Summer Vacation

When I was a girl, summer vacation meant I was free to spend lots of time on my grandparent’s farm. It was my favorite place to be and I loved everything about summer when I was there.

There were often baby animals to pet and love and name. One summer, I “assisted” in the delivery of a baby pony, two goat kids, and a litter of puppies. I remember staying with my grandmother’s dog, Misha, until all of her puppies were born. I kept a cool washcloth on her head and told her what a good job she was doing. Later, my family adopted one of those puppies that I had helped deliver. Bandit was well loved by my family for 16 happy years.

My grandmother planted a huge garden every year, and I loved walking through it and checking the progress of the growing plants, and then later of the ripening fruits and vegetables. She would also plant huge yellow sunflowers on one side of the garden and we used to make bets about how tall they would grow.

Image result for huge garden with sunflowers on one side

Some years, I would help my grandmother attach foil pie pans to strings that hung from stakes in the ground to keep the rabbits out of her garden. We would also plant Marigolds on the perimeter because she said the rabbits didn’t like the smell of them.

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Image result for marigolds around garden

And yes, we would stuff old clothes with straw to make a scarecrow to keep the birds out of the garden. Usually, he would wear some old overalls and a discarded flannel shirt. Sometimes we drew his face with a Magic Marker on a burlap sack. Other times, we used a Halloween mask for a face. Our scarecrow would wear an old straw hat or a baseball cap, and we always gave him a name…such as Fred or Oliver or Sam.

Image result for Best Scarecrow for Garden

The apple orchard bordered one side of my grandmother’s huge garden. As the summer progressed, I would check the status of the apples, and of the pears that grew on the other side of the orchard. By August, the trees would be loaded down from the weight of the ripe fruit.

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My favorite thing of all was to find a quiet place on the farm and read books. Sometimes I would climb to the top of my favorite apple tree and read. I had discovered a spot where three branches came together in a way that provided a safe reading perch. The other benefit was that I was high enough that I could look out over the entire farm.

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I also liked to take books to read up into the hayloft of the barn. This practice ended abruptly for me one lazy summer day when a mouse ran by me as I was lying on my stomach reading a book in the soft hay. After the mouse encounter, I would usually read under a tree. I liked the shade of the catalpa tree until the day I glanced up and saw the fat black and yellow worms munching away on the big catalpa leaves!

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Image result for catalpa tree with worms

When I complained to my grandmother that I needed a place without critters to read, she tossed a patchwork quilt over the clothesline and then laid another quilt on the ground underneath and told me it would be safe to read there. I remember falling asleep while reading during many warm sunny days in my personal quilt tent.

The only thing I didn’t like about being at my grandparent’s farm during the summer, was that my grandmother would ask me to gather the eggs from the nests in the chicken coop that was attached to the red barn. I was very afraid of the hens and even more afraid of the roosters. My grandmother always named her roosters…Pretty Boy, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Sylvester…and I thought that was funny but I still kept my distance from them.

My grandmother felt that we learned by doing, and she was convinced that I would overcome my fear of the chickens if I gathered the eggs often enough. I did eventually learn to gather the eggs, but I never liked doing it.

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I wrote about this experience in my second book, “Which Came First?” Originally, I wrote the story for my children so they would know a little about my childhood and about farm life. But now, I see the book as an entertaining story with a female protagonist who doesn’t give up and who finds a resourceful way to overcome her fear and get the task completed.

There are two parts of the book that always make me laugh because of the personal meaning attached to them. One is when the girl tells herself, “Don’t be a chicken liver” because that’s something my brother and I actually said to one another as kids when we were afraid. The other part that is funny to me, is that artist Vicki Guess hid a mouse for kids to find in all of the outside illustrations in the book. There’s even a mouse hidden in the hayloft of the barn on the front cover!

Have a good summer vacation and I hope you get to read a lot of books! If you have the chance to visit a farm or to take a child in your life to visit one, it’s a wonderful experience.

