Category Archives: Family

Michigan or Bust!

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

I have always had a strong sense of place. Born in Iowa, I grew up regarding Minnesota as my natural home. I left Iowa in 1960, and for 54 years I was proud to call myself a Minnesotan. Then in 2014 I sold my pink bungalow and moved to Portland, Oregon, driving 1,745 miles in two ferocious days. The main reason for changing my life so dramatically was a desire to be closer to my daughter and grandson. On Trail Baboon “Saint Paul Steve” became “Happy Valley Steve.” I settled into an apartment near the top of a small mountain. In view of my age, I was sure I’d never set foot outside of Oregon. Indeed, because of my physical limitations, I have not often set foot outside my apartment in three years.

Guess what? In June I will travel 2,400 miles to set up a new home in Michigan. “Happy Valley Steve” will become “Port Huron Steve,” or something like that. I’ll get a Michigan driving license and slap Michigan plates on my old Subaru.

Why make such a dramatic move when I only got to Oregon three summers ago? My son-in-law has accepted a job in Port Huron, the town he grew up in and where his mother and brother still reside. He, my daughter and my grandson returned to his childhood home for Christmas a few weeks ago. That home, built in the 19th century, is parked right on the edge of the Saint Clair River. The photos with this article were taken of that on their visit. My son-in-law came back to Portland convinced he really belonged in the Midwest, and that he should do something to make a return to Port Huron possible.

And me? How is it that I’m moving back to the Midwest? I’m like a gimpy old dog that my family rescued from a canine shelter. Having adopted me, they cannot abandon me now. I should start rooting for Michigan athletic teams, for they routinely kick the butts of Minnesota teams. In any fight between a gopher and a wolverine, my money is on the wolverine! But my heart still hopes the gopher will prevail. Hey, you Gophers, Ski-U-Mah! Whatever the hell that means.

I hope the upcoming move will be less wrenching than the one I’ve done. It would be even nicer if I feel more at home in Port Huron than I have in Portland. Oregon is astonishingly beautiful, at least in places, and Portland is a fascinating city. It is only slightly less quirky than “Portlandia” suggests. I expected to feel at home with Portland’s progressive politics, but each day I spend here offers fresh proof that I am a Minnesotan and always will be. I have found Portland to be like a gorgeous girlfriend who chain smokes and makes a toxic mess of her personal finances. She’s irresistible, yet it is hard to believe things will end well for her. And whenever I drive through Portland a little voice whispers, “This isn’t home, is it? We don’t belong here.”

My daughter knew it would not be easy to tell my grandson, Liam, about the move. Ever since he was a toddler, Liam (now seven) has struggled with “transitions.” Now he faces losing all his friends and leaving his wonderful Montessori school to start up life again in a strange land where nobody knows him. Liam raised some concerns, which his mother attempted to address. Then Liam said, “But Grampy, Mom . . . what about him? I can’t leave Grampy behind!” My daughter said, “Oh, no Liam! We’d never leave Grampy. When we move, he comes with us.” Liam reflected and finally smiled. “Well, then I guess we’re good. We can do this.”

When have you taken a leap of faith and moved?

Grandpa’s Wallet

Today’s post comes to us from Jacque.

Recently I have felt a rush of appreciation from family and a newly found old friend.   The most recent appreciation episode is from someone long ago, my Grandpa who died in 1964.  As I have mentioned, I have been sorting through family pictures and papers, slowly making tedious progress.  Last week I took apart my old picture albums, and threw away duplicates (did I really need four copies of the many pictures taken at my first wedding, the ensuing marriage which ended in divorce?  I think not.)  This reduced the picture collection by 75%, to a mere 5 picture boxes to organize and cull more.  I will set this aside for a while.

Now I am starting to pick through the three overflowing plastic bins of papers, letters, deeds, cattle pedigrees and, yes, more pictures that are not mine, but my parents’, grandparents’, and great grandparents’ memorabilia. There in one bin I found Grandpa Stratton’s wallet, which my mother must have kept after he no longer lived with us in 1963.   His wallet contained a 1960 paper driver’s license, hand-typed and signed with no identifying picture, his fishing license much the same as the driver’s license, and my kindergarten picture with a four leaf clover pressed into it.  He and I spent a lot of time seeking four leaf clovers.

