Did you go through a scrapbooking phase like I did? In the mid-nineties, when we were having our first of three kids, I stocked up on all the supplies and spent fun weekends with girlfriends, working on our books and enjoying the winter days at a lodge in Minnesota.
But I think I got one thing wrong. Like most new moms, I tried to do too much.
The first book I made for our oldest is so thick the binders can hardly hold it together, and it only captured his first year! Over the next few years, I continued building these keepsake books, and admittedly they got a little smaller each time, but my drive to “do it all” led to burnout. I’ve done little scrapbooking since.
My mom didn’t normally scrapbook, however, she spent countless nights leading up to Christmas 2000, creating three books: one for me and one for each of my two brothers. My book is thick, but she captured highlights from the first 34 years of my life on those pages. As a bonus, the first few pages are all about our great-grandparents, grandparents, and other relatives that are now long gone. She included photographs I’d never seen before.
Mom took the time to handwrite so many important snippets of our history on those pages. Her own handwriting on every page makes this book even more priceless to me.
Here is a picture of part of one page in the book she created for me. The one of a little girl in the lap of a woman is actually me at two years old and my Great Aunt Mary. I included a photocopy of this picture on the Author Bio page of my holiday novel, "Capturing Wishes". The next page in my scrapbook included a quick summary of what early Christmases looked like for Mom (Linda) as a child. She grew up with three sisters and her mother was Onie Johnson (sister to Aunt Mary Nierling):
“The Johnsons spent every Christmas with the Nierlings. They would have tuna hotdish on Christmas Eve at home, then go to Aunt Mary’s. Each of the kids would have their own corner where Santa would leave their gift. After opening all the gifts, everyone would go to Midnight Mass, then back to Aunt Mary’s for a huge breakfast. On Christmas morning, Onie would shorten new Christmas dresses for all four girls. Linda’s most memorable gift was a Toni Doll and lots of clothes made by Onie, who had stayed up night after night—sewing after all were in bed. We would join all our cousins at Aunt Mary’s for a big turkey dinner and play with all our new games!”
This brief paragraph conjures up so many fun, vivid images in my mind. I can just picture my dear grandmother, hunched over an old Singer sewing machine, working on doll clothes and new dresses for her four young daughters. I spent time at Aunt Mary’s house when I was young, and I wonder which corner was assigned to my mom.
Revisiting my scrapbook this morning has inspired me to, maybe, pull out my old “work in process” books for our three kids during the new year. I’d be more selective in the pictures I include, and spend more time on the “stories” behind the images, including names, so when someone runs across those pictures in the years to come, they won’t just be looking at nameless faces.
These days, we take countless snapshots with the phones that are almost constantly in our hands. But how many of those do we bother to convert from a digital image, so easily lost, into something more tangible that could tell our stories to future generations?
Thank you, Mom, for taking so much time during those fall and winter evenings, twenty-two years ago, to record our stories. It is a gift I’ll treasure forever.
Original Post 12/16/18 (updates added below as of 11/27/22):
How many choices would you say you make in a single day? Would it be safe to say we make thousands of choices between the time we wake up and the time we go to bed?
We have to decide what time to get up, what to wear, what to eat, and the list goes on and on. Much of our days are spent doing things we decided to do a long time ago.
Yesterday, our middle child graduated from college, following in her older brother’s footsteps. Needless to say, we are incredibly proud of all the hard work she’s put in to reach this milestone. The number of decisions it took for her to reach this point is almost mindboggling. All along the way, she had to choose whether or not to do the things she had to do if she wanted to earn a college degree.
As we watched the many graduates file into the auditorium, garbed in their caps and gowns, I couldn’t help but marvel at both the efforts it took for each of them to reach that point but also the endless possibilities stretching out before them. Most are at the very beginning of what will become their life
work. Some are charting a new course for themselves, making a choice to do something different.
I wondered how many of them knew what their next step would be. How many will find work in their chosen field? Would they like it once they were out there, working in the real world?
I have to admit, a tiny part of me even felt a twinge of jealousy. What would it be like to be twenty-something again, with nearly unlimited options ahead of me?
But it didn’t take me long to remember how scary it felt. Endless choices can be overwhelming and more than a little scary. Back then, the choices didn’t feel endless.
I also like to think I’ve learned a thing or two through the years since I last stood there in a cap and gown. Life teaches us all so much. Some of those lessons are best learned one time. Some are so painful I’d prefer never to have to repeat them.
