White Storm……

Grandson Jacob* has competed in his Cub Scout Pack Pinewood Derby competition since his Tiger Cub days. Every year, with help from his Dad, he experiences race anticipation while crafting a car. Even so, his car has finished in last place the past four years. Jacob is currently a Webelo II. After his Blue and Gold Banquet in two weeks he will be a Boy Scout.

Jacob is a great kid. When he grows up he wants to be a paleontologist. When he was little he slept with Sue, his dinosaur stuffed animal. Five years ago, while we were all in the north suburbs putting on the glam for his aunt’s wedding, his Dad took him and his sister to see the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named Sue at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. He was so excited. I think it was the highlight of his trip. Although, there is the picture of his cousin Peter and him holding each other in ballroom dance mode and galloping around the dance floor. And his sister Kahlan and cousin Alice have picture evidence of him and Peter in the Country Club locker rooms climbing into a locker to hide.

When Jacob was little and I came to visit, he would meet me at the door wanting to know when we were going to play in his room. We played storm and defend the castle. I was in charge of the bad guys and even when it was my turn to use the catapult, winning was not in the cards for me. Now days we play board games, Skip-Bo or Uno. Sometimes I am really lucky and my visits fall on Jacob and Kahlan’s soccer team game days.

This year Jacob, with help from his dad, made a car for the race. He named the car White Storm after a character in the book he is reading from the Warriors series by Erin Hunter.

White Storm

White Storm won all heats at the Webelo II level. White Storm began winning heats in the competition with other levels. Jacob’s family excitement was growing. White Storm won every heat it raced in. Jacob was the pack champion for his Cub Scout Pack’s 2011 Pinewood Derby. White Storm’s fastest time was 190.6 milliseconds.

Kahlan made a car and competed in the sibling races. She used a sander belt to make the body, fins and nose for her Dolphin Racer. This was her first car and she was somewhere in the middle on final times. She does have a very cool car.

Dolphin Racer

Today the Boy Scouts of America are celebrating their 101st birthday. On their website, they provide information on the history of the Pinewood Derby and the benefits of the competition. “The father of the Pinewood Derby®, Donald Murphy, described his vision for the event to Scouting magazine in 1999: ‘I wanted to devise a wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition.’ ”

The Pinewood Derby certainly fulfilled Mr. Murphy’s vision in Jacob’s life. White Storm will long be remembered for promoting my grandson’s ability to craft a car, compete with his peers and foster family relationships …………

*Disclaimer: Pseudonyms will be used for persons 17 years of age and under



©2011 Susan Kendall.  All rights reserved


Grandpa S……….

My cousin, Mike, has his Dad’s 6 leg, 1-1/2″ slate, early 1900, straight line Brunswick billiard table in his “man cave”. During the latter part of the 1960’s, Mike’s father dug a basement and built on an addition to their small ranch house. My uncle told us he was building a place for Grandpa S to play billiards. I am sure Aunt Betty was more interested in the larger living room and the dining room she gained. However, we all believed Uncle Ed.

We were raised on family legends regarding Grandpa S’ ability to outplay and win in all things billiards and pool. I know he loved athletics and competition. He played football in high school before he dropped out to help support his family less than a year after his father was killed. 

Grandpa S started his own business working as a plumber during the depression. Times were hard and everyone did what they had to do to get by. When there was a need for food, Grandpa played billiards for money. My mother and her siblings believe Grandma S would have choked on the food if she had known where the money came from.

Family lore holds that sometime during the 1930’s Grandpa S and Uncle John met and played with world class pool and billiards players during Brunswick US Exhibition tours. According to legend, Grandpa S played and beat Erich Hagenlacher, German Balkline 18.2 billiards champion. Legend, also, holds, Willie Mosconi, a world champion pocket billiards player, would not play three-cushion billiards with Grandpa because Mosconi could not beat him and Grandpa would not play pocket billiards with Mosconi because Mosconi would have beaten him. A side legend is that Uncle John and Willie Mosconi played snooker instead. These are our legends and we are sticking to them.

