Yarn and Black Coffee

November 30th, 2016 by Karen

If you’ve never been to Eastern Oregon, then you probably know very little about it. If you’ve just ever passed through, but never stopped, then you’ll likely say it’s a desolate place, full of empty spaces, too much sagebrush, occasional cattle herds, and far fewer people. But for me, the high, dry desert of that corner of Oregon holds something amazing…family.

The history of my family in the area is storied and vast, tied up in the pioneer days of the country, and right around the time Oregon became a state. It’s full of hardship, hard times, and hard work. My ancestors founded towns and built roads. It’s the story of immigrants who came by ships to California and to Ellis Island, by wagon across the plains, by horseback, by train, and by foot. So much of who I am is tied to that pioneer work ethic.

We would visit in the summers and every other Christmas to spend time with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and extended family. Visits in my childhood consisted of a whirlwind of activity. Of feeding sheep and chickens. Of milking cows and giving bottles to bummer calves. Of shearing and hay and dirt and the fair. Trips to town where in the summer we were summarily tossed into the local pool for awhile, and in the winter it was to pop into the Emporium, Kinney and Keele, or D&B and to drive around and look at the Christmas lights, then maybe a stop at Albertson’s for something random…it was always cornstarch or bandaids or karo syrup it seemed. And then we would go to the Argus.

Passing through the doors to the newspaper was like entering another world. It smelled of ink and carbon paper, photo chemicals and freshly brewed coffee. While people outside strolled and smiled in a laid back way, inside that building was a bustling microcosm that was spun and danced, at least in my child-eyes, solely at the direction of my Grandma Chris.

She was five foot nothing on a good day with gray hair that later gave way to white and she was always dressed smartly in a coat and skirt or slacks and flat black shoes. And always the swipe of lipstick. In those doors, she was in charge (unless Fran was around, because technically he was the publisher) and we never could stay long because there was always something happening that needed her attention.

Grandma took her coffee black. So black I think you could strip paint with it. I remade more than one pot of coffee for her because it was too weak for her liking. She ran on the stuff.

She knew everyone and everything about everyone. She remembered the history of buildings and houses and who had lived where and thousands of details about places, events, and people long since past. She was the consummate storyteller, and if you were the subject of the story, you may or may not have appreciated it, but she would get the minutia cringingly correct, every single time.

When she wasn’t at the Argus, she became a teacher. Not in the school sense necessarily, but she taught constantly.

At her knee, I learned to pick straw from wool that my uncles and grandpa had just sheared, how to card it, and finally how to spin it. I learned how to collect eggs carefully so I wouldn’t break them and how to can a wide variety of things. I learned how to make pie crust from scratch and how to knead bread. I learned how to properly stack the woodpile (more than once) and how to change a typewriter ribbon. I learned how to knit, again, and again, and again. I learned not to walk behind horses or cows. I learned not to stay on the party line talking to friends because that was rude. I learned how to watch for black ice on the sidewalks. I learned that the top line of notes in the music book at church was the soprano line and that’s what we sang, but her handbell music was very different. I learned she loved Brigadoon and Big Band music, but not Sinatra. Never Sinatra. I learned that she loved Christmas and always treated each of us grandchildren equally, even though we were plentiful, and we each would receive something handmade from her. I learned that even though they bickered and argued, she loved grandpa unconditionally, probably because he was the only man who dared to stand up to her. I learned that family is everything.

She was the first one to put a book about mythology in my hands. In fact, she put a lot of books in my hands. She’d sit me down in grandpa’s tan leather chair next to the fireplace, hand me a book and just say “Why don’t you read this.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. Read this. And this. And this. I must have read hundreds of books in that chair by the fireplace through the years. History books about Scotland, England, Europe, Egypt, America, the Owyhee, and the Bannock Indian Wars. Books about ghost towns, archaeology, the Nazca lines, burial mounds, settlers the world over, gardening, animals, and roses. Poe, Dickens, Alcott, Keats, Burns, and Tennyson. If it was in print, she was likely to hand it to me to read.