So while I wouldn’t want to be twenty-two again, are there some things I wish I would have known then that I know now? Silly question, right?!
• I would tell my younger self to take more chances. To not always make the safest, least risky choice.
• I would assure my younger self I was smart enough and strong enough to take on big challenges and not settle.
• I would work harder to maintain those relationships in life that meant the most to me. I’d hug more and argue less. I’d let petty things go and find joy in the little things.
• I’d move more and sit less. And I’d definitely dance more.
• I would stress less about specific work tasks. It was never worth it.
• I’d warn myself that the endless list of tiny choices I’d make, day in and day out, would ultimately result in the quality of my life. It’s seldom the biggest choices we make, that seem so monumental at the time, that impact us the most.
Wow, I’d have been so much smarter if I could have shared all of this with my twenty-two-year-old self! But the reality is that even if that were possible, it might not have made any difference. Because until we live these things ourselves, and truly appreciate the impact of the choices we make, we won’t take someone else’s word for it. While the years may not always be kind to us, the lessons we pick up along the way will be invaluable.
We can’t go back. I wouldn’t want to go back. But we don’t have to. None of us are really much different from all those graduates standing in that auditorium yesterday. We all have endless possibilities before us. We just have to open our eyes to them. There are blessings in the hard-won wisdom we possess by the time we’re fifty-two instead of twenty-two. We know it’s better if we chose the wheat bread over the white bread and the vegetables over the chocolate. It’s better to find work we love than suffer through work that pays better. And relationships are worth fighting for, even on those days when you might not like the other person all that much.
It’s all about making better choices. And that’s hard to do until you have your own life experiences to draw upon.
Since I can’t go back and tell my twenty-two-year-old-self anything, I’ll instead remind my fifty-two-year-old self of a few essential things:
Having the gift of choice is a blessing. Choose wisely as often as you can, and when you stumble because of a poor choice, forgive yourself and chalk it up to some more of that hard-earned wisdom. Choose better next time.
Challenge yourself and encourage others. And please forgive me, but as a proud parent, I have to add one last note. As I finish writing today’s post, our youngest just popped into the room to tell us she got accepted into the top two colleges of her choice. Now she has a choice to make. The circle of life continues.
Speaking of the circle of life and how our choices impact us, here is a summary of some of the bigger choices my family has made in the four years since my original blog post in late 2018:
Some choices can be scary to consider and difficult to make, but hindsight can offer reassurances that the worst-case scenarios almost never come to pass. There is even more joy to be found when we bet on ourselves.
Always in your corner, cheering you on! Kim
It’s Halloween. The tiniest of the ghosts and goblins, the ones too young to even utter the infamous “Trick or Treat”, will start arriving soon. Their parents will hover close, fingers crossed as they hope their kiddos will remember their manners.
I know this because I was one of those parents, a quarter of a century ago.
The older costumed kids won’t be far behind. There will be big and small groups of them, holding out a variety of creative bags to collect their treasures. The overly ambitious will lug around pillow cases. Children of traditionalists will hold out plastic pumpkin bowls. Most will remember to thank us for the candy we toss in their bowls, and the lucky ones will have the door opened by my husband. He’s quick to toss in handfuls of treats for each kid, while I hover in the background and worry that we’ll run out of candy before we run out of trick-or-treaters. It’s like a snapshot of our vastly different personalities.
Halloween is all about the kids.
When our kids were young, we didn’t buy the fancy packaged costumes from Target or the Halloween stores. It was always more fun to take trips to a thrift store or our own closets, then we'd maybe buy the accessories or makeup that would elevate our handmade outfits from old clothes to one-of-a-kind creations.
I remember spending hours at my seldom used sewing machine, crafting a darling Humpty Dumpty costume and a colorful clown costume, complete with a red, curly wig for our first born (back before clowns gave me the creeps).
By the time child number two arrived, this busy momma no longer had time to sew, but we still worked hard to make sure our kids had fun costumes. Unfortunately, some years the blustery weather of a North Dakota Halloween thwarted our efforts, but the best costumes fit over winter coats and snow pants.
When the kids were young, our front bay window was our focus for Halloween decorations. We’d work hard to place carved pumpkins, blinking lights, and plenty of cobwebs just right, welcoming the neighborhood kids to our door. My decorating efforts dwindled once they were all out of the house, but this year was different.
