Monthly Archives: June 2015

The whole fam-damily, part 1

Where have I been? Earlier this month we took a little trip to the heartland to visit my family. (Next month, Eric will have his turn.) We returned a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve had a hard time getting my blogging act together. Anyway, I’m back!

I grew up in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m an only child, but I had ten cousins, two sets of aunts and uncles, and two sets of grandparents in town, so although our household was small, I had family around.

our house, Wauwatosa

My childhood home today, from Google

Then we moved to Washington State, and my sense of family evaporated. I was 11. I seldom saw my extended family after that. This isn’t a pitch for sympathy—it’s just the way it was, and it felt normal to me because it was my reality. Every now and then, some family members would make the trek out west to visit us, but I never went “back home” until I was an adult. (I’ve called the Seattle area “home” for a long time.) Visits have been infrequent, but as I get older, I’ve been feeling the pull to strengthen—or in some cases re-establish—the connection, especially after my mom passed away in 2007.

Our Lake Wobegon base camp

My family all started out in Milwaukee, but as my generation got older, we spread out … geographically and sometimes physically. My Aunt Jo moved to Rochester, Minnesota, seven years ago to be near her daughter, Bonnie, and son-in-law Tom. So it’s Bonnie and Tom who host get-togethers every few years. My other maternal cousin, Tom, and his wife, Judy, come up from Austin, Texas, and Jeff lives in Oshkosh, Wisc. At 88, Jo is my last relative from my parents’ generation.

Eric, Bonnie, Jo, Tom, Maggie, Caiden

Eric, Bonnie, Jo, Tom, Maggie, and Caiden

Bonnie and Tom live in a lovely home on small acreage outside of town. It’s not in 10,000 lakes territory—it’s in what I’d call oceans of grass. One thing that really struck me on this trip is how much Midwest people love their enormous lawns—everywhere we went. We just don’t see many huge lawns out west.

southern Minnesota terrain

A turn for the wurst

Since reconnecting with my paternal cousin Kate on Facebook last year, I’d been hoping to meet up with her and my other cousins from Pop’s side of the family. Cousin Deb offered to host a get-together at her 1917 bungalow in Milwaukee, so Eric and I hopped in the car for a pleasant drive across Wisconsin. Something about the rolling green countryside is soothing to my soul.

Wisconisin countryside, highway

Mind you, it’s not because I’m a farm girl … I’m strictly a suburbanite. It’s probably because I can detect the scent of cheese in the air. Mmm … cheeeese!

cheese shop

Kate and Deb took us to a nearby marina on Lake Michigan to see Deb and her husband Tom’s 39-foot sailboat. (Kate’s husband is also Tom … how did I manage to marry an Eric?) Deb and Tom’s lives revolve around restoring this beautiful boat and sailing with their yacht club. I grew up with power boating, and I sure miss being out on the water, but alas, I don’t see a boat in our future, even though Puget Sound offers some of the best boating in the world.

sailboat, Lake Michigan, yacht club

Cousin Deb on Reckless Abandon

sailboat, Lake Michigan, cousins

Deb, Kate, and I at the marina

I was thrilled that five of the seven sibling cousins showed up for dinner! We had not see each other for 22 years, and before that it was probably another 22—or more. I brought my dad’s genealogy research and a bunch of century-old photos (some identified, many not) for show-and-tell. We got a kick out of deciding which of our ancestors we resembled. “Is anyone from the past generation still alive?” asked Becky. “No,” I said. “We are the old generation.” Kinda sobering. It was so much fun to mingle with everyone, relive memories of our grandparents, and learn what we’ve all been up to. I have a great bunch of cousins!

I love this photo of my grandpa and his siblings. He’s the baby at the bottom of the ladder (too young for pants), which puts the date around 1898.

Grandpa and his siblings

Clara, Cora, Alma, Arthur, and little grandpa Carl

It wasn’t until we checked into our hotel that night that I realized I had been so busy visiting with everyone that I didn’t get a picture of cousins Dale, Dave, and Becky! How could I have missed that opportunity?? This one from Grandma and Grandpa’s 43th anniversary in 1964 will have to do. Clockwise from back row, left: My dad Carl and mom Jean, grandma Hilda and grandpa Carl, cousins Dave, Sue, Deb, Uncle Don, Aunt Carolyn, cousins Gary, Dale, and Kate, and me. (Becky was yet to be born.)

