A Memorable Family Vacation

This is what holidays, travels, vacations are about.  It is not really rest or even leisure we chase.  We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again.”

–Shana Alexander, “The Roman Astonishment,” in Life (1967)

Shana Alexander has named something so essential to not only travel but to life itself: our capacity for wonder and astonishment.  How much of life would we miss if we looked, but did not see, the amazement right before our eyes?  What would our lives be if we lost our capacity for wonder and astonishment? 

My family and I just completed an opportunity to enrich these capacities within ourselves. Rick, our son Brendon, and I traveled together to the northeastern states of Pennsylvania and New York and then crossed the border into Ontario, Canada.  We traveled along the rolling hills and mountains of Pennsylvania, witnessed past accomplishments  of talented baseball players at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, visited the home of one I have long admired, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who tirelessly pursued justice for women, and experienced the life-force, and yes wonder, of Niagara Falls in Ontario.

Of course, the best part is that we traveled as family, which for me increased the depth, meaning, and joy of all that we experienced.  How could I not return home full of gratitude for this venture?

Here is a photo journey that outlines the points and pleasures of our travel together:

Hershey, Pennsylvania


Our first stop was to “the sweetest place on earth,” Hershey, Pennsylvania, where Milton Hershey perfected the process of producing milk chocolate.  A great story of innovation and vision.



Flytes of chocolate, from dark bitter to milk chocolate sweet!  My favorite?  Always dark chocolate.  We were told there’s a little over 1,000 calories in these six flytes!




Cooperstown, New York — Baseball Hall of Fame



I was taken by this quote because of my family history.  On many an evening my parents sat on their front porch, listening to a Cubs game on the radio.  I am certain they “saw” every play!



One of the Twins great players honored in the Hall of Fame.


Brendon at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY.

Seneca Falls, New York — The Home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton





The home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton


A statue of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton being introduced by a mutual friend.  It was a lifelong friendship, based on a passion for women’s rights, especially the right to vote.  The nineteenth amendment to allow women the vote was passed in 1920.  Neither woman lived to see it happen.


Niagara Falls–Ontario, Canada





Niagara Falls, where we shocked ourselves “into astonishment once again.”


We spent our last evening in Canada at a casino, where a delicious buffet meal of various ethnic dishes was served.  Rick won eleven Canadian dollars!

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary

“The incredible gift of the ordinary! 

Glory comes streaming from the table of daily life.”

–Macrina Wiederkehr


A simple new recipe landed in my inbox the other day.  It called for an aromatic mix of clove garlic and fresh basil, combined with diced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and a few other ingredients. It was all added to a large pan of cooked linguine, completing a perfect dish of pesto.

Rick and I thought it looked both delicious and easy (and I like “easy” when it comes to cooking)!  After slicing, dicing, and mixing, we set our new never-before-eaten-on table with our new, deep blue stoneware, complementing our individual places with a bottle of wine.  Suddenly dinner was no longer just a meal.  Dinner had become elevated, transformed into a moment that called for savoring and basking in the joy and satisfaction of the present moment. The ordinary had turned extraordinary.

This experience got me thinking about the ordinary moments in our lives.  Most of our days consist of routine, ordinary moments when we celebrate nothing in particular and have no special plans.  We tend to think of them as less happy and less fulfilling than those extraordinary times when we celebrate birthdays, weddings, reunions, and various rites of passage.  Of course we’ll always remember and hold dear these limited, special occasions when laughter came more easily and worry was nowhere around.  Special days and special memories are part of life.

But so easily overlooked is the joy found in ordinary days.  The extraordinary can erupt surprisingly in an ordinary moment, often found at the least suspecting time, circumstance and place.  For example, one of my ordinary-extraordinary moments occur when I run in the morning and settle down to a simple breakfast of cereal and toast!

And what joy it was to cook a new recipe and lavish ourselves in its delectable taste.  This moment was not in some fancy, expensive restaurant, but right in the simplicity of our own home.  Perhaps this makes it all the more extraordinary.

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A new recipe and an enjoyable meal.  -Photo: J. Stanton


A Visit to McLeod Plantation Historic Site

Anyone who has had surgery knows that recovery takes a while.  During any rehabilitation period, lives change dramatically, requiring a change in how we spend our time.

This is exactly what my husband and I experienced after his shoulder surgery.   No more trips to the beach; no long walks in Charleston’s summer heat.  Instead, we found ourselves engaged in everyday activities that kept his shoulder safe from harm and, at the same time, promoted healing.  We attended physical therapy sessions, iced the surgical site, and adjusted the sling—many times over!  And six weeks later, we’re not done yet.

