Understanding Both Sides


 In an effort to better understand how our President-elect has such passionate supporters, I attended a meeting of local communication and community leaders a few weeks ago. I needed to grasp why voters felt he is the best to lead our country. Despite the numerous posts on social media condemning his win and the rallying of folks still upset about Clinton's loss; talking face-to-face with both sides and hearing concrete reasons helped me move away from uncertainty and move toward hope and reason for our country.

The elections are over
The circus goes on.
Trump’s in the White House
What once was is gone.

Goodness; where are you?
Can’t you hear, don’t you see?
Kindness, acceptance getting along
Is how it should be!

Suspend for a moment who won;
We should have known!
Party change every eight years,
Means deep division; unity has flown.

Identity and emotion were in play,
Policies and public service not so much.
Dislocation, economy and society
Mean folks need more than going-Dutch.

Mr. Trump resonated with just one toss;
A gigantic rock through America’s window!
Getting away with it was the new vibe…
Political incorrectness was the way to go!

Cultural differences suddenly showed
The bully monster reared its head.
Passionate supporters said he’s our man…
Now feeling discomfort and conflicted instead.

This is where I’m at now; understanding
Dear colleagues and friends.
Our opposite views doesn’t mean
Family and friendship are at end!

Policies and promises were the sideshow,
Emotion ruled the stage.
Society differences so far apart…
From nice; not-so-nice; to put‘em in a cage!

Respect for our President-elect is
Twirling and whirling one day to another.
As America reels, reaches, reacts...
Let’s keep Goodness above all other.

Moving forward means coming together
The masses now say. I needed to grasp,
Understand and not fear.  
Unity happens when hands we can clasp.


Adult Children and the Holidays...10 Tips to Ease the Stress of Sharing


Many of you have probably started shopping for gifts, made travel reservations or are busy unpacking decorations for the coming winter holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hannukah will soon be here. Have you thought about the actual day of celebration? If your adult children are married or living with significant others; whether you have grandchildren near or far….there are bound to be some question marks about where, when and with whom. After years of familiar routine, change rears its head when our kids grow up. For the past twenty years, my holidays were unpredictable and seemingly different every year. As needs arose and life interfered, I found some solutions that worked for us. Hopefully, you’ll find some soothing memory making ideas here.
  1. Remind yourself that it comes under the heading of letting go.
We raise them, send them off to college, help with wedding preparations and applaud their home and job choices. Welcoming another family member is how the empty nest begins to fill again. Our son was the first to marry and we loved the bonus of another daughter; but they married and settled in Michigan; several states away from us in Georgia. I think there was only time for a sigh of relief before it hit me…things would be different now.



 2. Respect that the newlyweds may want to host a big holiday themselves.
They married in late September and had an autumn honeymoon. The next thing we knew, they wanted to host Thanksgiving. My husband and daughter and I drove north, caught up in the excitement of the newlyweds hosting their first holiday. Having Thanksgiving dinner prepared by someone else and spending time with the other parents was a treat. But being invited back for Christmas was much harder. I didn’t like it and may have whined to my son, “please come to us, we always cut down a tree, decorate it, go to Christmas Eve Mass, get up at the crack of dawn tooogetherrrrr.” Her parents were not able to go, so my son’s pleading that their first Christmas was a really big deal touched my heart. Imagine my delight discovering he followed our same traditions; leaving milk and cookies for Santa, opening a gift on Christmas Eve, making us wait in the hallway Christmas morning until he turned on the lights and exclaimed, “SANTA WAS HERE!”


3. When it's your turn to host a family gathering, invite the son or daughter-in-law's parents.
After our daughter married and bought a home nearby, my husband and I mostly hosted holiday dinners. Our son-in-law's parents lived out of state, so when they were in town we included them as well. I never realized in those early years that the other parents would become lifelong friends.


