Life Full Circle

One evening last week, my 80-year-old dad called and asked if I would meet him Saturday morning at a local funeral home.

“Well, yes, but is there something you haven’t told me?”

Dad said that he had called around to different funeral homes about pre-planning his and mom’s funerals, and he had chosen one and set up a meeting. He said he had been thinking about taking care of the plans for a while to make things easier down the road and he wanted me to go with him. So, we arranged to meet Saturday morning at 10:30.

Coincidentally, Saturday was also the due date for my second grandchild…and my first granddaughter…who was soon to be born to my son and daughter-in-law in Indianapolis.

At 3:00 in the morning on Saturday I awoke from a sound sleep and I didn’t know why. I laid in bed awake for a while, and then dozed off again until about 6:00. As I was getting my second cup of coffee around 7:00, I heard a new text message come through on my phone. It was my son saying my daughter-in-law had gone into labor in the night (around 3:00 a.m.) and they were at the hospital waiting and timing her contractions. He said things were progressing pretty quickly.

While I showered and got ready to leave the house, I thought about the juxtaposition of waiting to hear of the birth of my second grandchild on the same day that I was meeting my dad to help plan my parents’ funerals. When I was a girl, my maternal grandmother would always say, “Old ones die and new ones are born.” At the time, I used to think, well of course; how obvious! But Saturday morning, and all these years later, I realized that she had been talking about the circle of life and how it just continues on.

As I climbed into the car to leave to meet my dad, my phone went off again. It was my son, Ryan, saying that little Hallie Corinne had arrived and both mom and baby were doing great. He said he would call me shortly.

When I arrived at the funeral home, I hugged my dad and said, “You have a new great-granddaughter.”

Hallie Corinne, the new little one whose arrival has brought much joy to our family!

When Did You Know You Wanted To Be A Writer?

If you ask a writer how or when they knew they wanted to write, there’s usually a story. Here’s mine:

On a Saturday in September of 1976, I met Ray Reitz. My friend, Noreen, had asked me to ride with her from where we lived in Elkhart, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois to visit Ray, who was in a rehabilitation hospital there. She told me that Ray was just two years older than me and that he had recently been paralyzed in a diving accident.

During the two-hour ride to Chicago, Noreen told me that Ray was also from our hometown and had broken his neck while swimming in a local creek several weeks after his high school graduation. She said that Ray was a quadriplegic and could not move his limbs below his shoulders.

When I first met Ray, he was quiet and the conversation between us was very awkward. I was 16 at the time and he was just 18. Even though we had never met, I recognized him from school.

Ray had been a senior during my sophomore year and I had noticed his athletic good looks in the school hallways. Later, he told me that he had played tennis for our high school and had been half of the number one doubles team during his senior year.

Shortly after that September visit in Chicago, Ray came home to Elkhart and moved in with his aunt who felt she could care for him. I began visiting him every week and over time we developed a close friendship. Sometimes we would watch TV together, but most of our visits were spent talking and listening to music.

Often, I would stop to see Ray after school and he would be asleep when I got to his room. I would study or sit quietly and wait for him to awake. When he did, he usually said something like, “What are you doing here?” or “Don’t you have anything better to do than watch me sleep?” His dry sense of humor always made me laugh and I knew he enjoyed our visits.

I would tell Ray about school and my classes and the stories I was working on for the school newsmagazine, Genesis. I paid attention to anything going on with the tennis team because I knew that would interest him. Since he was only two years older than me, he still knew a lot of teachers and kids at our high school and he seemed to like hearing about all the “normal things” that were going on.  Sometimes I took friends with me to visit Ray.

Looking back, I was probably a lifeline for him to the carefree youth that he had lost the day of his diving accident. As our friendship grew, he would let me feed him and hold the straw to his mouth when he needed a drink.

If his aunt was out and we were there alone, I would empty his urine bag, but he never liked for me to do that. I would tease him and ask if he’d rather pee the bed, but he would just look away. Having had teenage boys myself now, I know it must have been a very embarrassing thing for him to handle.