Sometimes, she’d come to the living room with her camera bag slung over her shoulder and say “Let’s go.” She’d bundle me into the car and we’d go bouncing down some dirt road that almost wasn’t a road anymore to some nearly forgotten family cemetery she’d heard about. She taught me how to carefully pull the weeds from the stones and she’d take pictures of each one. I learned how to use charcoal and tracing paper to get a rubbing of the name on stones that were too faded to read and she’d take pictures of those too. She always made sure that I did a really good job on the stones of little ones. We would talk about why sometimes there would be so many in a short span and I learned about typhoid, and cholera, and consumption. I learned sometimes there were stones outside the fence, usually belonging to horse thieves and rustlers, though as a child I didn’t understand what the genteel sounding ‘lady of the night’ on some of them meant. We took photos of those ones too. I wish I knew where all these pictures ended up, but knowing her they’ve been in the safekeeping of a museum or college for some time now.

My other best memories mostly involve the kitchen.

One time she and I worked and toiled for hours and hours making gallons of jars of apricot jam only to have part of the center butcher block in the kitchen collapse right as we finished, breaking half of our work. She and I stood there in shock for a moment and then just started laughing. Grandpa tried to come through the kitchen right afterwards and all he got for his concern about the loud crash was “Dammit Bill, your boots are muddy! Get out!” which was hilarious because the floor was covered in still hot jam and shards of glass. We must have mopped and re-mopped that floor for two days before your shoes wouldn’t stick to it.

Another time my cousin Jen and I decided that we would clean the entire kitchen for her as a surprise for their wedding anniversary. We took everything out of all the cupboards, cleaned the shelves meticulously, then put it all away. In different places, of course. She did thank us graciously for our thoughtfulness, but then we got to help put it all away properly. It took hours and she sat and drank coffee while we did it.

One year at Christmas, I brought all the makings for tamales with us as a surprise for Joel as it’s his family’s Christmas tradition. I was slapping tamales all alone in the kitchen and she came in for another cup of her famously strong coffee. She watched for a few minutes, then sat herself down with me and said “Well, that looks like something my arthritic hands can still do” and between us we made over a hundred tamales and laughed heartily together at family stories she had told before, but were no less funny for the retelling.

As dementia slowly stole her away in her final years, the moments we shared grew fewer, but no less cherished. In my aunt Nancy’s kitchen we sat at a more recent Christmas, just the two of us, me with a skein of yarn crocheting away and her with her coffee. In silence, we watched my cousins and uncles and the great-grandkids outside as they sledded and played in the snow. Then she suddenly grabbed my wrist and said “You’re Leah’s eldest, but I can’t remember your name.” I told her ‘Karen Michelle’ and she sighed “That’s right. I forget too much anymore. I’ve been meaning to tell you, there’s a cupboard on the third floor at the ranch in Jordan Valley. It’s full of all my yarn that I made and fabric that I bought with my egg money. There might be some roving there too for the spinning wheel, but I can’t remember. I may have already spun it. I want you to have it all.”

I didn’t have the heart to remind her that the third story of the ranch house was long gone before I was born and that I had only seen it in pictures and heard her tell stories of the dances held up there and the bats and the squeaky stairs.

She wanted to give me one last gift. How could I tell her no?

I simply squeezed her hand and told her thank you. And she smiled her huge smile at me and drank her coffee.

I miss her terribly already.


Posted in Family | 5 Comments

Right hand, left hand

February 18th, 2015 by Karen

ashesToday is Ash Wednesday. It is probably one of my most favorite of the Catholic Holy Days because every year, we get to hear Matthew 6. Something about this particular chapter has always rung with supreme truth for me. It’s a road map for every day living.

Don’t act holier than thou just to attract attention in public.
Give charitably, but do it in secret. No one else needs to know what you do for others.
Pray in the quiet of your heart, privately as a close conversation with a loved one.
Prayer is not for babbling on and on in order to try to sound important or holy.
Forgiveness is a two way street.
Fasting should be done in secret and without complaint.
Worry less about material goods and more about those intangible gifts of the spirit.
You cannot follow both God and money.
Worrying will not prolong your life or bring you material goods.
Concern yourself only with today’s worries, tomorrow will come in its own time.

I’ve always been kind of a wallflower, and maybe that’s why I latched onto this Bible chapter as a child. This is the first time I heard “it’s ok to not be the center of attention”. As a shy kid with a speech impediment, I would much rather quietly observe and participate in activities and that carries through to this day. I still struggle with being noticed…whether it’s speaking in public or receiving a compliment, I often find it very uncomfortable. Also I admit, I worry too much about a vast variety of things and probably too little about some things that should be more cause for concern, but my propensity for worry is something that I recognize as a challenge to undertake. I’m a work in progress.

