What We Keep

At about 3pm today I sat here in the family room just completely broken. Astrid was demanding my time – asking for scissors, or for me to look at a picture she made, or for clean socks, or something. But I just shushed her again and again. I put my hand up to keep her back.


So I could hear.


I had invited her to sit on my lap and watch and listen with me  – but the people on the screen didn’t interest her.


So I sat and watched and listened to history. My history. Their history. Our history. And I sobbed. Big loud and heavy tears type sobbing.


As I was cleaning out our books and movies and music, I found the DVD that my uncle had burned from the video at my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary party in 1997.  I had never watched it before. I put it in and there on my screen were my grandparents. Just as I remember them. Now both gone, but there all of a sudden in front of me and so full of life like always.


I smiled and stood up to touch the screen at the place where I could touch my grandpa’s face. I used to sit on his lap and stroke his face – the whiskers and wrinkles – as he would hold me tight on his lap.


I watched the two of them making jokes with each other. Flirting like they always did. Making jokes with the Priest as he blessed their marriage again.


My tears were of joy because there they were in my home. Them. Their voices. Their friends. Alive.


But soon my hand covered my mouth to try to catch my first sob when I heard her laugh.


And I cry again now just typing that. When we talk about saving things as a memory – books, pictures, letters, trinkets – nothing I have of my grandma’s can truly bring her to a place of peace and love in heart. Nothing brings her back to be with me. NOTHING can replace the love she gave to everyone. There’s this void that I’ve felt for nearly nine years since she left us.


And at 3:11pm today I realized what it was.


Her laughter. Her laugh is like no other laugh. This quiet lady had such a big laugh. Unique laugh. Often laugh. And I sat here today hitting rewind -play- pause-rewind  – over and over and over again just to hear her laugh.


“It’s here, Astrid – It’s here – SHE’s here!” I kept saying again and again and again. “She’s right here! We have her. We can have her forever because we still have her laugh!”


And Astrid snuggled in my lap for a few minutes to listen and to meet the great-grandma that she never knew.


The anniversary party soon faded to black and I turned the TV off. My tears continued to fall and I kept wiping and wiping and wiping to no avail. I hugged Astrid tight and tried to make plans to capture more moments like that video. Now we capture such small snippets of life with our phones. But are we capturing what’s really important.  Are we capturing what their grandchildren will want to see and hear one day. They’ll want to remember what she was really like – when she hugged them, when she laughed, when she told funny stories.


It’s hard to guess what could capture that. Because loved ones leave us with these odd material things – furniture, linens, letters. But none of that matters because it’s not them. This helped me today as I made hard decisions to toss or keep. Because I know I have what’s really important. My grandma’s laughter forever in my heart.



Building Sandcastles

My tears surprise me almost as much as my view of the turquoise blue waters of the Pacific Ocean that continue on forever beyond the islands that dot the bay.

I try to keep my sobs buried inside, but as my hands dig deeper into the sand, my cries grow as my sandcastle turrets are formed.

I wipe my eyes with the back of my arms as my hands become caked with shells and wet sand. Salt coats my face from the tears, the water, and the wind at the beach. If someone comes upon me – my tears can easily be blamed on the beach conditions and not on mine.

Who cries on a beach in Costa Rica – a beach filled with sunshine, crushed shells, bronzed and happy vacationers, a melting pina colada resting in the sand near my hip, and an ocean that beckons happiness with waves that lap at my toes like a a playful tickle almost demanding complete bliss to anyone who comes near.

I do.

I spend hours on my creation. My crude castle is built with the only tools I have – my hands, some shells, my heart and soul, and the memories of the sandcastle that we built together last year on a beach about 80 kilometers south of where I now sit.

I dig deep to bring up the wet sand and I create large wells and moats around the buildings. My plan of one or two simple and quick buildings turns to eight and soon a small city. Some are taller than others, but all have the finishing touch that she taught me to add – rows of shells top the building like the frosting on a cake to declare the completion. I pick her favorite colored shells – in hues of yellow and orange as I play the child that I miss so much.

As I cry remembering her last lisped filled words before I flew to Costa Rica this time without her.

“Mommy, all I want you to do is build a sandcastle for me and send me a picture.”

