Category Archives: Diane Felt

Winter Solstice….Farm Memories

Winter Solstice Arrives…December 21, 2016

Seeking added light on the Winter Solstice, I took a brief walk on the Highline Canal Trail in my area of Denver, Colorado. As a child living on the farm, we were fairly in sync with the seasons. Winter’s arrival was significant. The labors that Dad undertook for the season were intense. Coal was delivered and furnace wood cut from fallen timber. These were pushed through a small hatch in the farmhouse foundation. Dad had piles of coal and wood stacked in the basement of our home ready to fuel the furnace.

For the cattle and horses, hay and straw were used to feed and provide warm bedding, respectively. An oil furnace in the dog kennel a.k.a. former chicken house was fired up to warm the Scottish terriers that Mom raised.

Standing at a distance from the farmhouse as dusk approached, it was heart-warming to see the smoke curl upwards from the brick chimney. The twinkle of lamplight coming from the windows indicated a cozy place to curl up with my parents and four siblings. An occasional bark from one of our canine friends or the moo from a cow, reminded us of our place as stewards of our four-legged charges.

May you seek light and provide hospitality during these longer days of the season we call Winter.

Why visit cemeteries?

Winslow Cemetery

Winslow Cemetery, Rural Poweshiek County, Iowa

Why visit cemeteries, let alone FIVE of them, in just two days?

As a genealogist and family historian, I find visiting cemeteries fascinating. They are a quiet place, yet I can just sense the rich stories as I stroll the lanes. Because the cemeteries that I visited recently are the final resting place of numerous family members and neighbors or friends from my hometown, their names are familiar and the memories come alive.

Upon my recent visit to Iowa, I went to the Winslow Cemetery, which is the first time I’ve been there. It is situated high on a hill, well-kept, and encompasses views of the Iowa River valley. Greeting me were views of farms and country roads, the carved bed of the Pumpkin Vine Railroad now a remnant in the hillside across the way, and combines working hard to complete the harvest of corn. Red-wing blackbirds rose and swirled in large flocks, their calls and flapping wings breaking the silence of the cemetery setting.

I snapped photos of the gravestones of great-aunts and great-uncles. I thought of the Plumb-McLennan family reunions with them. Delicious deviled eggs, lemonade, Jello-salads were part of the lunch. Big smiles, sparkling eyes, and soft voices shared family stories. Wrinkled hands and warm hearts were there to greet the youngest generation.

Over the coming weeks, I will add the photos of the gravestones onto the Find-a-Grave website so that those seeking family history will be given concrete information. Seeing names and dates of one’s ancestors helps to add more pieces to the family history puzzle. I use the photos and the information on the gravestones as sources to substantiate the genealogy records of those family members.

So yes….I visit cemeteries!


My Personal Story


Diane Felt

Diane is the eldest of six children. Her parents raised the family on a small farm in Iowa. Ask any of her siblings to share a story about spending hours lost in creative adventures on the farm, and you will be easily entertained. With paternal grandparents living a few miles away and maternal grandparents visiting perhaps twice each year from California, the children were nurtured to respect the richness of each generation. As a young child, Diane was privileged to have four great-grandparents with whom she became acquainted until they died. Her great-grandfather, who Diane nicknamed Baba Pat (for as a toddler she couldn’t say the mouthful “Great-Grandpa Patterson”), lived with her grandparents’ McLennan, so he in particular left an impression on Diane with his soft-spoken manner, thick white mustache, sparking blue eyes, and his hours of rocking in the old cane rocker, which Diane now has. Sharing stories and observing rites of passage together were a natural part of living in an intergenerational family. Birthdays and holidays also involved family and friends along with an extra-special cake, favorite recipes, and snapshots taken to record the event. Searching the audience while singing at the spring concert or playing her clarinet in band, Diane knew to look for her parents and grandparents.

Diane’s Grandma Geneva kept an ongoing family history in scrapbook form, complete with photos, written history, news articles, and mementos. During her grade-school years, Diane began spending at least one night a week at her Grandpa and Grandma’s home in town. Living in the country, her parents weren’t always available to come retrieve her after piano lessons or extracurricular school events, so Diane stayed in town. Invariably, her Grandma had her scrapbook open in order to update the latest news in the family, which sometimes included Diane! Was that special! As Diane stood by her Grandma’s side, she listened to the stories as each page of the scrapbook was turned. This storytelling was repeated many times over the years, instilling in Diane the gift for sharing photos, stories, and genealogy.

In 2010 Diane and her husband left the Chicago suburbs after 32 years in order to move to Denver. They are richly blessed with their family. They have two grown children. Their son and daughter-in-law live in the state of Washington, where the lifestyle is relaxed. Their daughter and son-in-law appreciate living in Colorado, where a range of activities is at their doorstep. They treasure time together as a family and relish sharing their own stories, accomplishments, passion for the outdoors, and travels with one another. Diane is also a photographer: Diane Felt Photography.

Now that Diane has shared a part of her personal history with you, what is keeping you from contacting her to capture your story? Diane offers a free consultation, so please contact her to schedule yours today.

Changing Frontiers: Ode to the Family Farm and Way of Life ~ 2000

Home built by Charles Patterson (grandson of Thomas Patterson) built in 1895, burned down 1898

Home built by Charles Patterson (grandson of Thomas Patterson) built in 1895, burned down 1898

I wrote this just as my three sisters, brother, and I were on the verge of selling our family farm in 2000.

