I write this post through tears today as I realize the impact our traditions can have on those around us. This realization has made me quite introspective about our legacies and making our days count, but I will leave that for another day’s posting.

I had just read an email from my son’s family. They wanted to let us know that they had just celebrated Aiya’s (their nanny) birthday. After serving cake (an uncommon, special treat in her culture) they went around the table and shared a thought or two about why they liked the birthday guest. It was a memorable, bonding experience for everyone. They said it also made them miss us very much! What mother and grandmother doesn’t enjoy hearing those words if distance has to separate your lives?

I honestly can’t remember when we started the birthday tradition of taking turns around the table to share what we like about the birthday person and finishing the tradition with the celebrant sharing why they like themselves. I know it has been long enough that no one can remember when we first uttered our birthday kindnesses. What I do know is it is a special and time-honored tradition. My family looks forward to it. I also think birthday guests celebrating their day in our home appreciate the opportunity to be showered with words of affirmation and love.

I realize that my children may not carry on all the traditions we have in our family, but it made me realize it is important to have some they can choose to carry on for their own families. This helps ensure the verbal legacy of our family. Traditions give us the opportunity that three generations from now a family member will be explaining the importance and the history and details of how the tradition got started.

Traditions, whether they are vacations, holiday events, celebrations, religious observations, or a favorite food, they have the ability to bring us together. It makes us feel a part of something larger than ourselves. In some strange way, participating in a tradition can give us stability, a consistency, something we can count on in a world that is ever changing.

My mom’s mother, my Gram, made a delicious roast with homemade noodles. My mom also makes the dish and now I also prepare it on occasion for my family. The dough is prepared, later rolled out on the table, noodle strips cut from the dough and then placed in the gravy to cook and later ladled on top of mashed potatoes beside the succulent roast. Even my children who find noodles not their favorite dish, get excited and look forward to the meal of noodles. It’s an unspoken knowledge of the bonding, the history, the underlying understanding of the importance of family, the tradition they represent. And while the smell of dinner turns us in the direction of the table, it is the tradition that marks our steps.


Kids, Life

Make It Special

My daughter Lilly recently turned 18 and this past week my husband took her out for her birthday present. After I shared the evening’s events with a friend, she encouraged me to write a post about special dates with our children. I should first tell you I am both a tour guide and an event planner at heart. It doesn’t even have to be a day or an event I am participating in – I am more than happy to plot out how a friend or family member should spend their money for a fabulous day. I should also tell you I am a big believer in no matter how large or small the size of the family, it is imperative for children to have quality one-on one-time with their parents. It doesn’t have to be weekly or even monthly, but it does need to be regular and it does need to happen. I also believe that sacrifice and careful financial planning should occur so plans are executed and memories are made.

Her birthday celebration night they travelled to Columbus, Ohio about two hours away. Lilly is going to a culinary school next year, so I searched for a restaurant that would offer a dining experience within blocks of the theater. I chose an upscale, open-air Italian grill. I made sure the food would be eclectic and exciting and the meal would be leisurely. I wanted to help create an atmosphere for them with good food and great conversation starters. Palates satisfied, they then ventured on to The Ohio Theatre to see the musical, Les Miserables. They sang and chatted the whole way home and arrived in the wee hours of the morning to exclaim “it was a night they would never forget!”

In our large family, with financial resources being a consideration, we have special milestones our children can look forward to, and we also have the “let’s go do something just because you are special” dates. These special dates don’t have to break the bank. One of my son James’ favorite dates was when he and I took homemade muffins and fruit with cocoa in a canister and spread out a blanket near the fence of a farm and chatted as we watched the sun rise higher and the horses gallop to and fro. Picnics in scenic locations have always been a favorite of all our children. Ice cream and a walk- times are hard? Make your cone at home and walk the neighborhood. A visit to the local playground to watch your special date’s unique tricks of the playground trade. A browsing trip to their favorite comic book, Lego or clothing store. Sometimes one of us takes the rest of the children out for a walk or to the playground so the other can build a model or bake a special treat with our special date at home. Occasionally the special date is a can’t-wait movie, cheap theater or orchestra tickets (cheap being the operative word), a trip to the free art museum, an exhibit at a local museum or $5 baseball seats to see The Big Red Machine.