I’m going to take a summer vacation from this blog so I can work on my new book. I look forward to seeing you again in September!

Please check out my author website to order a signed copy of my books…I’ve made the shipping free for the summer!

What Matters Most?

We found out recently, that another grandchild…a girl this time…will be joining our family in September. Her older brother, Graham, will be two years old that month. You can imagine how delighted and excited I am about being a grandmother again!

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I often mention my own two grandmothers…both of whom meant the world to me. My “city” grandmother had a personality that was very outgoing and vivacious. She laughed often and with big belly laughs. My “country” grandmother was the complete opposite in personality. She was soft spoken and when she laughed it was just a quiet chuckle.

And yet, they were alike in one way. They both gave the people in their lives…especially the grandchildren…their complete and undivided attention. When I think of my two grandmothers, I often think of a quote from author, Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I will never forget the way my two grandmothers made me feel. As different as their personalities were, they each made me feel completely loved and important. My grandmothers were fully present when they were with me. They weren’t on the phone or distracted by tasks. Even if they had things to get done, they included me and made it fun.

Have you ever been in a public place where you looked around to see what other people were doing?

My husband and I were attending a Rangers game last recently, and we noticed that all the people around us were looking at their phones. It’s the same way in stores, at concerts, on beaches, In airports, and even at graduations and other special events. In restaurants, people at the same table will often be looking at their phones instead of talking with one another.

Image result for people looking at cell phones at events

Image result for people looking at cell phones at events

Image result for people looking at cell phones at events

My father is a crossing guard at an elementary school and he says that parents are often on their cell phones when they pick up their kids at the end of the school day. Have our devices and social media become a greater priority to us than our friends and families?

According to a recent article on, the average person spends two hours a day on social media, and some teenagers spend up to eight or nine hours a day on social platforms.  It alarms me that we live in such a connected world, yet we can be so disconnected from others in plain sight.

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The nightly news says that depression levels are up everywhere and it’s no wonder. How can individuals feel valued and important if the subtle messages we send and receive are that devices are more important than people?

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Don’t get me wrong, I too, enjoy social media and keeping up with what’s new in the lives of family and friends. I love the fact that my wonderful daughter-in-law sends pictures and videos of my grandson right to my cell phone.  But just like everything else, I believe we should  find a healthy balance of social media time.

Being fully present with others can be difficult but it’s also a gift we give to the people in our lives. That’s what my two grandmothers did that made me feel so very special. I’m committed to being fully present for not only my grandchildren, but also for others. After all, aren’t the people in our lives worth the effort?

Frozen Shoulders

In the fall of 2006, both of my shoulders began to ache and I felt a stiffness in them as well. I hadn’t fallen or injured them in any way, but the pain and stiffness worsened to the point where I realized I needed to see a doctor. I didn’t have any other health conditions, and I tended to stay away from doctors, so my family knew there must be something really wrong if I felt a need to make an appointment.

Image result for an apple a day keeps the doctor away

I was having trouble moving my arms and the intense shoulder pain at night kept me awake and walking the floor. My 41-year-old brother had died very suddenly at the end of July so I was also overwhelmed with grief.

By the time I actually got in to see the doctor, my shoulders had stiffened to the point where I could barely move them and my arms were almost frozen at my sides. Since I could only move my arms from my elbows down, my teenage son teasingly called me “Tyro-Mom.”

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The doctor said I had something called “adhesive capsulitis” which is also known as “frozen shoulder.” It happens when the tissue surrounding the shoulder (the shoulder capsule) becomes thick and tight and forms scar tissue.

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She told me that it affected about 3% of the population, most of whom are women between the ages of 40 and 60. (I was 46.) Typically, one shoulder freezes at a time, but for me it was both.


She said the medical world didn’t really know what caused frozen shoulders, but they suspected that it was a perfect storm of the fluctuating hormones of middle age plus some type of physical or emotional trauma. She told me that my frozen shoulders could have been triggered by my brother’s death.