The Iowa Farm has been a cherished place by six generations of Scotch-Irish-English descent, the Patterson-McLennan families.  I can only imagine what my forefathers and foremothers found as they arrived in Benton County, Iowa.  Then, in 1999, the sixth generation made a difficult decision… to sell the farm.  Why?  Well, times change, families change, and ways of life change.  The quest for efficiency and profits has left small farms a dying breed.  Many have fallen into disrepair as the small family farmer desperately hangs onto the only livelihood he has known.  Unfortunately, many of these men and women turn to supplemental incomes in order to cling to the earth they have worked.  In these times, a family can rarely thrive on 160 acres.  Instead, the sixth generation owners of the Patterson-McLennan family are determined to use the values instilled in us by our ancestors along with the proceeds of selling the farm to embark on another new frontier.  These values are gifts beyond the land itself and include: intuition, determination, honesty, integrity, and faith in God to name a few.  We pray that we will incorporate these values on our walk in a new frontier.  But from where did these values and this wonderful Iowa farm come?  It all began in 1854.

At first appearance to Thomas Patterson and his son David, it may have been just what the pioneer heart was seeking.  Moderate slopes with few rocks, tough sod, adequate drainage, and perhaps there were a few trees along the lower areas.  Word was out that the glaciers some eons ago carried some of the richest soil to these parts of the country.  Being farmers from Ohio, they likely envisioned the land as a rich source of livelihood for the family and hopefully generations to come.  The rush was evident as many potential homesteaders flocked to new, untouched parts of the New Frontier.  Thomas and David probably compared several possible tracks of land that would be most suitable for their needs.  Then they must have excitedly laid claim to a small homestead by driving stakes that carefully identified their new found territory.  With light hearts and big smiles, they must have returned to Ohio to share the promising news with their family.  While traveling back to Ohio to share the news of their claim, did they daydream of this new land and its potential?  Did they question how they would carry out their grand plan?  Who in the family would leave their home in Ohio to return to the new land in Iowa?  What challenges and rewards lied ahead?  How would the family receive the news or had they wired ahead to inform them?

Thomas and Elizabeth Ertel Patterson, parents of David, decided it was David who would return to Iowa and to the land that was staked.  It would be his homestead.  Thomas being a cabinet and wagon maker carefully made a covered wagon for David.  Then in 1855, a year after they staked the land, David left Ohio for Iowa and became a true pioneer.  What worldly possessions accompanied him in the wagon?  Did they include some food supplies and staples, tools, clothing, extra boots, bedding, an oil lantern, a gun, photos, letters of encouragement, a family Bible?  How long did the trek across the plains and crossing the Mississippi take?  Which route did David take?  What a leap of faith for the pioneers who left their homes for the New Frontier.

These pioneers were also called sod busters as they worked in earnest to work the land by breaking through the virgin sod to find rich Iowa soil beneath it.   Who can fathom the seemingly endless hours, days, months, and years of courage and strength that this young and determined man spent just clearing the land?  Within two years of arriving in Iowa, David married Elvira A. Kennedy, of Scotch descent, who was a very willing partner in creating their homestead.  David and Elvira and their children labored earnestly to nurture crops of corn, sorghum, soybeans, hay, and oats.  What livestock did they have as well?  Likely a dairy cow or two and a coop of chickens would have been the bare necessities for a growing family.

Farm women in those days devoted themselves to the endless details of home life.  What creativity it took on their part to be frugal!  For these pioneer mothers, daily tasks may have included: candle making, cooking over a wood cook stove, tending to the family’s vegetable garden and fruit trees, putting up the summer’s bounty of vegetables and fruits, hand sewing the family’s clothing and bedding, instructing the children in schoolwork, gathering eggs, churning butter, milking the family cow, plucking goose and chicken feathers, and keeping the family’s hearth warm.  And in this part of Iowa, it was not unlikely to encounter a few curious passersby from time to time.

How eternally grateful they must have been each year if they had good weather, good crops, and good health.  David knew the land’s value as a source of food for humans and livestock.  Fortunately for him, his father Thomas returned in 1861 to acquire even more acres bringing the total to 160 acres so that the family homestead was enlarged to support the family.  The family had great faith in God Almighty to help them through the lifecycle that is typical of farm life.  Those who rely on the land for a living are ever mindful of a Greater Power to provide for them, especially when at the mercy of nature.  One can only imagine the devout faith they displayed as they read Bible passages, gathered with friends and family, and shared in communion on Sunday mornings to praise God for the week’s blessings.

Throughout the years, David and Elvira carefully recorded their bounty and tallied the homegrown products they sold to surrounding neighbors and folks afar that knew of his reputation.  Found in some of his farm ledgers are notes of honey, grapes, strawberries, and apples, which they sold.  He eventually purchased additional land where he was to build a thriving nursery.  People as far as Nebraska purchased his young nursery stock, which he carefully shipped via the Chicago Northwestern Railroad.  As part of a successful marketing tool, David had a catalog available, which depicted accurate; color pictures of the mature fruit that these fruit trees would eventually bear.  The catalog was entitled, “The Iowa Valley Nursery Catalogue.”