The sand takes the imprint of my foot – my present, but leaves a deeper one of what I’ve left behind. Just months ago the waves crashed on 50 toes as five bodies browned in the hot sun. Three children’s gleeful voices rang loud at the sight of howling monkeys and horses on the beach. We ate outside as a family in the early dark nights listening to the waves and animals in the damp Costa Rican air together.

But now I’m alone.

Vacationing in a new place as a family is like sharing the very best secrets together. Memories and places and times and experiences that can be told to others but can never really be understood. We can share in great detail about our day riding horses through the jungles and galloping on the beach. But unless you were there, you will never know or remember the joy on our faces, the small moments of conversation and discoveries, the smell of the salt air mixed with the wet horse hair, or how the local lunch tasted of newness and goodness like no other lunch will ever taste. Like this is a secret society of discovery or a club that only allows you in half way without whispering the password of our family.

And now I feel like I am betraying our family trust by heading to our secret club without my people. Can I enjoy the beach and beauty of this country fully without whispering to them about my experiences. Am I cheating on our memories.

This is how it is within a family. Shared secrets and dances and lives all intertwined together with a lock to keep others out of our most sacred moments together.

And family travel builds this club house even stronger like the largest scavenger hunt where we all learn and win. Discovering new together is a bond that holds like no other. And why Costa Rica will always be “ours” and never just mine or theirs no matter how many times we go together or alone. And I know that many other places will be the same. From the corners of the Earth to the coffee shop we all share down the street.


So I don’t stop my tears as I step back and admire my love work in the sand. But I do smile as I kneel down to take the picture she requested. Making sure I include the ocean beyond the yellow colored shells that I so carefully picked out just for her.

And I close my eyes and easily bring back the memories of building sandcastles together where I can almost feel her small hands touching mine in the sand, and I know there are many more for us to build together.

Memories and sandcastles.



this is me…

this is me…


-my body is strong from hard work


but still


-my belly is soft as it keeps a warm reminder of holding seven babies – of which three land in my arms each day


-my arms are long and lean and admittedly weak but strong enough to hold me up each day


-my tattoos are like memories etched into my body forever. of a certain place. or time. or man. and i treasure them as marks made of a life well lived


-my hips are wide and my torso is short, inherited from my mother’s side – maybe not my favorite trait – but i see my body in my mom’s and in her sister’s and it reminds me of where my inner strength comes from each day


-my face is angular with high-cheekbones that remind me of the distant Native American heritage passed down through my father. along with my dark eyes that mirror his. his eyes are deep, quiet and kind and i treasure having the same


-my legs are long and travel great distances just like my paternal grandmother did as she exercised each day and showed her beautiful legs off well into her 70s


-my fingernails are ragged and unkept because my hands are always busy and it show the real me. just like my brows will always be wild and not in fashion and my hair needing a trim because i believe there are more important matters to attend to


-my hair is thin and sparse like my maternal grandmothers, so i think of her each morning as i brush my hair with a daily reminder of my loved ones gone like silver flashes of light through the clouds on a dreary day


-my hair is also gray and this week, after months without a color appointment, I smile at as the top of my head shows a new hue publicly. and i’m okay with that


-my face is serious and lined with experience, heartache, bravery, and calm from a life so full that it allows the bad in because without it, the good would not feel so fresh and unexpected


-my laugh matches my brother’s, as it should because no one can mirror your childhood like your sibling


-my body has taken me far and it knows the journey is still in its infancy


-my body is mine, and the finest thing i own. from the first touch by my parents on the day i was born, from holding my new babies on my stomach, to today as i reflect at the middle-aged woman i’ve become – this is me


-my body has beauty and faults and it encompasses my whole life and where i came from – giving me pieces of ancestry like little gifts that i appreciate each day when i catch the reflection of my true self. my beautiful self


-my body is sexy and perfect and strong – no matter the tiny imperfections that only i really see


-my body is a reflection of my life lived. a house of memories that no one else has




this is me



For #ThroughTheLensThursday with the prompt Reflection


Do You Eat Crisco Right From The Can…

Sometimes I think about the treats my mother would give us when we were little.

And I would wonder why she could not just bake us a nice cookie maybe?


Oh right, she could not bake. Bless her heart.

