Saturday Laundry

“What’s in the washing machine, Debbie?”

“Your dirty clothes, Dad.”

“Some I wash in cold water. They shrink.”

I pull all the clothes out and we separate them, leaving the non-shrinkables in the washer.

“Dad, why don’t you just wash them all in cold water?”

“I do.”

“Why did we separate them then?”

“I don’t know.”

I throw them all back in, “Well, that was fun!”


(This Facebook post memory from February 28, 2015 popped up on my phone this morning. I didn’t want to lose it. :))


Little Van

A lot of miles were put on Volkswagons in our family—from Bugs to Carmen Ghias to Westfalia Vans—Dad loved them. My parents made many trips to Tucson in their white Westfalila to visit my sister and her family. Dad, the Eagle Scout, liked to camp, Mom liked hotels. Dad liked to sail, Mom preferred B & B’s. He usually won because, well, because he was Bill. Once he had an idea, he was set on it. Mom was a trooper.

Dad loved road trips and could drive straight through from Milwaukee to Tucson with just a few hours’ rest while Mom took the wheel. He had a CB radio and worked his way into the truckers’ VIP circle with a little van as only Dad could. He would talk through the night to the truckers while Mom tried to sleep—like pilot to pilot, or sailor to sailor, only this was trucker to the guy in the VW van. He told me he’d have great conversations and would sometimes get help with directions. Halfway across the country one night, on wide open interstate, Dad heard, “Little Van, Little Van! Your turnoff is just ahead!”

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After that van was sold, Dad regretted it, and before long was on a search for a new one. When he found a used one in California, he talked Mom into flying out with him to pick it up. With a couple boxes of camping equipment in tow so they could take their time and enjoy the drive home together, they were off to California. They landed in pouring rain, loaded their equipment into a taxi and went in search of the van owner’s address. It was still pouring when the cab driver dropped them off with all their equipment, and it was still pouring when they discovered the van was filled with mildew. Mom said, “You can buy it if you want but I am not riding in that vehicle with you.” She called a Honda dealership and bought a little bronze CRV  which she loved and they had a great trip home staying in B & B’s and hotels.

It’s the same little Honda that arrived to pick me up every Sunday morning for church with Dad these past five years. It’s the same little Honda that would pull up our driveway to pick up Sam and me for trips with Dad to the Island. It’s the same little Honda that Todd and I drove  out to 80th and Capital this afternoon to have shipped to Tucson for my sister’s daughter, Kira.

And now it’s the little Honda named Billie Dee. I know Mom and Dad are smiling.

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Sunday with Dad

I was following behind Dad as he took charge of the walker that has lived for two years in the basement storeroom. Anytime we made the slightest suggestion to get it out for him, the answer was, “No”.

He’s good at getting around with it now though and with the wheels, I call him Billy Speedster. As he makes his way around the tight corner between the bed and the dresser I hear him muttering, “It says in the Bible, when you get old, you’ll need help.” These days are blending together and like Dad, I lose track which day is which. But there is some freedom in that, even joy.

I want to have the scriptures Dad treasures engraved in my heart and I spent yesterday morning reading through his favorites–the Book of John, Chapters 14-17. It begins with Jesus comforting his disciples and I love how, all these years later, the words sound as though they could be spoken directly to us. The first verse is one of Mom’s favorites, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for them and will come back for them. When Thomas says that he doesn’t know the way, Jesus tells him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

These are the words Dad has lived his life by. Ask a cashier at his grocery store, a neighbor, my son or my husband, or even one of my best friends who might just happen to run into him at CVS, Dad will want to know how your faith is and isn’t afraid to ask if you know Jesus. Dad’s touched hearts and ticked others off.

“Love each other as I have loved you,” Jesus says in Chapter 15:12. I counted seven times that he says, “Remain in Me.” And three more times, “Remain in my love.”

I have the privilege of spending these holy days with Dad and I can’t help but want to share them. Dad is sleeping now so I can’t ask him but I would guess that if he wanted to share anything from his heart to yours today, it would be just that–remain in God’s Love.

“Debbie?” I hear Dad’s voice calling from his bedroom.

“I’m here, Dad,” I yell back as I run down the hall. He’s sitting up and turns his head. Out of the corner of his eye I catch the twinkle.

