Archive | September 2014

I just discovered Amigurumi

Just recently I discovered “amigurumi”. My fellow yarners may be wondering what rock did I crawl out from beneath. Apparently, this trend has really caught on over the past five years and I just found out. Thank you, Pinterest.

There are many definitions of amigurumi online but basically it is a Japanese word used to describe the art of knitting or crocheting stuffed animals or inanimate objects. The word is derived from a combination of the Japanese words ami, meaning crocheted or knitted, and nuigurumi, meaning stuffed doll.

My son is really into the solar system so he asked me to crochet Saturn. While I couldn’t find such a pattern, I did discover a crochet pattern for amigurumi spheres and added rings. Here we have the sixth planet from the sun!


A cousin just had a baby shower on Sunday. The baby’s room will be decorated with a pond theme (frogs, ducks and turtles) so I thought I would try Felix the Frog. (See pattern here:


It’s been fun learning how to create amigurumi stuffed toys. I think I’m “hooked.

Cherie GagnonCherie


Am I the only one to just have learned about amigurumi?

Missouri author jelly jars

I’ve gotten started on a rather unusual collection.


These are jars of jelly purchased during visits to the homes of Missouri writers. On the left is plum jelly from the Laura Ingalls Wilder gift shop in Mansfield, Mo. That’s a nod to her book On the Banks of Plum Creek.

On the right is a jar of huckleberry preserves from Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal, Mo. This is in honor of Twain’s unforgettable Huckleberry Finn character. The preserves are absolutely delicious.

My mom loved to make jelly from the wild elderberries, plums and grapes that grew on our farm in Nodaway County. As I look at this collection, I dream just a bit to wonder if someday I’ll be a writer with my own line of jelly.


~ Susie

There..Now can I go see Daddy?

I’m not particularly proud of this story–but there are times when  motherhood stoops to bribery.

Because of the hours hubby worked–24 hours on/24 hours off–there were  a LOT of times he missed the kids’ activities. They rolled with it better than I did, at times, and often a visit to the firehouse was both a reward and a treat, and my way of coping.

It was the church Christmas program he missed this year. Our oldest son (the third child) was 4 and had the Welcome speech for the program. Perhaps not the wisest decision to have a child open the evening, but after all…church Christmas programs take two avenues–Cantata or kids.  Right?

The problem with this scenario–oldest son did NOT want to say Welcome, Welcome, everyone. And because his daddy hated the thought of speaking in public, son #1 was not encouraged (or threatened).

Overhead lights went out, sanctuary was beautifully lit by Christmas decorations, microphone adjusted to four-year-old height—and son scooted closer to me, folded his arms across his chest, stuck out his chin and shook his head “no”. Teacher smiled and encouraged. I, on the other hand did what every proud, embarrassed mother would do (someone out there please tell me you would have followed my lead)…I whispered to him that if he didn’t say his part we couldn’t go see Daddy after the program.

Now, one of the real treats at the firehouse was strawberry pop in a bottle!!  I was certain this threat would work. Our two daughters begged and pleaded (in whispers of course) because they didn’t want to miss a chance to go see their daddy OR the bottle of pop they would share.

But nope–I underestimated the strong will of this child. And eventually, the program went on, and no one was Welcomed!!

Closing prayer. Eyes closed. Amen. Open eyes–and there in front of the microphone, arms still folded across his chest was son #1 , who–in a VERY important manner–Welcome, Welcomed, Everyone. Then added this little epilogue as he nodded my direction.

“There–now can I go so Daddy?”

We did!!

Mother’s pride OFTEN went before  humiliation in this family!!

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Tips for Public Speaking

This morning I was just adding the finishing touches on a speech that I have to deliver on Thursday. I don’t mind public speaking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for a stage and a podium wherever I go. I also get sweaty palms and a racing heart sometimes before I speak. But as a parent advocate for families with special needs, I’ve had to learn to put the fears behind so I can get a message across.

Recently, I read an article from a psychology website about the fear of public speaking. It rated this fear as the number one phobia, followed by the fear of death, spiders and darkness. Public speaking isn’t for everyone, however, in most professions you won’t be able to avoid at least speaking in front of a group at some point.

