Category Archives: Reflections

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!


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.


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.





The Lincoln Highway Turns 100

Did you know that the Lincoln Highway turns 100 during 2013? This great highway shares a deep legacy with me. Of course, many people likely have similar sentiments, since it is the former work-horse highway that stretched from coast to coast across 12 states. It was the super-highway of its era, perhaps matching in fascination to the railroads of the time.

In 1913, it began in New York City’s Time Square at Broadway and 42nd Street. It continued through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California, where it ended at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. The length was roughly 3,400 miles!

Route 30 across Iowa now is a seemingly straight shot across the land of verdant crops. However, when the Lincoln Highway was first laid out through Benton County, Iowa and due to the steep hills and ridges to the west of what is the U.S. 30 and State Highway 131 crossroads, the planners decided to take the route south (State Highway 131) about 4 1/2 miles and then west on what is now 13th Street through my hometown of Belle Plaine. Our family farm rested on the east side of Lincoln Highway and was located just over 2 miles south of Route 30.

Growing up along the Lincoln Highway was special. My Grandpa Horace was always especially fond of the old route as well as the railroad that went through town. When anyone referred to the Lincoln Highway, we knew exactly which route they were referencing. As Belle Plaine was also a railroad hub for the Chicago Northwestern and a popular stop, we also found our farm a straight route north and an easy walk for hobos needing a hot meal. There were marks made on telephone posts along Lincoln Highway, giving clues to these men that our farmhouse was a good stop. Mom would shoo us kids to the 2nd floor of the house while she fixed a quick, yet hot meal for many a grateful train-hitching fellow. Grandma Geneva, who formerly lived in the home, alerted Mom to the custom of providing meals.

When I think of the Lincoln Highway, I also pause to ask, “How many people experienced cattle drives on Lincoln Highway?” My Dad would have 60 head or so of cattle at the West Farm (the farm of my grandparents’ McLennan). After the cattle had grazed the pasture down, Dad would recruit Mom, the five of us kids, Grandpa Horace, and often a few of our fun-loving friends. We would drive the cattle by walking behind them, coaxing and scolding them, along the gravel road from the West Farm to our farm along busy 131. The cattle drive was about three miles long and took a couple of hours. What we discovered each time we did this was that cattle are innately stubborn, especially when they see a bridge to cross, where they lose their senses and become skittish. It would take Dad saying, “Come Boss” as he shook a pail of oats or corn. Once one cow took the bait and followed Dad across the bridge, the rest of these bovines followed suit. I guess we could credit it to their “herd mentality.”

Alas, the pace would change once the highway was in view. Dad would alert the Benton County sheriff ahead of time, so the sheriff could help stop or slow the traffic on the Lincoln Highway. Once we successfully drove the cattle from the gravel to the pavement, we would drive them north, just under a mile, to an open gate into the pasture by the grove of trees where deep grass awaited them.

As I check out the route of the Lincoln Highway, I also realize the many ties that I have to it. In Pennsylvania, it goes through Ligonier and Pittsburg, the area where my Grandaddy John Vale and his family of origin lived. When I went to college at Iowa State in Ames, I often walked along the Lincoln Highway en route to class. Finishing my bachelors degree at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois, I also drove Lincoln Highway to get to school from the western suburb of Batavia. My husband, son, daughter, and I lived in Batavia, Illinois for 20 years. The Lincoln Highway went right past our church where I worked as a preschool teacher also. The Highway went through North Aurora, Batavia, and Geneva, where we drove hundreds of miles over the years. On a special note, my husband, Steve, rode parts of the Lincoln Highway on his bicycle ride across the U.S. in 2005.

Needless to say, the Lincoln Highway deserves to be recognized as it turns a century. It was an integral force behind the transportation history of the United States. Many communities thrived because of the route passing through town, from diners to barber shops and full-service filling stations to motels, businesses welcomed many a traveler into their midst. I’d love to hear what memories you have of the Lincoln Highway. Perhaps you’d like to help the Lincoln Highway celebrate its Centennial. If so, I urge you to pay a visit to its website to see how you can participate in an area along the route near you:

Special Delivery

This true story is dedicated to my parents, Chuck and Betty McLennan. They were clever and creative, always embracing the child-at-heart in all of us, despite our age. Mom and Dad created an endearing custom that we enjoyed from the time I could first remember until the youngest of the five of us was probably in high school. How I miss my parents and thank them for their zest for live. Enjoy this Special Delivery story. Merry Christmas!


Snuggled together on my twin bed and sitting alongside me were my sisters, Charlene, Laurie, and Susan with Mama Betty holding our little brother, Charles, on her lap. Our evening bedtime routine often included storytime, but during the weeks before Christmas it typically involved listening to traditional Christmas stories. Saturday night baths were finished, everyone’s hair was neatly combed and pin curls or brush rollers carefully placed for us girls since we had Sunday school in the morning. Each of us had donned our flannel night gowns or pajamas that Grandma Geneva had sewn for our Christmas gifts the prior year. Hand-knitted slippers that Mama made last Valentine’s Day were keeping our toes cozy-warm.