So my mom would give us a spoon of Crisco dipped in granulated sugar.


40 years later I need to know if any of your mothers passed off Crisco and sugar as a treat to you?

Also I need to know if you ate it. Because we did. And by god we loved it.


Come to think of it, her second favorite treat to offer was a knife and a Dixie cup of white sugar as she told us to go cut some rhubarb stalks back by the garage.

And we would sit there and dip freshly cut rhubarb into sugar and take yummy sour bites.


Perhaps dreaming about cookies.


I tried to offer my girls rhubarb dipped in sugar and they thought I lost my mind.

They don’t know what they are missing.


But whenever I run across a very old recipe for cookies that is meant to be made with Crisco….I make it and it tastes just like my childhood.


And you bet I sneak a fingertip full of Crisco dipped in sugar when nobody is looking.

While I thank my mom for the simple things in life.

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Crisp Cookies

6 T shortening

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

4 T granulated sugar

1 egg

1/2 t vanilla

1/2 cup flour

1/2 t salt

1/4 t soda

1 1/2 cups oatmeal

Typical instructions – cream the wets and add the dry and mix well. Drop by rounded teaspoon onto cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12-15 until flat and crispy and melt in mouth delicious. Bound to remind you of the Summer of 1972.


Unless of course you were not born yet..that would be freaky for you to think about the Summer of 1972 if you were not alive. But trust me..it was good.


If You Had to Choose Judy Blume’s Forever over Catechism…

Jed is insulating our attic. Our home is 100 years old with originals windows, no insulation and a cavernous attic with holes that were finally patched. We feel almost bad for the bats we’ve kicked out.  My job is to clean out the attic. When we moved into our home seven years ago I was eight months pregnant and unwilling to go through our belongings so we just moved it all in and I spent the two moving in days sending nearly everything to the attic that wasn’t a bowl or a fork or a couch or a bed.


Most of it now has a layer of seven year old dust, bat poop and faded memories.

I put Eloise in charge of her sisters as I climbed the steep wooden stairs and pulled the light on and went through box, by box, by box.  Nearly 65 years of memories filled these boxes. My mother’s tea set from when she was a child. Her dolls. The ‘jade’ ring my grandfather probably ordered from The Parade Magazine.  Eloise’s preemie sized coming home outfit. Hard to believe it was huge on her. How could my almost five feet tall eight year old weigh less than five pounds.


My yearbooks, journals and albums, my box of notes that we passed in history that were still perfectly folded.  My homecoming dance pictures and concert tee shirts. Beer bottle caps that must have meant something at the time and my Madonna white lace headband.


I made a huge pile of trash – pieces of incomplete games and 7th grade honor night programs.  Topped it off with old stuffed animals and outdated picture frames. I donated my 22 business suits that were probably from Casual Corner in 1997 and I am doubtful I will ever wear cream pumps again.The crib is now gone and the glider rocker needs to go on craigslist this week.


All of this – the toys, the baby stuff, the old memories, heirlooms and pictures took a very short time to go through.


It was the books that kept my girls waiting for me. I found boxes and boxes of books. Books from AP English – Madame Bovary and Lord Jim..with my damn symbolism notes in the margin of each page and an occasional heart with “Tracy + Jon” that was then crossed off and replaced with “Tracy + Scott.”


I found my mother’s 1955 Girl Scout handbook, her Catechism book from around the same time next to my Catechism book that looked never opened. I thought about the First Communion classes I started and dropped. I wondered how many other second graders did the same.


No matter, I decided I would keep those books and I put them gently back in the box. I put the full collection of pre-1999 Danielle Steele in the donation pile.


Underneath My First Catechism Book I found the complete collection of Judy Blume. I dug out Superfudge, Freckle Juice, Tales of a Forth Grade Nothing, Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself, Iggie’s House and Blubber for Eloise to read now. I stuffed away Then Again Maybe I Won’t, Deenie and Are You There God it’s Me Margaret for perhaps fifth grade…and I kept Tiger Eyes, Forever and Wifey for myself to read now.


I opened my early edition copy of Forever, the pages nearly falling out. I must have read this books 58 times in high school. Or was it junior high? Scandalous. Oh Ralph.