A few weeks ago, though, we made a slight turning point.  It was a Sunday afternoon. The temperature and humidity had dropped somewhat while a slight breeze brushed against us as we ventured outdoors and did something besides rehabilitate and give care to the rehabilitator!  We visited one of many of Charleston’s plantations: McLeod Plantation Historic Site, a place that was turned into a museum only a little over a year ago.

The history of McLeod Plantation goes back to the mid-1800s.   William Wallace McLeod acquired this property in 1851 and constructed a home there.  While the McLeod family sought to defend their advantageous way of life, enslaved men and women worked hard cultivating sea island cotton.  It was a place of hard work, struggle, and complex relationships during a time of war and pestilence. Today, states the plantation’s website, “It is a living tribute to the men and women and their descendants that persevered in their efforts to achieve freedom, equality, and justice.”

This historic site is a testament to the living presence of the past.  For more information about and to see photos, go to:




An Anniversary I Remember Each Year

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  It is a date that stays firmly in my mind each year.  If they were still alive, they would be celebrating seventy-nine years of marriage today. Their wedding, by the way, was a double ceremony with my mother’s brother, Russ, and his chosen partner, Dorothy.

There’s something important about anniversaries.  Whether it’s a marriage, birthday, or other remembrance, anniversaries invite us to revisit significant and important events in our lives.  Without remembering these important dates, we could go through life unseeing, failing to reflect—or even recognize—the significance of our life experiences, the lessons they taught us, and the personal growth we gained as a result of having lived them.

They may even give us pause to be grateful, and today I am.

(Note:  I have a picture of my parents on their wedding day that I recently came across but today cannot find.  I will publish it when I do)!

Reconciling Grief: Choosing Proper Conditions

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Winters are long in Minnesota.  Some years ago, however, winter seemed especially long.  I grew weary of its icy temperatures, sidewalks, and streets.  According to the calendar, spring had come over a month ago, but I was not convinced that it had—or that it would.

Then one day in May, temperatures climbed and the sun beamed.  The first real spring day had arrived!  As I looked around outdoors, I noticed an almost magical transformation around me: hosta plants poking through our backyard soil, buds forming on our red maple tree, and multi-colored tulips adorning neighborhood yards.

At last spring had broken through winter’s grasp!  But spring had been there all along, waiting, poised on the verge of breaking through winter’s hold.  Springtime life could not blossom until the proper conditions of warm temperatures and radiant sunshine had appeared.

When we grieve, we may wonder if we will ever feel good again.  Our grief, like winter, may linger long and become tiresome.  Though our grief will last as long as it needs to, we can facilitate the process toward new life by choosing “proper conditions.”  We too can choose a warm, nurturing climate: a safe, supportive setting of love, compassion, and understanding.

And perhaps we can offer these proper conditions to others—in an encouraging word or a listening ear—and assist them in emerging from their soul’s winter bleakness into new springtime life.

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Red Maple tree in Minnesota backyard. Photo JStanton


Can a House Remember?

Can a house, long empty and abandoned,

wounded by nails in its side and

silent, sallow boards over its windows

remember the family who once lived there,

spent their days and nights there?


Can a house still smell those early mornings,

when two strips of bacon bubbled

in an old black iron skillet

or hear the friendly voice of Wally Phillips,

daily breakfast guest from WGN Radio?


Can a house still hear the clamorous crack

of a mother’s back breaking in a game of badminton

or the silent fracture of a teenager’s heart?


Can a house still hear the swoosh

of pinochle cards shuffling, players laughing,

or the clickety-clack of the old Singer,

marching in rhythm,

sinking new stitches into old dresses?


Can a house still taste the bitterness

of harsh words spoken too soon

or feel the soothing softness

of a comforting embrace?


Can a house remember anything at all?


And what do you do

when you stand facing a structure

that was once tenderly cared for,

that you once called home,

where you lived and learned,

sought shelter and solace,

and still today regard it with respect, honor, and fondness,

but now stands cold, stiff, and inhospitable toward you?


Do you simply stare at it?

Shake your head?

Say, “It’s a shame?”


Or do you ask it, as I do:

Do you remember—

and will you never forget—

the ordinary lives

that once breathed inside your walls

that now remain anonymous? 


When Rick and I moved from Minneapolis to Charleston, we stopped at my childhood home in Illinois and found the house abandoned and boarded up.  This poem arises from that experience.


Western Avenue, house where Jan grew up

The front of my childhood home, where I lived until I married. This was probably taken in the late 1960’s.


Jan on homemade swing

As a young girl, I spent a lot of time on this backyard swing that my dad made for me.

Back yard Western Avenue

Our cat, Twinkle, gave birth to three kittens under this backyard porch.

Western Front

Today the house stands abandoned with overgrown brush and boards all around it.

Western Ave Side view

This is the side of the house with plywood covering the bedroom and basement windows.

These three photos show the backyard as of July 2015.