Grandpa S had impressive agility and athletic ability. He would bend at his waist and lean down and touch his nose to the floor in the triangle he made by putting his thumbs and first fingers together. He could jump over a broomstick while holding both ends. Grandpa was a hunter. Every year there were western Kansas treks to hunt quail and pheasant. Grandpa’s hunting dogs were not pets.

Grandpa S bowled and won a lot of trophies. Sometimes they would take me along on bowling league night. Grandpa would buy me a coke and bag of chips when Grandma was not looking. The plumbing company sponsored a women’s softball team for years. And yes, I went along to many of those games, too. Grandpa would disappear and then show up with a drink and hot dog or popcorn for him and me. Grandma would quietly shake her head.

Grandpa S loved to travel. He took his family to Colorado during the depression and saved his gas rations for his summer Colorado trips during the war.  Grandpa loved to drive. He drove to Colorado, all over the southwest and California, up the Pacific coast to visit his sister in Oregon. He traveled in the south and up to New England to see Aunt Mary’s family and through Canada and back to Kansas again. He had an 8-millimeter movie camera. We have movies of holidays, family gatherings and Grandma and Grandpa Trips.

My oldest daughter was born about the time Grandpa retired. We had rented the little house next door to them. When they were not traveling she would spend an hour or so at their house most days. Grandpa would sit in his rocker lounger and she would lean up against the chair. He would smile while she showed him what treasure she had found or share with him whatever she was playing with. His engagement with her was a reminder of how much he cared for his children and grandchildren. As children we lived close by and were always in and out of their house. Whenever we left he would tell us to “be careful.”

Today is the 105th anniversary of the birth of the remarkable man who was our grandfather. I hope my life is being lived as large as he lived his ………………..

©2011 Susan Kendall.  All rights reserved


Grandpa K…….

My dad’s father always seemed to be working the swing shift, when my cousin, Cheryl, and I spent the night with them. Grandma K would pack us in the old Chevy and we would go pick him up at 11 PM. We would giggle and be silly in the back seat in our pajamas, all ready to be tucked in as soon as we were back at their house. What fun, to be out so late at night. I loved the drive to the mill where Grandpa K worked.  We took the River Road with its curves and the big dip under the Santa Fe Railroad Bridge.  The Kansas River was beautiful and mysterious with the moon reflecting on the water.

The words we shared with our grandparents on those rides are long gone, only the feeling of being valued and loved remains. Grandpa K would greet us and tease us a little. Later, Cheryl and I would giggle and whisper in bed. Grandma K would shush us, we would be still for a second, and then start whispering again.

Grandpa K was a sports fan. He knew all kinds of facts and trivia about all kinds of sports. We were very quiet whenever ball games of any kind were on his TV. Always interested in history and genealogy, I spent hours making family tree charts with information Grandpa and Grandma K gave me. Grandpa K never talked much about his childhood. What little I know I gleaned from Dad, Aunt Norma, Aunt Margie and Grandpa K’s youngest brother, Orville.

West Virginia is where Grandpa K was born in 1901. He was third from the oldest in a family of nine surviving children.  His parents came to Kansas in a covered wagon when he was three. When Grandpa was a young teenager, his father packed them all in a covered wagon again. This time they were off to the “Promised Land” on the Canadian plains. On their way back south from the ‘not so promised land’ up north, they had no food and were starving. Grandpa K walked to the nearest town and begged to work for food for his mother and younger siblings.

In 1918, Grandpa K went to McPherson College in McPherson, KS to become a minister. He fell ill with the influenza. The doctor sent him to Arizona for his health. When he got there, he said there were too many sick people. He turned around and came back home.  After that, he farmed and did whatever he needed to support himself and his family.

The other day I was talking to my Dad’s sister, Norma. I asked her to tell me the warmest memory she had of her father.  Two memories popped into her mind. He would tie one end of a rope to the fencepost and turn the rope from the other end so she and Margie could jump rope together. She said he would be outside, after school when she was in the first grade. They would walk home holding hands. She remembered she has the Bible her mother gave him for his 40th birthday. He could quote Bible verses all day long.