Out of David and Elvira’s eleven children, their son, Charles, continued to farm the homestead.  Charles married Della Jackson, an Ohio girl, on October 21, 1891, whom he met on a visit back to Ohio.  They had two daughters, Julia Elvira born April 7, 1895 and Geneva Lavone born February 11, 1897.  Charles and Della continued producing crops and livestock that kept the family in business.  The family was active in the Belle Plaine community, which lied four miles to the Southwest.  Having the railroad as a means of transportation, created a thriving little city complete with brick paved streets, churches, school, and a variety of local businesses.  As a young man, Charles carefully carried a young hard maple sapling to a low spot south of the home.  He positioned it in the right type of soil and tended it in order that it would eventually provide some nice shade.  As Charles’ father was a nurseryman, the farm was beautifully landscaped with shrubs, bushes, fruit canes, and the much-needed windbreak to the North and West of the home.  So Charles was no newcomer to nurturing trees.  This maple sapling that he carefully planted and nurtured over the years grew to the circumference of 23 feet, taking nearly three adults’ arm spans around the trunk.  It stood its ground for 100 years until a series of windstorms battered it, leaving only its trunk and one large limb.  In 1999, it was removed, as it no longer thrived, but instead posed a safety hazard.

Charles Patterson (middle) planted the tree as a young boy. Photo taken in early 1960s. The tree stood until the late 1990s.

Charles Patterson (middle) planted the tree as a young boy. Photo taken in early 1960s. The tree stood until the late 1990s.

Charles also was an accomplished carpenter, having built a new house on the homestead.  Unfortunately, when their daughter, Geneva, was just 18 months old, the home burned to the ground.  However, given no other choice, he rebuilt a home on the same foundation.  During the rebuilding, the young family lived in a small outbuilding, which eventually served as their carriage house and car garage for succeeding generations.  Charles also built a two-story home at 1705-11th Avenue in Belle Plaine.  His finishing details and millwork of the oak interior trim were quite impressive.  In 2000 both of the homes that he built are still occupied, but no longer owned by family members.

On February 14, 1917, Charles and Della’s only surviving child, Geneva, married Horace McLennan, the youngest of Lachlan and  Lodosca (Plumb) McLennan’s four children.  They homesteaded in the Hartwick area.  McLennan’s were of Scottish descent and Plumb’s of English descent.  Horace and Geneva lived on the Patterson homestead to continue farming.  Horace continued farming under the often-judgmental eye of his parents-in-law, who fiercely wanted to preserve their fine reputation.  He worked the rich soil.  In early spring he carefully prepared it for planting.  Then he cultivated the rows of crops to rid them of crop-threatening weeds throughout the summer.  Finally he would complete the annual cycle by harvesting the crops from late September through October.  Thus the cycle continued year after year, generation after generation.   In 1942, Charles and Della acquired an additional 160 acres north of Belle Plaine and farmed it as well as the other 160 acres.  This gave Horace additional acres to farm.

With each succeeding generation, farming techniques improved as the means of power changed.  Many techniques done by hand or by horsepower were replaced by steam powered engines.  Yet, horse drawn farm machinery was still a mainstay on many farms as not everyone could yet afford steam-powered or gasoline-powered engines.

A farmer, who relied on horsepower and more primitive tools or implements, also relied on an important craftsman…a blacksmith.  Horace’s mother was a Plumb and her father, Henry, was the original blacksmith in Belle Plaine.  Many area farmers visited him on a regular basis for his honed skills of fitting horseshoes, creating fine hand tools, and making necessary implement repairs.  He spent many a sweltering day at the forge, shaping and hammering and at his pedal powered whetstone, sharpening tools.  Henry provided an essential ingredient to farm life and provided a living for his family, who came from Ontario, Canada.

Horace and Geneva carried on the longstanding tradition of their mutual families’ work ethics.  With the help of hired men, Horace worked the land.  Livestock included cattle, hogs, chickens, and sheep.  The team of horses continued to be a vital component to crop farming.  Of course, horses were the main form of transportation for most farm families.  Cars were gaining popularity in larger cities and only for those who could afford such a luxury.  However, gasoline engines provided ample energy in powerful tractors and eventually replaced the strong team of draft horses.  Tractors opened up a whole new world for farmers.  Plowing, planting, cultivating, and harvesting crops became more efficient.   Putting up hay for the livestocks’ winter food supply also became much easier due to the addition of tractor power.  Finally, the only horses remaining on farms were for riding pleasure, horse show competitions, or perhaps drawing an occasional buggy.  As time passed, Horace and Geneva added a car to their way of life, making Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and other Iowa cities quite accessible.

As a farm wife, Geneva had a passion for gardening and turned their house yard into a lush and ardent retreat.  She convinced Horace into creating a fishpond in the northwest corner of the property, which was composed of concrete in a kidney bean-shape.  A number of smaller, porous limestone boulders were hauled from the MacGregor, Iowa area to be used in the surrounding landscape near the pond.  Geneva’s nursery roots were evident as the home landscape included arborvitae, forsythia, privet, and lilac bushes to name a few.   A large gardening area boasted a variety of vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, gooseberries, and asparagus.  A number of fruit trees kept the family supplied with fresh fruit in season and canned jams or fruits year round.  What a lovely setting for the family with the well-planned and maturing landscape.