So here are some tips if you find yourself in an unavoidable situation of where you will be either public speaking or at least facing a large group:

  1. Keep in mind that people aren’t there to make fun of you. Most people are listening and aren’t sitting there wondering why you won’t lose weight, nor thinking how ugly your shirt is, nor focusing on that zit at the end of your nose. In fact, there will be a lot of people who are admiring your courage. Focus on your message instead of what people might be thinking about you.
  2. Remember, people are listening. Most people sitting in an audience are there because they have some reason to be. They want to know what you have to say.
  3. Know your audience. (Usually this is point number one, but I think it’s important to put fear aside first so you can prepare with a clear head.) Find out who will be in attendance so that you can tailor your message to them.
  4. Know your venue. I find that I will prepare a different message if I am sitting in a circle of 12 people than if I am on stage addressing 200 people. It affects the tone of your speech and your style of delivery.
  5. Arrive early. It’s always good to arrive early to test equipment and just get a feel for the room.
  6. Be prepared. Of course you will feel silly if you don’t know what you are going to say. But if you have rehearsed and made good notes, then you will feel more confident.
  7. Know how much time you are expected to speak. Don’t go over your limit, that is when people start looking at their watches. Be respectful of others’ time.
  8. Use definitive language. Good: “Good Morning. I am happy to be here because I want to tell you about….” Bad: “Sorry you had to get up so early to hear little ol’ me. I kinda want to share with you, if you don’t mind listening, about something sort of important to me….”
  9. Where comfortable clothes and shoes.
  10. Smile!

Now, go break a leg! (A figure of speech, don’t really break anything!)

Cherie Gagnon – Cherie




What are some of your public speaking tips?

Book Review: The Insanity of God

Nik Ripken isn’t his real name. The missionary wrote this book under a pseudonym to protect his identity and that of believers around the world who face death and torture by naming the name of Christ.

After reading The Insanity of God my view of the world and of what it means to follow the Lord has been forever altered.

Ripken and his wife served in relief efforts in Somalia in the horrific years of warfare and government overthrow. Ripken said he had learned that hell was the absence of God. And when he stepped into Somalia, where the name of Christ was not uttered and evil given full reign, he felt like he had entered hell.

The first half of the book describes the couple’s mission in Africa. The harshness and cruelty of this land and a personal tragedy raised many troubling questions for Ripken. The title of the book draws from this experience as he grapples with issues that don’t seem to make sense. He and his wife began to investigate how Christians live out their faith in difficult, seemingly impossible situations. Through the second half of the book, they travel the globe and share the stories of faithful Christians.

These accounts both inspired and shamed me. Often, I have the idea that God’s desire is to “bless” me and I get whiny when it doesn’t come through. Many other believers, though, know much better what Jesus meant when he warned that the world would hate them.

Ripken said he’d been hoping to find a program or procedure to reach Muslims and non-believers. But in the furthest, most dangerous corners of the world, he found a Person: Jesus Christ. And He is at work.

All we have to do is watch the news to see this reality as Christians in the Middle East suffer persecution and death. As their faithfulness is a model for us, may we be faithful to pray for them. And to pray for their persecutors, for the saving name of Jesus to be proclaimed to those who are held captive to sin.

On a personal level, I have come to appreciate afresh the privilege of holding a Bible in my hand and of joining with brothers and sisters in Christ to worship and also put some of my “troubles” into perspective.

I highly recommend The Insanity of God but don’t say I didn’t warn you about how it might rattle your world.
Susie-3994-EditPS 72
~ Susan

Seeing the story

There’s only one time during the day that I question why I went back to work. 6 AM. The rest of the day, I’m pretty convinced I’ve been given the best job. This week that feeling only grew stronger.

Every morning I get to help in a couple of the elementary classes. One of the teachers knows how much I enjoy writing so this week she gave me the job of teaching the students how to write a fiction story. She gave me one photo-shopped picture of a zebra riding a motorcycle being chased by a lion and a stack of blank story maps.

You can guess the story each of the five groups thought of–it didn’t end with a happily ever after for the zebra! As we talked about knowing our main characters, using the supporting characters like a chef uses spices, and developed a problem that grows until the end of the story, the student’s began to get excited. By the end of today, we had five groups with five completely different stories. AND, I was able to save that zebra from certain destruction!

As I sat and wrote down the ideas popping up around the table, it became obvious that some of the best story ideas came from the students who struggle academically. To see their excitement and watch as they planned and pieced their story together was such a blessing.

I’d ask the groups, “Do you see it? Is the story playing through your head?”

Some of them shook their heads no, but others gave me a dimpled smile and nodded.

They could see the movie! I can’t wait to see what stories we actually write next week.

What fun to be involved with the process.

How generous of their teacher to let me have a chance to share something I love with her students!

Happy Friday!