On a rainy Saturday in the spring of 1977, we were at his aunt’s house watching a Cubs game and talking. I asked Ray if he would consider letting me interview him and write an article for our high school newsmagazine about his accident and how it had changed his life. He said he would think about it and give me his answer the next time we were together.

During our next visit, Ray said it would be okay for me to write about him and he gave me a list of names of some of his tennis teammates and poker buddies to interview. I spent several weeks finding them at school and setting up interviews during the lunch hour or at night by phone. Most of the guys were happy to talk once I told them that Ray had given me their names and said it was okay.

I worked on the article for several weeks. Because I didn’t have a typewriter, and it was long before anyone had personal computers, I always wrote my articles in longhand on notebook paper at home, and then typed them in the Journalism room at school during my lunch hour.

I was the oldest of three children in my family and the house was always too noisy for me to write before everyone went to bed, so I would write my newsmagazine articles late in the evening. After my brothers were asleep, I would spread out my papers of collected research and my dictionary on the kitchen table and begin writing. Faintly in the distance, I would hear bits of Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show coming from my parent’s bedroom TV.

To this day, I remember the night I wrote the article about Ray. It was the first time I ever prayed before writing. Because he was my close friend, I wanted to get his story right. I wanted it to be factually sound, but I also wanted it to reflect the way he really felt. I wanted Ray to like the article I wrote about him because his friendship meant so much to me.  I wanted to tell his story and the stories of many others. I wanted to be a writer.

I worked on the article until well past midnight and I wrote the entire article in one sitting. As I wrote, I made a list of some facts I wanted to double check with Ray after school the next day.

The next day during lunch, I typed my pages of writing from the night before and then took it to Ray to read after school. He corrected a couple of small details and we discussed some of the quotes from his friends. Overall, Ray seemed pleased with what I had written, and I told him the article was scheduled to be in the final newsmagazine issue of the schoolyear.

In the summer of 1977, I spent a lot of time with Ray. I was working at a soda fountain in a local drugstore, and after work, I would tell him about my co-workers and all of the customers who came to the lunch counter. We often listened to music together and just talked, but if Ray was having a really good day, his aunt would help me get him seat belted into my mother’s big red Buick and we would go for a drive.  Ray was still a teenager and he spent most of his time in bed or in his wheelchair, so our drives were a welcome outing for him!

One evening late in the summer, we were sitting outside under a tree in his aunt’s yard and he asked me to lean toward him. I did and then he suddenly turned his head away and his expression became dark. He said, “If only things were different…I don’t have anything to offer you.” We never talked about that night.

In September of 1977, I started my senior year and I continued visiting Ray as often as I could. I was the “Feature Editor” for the school newsmagazine and was also in Varsity Singers and involved with several other school clubs. One morning near the end of October, I got called out of Chemistry class to go to the main office.

The school principal and Mrs. Dean, my Journalism advisor, were waiting for me. They were both smiling. I had no idea what was going on. Mrs. Dean told me I’d won a national high school writing contest sponsored by the Columbia University Scholastic Press Association.

“I submitted your article about Ray and I kept quiet about it in case the committee didn’t think it was as good as I did. The local newspaper wants to do an article on you and Ray and your friendship. They should be here soon to take our picture together.”

“Do I have time to make a phone call?” I asked Mrs. Dean.

“Are you going to call your mom?”

“Yes, but first I want to call Ray.”

The story of Ray’s accident and all that happened after, our friendship, and the writing competition I won, ran in our local Elkhart Truth Newspaper on Christmas Eve of 1977.   

Ray and I remained close while I finished high school and even after I left for college.   After my years at Purdue, I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and we didn’t see one another very often. During those years, Ray took college classes and later became a computer analyst for the Internal Revenue Service in Indianapolis. He won several awards for his work, including a presidential citation for designing innovative computer programs. Ray died very suddenly in March of 2003 and I didn’t find out until several months later. He was only 44 years old.

I’ve never stopped writing.

Touching Lives From A Distance

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may know that my very first post four years ago, was titled “Write Me A Letter” and was about the simple joy of receiving a hand-written note meant especially for you. Last Friday, mixed in with all the catalogues and junk mail and credit card offers, was a small envelope personally addressed to me.