1962 Belle Plaine Centennial, Geneva Patterson McLennan wears a pioneer dress and bonnet that she made

1962 Belle Plaine Centennial, Geneva Patterson McLennan wears a pioneer dress and bonnet that she made

One area of the backyard was graded to be flat so that croquet could be enjoyed in the summer as entertainment for family and guests.  Horace built an outdoor barbecue out of bricks complete with a handsome chimney.  Before gas powered mowers were added to the list of yard maintenance necessities, Horace or a hired hand would cut the lawn with the hand powered, push mower.  This was quite a task if the lawn had grown a little too long.  As the fourth generation owners of the farm, Geneva and Horace proudly referred to it as Sunset View Farm.  With its location at the crest of a slope, the farmhouse had a spectacular view of the sunset on the western horizon.  On clear evenings it was a sought-after scene for many to enjoy.

Nothing was more exciting for Horace than spending time watching the thundering steam locomotives that pulled in and out of Belle Plaine on the Chicago Northwestern line.  Being such an enthusiast, he wrote a song, “Railroad in the Sky” in his later years.  As jet transportation became a means of transportation, Horace was quite impressed by the two parallel white trails of steam left behind the jets as they flew overhead.  This sight reminded him of railroad tracks, inspiring him to write his song.

Horace and Geneva had two children, Virginia born February 24, 1918 and Charles (Chuck) born May 12, 1926.  Upon reaching adulthood, Charles farmed with Horace.  They farmed the home place as well as the west place (4 miles southwest and just 2 miles north of Belle Plaine).  By this time, the David Patterson farm, which originally was home to the nursery, passed onto succeeding generations and was eventually sold to someone other than family.  Following his return from the Korean War, Charles continued farming.

On October 24, 1954 Chuck married Roberta (Betty) Vale at the First Presbyterian Church, Anaheim, California. They met while on vacation with their respective families of origin.  Together they had six children: Diane, Charlene, Robert, Laurie, Susan, and Charles, Jr.  Robert died at one day of age.  Continuing the farm tradition and raising a large family, required careful planning from Chuck and Betty’s partnership.  At times this was quite challenging for Betty.  While she had some exposure to farm life through her Grandparents’ Carmitchel, Betty had been raised in Kansas City and Los Angeles, which were quite different environments than Iowa’s farm life.

During his farming career, Chuck purchased more efficient machinery than what he had used early on.  Combines could harvest 6-8 rows of crops at a time!  Adding dual tires to the tractor provided the extra traction to pull larger and heavier plows through the moist spring soil.  Power was emphasized as more and more farmers went into debt to purchase stronger, larger, and more efficient machinery.  What an event to hear of one of the neighbors spending $60,000 for a combine in the 1970s!  Unfortunately, as crop yields increased, demands also increased.  The farm economy became more volatile as corporations muscled into rural America.  The American economy ebbed and flowed and the farmers seemed to be more vulnerable.  Tremendous debts were incurred by small rural farmers who were forced into purchasing larger and more expensive machinery in order to keep up with the demand for crops.  One of Chuck and Betty’s more devastating times was when they had to apply for a 16% loan in the 1980s at a time when they were financially vulnerable.   In hindsight, building a new home on the farm had proven a risky move and placed an extra financial burden on them.  Plus, Chuck was beginning to experience chronic health problems, which made it more difficult for him to farm.  It became more evident that trying to raise a family and continue farming on 160 acres was nearly impossible.  Therefore, they elected to rent the farm out to another area farmer and Chuck took a full-time job with the Belle Plaine School district.  This was the beginning of the end of the family’s farming tradition on this farm.

Chuck McLennan Plants Seed Corn

Chuck McLennan Plants Seed Corn

In 2000, as sixth generation owners of this farm, we can now look back and see many wonderful times.  However, we can also peek back and see the changing landscape of the small family farm and the associated struggles that crept in while our parents farmed.  We have our distinct memories of growing up as farm children, the scents, sights, textures, sounds, and flavors that only living on a farm can provide.  As mentioned earlier, we have the treasured values that our preceding generations have passed along to us.  It is now our responsibility to cling to what is left…those values, our memories, and a bright future filled with hope and opportunity.  The farm gave endlessly and passionately to six generations.  It WAS a new frontier to Thomas and David Patterson.  Now it will serve as a new frontier to the five of us, Diane, Charlene, Laurie, Susan, and Charles, Jr., as we move into the future with our succeeding generations.

McLennan Family circa 1966

McLennan Family circa 1966

Red Wagon Day

Summer 1961 Diane Sports a Gray Sweater

Summer 1961
Red Wagon Writer, Diane, is pictured in the gray sweater.

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In rural Benton County, Iowa and inside the cream clapboard farmhouse with its brick-red trim, I came to some realization that I needed a break. How a nearly-six year old determines this, I do not know. Perhaps I initiated a disagreement with my four-year old sister, Charlene, who was my constant companion. Our newborn sister, Laurie, was likely dividing time between naps and cries. Or, very likely I had developed a “mood” as Mom called some bouts in behavior. Mom often referred to me as “Miss Independent.” Maybe so, but I learned from the best! Mom, who at the age of 23 drove from Los Angeles to New York City by herself, seemed fairly independent in her own right.