4. Accept when you’re invited to their homes. Plans and places can change, but you’ll all be together and the kids will be all right.  Sharing a Thanksgiving with my daughter-in-law’s blended family; another with my son-in-law’s extended family….so many that a big hall was rented….were two of the best times we ever had. Your children will beam as they watch the connection of their families grow. Thirteen years ago on a lovely, snowy evening, the young couple invited their moms out for drinks after a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. As the four of us relaxed, his mom and I blurted out at the same time, “when are we getting a grandchild?” We’d held our tongues for three years so we felt entitled. I loved us being on the same page; this favorite friend I now call my “grandmother-in-law.”
5. Discuss your preferences as soon as possible before the holiday

Whether it’s religious purposes, enough space to hold everyone, who really wants to cook, travel or medical considerations; early planning will make it easier for everyone. Letters and conversations throughout the year will make the ’planners’ more comfortable in expressing their wishes. Getting to know the other family members not only makes holiday preparations easier but builds a camaraderie that can only strengthen your kids’ bond in all aspects of marriage. Here my son wanted Thanksgiving dinner in his new home....no furniture, a makeshift table and since the dishware and napkins were still packed, paper towels worked! One of our best family gatherings ever! 

6. If you find you’ll be on your own some Thanksgiving, Christmas or other event…take off!  Don’t stay home and fume or fret; take a road trip, make reservations for holiday dinner at a nice restaurant, head to the Bahamas. There will be years when all your kids go to their in-laws or have plans with pals. My husband and I traveled to San Antonio, Texas one Christmas Day, ate dinner at a Howard Johnson and toured the Alamo. The rest of the week we took day trips and enjoyed the Riverwalk events at night. It tickled us knowing we could have a blast and never missed Christmas with the kids at all!

 7. When the grandkids finally come along! Always respect the new mother’s wishes first….especially the first year. Use common sense and again, discuss it well ahead of time. My son and daughter-in-law moved south to be near us when their first daughter was born. I felt great peace and contentment to do the holidays “my way” again; envisioning my daughter and the new little family all under our roof. But the new mom wanted Thanksgiving; hosting us and her parents from out of town. We hadn’t seen them since the wedding four years earlier and we had lots to catch up on about this new baby girl. Since we got to see our first grandchild frequently, we didn’t mind her other grandparents taking over the feeding, holding and rocking for a few days.

8. Stagger the holidays by years if all parties are acceptable. As time goes by, let your kids decide what works for them. They not only have in-laws to celebrate with but will want to host themselves some years. Some families only want Thanksgiving or Easter; others like to switch off. Open communication and flexibility is the key. Believe me….the day will come when going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house becomes the best for everyone!


9. If everyone lives close enough, stagger the times for opening holiday presents. The whole magical scene will still be there later that afternoon, the next morning or even the next week. Eighteen years ago when our first grandchild came along, I insisted Santa would come down our chimney too…and fill stockings for everyone! Needless to say, he came down every year after and I had four more stockings embroidered with each grandchild’s name. I don’t recommend this; not only can it be costly, but potentially awkward too. It was a bit sticky for my daughter initially. She and her husband wanted their own Christmas morning ritual with their children and liked having Christmas Dinner at the other grandparents’ house. We agreed to wait until the following morning to open the gifts around our tree. Seeing the delight on little faces as they ran in the door made it all worthwhile. One year we spent Christmas morning with our California family; flew home that evening and had Christmas again the next morning with our Georgia family.


10. If you’re a long distant grandparent unable to join the celebration, you can still be present. Just make sure you follow the parent’s suggestions first, then your grandchild’s request and lastly your own surprises. If you’ll miss a Thanksgiving or Easter Dinner, send things that can be included such as a candle or special prayer, inexpensive decorations, stickers or a new shirt or dress for the occasion. When I lived on the other side of the country; I’d wrap and send gifts to go under the girls' tree; then after Christmas, I’d send anything Santa had left under mine, including the filled stockings! Needless to say, we spoiled the kids and kept UPS and FedEx in business.
Now that I’m a widow and the grandchildren are getting older, it amuses me that my son and daughter now want to ‘share’ mom! The first Christmas on my own, I went to my son’s, the next year to my daughter’s. Now he’s moved nearby and would like me to join in their holiday festivities. But I don’t see my daughter’s family as often, so it’d be worth a plane ticket to their house or….I may decide to spend my holidays doing something completely different. After years of appreciating their parents’ flexibility, I’m confident they’ll both be fine with whatever I decide.

Visiting My English Roots

Mom and Tracy in a 'Brummie' cab.

