April 4, 2018

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Holidays / Mostly Musings


It has been widely publicized that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It is indeed a day to celebrate his heritage. His life and work have inspired countless people of all races, beliefs, and nationalities.






Today is also the birth date of another influential Civil Rights activist who knew and worked with Dr. King. Dr. Maya Angelou, who also championed women’s rights, was born 90 years ago today.





In addition, April is National Poetry Month. I would like to observe all three occasions by sharing a selection from each of these immensely talented writers. First, from Dr. King, who, as far as I know, never claimed to be a poet. But he employed many poetic devices in his speeches. This is an excerpt from I Have a Dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.


This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

And here is Dr. Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

If you are like me… If you do not have to share the struggles of these two American leaders… Please join me in gratitude for the freedom and privilege that I was given at birth.

Easter Nostalgia

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Holidays / Mostly Musings

Dear readers: I wrote and published this post four years ago. I am sharing it again as holiday nostalgia sweeps over me on this Easter weekend. My feelings and memories have not changed. Only one thing has; I lost Mom a year and a half ago.


Do you feel it too? For me, holidays always bring back memories of the celebrations of my childhood.

I can close my eyes today and see us so clearly. It is Easter. There is my family—Mom, Dad, Craig, Aunt Clara, Uncle Jack, and me—all in our farm house, sitting around the dining room table. It is set with Mom’s best china and the silverware that she kept in a velvet-lined wooden box except for special occasions.

We are all smiling as we pass the platter of ham, the sweet potatoes, and the creamed peas around the table. We are all incredibly, painfully young in my memory. It never occurred to us children that we would age and life would change.

We children are in our 60s now. We have gray hair and live a thousand miles apart. The older generation is gone, except for Mom, who is partially gone with dementia.

But the memories are not sad. Not at all. In them, Craig and I are hunting for the Easter eggs that Mom and Dad hid the night before. If Easter came early and it was still cold, the eggs would be hidden in the house. When it was jacket weather, like it is this year, we would have an outdoor hunt, our favorite kind.

I remember the year Mom hid a dozen hard-boiled, dyed eggs around the farmyard. Craig and I searched long and hard but could only find eleven eggs. Months later we found the crushed colored shell where, we assumed, a squirrel dropped it after eating the missing egg.

Easter of 1956 was warm enough to be outside. Here is a picture that Dad took of us with his beloved Argus slide camera.

Easter 1956

Easter 1956

In my Easter memories, we were always dressed up. Mom sewed nearly all of my clothing at that time. She outdid herself with this dress for Easter of 1955.

Easter 1955

Easter 1955

I wish I had smiled for the camera. I don’t recall why I didn’t. It’s funny because in my memories, I was always happy. We all were.

Happy Easter to everyone from Home Sweet Abbey!


A Cup of Coffee

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Mostly Musings

After a long break, I’m returning to my online blogging class. Today’s assignment, my second-to-the-last, is a virtual coffee date. In this type of post, I am to share thoughts in the informal way I might if I were actually talking to a friend over a cup of coffee. So… I have brewed up two mugs of strong, hot Black Magic coffee. Let’s sit in my sunroom and chat.



If we were having coffee right now… I would take you over to a window and show you the green shoots of my daffodils and tulips poking through the ground. It will be a while before they bloom, but just knowing that I will have spring flowers in the near future makes me happy on this cloudy day.

If we were having coffee right now… I would tell you that yesterday I finished the preparations for a cruise I’ll be taking with my brother and sister-in-law in early May. I have reserved flights, booked shore excursions, checked in, printed luggage tags, and made sure that my passport is up to date and I am TSA approved. Here’s where we’re going:


I’m so excited. I have always wanted to visit French-speaking Canada. You see, French was my minor in college—not one that I, regrettably, have used much since graduation. And now I’m a drop-out from an online French course that I hoped would refresh my skills. With only a little over a month left,  I have to resort to my backup plan of studying a list of French phrases for travelers.

If we were having coffee right now… my cat, Angie, would probably have joined us in the sunroom. She’s the most sociable cat I’ve ever had and absolutely loves interacting with humans. I’ll never figure out how she picks her favorites, though she tends to gravitate to men. But I guarantee if either of us gets up from our chair, she will jump out of a sound sleep and claim it within seconds. When that happens, the human might as well choose another place to sit. The cat calls dibs, and that’s that.

If we were having coffee right now… I might ask you for suggestions for a good book. I don’t have a book club selection to read for a couple of months. We will be discussing the novel I wrote in April, and I will miss our May meeting due to the cruise. So this is a perfect time to delve into something kind of meaty. Only problem is… what will that be?