It was on that summer afternoon in 1961 that I announced to my mother that I wanted to run away! Calmly she said, “Okay dear.” Then she asked what I wanted to pack for my journey. I responded, “Graham crackers and milk.” Out from the tall cupboard came a full package of Honey Maid graham crackers wrapped in their traditional brown waxed paper. Next Mom reached for my pink Barbie thermos, which she filled with cold milk.

My typical attire could have been a pair of shorts with a gingham or seersucker, sleeveless blouse. White anklets and red Ked sneakers surely completed my outfit. We decided that I should wheel the red Radio Flyer wagon as my getaway vehicle. It was a hot summer day so I didn’t need a blanket, but Mom had me stow the plaid Amana-wool blanket into the wagon in case I needed it later.

A hug from Mom and a “Have a nice trip” reassured me that I had made the right decision. This big sister was running away from home to the 160 acres that surrounded our home! So it was that I left with a confident dimpled smile. Off I went with two long ponytails swinging side to side as if defiantly waving. I grabbed the cool metal handle to the wagon and walked down the farmhouse sidewalk, the squeaky wheels making a “ka-thud” with each sidewalk segment they crossed. I raised the lock on the big white yard gate to let myself free to the big world. I looked back to see Mom smiling. My sisters were inside the house. Dad was in town running errands. Lady, our collie mix, wagged her tail as if saying, “Have a good trip.”

I quickly went out of sight as my path took me past the garage where the green Pontiac station wagon was parked; the machine shop with the scent of oil and grease; the scale house with Dad’s weathered wooden wagon he used for harvests; and, the granary that housed the grind stone passed down from my  great-great grandfather Plumb. Then I continued up the barnyard slope, past the corn crib with golden ears from the prior year peeking out at me, and to the well-worn farm lane that stretched clear to the eastern horizon some 1600 feet distant.

The lane had two tire tracks in the fine dust and a green strip of pigweed and choke weed down the middle. Welcoming me along my getaway were fat and wide-eyed grasshoppers. It seemed that each time I took a step they sprang into action with vibrating wings taking them for 10-yard leaps. The meadow larks parked themselves on the tree-limb fence posts, singing melodies in chorus. In contrast, nervous red-wing blackbirds scolded from the adjacent pasture, warning their counterparts of my impending approach.

I paused to look at the fence. Several lines of barbed wire were carefully stretched between the posts. How I loved to accompany Dad when he repaired fences. His heavy leather work gloves protecting his calloused hands when he stretched the wire and fixed it into place. He told me that the weathered fence posts had been there for years, having been created from fallen tree limbs by my great-great-grandfather Patterson, who was a sod-busting homesteader generations ago.

The late summer breeze rustled the tall corn and whipped the long leaves. The breeze made me think of the warm nights in the upstairs bedroom, windows open, and white Pricilla curtains billowing in the cross breeze that ushered in the sweet scent of corn and instilled sensory memories in our dreams. As I meandered down the lane, I passed row after tall row of stalks, ears were filling out with kernels hidden beneath their husks and silks were browning as the hint of kernels reached maturity. Peering into the rows, I heeded my parents’ warning about the prospect of getting lost in corn fields. After all, I was on my own so why venture into the corn and become lost forever, never to be found.

What seemed an eternity was probably all of 20 minutes! I finally reached the intersection of fence lines. On my left, three short trees, possibly crab apple or plum, ran north to south, their outstretched limbs filled with white webs and wiggly tent caterpillars. To get to this triplet of trees, I needed to turn north, meaning I was now out of the site of home and surrounded by nature. Feeling weary, I stopped my squeaky wagon in the shade of a tree. I carefully laid out the woolen blanket atop the tall grass, making a perfect place to picnic, despite the scratchy wool on my bare legs. My fingers pulled the cracker package open. My thermos had a cup for its lid into which I poured cold milk. Crunchy sweet crackers accompanied with rich whole milk…what a perfect snack!

I was engulfed in nature, being out of view of the homestead with only corn, caterpillars, and crabby birds. My snack was quickly devoured. Now thoughts replaced observations and memories. “I wonder if my family misses me?” and “Where will I spend the night?” and “Is my sister having fun without me?” and “Maybe I shouldn’t run away!” These thoughts tugged at my heart. Satisfied with my decision to return home rather than completely run away, I tucked the red plaid blanket into the wagon, graham cracker crumbs attached to the wool, and my empty thermos tossed inside.

From the east end of the lane, I looked ahead of me. The familiar pitches of the farmhouse roofline and tops of the pine trees seemed to beckon. Half way down the lane I was greeted by familiar sounds, the squeal of the feeder pigs, the bark of Lady, and the loud ding of the dinner bell. As I neared the house-yard gate, I noticed Dad’s turquoise International Harvester truck, meaning he was home. I realized that the dinner bell was rung for me as if anticipating my return. Perhaps an hour had passed since my brave departure, despite it seeming much longer. I opened the door. It was good to be home, to see my family, and to receive hugs of reassurance.

Since that day in 1961, I have savored many Red Wagon Days when I just needed to have some time to myself to help ground me and get away from a flurry of activity or expectations. They give me time to bring my five senses to life, to embrace God’s creation, and get lost in my thoughts. Frequently my camera joins me and a journal, except these days it is often my laptop. Unless I have an easy-to-reach path nearby, a trek on wheels typically takes place, maybe for just hours or sometimes a day.

