April A to Z Challenge: Can I Ever Forget?

Welcome to the April A to Z Blogging Challenge! This year my contribution is the story of my great grandmother Alzina. She lived in the style of “Little House on the Prairie”and kept a record of her life through letters to family and her own journals. I find her story fascinating and intriguing. Each post will start (sometimes strangely) with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, just because they have to. My hope is that we can “catch” some of her courage to help us face challenges in our present times.


Can I ever forget? This day has made such an impression upon me, and upon the whole family I felt I must record it. I think we will all remember it.

It was the day of the Fair, not for our county but the neighboring one. It’s such an undertaking to travel to something like this, especially with the four children but Emerson and I (my name is Philena) know that we have to take a short holiday and put something positive into our lives. It has been a hard year farming our small homestead and we are definitely stretched, both in our finances and our faith. But that’s what faith is for, and it grows through the stretching. I am less sure about the finances, but we will do our best through working hard and trying to remain positive. That’s why we decided to go to the Fair.

We went in the wagon, of course, our usual means of transportation when we have the whole family. Alzie, our eldest daughter, surprised me by being up and ready to help quite early. She’s only eight, but she tries so hard to help. She probably had the most curiosity about the day ahead, since she remembered a previous fair. The younger ones didn’t know what to expect, but they were cheerful, cooperative and willing to be bossed around by “big sister”.

The Woodson County Fair in Neosho Falls is the closest fair, the one we look forward to every year. Emerson had a few things from the garden that he was taking to show, and I had a knitted shawl that had turned out nice enough to exhibit, but there was another reason we didn’t want to miss going today. We had heard of something special to happen. The president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, had been talked into visiting us here in Kansas! Who would have thought that would ever happen?

We walked through the agriculture exhibits and all the home goods exhibits. We let Alzie and Phebe have their first photograph taken and what a treat that was! It was so good to be Kansans, and around others who loved the land as much as we did. I have to say it has always picked up our spirits to have the fellowship, taste all the good food, join in the fun of contests and see what others have managed to accomplish. I’m not so keen on the horse races and the betting, but the animals are so fine and majestic looking that I love to see them run. Emerson might have gone in for the corn husking competition but frankly, I needed him to help me keep watch of the children. There was such a crowd it would have been easy to lose the little ones.

We were glad to finally go to the amphitheatre, where we were able to sit and rest before the parade. Even I was not sure what to expect from a presidential visit but the fair board made a good show of it. Of course, all the schools took the holiday so families could attend, and I don’t know how they managed it, but even the rail companies gave special pricing so people and exhibits came from far away. I could hear the noise and clamor increasing as the parade came past the amphitheatre and then, there he was, President Hayes. He was standing in a fine carriage, drawn by four white horses. He was waving his hat above his head and smiling at the crowd, amid much clapping and shouts.

But I will admit that what struck me most was looking down at the faces of the children, even the little ones who hardly knew what they were seeing. Alzie has had some schooling and she especially had a look of awe and wonder that made me guess at the feelings she was forming for her country and its leaders. It made me think a short prayer for those who stand for us in government. I don’t really know much about President Hayes except that a lot of Kansas people seem to like and respect him. I know the kind of courage I respect. I heard at Temperance Meeting that his wife Lucy was the first President’s wife to refuse to serve liquor in the White House. That took some “standing up”.

It was a long day, but I am so glad we went. I never thought I would see a President, and who knows, we might never see another one in our lifetime.

Phebe (left) and Alzina (right) at the Fair. Their first photo.

April A to Z Challenge: Better Stay Close

Welcome to the April A to Z Blogging Challenge! This year my contribution is the story of my great grandmother Alzina. She lived in the style of “Little House on the Prairie”and kept a record of her life through letters to family and her own journals. I find her story fascinating and intriguing. Each post will start (sometimes strangely) with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, just because they have to. My hope is that we can “catch” some of her courage to help us face challenges in our present times.


“Better stay close to the house Alzie.” Philena told her young daughter. Alzie was a husky three year old, her sister Phebe was two and number three child was due in a month. Philena wondered what she was doing out on the prairie in a make shift shack, trying to take care of the children and feed Emerson and the hired hands for days on end while they harvested the hay crop. If they hadn’t needed someone to cook, she could have been back at Prairie Home and a whole lot more comfortable.

But grass was one thing that grew on this Kansas prairie, even on bad years when farming didn’t provide what they needed. It was thick and sometimes as high as the horses’ backs. If enough men could be hired to do the work, the grass was free for the taking. It could be cut in June, and again in August if the weather cooperated. The market would be good for it later in the year. They would get by, and she was helping, doing her part.

