The Calm Between Reunions

For my husband and me, July is Family Reunion Month.

I might’ve mentioned here before that my marriage was the union of two tribes. In practical terms, this means we travel a lot to see ’em all, and July is the high watermark.

We just got back from Illinois. (Lock the front door, oh boy!) My husband drove up to Illinois with his brother and sister-in-law for their mother’s family’s picnic. I’d already flown to Pennsylvania to be on hand for the surgery of a family member, then I flew out to meet them in time for the party. The weather was clear, and not too hot, with a light breeze. The farm was in its party clothes. Cottage garden flower beds in full bloom, meditative cows watching the goings-on, a wren feeding two hatchlings. The perfect setting for the kids to run around in, while grown-ups shared recent news, old stories and laughter, celebrating new babies, consoling fresh griefs.

My husband has employee benefits with an airline–we get to fly for free…on a standby basis, if there’re available seats. So we left the car up in Illinois and flew back to Texas. Between over-full flights and weather, we didn’t get home until after 11pm, instead of 3pm like we’d hoped. And now, a few days of catching up on mail, bills, chores, and laundry–and paying attention to two cats who are trying to pretend their “Auntie Sarah” didn’t stop by twice a day to cater to them.

In other words, a few days of calm. Then, we’ll fly back up to Illinois (I’m hoping  for fewer delays and bumps), and get in the van to drive out to eastern Pennsylvania, where we’ll do it all over again. Only more so.

The reunion on my side of the family goes on for days (weeks, even), with folks arriving from all parts of the US as soon as they can, and leaving only when they have to. We have one big party for friends as well as family that starts on a Saturday morning and goes all day, often into the wee hours of the morning. Upwards of 200 people come. There’s slip’n’slidin’, softball, volleyball, and a hotly contested horseshoe tournament. “Uncle Herm’s Dirt” is a pile of sandy soil under a tent, with plenty of plastic trucks, cars, buckets and trowels for the littlest participants. In the barn, Uncle Joe calls a couple of square dances, backed up by the family pickers. At almost 90, he’s planning to hand off the calling responsibility to his daughter Joanne this year. (Thank you, Joni, for taking us on!) And almost all day long, there’s pickin’n’grinnin’. Under the Big Tent or in the barn, we get out the guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, basses, cello(!)–and occasionally wax paper and combs and wash-tub bass–for homemade music that spans the generations, where Willie Nelson, Simon and Garfunkel, big band favorites, old hymns, bluegrass, Irish, Scots, and German folksongs, Dave Matthews, etc., live comfortably together. As we like to say, or perhaps warn: “The more you drink, the better we’ll sound.”

An experienced Grill Team feeds the hordes with burgers, hotdogs, sweet corn, tomatoes, and all the sides and desserts brought by attendees, washed down by kegs of beer, soda, and water. Like my husband’s tribe, we’re a self-serve kind of family. We put up the tents, build the slip’n’slide, make the food, wash the dishes, clean up after the parties, etc. We get the kids involved, so they learn how to throw a reunion. Along the way, they learn that work can be more fun–a lot more fun–than video games.

This year, we’re celebrating 100 years and six generations on “The Farm.” Our hope and prayer is that our descendents will enjoy another 100 years and six generations, gathering on The Farm, just being family together, with all their friends, too.

I think this experience of family is why I gravitate to (and ground my fiction in) the idea of Scots clans. For all that Forge–and it’s soon-to-be-released prequel, Seeds of Enmity,–are set in another arm of the galaxy in the far future, I believe the human heart will always need families in which to thrive.

Oddly, the German side of my family is more into the clan gatherings than the Scots side…but we’re improving our track record there, too. We’ve figured out we just have a heckuva lot of fun together, even if we don’t have quite the full-bore musical/athletic/etc. extravaganza of our paternal family.

Which proves my final point: You don’t need a farm to have a reunion. You don’t need hundreds of people…or even people related by blood (about a third to a half of the folks who show up at our reunion are “related by love”…you know, the people you grow up calling aunt and uncle, and you’re about 12 before you figure out their kids aren’t really your cousins, but by then it’s too late…they are). All you really need is to pick a place, a day, a time, bring some food and drink, and just do something together. Sit and chat; play a game. Don’t play instruments? Have some tunes on…be brave and do some karaoke. The point is to spend a day with people you love, doing nothing more than celebrating the fact that you’re in each other’s lives.

And making those memories together is a darn good way to spend a summer day. Which is why I’m actually looking forward to flying back to Illinois and driving out to Pennsylvania before finally driving back to Texas, once again via Illinois. I’ll probably post this tune then, too.


They Call Me Baby Driver

I’ve mentioned I like to travel, right? I especially like road trips because I just plain like to drive. Especially highway driving. On the open road with family.

My most recent sojourn was a trip with my Uncle Joe and two of my cousins to visit another cousin, his son/their brother. I flew to an airport along their route, they picked me up, and six hours later we were there. I drove out in a new Ford Escort, which gave me a five-minute fuel history, and might’ve had a button on the dash that launched warp drive. (As soon as they come out with that, I am so going to Forge!)