Now that I’m an adult though, the biggest meaningful part of this excerpt for me concerns charity. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:3-4 My discomfort at being noticed likely dovetails into this a bit, but I truly do prefer to give something to someone quietly, quickly and without recompense. I’ve always found that small things mean so much more than something impersonal. Could I write a check and make a donation somewhere? Sure. However, a loaf of homemade bread will feed someone physically and spiritually today. A couple of bags of hand-me-down clothes will take care of my friends’ child and ease her worry over where she’ll find the budget to buy new things for her growing child. A hand made hat or scarf will keep someone warm, not just today, but next year and the year after that. A cup of coffee bought for the person next in line at the drive-through will brighten their day and hopefully they in turn will pass that joy on to another person in their life. These are things given with thought and with love, privately and without need for fanfare.

Does this mean that charity should never be public? No, of course not. When a community rallies to a cause that is crucial to the well being of the community at large, that camaraderie is important in that it supports all involved. There is nothing wrong with participation…it’s when we twist it to glorify ourselves individually and our individual contributions that we go astray. Charity should be undertaken simply because it is the right thing to do.

Last year, I was blessed to have been able to attend the Bar Mitzvah for the son of a wonderful friend of mine. As someone who had never had the opportunity before, I found the Temple services stunning. Catholic Mass follows so closely to its predecessor (remember, Jesus and the disciples were all Jewish!) that I was nearly brought to tears several times. It was a beautiful experience. During one of the services, the Rabbi brought up the Jewish tradition of tzedakah, the concept that righteousness and fairness is an actual obligation. We are obligated as followers of God to aid those in need, despite our own financial standing, and to do it without being asked. This is why in Luke 21, Christ points out the donation of the Jewish widow at the Temple: “When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

No one asked the widow to donate to the Temple. No one was standing there enforcing a 10% tithe of her income. No one was standing there keeping track of who gave money to the treasury or withholding services if they did not give. Despite her poverty, the widow was still called to donate what she could to help others in the community who were less fortunate. She simply did what she felt was necessary. This is the true meaning of charity; giving what you are called to give in support of those who are in need.

One other aspect of tzedakah that the Rabbi mentioned was that it is also an obligation of the giver to ensure that funds entrusted to an organization for the good of the community are properly managed and spent effectively and wisely. How often do we just give blindly because “eh, it’s for charity” or “it’s a good tax write off”. This sort of blasé indifference is something we all fall into from time to time. It can be a difficult question to ask, but finding out just where your donations are going can be a real surprise. You may find that while you thought a donation was going to feed the poor, it in fact was used to buy a sign. Or that you believed you were helping cancer patients, but in fact you essentially lined the pocket of some CEO. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give at all, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s an admonishment to give fully but that you should do your homework first so what you give is used properly. Being informed makes us all better stewards of the resources available in our communities and ensures that help is given to those who need it most.

On Ash Wednesday, it’s traditional to “give up something for Lent”. I’ve always thought that was rather odd…as kids we were encouraged to give up sweets, or soda, or television, but I never found that spiritually satisfying. How does my giving up chocolate glorify God? (Side note, giving up cake when your birthday always falls during Lent is a real drag. Only made that mistake once.) For the past several years, rather than giving something up and refraining from something, I’ve made the conscious choice to give something UP…to try to do something every day that glorifies God.

I’m not going to tell you what it is; that defeats the purpose. I would however encourage those who are reflecting on this season to find a fulfilling way to mark this period of penitence with something with spiritual meaning.

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Flipping Tables

February 5th, 2015 by Karen

Warning: Rant ahead. You’ve been warned.

I am angry.

No. I am downright furious.

What makes you think that you have any right to demand of me a written permission slip stating that I am an active member of my faith?

Do you come to my house and see that we say grace before our meals?

Or that every day of Advent we read a Bible verse as a family pertaining to the names of Jesus and then discussed what each verse meant and how we can better live our lives as Jesus taught and then decorated our Christmas tree with those names?

Do you know the worry that plagues me every time my children altar serve for you that they won’t make a mistake and you won’t look at them with that horrid thin-lipped cross look you give?

Do you know that my eldest child attended the ‘training’ you gave and immediately afterword informed me that they would no longer altar serve because they felt they wouldn’t be serving the altar anymore but you personally?