But cooking for the men and keeping an eye on the children at the same time was a challenge, especially since Alzie was old enough to disappear in no time flat. Philena had given the child a paper with alphabet letters on it and she could hear her practicing their names as she sat just outside the doorway of their hut. She was a quick learner, and Philena knew she would have to start schooling her soon, maybe in the fall.

Probably because she was thinking about that, it was several minutes later that Philena realized that the recitation of letters had stopped and all was silent outside. Philena glanced over at Phebe who was napping on the cot in the corner, gave the pork chops she was frying a quick flip, and went to the door to see what her daughter was doing.

Alzie was on her way to the closest of the haystacks that were lined up on the prairie, her little legs going as fast as she could manage. It wasn’t that there was much danger in letting her play there, but there was one peril that made Philena diligent and that was the possibility of prairie fire. Thick, dry prairie grass could go up in flames easily and there was no way of stopping it once the wind started pushing it. People could get caught in it with no way of escape. Even if she could manage to pick up both girls and waddle with them, she wasn’t really sure where she would go.

Fortunately she could still go faster than Alzie and soon got her turned around and headed back to the hut. In one instant Philena noticed two things that set her heart racing. One was a slight curl of smoke coming out of the door of the hut and the other was the sight of the thick layer of hay that was serving as roofing over their living space. Why had she left her cooking on the stove, and her Phebe was in there!

Philena picked up her skirts and ran as fast as she was able, stopping only at the doorway for a moment to assess the situation. Even with the smoke in the air, she could see that the fry pan was aflame. The heavy smell of burning grease and smoke was nearly choking her as she crossed the room and grabbed the container of baking soda and emptied it on the pan. The flames shot up, nearly reaching the hay ceiling, and then died down completely as the smoke doubled in thickness. Philena pulled the pan off onto the dirt floor, gathered up the sleepy, coughing Phebe and stepped outside where they could breathe. Alzie was wide eyed with fright, but soon sat down on the ground with mom and Phebe and asked questions as they hugged.

In the distance, Philena could see one of the hay wagons coming. The men would be there soon for their noon meal, but some of them were going to have to share their pork chops this time. They were definitely going to be one pan short.

April A to Z Challenge: Life of Alzina Boone

Welcome to the April A to Z Blogging Challenge! This year my contribution is the story of my great grandmother Alzina. She lived in the style of “Little House on the Prairie”and kept a record of her life through letters to family and her own journals. I find her story fascinating and intriguing. Each post will start (sometimes strangely) with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, just because they have to. My hope is that we can “catch” some of her courage to help us face challenges in our present times.


Alzina saw the last of her students leave the schoolroom and head for home. Watching them walk the lane away from Triangle School, she wondered whether teaching would be the constant in her future. It was the fall term and this being one of her first positions, it was still exciting. At sixteen she was working and earning her own money! She was independent!

Well, maybe not completely independent. She was still living at home with her parents and siblings, and father had secured the horse and buggy for her, but she was paying for it herself. She watched the horse wandering around the schoolyard, grazing as far as its tether would allow. It was quite a fine animal.

Alzina gathered up her lunch pail and some papers she was grading and went out to get her steed harnessed up to the buggy. The five mile ride home through the Kansas countryside, in beautiful October weather was going to be relaxing. She needed it.

Her intentions of putting aside the day’s troubles were quite soon forgotten however. She found herself worrying about one of her students and the discipline she might have to apply to his case. It was an aggravating situation, one which she wanted to avoid. Her brow furrowed and she could feel her shoulders tensing as the buggy bumped along the lonely road.

The horse, as yet unnamed, was being a little unruly. It might have been something about the harness, or a biting insect that was provoking it to kick. At any rate, it was no trouble at all for Alzie to impose her irritation from the student to the poor animal. She picked up her buggy whip and flicked it at the horse’s rump. The kicking stopped immediately and turned into a wild and frantic rush down the road. The buggy careened into the grassy ditch and the bordering fence. Alzie saw the harness straps snap, and that was the last she remembered.

There is that moment that people speak of, right before they experience impending tragedy, where their life passes before their eyes for them to consider. Alzina was allowed that instant and the thought that she could perhaps have payed more attention to the horse and her driving. There was also that longing to have the moment back when she could have chosen not to use the whip, or perhaps to have checked the harness more carefully.

