Category Archives: Family Stories

No Expiration Date

This summer, I truly have an empty nest. Our kids are launched into adulthood, their own lives and homes.

My empty nest is yielding hours and hours of time. What do I do with this abundance of time? Travel, read, spend time with family and friends and deep clean our house. How deep? Well, I was scrubbing the kitchen tile grout with a toothbrush yesterday. Never did that before.

Today, I organized mom’s handwritten recipes. While I was digging through the recipes, I found a folder labeled ‘Coupons’. I was about to toss the whole pile in the garbage when I started looking through them. Mom had meticulously stored hundreds of coupons with no expiration date from the 1980s and early ’90s.

I am sitting on a gold mine!

Or so I thought until I spotted products that no longer look familiar…

Oh the memories these products resurrect.

In mom’s pile, I also found coupons for brands still being sold today.

I plan to redeem these ‘no expiration date’ coupons at our local grocery store. Should be interesting as I use them to purchase crescent rolls, cheerios, band-aids and toilet paper. Products that stand the test of time.

While I did not actually discover a gold mine today,
it certainly has been a (gold) rush… {I sure did love those bars}


Those Chickens ~ Part One {The History}

I am not far removed from rural living. Both my parents grew up on farms in North Dakota. While these farms were vastly different (Norwegian/grain/some livestock farm versus German/livestock/some grain ranch), I learned early how to use an outhouse and that food doesn’t actually originate in a grocery store.

My Aunt Vi,  dad’s sister, lived on the home farm most her life and had broilers. These are chickens specifically raised for meat production. Yes, you read that correctly, these chickens become Sunday dinner. Broilers do not receive cute names. They are not pets. They are future food.

Some summers, if I was unlucky enough, our visit to Aunt Vi’s farm coincided with the butchering of her chickens. Growing up in a big city, and being me, the thought of killing anything is abhorrent. Therefore, I never witnessed the actual event. I always hid in the house with a book and pretended the meat later served came from far, far away. Possibly a magical land where everyone is happy and meat is grown from the ground, similar to crops.

My younger brother and sister didn’t understand this thinking. For them watching was a rare, exciting treat. Maybe they were more connected to the ebb and flow of life than me. Whatever. Getting your younger siblings to cease talking about chicken butchering was a monumental task. They would run into the farmhouse, talking excitedly about the ‘goings-on’ outside. No, I do not want to know what is happening outside. No, I do not want to know what a chicken does when its head is chopped off. No, I do not want to know how clean, swift and humane the process was.

With no form of escape, I would whine to mom. “Make them stop.” “I am going to throw up.” “Do not make me eat any, and I mean any, chickens this visit!”

Mom, my wise, wise counsel, would put her arms around me, suggest a better place to hide but also nudge me to think deeply about life, food and personal preferences. If I was going to be a meat eater, I needed to realize that meat came from animals. Otherwise, I needed to change, drastically.

I flirted with vegetarianism for a while, it didn’t take. I still eat a number of meatless meals each week, but I have come to realize that meat is a part of my life. I am trying to be more conscious where my food comes from, whether fruits, vegetables or meat.

Which leads me back full circle to my family. My brother has laying hens and broilers on his hobby farm. My daughter, who lives in a suburb of a big city, has purchased laying hens.

Chickens, the real, living, breathing kind… no matter how hard I try, I cannot get away from them.

I Call This Family Meeting to Order

Every Sunday, mom and dad held a family meeting. This meeting was called to order around our kitchen table following the family luncheon, but before dessert.

The meeting began when dad finished eating (whether we were ready or not). Dad, sitting at the head of our table, was the chairman. Mom sitting on the opposite end, with pen and calendar in hand, was our secretary.  We, my sister, two brothers and I, were the peons…I mean dutiful subjects.

Roll call was unnecessary because it was obvious we were all present. So, the first order of business was to review the happenings (aka committee reports) of our previous week. As a family of six, with one family car and a variety of extra curricular activities, the amount of organization required to move the car and its driver (mom) from point A to Z each week was monumental. This meeting was extremely important to all of us because if we didn’t pay attention, we might be forced to walk home, alone, in the dark, for miles, uphill.

The committee reports from the previous week usually centered around miscommunications such as, “Why wasn’t I picked up after basketball practice?” “How come I had to walk home carrying a trombone and sissy got a ride carrying nothing?” and the dreaded, “I walked home but the doors were all locked and I had to sit on the front steps waiting and starving!” Mom did not enjoy the previous week’s grievances because no matter how hard she tried, we really had too many activities for one car and driver.

At this point, Dad would quickly move on to new business, the upcoming week’s schedule. Dad started by going through his week, one day at a time, Monday through Sunday while mom filled up the calendar. Then my eldest brother, seated at my dad’s left, had his turn highlighting all his events for the week. This usually resulted in calendar adjustments and much negotiating about pick-up and drop-off times. Next, in order of seating, was my baby sister. Dad would look to her and say, “What do you have on Monday?” Being all of four, she would look to my mom and whisper, “What do I have on Monday?” Mom would say “You are free on Monday.” My sister would look to my dad and say, “Nothing.” You get the drift, this continued painfully for each day of the week.

This is about the time the family meeting started to become extremely frustrating for me… and being seated at dad’s right, I still had mom and my little brother’s schedule to listen to before it was my turn. Yep, every week I was last and this whole process was aggravating because we were not allowed to interrupt if it wasn’t our turn. So, even though I knew my Monday and Thursday were in direct conflict with someone else’s pick up times, I had to keep my mouth closed and wait.

