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.

On the one main intersection, 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

<a href=””><img alt=”” src=”; title=”AtoZ April Challenge” /></a>

Related People

My Grandfather (well, one of them)
My Grandfather (well, one of them)

I’ve spent quite a bit of time today with my mom looking at family letters, journals, pictures and memorabilia. I am very confused and totally impressed with anyone who spends more than half an hour studying genealogy. Think of it this way – most of us know who our parents are. That’s two people. A lot of us know or have known one or both of our sets of grandparents. It’s not too hard yet – that’s just six people all together. A few of us knew great-grandparents, or heard about them from people who knew them. We’ve just added eight more people to the mix, fourteen to keep track of. Still with me? Now maybe you get married and have children. Those poor kids have double that number to figure out because you’ve just joined them to another line of your spouse’s ancestry. And that number doubles every time you go back another generation. We haven’t said anything about aunts, uncles or cousins yet either.

And ancestors can really confuse you if they happened to have more than one marriage. Also in the past, people didn’t have a lot of imagination in naming their kids, or they were too busy, or something. They just kept picking the same names that their father or uncle or sister or brother had. So every generation had repeats with a number behind the name. (If you care about genealogy, pick a unique name for your child, please.)

I’ve about decided that I’m not going to get it all straight. I’m just going to remember some of the neat stories. For instance, one of my ancestors (George Boone III, poor guy) came over from England and enjoyed dabbling in real estate. He was the original owner of the tract of land in Maryland that became Washington, D.C. and in fact, Georgetown is named after him. There is even a plaque in the city that says so. Pretty cool, huh? Yes, there was also a George IV,

Another of my ancestors named Squire Boone (and I have to hand it to his parents for thinking of a name I certainly wouldn’t have thought of) had two sons, Edward and Daniel. He lived in Kentucky and yes they did have coonskin caps. Edward was my ancestor, but he was killed by Indians and his brother Daniel helped raise his children. I haven’t figured out how many “greats” I have to attach to it, but Daniel Boone was some kind of an uncle of mine.

There’s lots more and the really great thing is that so many of my ancestors were the bloggers of their day. They wrote journals, they were newspaper reporters and writers of one sort or another. Many were school teachers or ministers which gave them a familiarity with writing and an appreciation of family histories. One of “my people” sat in a tent one night during the Civil War and put down his thoughts in a poem and we have it today.

My great aunt Esther was one of the historians for our family on my mother’s side. In spite of the fact that she wrote a lot of her notes on napkins, and lost pages of letters all the time, she did have a large collection of family history that she passed on to my mom. That’s the material we are sorting through. My mom has compiled a two volume history from most of the writings but what do we do with those precious originals? I want to thank my ancestors for writing about their ordinary lives, which, turns out for some of them, were pretty extraordinary. If this makes you want to start a journal, I’m sayin’ just do it!

Do you have an interesting story in your family history? Tell it to me, please.

Round Lake

I grew up on a small farm in northern Wisconsin – a place where  nature is not all that friendly to farmers.  Summers are short and cool, winters are seem endless with lots of snow and cold weather.  The area is kept alive by tourism and is a playground for hunters, fishermen, outdoor sports enthusiasts and others who just want to get away from the larger cities in Wisconsin and nearby Minnesota.  I is a land of lakes and I have been on many of them, but my favorite is Round Lake.  Others will say the same.

A road winds past my childhood home, around a small pond and climbs a wooded hill. I spent a lot of time looking at that hill from the front yard and from my second story bedroom window.  At some early point I must have seen some people on horseback riding up the hill at a gallop because I recollect a romantic notion of there being a castle up there waiting for knights to arrive on their steeds.  My family later became friends with the people on the hill since they had children close to our ages.  The hill became Kendall’s Hill and we also came to know their cousins who did indeed visit them on horseback.

For some reason today I started thinking about that hill and the nearby geography and wondered why I had never thought of it in the bigger picture before.  The centerpiece of it, to me, is a beautiful, deep, spring fed lake with a very unimaginative name – Round Lake.  Parts of it might be kind of round, but I would never have named it that.  In many places it has a very rugged, high and steep coastline. People owning those pieces of lakeshore have their log cabins that we can see through the pine trees and long stairs zig zagging down the bank to their boatdocks.

