Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Say Uncle!

The Dinner Party
by Jules-Alexandre Grün

What if you could have dinner with a man who was a spy during World War II? Or a man who had lived in India as a young man? I did. Hundreds of times. They were my uncles. Unfortunately, I didn't find out the interesting stuff until I went to their funerals! They just seemed like old men to me.

I liked my Uncle Don because he did magic tricks with quarters. Who'd guess he'd been a world-class tennis champion? Uncle Allen made scenery for the Nativity play we put on every Christmas Eve. I never knew he had been a spy behind enemy lines during the Battle of the Bulge. On D-Day his jeep sunk and he had to swim to shore. Movies are made from stories like these!

My Uncle Walt just died. One of his friends (an 80+ old gentleman) spoke at the funeral and said, "I always wondered how the ugly old coots got all the hot chicks." He was referring to my cute aunt. Then he said, "I just saw a picture of Walt as a 21-year-old sailor, and he was pretty good looking!" On the way out of the church I saw the picture, too. Wow! He was a doll! They married when he was on leave, and she immediately sent him off to war. I think I read a book like that once.

I saw my uncles every single Sunday for nineteen years, and then a few times a year for the next thirty. What a shame I never really talked to them! I knew them at the end of their stories, but didn't realize they had such fascinating beginnings. Those experiences were still part of them, and I missed out.

I'm going to listen a little more closely at the family reunion this year. They invite interesting people to those parties!

What are some stories you've heard from relatives? Are they written down anywhere??

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008



This little bunny had a tale for anyone who'd listen. We regularly called her into our room to find out what was really going on downstairs in the family room. She dutifully and happily reported every single misdemeanor of her brothers and sisters.

One day she came into the laundry room with chocolate chips melting all over her face. "The kids are eating the cookies," she said.

I feel a little like a tattle-tale today. I'm quick to feel picked on and anxious to report the blunders of others, yet I have some chocolate on my face, too.

Most of the time people have good intentions. I've learned a lesson today: we're the pioneers of this blog world. There aren't any rule books yet. We're making it up as we go along, and I think we're doing a pretty good job.

Our cute bunny figured out that tattle-tales aren't very popular. By the time she was six she quit jumping to conclusions, and spreading tales, became a little less judgmental, and enjoyed her chocolate chip cookies a lot more.

I'm going to wash all this chocolate off my face.

(All's well that ends well.)

Rough ABC's

Peter Pan and Captain Hook
by Walt Disney

I've run into some pirates lately and so have a few other bloggers I know. They're taking our valuables. Certain combinations of words have been seen in someone else's treasure chest. One bluebeard actually pinched a few photos and flew them from the mast of her ship. (Get your own husband, Matey!) The Blogosphere is a pretty small ocean and it doesn't take too long for the news to float back.

I work for hours writing my blog. I'm not kidding. I know that sounds like a waste of time to some of you, but I love doing it. I can sit here until 4:00 am, reading my thesaurus, looking for just the right words. I have books of writing exercises that I study, and I use my Strunk and White like a Bible to improve my technique. Writing is my craft, my art. I'm not great, but I'm getting better.

I hope my words have a positive influence somewhere. I hope someone will get a spark of an idea from me. I'm flattered if readers adapt thoughts, or try something I've suggested and make it their own. But don't copy my words!

I love to see a link like, "TravelinOma had an idea that got me thinking..." but please don't copy a post word for word! That's MY hard work! Write your own.

And if you have ads on your blog, you're selling my work as your own. It's called plagiarism. Real piracy.

Sorry to rant. I've been up 'til all hours for a month, writing and rewriting my Women's Conference talk, and my sister saw part of it on someone's blog. It feels like I've been punched in the eye. (Maybe I'll get an eye patch.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pack It In

Viennese women are chic.
I wanted to be chic, too,
but I needed to pack it all in one carry-on suitcase.

Packing List
Three pair pants (two of them black)
-or two pants, one skirt-
Four silky T-shirts (black, red, white, green.)
Two slinky-type tank tops (black, white)
Lightweight black Cardigan
Appropriate weight coat or jacket
Denim jacket
Silver jewelry
Long (fake) pearl necklace and earrings
Cream colored long silk opera scarf
Three scarves for jacket (black, green, red)
Two pairs black shoes
Four sets underwear

This is all I ever take, even on three-week trips,
and what I wear on the plane comes from this list.