I am writing this on a Red Wagon Day in early October of 2014, clicking away on my keys while sitting in the Rocky Mountain Roasters coffee shop in Frisco, Colorado. Instead of graham crackers and cold milk, I munched on a toasted sesame seed bagel and sipped fresh-roasted coffee. Now that I am finished with this lovely respite and having written of my first Red Wagon Day, it is time to return home. Instead of a quarter-mile lane, I will travel Interstate 70 some 70 miles until I reach our abode in Denver. No dinner bell is needed to encourage my return home, for instead I anticipate the warm embrace of Steve, the love-of-my-life, awaiting me at the front door.


Cartwheels of Glee

Great-Grandfather's Journal Transcribed in 1983

Great-Grandfather’s Journal Transcribed in 1983

Can I tell you that I am doing cartwheels of glee? A task that I have kept on my “Family History To Do List” for the past four years since our 2010 trip to Scotland has finally been accomplished! I have completely transcribed my great-grandfather Lachlan McLennan’s autobiography that he wrote, resulting in 97 pages and close to 65,000 words. Carol McLennan, the lovely wife of my Dad’s first cousin Harold, transcribed Lachlan’s journal back in 1983 from its original state to a typewritten one. It hit me several years ago that having it transcribed again into a digital format would be best for this era in which we live, for as each time the typewritten copy is photocopied it lost a bit of its typewritten clarity. What is even more remarkable is that the original autobiography that Great-Grandfather penned, survived the house fire in which Lachlan tragically perished, some of its pages singed by the fire when it was recovered. What a heartbreaking ending for Great-Grandfather in 1935, just over two weeks after his final journal entry.

After Lachlan immigrated to the United States from Scotland he began writing his autobiography. Initially, there is some retrospection on his part, but it seems that he likely began this life-long writing venture in the early 1870s. What awaits me now is to put it through an editing process plus create at least two additional sections, one of photos and the other a resource section. Then the ultimate goal will be to publish it for other readers to enjoy. Hopefully this will lead me to register for an ISBN number so that the book will make its way to the Library of Congress at some point.

On May 29, 2014, it will have been 145 years since Lachlan, his mother, Catherine MacKay McLennan, two sisters, Kate and Mary, a brother, Evan, and a brother-in-law, Hugh, left Corntown on the lush green Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands on May 29, 1869. They arrived in Kewanee, Illinois on June 26, 1869 where they stayed with dear friends. Six months later, Lachlan boarded the train at the Kewanee Depot and headed west to Brooklyn, Iowa. He writes, “As I walked out from Brooklyn Christmas Day to the home of my sister [Isabella immigrated at a prior time] about nine miles north, I thought the country bleak and uninviting and my prospect did not make a very favorable impression on me.  I was so blue that I regretted coming out to Iowa but I never, after this feeling wore away, regretted it since.”

Researching Poweshiek and Benton County records and perusing old maps of those counties will be part of my next endeavor for the resource section of the autobiography. If you have tidbits pertaining to records or old maps, I would love to be in touch with you. Please check in with me from time to time to see where I am on this journey to honor my Great-Grandfather Lachlan!

Three Pioneer Families: Patterson, Plumb, McLennan

Since the copies of my book have been delivered to special family members and the Belle Plaine Historical Museum, I wanted to share my first book with my readers. It was a labor of love that resulted from hundreds of hours between 2010-2013. First I scanned over 1,500 images and documents from my Grandmother Geneva’s scrapbooks. Then I was asked by a friend from my hometown community of Belle Plaine, Iowa to create an update for the community’s 2012 Sesquicentennial. It hit me earlier this year that I wanted to make sure that the effort that I placed in the DVD was not lost to family members who had not purchased the DVD. Thus, the perfect impetus presented itself for bringing it to print form. Alas, what better timing than when I was just discovering the world of print-on-demand publishing. I opted to use

Three Pioneer Families: Patterson, Plumb, McLennan

Three Pioneer Families: Patterson, Plumb, McLennan

The cover photo features a view from my brother and sister-in-law’s driveway. They now reside in the farmhouse where my grandparent’s McLennan lived during the mid-1950s until the early-1960s. The farmland was in the McLennan family for about 70 years, until it was recently sold. Nevertheless, the photo represents fairly “virgin” Iowa farmland. We do not recollect a plow being used in this pastureland.  What we do recall though, are the collective memories of mushroom hunting, counting cattle to assure they were “all there,” hickory nut and walnut gathering, apple picking, taking city cousins on a tour by wagon of the farm, using machetes to rid the pasture of persistent Canadian thistles, sledding parties, and warming cold toes around bonfires with friends. The significance of the photo is that in some respects it depicts what the land may have looked like in the 1850s when the pioneers from the East began to settle in the area.

Back cover of my book.

Back cover of my book.

While only a few dozen photos are featured in this book, they are photos that best highlight my pioneer ancestry from these three branches. My book goes back to 1854 with the Patterson’s arrival in Benton County from Ohio. The Plumbs arrived in 1867 from Indiana, but orginally from Canada. Lastly, great-great grandmother, Catherine McKay McLennan, and her son, Lachlan McLennan, arrived in 1869 from the Highlands of Scotland. Generation by generation, the book features the changes in the family and the times, until I bring in the latest generation through photos.