I was prescribed a course of physical therapy three times a week with a therapist, and the other four days I did stretching with different latex bands at home. I also used ibuprofen, a tens unit for stimulation, and went to a massage therapist who had experience helping people with frozen shoulders.

Image result for physical therapy on shoulder

Image result for physical therapy on shoulder

During this time, it was difficult to do even the most basic tasks. I had trouble washing my hair in the shower because I couldn’t raise my arms. Getting dressed alone was next to impossible, so I spent many days in sweats and stretchy tops. Driving was challenging too. I had to get very close to the steering wheel to be able to reach the top of it.

I couldn’t get dishes from the upper cabinets in my kitchen without the aid of a stepladder and trying to reach into the washing machine to put laundry into the dryer had me in tears. At the grocery store, I could only reach products on the lower shelves, so I needed to take someone with me if I had very many items to buy.

During this time, my family stepped up and helped me with everything, usually without me having to ask.

After six months of therapy, my shoulders began to loosen up, but it took over a year before I had full range of motion again. After a year and a half, I could finally lift my arms above my head, but there would be discomfort and a crunching sound made by the scar tissue when I moved.

Image result for adhesive capsulitis

Today, almost 12 years later, I have some discomfort if I raise my arms too quickly, but I still have full range of motion in both shoulders. Swimming can be uncomfortable, I cannot throw a ball like I used to be able to do, and my shoulders will sometimes ache during cold weather. However, I’m just thankful that my shoulders work again.

According to WebMD, adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder has three stages:
1. Freezing Stage (6-9 months) Pain in the shoulder with movement and this gets worse at night. Shoulders begin to get stiff.
2. Frozen Stage (4-12 months) The pain lessons but the stiffness becomes worse until the shoulder is immobile and daily tasks become difficult to do.
3. Thawing Stage (6 months-two years) Range of motion begins to return.

Some doctors are treating frozen shoulders with corticosteroid injections in the shoulder joint and/or with arthroscopic surgery. There is some evidence that an injection in the early stages can prevent the collagen buildup which causes the thickening of the shoulder capsule. This can spur a faster recovery time.

Author’s note: I have no medical training. This is simply the story of my own experience with frozen shoulders. I would love to hear if anyone else has any experience with this?

Pomp and Circumstance

Our youngest child will graduate from the University of North Texas this week. She intends to continue on to graduate school, so her education journey is not yet complete. I’m feeling proud and a bit emotional about her reaching this milestone in her life…especially because she is the last of our four children to graduate from college.

College graduation hasn’t always been a given like it seems to be these days. My father went to college for only a semester before he decided it wasn’t for him and then joined and served in the U.S. Army for three years.

My mother was the first person in her family to graduate from high school. She graduated in 1958 and had the grades for college but she didn’t go. I asked her about this one time and she said that in the late 1950’s, most women who went to college wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. She didn’t want either of those careers so she didn’t even consider college.

She also told me that her parents (who lived through the Great Depression) didn’t care if she got her high school diploma. They felt that having a job was more important than going to school. My mom finished high school for herself. After graduation, she went to work for the local phone company as a switchboard operator thinking she would have job security.

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My dad must have seen the world changing because he always talked to me about “when” I went to college, not “if.” I was the first one in my family to go to college and the first to graduate. I felt like a bit of a trailblazer for my brothers and for my cousins who came after me. When we see others, who are like us doing and achieving, I believe it makes our own dreams feel more attainable.

My farm grandmother visited me at Purdue once during my sophomore year. She didn’t often venture so far from home and I remember how amazed she was by the size of everything. She asked if I ever got lost while going to my classes. I felt guilty when I saw her swollen ankles after I had walked her all around the campus. Before she left, she told me how proud she was of me and that I was a brave girl. It’s a memory I treasure and I so wish I had a picture from that day.

My mother and her mother, my grandmother who visited Purdue

I worked my way through college and then had to pay off student loans, but I still remember the elation I felt on that graduation day so long ago! My younger brother graduated from high school the same month, so our family had two graduation ceremonies to attend that spring.