If we were having coffee right now… I would definitely tell you how excited I am about something I did yesterday. I finally took Mom’s wedding ring to a good jeweler and asked for suggestions for reworking it. I want it transformed into a piece of jewelry that I can wear everyday, even with jeans. And so the diamonds will become a beautiful, shiny pendant that will remind me of Mom whenever I put it on. And, now that I think of it, it will remind me of Dad too because he gave Mom the ring going on 78 years ago. The pendant will look nice with the ring and earrings that I had made from my grandmother’s wedding ring a number of years ago. Being the only girl in the family is a huge advantage. You end up with all the diamonds.

If we were having coffee right now… I might ask you if you ever lose your focus for doing things that you should be doing—things you even want to be doing—and kind of float through days without accomplishing anything. Because I do, and it worries me since I didn’t used to. I miss the sense of accomplishment that comes from checking completed items off a to-do list. For example, take this blog. I feel guilty when I check my stats and see that people are visiting it when there is nothing new to read. I want to write more often, and I enjoy it once I settle into the process. Maybe I need to lower my expectations. So I tell you, kind of half-way joking, that I’m going to make a new to-do list with only two items: find that list of French phrases and begin studying it; and blog at least once a week.

If we were having coffee right now… I would thank you for listening to my ramblings. And I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I would hope that one day soon you will invite me back for coffee at your place.




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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.

A Road Not Taken

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Blogging / Mostly Musings

Today my assignment is to take two published posts on a common theme, combine them, and make them into something new. The posts—For Sale: My Abbey and My Abbey, Still My Sweet Home—tell the story of my unsuccessful attempt to move to a different home in the Maples.




March 2016. When I moved into my Abbey in October 2010, I told everyone, including myself, there would be no more moves. It was my dream home. I planned to stay there until I died or was carried out.

And I meant it. I meant it so much, I would have staked my life on it.

When I started this blog, it was so easy coming up with the name Home Sweet Abbey. Since then I’ve written, and many of you have read, lots of posts describing how wonderful my home and Maples at the Sonatas are. And I have meant every word of them.

But I had forgotten two crucial truths: Never say never. And things never stay the same. So…

It has now been three months since I first walked into the home that I have come to think of as the Palazzo on the Pond. It called to me; it sang my name. It is a dream of a stand-alone home in Phase 3 of our community.

The whole thing began as a day dream. I had to convince myself to take a chance and try to make that Palazzo mine. There were a number of hurdles, and there were many times I was sure I was reaching too high. One huge problem—I was almost positive that I couldn’t afford it. But after asking lots of questions, I learned that the financing could work out if I could sell my Abbey first.

Rather than reassuring me, that knowledge scared me half to death. Just because it was possible, did I want to do it? Did I really want to go through the stress and hard work of packing up and moving again? Did I really want to uproot myself and my two elderly cats from a home where we were so happy and comfortable? Did I really want to start over with decorating?  Most of all, could I even break the strong emotional attachment I have to my Abbey?

When doubts would overwhelm me, I would go back to the Palazzo, walk through the rooms, look at the views, take a lot of deep breaths, and eventually say, Yes, I do want to do this.

And that is why, on Friday morning, I signed a contract to buy the Palazzo on the Pond, contingent on the sale of my Abbey.


April 2016. Yesterday I signed another sheet of paper, and one of my biggest adventures came to an end. A new buyer had fallen in love with my Palazzo, one whose cash offer trumped my contingency. So I had no choice but to officially void my contract.

Certainly, I knew all along it could happen. The problem is, for four months I have allowed myself to live in a bubble of false security.

Do I regret those four months? Not at all. It was quite a trip while it lasted, and I’m grateful for the experience. Perhaps most importantly, it reaffirmed the support I am blessed to receive from my friends, neighbors, and the Wilcox staff.

I am further blessed to still have my Abbey, the home that I was always reluctant to leave. With it off the market now, I can fully relax, reclaiming it as a private home rather than a property to market.

It’s time to start a new chapter.


January 2018. It has been 21 months, and I’m not totally convinced I have started that new chapter. Do I still think about the Palazzo on the Pond? Sometimes, especially when I drive or walk by it.

When Mom passed last year and left me an inheritance, I thought about it again. I didn’t receive enough money to buy a Palazzo, but it was enough to make a very nice down payment. However, the timing did not work out. Is that because it wasn’t meant to be? I don’t know.

