International Women’s Day 2017

This year for International Women’s Day it is time for me to put the spotlight on my maternal grandmother, Eva Graham Law. Although she was far from being the same personality as my activist, suffragette paternal grandmother I wrote about last year, they both shared the status of being strong single mothers. Both lost their husbands when their children were very young. Both worked and became independent women in their own way.


When my mother was three, my grandfather fell off the roof of a barn he was helping a neighbor build in Pawnee City, Nebraska. My grandmother was left with my mother and her three brothers aged 1, 5, and 7. They moved back to Des Moines where her mother, also a widow, lived. They started a boarding house in my great-grandmother’s house. My grandmother found a job as a clerk in a real estate title office where she worked until she retired. And she raised her family.

She was always cheerful and, although deaf, loved singing hymns a little off key in church. She kept a daily diary in a small five-year diary notebook with one page for each day of the year and about five lines designated for an entry each day.

I am indeed lucky to have spent my early years with my two grandmothers who helped shape my life more ways than they ever knew.

International Women’s Day 2016

Double arc rainbowImpossible to choose just one! But I am remembering and honoring three little-known women from many years ago that profoundly affected my family—the three Foss sisters. These three unmarried women lived together in a house in Des Moines, Iowa. Two of them taught at North High School which my mother attended. The third stayed home and “kept house”.

My mother, one of four children, lost her father when she was four. He fell off the roof of a barn he was helping a neighbor build in Pawnee City, Nebraska. My grandmother moved back to Des Moines and lived with her mother, helping her run a boarding house, while she worked full-time as a clerk in an office. There was little money and no chance of any of her children going to college.

The Foss sisters saw promise in my mother. In the 1920s they gave her the money to go away to college. She had three brothers and was the first and only one in her family who received a college education.

A few years later when I was very young, my mother would take me with her to visit the Foss sisters. I can remember sitting on their horsehair sofa and being admonished beforehand to be very, very good.

As a result of this legacy, my mother later in her life was able to fund a scholarship at the college she attended. And now, although my mother is gone, I continue to use her legacy and inheritance to cover the book costs of young women who are finding it financially difficult to afford to attend college. I share the story of the Foss sisters with them.

The Foss sisters have proved to me that Everywoman can make a difference. May their legacy continue to be passed on through many generations to come.

Box of Saratoga Chocolates

‘Tis the Season: the Gift-giving Dilemma

I was recently asked a compelling question about an upcoming feast for family and friends. “Are you going to give us (please do!) some direction about gift-giving at this shindig?”

Ah, the gift dilemma!

The holiday season is here once again. It involves Christmas, birthdays, and the ever-present expectation that everything will be perfect. Here are my thoughts (and my husband asked me to say he shares them).

A little history:

In my family, in my childhood, Christmas involved giving gifts to children. Adults did not exchange gifts. Both my parents were raised from an early age by single widowed mothers. Money was tight but no one thought they were “poor”. It was a gift for them to be able to do something special for their children. Despite their circumstances at least one of my grandmothers, if not both, tithed and gave money to the poor.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression and learned to fend for themselves. My father attended the university by working nights as a janitor at the telephone company and joining the National Guard. My mother had no chance of going to college (nor did any of her three brothers) until two of her high school teachers, single sisters who lived together, paid her way. When my parents married, they immediately started saving so their children could someday attend college and have a good life.

My brother and I grew up having a carefree childhood. We did not want for anything, but learned we could not necessarily have everything we wanted right then and there. We lived in Iowa where there were lakes and ponds that froze over in the winter where people could ice skate. I had a pair of black hockey skates that had come into my life somehow so I could skate with my friends. (I was not a natural.) But I wanted a pair of white figure skates like some of my friends had. My wish was not granted, and I was gently reminded that  worldly goods were not the most important thing in life and friends don’t judge friends by the color of their skates. It was a good lesson.

Later I was married in the same town where both my future husband and I had lived most of our lives. Our parents knew many of the people in the town. My hope was to have a small wedding. I planned to make my own dress, a short one I could possibly wear later. This was not to be. So I borrowed a dress from a friend who had married the year before. Many people from the town who I knew only slightly attended. I particularly remember receiving a gift from a woman who I thought of as rich. It was a square cut-glass candy dish with a lid on a pedestal with red glass trim. I am sure it was expensive. I was at a loss with what to do with it as it did not fit my personality or lifestyle at all. I am sure it gave her pleasure to give it to us. It lived on a shelf in my parents’ basement for several years until I found the courage to give it away. For my second wedding, I had a chance to make my own dress.

Fast forward to the present:

I have an abundance of riches, with the perfect amount of food, clothing and shelter. There are many that do not. For me the best gift would be for everyone to have a life with an abundance of riches, whatever that might mean to them. I know that giving gifts is a joy. A gift to others is the best gift for me. So if someone wishes to give me a gift, it can take the form of giving a donation to organizations that help others.

I am not a shopper. My gift to others is a donation to their favorite nonprofit or money that they can use to acquire anything that gives them joy. I do not wish to guess what that is. If I give a donation in their honor, I get a tax deduction; but if I give them the cash with which they can make a donation, they get the tax deduction and it becomes a double gift.

Occasionally I happen on an idea for something that someone would like. I will joyfully buy it as a gift. (Saratoga Chocolates comes to mind.) They are beautiful, delicious, and support a local woman who personally makes them by hand in the village. I am not against gifts, but I personally want them to give joy to both the giver and the receiver.

A long answer to a short question.


Castle in winter

Petulia’s Gift

In a time long ago a certain gentle man, to whom I am married, wrote a charming story for his lovely granddaughter, Julia, who was almost four-years-old. He has lovingly read it and re-read it remembering that earlier time when we all were much younger. Here it is for all, whether you are almost four, almost forty-four, or remain young enough in heart to remember the pleasure in fairy tales coming true.

Click to read Petulia’s Gift by Gordon Dunham

Twelfth Night 1-11-2014

Once again a lovely get-together to celebrate the holiday. Great company, great wine, great food, great time! Here is a glimpse. I got so carried away that I forgot to take a picture of the magnificent cracked crab that graced the table before we dined. It was preceded by choice olives and followed by pot roast, mashed potatoes and a plethora of desserts, including lovely individual mincemeat pies, a double peanut wham of Peanut Butter Cup ice cream in brandy snifters served alongside gluten-free peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips. –And a fun picture of Dottie who barely escaped my taking a picture of her adding a little brandy to the coffee made from beans from Portland that were gifts to the guests at the wedding dinner celebrating Brian and Sydney’s best-ever wedding in November.

Mother, Mandela, and Me

And, I should add, my grandmother and my father. This personal memoir is about my family and how I perceive its connection with a great man.

First, and most recently, my mother died a month and a half ago at the age of 102. She lived a long and wonderful life. I was relieved for her when she choose to relinquish her life peacefully after she could no longer sustain it or do most of the things she once could do. I feel the same sense of relief for Mr. Mandela.

But my family history goes back further. Continue reading