“I thought this was a Bed and Breakfast ”

“You ready for breakfast, Dad?”


June 19, 2016image

Morning Light

imageThe storm passed through in the night and I didn’t even notice. I woke up this morning and the light in Dad’s room was on. He was sitting up reading his devotions as he used to do. He hasn’t been able to sit up on his own for a while.

“Dad?” I walked over and he looked up at me.

“I’m not dying! This is exactly what I was afraid of.”

“Well, you have a little energy. This is a good thing.”

“I swung my legs around and sat up.”

I smiled.

“But I told Dr. Tschopp I was dying.”

“Well Dad, it’s true, we all are.”

“But I told her I need hospice.”

“That’s good. I think we do.”

“Joanie’s coming home. I’m supposed to be dying.”

“You’re hardly eating. You don’t have much strength. I think we do need Hospice and it’s great Joanie is coming. She wants to see you. I guess God’s giving you a little extra time to get your heart right. If that takes ten years…well, what can I say?”

The doctor called then and we talked through a few things. By the time I hung up the phone he was back asleep. Do you think he’d notice if I make a single serving of Cream of Wheat…?

Flying Lessons

The morning sun rising above the Tucson Mountains streamed in the windows surrounding my sister’s kitchen table. I was there visiting to celebrate Dad’s eighty-sixth birthday. My flight home was at 3:20 that afternoon and I was sitting at the table drinking coffee with my computer in my lap, hoping to fit a few flying stories in before I left. Dad was eating his breakfast and reading the newspaper and still recovering from bronchitis so I didn’t want to push it. “Well, Debbie,” he said after a bit, “do you want to spend the day writing our stories? Which of my flying stories do you have?”

I sat up straight to seize the moment. “Steven’s Point and the UFO that turned out to be the Canadian Government experimenting with night illumination. How about the New Orleans trip?” I was sorry Joanie had left for work because she was in that one and her version is funny.

“That was much later in my flying days. By then I was using IFR (Instrument Flight Rules).” Dad folded the paper so all its edges lined up and set it aside.

“That’s a good thing, right?” The only thing I knew about flying was how not to pull and push on the steering wheel (yoke) too fast. I learned that by experience.

“The weather determines if it’s VFR (visual flight rules) or IFR. You need instruments depending on the visibility and there was rain that night, along with high winds. Mom, Joanie and I were flying to New Orleans to see you and Justin in a play. I was flying a V-tail Bonanza which is not as effective for crosswinds as having a straight rudder.

Beechcraft V-tail

“The runway was built out into the bay and had water on both sides of it. It was rough weather and I had memorized the maximum crosswind that the plane could handle and we were right at it. We were crabbing before we landed and I had to straighten it out. I had the yoke all the way over, just like it said I should for that cross wind.”

“What’s crabbing?”

“If this is the runway (he held his hand pointing straight at me) and the wind is pushing you to the left of it, you have to hold the yoke, heading into the wind to keep the plane level.”

“What were Mom and Joanie doing while you were crabbing?”

“Mom was used to it. She was such a sport with me—just wonderful. Joanie was in the back seat between the two of us and neither of them said a word. The course of the plane was centered on the runway although the nose of it was maybe forty degrees off. So before you touch down, you have to straighten it out and then when properly done, the upwind wheel will touch down first, the downwind wheel second and the nose wheel third—boomp, boomp, boomp—it worked out fine. Exciting!”

Forty degrees off…?  As I listened on, I began to notice how lessons in flying can also apply to life so that’s how I’ve assembled them.

Lesson 1: Rising Above a Situation Gives You Clearer Perspective

“After you get licensed to fly, your instructor has to sign you off to do a cross country. My initial cross country was to St. Louis for Eden Seminary.

Eden Library Interior

Eden Theological Seminary Library Interior, 1969

“I was landing at a small airport as close to my job as I could find which was west of St. Louis. When I arrived, I started descending as low as would be allowed—about 2000 feet. The airport was supposed to be right in front of me and I couldn’t see it.