 Armed with a torn map, notebooks, old addresses and cameras, my sixty-something mother, preteen daughter and I climbed into a cab outside the Albany Hotel in Birmingham, England and asked to be taken to Crocketts Road in the Handsworth neighborhood. We had flown across the pond with the Friendship Force; the first week staying with a host family outside of London, the second week on our own exploring our roots.




Sarah Rogers Bickley
Samuel Bickley
My dad’s side of the family was not what you’d call close-knit according to family bibles and tales told by uncles and aunts. Samuel Bickley, my great, great grandfather, was a machinist in a hosiery factory in Leicester when he met Sarah Rogers, his workmate’s daughter. After a short courtship, they married in 1870 and found work as pearl button finishers in Birmingham. They lived for many years at the back of 71 Garbett Street. The family grew to include six children; Harry, an opera singer, Lucy, whose husband owned the midland’s Aston Football Team, Edith,  Sarah, Alice and Samuel Thomas, my great grandfather.


My ancestor's corner store where they lived above.
June, 1984
In their later years, Sarah and Samuel became shopkeepers and lived above the store at 114 Crocketts Road…thus the reason for our visit in June, 1984. There was still a general store on that corner; the original building enlarged and renovated. We met the proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Hunt who were quite gracious in helping with our quest for information. Mrs. Hunt went a few doors down the street to get a neighbor, 82-year-old Mrs. Biddlestone, who remembered the Bickleys. She recalled her trips to the store to “buy sweets when she was a child.” 


Mom wandering the cemetery at St. Mary's
Church in Handsworth, Birmingham, England.

Our taxi driver waited patiently as we snapped photos and talked to local residents. Next we asked him to take us to St. Mary’s Church where we could search the cemetery headstones. We took photos of beautifully engraved markers; finding names related to us. Of course we tipped the driver well as he’d spent an afternoon with us, but mom also insisted on exchanging mailing addresses and giving him a big hug!

 The next day we were at it again; in another taxi driven by John Bartley. This time we rode to Victoria Street where my great, great aunts Lucy and Edith had lived across the street from each other. These street addresses had all been recorded in handwritten lists and passed down through the generations. While mom and I took photos of the old homes, the cabbie chatted with the folks walking by. He too was caught up in our mission and eager to help; sure enough an elderly man and his wife remembered our ancestors and invited us into their home! Ada and Jack Popplewell recalled that Edith and her husband owned a dairy and delivered milk along Victoria and the surrounding streets. Mom and the Popplewells kept in touch over the years and at the time I updated this family history in 1998, their granddaughter Ida was still alive and living in North Wales.


Nellie Lavinia and her three boys.
Samuel Thomas left home as a young boy, wandered the streets, worked as a brass finisher, and was a regular at the local pubs. Known as a ladies’ man, his marriage to Nellie Lavinia Warner produced three sons, but the couple soon drifted apart. He apprenticed as a fitter for the motor car industry and made two trips to Canada to pave the way for future employment. Nellie was an alcoholic and unable to care for her young boys, so they were raised by their grandparents, Samuel and Sarah.
 Samuel Thomas and his sons immigrated to America on the HMS Mauritania in July, 1914, leaving Nellie behind. She’d been institutionalized and died of pulmonary congestion the following year. Samuel found work in Detroit….most likely with the automakers and because it was similar to Birmingham’s working class society. He left the boys with three different foster families…a real father of the year!




My grandfather on the left, served in
the Canadian Army during WWI.

My grandfather, Samuel Horace, was the oldest and by age sixteen, he also took to the streets. He eventually joined the Canadian Army where he served during WWI and later met my grandmother Fanny Mae, one of twelve children and as he called her, the “prettiest of four daughters” living in Orillia, Ontario.
After they married and settled on Glastonbury Street in Detroit, Grandma and Grandpa looked for and found his younger brothers, Oliver and Harry. My dad recalled long talks with both his uncles about their different backgrounds growing up. Annual summer visits to  Uncle Harry and Aunt Sadie’s farm in St. Clair Shores continued all through my childhood.

The word farm triggers the smell of cut grass and manure, the thrill of feeling cow’s milk squirted on us, the excitement of climbing high into the barn loft and jumping into piles of hay…over and over again. The highlight of each visit was a tractor ride for us kids….and the huge farm table filled with both family and farmhands eating the huge dinner meal together.