Before I tell you who it was from, I want to go back in time a bit and tell you that I grew up listening to old time country music. My mother had a stereo that was six feet wide and was a prominent and beautiful piece of furniture in our living room.

Just one side of the giant stereo of my youth!

On that stereo, she played her collection of hundreds of vinyl albums…everything from the Carter Family and Johnny Cash, to Porter and Dolly, George and Tammy, and Conway and Loretta. She was also a big fan of Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, Bill Anderson, Crystal Gayle, The Statler Brothers, George Strait, Vern Gosdin, and Connie Smith. Music was a part of our daily lives and to this day, I still know every word to every song on those vinyl albums she played.

As I became an adult, I continued listening to country music and first bought cassette tapes, and then CDs, of Keith Whitley, Alabama, Emmylou Harris, Lorrie Morgan, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, Clint Black, Martina McBride, Colin Raye, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson, The Judds, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Kathy Mattea, Sara Evans, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Rodney Crowell. There are many more but you get the idea.

About four or five years ago, I was inside a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, waiting for a friend to join me for lunch. As I browsed in the store, there was music playing in the background. The beautiful voices singing the old Everly Brothers song, “Let It Be Me” caught my attention and I asked one of the employees if the CD was for sale.

The singers were Joey + Rory Feek, a husband and wife country singing and songwriting act, and I bought their CD that day. It was called Country Classics…A Tapestry of Our Musical Heritage. After listening to the entire CD, I was a fan. I looked them up online and found out that Joey was originally from Indiana just like me. I grew up in Elkhart and she was from Alexandria.

I never got to see Joey + Rory in concert, but I bought their other CDs and followed their career. I was delighted when Joey gave birth to their daughter and named her “Indiana”. Sometime after Indiana’s birth, it was announced that Joey had cervical cancer and I prayed for her recovery along with their many other fans. One day on Facebook, someone shared one of Rory Feek’s blog posts about his and Joey’s and their family’s personal journey, and it was both uplifting and heartrending.

Sadly, Joey passed away in March of 2016. Since then, Rory has continued to blog about his life and family as they adjust to the new configuration of their lives. He has shared behind the scenes insights into the books and other projects he has done, and the movie that was made about his and Joey’s life together.

Several weeks ago, Rory wrote about a new, one-room schoolhouse that he and friends from his community have built on his land in Tennessee. The school will be for little Indiana and 11 other children, and will open on September 10th. After reading the post, I decided to donate a copy of each of my books to the new schoolhouse.

You can read it here:

As a children’s book author and an avid reader, I want children to love books and stories as much as I do. Over the years, I’ve donated books to many libraries and literacy programs. It gives me great joy to think of children hearing or reading my books and learning about button boxes, laughing at the funny chickens and the rooster, Pretty Boy, and thinking about the people they are thankful for in their lives.

Which brings me back to the envelope I received last Friday. It was a personal thank you note from Rory Feek telling me the books are wonderful and that they will read them to the kids in the schoolhouse. As an author, it doesn’t get much better than that! And yes, I’m still a fan.


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.

Image result for reading a book in an apple tree

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!

Image result for hayloft with hay

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.

Image result for adhesive capsulitis

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.

Image result for graduation caps in the air

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.

The Best Time Of The Year

For the past two weeks, I’ve spent all of my free time working on a new perennial garden. I love annuals too, but I’m partial to the perennial flowers that come back year after year. There’s something nice about the parallel permanence of perennials putting down their roots at the same time that we are putting ours down in this new home. I think it speaks of hope and is a nod to the future.

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I’ve been a gardener for most of my life and I’ve planted many gardens at the homes where I’ve lived. Most of my planting was done in the Midwest where the rule of thumb was to wait until mid-May or around Mother’s Day, before planting to make sure there would be no more freezes.

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Many times, over the years, I have planted a mix of certain colors of flowers together, or perhaps created beds of different flowers in shades of the same color.

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Once, I planted blue Hydrangeas around our pool to match the blue tile that peeked above the water line. They were a lovely blue that first summer, then they came back the second year in a pretty shade of pink. That’s when I learned about alkaline and acidic pH levels in soil and their effect on different flowers!