Our milestone dates occur at age 13, 18 and after graduation. At age 13, the same-sex spouse takes the birthday child away for a night and two full days to go through Family Life’s Passport to Purity. For one child, the date was Great Wolf Lodge, another a special hotel with amenities and pottery painting. We try to cater to their interests and the idea is for fun, fun, fun in between session times. After all, we are talking about S-E-X with them, YUCK! :-). We end the getaway by meeting the other spouse at The Melting Pot for an evening of hours of conversation and the presentation of the birthday gift.
It takes five more years to save 🙂 so at 18 we try to make the gift a special day or event. After they graduate, we take the graduate away before college for a weekend, whether they are really leaving home or not. For the first four, it was trips with the same-sex parent. For the three boys, one went camping, one went camping and canoeing down the river, and one went to Washington D.C. for tours of all the museums. For Grace, girl weekend at the beach, need I say more! ;-). This year we have changed the rules for the next five and we are both going to go. Sometime in June, the three of us will head to the beach in Michigan to celebrate Lilly’s accomplishments and entry into formal adulthood.

When planning these events I always try to think of each child’s unique personality. If I am planning for my husband and one of our children, I try to make it as stress-free as possible. After all this isn’t a test to see if he is a party planner; it’s a chance for quality time. So for example on the birthday trip, I called ahead about parking for the restaurant and theater, printed parking garage maps, and spoke with restaurant personnel for the timing of their arrival to guarantee good service and a non-rushed dinner. I tried to be a helper to David and think of things in advance that could cause the normal frustrations for a person in an unfamiliar city. Part of the good-time guarantee is the thoughtful planning ahead.
I would love to hear (and I am sure other readers would also) your date ideas and special occasion ideas with your children.

David and I celebrating with Phoebe her 13th birthday dinner at The Melting Pot


Beautiful Music

My mother and I were on the phone talking about how in some parts of the Northeast, it is time for the seventeen-year cicadas to make their appearance. This is our second time living in Cincinnati and it reminded me of the last time we held residence here nine summers ago.

We had the privilege of experiencing the cicadas. I really do not say that tongue-in-cheek. While they can be annoying, I find them fascinating. I love how they shed their skin and you can pick up a perfectly formed exoskeleton, how even with their big red eyes they fly around practically blind, the fact that the female cuts a scar into a tree and deposits 400-600 eggs, and how after the eggs hatch they burrow into the ground and feed on juices of tree roots only to emerge 17 years later. I can still see David taking off his ball cap and swatting at them as they flew aimlessly into him while he mowed the lawn.

My friend Alice and her three children came to visit us that summer. Alice had travelled through Louisville, KY on her journey to our house and had encountered an onslaught of cicadas. Traffic had been heavy, sometimes at a standstill, and she had to not only endure the heat but the cicadas pinging half-hazardly in and out of her car. By the time she was seated in our living room with a cool glass of water, she was, quite frankly, slightly traumatized by the experience.

We were exchanging stories and happy to be together, when Alice said, “I have been around them for so long, I feel like I can still hear them.” And then, a slow but dawning, mortified look crept across Alice’s face as she calmly stated, “I think, I have one on me, I really do.” After lifting her arm a little and looking at her armpit from the vantage point of the front neckline of her top, she spotted her flying foe. She turned to my sixteen-year-old son, Philip, reached out her arm and said words I am sure she never thought she would utter, “Philip, please put your hand down my shirt sleeve. Grab it now! Get it out of there. Get it off of me!” After Philip accomplished this mission complete with gasp and giggles by everyone, I turned to my friend and said, “I know that was gross, and I know they can be a nuisance, but I like them; they make beautiful music.” To which, of course, she understandably rolled her eyes at me.