Everything except the jackets can be hand-washed.
I take lightweight fabrics that will dry overnight.

In hot weather I take a gauzy black skirt and blouse, wear sandals,
and leave one pair of shoes and a jacket home.

I pack kits so I can unpack and pack quickly.
Nightstand kit: little flashlight, tissues, lotion, chapstick...
Secretary kit: Check register, calculator, pen, envelope for receipts...
Recharge kit: camera and phone chargers, extra batteries, memory card...
Toiletries, Make-up, the usual...

I use a cool packing cube for my clothes.
It has hard plastic pieces for the top and bottom to keep things neat.
I take a fabric laundry sack, and an extra Le Sac bag that folds into it's own pouch.
If I need to, I can stuff the Le Sac with my laundry bag, check it for the flight home,
and have room for souvenirs.

It never looks like it will all fit.

I like two jackets because I'm always wearing one, and I get less bored with my photos.

I stuff in two different umbrellas to vary my look.
One of them is usually clipped onto my purse, so I think of them as
colorful accessories, even when it isn't raining.

Push it all down, and voila!

Viennese Chic!

P.S. We make a stop at the post office before we leave a city, and mail any purchases home, so we don't get overloaded. (They have boxes and tape there.)

Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tilda Louise Borjesson Lavin Lundgren

Tilda Louise Borgeson 1884

Mom used to tell me stories about her grandma. She only knew one of them, because her father's mom died in Sweden. Her mother's mother, Tilda, was born in 1867, in Malmo, Sweden.

Harbor Malmo

She married Anders Lavin when she was just eighteen and at nineteen had a baby boy they named Theodore. She wrote this:

I was raised as a devout Lutheran. When my tiny boy Theodore died at just two years old I began to question God. At this time of sorrow I found a new faith that brought hope of eternal families. On February 4, 1886 the ice was cut in the river and my husband and I were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I knew I would be ridiculed by my family for what I had done, and I was right. All the members of my family turned against me.

Street in Malmo

Only a few days after my baptism I met my mother on the street and she crossed to the other side so as not to speak to me.

(In time they became more friendly and eventually my mother,
my sister, and her family also joined the Church.)

By then a new little boy, George, had filled the void in our hearts left by the loss of our baby. We decided to emigrate to Utah in America to join other Mormons who lived there.

The ship was crowded, and the trip was long and difficult with much illness on board. I was very frightened, as I was only 22 years old.

On board an immigrant ship, 1880's.

When we arrived in Salt Lake City my husband was very ill. I became a dressmaker, and worked at a restaurant where I did cleaning. I went early in the morning and made sure I was through before anyone came, as I didn't want anyone to see me doing that kind of work, though it was honest labor.

SLC Main Street about 1900

If I had had any money I would have gone back to Sweden, where I could get better work. Those were trying days, and I almost lost my courage. Learning the language was a very hard task. The Lord helped me learn English and adjust to the customs.

In just three years we already had an adorable baby girl, Agnes, and another precious son, Joseph. When he was a year old he became very ill. It was the Lord's will that he should go, but it was terribly hard to lose him.

Not long after this great sorrow another beautiful blue-eyed baby was born to us. How proud we were of him. I loved to lie on the bed and look at him. He was such a healthy baby and when my friends came I was over-anxious to show him off!

One day while I was busy in my kitchen, a never to be forgotten accident occurred. I kept a wooden tub outside by the water pump. I left just a very small amount of water in the bottom of it to keep it from drying out and cracking. I had just checked on my baby and then went about my work. Within seconds I heard a terrible scream. My neighbor had come to get water and there she found my baby, Henry, face down in the very shallow water in the tub. He had died instantly, it seemed.

The sorrow was almost more than I could bear. Everyone did all they could for me, but I failed to be comforted. Baby Henry did not have a wet spot on him. His little life was just snuffed out so quickly. Oh, the shock was terrible! He was just a little over a year old. I felt the hope go out of me.

