Category: family

COUNTDOWN: One Day to Remember How It Rained

ast The flood at Naponee, where my mother was born four years later

ONE Family Story Woven In

Darkwater Creek, Nebraska is the setting for my novels, a fictional town along the Republican River in Nebraska, in Franklin County, my parents’ home.

The house on my grandparents’ farm was first located on the Republican River bottom, and it flooded in 1935. The man who owned the house then crawled into the attic to escape the floodwaters. He scrawled his will on the attic rafters, then hacked an escape through either a roof or an attic window, we’re not sure which. A man passing in a rowboat rescued him.

After the flood, the house was moved up to its current higher and drier location, and my grandparents bought the farm in the 1950s. When my grandparents remodeled the house, they found that homeowner’s writing, his last will and testament on the attic rafter. It was one of those stories about the house our family would talk about.

When I found that same story recounted in a published flood narrative during my research, and I was able to match up the name from the story with the former owner of our family home, history came alive for me. Family history lives if we breathe into it our interest and our intention. Remember with me in my novels, and revisit your own history when you can. In remembering you’ll find your place in a story, one worth sharing with the next generation.

BTW, If you haven’t already, you might begin with Seven Kinds of Rain: River Saga Book One. Then you’ll be ready for Remember How It Rained: River Saga Book Two.


*photo by Webber from, courtesy Joe Torrey

I’d Rather Forget the Whole Thing

It’s Easier That Way, Right?

We’ve all said it. I’d rather forget the whole thing. And it’s true. Given the choice, we’d rather leave behind the unfortunate twists, the impulsive decisions, and the sad endings. We’d toss the old newspapers, Photoshop the mugshots, and rip those ambiguous, embarrassing relatives from the family album.

We tell ourselves, let it go. Nobody wants to see that side of who we are. That might be Too Much Information. Worse, people will gossip, laugh or judge. It’s tempting to retouch or select our pictures, maybe even our entire history, to show only our best, public selves. All ballet and balance, no banana-peel slips or pratfalls. No driving off the bridge. But nobody can hold that pose or balance for long.

The truth is, everybody falls.

Individuals. Families. Cultures. Nations. Although painful, a fall can be more telling, more significant in forming character, than the bounce that preceded it. As individuals, as neighbors, as citizens and as cultures, we have fallen and will continue to fall. Sometimes we lie to cover what we’ve done, to avoid consequences, or to look better than we are. Sometimes we twist things around, bragging about our shameful actions. We record them and put them on Facebook or Twitter (those places where nothing is forgotten). We lose our capacity to see ourselves honestly, in our broken, hilarious, fragile, destructive humanity.

At our worst, we’ve also lied, blotted records, torn out pages, violated others and cultivated ongoing disasters that might yet be averted. A false self-esteem that insists it’s never fallen, has never done wrong, and then blames the victim is the core of narcissism.

How to Be a Real Hero (not that guy)

When seen through a lens of humility, the history of our falls becomes the essence of our heroic journeys. We fall, but we can get up conscientiously. We can ask what happened. We can show remorse, learn from errors, listen to others, acknowledge harm, resolve to do better, and ultimately, initiate durable reconciliation. Maybe even build a better world.

But It’s So . . . Embarrassing.

Falls and failures are by nature unpleasant things we’d rather forget. We are (knowingly or unknowingly) guilty of ongoing indifference, racism, unjustified violence, even acts of terrorism and racial extermination. These are not mere incidents, but ingrained habits. We’d rather omit the ugliness, but if we find and acknowledge our place in our (his)tory, we claim the power to write a new chapter and a better ending. We earn a shot at being truly great.

Let’s remember together, doing the research to fill in the blanks. Let’s read and write stories that bring overshadowed facts into the light. There are funny parts we can remember, too, and golden, everyday moments we should cherish.

Durable, Everyday Things

Remember our ancestors and how they lived. Let their voices and ongoing presence inspire us. Admire the toughness and sacrifices of those who came before. Celebrate the myths, question their origins and open up history to diverse narratives and voices. Let’s examine our stories with humility and courage, and then resolve to make amends. Let’s earn a truly heroic tale to tell our children.

Sometimes You Need to Go Home Again

Find your place in a story. It’s my mantra, my trademark, my storytelling obsession, to lead readers into history to find something new, something worth keeping, and better yet, something worth changing. Remember How It Rained, River Saga Book Two will take my readers back to the American Great Plains in a time of economic depression and drought, the 1930s. It was a desperate, dirty, thirsty, hungry time that shaped our families and our nation. Bootleggers, sharecroppers, gangsters, wayward women, abandoned children, stingy relatives, child labor, bare-knuckle fights and time served . . . and that’s just my family. In ways your family may not even be ready to admit, the Great Depression probably shaped you, too.