It was nearly an hour later, and a mile closer to home when Alzie, returning to the conscious world, found herself walking behind the horse, holding the driving line. Panic having wiped her memory clean, she continued walking and reached home where her concerned father met her and took the horse. A hired hand was sent back to find the buggy.

Fortunately there was no major injury to the girl, and the buggy was promptly repaired and was, in fact, ready the next morning for the trip to school. Five miles was a long way to walk and there was no one able to take her. But Alzie was made of tough stuff and did not scare easily. She was ready to try it again. To her great relief, her dear, understanding father had already found her a different horse. And it could be supposed that she also was now a different girl.

Do Something Fun

Why not? Fun can be found anywhere if you are able to search for it. Yesterday’s excursion was to see a little of the history in the Rochester MN area, and to have a good meal for the day.

It is a challenge to eat well when traveling. Schedules are erratic, fast food is everywhere and may be the only thing we have time for, so we looked at the restaurant recommendations in the motel guide. The Hubbell House in Mantorville looked interesting and fun.

Mantorville is a small, historic town about 20 miles from Rochester. The Hubbell House was the first establishment in the town, way back in 1854.

Hubbell House, on the one main intersection, with the other three corners held down by a coffee house, an ice cream shoppe and a saloon.

The lobby much as it was when the stagecoach line was the main reason for the establishment.

We were there early, but others were already arriving. The various dining areas can hold over 300 people. We had an efficient, grandmotherly server with the authentic Minnesota accent, and a good knowledge of local history. She assured us that Garrison Keiler had never been there, although they do have record of many other famous guests.

Placemats showed signatures of all those famous guests.

Our meal was good, as was the service. We shared beef tips with wild rice. We took bread pudding with raisins and caramel sauce home with us for dessert. A quiet, reserved atmosphere, surrounded by antique decor, real oil lamps glowing on each table, white cloth napkins, all made the experience special. The familiar, but varied menu choices made it comfortable. The historic details made it interesting.

This country is full of small, interesting places to visit and experience. I’m glad we found this one.

“Back in the Day”

Back in the day…

Something about those words makes me cringe with premonitions of stories about how high the snow banks were or how many miles it was to walk to school. Now I am guilty of using it all too frequently as I write. Guess what – EVERYTHING has a back story. EVERYBODY has a back story. That’s what we call it today, if we are kind.  I think the back story is often crucial to understanding things about the present story.

A long time ago, in a land far away (Bradenton, Fl) the husband decided to buy a man toy called an E-Bike. He has always found gadgets intriguing, especially if they were energy saving and had some practical use. This bike was an early exploration into transporting oneself using electricity, much like electric cars are today. It was only available through car dealerships and was the social experiment of the day. It was pretty, shiny blue, feeling of quality and fully decked out with lights, various indicators on the handlebars, locking mechanism, gears, horn, and all kinds of gear bags made to fit. Sweet.

The plan was to ride it the seven miles to work, along a busy highway. I guess there was a bike lane in some places but it was often hazardous with broken glass and other tire-puncturing trash. The traffic went by, close and fast. It was often raining, or hot. The plan didn’t last long. But being the oddity that it was, the bike was pulled out pretty often and demonstrated to curious friends and family. It rarely left the driveway.

My own most vivid memory of using it was when I visited frequently with an elderly lady who lived five or six miles away, mostly through residential areas. I got some exercise, because I could pedal it like a normal bike. But, its real advantage was in the take off moment at intersections. Instead of having to go from my resting/waiting pose to that awkward effort of quickly powering through the crosswalk with dozens of eyes watching, I could just touch the little lever and smoothly zoom away with no effort at all.

The real reason I remember this time had nothing to do with the bike however. It marked the first time I lost a cell phone out of my back pocket and spent hours retracing the the route looking for it.

Years later, the husband gave the bike another chance. The office had moved and was not even two miles away so once again he was riding it to work. One day, there might have been a light rain making things slippery, he rode across a railroad track which crossed the road at an angle. The front tire got caught and he crashed and tumbled. It was a trauma for the husband and for the bike. Neither has ever been the same, although the husband has recovered acceptably.

For the past year or so, I have enjoyed biking frequently for fun and exercise. I would be doing so now except I have lent my $60 pawn shop bike to a friend who had no transportation. Not knowing when I would ever see my bike again, I turned my attention to the E-Bike, sitting forlorn and flat-tired in storage. With the heavy battery removed, and the broken parts held in place with a bungee, it actually rides pretty well. I was pleasantly surprised this week on my first outing with it. The seat had shock absorbers, the handlebars straightened up nicely, it went quietly, and unlike my pawn shop bike, the brakes worked. It’s a go.