Looking at this gives me a poignant moment, remembering a loving Grandpa. My kindergarten forehead is stained with the patina created by a copper snap in the wallet, which ate through the picture sleeve.  The four-leaf clover is flat and fragile and dear.  It brings tears to my eyes.  I cannot throw away the old wallet because of the picture and the shamrock.  It now lies in my desk drawer where I can sneak a peak at it on a bad day(s) in which nobody else loves me enough.

My wallet is remarkably utilitarian compared to Grandpa’s wallet. I carry all my pictures of the Grandchildren on my phone, leaving the wallet to house plastic cards, coins, receipts,  and disorganized bills of various denominations.  No sentiment there at all.

What is in your wallet?

Are You Positive?

Today’s post compliment of tim.

mr ehlers was the badass teacher who taught drivers training at my high school

he hated hippies

he gave hell to everyone I knew except me. he was never nice but never gave me trouble. i think my friends noticed and asked but i didn’t have any idea what was going on.

years later my mom who was the art teacher in the school said mr ehlers had come up and told her “ that’s some son you have”

“why” she asked

he told her that some mean kids had been in the lunchroom and run into mike kennedy on purpose and knocked the books out of his hands.

mike was a big guy who was a special needs kid that was so good natured he had no enemies but he would notice that some people acted mean or stupid or do things to be funny just showing off for their friends. He was very philosophical about life. He had been that way when I was in first grade and met him at swimming lessons. He always had a smile and a story and told me how his sister karey was (i had a severe crush on her) so when the kids knocked the books out of his hands I went over to him and told him that i saw the kids acting stupid and helped him pick up his books. a pat on the back and a see ya later was all that went on that day but mr ehlers caught me doing something right and he was never able to see me as a hated hippy after that.

i try to remember that all the people who are driving me crazy in everyday life are not doing anything mean or intentionally trying to drive me nuts. they are just doing there little moment of life in front of me and that is how I get to base my conclusion as to if i would like to have coffee with them or not.

sometimes I try to remember that I am acting in a way that other people get to respond to too. am I really who I want to be?

i like getting caught being the right person

the one minute manager was a popular book in the early stages of my business life. it was a simple idea. if you are a manager try to catch people doing something right and praise the heck out of them. every time you catch them praise the heck out of them.

have you gotten positive feedback for being yourself?

A One-derful Year

Today’s post comes to us from Occasional Caroline.

I believe I’ve created a thing. At least I think it deserves to be “a thing” and to the best of my knowledge I thought it up.

Once per decade, beginning at age 21, we each have a full year of being “one-derful.” Twenty-onderful, thirty-onderful, etc.

Whenever anyone I know achieves a one-derful age, I urge them to invoke, acknowledge, and bask in it throughout the year. Many look at me oddly, but I think it should be a thing, celebrated by all. The “Golden Birthday” is a thing but I like my invention better. For one thing, Golden is really only celebrated on the actual birthday; if you were born early in a month, you’re too young to appreciate it when it happens to you. Never an issue with one-derful birthdays. Anticipation of a one-derful birthday can help take the sting out of entering a new decade; when you have a “significant” birthday, you’re only a year away from a one-derful one.

I rest my case.

What have you invented?

Minute Memories

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

Barb in Winona’s recent post asking “What have you learned about animals over the years that has surprised you? “ made me recall one of my first goats and her hysterical pregnancy that accompanied her daughter’s actual pregnancy. Today going through old papers in a desk, I found what I had written about her in 1987.

This is a time of great changes in my life. The old and familiar features of the landscapes in my life are dropping away. I am left with feelings of disorientation as the trappings of a new landscape are as yet undefined. Sadness tears through my body as beloved people and creatures leave my world.