Maybe I will share these with Eloise when she is sixteen. By then she will think they are boring and ridiculous. Just like most of the memories I’ve closed back up in those boxes in the attic that she can go through someday.


Collecting more dust. But bat poop free.



The Northern Girl…

I saw the old farm dog approaching me. He trotted towards me on the dirt road and was carrying something small in his mouth.  His tail wagged as he got closer and he proudly dropped it at my feet.


A black kitten. Barely a week old. With a broken neck.


I ran to the barn and climbed the ladder to the hay loft looking for the mama cat and her four black kittens. The kittens were gone and the mama was crying as she paced and sniffed around the hay.


A dog can’t climb a ladder.


I was sobbing as I ran to the farmer’s house and pounded on their door yelling “Mr. Winters, Mr. Winters – the kittens…they’re gone….they’re dead. Please come help!!!!”


Mr. Winters came to the door and knelt down to wipe my tears and comfort me.  This man who I spent almost every moment with after school, on weekends, during Summer vacation. This man who had his wife bake cookies for me and would take me for rides on his tractor. This man who would help me save all the county cats and bring them back to his barn to be my playmates. This man who made this Yankee girl from the big city up North who moved to this small town just north of the Missouri Compromise feel like this could be home.


And then he told me he broke those n*gg*r kitten necks because he didn’t want any of them around his farm.


I walked away sobbing even harder. Not for those kittens but because I just lost my best friend in the whole world.


The cats were the last straw in trying to accept or ignore the hate in that town. The town that according to the 2000 census is still 99.9% white.


The first straw may have been the way this nine year old was called a Yankee in 1977. Or hearing the n word used like it was just an everyday noun. By children.  Maybe it was the way I was made fun of for my Northern accent. Or maybe because this girl who knew Catholicism was suddenly Methodist..because wasn’t everybody?


Or maybe it was the way our school principal made an announcement when an Asian family moved to town that we were not suppose to talk to the children if they showed up at school. Or maybe it was how that family left 24 hours later. Maybe it was the way everyone would stop and stare if they saw an African American family drive through town on their way somewhere else. Quickly.


And I was only nine and ten and then eleven and then twelve. And I just stood there angry. SO DAMN ANGRY at that town for what they were. And what they said. And how they treated people. And for what they taught their children. MY FRIENDS.


So I escaped it all..and spent my days up at the old barn. Feeding and chasing cats, making ‘wine’ from the old farmer’s grape vines, enjoying honeysuckle butter, playing hide and seek among the rows of corn, and chasing the cows in the pasture.  Spending time with my best friends – a 60 year old farmer and his wife.


Until the day he broke my heart beyond repair.


This was written as a Memoir for the following prompt for Write on Edge.

We all have them.

Memories that we wish we could forget…things that we wish we could banish from our minds.

Imagine that writing down your worst memory will free you of it.

What is it?

Why does it haunt you?

What could you have done differently?”




Cabernet and C-sections…Post Edit at the end..

We savored our dinner that night. Appetizers, salads, main course, dessert, coffee. We sat with good friends and laughed for hours like we had nothing waiting for us at home.  I even took a few sips of Jen’s Cabernet.  She promised not to tell anyone.

Jed helped me gently from my chair when the evening had to end, and helped me catch my balance while standing – all nine months pregnant me.

The few sips of wine and suddenly rising after an evening of lounging brought immediate and hot color to my cheeks. My lips formed a smile as we kissed our friends good-bye and I took deep breath as the reality set-in that this was our last night out before our second daughter arrived in just a few weeks.

18 days away from our scheduled c-section.

I brushed my teeth, washed my face and changed into my ditsy rose print pajamas and settled onto the couch for the late news as the first pain came. Hard. Surprising. Foreign. I caught my breath and tried to relax as the pain subsided.  Ten minutes later, the pain returned.

I thought about the conversation at my last appointment.  After an emergency c-section a month early with my first baby, I wanted a chance for a natural delivery this time.  The first time I had a midwife, birthing classes, plans for a natural birth, no drugs.  I didn’t even get a chance to go into labor for any of that to happen.

So we made two plans – a scheduled c-section date but if I went into labor early, a natural birth we could have.

I giggled softly between the pain knowing that this was my chance.

