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Animals / Just for Fun

I loved working jigsaw puzzles when I was a kid. Somehow, though, it seems that I outgrew them. I don’t remember exactly how or why it happened, only that when I went away to college, I didn’t take any along.

But now, after more than a 50-year absence, I’ve redeveloped a passion for jigsaw puzzles. And I know exactly how that happened. Last February, when I spent a week with Sue in a condo on the beach in Alabama, she had a 1000-piece puzzle in progress when I arrived. It was, appropriately, a picture of many wine bottles.

I enjoyed helping her put it together, so much so that I bought a puzzle as soon as I got home. That one led to another and to another, until I was hooked again. The leaning tower of puzzle boxes in one of my closets is proof of that. And for the past year, I have eaten many meals at the bistro table in my sunroom or on my breakfast bar because so often there is a puzzle spread out on my dining room table.

It turns out that I am not the only one in my home who likes puzzles. When I dump a box full of pieces on the table, cat ears perk up, even if they are sound asleep. Both girls love jumping on the table and “helping” me. They take turns gleefully rolling on or sleeping on the pieces as I try to work around a purring, furry body. They also think it’s hilarious performing gravity checks with the pieces, slowly nudging them to the edge of the table until they fall to the floor.


I thought I had read that doing puzzles is good for the brain. So I did some quick research this morning, and it turns out I was right. If I can believe the claims, my puzzle habit is helping improve my memory, my concentration, my problem-solving skills, my visual-spatial reasoning, my mood, and even my IQ. Then with the additional benefits of interacting with my cats, I can also lower my stress and blood pressure and increase my quality of life.

With the promise of so many benefits, I have all the excuses I need to continue working my puzzles.

What about you? Are you a fan of jigsaw puzzles too?

A Slice of Vacation Life

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Blogging / Just for Fun / Nature

Today’s assignment is to recreate the events of a single day. This one will be easy, since I will draw on memories of my recent stay with my friend, Sue, in her rental condo in Orange Beach, AL


I wake up when I wake up, without an alarm or obligation. I know without getting out of bed whether Sue is up before me. The first thing she does each morning is open the glass doors to the balcony. If I can hear the ocean, she is up.

I dress for a day in the mid-70s, getting reacquainted with the summer clothes and sandals I haven’t worn since September. Coffee is waiting in the kitchen; the fixings for my favorite breakfast are in the frig. I’ll get to them in a minute. First, I go out on the balcony to commune with the surf and the beach. The ocean has a different mood every time I look at it. I often take photos or record a short video, like the one below. They don’t do the scene justice, but I love looking at them when I return to February in Illinois.


Then it’s time for my morning activities that include checking social media and the news, reading Sue Grafton’s last mystery, Y is for Yesterday, and going back and forth from the balcony to the living room.

This continues, in a delightful way, until it’s time to go out for lunch, our biggest and most planned-out meal of the day. We go to a new restaurant each day, usually one with a water view. Sometimes it’s just Sue and me; other days, we meet up with friends or relatives who are in the area. Each day I order a different kind of seafood or fish, working my way through grouper, crab (cakes), salmon, and flounder. It is all amazingly fresh and delicious. This was the view from our table one day.


Some days we stop for provisions on the way back to the condo. If we do, we make it quick because we can’t wait to return to the ocean and our books. In the afternoon we also may work on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that completely covers the table.

About an hour before sunset, we head down to the beach. It’s a good thing it’s a quick  walk from our building and down a short boardwalk because we are carrying our folding chairs, light jackets, and sippy cups of wine (no glass allowed). We aren’t alone on the beach, but the few people there on a weekday are all a distance from us—a benefit of coming before spring break. I walk across the clean white sand to the edge of the water. I don’t dip my feet in because it is still too cold. Then I return to my chair for a sip or two of Chardonnay. We watch the sun duck behind and between clouds as it slowly touches the ocean and sinks from view.


Then it’s back to the condo and a simple, light dinner with another glass of wine. We end the day watching the Olympics, working on the puzzle, reading, and chatting. The sound of the waves and the wine relax me, until finally the effort of staying awake becomes too great. I head off to bed, where I sleep more deeply and peacefully than I ever do at home.

If I am very, very lucky, my vacation is not over yet. I get to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.


Mapping My Family Home

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Blogging / Mostly Musings


Today’s assignment is to write a post based on a map. I am doing that, but you will have to read for a while before we get to the maps.


It was, I don’t know, maybe 2013 or -14, a late afternoon, when my phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the number that came up, but I knew the 319 area code.  It is for eastern Iowa, where I was born and raised.

A family friend was calling to tell me that our old farmhouse was on fire. In fact, it was engulfed in flames shooting up into the sky. It was a planned burn, he said, by the latest owners who apparently found it the easiest way to get rid of the house.

His words were a punch to the gut. Granted, I hadn’t lived full-time in that house since I had left for college 40-some years earlier. My parents had sold the farm in the early ’70s when they moved to Colorado Springs; their buyers had also sold it, as those owners possibly did also. I had lost track of how many owners there were. Later I would learn that the last ones had bought the property for the land and the other buildings. They did not intend to live there.

