Saturday, December 20, 2014

Four Simple, Endearing Gifts

You know the type. You're in a bad mood, but he can make you smile. That was Hugh. Hugh Rausch, one of my former artsy fartsy students. He surprised me with Christmas earrings one year, and I still have them. Well, one of them. Or did he only give me one? He would do something like that.


Christmas earrings
Back in the day, Hugh was one of three reasons I unplugged my phone on the weekends. The other two were Aaron Voth and Andy Mount. Those kooks woke me up with three am phone calls yelling, "Hi, Miss Hofer!" Then they'd laugh hysterically and hang-up.

Good-natured fun, and we still joke about it. Sure glad they did this only on the weekends because I had a hard time falling back to sleep. Sure don't have that problem today. I can sleep sitting up. Guess I truly am middle-aged.

Another endearing Christmas gift? A dainty white angel from Judy Twietmeyer, our school secretary. She was one classy Secret Santa back in the 90s. Whoever made this angel, thank you. It's one of my favorite holiday ornaments.


the angel from Judy

My third endearing gift? A simple pencil drawing from my step-daughter Brittany. Our second Christmas together at my dad's was a few weeks after we put down my first house dog. On Christmas morning, Brittany handed me her portrayal of Lexy asleep in her basket.


8th grade artwork from my step-daughter, Brittany

My fourth gift? A nativity scene painted on rocks. My friend Kay Wulf gave it to me last year after she caught me admiring hers. Kay's sister painted Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus on the stones after her husband filed the ends.


God so loved the world ~ and I am so glad that he did

Do you have any holiday items or gifts that warm your heart like these simple ones do mine? What are the circumstances around them? Share your stories in the comment section below. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Artsy Fartsy Girl Teaches First Lesson

Paper plates, cotton balls, glue, and my oldest nephew and niece who served as my students. The lesson: paper plate Santa. I taught Michael and Evelynn the same lesson we did in Mrs. Gilchrist's third grade classroom.

Evelynn and Michael with their Santas and me in 1975

I must have really liked this project if I came home and re-taught it. I am thankful Mom snapped the picture of us three because it signifies my first teaching experience. I grew up playing school, but never dreamed of becoming a teacher. That’s an explanation for another post.

Mrs. Gilchrist was the most etiquette-filled teacher I ever had, and I'm sure she didn't care for our 8-year-old fingers making a mess with glue. Third grade was a turning point. I got glasses, I got in trouble for a fart note to classmate Todd Tollefson, and I figured out what the middle finger meant. Those stories will show up in another blog post too someday.

my paper plate Santa ~ he's 39-years-old this Christmas
We did not make a big deal out of Santa Claus in my childhood home. I always knew he wasn't real, and that Christmas was about Christ's birth. But for some reason, I kept the Santa I made in Mrs. Gilchrist's class. See the picture above. Found him in my memory box right beside the “I Like You” notebook cover. Read the post Thankful to be a Child of the 70s to understand my fascination with that icon.

I remembered this art project when I saw a picture of paper plate crafts on my colleague and friend Marilyn Keller's Facebook page earlier this week. She’d posted a link to the Artsy Craftsy Mom.

photo from the

This woman is incredible: a software analyst by day and craft-mom by night. What a combination. But I have never completely bought into the right-brain or left-brain only philosophy. A Denny Dey workshop focusing on brain research a few summers ago debunked the idea of that anyway. For more on that, click here for an easy-to-read article on the subject. It contains more brain research links inside it.

So it got me thinking, I am crafty. Kind of. 

But when I started listing how and snapping pictures of the evidence, this blog post evolved into a novel, so I cut and pasted the info into other documents to save for other posts.

Hey, cut and paste—isn't that crafty? 

What holiday crafts do you perform each year? Or do you remember a special one from your childhood? I would enjoy interacting with you in the comment section below. And remember, if the kids are getting cabin fever this season, Google the artsy craftsy mom.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

One Teacher Who Changed Many Lives

Our little orange-stained fingers dropped loose change into the little white piggy bank church that served as the offering plate. Us preschoolers had munched on Cheese Puffs or puffy popcorn around the U-shaped table listening to the Bible lesson. We prayed, sang, and learned about Jesus in the Sunday School classroom of Mary G. Wipf. 

Aunt Bina (standing), Mom, Grandma Katie, Aunt Grace, and Mary G.

Mary G. was my mom’s cousin and like an aunt to me. The G stood for Gladys, her middle name, and she answered to Mary G. so as not to be confused with the other cousin, Mary J. Dammier. In May, Mary G. passed away. She was 90. Here is her obituary. Her birthday of December 8 was also her wedding anniversary and the birthday of my niece, Colleen, who ironically now shares a birthday with her husband, Jason.
Colleen & Mary G. share a birthday cake one year.

Mary G. and husband Warren were frequent guests in our home and travel companions to Kansas where one of their sons and his family lived. My dad often received good-natured teasing from them on his lengthy bathroom stops at courthouses during such trips. They teased me about some make-believe people we concocted to pass the time—I think their names were KillRoy and Virginia.