When a new Palazzo goes up, I wonder if I could like this one as much. So far, I have found a reason why I don’t. It doesn’t have the water view. It’s not as upgraded. But that also means it’s more affordable and more possible and … I don’t know.

I’m still extremely happy where I am. The older I get, the more comfortable I am.

But if I could EVER make a big decision AND. STICK. TO. IT., it would be a miracle.



A Post about “The Post”

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Today, again, I am combining two assignments into one post. In the first, I am to write about a place where I have spent time observing my surroundings. In the second, I am to critique a piece of artwork.


On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing The Post at the Woodstock Theatre—Classic Cinemas. I arrived early for the 11:25 a.m. show so that I could watch, listen, and soak up my surroundings for this assignment. It was a pleasure to spend time in this recently renovated and expanded theater. Like other buildings in our town, it maintains its historic charm while using renovations to stay current and comfortable.

Woodstock Theatre has not jumped on the bandwagon of recent changes that may or may not be popular with movie-goers. Unlike some chain theaters, it does not make you select a seat when you buy your ticket. You can walk in, look around, and sit where you please. And the heat is actually turned up. You do not have to keep your coat on throughout the movie; your feet stay warm. The seats do not recline but are new and cushiony.

There were more movie-goers present than I expected on a Friday morning. The majority of us appeared to be of retirement age. Some, like me, sat by themselves but looked unconcerned about being there solo. Others were in pairs, quietly chatting. We didn’t have to be told to silence our phones or to be quiet during the movie. I had the impression that we had all come, not to kill a couple of hours, but to experience this particular film.



I looked forward  to seeing The Post when I first heard about it, and more so after seeing the trailer. I love newspaper movies, at least partly because I used to work part-time at a community newspaper. This is not to imply that The Woodstock Independent is much like The Washington Post. But my time at the paper strengthened my appreciation for our First Amendment rights, which lie at the heart of the film. Though the  events took place in 1971, I expected the film to speak to our current times. And it did. Having two of my favorite actors, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, lead the cast was a bonus.

So I was prepared to love this film, and I most certainly did. All of the clichés apply. I laughed and I cried. At times I had to remind myself to breathe. Occasionally, I wanted to call out, “Don’t believe that. It’s a lie.” I thought that I remembered the events of 1971. But I had forgotten some details and did not appreciate the significance of others at the time. The film entertained me while it educated me, from its opening scene in Vietnam to its closing scene, with its great irony.

I was so engrossed in the movie that I forgot I was supposed to be observing my surroundings for an assignment. There was one time, though, that I did glance at a woman, a stranger around my age, sitting near me. It was during a scene of protestors demonstrating their support of our First Amendment rights. I thought her face reflected my feelings—a grim satisfaction at seeing people standing up for a just cause.

On our way out of the theater, she turned to me and said, “I wish that everyone would see this movie.” And that is exactly my conclusion. If you have an opportunity to see The Post, I hope you will.

Need more convincing? Here’s the trailer:





A Letter to the Past

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Today’s assignment is to write a post in the form of a letter. I am writing to my maternal grandmother, Hilda Hagen Hahn (1892–1957).

tea party 1

My Dear Nana,

You chose to end your life in 1957. I was 10, old enough to understand some of it, but not as much as I do now. Craig was 7 and has only vague memories.

Though it was 60 years ago, I remember our phone ringing early in the morning. Your next-door neighbor kept an eye on you because you lived alone. She was calling Mom, worried that lights were on in your house when she woke up very early. Mom and Dad rushed Craig and me off to school and then went to check on you. I worried about you all day at school.

When I got home and asked Mom if you were okay, she looked rattled and said, “Why do you ask?” Then she and Dad sat Craig and me down and told us that you had died. I don’t remember her specific words, but by the time she finished, I knew that they had found two notes from you on your kitchen table. The one on top looked like it had been scribbled in desperation. It read, Don’t go down to the basement. How do I know that? They showed me the note. I saw it.

Mom and Dad told us that sometime during the night, you had hanged yourself in the basement. When I asked why, I learned for the first time that you were not feeling well and had been tested for cancer. Mom was going to take you to the doctor to learn the test results that day.

Even at 10, I knew that didn’t make a lot of sense. Why kill yourself if you weren’t even sure you had cancer? Mom and Dad didn’t know. It was then that Mom read me the second note. All I remember is the way you repeated the words I don’t want to be a burden on you. You didn’t talk about your fears of pain and death. You made it sound like you killed yourself to spare us from the difficult job of caring for you while you became sicker and then died.