Today Minute died. Sunday, 15 February 1987. Just shy of eleven years old. She was a goat chosen ten years ago because of her splendid set of horns and black coat. She looked a though she had been whisked out of the Swiss Alps. She came as a young, dry does to be a companion to our first milk goat Snow. They came from a large heard of goats that roamed the acreage at will. I thought they would do the same here. They wanted leadership, however. And I was their appointed leader. They would go nowhere nor eat anything without me. They stood on the deck at my window and baaaaaed until I could stand it no longer and would go out with them. Then we built fences. Then they felt safe. Then I felt sane.


Minute was not a wonderful milk goat, but she was a remarkable being. I first noticed the tenderness in her when her first daughter had her first born. Minute was not having babies of her own that year, but she stood with Dritte all through her labor, then helped her clean and nurture the newborn son.

When Minute’s next daughter, Carob, became pregnant, Minute who was not bred, grew in size along with her through the five month gestation. Minute went into labor when Carob did, giving birth to water, never leaving the side of the kidding pen, while Carob gave birth to twins. When Carob was finished delivering, Minute was once again as thin as her single self should have been. When we let Minute into Carob’s pen, she cleaned and warmed the babies as if they were her own.

The next spring Carob was found dead in the barn—an apparent victim of rough play. As the goats were let into the barn for the evening, Minute walked to the body, licked it and talked to it with the same tenderness as she had greeted her when  she was born. Then Minute turned her attention to the matter of supper.

Minute became weakened and somewhat crippled in her later years. I do not know whether she had been injured as she dropped lower in the pecking order, or whether it was arthritis as part of her aging. It made her life more difficult as the younger, stronger goats were often brutal and unforgiving. And in the summer when the herd would run from the far pasture to get away from the rain or the playing horses, she would have great trouble keeping up with them, her back quarters giving out beneath her. She couldn’t have done it another summer.

This week she stopped eating and drinking. She had a look about her that was strained and stoic and brave. She died in a dark corner of her pen. She rests there now. I will move her body to the woods, but not yet. I need more time to acknowledge her passage from my life—hers as well as all the others who are passing from my life.

What interesting things have you found in your desk drawers?


YA (Young Adult) has always had ideas about what our house needs: new cabinets, updated electrical sockets, new fence, a deck, new carpet on the front porch. You name a room, she can reel off several projects she thinks should be undertaken. I’m sure if we ever won the lottery, she would have half of it spent on home improvement before I could even cash the check!

So it didn’t surprise me last summer when she started talking about adding a tiled backsplash in the kitchen. Not wanting to take on a project like that, I resisted. Finally she suggested that SHE would do the backsplash.  I still resisted; as a single mom I’ve heard the “I’ll do everything myself” promise many times.

It took a few months, but she finally convinced me this was a good idea. She did all the research, had a list of supplies in-hand when we went to Home Depot, borrowed the requisite tools from our handyman neighbor, watched videos on Youtube and got all set up.  She did the whole job herself except for moving the electrical boxes out a bit to be flush with the new tile, which I handled.  She didn’t ask for help at any point along the way.

Now, heaven help me, she wants to paint the kitchen cabinets!

What household repair would you like to outsource?


Today’s post comes from Jacque

Many of you on the Trail have seen the books I make for my mother for Christmas. Several of the books I have posted on the Trail.   For those of you who are new to the Trail or might have missed the previous posts I will tell you the story of the stories.

tootie-pumps-waterDuring the summer of 1984 Mom, who was then a teacher, took a course given by the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to update her teaching license. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop sponsored these courses throughout Iowa. She attended her class at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.   Writing memoirs was the topic. My mother wrote her stories of growing up on a farm near Pipestone, MN during the Great Depression, in a family of eight children.

going-north-to-the-outhouseIn 2008 and 2009, after Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease,   she moved out of her home to live with my brother in Central Iowa. I drove down for the weekends, picked her up, and we would be off to her house to sort through her belongings. I made a note to myself to find the stories. Mom had told us her stories throughout our childhoods, including these. We knew they were in her house, but as her memory for things faded, she forgot where she stored them.

chamber-ptTucked away in a file were the stories she had written 22 years before.

I co-opted them. As her Christmas gifts from 2009 to this year, I adapted one story per year to a children’s book. You can find all of them posted on the Bookemon website. The one I post here took me two years to complete due to life’s demands. This one is called “Potty Talk” about life on a farm without the modern plumbing we now have.