Do you even realize that your disapproval has a profound effect on children and can make them fall AWAY from their faith?

Do you know how much it pains me that for the last year and a half I have been physically unable to fully kneel during Mass?

Do you understand what it’s like to live with crippling depression and that sometimes just getting out of bed is a blessing and benediction in and of itself?

Do you know that one of my most prized possessions is an inherited communion set that was brought from Europe when they immigrated and squirreled away by relatives through the years “just in case”?

Do you understand what sort of devotion this taught me from people who once were terrified of openly professing their faith?

Do you have any idea what our school was like just 2 years ago when I had a child that was falling apart at the seams because of a teacher that the administration REFUSED to deal with?

Can you even see the good that our school does now and just how damn hard the parents work to keep it going?

Do you see the amazing things that the current principal has done and how hard she works or are you only capable of criticizing her work?

Do you realize that I finished my 40 “required” volunteer hours in the first 3 weeks of the school year?

Do you have any remote inkling of the kind of financial sacrifice we have made for the last 12 years so our children could have a Catholic education?

I am a baptized Catholic.
I was an altar server for many years and one of the first girls to altar serve at the Cathedral.
I am a confirmed Catholic.
I am a married Catholic.
My children are baptized Catholic.
The eldest is confirmed Catholic.
By the grace of God, I will die Catholic.

At 17, in a town meeting of approximately 100 people at our parish, most of whom I knew as they were Knights of Columbus, I respectfully objected to moving our thriving youth ministry from a useful and large location in the parish hall to a tiny 10×15 room that we would be unable to meet in. I detailed the reasons I thought it should be kept where it was and, if it couldn’t, why the new location was unsuitable. I was told TO MY FACE by our parish priest that because I was a girl and a teenager, my opinion didn’t matter one bit (his exact words) and to sit down. When I took offense, I was SHOUTED AT to get out. Only one adult in the entire meeting came to my defense and I will never forget the look of shame on the faces of the other adults in the room as he chastised them. I was still humiliated.

That was not the last time a priest told me I was worthless because of my sex or my age.
I’m sure it will happen again.

However, I’ve made damn sure that my children know the opposite is true. I am the one in power here. I am the one teaching the next generation of Catholics. I am the one who taught them their prayers at bedtime, the one that listened to them countlessly stumble over the words as they learned the creed, the one that sang “This little light of mine” a billion times in the car until my ears bled. I’m the one that answers the hard questions about death, abortion, and rape. I’m the one who nudges their busy bodies to a modicum of respectfulness in Mass and takes the time to explain why we do the things that we do and the meaning behind each and every little thing in the sanctuary. They see me try to offer up my own faith, such as it is, in the best way that I can.

On the other hand, you speak at them, not to them. You refuse to answer their questions. You demand respect rather than earning it. You talk incessantly of vocation, yet show little of it and never discuss that parenthood is also a vocation.

You want to know why there aren’t enough boys becoming priests? It’s because you belittle their mothers.

News flash. Faith is not a once a week obligation. It is not money in an envelope. It’s not so a bunch of people can come listen to you jabber away about how much the parish needs to donate or how we should come to Mass every week. (Pro tip: That’s called preaching to the choir…the choir is already at Mass. You don’t need to tell them to come.)

You want donations to increase through punishment and punitive measures, but that’s not how donations work. Even the concept of ‘tithing’ 10% is outdated and is an Old Testament obligation under the Laws of Moses. It doesn’t free modern Catholics from the obligation to help the church, but there is no set dollar amount here.

As Paul states in 2 Corinthians 8:12-15:

For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality. As it is written: “Whoever had much did not have more,and whoever had little did not have less.”

I have nothing left monetary to give you that I haven’t already given to the school. I have also given my time and my talents above and beyond what I have been requested to do. This well is dry and you will have to make do with the blood, sweat and tears I have already given to you.

I’ll fill out your damnable and offensive permission slip because I’m like the woman with ten silver coins who has lost one. I’m going to search and find every last cent I can to care for my family.

I still think you’re a small minded bigoted bureaucrat paper pusher with a Napoleonic ego.

Oh, and since we’re picking nits here, you did promise to be a presence on campus this year.
According to the jr. high student, you’ve been to their classroom once and that was last week. According to the elementary student, you’ve never even been to their classroom.