I called my doctor and she told me to labor at home if I was comfortable with that and come in when my contractions were four to five minutes apart. The hospital was a four minute drive.

So I labored joyously at home anticipating her arrival.

At four in the morning I could barely breathe, the contractions were hard and close together. I climbed the stairs to wake Jed to let him know it was time, I called my aunt to come stay with Eloise, and I packed a small bag while taking breaks to brace myself against the wall in pain as the hard labor continued. The pain had ignited me into action.

As I grabbed my bag and started my descent of the stairs I felt liquid run down my leg as the next contraction consumed my body.  Instinctively my hand went between my thighs to stop this release.

And as I brought my hand back up to steady my descent I saw it was covered in blood.


This memoir written for The Red Dress Club writing prompt:

“Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them. For example: a ruby, a tomato, fire, blood.”

Post Edit: No one loves a good cliffhanger? I had a placental abruption. Not very common and very scary to say the least. We ran every light on the way to the hospital while on the phone with my doctor. They met us at the entrance with a gurney and full team.  I’m not sure a c-section was ever performed so quickly before. Esther arrived healthy and simply beautiful. Sure my plans were changed, but holding that sweet babe made me realize what was really important.


At the Car Wash…

Saturday was car wash day at our home. Sometimes also Sunday. Or a Tuesday in June if it was a particularly dirty week or I accidentally touched the window with my finger.  I was eight so it was known to happen.

We sprayed, we soaped, we scrubbed, we dried. We used a professional grade chamois.  (A good chamois was the perfect Christmas gift.)  We waxed on and off, we shined wheels, scrubbed tires and used Armour All on the steering wheel so much that our car was a legal weapon.  We washed windows – inside and outside.  We beat floor mats and vacuumed upholstery.

We didn’t slam doors, we used only the handle to get in and out, we didn’t touch windows. I am pretty sure I didn’t eat goldfish in the backseat. Were goldfish around in 1975?  We didn’t sit on the hoods, we didn’t lean on the doors. We admired our really clean cars.


In college I received car wash kits for Christmas. I had my own chamois and bottles of Armour All under the sink.  I was the only college student in the apartment building who owned a hose and hand-washed her car in the parking lot.


I look in the rear-view mirror and see Astrid throwing goldfish crackers on the car floor. Esther is writing her name in the window frost.  Eloise has her wet boots on the upholstered seat in front of her.

I drink a grande latte and see yesterday’s cup on the floor.  Pennies, nickles and receipts litter the floor.  Crumbs line the seats and floor boards.  You can still see the remnants of yesterdays tic-tac-toe game on the back window frost. I see the stains on the back of both front seats from 8 years of snowy boots.

The back of my truck is caked with mud from stroller wheels. I remove the car seats and there are permanent marks on the bench. My floor mats are missing. Stains of spilled cups of coffee cover the carpet by my feet.

The paint is scratched because I let my kids use the keys to get themselves in the car. More scratches from backpacks, car seat transfers and bicycle accidents.

I find wrappers and bags and extra napkins in the back from where we’ve had picnics sitting in the way back with the hatch up on a hot Summer day.

In every nook and cranny I find goldfish crackers, plastic toys and small books. Crayons, pencils and hair-bows are also among the precious loot.

In the rare instance that I take my truck to the car wash I sit in sadness watching my kids fingerprints melting away in the water. I nearly sob as I vacuum up the last month of their life of car pools and rides to friends houses. I laugh as I find the homework that Eloise lost last month.


Sometimes I want a shiny new car. Sometimes I want to keep this car forever. It defines my motherhood.

Sometimes I think I should take better car of it, but most of the time I know that for now I am focusing on the important stuff.


This post was written as a memoir for The Red Dress Club. This week we were to write a post based upon the photo above.


Canning Day…

Giving two kids their own carts at the grocery store is like herding cats.  I find myself yelling “too fast” “too slow” “watch out for that person” “don’t run into the sides” ” stay to the right!” The whole time I feel out of control as I try to shop, keep the baby entertained and keep the whole store safe from my cart wielding children.