Follow this link to see the book.

Most families have potty stories. Do you have one?

The Sly Fox

Header image by NormaliltyRelief via Flickr.  CC 2.0

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota.

In the Summer of 1978, I accompanied my mother to Los Angeles so that she could receive treatment for Multiple Sclerosis. I was home on break from college, and my parents let me know in no uncertain terms that it was my duty to go with mom for the treatment. I was miserable, since I knew that the treatment was a sham and a fraud, but they wouldn’t listen, so off we went.

Mom had an initial manifestation of MS when she was 30 years old.  It was pretty typical, with visual anomalies and numbness in the lower extremities. It was quite difficult to diagnose MS in the days before neuroimaging, and she was never officially diagnosed with the disease at the time.  Her symptoms disappeared,  and she had no more signs of the disease until 24 years later. The diagnosis was confirmed at the Mayo Clinic in 1977.  Mom was devastated. She had to quit teaching, but remained able to walk unassisted and drive.  She set out to find a cure for herself, and the treatment in Los Angeles held out great hope for her.

MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys  the lining of the motor nerves so that electic impulses can’t travel down the nerves efficiently. People lose the ability to move their limbs.  There is no cure.

Mom heard from other local people with MS about a surgeon in Los Angeles who claimed to have great success in increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing or eliminating MS symptoms.  It was interesting how the information  about the treatment travelled in the days before the internet and social media. Mom talked to people who either had the treatment or knew of someone who had, and all swore by it. Mom contacted the doctor, who was more than happy to take her as a patient.

We arrived in LA and spent the first night in a residential hotel that the doctor had arranged for us. Mom had an initial examination at the doctor’s office. He declared her a perfect candidate for the procedure, and she was admitted to a private hospital in the Century City area of LA.  The doctor was a vascular surgeon. He claimed that the medical establishment and insurance  companies wouldn’t accept his treatment as legitimate for MS, (although he and his patients knew the truth of the matter), so it was billed as vascular treatment for clogged arteries. He reamed out his patients’ carotid arteries, thereby increasing blood flow to the brain. That was it. No repairing of the nerve linings, an impossible task that is the only thing that would have made a difference. He  just removed what little accumulation of fat that lined the carotid arteries.  His patients stayed in bed in the hospital for a couple of days after the surgery. By the time they were ready for discharge they were quite well rested and of course told the doctor they felt better.  They were discharged home and never saw the doctor again.

I spent my time hanging around the hospital talking with other patients and their family members. They came from all over the US, from Florida to Illinois, to Nevada. All were so hopeful, and talked of the doctor as a misunderstood saint. I slept on a cot in my mom’s hospital room.  Somehow I found that a nearby theatre, the Century City Shubert Theatre, was putting on a production of The Sly Fox,  a modern adaptation of Ben Jonson’s Volpone, with George  C. Scott in the title role. He had initially done the play on Broadway. I managed to get a ticket to a matinée. I had never seen a professional production like this before. It was wonderful. It was so ironic to see that play about a con artist when I knew my mom and the other patients were in the hands of such a sympathetic and sincere con artist. I knew he was a fraud, but how can you dash people’s hopes.  He had set up a perfect scam, founded on the hopes of desperate and trusting people.

We returned home after a week.  We heard several years later that the doctor had lost his medical licence due to insurance fraud. Mom had very little to say about her LA experiences, but eventually agreed with me that the doctor was a con artist. She lived to be 91, still living at home, able to walk using a walker, still a fighter.

