The “H” Word–Hitchhiking

When I was young and very foolish, I spent three months in Europe hitchhiking around the country and sleeping in youth hostels. What an incredible way to see a country. I met so many wonderful people and had unbelievable experiences. I was twenty years old and my traveling companion, Michele, was about the same. We spent the entire summer traveling from one country to another. We started in Amsterdam, met up with old friends from home in Germany, saw the Mona Lisa in France, had a scare in Spain, danced through Italy, stayed in a haunted hostel in Wales, met new relatives in Ireland, and had other great adventures in Switzerland, Austria, England, and Lichtenstein. We met fellow travelers from all over the world and locals that often gave us housing and superb hospitality.

In those days, they didn’t have our fast food restaurants and it was impossible to find a good hamburger. We were very young and although we liked most of the food, we didn’t appreciate it as we may have had we been a little older. We were starved for good old American food. We finally found an import store. We sat outside on the steps for almost two hours until it opened. Once inside, we paid about five times the amount we would have at home for a jar of peanut butter. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. We would buy fresh loaves of bread in the bakeries and fruit from the stands on the streets and ate fruit and peanut butter sandwiches for about a week…until our peanut butter was gone.

Hitchhiking was the best way to travel back then. I was a college student at the time, and a bit of a hippie…not the real thing…I had too much “Catholic guilt” to get into the free love thing and the drug scene didn’t appeal to me. So, with my hair in braids and my loose outfits, I was sort of a hippie wannabe. I did hippie things, like: travel with just a single bag pack all summer, wash my clothes by hand in cold water and hang them out to dry, took cold showers (ok, so I had no other options), go barefoot or wear sandals, and of course, hitchhike.

We hitchhiked from city to city and then took the bus system around to see the sites, except in Italy. There we even hitchhiked in the city because the Italian men were so eager to give us rides. And yes, they do (or did then) pinch your bottom when you walked down the streets, just like in the old movies.

Hitchhike, a word my mother never quite forgave me for. She didn’t know until I got home what my mode of travel had been. She would have been so worried, and rightly so, but I know she also admired my sense of adventure. Now, I’m older and much wiser and will no longer even take a ride on a roller coaster, much less with a stranger. So now when I get the urge to put on jeans and a sweatshirt and hitchhike down the highway, I know I’m only dreaming of a time gone by.

Have you ever hitchhiked? Or picked up a hitchhiker? Please share your story.

The “G” Word–Geneology

Have you researched your genealogy? It can be great fun. I started the process about ten years ago, or more. I was able to research my mother’s side of the family back to the twelve hundreds. I found some very interesting stories along the way. I also met a group of relatives that I would’ve never met if I hadn’t been looking for information.

I returned to Fertile, MN and discovered a graveyard from the 1800’s that belonged entirely to our clan except for about six graves that were from one other family. The graveyard was off the beaten path in the woods hidden from the public. It contained the graves of my great grandparents, and my great, great grandparents and gaggles of great aunts and uncles. All those original “Fertile families” were “gi-normous.” My great-grandfather was one of eighteen. His folks came from Canada to the valley along with three other families nearly as large. They arrived there too late to get their homes built before winter settled in, so that first winter they had to dig holes in the hills and live underground until the snows passed. They initially called the area Godfrey Township. It was sometime later when my brilliant ancestors changed the name to Fertile.

I also discovered other interesting things, like the first cousins that married each other, making some parts of my family tree a “pole” instead of a tree.

Have you researched your genealogy? Any interesting stories you’d care to share?

The F-Word–Family

I have the best family in the world, not the sanest, but by far the most loving. There were nine of us born to Forest and Clara in a little town in Minnesota called Fertile. (I’m not kidding.)

When my family celebrates, we feast, the Easter function at my sister’s house this year had over one hundred folks there. I counted one-hundred-four family members and friends and tables full of food.

When there’s an illness, not just the hearts reach out, but the bodies too. When my eldest sister was on her deathbed, every one of my brothers and sisters came to support one another. They came from Montana, Idaho, and different parts of California. We all huddled together in the hospital waiting room for five days. And when Sissy passed away we were all together circled around her bedside fingers entwined.

When there’s work to be done, they all pitch in. When someone has a dream they all encourage it. When someone gets married, graduates, is released from jail (I never claimed perfection), signs a book contract like “The Advocate,” or gets a job, no matter how big or small the event, this family cares and supports. That’s not to say we don’t fuss at one another. We have our share of feuds and fights, but eventually the love always overcomes.

We are one big, and I do mean big (at last count, I had one-hundred-fourteen nieces and nephews, that includes great-nieces and nephews), happy (most of the time) family—now that’s a Fertile family!

The E Word–Exercise…Ewww

Eleven (it’s an e-word day) ways to exercise without spending money or time.