Our friends visited for several days before they headed further west, and we had a great time showing them the city. On the last day, Alice and I made a run to the Sam’s Club for a few things. As we pulled into the parking spot and I began to roll up my window, I heard the close-up sound of a cicada. We got out of the car and I noticed – depending on the gestures I made with my arm – I kept hearing a cicada, up close and personal.

It wasn’t long before I realized I must have picked up an unwelcome passenger. I slowly lifted my arm, peeked down my shirt and there he sat in my armpit. I did what any rational person would do- I threw my purse across the parking lot, ran around in large circles at least three times, jumped up and down, all while screaming at the top of my lungs. When Alice convinced me to quit running, she rescued me by scooping the flying menace out of my shirt and off my body.

As we walked into the store, I was ranting and raving about what a terrible experience that was and how disgusting it was to have a cicada in my armpit. My dear friend looked at me with a sly grin as her words dryly rolled off her tongue, “Oh, but Jamie, they make such beautiful music!”


Kids, Life

Sometimes kids are just going to cry

As I sat on the front porch this afternoon with my crying four-year-old, I was reminded that sometimes kids are just going to cry. She was upset first because she couldn’t watch her TV show, and then it was the thought of me trimming the nail on her never-ending finger, and then it was because the neighbor’s trampoline was wet and she needed to bounce, and then the grand finale of the sobfest erupted over her riding her scooter on the big sidewalk and not the little one.

All of these tears and issues took place over a five-minute time span. And she was genuinely sad. Oh sure, I could have told her to just “dry up” or “do I need to give you something to cry about?” or given in to her “please, please” for one of her many requests, but I didn’t. I just told her she could just sit there and cry for a few minutes, that she must need to have a good cry. I also explained to her, “Now, don’t cry too loudly because baby birds may be sleeping in the hanging plant and you wouldn’t want to wake them.” She stopped crying, joined me on the love seat, placed her head in my lap and began to stare at the hanging plant.

We pulled out pictures this past week to reminisce about my father-in-law who had passed away and to embarrass my son James in front of his girlfriend. After all, isn’t childhood photograph embarrassment in the job description of every good mother? Seriously, he was the cutest little rascal and he was a rascal. Many a day I pulled him away from the bigger kids at the neighborhood pool just as his little four-year-old-hand was accomplishing the position they were teaching him for the universal symbol for “the bird.” But I digress. This proud Momma wanted to share photos of his wide grin with just a hint of mischief in his eyes sporting his Toy Story Woody vest I made him for Halloween.

As I poured through the green photo box, I came upon a picture of tears. There sat my three little boys who are now all grown men, one who has a tear-maker of his own. They were three, one, and a few months old. Baby James was in the middle, in his car seat, face pinched so tight you can hear his scream straight through the printed picture. Philip was staring at the camera with a look of sadness with his eyes and mouth betraying that he was on his way to joining James. And there sat Matthew, just staring at both of them, contemplating what in the world was going on.

The picture made me smile and I thought to myself even then, yep, sometimes kids just cry. In 25 years as a parent, I know there have been many crying moments and days, but I really don’t remember them. It took the picture to remind me that when I had a bunch of little people the waterworks must have been plentiful, but that’s not what I remember. It also made me grateful that aside from a sniffle or two occasionally from my seven-year-old, the four-year-old is bringing up the rear and there shouldn’t be too many more years of the hysterical outbursts over what seems like nothing to me, but obviously is indeed something to her. Yes, she is my last crying Irwin, or at least the last one I can’t hand over to their mom or dad and say, “Here, I think they need you now.”

So if you are reading this today and you are knee-deep in tears and desperate drama to ride the slide one more time please from your little ones, be encouraged and take heart. It won’t be too long before it will take a picture or a session of storytelling to remember those moments.

My three little boys who are now men 🙂


The Canvas

I have walked through a deep and long valley these last few months. It has been hard and exhausting. Aside from family and a few close friends, I have kept this journey very close to my heart. It has been a strange and foreign terrain to navigate and I have been thankful for the support from loved ones even when my actions have been out of character.