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For any new gardeners, the pH (potential of hydrogen) scale goes from 0-14, with neutral being right in the middle at 7. What’s really being measured is the concentration of hydrogen (H) ions in the soil. The more hydrogen ions there are, the more acidic or sour the soil, and fewer hydrogen ions mean the soil is more alkaline or sweet.

My Hydrangeas turned pink because the soil around my pool was too alkaline to support the blue flowers. So, to make my Hydrangeas turn blue again, I had to make the soil more acidic. This was pretty easy actually. I turned to my mentor gardener (my mom) who suggested that I place used coffee grounds around the base of my Hydrangeas for a year or two.

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In Texas, the growing season begins earlier and the plants start making their appearances at the local nurseries in March. Before I went shopping for this new garden, I looked through all of my gardening books and read about which plants do best in zone 7 where I now live. After that, I made a wish list of plants and colors.

Since we live in a new house, there were no existing gardens in my backyard. My husband spent an entire Saturday removing the sod and digging up a pie-shaped garden plot for our first flower bed. (He likes gardens too.) Since our soil has a lot of clay, we added multiple bags of top soil to get the area ready for planting.

For this new garden, I decided on a mix of perennial flowers in all different colors. To find the specific plants I was looking for, I had to visit several different nurseries. Most nurseries do a really nice job of separating perennials and annuals. Some even alphabetize the plants in sections of “shade lover” or “sun lover” and have signs with all kinds of useful information for planting.

Plant nurseries are like libraries for me. I can easily get lost in them for a very long time. One sunny afternoon last week, I was slowly making my way through the perennial section at one of our local nurseries and a woman in the section with me looked up and said, “Isn’t this just the best time of the year?”

Indeed, it is!

It took me an entire day to plant the flowers and to add mulch and edging. I was pretty tired and dirty at the end of that day. Happy tired. Because the plants should double in size in the next two or three years, I had to leave room for growth. From experience, I know that the garden will grow and become more lovely each year.

One of my favorite sayings hangs in my writing room. “The Earth laughs in flowers.” I believe that is true. Now that the planning and planting of this flower garden are finished, it’s time for the tending…and for the laughter!





The Icing On The Cake!

Most of you know that in addition to writing this blog, I also write books. In the last four years, I’ve written and published three children’s books. All three are illustrated by my close friend, artist Vicki Guess.

Photo by Seraluna Sanchez

It takes us a year to produce a book. We aren’t very fast, but it’s more important to us to get it right than it is to finish quickly. We are also both working other jobs so we have to make time around the stuff of life for our loves of writing and illustrating.

When we are working on a book, we each work independently and we also meet monthly, halfway between our two homes, and work on every page together. We want the words and the illustrations to meld seamlessly into a book that is a joy to both read and see.

Our first book was a finalist in the national 2016 Best Book Awards

On April 7th at the 2018 North Texas Book Festival, our third book, “The Day The Turkey Came To School” won the award for Best Children’s Book. We didn’t expect to win because we had won in 2017 for our second book, “Which Came First?” and because the other two finalists in our category had created some darn good books.

Photo by Seraluna Sanchez

To say we are thrilled, is an understatement. We are incredibly humbled and grateful, and jumping up and down excited! It isn’t just the award that has us so delighted…it’s the recognition.

This year, our book was evaluated by adults and elementary school children. We consider them both to be our audience. We want to create books that children love, and books that parents and teachers and librarians like to read too.

This past weekend, Vicki and I had a book signing at a store in Dallas. I asked her what it means to her that our books have won these awards. She said, “It validates what we are doing; that we can touch people’s lives with the work that we love to do.”

Winning the Best Children’s Book Award for our last two books, means that what we are doing is working. It’s a shout out to the world that we are creating books that are worth noticing…and that means so much to us.

In June, we will begin working on our fourth book together. We are discussing three of my stories and trying to decide which one will be the next book. Because our first three books have been recognized with honors and awards, we are determined to work even harder to make the next book something really special and worth the wait!

Photo by Jeff Hull

Illustrator, writer, graphic designer, Crystal Wood,  for all three books

Authors note: Thank you to all of you who have loved our first three books. It’s our privilege and pleasure to be able to create them for you!

A blog by Janet Sever Hull