When Esther’s cart hit the side of the aisle and a jar of pickles fell and shattered, I snapped. “Look what you’ve done, how could you hit the shelves, I told you not to run, you need to be more careful, that is the last time you get your own cart!” My yelling continued and I felt broken and out of control until the sweet and tangy smell of the dill and vinegar pickle brine that smashed on the floor reached me. I paused and closed my eyes.  I stopped yelling and remembered again what it was like to be six.


My grandmother would can pickles nearly every August. I am not sure of her exact schedule, but I would like to think she waited for our visit to start canning.  Her small kitchen was full with bushels of cucumbers, pots of vinegar brine simmering on the stove, and fresh dill making a mess of the counter-tops.

My grandmother was busy giving orders to her army of helpers – six daughters and an eager granddaughter.  I always wanted the job of stirring the pot of brine. I wanted to measure and mix the sugar and salt and vinegar. I wanted to sample the sour goodness as it boiled, but my grandma always gave me the job of stuffing the jars.

I had the smallest hands.

“You need to stuff six to eight cukes in each jar.” She would instruct. It was like a puzzle to me  – each cuke a little different size and shape, I would stuff and shove to make just enough room for each. I would then pry them apart and stuff dill and garlic down inside the jar.

My hands would smell of dill and garlic for days reminding me of canning day. How my grandma would lean over my small body and help me fit in just one more cucumber. How when I made a mess, or broke a jar, or spilled some brine she never yelled.

The beautiful cuke filled jars were lined up on the table and one by one they were covered with hot brine and quickly sealed, the lids labeled and left to cool. I sat at the table resting my chin in my hands watching the brine swirl around the cukes that I stuffed.

After they cooled I would carefully carry them down the cellar stairs and around the corner to the cupboard that my grandfather built.  I opened the old wooden door and lined them up in a neat order next to the canned corn and tomatoes.   I would reach across and grab a jar of pickles with last years date on it and hold it tightly against my chest as I carried it upstairs for my grandmother to open.

We would sit in her now clean kitchen and crunch on our sweet rewards for another completed canning day.


I knelt down and starting picking up the pieces – the glass on the hard store floor, the quick and painful words I shot to my daughter. It was just an accident, one of many childhood accidents that are met better with honey than vinegar.

My Grandmother’s Dill Pickle Recipe:

3 Quarts Water

1 Quart Vinegar

3/4 C kosher or canning salt

1/2 t red pepper

1/2 t alum(this was used to firm the pickles – not sure if it is still used today)



Small pickling cucumbers

Boil and sanitize jars. Pack jars with cucumbers, dill and garlic. Bring mixture of first 5 ingredients to a boil and pour over the cukes. Seal as directed for canning.

Usually can be enjoyed in about 4-8 weeks.

Memories will be enjoyed for a lifetime

Written as a memoir for the Red Dress Club Prompt –  think of a sound or a smell the reminds you of something from your past and write a post about that memory.


On the other side of the Mountain…

Going through customs was always a chore. A long line, tired and disheveled travelers, an unfriendly customs agent.

I had been here many times before. I knew the drill. How to spot the faster moving lines, the agents who would be the easiest, the lines with business people – few tourists or children.

For years I had collected the stamps of the world..Japan, Thailand, China, Russia, India, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Italy and more.  My passport was full, pages added at the American Consulate in Amsterdam.  My work visa stamped 100’s of times.

Mostly for business, but interspersed with pleasure. The life of a single woman with luggage.  And only a cat.

My flat was mostly bare except for basic furniture and peanut butter. My cat liked his sitter better than me.  My clothes kept to the dry cleaner or the suitcase. I had no use for a closet.

The weekends were for a quick beertjie with friends or a weekend excursion again to another land if my boyfriend came to town.

Love.  This was the life I was meant to have.  To greet the mornings with Turkish coffee on a boat in the Mediterranean, a business meeting in Paris with fresh croissants, a quick courtesy bow and greeting at my next negotiation in Tokyo, a fun night at the markets in Thailand, or holding hands as we strolled on the beaches of the red sea.


We arose at 2am on that Tuesday morning.  We dressed quickly in layers and packed a bag of water and snacks.  My body was heavy and slow.  My mind tried to wrap itself around the journey that lay ahead that day.  Our driver honked in impatience as we rubbed our sleepy eyes and dropped our bodies into the van.  The 10 minute bumpy ride on the gravel road woke us up.  He dumped us out at the base of the mountain, where 100’s of other sleepy souls were gathering in the darkness.   A sea of nuns, camels, back packers, monks, religious pilgrims, Bedouins, and people just like us made up the sea of anticipation and desperation for coffee.