It all started back in December. I think the combination of my daughter’s finger being severed, a new job for my sweet husband, my son’s family moving out of the country and then yes, for me, the cherry on top, the piece de resistance, my 45-year old hormones raging full force into peri- menopause.

I know as a society we go back and forth on what is appropriate to divulge for public consumption from the bowels of our private lives, but I think most of our motivation for privacy is pride, fear of judgment and feeling vulnerable, exposed. Most of us do not want to rip the carefully-placed tape we have strategically positioned over the cracks of our lives- the embarrassments, the humiliations, the failures, the imperfections. We tell ourselves why dwell, no one wants to see the junk; we fear rejection. We do this everywhere and even in church-clean ourselves up before we step out the door.

Why on earth do we do this to ourselves? As if we live in a perfect utopia. Life in this world is messy. But truly, the ironic twist in our quest to present our lives with a polished veneer is the beauty in the imperfection. Don’t we cherish the most the goofy candid photograph, a child’s amateur drawing, the cracks and crevices that help make up the Grand Canyon, the wisdom shared and held in the eyes of one who has lived a long life and knows life carries peaks and valleys?

I am thinking about the nighttime sky. In my mind’s eye, I am envisioning the most beautiful sunset. Picture it. The sky has clouds of deep blue and baby blues that seem to roll across our outdoor ceiling. Vibrant pinks and reds with hints of oranges and white are splashed across the darkening clouds as if the Master has taken a paintbrush and gently moved His hand back and forth. A beautiful, breathtaking, serene image. Then you notice out of the corner of your eye the hot, humid, exhaust of a jet that has been speeding across the sky. Does it ruin the image? Do we stop and say, “Oh I can’t take a picture now; it is ruined!”?

I hope we don’t. I hope it barely warrants a hesitation or recognition. I hope if anything, we stand in awe for a moment that thousands of miles up in the sky a person is flying people in a jet, which has made the white streak across the sky. Maybe it doesn’t have to be viewed as an imperfection, something to resignedly accept into the canvas of our picture; just maybe we can see the wonder in the knowledge that man does fly.

I think we should view our own imperfections this way. They aren’t to be hidden ashamedly, just accepted. They are all part of our journey in life that one day, at the end of our lives, will paint the beautiful sunset picture that reflects the entire beauty, the whole picture of our amazing lives. Sometimes being able to share openly that there has to be the valleys- it is in the valleys we grow and learn and we are stretched, so that we can appreciate the majesty as we make the climb, once again, up to the peak.

So, if you are related to me, and you are at the doctor and he asks, “Anyone struggle with any depression, anxiety or panic in your family?” Please say, “Oh, yes,” and insert my name. Don’t whisper it; state it firmly and boldly. And then take a quick moment to add, “Oh, but in her season in the valley, she was able to find more beauty and love in the world and to have a greater appreciation for life than any so-so day could ever give her. It has placed an amazing brushstroke of color across her life canvas.”

What does your canvas look like?


Happy Mother’s Day- spread the love

Happy Mother’s Day- spread the love around

I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day. It is all about the heart, so if you are a mother to the motherless, to your special four-legged creatures, to those in need around you, to your own mix of eclectic offspring, Happy Mother’s Day!

To my friends who have shared the love of their mother with me, thank you!
( miss you Betty Ann, love you Jeanne Rapp)

To my wonderful mother-in -law, Rainy, thank you for always being so supportive and willing to have a good chat, I love you!

To my mother, Phyllis, thank you for being a wonderful mother and friend. You always have my back. You have been such a fantastic mother of modeling unconditional love, support and selflessness. Love you more! 😉

Make sure you take time to appreciate those people in your life today who mean so much to you. And remember, if you stop at the grocery or pet store or somewhere else today and a woman is waiting on you-don’t tell her Happy Mother’s Day right off ( she may not be a mother)- just stop and take the time to say, ” You look beautiful or thanks for helping me today or your smile just helped brighten my day!”

Feeling the love, spread it around.

Me and my beautiful Mom

Around the World

The Old West-Wyoming

My dear friend Liz recently moved to Wyoming.Sit back and enjoy her adventure of living in the Wild West. Be sure and check out her beautiful pictures too!