It’s still a pretty color due to hardly ever leaving the garage for years.

A few covers missing, a couple bungees holding the empty battery compartment shut. It works.

Some of the clip on instruments are missing but it still has a strangely “techy” look, I think. Looks are so important.

There is a satisfaction in bringing an unused thing back into use.  I also appreciate the back story of the E-Bike and the chance to think about other back stories, and the whole concept of histories and how they might inform the present. Just sayin’, “back in the day” might become a frequent theme.

There Is a House…

wp-1471628511978.jpgIt sits at the top of a hill in a midwestern town. It has been there for a hundred years or more and I can imagine the stories that took place within its walls and grounds. I think I want to live there.  Maybe not forever, but for long enough to see if I love it as much as I think I might.

In this large house with stairways and many bedrooms I would have places for all my favorite guests, and I would have some secret places just for me. I know it must have at least one hidden room somewhere.  I would make each bedroom special with places to sit, to sleep and to read while looking out a window.

It has a large kitchen with lots of light coming in numerous windows. A cool breeze blows through the central hallways because it’s on a hill and surrounded by shade trees – the currents of air are refreshing and full of magic smells like clover flowers and mown grass. Outside the kitchen door would be a garden with a pool. I would grow herbs and salads and water lillies.  On my tall fence I would grow grape vines and in late summer there would be a lot of grapes.


In the winter I would sit in the great front room by the fireplace with my wool and knitting needles. I would invite women to come and knit with me. In the summer I would sit on the front porch. I would call to my friends walking by and ask them to sit and have ice tea with me. I would flavor it with mint from my garden.  There would be a bouquets of hydrangeas everywhere.


But being old and full of stories, means that this house is drafty, poorly wired and has some floors that are not quite straight or level. It would need lots of paint, and constant attention to the roof. It’s fireplaces and chimneys would need cleaning, and it’s plumbing would be less than desired. Would I love all that? I don’t know, but I would like to live in it and see.

Just a dream…


DaVinci Dating

For a couple months now the husband and I have been trying to revive dating as a regular practice. It’s not the easiest thing to do if you’re at the stage of life where staying home is really, well, kind of fun. But we try. The husband compromises and goes to movies with me. I compromise and go to things that catch his attention while watching TV commercials.  It was a commercial for the Diiscover DaVinci exhibit that prompted this particular date. “I want to go to that.” was all he had to say to make me rush back to the half price Groupon I had recently deleted and snatch us some tickets.  Finding a way to do it at a discount is almost like a message from God that it’s meant to be, in my eyes.

After a couple weeks wondering when to do it, on the last day of the exhibit, we set out in the morning – because it certainly wouldn’t be crowded then, right? No, wrong.  There was a good crowd already in the one room auditorium.  We got our wrist bands for all day admittance and started with an overview movie that was being shown on the stage.  One of the guided tours that was just finishing was louder than the movie narration (did I mention it was a one room exhibit?) so my eyes were on a different script than my ears – but it was all about DaVinci, so who cares?Read More »

The Desoto Date


A wonderful place to spend some together time.
A wonderful place to spend some together time.



We were challenged to go on a date every week for six weeks. The time is up now and we tried to remember if we had done that, done anything that was memorable, gone anywhere we could actually name. We came up with a few things.

But I decided we’d better do something quickly to add to the list. We went to a beautiful park we’d never visited before. It qualifies as a date because I walked slow and waited for the husband every time I got ahead of him. We read the historical information together. I took a picture of the husband. We connected with nature and each other.

Here are pictures of Desoto Park. It may have been the place where Hernando Desoto landed and started his trek to claim the New World for Spain. There used to be a local festival honoring him and his conquests – lots of men would dress up in conquistador armor and ride a float made to look like a sailing ship in a very noisy parade. Plastic beads and fake spanish coins would fill the air. I digress. Unfortunately the local native americans had a different version of that history and took offense at the festival being all about Desoto. Now it is simply called the Heritage Festival.

I love this park for its walking trail along the mouth of the Manatee River. Pets are allowed, boats pull up on shore while owners lounge in the water, there’s lots of shade over the path when it enters the mangroves. And if you have never seen a gumbo limbo tree, you will see one here – a very old and beautiful one. That does make it a date, doesn’t it?