Our oldest son, George was then about seven years old. He came to me in my sorrow and tried to comfort me. I was so bereaved I scarcely knew what I said. I answered him, "Oh, you will probably die too, I guess." Instead of turning from me he looked up at me and said, "No, Mama. I'm not going to die. I will grow up and make you proud, and you will be glad."

It seemed like there was magic when our eyes met. As he said this to me, something in my soul awakened. The faith my little son showed at this time acted as tonic from heaven to me. My faith in God's love was made stronger, and I was again able to walk through this garden of Gethsemane. Little George's prophesy was fulfilled. He did grow up to make me proud, and I was glad.

My prayer from that day on was that I would prove to be worthy to meet my babies Theodore, Joseph and Henry again. I always gave thanks to God that he allowed me to keep my children George and Agnes, who lived to raise seven children each. I have had much joy and gladness in my life."

Tilda's daughter Agnes (in the glasses)
and her husband Axel Lundgren,
with their seven children.
My mom, Junie is the one on her Dad's lap.
This photo was taken in 1930.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How Do You Fit In?

Where are you in the picture?

I've been thinking about birth order. Some psychologists say it pre-determines many aspects of our personalities. I know all my kids think the other kids had things a lot different (and a lot better) than they did. Their siblings were younger with fewer responsibilities and more laid back parents, or they were older with more attention and less exhausted parents. Or they were in the middle and could get away with anything.

How do you feel about where you fit in the line-up?

Five perks of being the oldest:
  1. I was the first to do everything so it was always exciting.
  2. I always got new clothes instead of hand-me-downs.
  3. I was an only child for eighteen months.
  4. My siblings have always looked to me for wisdom.
  5. I didn't have anyone to live up to.
Five drawbacks of being the oldest:
  1. I was the first to do everything, so it was always a battle.
  2. I was forever told I had to be a good example.
  3. I was a dork because I had no older siblings to teach me the cool things.
  4. I was the babysitter for nine years.
  5. Everyone else was too little to go, so I had to stay home, too.
It's funny to think that my brother missed out on having a brother. My oldest daughter grew up in a household full of babies, and my youngest daughter didn't ever see me pregnant. The middle kids played on the same teams, took lessons together, wore matching outfits and had duplicate toys. (The two youngest kids each inherited two of everything.)

Unless we're twins, we grow up in totally different families than our sisters and brothers. And they had it a lot easier! What was your experience?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Be Prepared

Today's Sunday School lesson was based on the scripture:

"If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear."

The discussion was about spiritual preparation (having a relationship with God to be ready for the tough times;) physical preparation (exercise, eating habits;) as well as temporal preparation (good job training, having a savings account and food storage, just in case.)

The teacher asked, "When has being prepared been a blessing to you?" One man said, "I was laid off, and I was glad I'd followed advice to have a year's worth of food, and no debt." Another man spoke up and said, "I followed that advice in reverse. I have a year's worth of debt and no food."

The discussion turned to being prepared for natural disasters (flood, fire, earthquakes, etc.) and the wisdom of having a 72-hour kit ready to grab at a moment's notice. There were suggestions of what to put in: freeze-dried food, first aid supplies, $50 in cash, soap and toothpaste, bottled water...

"I have all this stuff in a metal box, all ready to go, but I can't lift it," a woman said. The comments were coming fast: "Put it in a wheeled suitcase..." "Have copies of your important documents..." "Back up your photos..." "Pack a day's worth of necessary medication..."
A cute little 94-year-old lady piped up with, "This all sounds too hard. I think I'd rather just die in the disaster."

On the blackboard:
Wise Question: What's your excuse for not having a savings account?
Unwise Answer: "I'm spending money I don't have, on things I don't need, to impress people I don't like."

The teacher ended with, "Store what you'll actually eat. I've got a big supply of chocolate. If there's any left after a day or two, I'll use it to barter."