There was a distinct chill in the air as the winter wind whistled through the pine tree windbreak to the north of the house. Located near Belle Plaine, Iowa, our two-story clapboard farmhouse was built in 1899 by our Great-Grandpa Patterson, so despite its former sturdiness, the years since had taken their toll. Therefore, a cold draft had a knack for creeping through the slightest crack in the old window putty, moving the white Priscilla curtains ever so slightly on the interior-side of the windows and sending a shiver up our spines.

Listening intently to Mama’s soft voice as she read of Dancer, Prancer, Donner, Vixen, and of course the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph, we were quickly startled by something strange outdoors.

“Rap, rap, rap,” came the pounding from the porch door.

“Ho, ho, ho!” boomed a low bass voice.

“Jingle, jingle, jingle,” rang out the deep clang of sleigh bells.

Without skipping a beat, the five of us kids sprang to the window and Mama carefully drew up the shade. Through the Jack Frost etching on the second-story window, we could make out a tall figure dressed in red, cap blowing in the wind, and black boots leaving tell-tale footprints in the fresh fallen snow down the front sidewalk.

“M-e-r-r-y  C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s!” shouted Santa as he waved and jumped the white picket gate at the end of the sidewalk.

Excitedly we jumped up and down, shouting, “Santa came!”

Without any coaxing we clamored single-file out of the bedroom to the top of the stairs, Mama leading the way with our toddler brother in her arms. She slowed our pace, saying, “Don’t slip on the stairs in your slippers now and hold the railing.”

Once on the main floor we zipped to the porch door where thrusting it wide open the surprise was revealed. In unison we shouted a resounding, “Yippee! Santa brought our Christmas tree!” There leaning against the worn wooden siding stood the most beautiful pine tree with a fragrant scent of Christmas. This fragrance also brought a rush of memories of our campsite in the thick pine forest of Point Beach State Park in Wisconsin where we camped just four months earlier but only during the oppressive heat of summer.

“Oh no!” announced Mama with sadness. “Daddy missed the excitement. Let’s go find him.”

We shut the porch door, walked into the warm kitchen, and heard a familiar noise.

“Clang, clang, clang…..scrape, scrape, scrape,” echoed the sounds from the basement. Daddy was stoking the furnace with corncobs, coal, and wood.

We threw upon the door to the basement and called to him, “Daddy, come quick. Santa came with a Christmas tree!”

“Just a minute, I’ll be right there,” he responded. Soon Daddy came walking up the old basement stairs from the musty confines of the furnace room and brushing coal dust from his hands. He was beaming from ear to ear and working to catch his breath. Daddy followed us to the front door where he caught his first glimpse of our Christmas tree brought magically to our home in the country.

“Wow, Santa brought a perfect tree again!” cheered Daddy.

An acknowledgement stirred in my eleven-year-old soul as the eldest child of us five. For I recognized the extra twinkle in Daddy’s blue eyes and his quick wink directed at Mama. I closed my eyes, knowing in my heart of hearts the secret of Christmas, and whispered to myself, “Thank you, Santa, for our Special Delivery!”

Circa 1955, Our Special Delivery Christmas Tree After Decorating


My Favorite Dessert

“What’s your favorite dessert?” Roberta asks. My quick reply, “Brownies, girl. Definitely brownies!”

As soon as I stake my claim to a favorite sweet, I begin to daydream……..

Ghiradelli Brownies in the making. Ghiradelli chocolate squares are placed between two layers of brownie batter, where they will melt into a delicious chocolate state!

Brownies. I’m talking the soft, chewy, gooey type of brownies. Even better, bring on the additional tidbits of little extras such as chocolate chips, candy bars, walnuts, or flavorings. Perhaps add a homemade cocoa frosting layer to the top. In my mind the scent of brownies wafting through the house on a cold winter’s day seems to up the temperature indoors to a manageable and cozy feel. Now top that brownie square with a dollop of ala mode, drizzle it with hot fudge sauce, and “Oh Mama!”

To take it up another notch, I would definitely pair that embellished brownie with a hot cup of dark roast coffee with just enough milk to enhance my sipping pleasure. As steam lazily drifts up from my cup of java, I savor the first bite of this chocolaty sensation coined a brownie. Sipping from the rim of my warm mug, I instantly reap the benefits of the coffee melting the brownie with each delicious swallow.

Roberta’s voice quickly snaps me from my wonderful chocolate visions. “You made homemade brownies?” Roberta asks. “What’s the occasion?”

I think. Should I mention that it’s for the potluck at church, or for a crowd of hungry teenagers, or for ‘tis-the-season-to-be-jolly time? Truth be told, they are to soothe this brown-eyed girl’s soul. For some folks, soul-soothing may be like gravy on mashed potatoes or chicken-fried steak. For me, brownies make the world go ‘round.

Roberta eyes the platter piled high with fresh cut brownie squares. Hospitality is extended as I invite my friend to select a brownie. Roberta carefully takes her first bite, closing her eyes, and relishing the moment, then pauses to inquire, “May I have the recipe?”