Two or three years after that phone call, Mom died. On the day that my brother, his wife, and I went back to bury her ashes, we drove by the old place. The house was not only gone, but there was no sign it had ever been there. The foundation had been removed, and the lawn was repaired. We couldn’t get close enough for a good look because a locked gate blocked the driveway.

It’s just as well, I guess. Now the home, and the farm, can be however I want to remember them. And I choose to remember them as being grand.

The house was very old, even when I was growing up. How old? I’m not quite sure. Mom told me when I was young that it had been built in the 1840s, but I can’t verify that.

However, from studying the deeds in her scrapbooks, I know that the farm came into her family when Johannes Hagen and his wife bought it in 1884. From then, it was sold from parents to children through the generations, always for the price of $1. When it came to my parents in 1936, the recording fee was higher than the selling price.

This is a photo from my scrapbook, showing the house as it looked in 1947, when my parents brought me home from the hospital.

farmhouse 1.jpeg



All right. I’m ready to get to the maps now. Last week I was cleaning a closet and came across this musty old book, printed in 1966.


Let’s look inside it and zoom in on my family farm. First, here’s the map of Iowa, showing where our county, Scott, is located.


Within Scott county, here is our township, Sheridan.


And within the township, the red box marks our farm.

dierksen farm 1.jpg


So that is the exact location of the farmhouse that no longer exists.

Except that, of course, it most certainly does still exist. In Mom’s scrapbooks, in my photo albums, on the memory quilt that my sister-in-law stitched for Mom’s 90th birthday. And in the hearts and memories of those of us who ever lived or visited there.

Tweet, Tweet

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Today’s assignment calls for me to “mine my own material.” This means that I search my writing in places other than this blog for ideas. So, for example, I might use something I’ve written on other social media sites or in journals or, really, anywhere. I’ve ruled out Facebook posts because too many of you reading this blog are FB friends, which means you would be reading re-runs. I’ve also ruled out the journals that I kept from ages 22-24 because I’m appalled at how trite my heart-felt ramblings now sound. So I’m going to “mine” my Twitter account.

As I scroll through my Twitter feed, the first thing I notice is how much of it is not content that I have created. I retweet other people frequently. Also, all of my blog posts appear on my feed, thus duplicating the articles you find right here. That said, here are a few of my original thoughts, all conveniently condensed to 140 characters or less (a Twitter requirement until recently).


Finally, a couple of closing thoughts about Twitter. Friends have asked why I am on both Facebook and Twitter. Aren’t they about the same thing?

No, they’re different, at least for me. I use FB to stay in contact with people that I personally know—friends, people from the past, former students and colleagues. On Twitter, I follow famous people, like entertainers and athletes, and I follow news and politics.

If you have read this post and still think you might like to follow me on Twitter, be warned: you will read more about my political beliefs that you might want to. If that still hasn’t scared you off, my Twitter name is Caryldier.



School Shooting, Number Gazillion

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April 20, 1999:  It was a Tuesday, the end of a normal school day. I packed up the papers I was taking home to grade and locked my classroom. That year, due to a student enrollment that had outgrown our building, I was teaching in a mobile classroom on the front lawn of Woodstock High School. It was a short walk across the street to the parking lot and my car.

I started the engine, turned on the radio, and found myself listening to the middle of a breaking news story. From what I could gather, there had been a mass shooting in a high school in suburban Denver. Multiple students were dead; many others were injured. “But where is the shooting?” I shouted at the radio. “Which school in which town?”

My brother and only sibling worked in the IT department of a large school district in the Denver suburbs. His job usually took him out of the office; he could have been working in any one of a number of schools that day. I needed to hear the name of the city.

My niece was a fire-fighter/paramedic in another suburb of Denver. Was she working at the scene of the shooting? Even if it wasn’t in her district, surely many extra first responders had been called in to help.

It was an endless wait—possibly the longest two minutes of my life—until I heard the words Columbine High School in Littleton. Neither Craig nor Tina worked in Littleton. But my fear didn’t subside until I was able to speak to him on the phone and learn that neither of them had been at Columbine High School.

Before that day, I had never felt unsafe at work. After that day, I never again felt completely secure at school. If a shooter were to come, my students and I might be his easiest and accessible targets out on the lawn. My world had shifted.


Today, January 23, 2018:  A person opened fire inside a rural Kentucky high school, killing one and injuring nine others. [Note: while I was writing this post, the numbers rose to two dead and 17 injured.] Police led a suspect away in handcuffs and said there is no reason to suspect anyone else in the nation’s first fatal school shooting of 2018.

Hundreds of students ran for their lives out of Marshall County High School, jumping into cars and running down a highway, some not stopping until they reached a McDonald’s restaurant more than a mile away.

“They was running and crying and screaming,” said Mitchell Garland, who provided shelter to between 50 and 100 students inside his nearby business. “They was just kids running down the highway. They were trying to get out of there.”

A half-dozen ambulances and numerous police cars converged on the school, along with officers in black fatigues carrying assault rifles. Federal authorities responded, and Sen. Mitch McConnell sent staffers. Gov. Matt Bevin rushed from the Capitol to the scene. Parents left their cars on both sides of an adjacent road, desperately trying to find their teenagers.