Mary & Warren in 1982, 40th Wedding Anniversary

Mary and Warren lived in Doland, and were the first town friends that I remember. Warren ran his own mechanics shop while Mary G. worked at the post office. They lived a modest life, but because they were not stuck out on the gravel roads in a farm house, this little girl considered them rich. They had a TV in living room, cable TV mind you, a garage for their car, a sidewalk to a front and a back door, and a cement driveway. To top if off, they had a basketball hoop with cement under it. They were rich.

Dad, Warren, Mom, Mary G., Mary J, unknown man (to me), Wayne, and Marcella

Their kitchen also fascinated me. The frig set on a slant so one could get to the basement—that wasn't creepy like our cellar—where the laundry room existed. The kitchen had no cabinets on the wall. Instead, Mary's dishes were in the pantry. It was fun helping her set the table or put stuff away because my little hands could see and reach it all. It baffled me how Warren would help her dry the dishes sometimes. I never saw my dad or my brother ever do that. Was this how town people lived? 

The Wipfs attended the major events in my life: piano recitals, school plays, birthday parties, and graduations. Many Sunday nights after church, we'd get together to play the domino game, Shoot the Moon, or Aggravation. At their house, our snack might be the colorful popcorn balls that I referred to in the post entitled, Treating with Tricks.

Mary G.: times with my sisters & me

Her 21 years as widow involved many changes: selling items from Warren's business, selling her Doland home, moving to Huron into assisted living, and then living her remaining years in the nursing home.

This year, on her birthday tomorrow, Mary G. resides in her heavenly home that she taught so many Ebenezer Church children about. The song "Thank You" by Ray Boltz is no doubt the theme song of her life.

I am happy-sad as I listen to it, for as the lyrics say, because of you, I am a life that was changed.

Do you have a close family friend or relative whose birthday or death was near the holiday season? What advice do you have for those who are coping with this type of loss for the first time?

Writer’s Note: I will write more about Mary G. in an upcoming Christmas post. To read more about Ebenezer Church's influence on my life, read the post, Skinned Knee with a Slice of White Bread in which I reminisce about daily vacation Bible school.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Loss of a Pet

Our little black wiener dog honored his predecessor today. He napped on her grave under a tree that commemorates her. It was as if he knew this was the anniversary weekend of her death.
Dan the Man soaking up the 70 degree November sun in Kansas
Seven years ago, I put down my red dachshund named Lexy. She was eleven-years and nine-months old, a little younger than most of the kids I teach. Her back legs went out, something that happens to a lot of wiener dogs due to their elongated bodies and the strain on their spines.

I had raised her from the time she was a puppy. Trained her to ring bells to go out and potty. In a month, she had it down. Later that summer, my niece Jessica helped me train her to walk on a leash by enticing her with food.

Lexy, named after a South Dakota weather forecaster Lexy Hickok, arose at 5:50 am every day when I first got her back in June of 1995. I wanted to sleep init was summer. So one day, I said, "We're going back to bed," and I stuck her under the covers with me. That was the last time she slept in a cage. Then I got married, and she slept alone in a doggy bed.

Lexy and Dad nap ~ Summer 1995

One can imagine the pain of losing a house dog who is a constant companion. My dad said he understood when I told him I cried over Lexy’s death more than I did Mom's.

Shortly after my dog's passing, fellow dog lover Kaitlin Nance, a former student of mine, gave me the book, For Every Dog an Angel. For anyone who’s lost a dog, the words will not seem silly. I knew I wanted another dog; I just wanted to wait until summer time when I could give it my full attention.

Lexy ~ Tank, Kaitlin's dog ~ Pepper in July 2007

But I was so lonely. So lonely.
I missed Lexy so much. So much.

Guilt over all the changes during her last year of life did not help me. I tried to enjoy Pepper’s company, but it was not the same. He was not Lexy. I would walk Pepper at night and just bawl. I bought an iPod to drown out my thoughts.

Some suggested I should get a dog right away, others said I better wait, yet others said maybe I should not get another oneever. After all, we had Pepper. In addition, I feared my new husband would not want another dachshund after the way Lexy behaved at times. But I wanted one. Another one. Another dachshund.

Lexy's second Christmas in 1996. She did not like that doggy coat.
My husband saw my sorrow, and three months later in March, he drove me five hours one way to get a dog from a rescue. It was a black and red dachshund I found on His papers came with the name Daniel, but I wanted a fresh start for this little fella whose story I will tell some time in a future post, so I renamed him Dan the Man. He’s my little love who teaches me about patience and kindness in a way no human can. 

Dan the Man with me in May 2012

How does one move on after the loss of a pet?
It is tough. So tough.

Give yourself permission to mourn. How do you do this besides tears? Create a special memento of your pet. Mine is a box full of pictures and a journal full writings. In fact, that’s when I started writing consistently again. Lexy’s death in 2007 caused me to return to my default mode. In that journal, I wrote messages to her.

Lexy with me on the last day of her life.

Also, realize the time to grieve is different for everyone. You might choose to never get a pet again. Only you can make that decision, but do know that you are not being disloyal to the one you lost if you want another companion. Mine time ended up being three months because I could not stand it any longer.

One day at lunch, my friend and colleague Jill Weber said, “It helped my mom when she got another one." Her words gave me permission to make room in my heart for another dog.

And room I had.
Dan the Man’s spot is right beside Lexy’s, and today, his resting on her grave confirmed it.

saying good bye

How have you dealt with the pain of losing a beloved pet? What did you do to cherish the memories?