1. While you’re brushing your teeth, do a few squats…slowly, so the toothpaste isn’t splattered everywhere.

2. While sitting at the table eating breakfast clench those buttocks together, hold it for about two seconds, and then release. Keep doing it throughout breakfast (lunch or dinner) and it won’t be long before you’ll have a firmer butt. If breakfast and butt doesn’t sound that appealing to you, then do it while you’re sitting at your desk. Your rear end doesn’t have to get enormous just because you’re sitting on it all day.

3. You all know to take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, or at the very least walk up and down that escalator. And pick up your speed when you do need to walk somewhere. You’ll get it done earlier and burn a calorie or two.

4. There are lots of things you can do while sitting at your desk. Extend your legs out in front of you and stretch those calves. It’s good to stretch those muscles and helps prevent blood clots as well.

5. You can do leg lifts from your desk, too. Start with one leg, then the other, then both. Start slow and add a few each week. This can be an effective abdominal exercise.

6. Stretch (not roll) your neck from side to side and forward and backward. Also, look right, and left.

7. If you expend a lot of time typing, roll your wrists. This can help prevent carpal tunnel. Roll your ankles as well. This can help with circulation.

8. Suck in your stomach, hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat this as often as you can think to do it. After a while it will become a habit and you will have firmer stomach muscles.

9. Open your arms straight out, pull your shoulders back, and rotate your wrists (thumbs going up and back). Good stretch.

10. Keep a hand gripper around your house. Pick it up when you walk by and use it. It works your hands as well as your forearms.

11. After work, and you’ve eaten your dinner (sucking in those buttocks while you ate), and it’s time to relax in front of the television, get a large size stability ball and sit on it with back and abs held firm. Sit, bounce, and do basic exercise on it while you watch the “boob tube.”

Now this isn’t meant to replace regular exercise, but those of us who can’t seem to make it to the gym at all, or on those days when we can’t take those long walks, this is way better than nothing.

The D Word–Dance

Dancing is one of my favorite pastimes. I don’t know whether I’m any good at it or not, but I still enjoy the dance floor. The motion, the swaying, the lively steps, moving with the music, it’s magical.

My favorite Garth Brooks song is “The Dance.” You’ve got to love the line—“I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss, the dance.” It’s really all about the dance of life. It’s the work. It’s the fun. It’s the accomplishments, the sweat, the deadlines, the creativity, and the laughs and smiles along the way. That’s what makes life so incredibly wonderful. They’re all part of the dance.

When I was about five years old I can remember going to town on a Saturday night with my parents. We would go to a bar called “The Sister’s Café” where mom would work and dad would drink. My sister and I would hang out. The old drunks would put money in the jukebox and then give us dimes if we danced. Looking back on it, I’m sure some of them were trying to help entertain us, others I’ve got to wonder. Anyway, as soon as we had enough dimes, we would go to the movies. Strange as it may seem, that dancing left me both feeling sentimental and scarred. But I still like to dance.

And what lyrics are better than Lee ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.”

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
Dance….I hope you dance.

I have few regrets with my choices in life, but those I do have are not because I chose to dance but rather because I sit one out. Just dance.

And best of all, my favorite quote. (I don’t know who to attribute it to but I’ve had it on my wall for years.) “The reason the rain dance works is because they don’t stop dancing until it rains.” This reminder has kept me going many times when I wanted to give up.

What’s your favorite dance story? Did you dance or sit it out?

C Word–It’s All About the Children

My “C” word is children. Although, I never gave birth to any, I’ve been surrounded by them since I entered this world. I had eight brothers and sisters. I’m the baby. When you come from a clan that large you soon have oodles of nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. I lost count around twenty years ago—at fifty plus.

When people would ask me why I didn’t have any children, I would jokingly reply, “I hate kids.” The truth is, I’ve spent my entire life working with those little “curtain climbers.” I’ve taught, represented, tutored, counseled, and coached them. I even helped raise one son who I inherited from a relationship. He’s wonderful, but I have to give his father the credit for doing such a fabulous job. He was consistent, caring, and conscious of what was going on in his child’s world. And as a result, Bobby grew up to be a well functioning member of society. In fact he’s now an attorney—ok, so he’s not perfect (and that’s the part he got from me.)

Our children are our most cherished commodity. They need our protection, our love, and our direction in this crazy cosmos. I’ve seen so much heartache and pain among those little ones with my stint at juvenile court. That’s part of the reason I wrote my novel, The Advocate. It deals with a fictional juvenile court case while it delves into some of the realities of child abuse.

Life is all about the children and the joy they bring into our lives. What have you done lately to make a child’s day special? Or what has a child done that made you smile?

B words: Bald is beautiful—After the shave

At the St. Baldrick’s Day “Shaving the Way” to cure for kids’ cancer event on March 21st over 130 heads were shaved. My buddy, Jo Jensen, was one of them—a beautiful act on her behalf. Jo now has an energy efficient hairdo which will be nice and cool when the sun starts blazing. Through this event they raised a total of over $60,000 and Jo has almost reached her personal goal of $2,000. Donations were still coming in the last I heard, but Jo was over $1,800.