What you apparently didn’t consider was the aftermath of your suicide. It would have long-ranging effects on your family. Your funeral was the first one Craig and I ever attended. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry. Mom showed your suicide notes to the pastor who performed the service. He cried too.

One day shortly after, I came across Mom crying as she sorted through your jewelry box. She wiped her eyes and told me that one day I would do the same for her. Thinking of Mom dying too scared me so much. Luckily, it was 59 more years before that time came.

But here’s the thing. After a couple of months, Mom stopped talking about you entirely. A small photo of you stayed on a table in the living room, but you were not mentioned. Dad, Craig, and I didn’t say your name because we thought the memories would hurt her. Later Mom rewrote the story of your death. She told anyone who asked that you had died of cancer. Maybe she had convinced herself.

Following Mom’s example, I didn’t talk about you either. I didn’t have to. I was carrying you with me, buried as unfinished business in my head and my heart, though I didn’t realize that until much later. I had learned your unintentional lesson all too well. I interpreted your suicide as a sacrifice for your family — I don’t want to be a burden to you. Your example showed me that you have to sacrifice yourself for anyone you really, truly love. Otherwise, you don’t really love them.

If literally laying down your life wasn’t required, other huge portions of your time and your happiness might be. And I wasn’t willing to do that. I had my entire life ahead of me. I wanted to live it, to enjoy it. I knew feeling that way made me terribly selfish, but I couldn’t change.

I believed the only way to avoid giving up large parts of myself for others was to avoid taking on loved ones. I would do my duty to my parents when they needed me, but that was all. The rest of my life would be for me. Never did I consider the possibilities of compromise, of two people both willing to give up a lot for each other, so that things balance out to the benefit of both.

If you had lived, you might have been able to teach me that. But you didn’t. I don’t mean to blame you for my not having a husband and family. It’s more complicated than that. And I have had a good life. But I can’t help thinking it might have turned out better, or at least very differently, if you had chosen to live.

Rest in peace. I love you.

Oprah Speaks Her Truth

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Today’s blogging assignment asks me to respond to a tweet. Since I am pretty much a Twitter addict, this will be both fun and a challenge. I have “favorited” 252 tweets over the past few years. How could I choose only one? I ended up not using any of them but going with a timely one posted last night.

When I began this blog, I had two self-imposed rules: don’t get too political; don’t get too personal. I think I have, for the most part, followed those rules. In order to continue to, I’m going to have to bite my tongue —or I guess, my typing fingers—as I write today.

In accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes last night, Oprah gave a speech that many in her audience were hungry to hear. She did what she encouraged us to do: she used the most powerful tool at her disposal by speaking her own truth.

Ms Winfrey is a very wealthy, very powerful person, yet she seems to remember that she has not always been either. She used her own intelligence, drive, and courage to earn all that she has acquired in her life. And I admire her for that.

I also admire her desire to make the world a better place for girls who begin their lives like she did. And, of course, doing that would make the world a better place for all of us, despite race, gender, economic class. I applaud her vision and compassion.

Her words remain in my memory. I woke up this morning happier and more at peace for having heard her speech last night.

Brushing Up My Shakespeare

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Note to my readers: I’m finding that creating a post worthy of publishing every day is more time-consuming that I expected. So I am going to spread out the assignments and take some days off. Today I’m going to take another liberty and combine yesterday’s topic, which was to write about a photo, with today’s, which is to write about a quote.



You are looking at an original copy of the First Folio of the plays of William Shakespeare, printed in 1623. Scholars consider it one of the most influential books published in the English language; I think of it with a reverence second only to the Bible.

Last year, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. toured some of its First Folios for display in all 50 U.S. states. I was able to see this book in a small display located less than an hour from home, in a park in Wauconda, IL.

The First Folio was amazingly approachable. There was a short line to stand before the book in its clear protective display case. I was allowed to photograph it, though without a flash.  I was only inches away, close enough to read these pages from Hamlet. The book was open to Act III, including one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.
For in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”

I love the poetry of this passage. And I like way the reader feels Hamlet’s painful place in life, that he is desperate enough to consider taking his own life. I like it even more when he makes the courageous choice to live rather than die. In the end, he does die, but bravely, on his own terms, and not by his own hand.

“Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

Andrea’s Choices

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To my readers: Today’s assignment is to pick one word from a list of six and to write a post inspired by the word. I selected the word choice, but I’m not going to apply it to myself. Today I’m writing about Andrea Jackson, the main character in my new novel. Note: There will be NO spoilers in this post.