Liz also has a blog,

Love of the Old West. His dream? My dream?

Living in the west has been a dream of Techno-genius most of his life. The mountains seemed to call his name. When we married, I didn’t share that vision. That dream.

We vacationed in Wyoming regularly and I tolerated, I mean enjoyed it. I did see the beauty in the mountains. The draw of the clean, crisp skies. The vastness of the views. But…. it seemed so empty. Nothing to do. No shopping – to speak of. Few eateries. Not many museums and play areas for the kids. I didn’t ‘get it’.

Until…. the summer of 2012.

We had taken a big Southwest family vacation. This trip culminated in a two week stay in Wyoming at my in-laws “mountain home”. Techno-genius worked from his sister’s house for a week while the kids and I ‘hung out’ in the mountains. Basically just doing life.

During this time, God grabbed hold of my heart. I saw the mountain views in a new light. The simplicity of the area was suddenly appealing. The friendliness of the people, refreshing.

Suddenly, I got it. The love of the Old West. It had made it’s way into my heart.

After some conversation; some planning; approval to live in Dad’s house; Techno-genius’ company agreeing to let him work remotely; we were moving from the suburbs in Ohio to the mountains of Wyoming.

Our little town – population of 270 – is much like taking a step back in time. We have a Mercantile store; a saloon; The Old Corral Hotel and Restaurant; even our post office looks like something out of an old western movie.

It’s not uncommon to look out our back window and see a small herd of deer knocking on our neighbor’s door, asking to be fed. Yep, seems it’s common practice in our ‘subdivision’ to feed the deer in the winter. An amazing sight. I swear they hear the sliding doors move and they come hurdling across the fields to the house bringing forth the food.

Antelope bounding through the neighborhood is another typical wildlife view we enjoy. Occasionally we are even privileged to catch a glimpse of several jackrabbits hopping around the yard. Or foxes padding down the road. The neighbor’s horses frolicking in their acreage is a loved sight of all the kids. Giggles generally ensue as the large creatures roll around, legs flailing in the air, back and forth, till they finally spring back to their feet.

The currently snow covered mountains greet us every morning as we watch the sun rise over their peaks. Then again each evening they bid us good night as the sun sets on the opposing side of the vast open sky.

Prairies and ranches filled with livestock – horses and cattle, an occasional alpaca, maybe even some sheep – line the dirt roads that encapsulate the main means of travel here.

Winds in Wyoming can be amazing. This winter it was quite the feat to tackle snow drifts in our driveway caused by the high winds. Such drifts are typical in the winter months all over the mountains.

The beauty and simplicity here are unparalleled.

God worked in my heart and helped me realize “my husband’s dreams should also be MY dreams.” Now, they are; living and loving together in the mountains of the ‘old west’.

A view walking into her subdivision

A mountain view in the neighborhood

The heart of our little town, “main street” if you will. If we had a Main Street. This is where all the businesses are located along with some housing.

Just one of the businesses in our town- most look similarly. Like you walked into a re-enactment park.

The deer knocking on our neighbors door

The Williams Family


Stewart Irwin

I was a 16, almost 17-year old girl when I met my father-in-law, Stewart Irwin. I can honestly say the entire 29 years I have known him have been a pleasure. He passed away in the last hour of Sunday, May 5th at the age of 84 after a 3 ½-year battle with stage 4 lung cancer.

My father-in-law was a wonderful man. He was married to his bride and love of his life, Rainy, for 62 years. It was a beautiful love story to witness. They were always just content with one another. They radiated a true appreciation for one another. Playing tennis, taking long walks, sitting on the back porch with a good book, traveling the country and world or just agreeing for the millionth time that they were “cutting back on the sweets” together- that is how they lived life-together. Together they had seven children, four girls and three boys. They have seven more “children” through their children’s marriages, twenty-one grandchildren, one great grandchild and another on the way this summer.