Grandpa K was born 110 years ago today. In 1982, we went back to the small south central Kansas town he loved for his funeral.  An older gentleman approached us. He told my dad that Grandpa K was the hired man on his father’s farm many years ago. He came to pay his respects to the hard working young man he remembered.

Grandpa would have been pleased.………………….

©2011 Susan Kendall.  All rights reserved


Sesquicentennial Kansas……

The State of Kansas turned 100 years old when I was in the fourth grade.  My classmates and I had a double dose of all things Kansas because fourth grade was the designated year to study Kansas history. My mother was the official classroom mother. She asked my grandmother to make a Kansas map cake.

Making the cake was fairly easy, a rectangle with a squiggly line representing the Missouri River cutting off the northeast corner. What was amazing is she made a map showing all 105 counties on the top of the cake. There was discussion as to what color a Kansas map ought to be. Grandma made beige colored icing for the background. She added cocoa and coffee to make the chocolate county lines.

Fascinated, I watched  as she created a decorating tube with wax paper, dropped her straight line silver tip in the bottom of the cone and added the brown icing. She carefully ran the lines across the cake, occasionally glancing at the enlarged drawing of the Kansas map with counties my mother had made on newsprint. The tip of her tongue was just visible between her teeth. I could feel her concentration.

When she was done we all stood looking at that cake. It was a beauty to behold. I know someone took a picture.  I called to ask my ‘keeper of almost all things archival in the family’ sister, Leslie, if she had the picture in her coffee-table-picture-holding trunk. She does not remember the cake, let alone a picture. Oh well, there is a picture in my mind. All of the teachers and the school principal came to our classroom to see the wonderful cake.

We were to dress in Kansas pioneer clothes. I wore a long skirt, long sleeved blouse with an apron and small handkerchief shawl tied around my shoulders from my grandmother’s upstairs trunk AND I wore my great-grandmother’s lace up high-topped shoes. There was a sunbonnet on my head. I was looking good and walking proud.

Great-grandmother's shoes

Kansas officially became a state in the United States of America 150 years ago today, January 29, 2011. The story of Kansas begins much earlier. There were the oceans and glaciers and the extremely hot dry arid conditions. There are the Kanza* Indians and other Native American tribes which hunted buffalo and used the trade routes which later expanded to become the Santa Fe Trail, the Smoky Hill Trail, the Oregon Trail…….

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led an expedition looking for golden cities in 1541. European settlers came in 1830. Eastern state explorers and then pioneers came out in the 1850’s. Kansas was known as ‘bleeding Kansas’ in the late 1850’s when Free State and pro-slavery sympathizers fought over whether Kansas would enter the union as a free or slave state.

After the civil war, Kansas opened up as a good place to grow corn, in the northeast, a good place to grow wheat, south central, and good prairie grass for cattle in most other parts. All of my family came to Kansas in the mid-nineteenth century to very early twentieth century. My great-grandfather came from Sweden in the 1890’s. He married Myrtle, high top shoe owner, and eventually settled on a farm in the Kansas Flint Hills.

The farm is named Meadowbrook Farm and has been in the family for 100 years this year. There is a family reunion scheduled there the first weekend in September. Meadowbrook is English for Engstrom, the name my great-grandfathers’ family took when they stopped using the “son of or daughter of” designation in his native land. He would have been Anders Jonson and his sister would have been Mary Jonsdotter.

Knowing where I come from is as important as knowing where I am going. Most importantly, I know where I am right now.

Happy Birthday, Kansas……………………

*Kanza was the word for “people of the wind”

©2011 Susan Kendall.  All rights reserved


A Sam Down Day

Sam has a fever and an earache. His Mama took him to the walk-in hours at his pediatrician office in the morning. Walk-in hours at a children’s doctor’s office are a really great innovation. The sick children are separated from the well children, the doctor can see you without an appointment and the parent’s anxiety over what is wrong may be relieved quicker.

According to the doctor Sam has a “flaming ear infection”. Mom brings him home to me and then goes out to pick up the prescription. Generally, Sam is upset when anyone leaves his condo, let alone his Mama. He did not even seem to notice.