If you come to our Sunday School class, be prepared to smile!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Saturday Night Fever

You know you've reached middle age when the phone rings on Saturday night and you hope it's not for you!"
(Ogden Nash)

We're officially Fuddy Duddies. (Our membership cards came.) We now look forward to long romantic Saturday nights spent alone at home. Sometimes we change into jammies by 5:00 PM, and eat frozen pot pies on TV trays in front of the political rundowns on the news stations. Later we pop popcorn, swig cream soda from long neck bottles and cuddle up to enjoy our newest delivery from Netflix.

I don't know when it happened. Gradually as we sat home waiting for teenagers to stop in on the fly, between their numerous major activities; and then dozed on the sofa to see that they did actually come home to stay the night, we realized it was fun to be alone in the house. No crowds, no expense, no friends to impress.

We still visit the hot restaurants, but we're usually early enough for the early bird special. We're surrounded by people who look a lot older than we do, so we feel young and hip. It's not as embarrassing to let out a sigh when you sit down, swallow down a burp, or send back a steak that's too pink when you're in the oldies crowd. You could probably even borrow their reading glasses if the menu has print too small to see, and offer them a zantac when you hear them order chips and salsa. Everybody in the early bird crowd understands each other.

After our lovely dinner we have time to browse our favorite bookstore, and make it home in time to catch Law and Order in the comfort of our own little nest, all before 7:30 pm.

We punch the Do Not Disturb button on the phone when we want to insure privacy for our bedtime ritual. A re-run of Frazier is relaxing and we go to bed with smiles on our faces.

Success Story

Dee on Wolfgangsee, 1982

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning,
and goes to bed at night,
and in between does what he wants to do."
Bob Dylan

Friday, April 18, 2008

Something's Coming

Photo borrowed from Kenju

Have you ever looked up from your everyday life and noticed something big headed your way?

BYU Women's Conference is May 1st and 2nd. This is an annual two-day event at Brigham Young University, attended by about 20,000 participants from all 50 states, and many other countries.

Both days start and end with general sessions. In between the general sessions there are three one-hour concurrent sessions with 15 venues to choose from each hour. The topics are varied and include:

Single Parenting; Adoption; Music; Maintaining Good Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health; Marriage; Dealing with Death; Parenting Adult Children; Finances; Mental Illness; Prayer; Menopause; Addiction; Influence of Grandmothers; Style; Caring for Aging Parents; Forgiveness; Eating Disorders; Determining Life Priorities; Turning to the Scriptures for Answers...

These are just a few of the subjects being discussed. Speakers range from university professors to doctors, lawyers, artists, musicians, family therapists...and a blogger.

Yes, I am speaking about blogging: Staying Connected Using the Internet. I am intimidated, and overwhelmed. I go back and forth between being terrified my room will be full (it holds 600 people) or even worse, empty. One day I write down thirty great ideas, and the next day all thirty seem totally boring. I timed myself presenting all my material and it took over an hour. Then I timed myself reading all my fascinating material and it took less than two minutes.

I find myself hyperventilating in the car as I think about it, and I can't eat without taking a Zantac. I am bringing on hot flashes worrying that I'll have a hot flash. I spent an hour tonight trying on earrings wondering how to make my neck look long and graceful.

In spite of my short comings (and short neck,) some of you have emailed asking for details.

I speak on Friday, May 2nd, at 2:00 in room 3220-24 in the Wilkinson Center. If you have a guest pass you should arrive 30 minutes before the session starts. You can register online or the day of, and the cost of a full ticket is $47; a one-day ticket is $27.

On Thursday evening there are service events and cultural performances. The evening of service is awesome. Some of the things accomplished over the last 10 years are:

509,200 packets prepared for various non-profit agencies; 371,425 hygiene kits assembled for the LDS Humanitarian Center to send to victims of natural disasters around the world; 38,101 newborn kits sent to maternity clinics in developing countries; 104,144 school kits for schools in developing countries; 6,000 blankets sent to children's hospitals; 145,200 food boxes put together for the food bank. The list goes on and on.

During the conference there are Take 'n' Make and Return Kits. Women take projects to the classes and sit and crochet or knit hats, scarves, mittens, or slippers that are then returned as finished projects and donated to those in need. There are Service Learning Rooms that are set up for women to listen or view live conference sessions while tying quilts, sanding and painting wooden toys, or putting together children's books.