Unfortunately, I was not there to see it for myself, but Jo told me the energy was “electric” and the kids were phenomenal…beholding to each and every person for their donation of bucks and bristle (money and hair.)

Within the last week I lost a niece, Sheila, to breast cancer and a dear friend, Roberto, to prostate cancer. Both of them suffered for a long time and both left this world way too young. I want to give a special thanks to all of you who contribute to this research so other families don’t have to suffer with this agonizing death.

Here are the photos of Jo before and after her selfless act:

A to Z Blog–The A Words

I’ve decided to write an A-Z blog. I’m starting with the letter A (because I’m too anal to start anywhere else). My “A” words today are: accomplishments, aspirations, author/advocate and a few other “a” words.

Aspirations: I’ve always had countless aspirations. Many people I know don’t seem to aspire to much of anything, or maybe they had aspirations, life got in the way, and they lost them. I remember as a small child playing in the snow banks of Minnesota and dreaming of a better life to come. Of course, back then I thought I wanted to be an anchorite, a nun to be exact. I sure missed that one by a country mile. I loved the nuns’ apparel and I longed to take a lap around those huge beads that hung from their habits. But most of all the nuns would give me bananas when I was good (and back then I was always good.) My sister wasn’t too crazy about the nuns and usually got in trouble—and to this day she abhors bananas. I think there’s a correlation there.

Accomplishments: So much left to do in my lifetime. I have accomplished quite a bit since I left the algid winters of Minnesota. I managed to get through law school, become an attorney, and have lots of adventures along the way. I traveled to every state in the United States, except Alaska (had to cancel that trip when my brother-in-law got sick—but still planning to get there.) I’ve been to the Americas (north, central, and south), to Amsterdam, Athens, Austria, Asia, Acapulco, and other places from A to Z. (I know you writers and editors are going crazy because I’m mixing cities and countries, but it’s not easy getting all these A’s in.) Now I’ve written a novel, The Advocate. But there is so much left to accomplish, and oh, so many places left to see. There’s that “A-list” to get on (the bestseller list,) The Advocate #2 to finish, the novel after that; there’s Alaska, Africa, Australia, and Aruba. I think I’ll wait on Afghanistan. And there’s learning to play Bridge. I know it doesn’t start with an “A”, but I’ve always wanted to learn so I threw it in anyway.

Author/advocate: So, I went from attorney to author and as a result, I wrote The Advocate. Although it is fiction, it was inspired by an actual case. I have been an advocate for children most of my life, through my teaching, my law practicing, for my amazing de facto son, and my awesome nieces and nephews.

Everything I’ve done in life I’ve done because I didn’t know I couldn’t. What do you still aspire to? What is that one thing you really want to do in life that you haven’t done—yet?

Bald is Beautiful

I received a message yesterday from my friend, Jo, in Texas. She is scheduled to have her head shaved next week. She has volunteered to do this in an effort to raise money for St. Baldrick’s childhood cancer research. She has less than a week to go to reach her goal of $2000. So far, she has about $1100. I think it’s an incredible thing she is doing.

I’m sharing this because I’m so impressed when people give this much of themselves. Although I’m not quite ready to have my head shaved, I was not at all surprised to hear Jo was going that extra mile. So instead, I’m helping to support her in this quest. (When I finally decide to cut my hair, I will donate it to the cause.)

How many of us are willing to do what Jo is doing? Not everyone has to go that far, but if you want to get involved, please go to and click on the “Find A Participant” tab. Then type her name (Jo Jensen) in the name field and make an online donation to this important cause! She’ll be posting an “AFTER” photo for you to see that she kept her promise of shaving her head just to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

Yes, bald is beautiful, Jo. And so are you for helpling our “little people.”

A Thank You to the Protectors of our Children

This is a thank you to all the people out there who have dedicated their lives to working with children—the teachers, the classroom aides, the doctors and nurses, the social workers, the attorneys, the judges, the police, the coaches, the CASA volunteers, the children’s charities, and anyone else who spends their time and money to help our precious “little people.”

There is nothing quite as rewarding as seeing a smile appear on a child’s face for something you have done for them. If you haven’t done anything lately to make a better life for a child, start today. You’ll be glad you did.

My novel, The Advocate, (Echelon Press, publisher) gives you a glimpse of what goes on in the juvenile court system. I’m hoping it will help to educate the masses a little on what the process is like and how much some of these children suffer. I’m in the process of setting up speaking events at non-profit functions where I can dedicate the proceeds from the novel to support organizations dedicated to child advocacy. It’s a small way to do my part.

Please add your thanks to these special people with your comments on this blog.