In my opinion, Stew was a true Renaissance Man- he was well-versed on many different subjects. Art- not only did he appreciate its beauty, he was talented with his own pencil. History- he shared, read and enjoyed conversations on many facets throughout history. Gardening- he had a green thumb and enjoyed the beauty in the world around us. Baking- not only did he appreciate a tasty culinary creation, he made a delicious scone, perfect with a cup of tea. Music- he appreciated a wide genre of music with bluegrass and Doc Watson being a favorite, and he was self-taught at strumming on the guitar. Handyman- he could truly fix just about anything. If he didn’t know how, he would grab a few books on the subject and most of the time, he would resolve the problem himself. I loved to watch him tell a story or an occasional joke that tickled him; on those occasions, he would laugh with great abandon. He could be a man of few words, but when he spoke, you wanted to listen to his opinion and wise words.

As a granddad, Pop, there wasn’t a playground slide he wouldn’t ride, a tall pool tube he wouldn’t enter or a roller coaster he wouldn’t conquer. He would throw the baseball in the backyard (a favorite childhood memory of my husband David’s as well. His dad would come home from work, unwind and be willing and ready to toss the ball back and forth), build flying airplanes with precision, take nature walks and identify different species of flowers and animals, attend their sporting events and cheer, play kickball, hold their hands on a walk and help them dunk their cookies in milk.

He never made me feel like an in-law; I just felt like part of the family. From not letting me out the door to buy running shoes without first looking at a Consumer Report magazine to repairing something around our house, looking after our kids (yes, once during a particularly busy time of baby birthing in the family, he came solo and did dishes, laundry and changed diapers), listening to a story I shared or giving me high praise for a meal I had prepared, he made me feel like family, one of the gang.

We have a birthday tradition in our family where we go around the table and tell what we like about the birthday person. If you are at our home during a celebration or find yourself in attendance at our house for your own birthday, participation is a requirement. All of us loved when it was Stew’s turn to say what he liked. He would clear his throat with great flair and say, “Well, ahem, um, I’ m not sure I do like you!” Then with a twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes and a mischievous grin, he would go on with a few concise but clear words about why he liked you. It was special, and you knew he meant it.

So Stew, “Well, ahem, um, I’ m not sure I liked you,” – I more than liked you- I loved you very much.

Some of the grand kids clowning around with Grandmom and Pop

Stew, Rainy and their original seven

Our family with Rainy and Stew a few years ago


The Water Boy

The little boy rode for miles, his plastic water containers strapped behind him on the back of the donkey. His eyes’ gaze held the years of a much older man, but his gentle smile reflected he was still a youthful boy. He was just doing his chore, his part, his job.

He carried jugs of many shapes and sizes. The dirt road was dusty, and rocks and pebbles found new homes along the path as the animal’s hooves rearranged them with each plodding step. The road was hot from the burning sun, its heat permeating to the core of everything it touched. Unless he was fortunate enough to travel in the shadow of a mountain or to pass by the occasional, sporadic overgrowth of bushes and trees, shade was elusive. It is summer so the landscape lends itself to be vulnerable to the elements, but the journey in a different season would display the beauty of the terrain.

As he reaches the water well, he waits his turn. He is mindful of his task, but welcomes the opportunity to visit with the others preparing to transfer the life-sustaining sustenance from the well to their vessels. The containers are filled to the brim and caps are tightened securely. They are then placed one by one into the homemade wooden cart that has been fastened on the animal’s back. There is no room for error; the journey is too long to be careless.

Slow and steady wins the race. The boy is careful to stay on the path and not to allow the donkey to stray into the underbrush. Snakes and other crawling creatures of the earth might be awaiting, ready to startle. His other challenge will be the steep incline up the hillside groove that marks the way to his village.

He always secretly feels like a hero when he arrives home. He knows it is just a chore-part of the daily routine, but he knows his contribution is a vital one. Not only will his family drink the water, his umma will use it for preparing his family’s meals. As he rewards himself and his helper with a long guzzle of the newly-collected soothing liquid, he is already envisioning the couscous, tajine and harira that awaits him as his umma prepares the evening meal.