Andrea’s choices in Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike

Andrea, a high school English teacher in a small Northern Illinois town, begins the third year of her career with a huge choice hanging over her head. A teachers strike is looming. Will she choose to take part in a strike, risking the job she has grown to love? Her parents don’t want her to. Her boyfriend, a police officer, tells her that striking is illegal. Her conscience asks if she would be turning her back on her students. But she knows she must decide for herself, and she knows how much is at stake. What should she do?

Andrea has been dating Tom for nearly three years and is hoping the relationship will progress. But when she gently nudges him, he says he is not ready yet, that he is happy with things as they are. Should she accept the status quo and hope that the relationship will grow more serious in the future? Or should she choose to move on?

Andrea has learned a lot of about the art of teaching during her first two years. But there is always that ONE kid in THE class to contend with. Andrea has to choose how to handle the discipline problems presented by a rude, disruptive student, as well as the friends who encourage his antics and the parents who claim he can do no wrong. How can Andrea keep the peace in her classroom?

A good friend of Andrea’s asks her a huge favor, one that could jeopardize her romance with Tom and her standing with her principal. Should Andrea choose to put friendship above all else, or should she consider her own needs first?

Another close friend and a fellow teacher has made a risky choice. When Andrea finds out what he is up to, should she keep his secret, confront him, or turn him in?

All choices come with consequences. Andrea has her hands full making decisions and living with the aftermath. It’s a good thing she is a resourceful young woman.

Note: Anyone who would like to read this novel will find it for sale here. If you live in my area, you will also find it at Read Between the Lynes and the Woodstock Public Library.









The View from 70

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 To my readers: I’m continuing my blogging class with today’s assignment of writing a list.

Things I like about being 70

At 70, when I meet someone new, I no longer get suspicious glances when I tell them I’m retired. That was not always the case when I retired at 55. If I uttered the R-word 15 years ago, faces looked at me with a combination of surprise, envy, and resentment of my good fortune. Or at least, I imagined they did. Then if people found out that I was a retired teacher, their smiles disappeared completely as they realized that their taxes were helping support me while I enjoyed my leisure. This leads to my next point…

At 70, I no longer care as much what others think of me. I would like to say I no longer care at all, but that isn’t exactly true. It’s just that I waste  less time agonizing over whether something I say or do will annoy and alienate others. I can’t spare the time or energy on such worries.

At 70, my age is a built-in excuse for not doing many things that I don’t want to do. Want me to bring 4 dozen home-made, hand-decorated cookies for a holiday exchange? Gosh, I’m sorry, but my (insert any real or imaginary ailment here) won’t let me do things like that any more. Nor can I drive you to the airport during rush hour, clean your house when you’re sick, go garage-sailing all day long, walk your dog in snowy/icy weather, or anything else that doesn’t appeal to me. It’s not that I’m not willing to. No, certainly not that; it’s that I’m too old to.

At 70, I also have a selective memory. I may forget to do things that I don’t want to do. But let someone casually offer me a glass of wine, and I’ll show up at their front door, maybe even months later, to collect.

At 70, I get to do things at my own pace. I’ll decide when I get the Christmas cards in the mail, if at all; I’ll drive any speed at which I feel safe, though I promise to stay in the right lane; I’ll sleep as late as I want; then I may waste the rest of the morning drinking coffee, checking Facebook and Twitter, and petting my cats.

At 70, I will cheerfully agree that I am old. But I’m not totally ancient yet, and that thought consoles me. So does this poster, which is the desktop picture on my computer.


Why I Write

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To my readers: I am beginning the new year by taking a class on blogging. For the next three weeks, I will be writing responses to daily assignments. This WordPress icon will identify posts that are part of my coursework. Today’s topic: Why I write.


I write because I like the challenge of pulling an intangible thought from my brain and recording it in tangible form, whether on paper or a screen.

I write because I enjoy wrangling words into sentences. I like all of the steps: first, capturing the idea in any written form; then, editing and improving my sentences to make them say what I mean; finally, of grinding away the rough edges to make the words flow in a pleasing manner.

I write because I value communication. I believe it is key to solving the problems that we as individuals and societies face. Talking to each other is good, but writing down thoughts can be better because it is more intentional. Writing forces us to refine our ideas and emotions.

I write because I love to read. Hasn’t everyone who adores books at some time wanted to write one? The process can be long and arduous, not always fun at all. But there is no greater satisfaction than holding a book in your hand, knowing that you created it.