“I was kind of circling around, figuring out where my airport was. The wind and turbulence caused the plane to really bounce. My charts kept flying around in the plane and I had a hard time holding onto them in order to read. I called the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) and said, I’m coming into your airport and I can’t find you. Where are you, he asked me, and what do you see? I told him, smoke stacks! Then he said, you’re just east of us, hold your altitude for another few minutes and you will see us.

“You see, what had happened, I descended much too soon. The airport was just adjacent to a river and there were trees along the edge of it. I was so low the trees blocked the view of the airport. So I held the heading as the FBO told me to and pretty soon, there was the airport. From that little experience, I learned not to descend too soon. You need to stay up and circle around until you see your landing strip.”

Got it, Dad—don’t get caught up in the minutia or you’ll miss what’s important.

Lesson #2: A Non-Precision Approach is More Difficult but Possible

“I was flying some friends from Elmbrook to a small town in Indiana and we planned to return that night. The trip there was standard VFR and it went well including being vectored around Chicago. My return trip was to Waukesha airport with a heavy north wind. The weather required IFR all the way and I planned to land on the East/West runway. The instrument approach in those days to Waukesha was an ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) approach, otherwise called a Non-precision Instrument Approach.

“You have to follow your ADF needle. When you approach the airport, you watch how the needle drifts in order to hold your heading. If you’re crabbing correctly, the needle stays still and you know you’re on course to the airport. I remember I had a crosswind on this approach which makes holding the plane on course more difficult.

“I also remember how satisfied I was when I descended to minimums and soon saw the landing lights at Waukesha airport. That’s always a joy to come out of the soup and suddenly see the lights right in front of you, right on course! When I landed, the controller said, “I could tell you were enjoying that because I could count the rivets on your airplane!”

Lesson #3: Sometimes You Just Need to Get Out of the Way

“I was flying you, Joanie and her boyfriend to New York back in your acting and dancing days. The last leg of the trip into Newark was at night and I could see the blinking lights of another aircraft directly ahead. You can tell the relative height of another plane coming at you by whether the other plane’s navigation lights are descending or ascending in your view. If they don’t do either, you are at the same altitude as the plane coming towards you.

“When I first saw the lights, I realized they were on the same altitude and vector I was on, coming from the opposite direction. I called the aircraft controller and told him what I saw and asked for altimeter checks. I never got a response. I called three times, all this time the lights are staying and getting closer. After several more attempts I decided to get out of the way and made a descending turn to the left and saw the lights disappear above me.”

Lesson #4: Never Be Afraid to Ask Questions

“After that, I resumed my original heading and got into Newark. Once we were on the ground, the tower rattled off my taxiing directions quickly with all the phonetic names for the different runways. This was the first time I’d ever landed in Newark so I couldn’t follow what he was telling me. I called him back and asked for the ground clearance again, this time more slowly. That made it much easier and I taxied up to the fixed base operator.”

Lesson #5: Pit Stops Along the Way Are Good

“On the way back from New York, Joanie’s boyfriend was with me and said he had to go to the bathroom. I told him it would be an hour before we landed but he said he couldn’t wait. I called flight control and told them I needed a place to land with a minor emergency. They directed me to the nearest landing field.

“On the approach to the airport the controller asked if I needed an ambulance. I said no, just a toilet. I landed and he directed me to the closest bathroom. The young man was very happy as he hurriedly left the airplane.”

I made my flight just in time that afternoon. My computer battery had died and I was on the floor typing next to an outlet, right up to the moment I left. Dad was into a story about a trip he took to Africa with a suitcase full of Usinger’s sausage but it would have to wait.


Little Black Dresses?

Late last fall, Dad and I were in the car on our way to the Sunday service at a church he had designed. He’d been asked to give a talk on it for Doors Open the following week. It was a church designed with a hill around it, a solar tower and grass covered roof—green before too many architects were thinking green.

It probably would have been good to have asked him a question about the church that morning but instead I said, “I’ve been thinking about starting a new blog—one of my own—a place where my stories can live so they aren’t randomly mixed in with yours.”

“I think that would be good,” Dad responded.


“You certainly are moving in several directions with your writing. Why, I think you’re going to end up with a series of books.”

“Really…? I’ve thought about a title for it, Not According to Plan……reflections on love, life and little black dresses.”

“…..Little black dresses…? I don’t think I like that. That’s what got Clinton into trouble.”