Sleep,such a precious thing

I have loved Julane’s story of firehouse days. I think there must be many women out there who relate and take comfort in knowing they are not alone. Following suite, I believe I shall write, for a while at least, about my experiences as a wife left alone. I spent ten years as the wife of what we used to jokingly call a Transportation Relocation Engineer. I was the wife of a truck driver.
My hubby was a photographer. Trained in the Air Force he transferred his skills to “life on the outside” and we began our life with a studio in our living room and then eventually to its own location. Most of our life it was right outside our back door so that he was literally home all day.
I became the assistant and office help, We worked together. Then ate together. Played together and then slept together. When the truck driving career started it was a huge change. Like Julane, at first I didn’t sleep either.
Solitaire on the computer reminds me of those early days. I would go to bed at night and in the quiet hear all the strange noises that I had for years ignored. Traffic on the street outside, wind in the trees,
“What was that? ?
” Is someone here? ”
“Are we ok?”
” Should I get up? ”
“Or hide?”
” or call for help?”
Sleep would elude me and so eventually I would get up, traipse down the hall to the family room and play solitaire on the computer until my mind and eyes relaxed so I could finally sleep.
Sleepless nights continued for a while and finally improved. Still, there are times when being alone in my bed is not fun. When an unusual sound wakens and startles. I still get up occasionally and lull my mind back to sleep with a mindless computer game, however I have learned over the years to allow my Heavenly Father to hold me tight at those times. Snuggled safely in his arms, I let the words of memorized scripture fill my brain and heart until sleep comes again.

Like Minded

There is a special kind of bond that defines the firehouse. It’s more than just men working together–they live together 24 hours at a time. From the time they punch in on their shift, until they punch out again 24 hours later they’ve spent that entire time within the confines of a station house, sans fire calls or the other routine jobs that occur: i.e., fire inspection, hydrant testing, engine checking/cleaning, and yes–grocery shopping. They eat together, do dishes together, watch TV together, and sleep…well, NOT together in the sense you might think–but they do share a bedroom.

One of my fondest memories of those early years is the Fireman’s Auxiliary. The wives. In my first years was a fireman’s wife, there were few of us working outside the home, and we looked forward to that one night a month when we could meet together. Yes, it meant some of us had to have a sitter because our husbands were ‘on duty’. But we tried hard not to miss. It was a time of learning for me–and I learned from the best!!

Things the other wives taught me:

1. Firefighters’ wives don’t chase fire trucks

2. Firefighters’ wives don’t ask questions when there are blood splatters on their husband’s clothing (they’ll explain in due time–maybe)

3. It’s not unusual to be afraid to be alone at night–or to resent attending so many events alone (or with ALL the kiddos). HOWEVER–Get used to it, and stop whining!! Be proud of what your husband does, be glad he loves what he does, and support him every way you can.

4. Yes–some of the men were better cooks than we were. (I never could replicate Corny’s tomato preserves)

5. And–this was a big one–I wasn’t the first one to become  pregnant within the first year of hubby joining the fire service.

Of course there was much, much more. But I still value those times, and those women who welcomed me. We laughed and cried together, mourned and celebrated, and even in our diversity we were one–just like the men at the firehouse.

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The First Big One!

No…I’m not going to write about the first big fire run for my hubby. Rather–our VERY FIRST paycheck from a job we knew was going to be steady. No winter layoffs. We’d get a check every two weeks..and the first one was a whopping $167.50 (gross).  His starting salary in April of 1965 was $335.00/month (gross).  With the shift being 24 hours on/24 hours off, one can assume that he worked fifteen 24 hours shifts, which would equal 360 hours a month. You do the math. But we felt rich!!

Our needs were much less at that time, though not at all different from our friends whether they were on or off the fire department. We had groceries to buy, a house payment to make, utilities, insurance and taxes to pay, and two little girls to feed and clothe. I think at that time we must have been making a car payment, too. And before anyone mentions it–yes, those dollars stretched a lot farther in those days. We were never hungry, always clothed, and never missed a payment on anything. 

NOW I’ll mention the first really big event for hubby. June, 1965. By this time I had started to settle in a bit more. I no longer needed to keep the lights on all night when he was gone, and found I could get to church on time all by  myself!!  So the morning of the BIG ONE I got my two little girls ready and we went to Bible School. I remember the skies becoming darker and darker, and I think we teachers must have even decided what we would do with the children should the tornado sirens sound. Out sanctuary was A-shaped, very high pitched ceilings, and windows lined each wall. The bathrooms were the only place we felt safe enough to scurry so many little ones.  And then the rains came.  Pouring rains…and it rained and rained and rained. Parents came after children bringing extra coverings for them so they could get back to their cars. And by the time I got home, we were all soaked.