grandpa and grandma, 43th annivesary, 1964

Grandpa and Grandma’s 43th anniversary

Here’s how Grandma and Grandpa started in 1921. You can bet that a florist’s daughter would have a spectacular bouquet (yet, Grandma wasn’t smiling, even on her wedding day).

grandpa dn grandma's wedding, wedding bouquet

A turn for the verse

My dad’s cousin Charlotte, known to all as Chuckie, was famous in the family for writing poems. (I keep waiting for Will and Kate to call their daughter Princess Chuckie, but sadly, I guess it’s not going to happen.) In my search for archival photos, I found 40 pages of her cringeingly bad but hilarious poetry, through which she poked fun at various family members. Here’s a brief sample—just part of one poem. I suggest a few glasses of wine for prep:


Thomas Julius Roehl came in ’25,
It’s now sixteen years he’s been alive.
He’d fall around without hurting his rump,
For I’ve been told he was pleasingy plump.

His legs like Uncle Carl’s were not bowed,
But he was slightly pigeon-toed.
While roller skating it was a big riddle,
His skates constantly bumped in the middle.

So you can see without his legs up to par,
With wheels on his feet he never got far.
Back in those days it would me please
To see him try out a pair of skis.

Then came the time when whatever he’d mutter,
Would just come out as one big stutter.
But this trait didn’t last so long,
Now with his talk there’s nothing wrong.

Now Tommy, to keep up the Roehl tradition,
Took up football to keep in condition.
Though the signals in his mind he always did clench,
I guess the coach thought him better on the bench.

But that’s not as bad as it could be,
What good is an ornament-less tree.
An empty bench would be a sad place,
So Tommy helps to fill in the space.

Wait, there’s more! Twenty-nine more poems! Want to read another one? … No?

On our return trip to Rochester I was beckoned by signs for Ephraim Pottery. We turned off I-94 into the quaint little burg of Lake Mills, Wisc. Across the street from the courthouse square with the farmer’s market was Ephraim’s Pottery … arts and crafts pottery heaven. My instincts were right. I purchased this plump ginkgo vase as a souvenir.

Ephraim Pottery, Lake Hills Wisconsin,

The doctor and the farmer

We relaxed in Rochester for the rest of the week, ate too much, celebrated our sixth anniversary, and trolled about town visiting local landmarks.

No trip would be complete for us without a dose of architectural history, so we poked around the Plummer House, a magnificent and fanciful 1924 Tudor (Dr. Henry Plummer was one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic, where both of my cousins are doctors). The house, now an arts and event center, wasn’t open, and we were the only ones there, so we had the run of the property. Do you have a tower in your backyard?

Plummer House, 1924, Tudor, Rochester

Plummer House, tower

We also stopped in at the History Center of Olmsted County, where a farm is home to the Mechanical History Roundtable (guys who collect and preserve old farm equipment). We were excited to take photos of the rusty old farm implements that decorated their field.

farm equipment, tines

Aeromotor, windmill, red barn

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what this is.

hog oiler

Oh, c’mon! It’s a hog oiler! It’s fer oilin’ yer hawgs! Keeps insects away, I gather. Must be where the term “greased pig” comes from.

And of course, who could forget Rochester’s iconic corny water tower!

water tower, corn cob, Rochester MN

How bicycles saved a town

We took a day trip to Lanesboro, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota. It’s miraculously thriving, bursting with historic buildings, eateries, bed and breakfasts, and a popular theater company. What in the world makes it tick when nearby towns are nearly dead? Bicycles! The Root River State Trail (a former rail bed, part of the Blufflands State Trail System) runs through town, which brings in tons of people. There’s also river rafting, fishing, cross-country skiing, and in-line skating. This little town is jumpin’! It’s great to see a historic town be so preserved and valued. It’s the biggest tourist destination in southern Minnesota.

Lanesboro MN, Root River bicycle trail

Lanesboro MN B&B, Victorian B&B

And then it was time to go. On our last night at Bonnie and Tom’s, the fireflies came out to bid us farewell … such a beautiful way to end our visit. I love fireflies. We don’t have them out west. I couldn’t take a photo, but this is what they look like in the dark.


Goodbye, Midwest … goodbye, family. I’ll be back in a year or two!