I was only a little bit ahead of him...
I was only a little bit ahead of him…

lots of access to the river and intercoastal waterway
lots of access to the river and intercoastal waterway

the path follows the beach at low tide
the path follows the beach at low tide

lots of history to view (read)
lots of history to view (read)

bridges take the trail through the mangroves
bridges take the trail through the mangroves

variety of plant and animal life
variety of plant and animal life

a small white heron
a small white heron

and the gumbo limbo tree
and the gumbo limbo tree




A to Z Challenge: R reminds me of “Remember When…”

my well traveled notebook
my well traveled notebook

At almost every family gathering I’ve been to there is at least one session when all of us sit around telling “remember when” stories. Sometimes the stories are funny, sometimes tragic but they are ones we want to remember and pass on. I will admit that as time goes by the story details can tend to get a little fuzzy.  In fact, one story that my brothers and I all remember is about one of us being a toddler and breaking the glass of a second story window and nearly falling out.  Someone else caught him by the back of his jammy suit and pulled him back. Funny how it’s not real clear anymore who played what part. We try not to argue about it. Dates are also hard to remember.  When did we take that first vacation to Florida?  How long did we live in that house?

One year, as I was listening to my parents and aunts and uncles trade stories and debate the when and why of it all, I decided it might be good to write things down.  I call it sort of a family timeline, like writing a history book about your family.  It’s fun and I love to take it with me to our gatherings, in case I hear some new detail.  The oldest generation in any family knows things that others do not, and face it, those things could be lost if not written down somewhere.

I took an ordinary notebook, of a convenient size to carry in my purse, and put a year on each page. I started with the year I was born but after interviewing my mom this winter I think I will start another section for the time before I came on the scene.  I have a page for every year even if I don’t have anything to enter because sooner or later someone will come up with something for that year.

I get information for the timeline from lots of different sources. Last month I was getting rid of some old check registers and noticed some things I’d written checks for that sparked a memory. My calendars always have something in them that belongs on the timeline, even if I haven’t managed to be faithful in recording everything. Even an old “to do” list in a notebook has clues of projects, parties, and purchases that might be memorable. Birth dates, graduation dates, firsts of all kinds, when the measles struck, where you spent Thanksgiving – it all gets written down. My children laugh when they see that we got our first VCR in 1991. Their children will probably ask what a VCR is and they will get to have a fun conversation about how things have changed.

At the end of each year, during that calm period between Christmas and New Year’s Day I change out my old date book for a new one. Before I store or throw away the old one, I have a fun session reviewing the past year and putting things on the timeline. Year by year, it grows.  Would this be a project your family would enjoy?

Remember when...
Remember when…

A to Z Challenge: L, Letters


Dear _____,

Please write me a letter. I know email is faster and easier and cheaper but sometimes I like the way “snail mail” slows things down.  I like seeing that fat envelope in the mailbox, taking it out and reading it while I walk back to the house.  Then I read it again with a cup of tea and think about what it said.  And I can wait for a day or two before I answer because there is no pressure or expectation – we know mail takes days.  I can take my time thinking and writing back.

I love to see your handwriting and don’t want to forget what it looks like, and if you draw a funny picture I like that too.  Sometimes you spill something on your paper or maybe it smells like your hand lotion and it makes me feel more like I’m right there with you.  And I know how much time you invested in the writing and that speaks of love and care.

I know when I sit to write a handwritten note these days it almost feels like I’m rebelling against technology – makes me feel retro on purpose.  And seeing the rounded letters flowing from my pen is artistically pleasing to me.  As I think and write the long way, my thoughts come a little clearer and suddenly I am more sure of what I’m thinking.  It is a special joy to me when you save my letters and return them to me, giving me a record of my times as good as any journal.  I know I’ve forgotten details of events that come right back to me when I pick up an old letter and re-read it.  That old box I keep letters in doesn’t really take up that much room and it’s kind of nice not to have to hunt in cyberspace for hours on end.  You have a box like that too, don’t you? No? How sad.  You should start one.

Someday I want to read to you the letters my great-great-grandmother wrote.  Wow, what a window on her world!  Things were so different and yet so the same.  It does me good to see that thread of sameness in our lives and I think you would like seeing it too.  How much I would have missed if I had not been able to know her through her letters.  Want to know where I got my stubborn streak or quirky sense of humor? I think I know…

Well, all for now.  I know you’re busy but don’t be afraid to sit a spell and write me a page or two.  The world won’t come to an end (probably not) if you do.  I’ll be watching for the mail.

Yours truly,

A Lover of Letters

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