This year, I pulled out all the old tubs of decorations again. Two things prompted this resurgence of excitement to decorate. First, I hosted our neighborhood Bunco group here on the 18th, and it was fun to set the ambience with orange lights and flickering candles. Plus, I needed an excuse to pull out the old gold lamp I picked up at an estate sale last year. It takes up way too much space in my basement for ninety-five percent of the year, but I love it.
This year’s decorating efforts were also reinvigorated by little Milo, our 8-month-old (first) grandchild. He loves the glow of the bright orange pumpkin lights inside Grandma’s curio cabinet, even if he doesn’t have a clue about Halloween yet. I can’t wait to see him in his Jack-Jack costume tonight. Too bad his wispy blond hair doesn’t stand up as well as it did when he was a newborn.
Years ago, October also meant watching classic movies with the kids. The “Halloweentown” series was always a favorite, along with “Twitches” and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. No one was crazy about the original “Hocus Pocus” in our house, but I admit to sitting down with our now 21-year-old earlier this month to watch the new “Hocus Pocus 2”. There were plenty of laughs, especially the scenes where the centuries-old witches discovered the promises of anti-aging “potions” in the drugstore! Maybe their delight hit too close to home for me.
Pumpkin carving evenings with our college-aged kids provide more recent favorite Halloween memories. I failed in our first attempt at a party, waiting too long to buy the pumpkins. I remember stopping to pick them up on my way home after a busy day at the office. Of course, I waited until the very night the kids would all be there to carve.
It must have been a tough year for pumpkins, because I couldn’t find a single one! After rushing from store to store, my panic rising, I got creative. If carving pumpkins is fun, carving gourds would be just as cool. Maybe even better, since they come in more unique colors and shapes.
If you’ve ever tried to carve a gourd before, you’re already smiling. Did you know that the shell of a gourd is much, much harder to cut through than a pumpkin?
Our daughter’s new boyfriend joined us for that ill-fated pumpkin carving party, and he was the only one in the bunch that refused to be deterred. Everyone else gave up. His tenacity to cut through that nearly impenetrable shell was telling. We are now proud to call that young man our son-in-law, and I’m still relieved his knife didn’t slip and sever a finger. I’ve never been a fan of Halloween gore.
Another year, we kept the pumpkins in the garage until the big night. You can imagine the stampede of six or seven big bodies, pushing and shoving to get to them first for the best selection. They came armed with big ideas, but didn’t always have the skill or patience required to see their imagined creations through to fruition. But it didn’t matter. The evenings would end with all of them sitting under the bay window we used to decorate together, showing off their artistic abilities.
For me, Halloween is about the memories we’ve made and the opportunity to make new ones with our expanding family. I know some people love Halloween, and some hate it. That’s fine. One of our kids has never been a fan, either.
There are aspects of Halloween I’ve never liked, either. I refuse to watch the gory movies and find overly sexy or gross costumes silly. I think of Halloween as a time for kids to play make-believe. It may be the only time in a child’s life when he or she can feel like a princess, or a pony, or a superhero.
I also love the warm colors of October, captured so beautifully by nature in crisp leaves, round pumpkins, and crisp apples. It’s the simple pleasure of sneaking a third (or fourth) miniature candy bar out of the black candy bowl on the one night we can cheat without feeling guilty.
Halloween is a time of transition. Where I live, we are leaving behind the warmth of summer and moving into the darker, colder months of winter. Soon we will thaw turkeys, make lists of gifts we want to buy for loved ones, and pull out the tubs of Christmas decorations. This brief holiday serves as a doorway from one season to another.
Wishing you a spooky good evening, Kim
“I wonder if Grandpa Les ever knew Louis L’ Amour?”
The question popped into my brain a few weeks ago as I stood in front of a plexiglass-covered display case holding an impressive collection of vintage paperback westerns, all written by Louis L’ Amour. The compilation resides inside a quaint writing shack at the Frontier Fort, a tourist attraction located in Jamestown, ND. The town has a population of less than twenty thousand, but it proudly boasts of being hometown to a number of famous individuals including singer Peggy Lee and writer Louis L’ Amour.
I remember Grandpa Les, my maternal grandfather, as a quiet man who played lots of golf after retiring from the post office. Grandpa almost always left a Louis L’ Amour paperback sitting on the table next to his recliner.
Isn’t it funny what our minds recall about our loved ones from our early years?