Sharing Stations are set up on Thursday night in a large ballroom. It is a "trade show of service ideas" featuring over fifty displays created by different women to share ideas on loving, serving, and teaching in the home, school and community. These ideas and relevant handouts, patterns, recipes, etc. will be available free of charge on the web site after the conference. (Ideas from previous years are available now.)

And, of course, there's a giant Blogapalooza Party for paid up members! Thanks Celia Fae.

I'm hugely flattered (and humbled) to be included in this marvelous event, even in a small way. But I feel like something huge is coming right at me and it's too late to duck!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Sibs

"No one knows better than a sister how we grew up,
and who our friends, teachers and favorite toys were.
No one knows us better than she."
Dale V. Atkins

"A brother or sister is a little bit of childhood
that can never be lost."
Marion C. Garretty

"Siblings never quite forgive each other for what happened
when they were five."
Pam Brown

"To the outside world we all grow old..."

"But not to brothers and sisters.
We know each other as we always were..."

"We know each other's hearts.
We share private family jokes,
And remember old feuds and secrets..."

"We live outside the touch of time."
Clara Ortega

Happy Birthdays to my siblings from your big sis.
(T, I need a picture of us grown up!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Yesterday I looked out the window before I dressed for my errands and saw a gray sky. The branches were moving in a strong breeze. I slipped on the ankle boots I've been wearing all winter, and topped myself off with a levi jacket and the new pashmina I bought in New York. I didn't know it was 81° and the hottest day of the year. Of course, in my scarf and boots, I was the hottest girl of the year.

Today it looked sunny and calm and I dressed for spring in a light skirt and sandals. I breezed into the mall with a spring in my step. An hour later I started toward the exit and noticed that it was snowing! Not just flakes, but a full-blown blizzard!

I looked down at my sandals and started muttering to myself, "Are you kidding me??? It's snowing! This is ridiculous. I don't even have shoes!" A lady walking in the door overheard me, and said, "Did you say something?" I laughed, and started to explain why I was talking to myself, when I realized she was preoccupied with her stroller and little girl. So my words just kind of trailed off. Then my sandal caught on the floor mat, and I burst out with, "Spring has not sprung!"

"Mommy, is she talking to me?"

The cute mom bent down to caution her five-year-old about women with no shoes who talk out loud to themselves in public places. I dashed into the squall with a new spring in my step.

Monday, April 14, 2008

From the Oma Storybook Collection

This booklet was the invitation to our family reunion.
Illustrations by Stephen Gammell

The Heroes Are Coming!

A poem of anticipation
by Oma

It's the summer of 2005,
And the Heroes are coming! Sakes Alive!
They're coming from Utah and Ohi-o,
Pennsylvania, Massachusetts...all over, you know.

They'll pack up their stuff, some treats and toys,
Leave at four in the morning! The girls and boys
And moms and dads, and uncles and aunts...
Oma and Opa can't wait! They just can't!

They'll travel all day and even at night.
They'll be such a welcome sight!
Oma and Opa will want to sing..
It's the Big Hero Happening!

Talk about hugging! They'll hug for hours.
There will be chasing and giggling and throwing flowers.
Then lots of laughing and food to eat,
Uno, and races, and cousins to beat.

Grownups will visit and babies will cry.
There'll be a contest to eat chocolate pie.
Lots of kids will be squeezed into just one bed,
And people will sleep with their legs on your head!

Snoring and breathing and whispering, too,
Someone might even sneak in and say, "Boo!"
There will be watermelon and ice cream cones,
We'll take a picture to hang up in our homes.

Finally, the Happening will have to end,
And all of the hugging will happen again.
At four in the morning, with kids all behaving,
Oma and Opa will stand outside waving.

Even though the goodbyes will be kind of sad,
We'll all be remembering the fun that we've had,
And when you are home and snug in your bed,
And nobody's leg is draped over your head,

You can dream about cousins! That's a great thing!
And the next Big Hero Happening!

Illustration Stephen Gammell

We started happening right away. Just before our first anniversary we had our first baby and our family added a kid every year or so after that. Just after our 12th anniversary we had our 7th child.