Might want to take that log out of your eye first there, sport.

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Pretty Handy

October 8th, 2014 by Karen

In the ongoing saga of our dryer, I have -finally- had a win.

About six months ago, it started making a terrible squealing sound. So I did what most self respecting business women do…I called a repairman. The amazing elderly gentleman who was my go-to guy for everything repairs retired a few years back and we’ve had pretty good luck with appliances, so I wasn’t sure who to call. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with your modern conveniences at stake. I asked friends for recommendations, and I read online reviews. I searched for unhappy consumer complaints and finally we settled on a local company that we felt was reputable, McNally’s.

Joel called them, they transferred us to a repairman. He came out, looked at it, said he would order parts and left. A week later, we hadn’t heard from him, so we tried the number he gave us. Disconnected.

Frustrated, we called the company back and they said there must have been a mistake and they’d have him call. Sure enough, in about 2 hours he called us back, apologized, and told us he was still waiting on one part. Several days later, he and an assistant finally came out, took about 45 minutes and replaced the front bulkhead and the drum support bearing on my dryer and that was that.

Except we noticed that after about a week, the dryer was running kinda rough. Checking the repairman’s work, I saw that the bulkhead was actually cracked in both corners and not sitting properly. Unhappy, I tried his number again but it was still disconnected. Screw it. I popped the cracked piece back into place myself and hoped it would hold.


So we lived with the busted piece. Occasionally, it would work itself a little loose, so we’d push it back into place. Mostly it was just annoying. Then, the dryer stopped working well. It couldn’t spin a full load of clothes, so we started running half loads. Finally, the barrel started sticking. Time for an actual fix. But I wasn’t about to trust another craptastic surly repairman. I spent a little time on YouTube and decided this was something I could do myself.


I took apart the dryer and removed the cracked bulkhead and discovered that the support bearing was not only worn through in spots, but part of it was shattered and only had two glides, rather than the four required for proper operation. I thought that perhaps they had just fallen out since the plastic was cracked, but there wasn’t any sign of them at all. I also discovered that the sticker with my model number had been removed. Great.


I spent the better part of my Saturday trying to figure out what model of GE dryer I had and never actually found the answer. I was able to get fairly close though in terms of appearance, so I was hoping that a repairman worth their salt would be able to get me the rest of the way to the proper model number. (for the record, I have a GE Super Capacity/8 Cycle/Heavy Duty/Quiet By Design dryer that was originally purchased in 2000 or 2001 from Wards) Surprisingly, there are exactly zero helpful appliance part shops in our area. We went to one location only to discover they had recently gone out of business, I knew our old repairman’s place was long gone, and the only other place was McNally’s. Gritting our teeth, we went into McNally’s only to be told that 1) the repairman they transferred us to doesn’t actually work for them, despite having the same last name as the store and they -never- mentioned that when we called the first time, 2) without a model number, they couldn’t search for parts and 3) despite having the broken parts in hand, they couldn’t guarantee that replacements of those exact parts would fit our dryer so they couldn’t help us at all, but since the parts we brought in were “expensive” and the bulkhead alone would be “well over $100”, we would be better off just buying a new dryer. Which of course they sell.

Yeah right.

So we came home extremely frustrated. Back online we went and, after an obscene number of searches on various part sites, we settled on getting our parts from RepairClinic.com. They had a great return policy (not knowing our model number, we were concerned that we would be ordering the wrong thing), had the parts we needed at a reasonable price, had decent pictures of said parts (schematics are great, but photos are SO much better), AND they had step by step videos on each of the parts.

We ordered on Saturday night, the parts shipped on Monday (from Romulus, MI, which amuses me to no end), and we got them today at 1:04pm. I had the dryer totally repaired and up and running by 1:30pm. Horrible repairman took twice as long. Heh.

I am so damn proud of myself and the physical labor involved was much easier than I had expected. Best part is, I can actually stop using the makeshift clothesline in my backyard now and the kids can stop complaining that their clothes are stiff. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to do laundry.


Lessons Learned:

  1. Keep all appliance model numbers somewhere where unscrupulous repairmen can’t remove them
  2. Don’t bother with repairmen.
  3. Definitely don’t shop at McNally’s
  4. Do it yourself. It will save time, money, and headache.