 We were close with Uncle Harry’s three boys. Uncle Oliver had several wives and a daughter we met a few times…..but he never seemed to bond with his brothers or their families. How grateful we are that my grandfather searched for his siblings; otherwise I wouldn’t have a favorite Bickley cousin and west coast buddy today!

Family history passed down through the ages is priceless. I remember discussing the Friendship Force opportunity with my parents. Since my dad was not able to get off work, he urged my mom to go for him. So much was planned for us; touring Windsor Castle, seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and living with a lovely family for a week. But walking the same streets as my ancestors and hearing stories from the past were the highlights of our trip to England. That and the letters of gratitude from the taxi drivers for the friendship pins and hugs mom bestowed on them.
  

Headline of Letter to the Editor I wrote
to the Birmingham Mail; printed
October 12, 1984

Igniting My Writing


With barely a spark left in me to write regular blog posts these past few months, I have been weaving words and sharing my voice. I've joined two local organizations that inspire my writing and engage my mind with continual learning.

The Reminiscence Writing Class has reawakened my interest in family history and genealogy. We were encouraged initially to write about childhood homes, fears, friends and the person or event that had the greatest influence on our young selves. Each week we stand at a podium, adjust the mic and read our stories aloud. This has been an awesome experience....this sharing aloud and opening ourselves to comments and questions. The facilitator then collects our papers; returning them the following week with encouraging suggestions and editing reminders.
The class consists of both men and women who are published authors, poets, humorists and a few reluctant writers like myself who've either had writer's block or were just too busy with life. I shared some old blog posts in the beginning, feeling safe and thinking it would help the others get to know me. I'm happy to report I am now attempting new themes. I compiled a piece called "How We Met" from old photos and tales gleaned from previous generations.

This class enjoys a good laugh, so I'm learning that a funny turn-of-phrase now and then can make a difference to my audience. We are free to write about whatever we want, and I'm in awe of those who paint pictures in my mind of a camping trip, naughty kid brothers or the funny side of being hospitalized with a serious illness....all through the wonder of  well-worded writing filled with humor.
I've gone from tales of my great-great-grandparents to sharing an old travel journal from an out-west road trip my husband and I took years ago. Not only was it funny describing the events and dialogue between us, but also full of facts I'd included for my fourth grade social studies classes. I'm growing more confident in sharing with a 'live' audience, and plan to share with my online friends as well



I'd been following InterCom's stories and meetings on local news coverage and journalistic integrity over the past year. Recognizing names from the past and intrigued by younger voices sharing new ways to feed information to the public; I was ready to attend a monthly speaker event about "Design as Communication." This is my granddaughter's field of study-Art and New Media-and she uses this phrase a lot. I met marketing folks, college recruiters, radio and TV people, magazine and news writers. Mainly a networking group for local talent, it focuses on our regional industry, educational institutions, tourism and local media. Now a member, I look forward to more gatherings with experts from the above fields. Journalism and local news is very close to my heart; it was my husband's profession. Attending a blogging conference earlier this year also helps keep my writing current and compatible with online publications. Each word we write has been written before, but the way we weave them together becomes our own creation. InterCom will hopefully take this further as I learn more about combining text and design to solve problems, inform the public and navigate both the challenge and charm of social media.
 I like learning new things and engaging with younger generations who help me navigate new techniques. Reminiscing about the good old days is the perfect balance to hold close my past and fan the flames for future writing.

How We Met; the Importance of Family History


Captain Alfred Stone left his ship on a cold autumn afternoon and hurried to a nearby Inn. As he quenched his thirst, his eyes never left the attractive scullery maid who sat in the corner peeling potatoes. Deciding she was the one, he walked over, sat on a potato sack and declared that he wouldn’t move until Susannah Coppick agreed to marry him.  It didn’t take her long according to her daughter; with his bright blue eyes and handsome beard, she immediately said yes! Living a mariner’s life back in mid 1800’s England, Alfred fathered ten children with his wife, Susannah Stone. The first six, seemingly just a year apart, were most likely a result of Alfred’s annual return home from the sea!