A child in pain tugs at emotional heartstrings differently than a happy, smiling, playful or sleeping child. They are small and vulnerable. They hurt without knowing why. When sick, I am crabby and cranky and miserable and I know what is going on.

After his Tylenol, Sam was distracted from his pain long enough to give me a little grin every now and then. He wanted me to play our little game only he did not even run from me. He would walk several steps and look back at me. I would pick him up, kiss his neck and put him down. He would take another step and we would repeat the whole process. In a very short while he wanted to be held again.

He ate all of his cereal and mashed bananas as his mother left for her hair appointment. He barely noticed her leaving. We sat on the sofa. He would lean on me or set on my lap or slide down to the floor. Curious George was on the TV. He liked that for a little while. Then he was back on the sofa, leaning on me, sitting on my lap, sliding to the floor. At one point he clearly wanted me to rock him and I complied. So unlike Sam, he fears the sandman during the day something fierce.

Fifteen minutes before his Dad came home, Sam slid to the floor, laid his head down and was asleep almost instantaneously.

Glancing back as I left, my heartstrings tugged, poor baby Sam………..

Disclaimer: Pseudonyms will be used for persons 17 years of age and under

©2011 Susan Kendall.  All rights reserved


Play it again, Sam……

Today was a Sam* day. When I arrived he smiled at me around his pacifier and ran down the hall and back before greeting me. He is all about motion these days.  Sam is my youngest grandchild. He is 18 months old this week. And we love every minute we spend with him.

Every other Thursday I drive 49 miles from my house to his condo to spend the day with him. Sometimes my daughter works around the house while I distract him from the action with books, singing, musical toys and instruments or PBS Kids. Other times she goes out for the day. She might get her hair done or run errands or hang out somewhere. Occasionally, the three of us do something together.

In the beginning we did not have a really formal arrangement. Last fall we started the every other Thursday schedule because my daughter’s sister-in-law was pregnant with twins and on bed rest. I would come over and be with Sam. My daughter would go over to her sister-in-law’s to help out. Two healthy girls were born the day after Thanksgiving. December was filled with their Dad and their  grandmas.

Today was Direct TV installation in the morning and Sam’s Mama off to help the newest Mama in the afternoon. Sam and I hung out. We played the ‘slow motion chase each other up and down the hall and around the center wall that divides the living room, kitchen and dining area’ game. If I do not catch him as fast as he thinks I ought to, he stops and waits for me to grab him up. Then he tilts his head so I can kiss his neck and make soft gobbling noises and tell him I love him. I put him down and we start the game all over.

Sam’s newest skill is scaling the stools at the kitchen bar. Before his mother left he shimmied up and was pushing the mom buttons by not sitting down on his “bum” like his mother wanted.  In fact he was holding onto the back of the stool, bobbing up and down and grinning from ear to ear. She got up to go over to him and he quickly and carefully sat down.  

After she left, we played with his new toys while the PBS Kids lineup played in the background. The stools caught his eye again. He shimmied up and sat down with his hands folded on the bar. He was pretty proud of himself. Grandma leaned on the bar and talked with him. Things were okay until he pushed on the underside of the bar with both feet. There was a little resistance as I helped him slide down to the floor. The stools were on top of the bar when my son-in-law came home. The afternoon was too short to mess around with bar stools and climbing toddler monkeys.

See you in two weeks Sam…….

*Disclaimer: Pseudonyms will be used for persons 17 years of age and under

©2011 Susan Kendall.  All rights reserved


Cycling Time………

We have always wanted a pond in our garden.  We planned one for the garden in Kansas and moved before we could get it done. In Illinois, visiting grandchildren started digging in 2007.

Alice and friends

What with one thing and several serious health setbacks for another, the pond was not completed with plants, flowers, backfill, landscape flagstones, tadpoles and goldfish until this past spring. Our granddaughter Alice has spent part of her summers with us the past three years. She helped move dirt and flagstone the past two years.

When grandchildren visit, we plant flowers and vegetable gardens, play games and take walks, cook and bake, take field trips to museums and aquariums’.  The time I spend with them carries on the family tradition of connecting generations. The continual renewal of this generational connection is part of the same cycle of growth, dormancy and renewal we find in our gardens.