And just seven years later our oldest left for college. They tumbled out of our nest as fast as they had dropped in. We were full-time parents for 31 years, but we only had our whole family living together for seven of them. That always strikes me in a sentimental way.

It's been another 6 years and with seven in-law kids and almost 19 grandkids, we have 35 Heroes in our immediate family. They are spread out across the country, and it's been three years since we were all together at the same time. Since then we've added a daughter-in-law and a couple of babies. How can this far-flung family have any sense of unity? The little kids have seen their cousins only a few times, and most of the adults haven't ever lived in the same state.

Several years ago I saw a friend of mine in a restaurant seated at a table for twelve. She introduced me to her Cousin's Club. Libby explained that they had lunch together four times a year, and had done since her grandmother started the tradition when they were children 60 years before.

I loved the phrase Cousin's Club, and decided I would start one. We called our kids Heroes, and our in-law kids are Heroes, Too. The grandkids are Heroes, Two, (as in second generation.) Everybody got a membership card.

This is the flip side. It was contributed by my six-year-old grandson.

A newsletter goes out quarterly, with photos of the kids, and articles about their interests. I want them to feel like they know each other.

My little Heroes come up with great ideas for the Cousin's Club. A four-year-old granddaughter called and asked, "Oma, will you tell my mom I can use the printer because I'm making a book for the Cousin's Club." Apparently using the printer is reserved for adults in their house. I told her I'd put in a good word for her cause.

There will be a gathering of Heroes this summer and the whole club is getting excited. After our last reunion I put together this book for each family with photos and memories.

The Heroes Came

A poem of memories
by Oma

It was the summer of 2005
And the Heroes gathered. Sakes alive!
They came from Utah, and Colorado,
Pennsylvania, Massachusetts...all over, you know.

The moms and the dads, the girls and the boys.
The uncles and aunts...there was so much noise!
Oma and Opa wanted to sing:
It was a giant Hero Happening!

So many things happened, you couldn't keep track.
Oma had surprises in her Happening Pack.
Bottles were spinning, mummies were wrapped,
When the piñata appeared, everyone clapped!

The Talent Show was the hit of the night
And the DVD brought sighs of delight.
Scary stories, necklaces, games and races,
Chugging, gymnastics, and tying shoelaces.

Pizza, fried chicken...we thought we'd die,
And then someone brought out the chocolate pie!
It was crazy, and it was a mess,
But everyone loved being put to the test

Of whether they could eat it all
Without any hands--Au natural.
It was a giant success and everyone won,
But wait! The reunion wasn't done...

The sun started setting and as it got dark
Opa decided to light up the park!
He passed out a lightstick to every grandchild
And like little fireflies, they all went wild.

Off they flew, and they twinkled with light,
(Grandchildren always make everything bright.)
Then home for baths, a movie and bed,
With memories bursting out of their heads.

There was more fun, at the lake and the pool,
So many activities that were really cool. always happens, wherever we roam,
The moms and the dads said "It's time to go home."

There was hugging and kissing and a couple of tears,
But all the Heroes have learned through the years,
That no matter how far we live from each other,
There's a cousin, an Opi, an uncle or brother
That's thinking of us! And that's a great thing...
That's how Halverson Heroes keep Happening!!!

How do you stay close to far-flung family?

A Blank Page

What if I never have another idea?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Just Thinking

Kindergarten Class of 1978

"Education doesn't simply mean that we attend school. Education means that we learn how to think...If a man cannot think, he is not an educated man regardless of how many college degrees he may have after his name. Thinking is the hardest work a man can do, which is probably the reason we have such few thinkers." Thomas S. Monson

Right now I'm thinking about:
  1. The speech I'm giving at BYU Women's Conference.
  2. Income Taxes.
  3. Where to find a good collection of scary stories for our family camp-out.
  4. Whether I should switch to Verizon or just get a new cell phone.
  5. How I can change the entire US health care system.
  6. If my feet feel too hot to slather them in Vaseline and wear socks to bed.
  7. What I will wear to church.
  8. How much money I saved this year by having a Barnes and Noble membership.
  9. Writing down the stories I told at my Oma sleepover last night.
  10. What a pain it is to have to buy new underwear.
Does this kind of thinking qualify me as an educated person?