By the way…that part that was going to be “well over $100”? Cost me a whopping $39.95. I’m laughing all the way to the laundry aisle.

Posted in Family, Life | 3 Comments

525600 Minutes

January 1st, 2014 by Karen

Well, technically it’s been 3,515,040 minutes or…
210,902,400 seconds…
58,584 hours…
2441 days…
or a grand total of 6 years, 8 months, and 5 days since I posted the photo of my sister Karey and I as my Facebook profile picture.

So much as happened in those nearly seven years…

  • Karey graduated from high school and college, got married, bought a house, and is getting a dog.
  • Our brother bought a house, switched jobs and is smiling more than I can ever recall before.
  • My husband and I have gone through 3 cars, pneumonia that nearly killed us both, a major overhaul of our business and more Excedrin and Tums than I care to admit.
  • Maria has grown from a wide-eyed six year old with a shattered elbow to a confident, strong, responsible young lady.
  • Alex has gone from three to ten and from his love of Legos to his love of Legos that he can control with programming.
  • And little two year old Sophia has taken those lovely eyes of hers and set them firmly on world domination. Or something glittery. It’s hard to say some days.

Along the way, we’ve gained family (yay Kirk!), we’ve lost a lot (Grandpa Bill, Uncle Allen, Aunt Marge, Aunt Louise, Grandma Kay, and Stephen just to name a few), and we’ve made a bucketful of new friends. We’ve done our best to make the most of every minute of these years and, though we may have worked too much and played too little, it was memorable nonetheless.

And I know that 9077 days ago, I got something I never had before and I know I’ll never have another one of…a little sister.

Also, I know how much she hates that “old” profile picture of the two of us from 7 years ago, so today, for the very first time, I’ve updated my profile photo. (I’ll just have to wait another 7 years before she appreciates the youthful, unwrinkled faces in that “old” picture. 😉 )

Happy New Year…may it bring us all many blessings!

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Dodging Bullets

October 14th, 2013 by Karen

(Please note, I am so very blessed to have an amazing husband who this post is definitely not about. Love you honey!)

Everyone has that horror story from their dating past. The one that you recall with a smirk and a shake of the head, knowing full well that, while in the moment you felt devastated at the end of the relationship, time has proven just how incredibly lucky you were that you were able to walk away from the train wreck relatively unscathed.

Still, it sucks. It’s hard in the thick of it when you can’t help but feel helpless and unwanted. And it’s even worse when the other party throws mixed signals at you like confetti at a celebratory ticker tape parade.

Been there, done that. Hate seeing others have to learn it the hard way.

I know just how lucky I am. I have a very close knit family who supported me when I thought my world was unraveling (it wasn’t…and boy, that bullet that had my name on it was more like a rocket) and gave me solid ground to stand on. My #1 rule has always been “Don’t mess with my family.” (#2 is “Don’t mess with my friends” and #2 1/2 is “Don’t rearrange my kitchen.” but I digress…) In fact, if you look at my extended family tree, you can count the number of divorces on one hand. Note that I said extended…I have an enormous number of cousins, aunts, uncles, all with varying degrees of greats, and in that sea of people when we commit, we commit. We are practical farming stock. We expect honesty and trust and our word is as good as our bond. Hardship is our middle name and we wear it proudly in the dust on our boots and the callouses on our palms. We work hard, we love unconditionally, and we tolerate very little interference with either of these pursuits.

Perhaps it’s our pragmatic point of view or the early maturity that comes easily to our family that makes it hard when we date those that seem to share our values and maturity and things fall apart. The expectation of honesty is so baked into our core that when that trust is irrevocably broken with lies and deceit, it leaves us in a bit of a tailspin.

As family however, we close ranks around fallen members. The flip side of that congenial trustworthiness is not an easy-going forgiveness. It is a steely-eyed suspicion of motive and a rather impressive amount of discussion of every little comment and nuance. Regaining our respect is a very difficult thing. Not impossible, but the effort needed is great.

If you’re worthy of our family, show us.
If not, you’ll find the doors to our castle permanently barred.

Posted in Family, Life | 2 Comments

On this day…

June 28th, 2013 by Karen

…my baby sister gets married!

Twenty four years ago, Karey arrived in my life and I couldn’t ask for a better sister. Ever. Period. End of story.