I’ve heard this tale of my great-great-grandparents since I was a child; gleaned from journal-like notes written by their oldest daughter, Louise. She and her family eventually moved to Sacketts Harbor, New York where her four youngest siblings were born. As a young woman, it seemed Louise always needed new shoes. She flirted with the shoemaker’s son James, also a shoemaker, until he finally got the hint. Soon after, Louise and James Carswell married and eventually became my great-grandparents. My grandfather loved telling stories about his parents and I remember Louise from old photos. I was about 7 or 8 when she died, but I don’t recall if she always wore great shoes! They had two children: my Aunt Gladys and my grandfather James…the 8th James in successive generations of the Carswell family, who originally came from Scotland.

James and Florence on the right, 1918
My grandma and grandpa met on a blind date at a masquerade party in 1918. Florence Radcliff and her girlfriend dressed as traditional Irish lasses. James played it safe, dressing in a tuxedo. Grandma was born in Ontario and had two older sisters, Marion and Dallas. Six weeks before she was born, her father Thomas was killed in a farm accident. Her uncle, a horse trainer and farmer who worked on the farm was like a father to Grandma and her sisters.  Eventually the family moved to Mt. Clemens, Michigan to find jobs and schooling, leaving the farm to Uncle Jack. 

Florence and James Carswell were married in 1921.  My mom, Donalda Louise, was the first born, followed a year later by a brother, the 9th James. Her second brother came along ten years later. I have my grandmother to thank for teaching me to sew, hang clothes, play piano and write in my journal using proper cursive.  My mom and Betty Bickley were friends all through school. During their junior year, Betty dared Donna to ask her brother Billy to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. He said yes, and that night changed her life, mom would tell me, my sister and two brothers.  The guy who’d been pretty much in the background was now her boyfriend. After graduation, she worked in sales at Mrs. Brown’s Dress Shop in downtown Detroit and my dad joined the Army Air Force to become a pilot.

June, 1943 Wedding picture
Gordon (nicknamed Billy) and Donna (shortened from Donalda) Bickley married in June, 1943. Stationed in San Antonio, Texas, my dad wrote letters to Mom every day. He proposed in one of these letters, which I now have framed. Written on United States Army Air Force stationary, he tells how much he loved her and wanted to share his life with her. He then signed ‘Love Bill’ and added a PS…’This is a proposal’….just in case she didn’t get it! 

When he learned he'd be shipped out soon, he wired Mom via Western Union and said “Let’s get married now!”  She took the train to Texas with her friend Jean, bought a flirty little dress and got married in the local Presbyterian church. After six weeks together, he was sent overseas and Mom took the train home, went back to work and soon realized she’d be waiting for both Billy and me!


My grandfather, mother and great-grandmother
 Louise Stone Carswell holding me.




Naming me must have been a family fun night! My paternal grandmother’s name was Fanny. She and Florence, my mom’s mom, suggested combining their names into Fanny Flo! Luckily, Mom loved the name Joan Louise; keeping her middle name and her grandmother’s name going. Louise became my daughter and granddaughter's middle names as well. 


During my sophomore year of college, my dad lost his job and I had to stay out a semester. My grandfather paid the tuition for me to return in the spring but with the stipulation that I join campus activities and not be “tied to homework and boys.” I began working on the school newspaper. I did interviews and covered both school and community events.  But the editor, Jim Stommen, changed everything I wrote. No one had ever edited my colorful way with words nor told me my feelings and opinions didn’t count and I didn’t like him one bit! "Facts, just the facts," he’d say and correct my punctuation. A year later I gathered a group of friends to celebrate my 21st birthday and he declined, saying he’d take a raincheck. Sure enough he called me a week later and asked me out on a date. I knew that night, as we talked over gin and tonics, that I’d marry him someday….Scrooge had become my Prince Charming.


Jim and Joan met working on
our college newspaper.
James and Joan Stommen married in August, 1966. We continued to work on newspapers together the rest of our lives, me finally showing respect for his expertise and he finally accepting my mushy, gushy style. My degree in education coupled with his lifelong mentoring led me to become a writing coach. Our two kids were treated to constant cross-country moves and Dad’s desk-pounding ways, whether in a newsroom or at the dining room table. Both eventually decided to attend college back home in Michigan.
 Our son met his future wife while dating one of her girlfriends. Our daughter found her guy online fifteen years ago. Although online dating is no big deal today, her story being passed down in the years to come just won’t have the same ring to it as my great-great-grandparents’ did on the shores of merry old England.