But I was the one met with many stares in the faint light of the candles, flashlights and torches of the monastery.  Their double takes as they passed me made me uncomfortable.

We started down the path. Dark, bumpy, unmarked.  Just following the people. People ahead, camels behind.  We had a 3 hour climb ahead of us.  I, an accomplished marathon runner, thought what an easy feat.  But soon we were being passed.  Soon I had to take a seat on the rough mountain rocks and rest at every other switchback.  Soon I wondered if we would make it in time.

3 hours, 7500 feet, miles of climbing and 700 steps, the chapel on the summit finally lay before me.  The mountain top that we all traveled here to claim.  And on that day, a beautiful sea of people sitting, standing, breathless and completely silent as we waited for the sun.

My heavy, weak body stumbled as we searched through the crowd for the perfect spot facing East.  A young man from Australia saw me, got up quickly and gave me his perfect perch upon the rock jutting out over the landscape below.   An unobstructed view.

And as the sun broke the horizon, there was a collective silence on Mt. Sinai. Many in prayer.  I laid my hands on my belly – 7 months pregnant with my first child and cried tears of joy for this new day, this new beginning, this unplanned detour that was sent my way.  This miracle to break my wanderlust.


The customs line was long that day we landed home in Amsterdam via Cairo.  Heavy and tired, the other weary travelers let me cut through.   Maybe they knew this would be my last customs line for awhile. I entered my apartment and happily packed away my passport knowing full well I didn’t need any stamps to document my next adventure.


Written for the Red Dress Club Prompt – this is a non-fiction piece about a time when I took a detour.


How to Apologize to your Grandma and Bake Sugar Cookies..

The kitchen was filled with laughter, stories and flour.  Flour covered our hair, the walls, counters and floors.  The girls made little finger tracks in the mess – tracing pictures, words and tiny roads.  Each drawing they made was etched into my memory forever.


December 11th was my grandma’s birthday. She would have been 83 this year.  We now bake our annual holiday cut-out cookies on her birthday each year.  We mix and roll and cut and bake while I tell them stories on their Great-Grandmother.  How she gave the best hugs, had the best laugh and always had gum.

The recipe we used each year was from her family – from her sister Joyce.  I always though she made the best cut-out cookies that were perfectly decorated…and they were passed on to my Aunt Sandy – who perfected them.
And each year, we have made these – and to be honest, I could never do it right.  It wasn’t the same as eating them at Great-Aunt Joyce’s home, or at our holiday’s spent at Aunt Sandy’s.

But I made them anyway, because I felt I should.  We had a ball baking them – but they would sit mostly uneaten until I threw them away a week later.

On the morning of December 11th I took a deep breath, opened a cookbook, first glanced up to heaven and said “Gram – happy birthday – I love you and miss you and would do just about anything to hear your laughter right about now. You are missing the first snowstorm of the century, we are baking cookies, and the holidays are upon us.  You are missed.  You should be here”

But then I said “I have to tell you that either I suck at baking our family cookies or the recipe is wrong and I just cannot waste them anymore and as much as I love you, I cannot bake those cookies again.”

And I didn’t.  And I would like to think she forgave me as I create my own traditions.  Because what we did bake mixed, rolled and cut like a dream.  The glaze was perfect – tasty and firm, yet easy to use.  And the TASTE – somehow 5 dozen cookies disappeared in 2 days.

As the last cookies dried, I boxed them up carefully, maybe eating just one more star as it didn’t quite fit right, and thought of my Grandmother and her traditions. If I closed my eyes tight, I could see her and her 7 young children baking pies and cookies at Christmas.  I pictured the flour all over the table and floors, and little girls noses.  Little girls running their fingers through the mess, writing their names in cursive..fighting over licking the bowl. The dough was always a bigger reward than the finished cookies.
Because no matter the taste of the cookie, the touch of your family at Christmas is what you remember year after year, and what stays with you to pass on to your children.