Graduation ceremonies are a wonderful mix of celebration, rituals, and tradition. The first graduation ceremonies for students began in the 12th century at universities in Europe. During the middle ages, early university buildings were unheated and often cold. Scholars began wearing long, clerical type robes and gowns to ward off the cold. These evolved into our present-day cap and gown academic dress for graduations.

The tradition of tossing one’s cap in the air at the end of the ceremony, began at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in 1912. For the first time, the graduates were given their new officers’ hats at graduation, so they joyfully threw their (no longer needed) midshipmen caps up in the air. This fun tradition caught on and spread to other graduation ceremonies across the country.

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Another name for the graduation cap is a “mortarboard.” This square, fabric-covered cardboard which sits upon a skull-cap, is also called a mortarboard because of its similarity in appearance to the mortarboard used by brick masons to hold mortar.  In case you were wondering, the tassel is worn on the right side before the graduate receives their degree, then they move it to the left side.

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Image result for bricklayer motarboard with mortar

Sometimes college diplomas or degrees are referred to as “sheepskins.” Early diplomas were often on parchment (which is made from the skin of a sheep, goat, or calf) because paper was scarce and difficult to make. Parchment was much more plentiful and durable and was used until paper usage became commonplace.

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The graduation march, Pomp and Circumstance, was written in 1901 by British composer, Sir Edward Elgar. It’s actually one of six military marches he composed. Pomp and Circumstance is March No. 1 in D and was first played in the United States at Yale University during their 1905 graduation ceremony. Sir Edward Elgar was invited to attend the commencement and he received an honorary doctorate of music that day.

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This weekend, will be the first of two college graduations in our family this year. Our other daughter will earn her Master’s Degree from the University of Michigan in July. I’m looking forward to celebrating the achievements of both of our daughters, and to hearing the music of the graduation march!


An Interesting Find!

Recently, I was going through an old jar of buttons that I had picked up in an antique shop in North Texas some time ago. It’s common to find any number of interesting items other than buttons in button boxes and button jars.

In the past, button boxes seemed to be a catch-all for small trinkets and doodads that people wanted to keep. Over the years, I’ve found coins, barrettes, nails, screws, paper clips, keys, bullets and shells, key rings, thimbles, beads, earrings, marbles, sewing needles, matches, Brownie and Girl Scout pins, rocks and stones, guitar picks, wooden thread spools, arrow heads, brooches, safety pins, diaper pins, hooks and eyes, magnets, small chains, watches, chalk, seashells, clothes pins, pictures, bobby pins, Christmas ornament hooks, and hair bows in them. Sometimes, button boxes are treasure boxes too!

As I poured the buttons from the jar onto a cloth and spread them out to look through them, I came across an interesting metal coin. On the front, it said “Alabama State Tax Commission” and had a star in the center with a number 5 on either side of the star. On the back, it said, “Luxury Tax Token” and had the same star with the number 5 on either side. Of course, I was instantly curious and had to do some research!

Twelve (of the 48 states at the time) issued sales tax and luxury tax tokens during the years of the Great Depression in America from 1929 until the late 1930’s. They were Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Washington.


These tax tokens usually had a value of 1/10 of one cent and were used to pay sales tax on very small purchases. The tokens helped American consumers avoid being overcharged tax on small purchases of 5 or 10 cents by being able to pay with tax tokens if the tax was less than a penny.

Image result for tax token coins

Image result for tax token coins

Image result for tax token coins

Millions of tax tokens were issued and were made from a variety of materials including plastic, cardboard, brass, aluminum and bronze. People considered them to be a nuisance to use and they were replaced in most states by a sales tax collection system. Missouri and Alabama were the last states to end their use of sales tax tokens in the late 1940’s.

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I checked on to see if my coin might be a collector’s item. There were several listings for tax token coins and there was one like I have that was for sale for $19.99. I think I will keep mine…I like the historical aspects of it.

Author’s note: I would be interested in knowing if any of you had heard of these tax token coins because I had not.