What was it like to be a pioneer during the times of westward expansion? For me, I am much like my mother, as I love to read accounts of brave souls encountering the elements, river crossings, and forging for food. I am mindful of the commitment that it took to make such a drastic change in one’s life. In some ways it is reminiscent of what Steve and I did when we left the Midwest in 2010 to engage in a simplified lifestyle. However, I also acknowledge that movement to the west and across the wide spans of land also meant that infringement occurred on Native Americans. So, I stop to consider what impact we bore on our Native friends during this part of our country’s history.

Now it is time to journey onward through my family archives! Will it be the Vale’s, McClester’s, Carmitchel’s, or Stratton’s? These are branches of my Mom’s heritage, so I look forward to another adventure in saved photos and the genealogy pages of family Bibles!





An Easter Memory

It's Easter! My sister, Charlene, and I share in Easter as little girls. We've finished our egg hunt and slipped the eggs into our baskets.

It’s Easter on the farm in Iowa. My younger sister, Charlene, and I share in Easter as little girls. I see a couple of colorful eggs in our basket!

Whenever I open a bottle of vinegar, the scent immediately draws me back to our annual Easter egg coloring. While our two children were young, it was great fun to enjoy a tradition that has been savored across the generations.

With the hard-boiled eggs resting in their cardboard carton, excitement was in the air as our two children sat on their knees upon chairs at our kitchen table. Newspaper covered the table and a row of small clear bowls was placed within reach of our little artists! Each bowl received its portion of hot water and vinegar. Deftly, parental grips squeezed the plastic McCormick-brand food coloring bottles while our son and daughter counted the drops, drip…by…drip. Big smiles appeared when almost like magic the colors came to life, much like a rainbow: blue, red, yellow, and green. Then carefully calculated color mixtures provided purple, orange, pink, spring green, and teal.

Crayola crayons were strewn across the table where chubby fingers reached for them to write a name, draw a bunny, or create patterns. There was nothing quite like using the special metal dipper to create an egg of two colors as one half of the egg was dipped for a period of time and then the egg was switched around for the additional color. Another favorite technique requiring extra patience was to dunk the egg a little longer to achieve a deeper color.

Each child had their allotment of eggs to color, yet despite this arrangement, it seemed there were never enough eggs, for they could have dyed eggs the whole day long. At the end of our artful session, the egg carton was filled again, but with beautifully decorated eggs. Then the carton was slipped into the refrigerator, awaiting the Easter Bunny’s innate ability to hide them in places only a special hare could manage.

The next morning, a cheer of “Happy Easter!” rang through the house as my husband and I were pulled from our slumber.  With pajamas still on and little feet slipped into shoes, baskets swung from eager hands. Squeals and shouts filled the air as the race began around the yard, with our two little ones peering beneath bushes, stepping among blooming crocuses, or balancing on tippy-toes to reach into branches.

Almost as quickly as the egg hunt began, it was finished. In the morning chill, we ushered the children back into the kitchen, where one by one the eggs were returned to the carton. Alas, the moment arrived where we each selected an egg, cracked the shell, slipped it off, shook a little salt onto the egg, and ate it! The rest made great egg-salad sandwiches or deviled eggs! What great memories of Easter with our kids. What are some of your favorite memories? Feel free to share them in the comment box below or by contacting me through the “Contact Diane” button above.

Happy Easter!

My Pruning Stage

As I walked along the heavily mulched trail on the east side of Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, I could see my breath on a chilly February day in 2010. The silence which I typically cherished on these afternoon walks was broken by a very shrill burst of sound. “GRRRRRRRRR!!” went the limb shredding machine. Several arborists were carefully pruning the shrubs and trees along the paved road. February is a perfect time to tackle this annual task before the warmer days of spring and prior to the sap again flowing, rekindling the plant back to life after winter’s long, cold slumber.

Now fast forward to a recent February afternoon in 2013 and in my new state of Colorado.  I was lost in thought on my walk in Louisville, Colorado, along a flat sandy trail with stately and barren cottonwoods lining a dry creek bed. It was a stark contrast to the arboretum’s lushness and wide variety of trees. However, what really hit me on this walk was the whole notion of pruning. This time though there was no loud whining coming from a machine to abruptly snap me out of my thought-induced state. Rather it was my own need to gain a perspective on my life at this stage of the game.

As I saw the brown overgrowth of winter vegetation beneath the cottonwoods, I felt like I could relate. My reaction, “Gosh, that certainly needs to be cleared. If someone would prune those shrubs, I bet they would have some new growth this spring.” Within minutes of considering a good pruning job on the shrubs, I realized this is what I also needed in my own life.

“Hmmmm….how does one prune oneself?” I paused to consider. Feeling a sudden burst of inspiration, I noted that I too could use a good dose of pruning. Over the past 4 ½ years, our household possessions have been sorted, donated, given to family and friends, sold, or have been kept. The cycle has repeated itself five times due to our move from Illinois and through the return-to-college years! We have packed and unpacked. We have loaded and unloaded. We have stored items in three different locations. We have moved and schlepped or hired movers to do this chore. The costs have been dramatic: financially, time wise, and emotionally as move after move becomes “heavy on the soul” and the burden of doing more in the future becomes unfathomable. In fact, it feels much like the overgrown vegetation or a shrub loaded with crisscrossing twigs and rubbing branches, not promoting the usual spring blossoms or tender leaves.