Bonnie and Tom, Rochester, MN

Tom, Judy, Jeff, and Bonnie








I HATE DIY!!! (part 2)

A way forward

So what ever happened to the bed project, you ask. Oh, that. Yes … well, believe it or not, it’s still being worked. (I know you believe it because by now you know how glacially slow we are at finishing our projects.) When I left off, we had just learned that we didn’t qualify for the free TempurPedic pillows because we wanted to buy only the mattress, not the foundation piece. Eric was struggling to gain traction constructing the mahogany bed frame, and my stain test results were a big disappointment.

bad stain

When we returned home after deciding not to order our mattress, I was seriously bummed. Sure, we could wait to buy it until Eric finished the bed frame, but I really, really wanted a new bed. Now, not months from now. I considered our options. Should we bite the bullet and buy the set (foundation and mattress) and bag the idea of a platform bed? We could simply bolt the headboard to the frame whenever Eric had it ready. But what about the footboard, which was almost done? He had worked so hard on it, and had spent a bundle on the expensive mahogany. It would be a shame not to build the whole bed frame as we’d planned. But our plan just wasn’t coming together. Do other people agonize so over buying a freakin’ bed?? (Well, maybe …  a king-sized TempurPedic probably costs more than my first car!)

Then Eric brought the finished footboard upstairs. Wow—his craftsmanship, as usual, was outstanding. No way was it becoming firewood! Somehow, though, I would have to find a way to give it the finish it deserved … and I was worried about that. My angst continued.

The unstained footboard is hanging out in the library where it’s safe from marauding cats. It’s 30 inches tall.


footboard detail

Finally, we made a decision: We’d buy the @#$% foundation piece, get the free pillows, and set up the bed. Then we’d finish the bedframe at our own pace … and in the meantime, we’d have an awesome bed. What’s a few more hundred bucks?? Sheesh …

We felt liberated just having made a decision. The next day (the last day of the free pillow offer), we returned to the store to shell out the cash. But first, we stopped at Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, to learn about staining mahogany. I brought my ugly stain sample. The salesman was wonderfully patient and demonstrated several products and techniques that would increase the uniformity of the stain. Counter-intuitively, the first step is a coat of shellac (Zinsser Seal Coat) to seal the pores! Then the Minwax stain, then a couple of coats of General Finishes Enduro-Var urethane sealer. And inevitably, lots of sanding in between. I breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t wait to test the new method.

shellac, stain, varnish

Out on the deck, I set up a little production line with five mahogany scraps that had a variety of graining. First, I coated the scraps with shellac.

5 mahogany boards

shellac coat

I had three different colors of stain at my disposal, but I started with the darkest, Minwax Dark Walnut, because I knew the shellac undercoat would prevent the stain from soaking in too much. I painted a strip of stain down the right side of each board, then rubbed it off. If I wanted to try another color, I had plenty of room.

mahogany boards with walnut stain

Dark walnut seemed like the right color. I needed the depth of color if the bed was to blend with my mom-and-pop dressers. I applied another coat to deepen it a bit, then, satisfied, I stained the rest of the boards.

Two coats of satin urethane topped them off. Beautiful! A photo won’t show it, but when I turn the wood from side to side, the dark and light stripes reverse. Trippy.

stained mahogany in the sun

stained sample boards

With the samples against the bare footboard, you can see how the graining will look when it’s finished.

footboard and stain samples

On the appointed day, our bed arrived. Two guys made short work of setting it up—they’d done this before. In a flash, our saggy bed was gone and this beauty was in its place. Duke approved.

TempurPedic bed

Flat as a flitter! Hard as a board! (A board covered in memory foam, that is.)

flat new mattress

Believe it or not, that’s exactly what we like. I can’t get over the fact that I can lie anywhere on this bed and there’s NO sag or trough. Ahhhh! The only problem I’ve encountered is a reluctance to get out of bed in the morning.

In a few weeks, our free pillows arrived, each in its own little fabric suitcase, as if they expected to go on vacation with us. Wouldn’t you think that if you buy a king bed, you’d get king pillows? But no, these are “standard” size. I’m not sure whose standard, because they get lost in standard pillowcases. They look like little kids wearing daddy’s T-shirts. I think they’re too hard and too high, not soft and squishy like the ones in the showroom. Eric likes his okay, but I’m disappointed. After we made such an effort to buy during the pillow giveaway! Bah! (“I would sleep on one,” offered Lacy.)

small memory foam pillows

However, the bed is divine. We and our bedcats love it. I immediately quit thinking about how much money the whole gambit is costing us. A good night’s sleep is priceless, as Chex and Peggy Sue will attest.

(Stay tuned for the staining story … it’ll happen, um … soon! I’ll be doing it outside, so the weather needs to be perfect.)


Two cats cuddling