What? “…..I think that was a red dress, Dad….” But who cares?

“No….I don’t think so. I don’t like it.”  I will always be my dad’s daughter.

I turned and looked out the car window. Why that’s my most practical wardrobe staple! It can be worn day or night with boots, tights, jeans, heels, sandals, flats or…. I’ve worn little black dresses my entire adult life. I’ve learned to pack a suitcase with little more than a black dress. I felt accused of having dressed inappropriately for decades. My father’s opinion can do that to me.

“I’ve got my mind on my talk.” He said then. “I can’t think about this right now.” I let the subject drop. For months.

It had become clear not long after we started Sundays with Dad that the path we had started out on had turned into a landscape. I was writing more than Dad’s stories—which didn’t really go with the blog title. I could hear him thinking, why is that story there, stay focused Debbie.

I didn’t know when we started out that I was about to discover I liked writing stories as much as Dad liked telling them. So the space we shared became a little crowded. It amused me that even a cyber-home occupied by parent and child could reach a point when it was time for someone to pack up and move out.

We continued on though, with our shared blog space. I weaved my stories around his. We had fun. We made it work. I recorded the memories that shaped him into the man he is and some about me into who I am.

After writing my last story, My Baby’s Getting Married, I realized it was time for a change…one where I get to be the parent too.

If you want to follow me there, you can do it here Not According to Plan…..reflections on love, life and little black dresses..


Dad has a new project in mind too, so Sundays will still be here.  I love my Sundays with Dad, and I love sharing them with you.

Reflections on Shoals and Swells: A Sailing Story Part II

“I was a jerk.” Dad said.

“You weren’t a jerk, Bill,” Todd was quick to respond. “It was an accident—a culmination of a series of unforeseen events.”

It was a Sunday with Dad. Todd, John, Dad and I were having lunch together after church on Shepard Avenue. The story Dad was preparing to tell has haunted him since 2002. For the past several months, after church Dad has preferred to pick up the salad he likes from Applebee’s and head home to rest. But this Sunday, I had made a beef burgundy stew that morning. There was chocolate cake and his favorite tapioca pudding for dessert. We had work to do.

“Your auto pilot went out along with all the instruments,” Todd continued. “You had planned to go over to Beaver Island and instead went back to Washington Island. That wasn’t the plan—you hadn’t studied the charts to plot out your course. Bill…you ended up in unexpected huge swells which limited your visibility. There was a strong east wind. You tried to guestimate before you tacked to compensate for the wind and waves. They were pushing you west towards the coast—you had put in a correction factor of windward five degrees.” Sailor talk.

“I was over confident.” Dad persisted.

“Sometimes you have to encounter circumstances you hadn’t planned for. A sailor has to be confident! ” You tell him Todd. I could see Dad was about to beat himself up all over again.

“You love adventure Dad, always have,” John chimed in. I was glad John and Todd were with us. I didn’t want to listen to the rest of this story alone. Dad had arrived at the dinner table with his sailing charts. The spark of adventure still in him as he studied the course he had sailed that day, noting the exact degrees of his turns.

“Why I was only a half degree off in my correction!” He suddenly noted. Maybe it was good he was reliving this experience. “The Lord sure must have wanted to show me something. The wind was out of the east so it would have given me a beam reach. I remember a power boat guy had asked me that day, you’re going out in this weather? I loved sailing in that kind of weather. It was great…….

The problem was, I should have gone at least another hour before I made the turn. Had I used the chart, I would have figured that out. Or, there was another option I could have taken. I saw the top of the mast of the sailboat behind me turn into Rock Island passage. Then the boat could get behind on the lee side of Washington Island so he was protected. I remember seeing his mast before he turned. I didn’t do that because I wanted to be able to call Dolores and say, Can you see me?

So, I had spent the night in Manistique, and the following morning I checked the weather. It didn’t sound too bad—like I said, there was an east wind which was moderately heavy, with four to six foot waves. If I would have looked at the chart before I sailed, and plotted my course, I would have seen that I only had approximately a five degree clearance to the shoal that’s just off of Rock Island. Had I understood that, I would have gone out further, approximately 12 miles on the 150 degree heading before I made my turn to 220 degrees.