To curb my growing unrest, I would tune out and become creative. I have never believed you have to eat everything on your plate, so my leftover food became my canvas for artistic expression and tension relief. I was especially proud of my mashed potato sculptures and you should have seen what I could do with peas. While this completely entertained me, Dad was not a fan. In fact, I began to draw his negative attention. “Sit still.” “Stop playing with your food.” “Put your hands in your lap!”

This is the point in the story where it could have become very ugly. But luckily, I was blessed with parents who believed that children should not only be seen, they should be heard. One family meeting dad bellered, “Why can’t you just sit still and wait your turn!” I put my utensils down, turned and said, “Dad, why don’t you change the meeting so we go around the table and talk about everybody’s Monday. Then, we talk about everybody’s Tuesday. That way I don’t have to sit here waiting for my turn when I know that I have a conflict with everything that mom is writing on that calendar.”

Dad looked at mom. Mom looked at dad. They had a way of communicating without talking that was wonderful and also slightly creepy. Mom finally nodded and Dad said, “You know, you would make a good lawyer.”

From that day forward, our family meetings changed. While it was still painful, it was no longer excruciating. And, being wise, wise parents, they made us clear the table before the meeting commenced so I was no longer tempted to use food as art. Kind of miss those days.

Got Goals?

“Let us cultivate our garden.” 
― Voltaire, Candide

Dad used to schedule meetings with us. He thought important times in our lives required special recognition. He wrote these meetings in his calendar.

The summer after sixth grade, dad scheduled a meeting with me. These meetings were usually held at the kitchen table but occasionally at a restaurant or local ice cream parlor.

This particular meeting was at our kitchen table. I remember it with clarity.

Dad: “This fall you will be starting junior high and I want you to think about what you want to do with the next three years of your life. What are your interests? What do you want to accomplish? What classes do you want to take?”

Me: “Okay.”

Dad: “To help you do this, I want you to write down three goals on this piece of paper. Once you have written them down, I will put them in this envelope and seal them and keep them for you. In three years, I will give this envelope back to you. Then you will be reminded of this day and the goals you wrote and reflect on your junior high years. Did you accomplish your goals? Did you alter your goals? Did you achieve more? Less?”

Me: “Okay.”

Dad: “You see, it is important to go forward in life with purpose. Anyone can live from one day to the next with very little effort. To get somewhere in life you need to make plans, think about your talents, think about your dreams and then forge a pathway to that reality.

Me: “Uh huh.

Dad (pushing a piece of paper and pen across the table to me): “I will give you some time to think. Then I want you to write down three goals for your junior high years. Do you have any questions?

Me: “Ya…Daddy, what’s a goal?

Dad looked at me with his lopsided grin, realizing he had forgotten to factor in my age and inexperience. Then he continued our meeting with more explanations and much encouragement.

I learned a lot about goals that day. His goals. Mom’s goals. Work goals. Family goals. With fledgling confidence, I wrote down my goals and started a journey of being forever driven.

Three years after our meeting, true to his word, dad returned that envelope to me. Not surprisingly, I accomplished all three of my goals plus more.

Goals prepare us for the future. Goals provide us with direction and the freedom to reach beyond our wildest imagination. Goals help us believe in possibilities while distancing us from the voices of those who would be our detractors. Some goals are reached, some goals are altered and some goals are abandoned as we adapt to our ever-changing life.

This weekend, as my husband and I were traveling, we talked about our goals for the next ten years of life. Where do we want to be (both literally and figuratively) ten years from now? I am not sure yet, but I will be, once we finish writing down our new goals.

Picking Up the Tangled Threads

I have been dreaming about my dad. As I go through the boxes of his life, I experience new insight into this wonderful man. This past weekend I emptied stacks of cardboard boxes from his storage room. I organized the items and recycled the cardboard because I found a couple of bugs crawling within. I do not want them to take up residence in my home.

Sifting through the boxes has been one long, arduous treasure hunt. We found his Marine Corps dog tags, a beautiful print from a trip to China in 1979, a 1968 hotel receipt from Hamburg, Germany, a wooden book made in a one room school house on the prairies of North Dakota, and a letter he wrote to me. Each item has evoked emotion; from awe, to wonder, to exasperation (now why did he keep that) to tears (the silent drip down your face kind). It has been quite an undertaking.

Sometimes the emotion became too much for me. At those times I would walk away from the mess and take a break (trying not to think about escaping bugs).

During my breaks, I read, I napped and I worked on a sewing project to gift myself. I love to sew. My husband gets tired of pins and snipped threads mysteriously depositing themselves all over our house. Figuring it was time to solve the thread problem, I found a wonderful pattern to make a thread catcher.

Last night, after I finished sorting and sewing, it occurred to me I had been guided to work on this sewing project on this particular weekend. While picking up the tangled threads of dad’s life I was literally creating something to catch threads. How life expanding.

Today, I feel better and very thankful. Thankful that dad asked me to do something with all of his boxes.

Each life is a story. Dad’s story, woven with threads from family, work and faith, created a beautiful life tapestry. I look forward to sharing his story, tangles and all.


Do you have some tangled threads in your life?

If so, may I suggest the Triangular Thread Catcher Tutorial (from Edna at Needling Things) for some free, easy, keep your hands and mind busy therapy.

I was able to complete my thread catcher in no time at all using fabric scraps I had on hand. I plan to make more of these delights for friends.