.  I think you might be surprised by some of them.  I was.  I was also surprised by some things that didn’t make the list…like books and dishes!

Musical instruments – both expensive and inexpensive are popular items to pass down as they are often so connected to our memories of the people who owned them. I have my grandfather’s harmonicas and fond memories of him playing them for me.

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Clocks and other timepieces – ranging from grandfather clocks to pocket watches.

Recipes – beloved family recipes are a wonderful thing to pass down and even more special if they are written in the cook’s hand.

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Photos, photo albums and framed pictures – I think there are a lot of these in my future because I’ve seen the boxes.

Letters and Diaries – How interesting to learn about our ancestors through their own written words.

Weapons – Of all kinds have been a favorite family heirloom to pass down and to receive, especially by men in the past.

Quilts – A wonderful and useful family heirloom whether you actually use it or hang it up to enjoy your ancestor’s handiwork.Anita's Sunbonnet Sue Quilt

Quilt sewn by my friend, Anita Kirsch

Furniture – This can be a really good thing or a bad thing depending on the ancestor’s taste in furniture!

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Stories – This is one I will definitely be passing down. It’s so important to preserve our family stories from one generation to the next.


Jewelry – This is the number one item that is passed down in families. I have a ring from my grandmother. I don’t know if it has much monetary value, but it holds such sentimental value to me because I remember holding her hand so many times when she was wearing it.rings 003

I would love to hear what items have been passed down to you in your families which have special meaning for you?

But before I go, I want to tell you the rest of the story of the clock my parents gave me.  We put a new battery in the clock and hung it on the wall.  It has been working ever since.

Late night selfie with the clock

Late night selfie with the clock!


A Bouquet Of Newly-Sharpened Pencils

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”

~Joe Fox to Kathleen Kelly in the movie, “You’ve Got Mail.”

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The calendar has turned from August to September and a new school year has already begun.  I miss the days when Labor Day Weekend was the traditional end of summer.  School used to begin the Tuesday after Labor Day.  When I was growing up, schools weren’t air conditioned, so starting a week later would often make it a bit cooler and more comfortable for everyone in the classrooms.  Now, we start school in August and have a holiday the second week.

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My father is an elementary school crossing guard and he started back to work last week too.  He got a lot of smiles and high fives from the kids who remembered him from last year.  He also got to admire lots of new shoes and backpacks.  He said with a chuckle, “All the kids are proud and excited about their new stuff.”  Like the kids, he will get a holiday off from school this upcoming Monday for Labor Day.

Crossing guard dad

Labor Day, which is observed annually the first Monday in September, is the day we celebrate the achievements of the American labor movement, and the contributions our American workers have made to the strength and prosperity of our country.

Because of our American labor force, we have such a high standard of living in this country and it is only appropriate that we set aside a day to honor the American worker.  Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 and schools and banks and all government offices are closed.  There is also no mail delivery.


What will be open on Labor Day are the stores and many will be having big sales.  Labor Day is an important sale weekend for retailers since so many people are off work and able to shop.  Some retailers say it is their second biggest sale weekend after Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend.

Old Navy

Many Americans will fly their flags and attend parades on Labor Day.  Most people celebrate this end of the summer holiday by having cookouts or picnics with family and friends.  Last year, my husband and I found out the hard way that many people go to museums on Labor Day Weekend.

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In the northern part of the United States, Labor Day is traditionally the last weekend to have pools and lake houses open.  After Labor Day, it begins to get too cool for water activities.  When I lived in Michigan, we would sometimes use our pool heater and keep our pool open until October.  My kids thought it was pretty cool to go swimming when they got home from school!

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There used to be etiquette rules that said Labor Day was the cutoff date for wearing white pants, summer fabrics, and open-toed shoes, but those fashion folkways seem to have gone by the wayside.  This is especially true in the south where it is still in the 90’s in September and flip flops are being worn well into the fall.

Labor Day became a federal

So now that the lazy days of summer are behind us and the pace has picked back up, it’s good to be getting back into a regular routine.  I’ve been receiving fall catalogs in the mail and I’m excited about bringing out my fall decorations and clothing.  I’m also looking forward to seeing lots of pumpkins and squash and apple cider in the farmers markets.

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One fun idea I read about recently, is to have a street block party to celebrate the beginning of the fall season and reconnect with your neighbors.   Guests can bring lawn chairs and a favorite dish or two so that you have a variety of food.

This wouldn’t be a problem on my street as my neighbors are always looking for an excuse to have a party and get together.  We have some new neighbors moving in this month so we have even more of an incentive to get together to welcome them.

annual Church Block Party!

Other ideas for making your fall neighbor party a lot of fun include setting up games and activities for the children, having everyone bring one interesting fact about the neighborhood to share with everyone else, and having a junk exchange.  For the junk exchange, set up a table and have everyone bring something from home that they don’t want to trade for something a neighbor doesn’t want.  Sounds a little like a white elephant exchange except with the good stuff!

One way to add a charitable element to your fall party would be to set up a table with boxes to collect non-perishable food so you can make a neighborhood donation to a local food pantry.

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The fall season begins officially on September 23, 2015 at 4:21 a.m.  According to my Old Farmer’s Almanac, this is when the autumnal equinox occurs.  Equinox means “equal night” and this is when day and night are about the same length of time.  An equinox occurs twice a year in late March and in late September.

Well what does this really

The autumnal equinox occurs when the Sun crosses the celestial equator (the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator) from north to south.  Since seasons are opposite on either side of the equator, when we are having our fall or autumnal equinox, the folks south of the equator are having their spring or vernal equinox.

"Autumn, the year's last,

No matter what’s happening in the sky, I’m ready for cooler temperatures here on the ground in Texas…and so are my flowers.  Happy early fall y’all!

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