Before we went to my cousin’s home, we went to his garage. I’m not kidding. He has some really nice cars. Classics.  So I got to sit behind the wheel of this:

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a 1940 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet, one of a limited production run of 350. I dunno…I kind of think they could’ve stopped tinkering with dashboard design right here…

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But when the rubber meets the road…as long as it’s got a half-way decent ride and will get me where I’m going, I like to be behind the wheel of most anything. For those of you who feel the same way, here’s a Simon & Garfunkel tune I’ve regarded as my personal theme song from the time I was thirteen, and within spitting distance of my driver’s license. Enjoy the song, and enjoy the road!

Ticket to Ride

I just had my passport photo taken at the local pharmacy. A relatively painless process, even for one as photogenically challenged as me.

The whole process of getting a passport brings up a lot of memories. I got my first-ever passport in 1999, a year that still lives in infamy in my personal history. Whether it was my burner of a job, my health, the health of my mother, my love life…it all sucked. Other people, in 1999, were afraid the world would end in Y2K. I was kind of hoping….

But just in case it didn’t, I got myself a passport. A sort of promissory note to myself, to look ahead to the days when life would improve. When the new machine started up; when Mom got better; when I wised up and glued my heart back together….I would finally make that trip to the UK I’d always wanted.

And in AD 2000, I did. Life did improve. And I went to London, Paris (bonus!), Edinburgh, and Glasgow.

It’s not like my world was perfect when I left, or when I got back. But I’d learned a few things.That I could get through tough times. That having something to look forward to helps. A lot. And that sometimes, the most important promises to keep are the ones you make to yourself. (A lot of those lessons showed up in Forge–Keir founds his extraordinary endurance on a reason to hope, and a love he’s not even sure is real.)

I forgot to renew my passport–it had done its work–and now I’m getting a new one. But the circumstances are vastly different, because they’re happy. I’ll be traveling with my wonderful husband to Spain, taking in the sights…and looking out for fodder for my next story.

Here’s a song that celebrates the Journey to better times…as long as you Don’t Stop Believin’. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

I hope you’re living on the sunny side of the street. If not…may the power of hope soon lead you to better days.


“And the skies are not cloudy all day…” Hah!


Here I am, home on the range, looking out the kitchen door at the–indubitably–cloudy sky. And it’s been that way, pretty much…all day.

In Syracuse, NY, where I spent three years, this wouldn’t be a cause for comment. In that beclouded city, Annie never would’ve believed the “sun’ll come out tomorrow.” Because it just didn’t. Except maybe in August.

But here, in Texas? I was led to believe, by song, folklore, and Himself, that it was always sunny in Texas…except when tornadoes tear up the landscape and throw it into the sky. My husband also teases me about the sun never shining in Pennsylvania–which is patently untrue. We’re not Syracuse, after all. But my case wasn’t helped when, during our last four-day visit in March, it snowed twice and the sun hid its face behind a heavy swath of clouds in shame.

Don’t get the idea that I’m complaining. This is just by way of pointing out that…Hey! It’s cloudy! In Texas! Who knew?

There’s a serenity in a cloudy day. Trees are swaying in the wind, the birds are singing…and clouds can be pretty. If I didn’t believe that, I never would’ve survived my sojourn in Syracuse.

And really, this whole post is just an excuse to play the song going through my head, because it perfectly captures the feeling of a cloudy day.

Whether it’s rain or shine, sunny or shadowed, wherever you are…here’s hoping your own personal weather is set to “smile”!

Sentimental Journey

I’m going home to Pennsylvania at the end of the week.

Dad will be 92 on Wednesday. The birthday party is on Saturday, and my husband and I plan to be there, along with the rest of the clan.

All Dad wants for his birthday is a family party with a little pickin’n’grinnin’…recorded, so he can listen to it back at the nursing home. We’re more than happy to oblige. His five kids, six grandkids, four great-grandkids, and any number of nieces and nephews and their kids, siblings and the respective inlaws of all the above categories will be on hand to add to the general merriment and musicality. There will be plenty of food and drink, of the minor and adult variety. As we like to say: “The more you drink, the better we sound.”

In honor of Dad, and the journey back home for his birthday, I’m posting one of Dad’s favorite songs. There were other versions of “Sentimental Journey” on But this one had pictures of the WWII vets and the people of the time–who did what needed to be done when the world needed it most. This is most likely the version that Dad heard while he was in the Navy, sung by the marvelous Doris Day.

We’ll probably sing this at the party…but probably not quite as well!

Happy birthday, Dad, with lots of love and prayers.


Down in the West Texas Town of El Paso

I’m into all kinds of music, and occasionally I wander into Country. Here’s the classic “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, which is on my mind today.

I love the story, Marty’s vocals, and the harmony…and the guitar work by the late Fred Carter, Jr. Having grown up singing this tune, tomorrow my husband and I are going to make Rosa’s Cantina in El Paso, TX a stop on our road trip.

Can I add Rosa’s Cantina to my bucket list, just so I can cross it off?