Jamestown also happens to be my hometown. If you’ve ever driven through central North Dakota on I94 and passed by, chances are you did a double take if you spied the “World’s Largest Buffalo” just off the highway. This 26’ tall concrete structure has stood over the Frontier Fort since before I was born, and I know I’ve visited ‘the Buffalo’ at least once, every single summer.
Favorite activities during these annual visits used to include playing in the railroad cars, followed by sticky fingers from dripping cones piled high with scoops of hard ice cream. I even have vague memories of skipping down to a cave in the hillside below the giant statue when I was a kid, but there are no caves now, so either my mind is playing tricks on me or the cave was filled in, perhaps deemed unsafe. This year, a rope blocks the entrance to the remaining railroad car and the shop with the ice cream was empty.
While some old favorites at ‘the Buffalo’ (we never call it the Frontier Fort) are gone, new exhibits are being added. Change is a constant, even back home.
This brings me back to where I started with this post, and why I insisted on visiting the Louis L’ Amour writing shack before it closed for the season. I’d picked up a well-loved (aka worn) copy of one of his books from a used bookstore earlier this summer, and I wanted to get some pictures of it alongside other mementos from the famous author’s career.
This writing shack exhibit has grown in significance for me as I continue to immerse myself in the world of writing. Chances are that if you love old westerns, you’ve heard of Louis L’ Amour. As I stood reading the information on display about him, it occurred to me that he might have been around the same age as my grandfather.
Was there any chance Grandpa Les knew Louis personally? I know Grandpa liked his books.
Anytime I’m curious about something related to our family’s history, the first call I make is to my sister-in-law, Joey. I posed my question to her, immediately piquing her interest, too. She remembered Mom telling her that Grandpa Les was born in Wisconsin, but somewhere along the line he moved to Jamestown, well before my mother was born.
If his move wasn’t until after 1923, the year the sign in the writer’s shack said Louis and his family moved away from Jamestown, then I probably had a disappointing answer to my musings.
But Joey loves a mystery, so she got digging. The girl is a wizard when it comes to genealogy. It didn’t take her long to locate census records from that time period.
Now we were getting somewhere. Grandpa was born on September 23, 1907, in Merrill, WI. Louis was born on March 22, 1908 in Jamestown, ND. Census records show Grandpa still living in Wisconsin with his family in 1910, but by 1920, the records indicate they’d moved to Jamestown.
Suddenly, it was at least possible that these two boys, only six months apart in age, may have played basketball together at Franklin School. Or maybe they shared a table at the Alfred Dickey Free Library, crafting poems or short stories together. We know Louis blossomed into a very successful and prolific author, but I also have a booklet from Grandpa’s high school days that include pieces he (Les) wrote.
The school and the library are both included as part of a walking tour which highlights locations important to Louis in his early years.
Both men left this earth years ago, but their legacies live on. Louis’s legacy includes his many books, short stories, and poems, as well as numerous movies and TV shows based on his work. Grandpa’s legacy lives on and continues to expand through our family.
Call me sentimental, but I’m always struck when I consider the many ways we continue to follow in the steps of those who have gone before us.
I’ll never know if my Grandpa Les and Mr. Louis L’Amour played basketball together at Franklin School, but I know I played some ball there. Did the two of them both write in the library? Yes, I suspect they might have, but maybe not at the same time. I know I spent many hours there, researching papers throughout my high school years. Even now, copies of the novels I’ve written sit on the shelves in the Alfred Dickey Library. There is a whole section in the library dedicated to Louis.
During my visit to the writing shack, it felt surreal to place my fingers on an old typewriter Louis might have used to craft his best-selling stories. As I sat at that desk, my daughter-in-law juggled her phone in one hand, snapping pictures of me as I “played” at what it might have felt like to be an author back in Louis’s day, while she also held my five-month-old grandson in her arms.
I can still picture Grandpa’s face the first time he held my first born. Now it’s my son’s baby visiting an exhibit that honors the work and life of the man I suspect was the baby’s great great grandfather’s favorite author.
Were Les and Louis ever friends? I’ll never know. But Jamestown is a small town, and I suspect their paths crossed. Maybe they even helped each other celebrate a birthday or two. It’s a fun thought, regardless.
Happy heavenly birthday, Grandpa. I miss you. Thank you for passing on your love of books to me. And thank you, Louis, for sharing your talent with the world. You both left your marks on this earth.
Keep watching for those connections, Kim
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!