In Remember How It Rained, Maggie, Jack and Kuruk are still reeling from what they suffered as children. They must decide to either keep running or dare to return and remember. Facing the truth of the past and taking action can be terrifying, but remembering is where justice begins.

So, dear readers, Remember How it Rained is coming January 27, 2017. If you’d be so kind as to share this post, I’d greatly appreciate it.

I’ll be celebrating the novel’s release with a book club that’s grown near and dear to my heart, The Book Babes of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. People talking about books . . . what a great way to remember who we are.

What better way to find your place in a story™?


(Thanks to′s-vintage-mugshots-nswpd-special-photographs/ for images in this post.)



Back into Being

December. Wow. Have you recovered yet? Once again, it was a real season for doing, doing, doing. I’ve been resting since then, turning back into being. Practicing the good stuff that keeps me whole and in the moment. Sketching, playing my favorite guitar music, reading and writing.

What’s the difference between being and doing? Sometimes the two things seem worlds apart, and at others, beautifully synchronized. I’m not trying to start an existential quibble, here. Yet, I’ve noticed whenever I have a long (self-imposed and moderately ridiculous) to-do list, I shift into a state of less presence, becoming less settled in my being. I start to let my self-preservation practices slide out of priority, because that list of to-dos behaves like a loud bar customer sitting at my kitchen counter, bellowing for another drink. And maybe I’m not so good at announcing, “last call,” or being my own bouncer. And let’s admit it. I invited him, too, by my expectations!

The performance art aspects of the holiday (the cleaning, cooking, baking and decorating) took over for a while. My time with the Benedictines reinforced my notions of hospitality and my creative side sees holidays as an opportunity to go a little crazy. I hoped to extend hospitality and show the love I feel for each special person we invited. How that love was to be incarnated into handcrafted chocolates is a mystery I won’t explore now, after the fact, but it felt symbolic at the time. I wanted to create a beautiful holiday experience, full of fun and meaning. A lasting family memory of being back together.

Then everyday adversity, weather and illness ruptured my guest list, leaving more empty places at the glittered table than there were guests. There was little of what I’d planned, yet we still enjoyed bright visitations, abundant grace and presence, such as . . .

  • A Christmas Mass that filled my heart, reminding me of the layers of significance in incarnation, the ultimate being.
  • A two-year-old in polka-dot footie pajamas at my table, chattering and coloring.
  • Dave sitting on the floor, building an intricate, balanced marble maze with the two older grandchildren.
  • Quiet laughter with loved ones by woodstove firelight.

So what remains? What ushers me back into balance, back into being after a hectic time? Daily life anchors me in its blessed routines and my daily wholeness practices support my health, contentment and creativity. The everyday is even sweeter now, richer with memories of family presence. These linger, as bright as crayons and resonant with love.



Intensive Care

2:45 a.m.

Mom’s healing, finally resting better in intensive care.

We, her family, are stranded at the hospital due to thunderstorms and flash floods. Some curl up like baby mice on too-small chairs and sofas in the waiting room, reaching for sleep.

Bedside, I put in earbuds and listen to Will Ackerman’s recordings. Resonant harmonies and hopeful melodies lift and carry my tired mind where sleep won’t.

Anxiety, responsibility and fragile plans, these fade and fall away. Music, backlit by lightning, lives here in the dark, washing through the blinking, whirring monitors and pumps, breathing hope and strength into my tired body and mind.

Gratitude. Joy. And soon, a newly-colored morning for my mother, and for all of us.

Sacred Bundles Our Children Carry

With permission, I drew this sketch of a sacred bundle on display at the Pawnee Indian Museum State Historic Site near Republic, Kansas. Because of the bundle’s ongoing sanctity to the Pawnee people, on-site photographs are prohibited. The bundle appears to be made of some sort of hide, and tied with ribbon-like bands. A long smoking pipe, fragments of arrows, a fork tipped with bone and small American flags adorn the outside. The pipe appears to be carved of stone, with a stem of wood. A Kansas Historical web site reports that this particular bundle was once x-rayed, and contains stuffed bird bundles, hawk bells, counting sticks and a leather strip decorated with glass beads.

Sacred bundles like this were integral to Pawnee medicine ceremonies. Only a woman could possess a bundle, which usually hung on the west wall of a home or above an altar, while only men could utilize it in ceremonies.

A sign near this bundle reports that it originated near Loup, Nebraska. A young Pawnee girl named Sadie carried it away on horseback from the famous battle at Massacre Canyon near Trenton, Nebraska, in 1873. On that day, a thousand Sioux surprised 350 Pawnee men, women and children on their summer buffalo hunt, and approximately seventy Pawnee were killed. This is recorded as the last major battle between two Indian tribes in U.S. history. Sadie’s father entrusted the bundle to her at the battle, binding it to her back. He died that day, without having an opportunity to explain its ritual use. Sadie kept it safe as her family’s spiritual legacy, and her daughter entrusted it to the Kansas State Historical Society.