Alas, I hit on something. Reflecting back on my human development classes in college, I remember the various stages and resulting transitions that one typically negotiates through life based on Erik Erickson’s theory of development. For me, my self-proclaimed pruning stage is my call to action bringing me more in line with Erickson’s idea of generativity, a time to be fully-engaged in my life, feeling liberated for my future.

What my pruning stage is asking of me requires letting go of more possessions. I want a life filled with possibilities and opportunities without the dread of dealing with the extraneous possessions again. I am after essential, simple, and modest living. Now that we’re in a one-bedroom apartment, we are on our way to realizing this lifestyle. I intend to relish the extra time away from the burden of possessions to spend with my husband, grown children, family, and friends. Plus I desire time to fully participate in my passions and interests. I will take photos of the possessions that hold the most memories and take joy in finding new homes for these former treasures which only now clutter my soul and space.

This is not downsizing. It is a more meaningful process for me personally — it is time to prune and promote new growth! My first step? Off to the hardware store for a sturdy pair of pruning shears! Tell me how you can relate to a good pruning!

Be My Valentine: It’s All about Love ❤

“Will you be my Valentine?” is a popular question that is posed to those we love on this particular day. While many people think that the Hallmark card company had a hand in creating Valentine’s Day, it has actually been in existence for centuries in many forms and legends. Perhaps check out this link to read more about it:  In the 21st century, Valentine’s Day continues to be observed on February 14 as a day to express one’s love and affection towards another.  Hearts, flowers, chocolates, candles, dinner dates, cards with touching sentiments, or quiet evenings at home all flow through my store of memories.

My Grandparents, Horace and Geneva, were married on Valentine’s Day in 1918. They married at the home of my Grandmother’s parents, which was customary at the time. I often thought Valentine’s Day would be a special day to be married. As part of our first Valentine’s Day together in 1974, Steve and I dressed up, joining another couple to go to the Joffrey Ballet which had a performance at Iowa State University. Steve and I met only three months prior at a dorm party and the chemistry between us became more evident on that special evening as we went out to dinner and watched a beautiful ballet.

On our first Valentine’s Day as newlyweds in 1977, I recall how Steve walked past countless storefronts through downtown Des Moines until he found Fannie May Chocolates. He carefully selected a red cardboard heart-shaped box filled with melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, each candy identified on the inside of the lid. On the top of the box was a small black stuffed-animal Scottish terrier. As I had grown up with a brood of Scotties as part of my mother’s kennel business, Steve sensed this was just the box for me.

A particular Valentine’s dinner will always be a treasured memory for Steve and me. We arranged for a babysitter to watch our six-month old son while we went out to dinner at Red Lobster. Unfortunately, Red Lobster did not take reservations, so we soon discovered after our arrival that we would have an hour’s wait on this very popular evening. Fretting about the time we gave our sitter for returning home, we discussed whether or not to stay. Within ear shot was a couple, probably the age of our parents at the time. They approached us and asked, “Would you like to join us at our table? We’re next on the list. In fact, we insist.” Amazed, Steve and I accepted their offer. It turned out to be one of our more memorable Valentine’s dinners as we became acquainted with this kind couple. When the check came, Steve reached for his billfold, but the gentleman put his hand out and said, “Please. We would be honored to have you as our guests tonight. Our children live out-of-state. It has been such a pleasure to have you join us tonight.” We didn’t exchange addresses or phone numbers, so we never saw them again. But, we will never forget their graciousness that evening.

One Valentine’s morning as a child, I awoke to a surprise at my bedroom door. Mom had knitted royal blue slippers with pom-pom tassels, leaving them at the bedroom doorway and placing a couple of chocolates in each slipper. The night before we siblings sat circled around the kitchen table carefully writing the name of each classmate on a Valentine and signing our names. I reserved the most sentimental card in the packet  for the cutest boy in class, hoping that it would affirm to him how special I thought he was. I imagine, though, that I wasn’t alone with my heart-throb crush, since many of the girls in my class had similar affections for him. And, always, there was the “teacher” card, although a couple of my teachers really didn’t match the verse on the card, posing a dilemma on which card to give!

When our son and daughter were in grade school, it was fun to watch them make their Valentine mailboxes out of shoeboxes that were reserved in the garage attic for the occasion. They eagerly set to work using the tools of the trade before them: colorful construction paper, Elmer’s glue, Reynolds aluminum foil, heart-shaped stickers, and a rainbow assortment of markers. Most importantly was creating the mail slot on the lid for their classmates to easily slip their cards into the box. It was always fun to have them sit with me at the end of the school day and go through their Valentine’s cards from their classmates and have them tell me about their Valentine’s parties at school.

As a preschool teacher in recent years, it was fun to relive some of my memories and those of my children while my little 3- and 4-year old charges carefully crafted their boxes or heart-shaped pouches with handles. Pink cupcakes or heart-shaped cookies were coveted treats for the classes, thanks to generous parents who loved to bake. I hope the children have memories of their first Valentine celebrations in a classroom setting.

Valentine’s Day brings many stories to mind for us. May we stop to consider that it would really be lovely to focus on loving one another every day of the year, not just on February 14. What memories of Valentine’s Day do you have? Feel free to share your story in the comment section or contact me directly through the “Contact Diane” tab on the website.