My grandmother Dorothy had a wonderful garden in her yard. I helped her weed and plant and transplant many different kinds of flowers and plants. When I was a young wife and mother, we lived next to Grandma Dorothy. My children had the opportunity to see Grandma almost every day. They were in the garden with us a lot.

She told me of going with her mother to visit her mother. While they talked, my grandmother would cross the yard and visit her great-grandmother in her garden next door. Her great-grandmother shared stories of when she was a 12 year old child living in Virginia during the Civil War. My grandmother listened and learned while spending time in her Grandma Mary Jane’s garden.

This continuous cycle of learning and listening and loving is made possible by the generosity of time and sometimes material investment of the parents of the children. I want my daughters and son-in-laws to know how much we appreciate them sharing their most precious gifts with us. My time with my grandmother is still a blessing to me. I hope my time with my grandchildren is a blessing to them.

Today is my daughter Jami’s birthday. Grandma Dorothy watched her trying to keep up with her sisters. She laughed and called them Big Bit, Middle Bit and Little Bit. Grandma always made either a lemon or chocolate sheet cake for birthdays. We would play games and talk and be together. The memories we created are priceless.  Birthdays mark the passage of time and are symbolic of our personal life cycle.

Happy Birthday, Little Bit…….

©2011 Susan Kendall.  All rights reserved


Grand Parenting…….

A baby shower is such a fun place to be. A longtime friend of mine is becoming a grandmother for the first time next month. The gathering of family and friends to share food and gifts with the new parents-to-be was this afternoon. When the new mother-to-be was 5 months old I gave her a first taste of the joy of ice cream.  Times were different back then. Introducing foods slowly and being careful about sugar, eggs and preservatives were not even on our radar screen.

My friend asked me how being a grandparent is different than being a parent. I think there is a more relaxed joy in welcoming this new little person into your life. Certainly there is less accountability for the outcome most of the time. A grandparent has already experienced the child life stages so is generally more relaxed when the new baby cries, the toddler throws a tantrum, the adolescent has a crying jag and the teenager spouts vows of hatred.

Parenting is like a journey without an updated map, filled with the scramble and stress to find the most useful updates before they are obsolete. Grand parenting is less stressful and less of a scramble. You and your grandchild update the map as you travel.

Here are a few guiding principles to being a grandparent;

1. The feeling of love for a grandchild is often instantaneous and  overwhelming. I think the lifetime act of loving a grandchild requires effort and action on the part of the grandparent.

The first definition, by Merriam and Webster Dictionary, of love as a noun, is “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.”  In Merriam and Webster, love as a verb is “to hold dear: cherish” and “to like actively” as in “take pleasure in.”  This may mean kissing baby necks while making funny noises, dancing to the oldies while holding tiny hands, crawling around Discovery Zone tunnels, reading a wide variety of children books and/or watching adolescent angst movies about vampires, werewolves and the teenagers who love them.

2. Have conversations with the child’s parents regarding the role of a grandparent, or grandparents, in the life of their child.

Set up boundaries and guidelines with your child (see Parenting is a journey without an updated map…. above) and their parenting partner flexible enough to accommodate both parenting and grand parenting desires. Be sure and repeat back to them how you see the boundaries and guidelines unfolding. They might have a different vision than you.  Repeat this guiding principle as often as necessary. It helps if you spend a little time thinking about what kind of grandparent you want to be. Talk it over with your co-grandparent partner, if you have one, and/or other grandparent friends. Remember your own grandparents and your children’s grandparents? What did you like? What did you not like?

3. Whatever the age of the child their needs, wants and desires are important to a positive, healthy, loving relationship with you.

Pay attention to your grandchild’s cues, physical and verbal, and respond with sincerity. Make time to sit down and play with them.  Tea parties, storming the castle and Go Fish are part of my repertoire.  

These basic guiding principles will serve you well on your grand parenting journey. You might come up with a few more as you and your grandchild update your map. Your reward is lots of hugs and a lifetime of love.

©2011 Susan Kendall.  All rights reserved