As I consider this object, I think about the manual labor and arts of preparing the skins and the pipe. I consider the meaning, now obscure, assigned to the arrows, the fork and the pipe. Who decorated that leather strip with beads? What are its colors and designs? How did the men handle the counting sticks in their rituals? The bones in those bird bundles once bore feathers high above the earth, with bright eyes looking down on prairie grasses, earth lodges and the twisting Republican River.

Time and memory. Meaning and mystery. Tragedy and hope. So much human experience, rolled up in leather and tied with ribbons and flags. The hope of a family, a legacy caught up in a crisis. A sign of enduring faith for a struggling people, suspended behind glass for this writer to sketch and ponder. Among all of my questions, one endures.

If I had to send my child running for survival today, with only seconds to decide, what bundle of meaning would I thrust into those young hands, to inspire my future generations?

Worth the Wait

hungry dog waiting

hungry dog waiting

Gilda the WunderSchnauzer is sitting at my side as I type, not in adoration, but trembling with anticipation. In her mind, the clock holds no meaning and it’s always time for food in her dish. Her hunger makes it worth the wait. She’s vigilant, hoping I’ll look at her and say, “It’s time.” Time for another meal.

Wurth harvest 2013

Wurth harvest 2013

All summer, we in rural Iowa have been waiting for harvest. The soybeans and corn tell us what time it is, so to speak, as sprouts crack through brown soil, leaf, spread and canopy the ground. We watch breadth, height and fanning of leaves that wave like water under the summer winds, until the colors peak and begin to fade. The seeds drain the life from the stalks and leaves, while all ripen and dry. It’s both good and sad to see the colors change back to beiges and browns. When that last combine pulls out of the field, headed for the machine shed, it means another cycle is complete and it’s time for the earth, and farmers, to get a little rest. Just a little, here at one ending, and before another beginning.

waiting to touch you

waiting to touch you

Life keeps us waiting, longing, ever anticipating. Right now my daughter, along with our whole family, is growing impatient for the birth of her third child and even all these years later, I remember what that feels like, that sense of fullness, holding that squirming, beautiful life who’s just on the verge of visibility. Arms ache for what will fill them. Minds and bodies overflow with affection, aching to stroke little fingers and kiss a downy head, to breathe in those “new baby smells,” even the not-so-fresh ones!  To hear that voice for the first time. To memorize an eye color and a smile. It’s hard to wait for anything, but it may be hardest of all to wait for beginnings. A new season. A new child. A new chapter in a family’s novel of love.

So we write on, generations like pages turning, to fulfill and extend our story. This is how we are blessed, breath by breath, but we must be patient for what matters most. We must wait, sometimes painfully, to touch what we cherish and believe.


Unison, Harmony and a Call to Social Singing

grandchildren singing

grandchildren singing

As a child in church, I learned to love harmony. I followed it in the organ music and in the choir. It was there on the hymnal pages, too—those stacks of notes that told the basses, altos and sopranos in the congregation how to sing together nicely, climbing with our voices to heaven. And oh, could those Lutherans sing. My mother has a beautiful voice and nothing pleased me more than singing beside her, hearing her voice rise and lead and blend with those around us. She played the organ, at church, too, and the piano in our home. Choirs were part of life and I grew up believing people were meant to sing together, different voices and notes together. I learned by listening and love to harmonize to this day. Goodhusband remembers the same joy of singing in childhood. He later indulged his love for harmony as an adult by being part of various barbershop groups, even in competition.

But what happened to singing and harmony? The whole notion of music as a social experience has receded in a cultural tide of personal music collections, earbuds and mp3 players. Choirs and musical groups still practice and perform in secular and sacred settings, but your average person doesn’t sing much outside the shower or commute, let alone with other people. Raising one’s voice is considered…awkward.

Let’s reconsider this, with a few inspiring arguments for resurrecting unfettered social singing and harmony:

Harmony for children: A Capella Kids…I had to include this tune, as I sang it as a solo in church more than once…wish I’d had this group with me.


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Harmony for multicultural understanding: Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Soweto Gospel Choir, a concert-length video for your enjoyment.


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Harmony for social change: Morehouse College Glee Club


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Harmony for inspiration: Alison Krause


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Harmony on the silly side: Cottontown Chorus


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Are you musically challenged and wonder how harmony works? Here’s a brief intro:


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So, whether you’re riding in the car together, or at the supper table, teach your children well…and teach them to harmonize! They’ll thank you for it!


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