Meanwhile–back at the FD they’d had a call to the Presbyterian Church.  Lightning had struck, they were having Bible School, too, and could smell smoke. Bob was on that call…riding on the tailboard in the storm–and they could find nothing, so they went back to their stations. It wasn’t long before they were called again–this time there was smoke in the church..there definitely was fire somewhere. And this time they did find it…high in the peaks, but they were able to extinguish it. 

By this time Sand Creek was beginning to rise and hubby was sent to station #1 (which at that time, you Newton friends (was still on 5th street) and the decision was made to move an engine to the park department building so they would have engines on both sides of the creek. They went west, and the creek rose steadily.  He remembers watching it come out of its banks and cross the park. By the time they got the engine moved to yet higher ground, they drove in water axle deep.  

The water rose quickly…and went down relatively quickly, but left a LOT of sludge in its wake. Later that night, after hubs had returned to his regular station, they got a fire call to a restaurant on the north end of Main Street–right close to the creek. Water had gotten into the building and all the interior fixtures had floated around, so that when they got there they had to climb over tables, chairs, counters, etc., to get to the fire. And it was well after midnight when they got back to the station and got their trucks cleaned from the debris they’d driven through. Those of you familiar with the fire service know that you never back a dirty engine into the bay. 

I wish I could sit and talk with the wives of that era again!! We were so new to everything, and had no scanner in the house, I had no idea this all was happening.  We lived east of the bypass–might was well have been the wrong side of the tracks–but we were nowhere close to the creek or anything that even resembled one so didn’t know it had flooded and didn’t hear the fire sirens.

Like with any occupation, there are tales to be told. And I will tell them. Right now, the best part of writing this blog, is that look in hubby’s eyes as he recalls different events.  Retired fireman are like retired fishermen–the tales get bigger with each telling, but it’s the stuff that forges the hearts of those who stationed together.

See you next week!!

road 2 we like!


Dear Special Needs Mom….

Dear Special Needs Mom,

holding handsYou were ahead of me in line at Costco. You had a cart with two older children and a load of groceries. Behind you was your own mother pushing a cart that was empty except for a lovely young girl sitting in the front.

She had on a pretty pink summer dress and no shoes. Between her hands she held a long black sticker with the number “10” stamped down it in a neat row. No doubt she pulled it off some clothing item and you decided to pick your battles and let her keep it. She held the sticker close to her eyes and a then up in the air in triumph—twisting and turning that sticker as though it were an exotic treasure.

And she babbled to herself in a sing-song like manner with words that I couldn’t understand, although she was old enough to be understood. But you probably knew what she was saying. I tried to make eye contact with her and engage her, but she stared right through me and around me.

I looked at you and smiled. You smiled back but your eyes gave away your weariness. Your hair fell out of your ponytail and you pushed it behind your ear as you continued to unload your cart.

The cashier grabbed your bag of chips and said you’d have to select another, after all, they sell them in bulk…you can’t buy just one.

Your shoulders slumped in defeat. “Sorry,” you told the cashier.  “I’ll have to just leave it. I can’t run to the back of the store for a second one.” Your eyes darted toward your daughter. You knew that even a small change in plan would be too much for her.

Your mother offered to run back, but you just shook your head. “I’ve got her and we can’t do it.”

How I wanted to hug you and tell you that I’ve been there. I know what it’s like—a simple shopping trip can be like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The simple and mundane things in life can sap what little strength you have left some days. I wanted to applaud you for bringing all your children out together, taking the risk that it could go wrong and then to endure the glaring stares of those who don’t know.

I wanted to tell you to hang in there. Remember all her successes, no matter how small. I wanted to remind you that your daughter is beautiful and perfect just the way she is. I wanted to tell you that as long as you try your best, you are not failing as a mother, even if you feel that your best is not enough. Believe me, it is.

I wanted to say that this road we walk may be complex, but the rewards are high. There is beauty in learning to give your time, strength, energy and resources to those who can only give love in return. There is great joy in serving the vulnerable. And though it may be hard to lose independence, we have an opportunity to learn about interdependence and the richness in community.

I just wanted to let you know you are not alone. Not ever.

There is One who doesn’t promise to magically make all our challenges go away, but He does promise to be with us every step of the way (Heb. 13:5).

We need to feel the strength of others around us. We need others to help us and return that help when we can.

But sometimes others just can’t be there.

Some days that promise from Christ is all we have. And for me, that is enough.


Another Special Needs Mom

Cherie Gagnon– Cherie