I write because I enjoy receiving feedback on content I have shared. I love it when a reader offers a comment, or better, begins a conversation.

I write because the process clarifies my confusion, eases my pain, and teaches me what it means to be human.



Not Too Late

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Holidays / Woodstock

It’s New Years morning.

In my imagination, I’m standing on a bridge passing from 2017 to 2018. I can see both from here. It’s a time for reflecting, for planning, for living in the past but dreaming of the future. Beginning a new year, with all of its promise, is always exciting.

Yet I have a few regrets about 2017, mostly of opportunities not seized rather than those that I did. It’s too late now to go back and pursue most of them. All I can do is to keep my eyes wide open so as not to miss as many in 2018.

Once in a great while, though, we are allowed a do-over. Occasionally, an offer is extended long than you might expect.

Here is a perfect example. The Christmas season is very special in Woodstock. In particular, our town square is a place of beauty and magic after the sun sets. The lights are much, much prettier in person, but here are a few photos I took last week. You have to stand there, shivering, and take it in to get the full effect.


With the holidays officially ending today, you might think you have missed your chance to see it–or to revisit it. But you haven’t. In this case, there IS a do-over. The lights stay on until Groundhog Day. (Don’t ask why. It’s a Woodstock thing.)

The Square at night is a wondrous sight to begin a new year. Come visit us if you can.

Now For Some Shameless Self-Promotion

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Coverbk2You are invited to a Book Signing for my new novel, TEACHING MYSTERIES 201: THE STRIKE. This coming Sunday, Dec. 10, from 1 to 3 pm, I will be talking about the book and signing copies at Read Between the Lynes on the Woodstock Square.

This is a busy time of year, but if you have a few minutes and care to stop by, I’d love to see you. If you can’t make it Sunday but would like to read the book, it will remain on sale at the bookstore. It is also available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.

Want to know more about it? Here’s the summary that appears on the back cover:

In this sequel to Teaching Mysteries 101, we return to Hancock High School, where the 1972-73 school year is beginning under the threat of a teachers’ strike. Third-year English teacher Andrea Jackson ultimately decides to risk her job by participating in the unpopular strike. Then in the midst of the chaos, a murder takes place.

Is the death connected to the strike? Will Andrea succeed in clearing a friend who is suspected of the crime? Will her sleuthing spell an end to a promising romance?

Find the answers in this novel set in a small Midwestern town during the tumultuous early ‘70s, a time of mini-skirts, peace symbols, rock music, and the anti-war movement.

And here’s a little more info: Last month I posted about the process of writing the book. If you’d like to read that again, you will find it here.

Thank you, everyone, for your interest in this project.

Remembering My Dad, A Would-be Veteran

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Holidays / Mostly Musings

Editor’s note: I usually don’t believe in rerunning posts. Perhaps I should say, it’s fine for others, but I prefer to come up with something new for my own blog. But… it’s Veteran’s Day, and I want to acknowledge it.  Because I haven’t come up with anything I like better, here is the post that I published four years ago today. I hope you’ll like it.


My father, Carl Dierksen, tried very hard to become a veteran. And I guess he technically would qualify as one, though he never claimed the honor.

He was 22 when he and my mother married in 1940. The following year, during World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, both to serve his country and to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

mom & dad young

Dad reported to a base in Florida, where he had completed several weeks of basic training when he received the news that Mom’s father had died. As bad as that was, it got worse. Mom was an only child, and with her father gone, there was no one to operate the family farm outside of Davenport, Iowa.

Dad was given no choice. His commanding officer told him that his country needed him to be a farmer more than it needed him to be a soldier. He was given an honorable discharge and sent home.

So Dad, who grew up in town as the son of a house painter, became an instant farmer—without the benefit of any basic training. He would spend the next 30 years of his life as a farmer and a family man. He was good at both.


Dad was a humble man. He knew that a few weeks of training had not earned him any recognition on Veterans Day.

flagIf he were still alive, Dad would be flying the flag today. He would be the first to shake a veteran’s hand and thank him or her. Dad might still be wondering if his life would have been different if he had been allowed to stay in the Air Corps.

He never forgot his dream of flying airplanes. When he was in his 50s, he earned his private pilot’s license. A few years later, he bought his own small plane.

Dad lived his last seven years in Woodstock, where he and Mom were my neighbors. I wish he had lived to see my Abbey and Maples at the Sonatas. He would have liked helping me move and doing projects around the house. And he would have always wanted to walk down the street to the place where you can still see a farm in the distance.