What are your experiences with sly  foxes? 

rich in children part 2

today’s post comes from tim

daughter emma is a piece of work.

we were talking at thanksgiving and she said her sister asked  her what it was like to be the kid who wasn’t the favorite of either parent.

my sister was over thanksgiving and enjoys some aspects of my dysfunctional  family. she said the way the girls play remind her of cats

emma was the one who when we moved into our house at age 5 , loved the house because it had the dancing stage in the living room. when you came into the house there was an area  10×20 that stepped down 4 steps into the living room and had a full wall of windows in front of it so when it got dark the reflection of the stage in the windows was like a 2 foot tall screen of  selfies as you moved to your favorite tunes.

the first time i saw her dancing i was in awe. she is good and fluid and fun to watch. i would have to be discreet though because she didn’t like to be watched and would stop if she felt the eyes on her. she can do it with friends and cohorts but not and audience until…. she asks for an audience and performs for the correct amount of time and then is done until next time.

olivia her older sister is majoring in musical theater and loves to perform.

her brother devin is the josh groban of the family and sings like a rock/opera/r&b diva in the shower , at his church/in the car/reading his email… so she comes by it naturally.

last year emma started taking voice at macphail and she said she enjoyed it. her sister takes her from school and brings her home except now her sister has theater rehearsal i need to go pick her up.  it has been a total of maybe 3 or 4 times. well i park and go in and go upstairs to the spot where the lessons are.  macphail moved to a new building a couple of years ago and the sound is more or less contained in the studios. you can hear but it is muted and soft. so im sitting in the hall and thinking its too bad i cant hear emma because the rooms are so quiet, all i can hear is a voice coming from down the hall that definitely isn’t her. its nothing like her. so i get up and nonchalantly mosey down the hall and ge to look in the little 8×10 window in the door as i walk by and the voice is coming out of the back of a head that looks just like my daughters. i go down to the end of the hall turn around and come back to see that it is indeed coming out of the head that from the back looks to be like my daughter. i sit and 2 or 3 minutes later i discovered that it was indeed emma singing as she comes ot of the room with her teacher.

i commented that i couldn’t believe the sounds coming out of the room were coming ot of emma and they booth looked at each other and laughed. the teacher said he thought she should do a performance at the student sign up thing on the main stage for one of the 3 or 4 nights in the spring and she said she thought that was a good idea.

i went back 2 or three weeks later and olivia had her lesson going on and she was doing these melodic classical/jazz scales and emma was singing her song in the room next door. there was a chair in the hall that was smack dab in the middle of the  two rooms and i was in it getting stereophonic daughters singing and it made me cry.

she and her teacher came out of the room again and we talked for a minute again about her performance on the macphail stage. the teacher left and emma told me that she had signed up for a talent thing at school. in front of the class? yeah. alone? with a friend who sings and plays piano. have yo sung together before? is she any good? will she play piano? will you play piano or guitar or ukulele?

we dont know, we are figuring it out. its going to be a blues  thing. ella / bonnie raitt?

we will figure it out

so tonight i fall asleep on the couch and am wakened by her playing the uke and singing like a young lady who knows what shes shooting for. not ella, not bonnie not taylor swift but somewhere along the lines of the music my daughters play for me when i get to let them lead the musical choice of the time and place.

i was told that is the song she will be performing next friday at school. . olivia at the childerns theater performing for a  4 day run and emma doing a 5 minute blip in front of a group of peers at high school.

i have a week to look forward to next week


what are you looking forward to?

i am rich in children

today’s post comes from tim

sorry to rub it in but i do have the best kids in the world. devin is in reno tara is in hell spencer is in limbo olivia is in transition and emma is in denial.

each is my favorite at every moment.

fullsizerenderdevin and tara came form my first marriage and instead of beng taught not to lose one glove like the younger three learned they like me often have mismatched gloves hopefully a right and a left but not always. the weather turned cold and i went out to find the matched gloves in the tupperware tub in the garage (i knew where to look) when i went to pt them by the dog walking door i noticed spencers pristine choppers. id kill for a pair of those. i ahve always wanted a paiir but the last couuple of years have been a money challange so instead of buying functional stuff i by dog food and pay for music lessons.

img_6330it was so fun doing a life of globetrotting and high life and i thought i wild be there forever and now that i know its not that easy i am really going to savor it in another olittle while when i am back amongst the action folk instead of the reaction folk. two letters makes all the difference. instead of doing whats right you need to do what you need to do.

my biggest contribution to their upbringing as i have mentioned before is to show them how not to do it. i think they have enough examples and i look forward to filling the other side of the ledger.