I prepared to set sail with the feeling that I knew my way back because I had just come up that way the day before. I knew I’d need a lunch so I had some yogurt in the cooler, bottles of water on board, along with a coffee can to use for a toilet because I had to stay at the tiller since the auto-helm was out.

I revved the engine and busted through the little sand ridge that was keeping me away from the river water. I went out on the heading I came in on—150 degrees—to the point that I assumed was the point to make my turn to 220 degrees. It was purely on guess. I would stay on this heading until I reached Ports des Morts passage, then sail around Washington Island into Kapps Marina. That was my plan.

It wasn’t long before the wind picked up considerably. The waves that had been enjoyable began turning into huge swells. They were so large that, in spite of the wind, the boom would swing back when I entered a trough, then out again when I got to the crest. I tied off the tiller to hold it generally steady, went forward, snapped my harness to the safety line on the starboard side of the boat until I got up to the mast, then snapped it around the mast, tied off the sails and motored the rest of the way.

After about an hour I noticed a boat off my stern. I could only see the top of his mast when I was at the crest of the wave—when I was in the trough, he’d be completely out of sight. My normal procedure when I was cruising in the boat was to mark the chart every hour on my penciled course line with my estimated position, to know approximately where I was. Not using a chart, I wasn’t doing this. But that would have been hard to do with all I had to manage due to the wind and crests.

Six hours had passed when I saw a sand beach which I thought was Rock Island. I would come to find out that it was actually Fish Island which connects to Fisherman’s Shoal. It wasn’t long before I realized the sand beach was not in the distance but right in front of me because I saw seagulls sitting on it. It was a shoal (rock formation). The water depth around the shoal is probably twenty-six feet. I tried to turn upwind to go around it but it was too late. The waves were too high and the wind too strong. I got slammed into the shoal.

My first impulse was to put the boat in reverse and try to back off. That was hopeless.

Once I hit the shoal the boat seemed to be stuck there. The swells came up over the stern and right into the open cabin door. As a swell would come along, it picked me up and slammed me down on top of the shoal. Revelation landed on its keel and fell over on its starboard side.

I distinctly remember having a vivid thought—Paul’s shipwreck in the Bible. The Lord had made it clear to Paul that the boat and all its equipment would be destroyed but no lives would be lost. It seemed to apply to me in my case and I never had any fear.

The radio was mounted on the starboard side and was still above the water. I didn’t try to assess anything further except to put a call into the coast guard and tell them my dilemma. They responded right away, and started asking me the usual questions—how many people on board; what color is your boat? I quit answering their questions after I told them I was alone on the boat.

I pulled the life raft out of its canvas bag, tied it to the boat and threw it in the water. I gave the line a yank, which should have inflated it, but every time I yanked, the bag just came closer. I couldn’t get enough pressure to release it. But then I realized I didn’t even need it because I had a dingy attached to the back of the boat. It was swamped and the waves and winds were blowing it right to Rock Island.

By now, I was in the water trying to evaluate what else I had to do while I waited for the coast guard to come and pick me up. I knew that this shoal was not very wide. With each wave, the boat would be picked up, moved several feet down wind, and then be slammed back onto the shoal. Not being certain of the width of the shoal, I became concerned. I knew it was possible for the waves to blow me all the way across the shoal which would allow the boat to sink into the 26 foot deep water. If that were to happen, it could conceivably take my dingy along with it. I decided to cut the line so I reached for my sheath knife and got it out. In the process, my hand slammed against the sailboat rail and I dropped the knife. I realized I had a pocket knife in my left pocket. As I reached into my pocket, I noticed my finger was painful. I got the knife out, looked at my hand, saw that one of my fingernails had been torn out, and cut the line. At this point, all I could do was hang onto the line of the dingy with one hand, the boat in the other and wait.

It wasn’t long, I would guess maybe a half hour, and the coast guard boat appeared. They stopped about 100 feet from me and I thought, come get me guys. Then I realized they couldn’t because of the shoal. I pulled the dingy up to me and climbed into it even though it was swamped. The floatation built into it kept it up. The waves and the wind blew me directly to the coast guard boat. I had to keep my hands on the gunnels to keep it from tipping. All I’d have to do was wait until the wind blew me up to the boat. Instead, they threw me a line. As soon as I reached for the line I was dumped into the water. My dingy took off and I was blown and pulled up to the coast guard boat.