Even on the days where we argued and fought, (and we rarely did that right mom and dad?) I knew she had my back. Her mischievous smile is infectious and her gigglefits as a child were legendary. I hated that I missed so much of her while I was off at college but I loved discovering new things about her every time I came home.

I have watched my baby sister grow into an incredible young woman and she’s found a wonderful man who is a perfect complement to her. I know they both know how lucky they are and I can’t wait for this new chapter to begin for them.

I love you both to bits and I’m honored to be part of your big day!

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A Cake I Never Intended to Make

June 14th, 2013 by Karen

Next Sunday, June 23rd, I was supposed to make a cake.

It was to be a triumphant cake! Whimsical with a touch of sentiment and a splash of congratulations.

It was to be a retirement cake worthy of a woman who had taught for 45 years and to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I can’t begin to express how stupidly excited I was to make this cake. I even made a pinterest board for inspiration.

This morning, I made a different cake entirely.

There is no whimsy to this cake…no hidden little decoration or detail to tantalize and delight. Instead it is simple and elegant. Just like Edna.

Through the years, I’ve found that whenever I make a cake, there’s always something that doesn’t turn out quite right. There’s a flaw in the fondant, a decoration is too large, or a part of the frosting is smudged. These are usually superficial issues and only I see them and they irritate me. To me, cakes are like art…except the more you fiddle with it, the worse it will turn out, so I’ve had to learn patience and when to leave well enough alone. These are good lessons for me. I recognize that I need them.

It is with a rather large amount of surprise however that I can say the following:

Today’s cake is flawless.

I baked the cakes last night and they turned out perfectly. There was no problem turning them out and the texture was wonderful…moist and just firm enough that it doesn’t smash. The crumb coat and frosting went on smoothly and in record time. I had just the right amount of ribbon in her favorite color of lavender. Finally, the fondant (which can often be the biggest pain) was literally the easiest thing I did this morning. It was absolutely effortless.

It is -never- effortless.

I was so stress free about the cake this morning that I was able to also make minor alterations to Maria’s dress, repair Alex’s tie, fix a bad ironed crease on Joel’s pants and still get myself ready to go long before we actually had to head out the door.

Set up was a breeze and the extra time to just sit in the pew silently in the church was so very nice. The service was lovely and unpretentious and it was filled with love, laughter and music. I loved watching Alex altar serve and worried for him when I saw his demeanor change as the whole of what he was doing crept up on him to the point where he had to leave the altar. This process has been supremely hard for him, despite Edna’s own efforts to cushion the blow, and it will take him some time to sort out all his feelings and grieve.

She was his rock this past year. He was lost and she found him.

What a blessing she was to us and how very much we will miss her.

Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Requiescant in pace. Amen.

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Homemade Laundry Soap

April 22nd, 2013 by Karen

I’ve mentioned this to a number of people over the years, but I’m just now getting around to actually writing it up.

Don’t call me crazy, but yes, I make my own laundry soap.

Why? Well, there’s a couple of reasons…

I’ve always had a great sensitivity to soaps, detergents, and smells. Remember when we were kids and just walking into a department store necessitated the Running of the Perfume Gauntlet? I HATED going shopping because it meant that I was left gasping for air and itching like crazy the rest of the day from all the crap the fancy dressed ladies behind the counter would spray at you as you passed.

*spritz* “This is our newest fragrance, Eau de Dead Parisian Flowers! Isn’t it lovely?”

Gag. I don’t think I detested anyone as much as those blasted perfume people, but being sensitive to such things is actually a really big pain. It means that when I travel, the little soaps leave my hands rough and chapped. When I go out with friends, riding in the car with their perfume makes my eyes water. Switching detergents turns me into a dry skin itch factory. Because of this, for YEARS, I’ve used the same soap, the same dish detergent, the same shampoo, the same laundry soap…switching just really isn’t much of an option long term. This meant that for a very long time, I used Tide Free.

A few years back, Tide Free got expensive. Really expensive. We have three kids and the huge change in price sucked and though it doesn’t seem like a big deal, when you have a very slim budget (yay medical bills!) a dramatic price change in something small really has a greater effect than you might think.

We just happened to have some dear friends, Jen and Karl, visiting that summer and I mentioned in passing that I really hated doing the laundry because it was just so expensive and Jen laughed and said “You should just make it yourself! It’s so cheap and does a better job!” So, with her prodding and with a bit of hesitation on my part, I decided to give it a go…if it made me itch, I would just use it on everyone else’s clothes and do mine separately for a while if I needed to.