Sugar Cut-out Cookies from my Aunt Debbie(these were so easy, yummy and baked up perfectly)

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 T water

1 t soda

1 t vanilla

pinch of salt

3 1/2 cup flour

Cream butter and sugar  – add the rest of ingredients and mix well. Chill. Roll, cut and bake at 350 8-10 minutes.

Perfect glaze(adapted from an allrecipe’s recipe that I tweaked a bit) – amazing flavor, shiny glaze that was easy to work with and dried perfectly

1 cup powdered sugar

3 t milk (plus or minus based upon the consistency you want)

2 t lt corn syrup

1/4 t almond extract

food coloring as desired.

Sweet Shot Day


Just a Perfect Day…

When I get to see both my dad’s the day before Father’s Day.

And I get a picture of the oldest member of the family with the youngest. And she let’s him hold her. And she – nor he – doesn’t cry.
Not that you are old, Jack.  But as you reminded me today – you were born well before television and people probably had more sex then.  Especially in the winter. In Minnesota.
I still look at Jack and my dad and see them as they were when I was a child and they were in their 30’s.  They look the same in my eyes. And maybe I look 10 to them.

When I am reminded they are not – I take pause.
And cherish every.single.moment I see them.  Every.single.moment they hug their grand kids. And every.single.moment they smile.
Because it is just a perfectly ordinary  and happy day when I get to spend it with them.
Happy Father’s Day.





(my aunt sandy and my mom)

I asked my mom what it is like to have a mother’s day and to not be able to call your mother.  Can you still enjoy it as a mom and grandmother, even without your own mom to call?

She didn’t really answer me(which perhaps answers my question in the action) and instead wrote a quick story about what it was like for her growing up.  Her mother wasn’t perfect, just like the rest of us.  Shocking isn’t it?  It’s our imperfections that make us good mothers – vulnerable, open to learn, living and learning from love.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the women in my life(and to those who are no longer here to call).

My Mom

by Ginny Brandt(Tracy’s Mom)

My Mother was such a special lady.  She was unlike anyone I have ever met.  She was the center of our family.  We all loved her more than words can express, even if she wasn’t one to outwardly express her love.

In my 50+ years of having her in my life I don’t remember her ever talking about another personal unkindly, she didn’t swear, spank, smoke and she was a great listener.

But while I was growing up,  she worked outside the home, so as the family grew we became responsible for one another – there are 7 of us, 6 girls and 1 boy.  I am the oldest. Here are things I remember:  We all had responsibilities around the house every day and every Saturday was cleaning day, her method of discipline was random threats whenever she was frustrated “if you do that one more time I will —” (which of course NEVER happened), we went to church every Sunday, and came home to a dinner of fried chicken and either visited relatives or danced to our 33’s.

Heaven forbid we should talk about personal stuff like periods, dating or SEX!!!  Her teaching method for that was “get a book to READ about it”!  I think she saw me attend one school dance, otherwise was working.  She did not attend PTA and is she had her druthers would have preferred to stay out of the school altogether –  which may have stemmed for the fact she had only completed the 10th grade.  She never helped us with homework and never asked if we had it completed.

We had a clean house, laundry done, meals in our bellies and we knew to stay “in-line”.  We didn’t go on shopping trips (other than to buy our 1 outfit to start school), we didn’t eat at fast food places (although once in a while as a treat we went to the A & W) but we were allowed to go anywhere we wanted as long as we were home by dinner time and bed time!!

No hugs and no kisses and no I love you’s.

Wow just reading this makes me realize how things have changed.
Now here is the realization of my upbringing and my Mother’s Love:  We all graduated, some attended college or business school (which we all paid for ourselves), we all are employed and drugs or alcohol were ever an issue.  We are a close family and as we grew older we became good friends with our Mother (still didn’t really talk about “personal stuff”!)  She had a wonderful sense of humor and I for one loved to call her and tell her something funny just to hear her laugh.  We lived 700 miles away but I called her almost every day. I MISS HER – I WISH I COULD HOLD AND KISS HER

This weekend for Mother’s Day the 6 of us girls will fly to Florida from 4 different states to spend time with each other and remember Mom.
Maybe the moral of my story is :  You don’t have to be the center of your children’s world to become the center of theirs……..  Happy Mother’s Day.

Love you, Mom