When I got there they said, “Turn around. Put your back to us and we’ll pull you up.”

I said, “You know, I’ve thought about this for years.” I had read about a sailor in his sailboat that was picked up by a steamer. They threw him a line which he had to hold onto while they pulled him up. I realized that would be pretty tough to do. “Let me put a bow line in the end of your line. I can stand in it and you can pull me up.”

“No! You have to turn around, put your back to us, and we’ll lift you on board!”

So reluctantly, I turned around; they grabbed me under my arm pits and yanked. I don’t think they raised me six inches. They must have practiced this move in swimming suits. I was in my clothes with the life preserver beneath my jacket which obviously added a lot of weight.

They tried a second time with no better result. I said “Look you guys, let me go along your gunnel, and I can climb in at the stern where your outboard motors are mounted.” They listened and I climbed in at the stern.

We left Revelation on the shoal at the mercy of the waves, smashing it onto the rock. By this time the slamming had separated the mast from the boat.

We were now on our way back to Washington Island. I asked if they had a cell phone I could use. I called Dolores and said, “Honey, I’m going be home a little late. I’ve had some complications.”

“I know where you are!” She said. “You’re in the coast guard boat!”

“How did you know I was in the coast guard boat?”

The two men on the coast guard boat turned to me and asked, “How did she know you were in the coast guard boat?!”

Will Krueger, from Kapps Marina, had heard the call to the Coast Guard. He then called Dolores and said, “I just heard a call that a sailboat named Resolution has hit a shoal. That sounds pretty close to Revelation to me and I know that Bill’s out there. I thought it might be him.”

Dolores called Ed to tell him what was going on. He told her, “Oh Mom, don’t worry! He’s probably having the time of his life!” Then she drove over to Kapps Marina—the place that the Coast Guard boat would come in. As we approached the harbor in the coast guard boat, one of the men said to me, “Will you do me a favor when we get in?”

“Sure. What’s that?”

“Just do what we tell you.”

When the boat got into the dock, paramedics were already there. They said to me, “Come on Bill, you have to go to the clinic.”

Well, this was after I was off the boat so I said; “I don’t want to go. I just want to go home.” They didn’t give me a choice. I got in and they took me to the clinic where they checked me over and told me my finger needed attention. The nail had been broken about three-quarters of the way down and they said I had to go to the hospital in Sturgeon Bay. Dolores had brought me some dry clothes. The nurse and other women wanted me to change into them. I didn’t want to change in front of them so the doctor held up a sheet for me and I got into the dry clothes. (Joanie had later asked, Worried about shrinkage, Dad? Dad had answered her, You bet.) Then Mom drove us to the Ferry.

They fixed my finger and we spent the night in a hotel. I lay in bed that night and thought about all that had happened.

The problem was I figured I didn’t need any help from the chart because I knew my way, having just traveled the course up to Manistique. Had I used the chart and laid out my return course, I would have been aware of Fish Island and Fisherman’s shoal which I ended up on top of.

For many years, I’ve reflected on this event. To me, this story parallels the tendency I’d hear from you kids growing up. You thought that because you’d read the Bible or heard the stories, you knew what it said and didn’t need to read it for guidance each day.

This thought has stayed with me since my shipwreck. Had I used the chart, the shipwreck would have been avoided. As sailors, we need to continually refer to our chart for direction of our course. Likewise, I believe, we need to continually refer to our Bibles for guidance in our lives.”

Todd and John had left the table over an hour earlier. Since I don’t sail, it took me a while to get the details right. Likewise, it took me many years to heed Dad’s wisdom and pick up my Bible. Those who know me, know that I now begin each day with it—taking time to study it and reflect. I wasn’t always this way. When I turned 50 I said a prayer that the decade ahead would be one of following my calling—taking God’s path. It’s been an amazing decade.

As I near 59, I approach it with wonder and anticipation of what the next decade will hold. Life is quite a ride…a sail through the crests and troughs. But like Dad said, I have no fear. I know I have my Chart…and a dependable Safety Harness.

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