Well, it was AMAZING. The clothes are clean, the stains come out, everything is fresh and wonderful and I don’t itch. It’s also ridiculously easy and cheap.

Homemade Laundry Soap

1 Cup Borax
1 Cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (not detergent or baking soda!)
1 bar Fels-Naptha soap (you can also use Zote or any number of washing bar soaps)

Using a food processor, shred, then chop the Fels-Naptha bar into tiny bits. I usually chop in some of the washing soda with the bar to blend it better. Mix all ingredients together and store in a container. I use my old Tide Free box.

Use 1 TBSP for a full load of laundry. If you have something particularly dirty or smelly (like the time you forgot the laundry and it sat in the washer for two days) pour in a cup of white vinegar when you start the load and it will fix that right up.

That’s it. It really can’t be more simple.

Before, each load of laundry was costing about $0.25 or more PER LOAD. Mine is now $0.06 or less! The borax is about $8, the A&H Super Washing Soda about $5 and the Fels-Naptha is $1.25 per bar at the store. Not counting any sales or coupons or anything, I can make 7 batches of the above recipe for $22 (1 box Borax, 1 box A&H, 7 Fels-Naptha bars) and I’ll have made enough detergent for 336 loads of laundry and still have Borax left over.

Now, I won’t say that I think laundry is all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns, but now at least it doesn’t bother my budget.

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Lucky Thirteen

March 27th, 2013 by Karen

Thirteen years ago, my life was forever changed. For twenty three long years, I was Karen.

At 6:10 pm, on March 27th, 2000 my name became “Mom”.

It wasn’t the easiest thing I’d ever done…I’ve always told friends who have yet to have children that it’s like signing a contract without reading the small print. A thousand things you didn’t expect will irreversibly change. Sure, there’s the laundry list of the usual suspects like “You’ll never sleep in again” and “You’ll never go out”, but then there’s the weird little things like taking six years to be able to look at Mac and Cheese again without gagging because the mere smell would make me ill when I was pregnant, learning to sleep on two inches of bed because some little person had claimed the center of the bed (sideways, naturally) and don’t forget the fun things that happen when you sneeze.

For years after having kids, you’ll make bizarre choices that make sense to no one but other parents, like choosing which park to go to based solely on it’s bathroom or exhaustedly watching “Cinderella” for the 8th time in a row in as many days. Somehow though, we got through those long years of spills, Cheerios, crayons, finger paints, and tears over sharing incidents and today, my daughter turned thirteen.


Holy cow, I remember being 13…wandering around Carnegie Middle School, awkwardly not fitting in, my first “real” dance, learning to curl my hair without burning myself, learning the Fosbury Flop for track meets, going to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland as part of a field trip, being bullied and insulted by guys in my High Achiever classes who called me “Fat Cow” (I was a size 6. I still remember all their names. Jerks.) and crushing on boys in my class that I felt were out of my league. I had my first ‘real’ boyfriend at 13 (and broke up with him for stupid reasons, yet we are still friends). I met my best friend when I was 13 and she’s still my best friend. I saw my first PG-13 movie without my parents (it was a double date to see Ghost and the guy that took my BFF to the movie dropped his retainer on the theater floor. Ew.)

All this makes me both excited for my daughter as well as terrified. She’s on the cusp of so many amazing things as well as all those awful things that we want to protect our children from. Those deep yawning pits of problems and drama scare me…I know that I can’t protect her from them all, nor should I, since how we deal with adversity as adults directly correlates with how we learned to deal with such things as kids. But I can’t help but want to smooth the rough edges for her.

Thirteen is important. I know it’s important because of what’s coming next for her. It’s important to her because now she’s officially a teenager. No longer is she trapped in that no-man’s ‘tween’ land of crappy music and ill fitting clothing. She finally feels free to shed the butterflies and bubblegum pink glitter and select soulful blue hues and pick music outside of the mainstream. It’s a thrilling thing to watch.

I’m sure we’ll butt heads through the next couple years over clothes, dating, and curfews, but regardless of what’s over the horizon, I’m so proud of her and I know that she has the potential and the ability to do so many incredible things with her life. She’s sweet, funny, smart, helpful, and loving. She’s becoming a wonderful young woman.

What more could a mother ask for?

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