What are you thinking about right now?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Who Cares?

I'm reading a great book called Writing the Memoir, by Judith Barrington. She quotes Gore Vidal as saying "A memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, and facts double-checked." I love this definition. It defines my blog style as a memoir.

Barrington concedes that many of us are put off writing a memoir because we've been asked, or asked ourselves, "Who cares about this? Who will be interested in reading my story?"

"The question should be Why do I care about this? The answer will make you feel entitled to tell your own story, to accept that it is not only worthy of being written down but something you want to revise and craft until it is beautiful. In time you will even come to believe that your story is important for other people to read.

"Once you are comfortable with writing, put aside thoughts of agents, publishers, audience, fame and fortune--none of which is conducive to good writing. Start thinking right away about what matters in your own life--what has most challenged you, formed you, influenced you. Start making lists and notes. And from time to time ask yourself who cares, and remind yourself: you do."

Good advice!

Friday, April 11, 2008


I have a set of matching little girls and today was Oma Day at their house. Big sister Chloe is six, middle sister Jess is five, and baby sister Ashley is three (almost.) They were concerned about where I got my authority.

Oma: Shall we have a granola bar?

Jess: Did you ask my mom? She says we can only have two.

Oma: We'll only have two then.

Jess: I had two already. You better call and ask my mom.

Oma: I brought polish to paint your toenails!

Jess: Is is quick-dry polish? We can only use quick-dry polish. Should we call my mom?

Oma: I poured some apple juice in your teddy bear cups.

Jess: Those are our water cups. You can't put juice in them unless my mom says. Did you ask my mom?

Chloe: Jess, I can't believe you! She doesn't have to ask. She's our mom's Mom!

Does this make me the Mother Superior?

One of my superior daughters addressed a common mistake about Mormons on her blog today. (I wish they'd show it on CNN!)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pillow Talk

Where to lay our weary heads is a big part of the travel adventure for us.

Although our budget is always tight, we have found ways to get around a huge hotel bill. Our criteria: clean; safe and central location; elevator. What we are willing to sacrifice: room service, American-style beds, in-room movies, and an international reputation.

For a big city, I always search the Rick Steves guide books first. His recommendations for hotels are usually well-priced, especially in the off-season. He sometimes suggests staying away from the center of town for cheaper hotels, and we don't like to do that. Then I research it myself.

I look at a city map and locate the 5-Star hotels, and the nicest restaurants in the guidebook. With those addresses in mind, I google the name of the city and find listings of small hotels nearby with less than ten rooms. That is an indication that they are family-run, which means the owners take pride in making everything as clean and charming as possible.

Small villages don't have many alternatives and we just take our chances.

This ancient Czech hotel boasted recent renovation and "new wall-to-wall carpeting." Literally. It was everywhere; it even lined the inside of the elevator doors! There was nothing on the walls to distract from the new towel racks, no hooks, no cupboard knobs, no hangers. It seemed a shame to spread our wet coats and towels on the lovely carpet to dry, but there was no other option.

There was a lovely view, however.

Every time I looked out the window I had to take another picture of this scene
in Cesky Krumlov.
Who needs a towel rack?

There wasn't much room in the bathroom anyway.
We really had to suck in just to climb into the shower (the door is wide open in this picture.)
I dropped the soap and had to get out in order to bend over and pick it up!

The Hotel Kaiserin Elizabeth in Vienna had beautiful front doors.
It probably had towel racks, too, for $350 a night.

Around the corner was our hotel,
Pension Neuer Markt.
Low season price was $156.

The hotel was on the upper floors of the building, so we took this green lift up to our room. (Remember the chain-pulled elevator in the movie Charade?) It was just a tiny bit bigger than our shower, and encouraged honeymooners with the tight fit. Creaking and wheezing, it took us to a little lobby with a breakfast nook. We've noticed that the less expensive the hotel is, the bigger the breakfast is, and it's always included. The Kaiserin Elizabeth charges extra for theirs.

Our room in the Neuer Markt featured a spacious closet (with hangers,)

...another fabulous view.

We were asleep before our heads hit the pillow.