There is another outstanding feature of the lake and that is a peninsula of high ground that circles out into the lake and back toward the shore.  It had to have been connected at one time because there is a sand bar across the narrow space where it doesn’t connect. It has to be dredged for boats to safely cross into Hinton Bay. Hinton Bay, by the way, is almost perfectly round and maybe that’s the part someone was looking at when they named the lake. I would love to know what kind of geologic activity has gone on to form this lake, and its surrounding hills.  I know there was a lot of glacial activity that gouged out some pretty crazy river beds and valleys and  left a lot of rocks of various sizes. Once I found a fairly large Lake Superior red agate in the lake so I’m suspecting a relationship with the Great Lakes chain.

But there are also some fairly flat lands where people have attempted to farm, as my family did.  The pond between my house and the hill had a couple of springs that were probably fed from the same underground reservoir that feeds the lake. We children who skated on the pond in the winter were always afraid to go too near those places we could tell had frozen over last. The pond has gradually become more marshy and filled in with sediment – it may disappear someday but I probably won’t be alive to see it.

Last month I visited the hill and took another one of many pictures, looking out over the pond to my old home. I’m always hit with nostalgia at the view. What a privilege it was to grow up in such a beautiful place. I spent many years drinking that clear, cold well water and eating food grown in that soil so it’s pretty safe to say it is in my bones. I will always be “from” Round Lake and Hayward, Wisconsin.


my old home from the castle on the hill


Reader, blogger, and essayist Andrea Badgley is collecting “Show Us Your State” stories for her Andrea Reads America website. Submission guidelines are here if you would like to participate.

Old Jed

On this pleasant day off from work I went to see my aunt and uncle who live a short walk away during the winter. Auntie Irene is my father’s sister and has always been one of my favorites along with her whole family – Uncle Bob, cousins Mark, Robin and Todd. They would visit regularly when I was growing up. Their summer vacation was usually spent in Hayward at Grandma’s house and the Round Lake beach. I did a lot of water skiing behind Uncle Bob’s boat, although he loved to scare me by pulling me faster than I wanted to go and heading for the choppiest part of the water to see if I’d fall.

So we were talking and looking at some pictures, one of which was of a big rock in California with a plaque on it memorializing Jedediah Smith.  My cousin Todd is posing by the rock. Turns out Jed is one of our Smith ancestors and his claim to fame is the discovery of a route west to California prior to Lewis and Clarke.  Somehow L and C got credit but evidently books have been written since acknowledging Jedediah Smith with an earlier route. I have been aware of well known ancestors on my mother’s side of the family, the Boones, but this is the first I’ve known that anyone has traced the Smiths back to someone like this. So now I need to find the books and find out what is known about Jedediah. Auntie Irene says he died young, killed by hostile Indians.

Geneology also shows that we Smiths are related to a family named Bunker. They owned the land on which the battle of Bunker Hill was fought.  When you think how hard it is today to make some kind of mark on the world that is remembered at all, it is kind of special to have a family history of memorable characters. We should know about these people. I think it would give us a sense of who we are, who we could be to know who we came from. 

Last year for his birthday I had framed for Dennis the roster showing his ancestor Abraham Starr as a soldier in the Civil War.  It gives information about the whole company, the battles that they participated in, shows that he was twice wounded and honorably discharged. It has colorful pictures on it and, unfortunately, numerous holes that the mice and moths have made in the paper over the years. Nevertheless an interesting piece of history – and now preserved behind special glass on acid free paper for future generations should they be interested.

I’m in the stage of life where I have occasions to listen to the stories of the generation ahead of me and wish that they were recorded.  I can only remember bits and pieces of what I hear. And I wonder what I will have to tell when I’m the oldest generation alive. I spend so much time thinking about mundane things concerning the here and now – it actually feels eerie to think about people much like me who lived and have been gone for hundreds of years who are responsible for my being alive. There are so many stories out there that have never been told…

All for today… back to the here and now.