Blog Archives

A sunset cruise with the class of ’82

An open thank you note to the AASD

We wrote a little thank you note to our school district today.

Then we hung it from our balcony.

If it seems extreme to hang an eight-foot sign from the front of your house on your last child’s last day of school, know this: We are that grateful.

We loved the field trips to bat caves and planetariums; the sock hops and snowshoes, back packs and book reports, Odyssey of the Mind and jump rope for heart, Franklin Fun runners and school crossing guards; science fairs and pioneer days; Donuts with Dad and Muffins with Mom, Days of Silence and Show and Tells; Orientations and Farewells.

We admired the educators — the football coaches who taught our sons to play so hard their muddy jerseys hung limp and rank, and their cleats dragged turf across the parking lot; the teachers who made a lifetime impact on our children by their patience, passion and proficiency; the directors who coaxed talent from our offspring we never knew they had, and the others who recognized and showcased gifts we suspected but hardly dared to see.

We saw you there in the classroom having lunch once a week with our daughter and her friends, when they weren’t even your own students; and you, teaching empathy along with academics in your fourth grade classroom; and you, leaving the heavy weight of enormous grief on the outside of your classroom and thereby teaching so much more than  Calculus (though you taught that remarkably well) to the students seated there; and you scaring, inspiring and teaching all four of our high school students that history lives and its participants have an obligation to think, read, and debate.

To the sweet grade school music teacher whose concerts felt like holidays and the art teacher who worked with her to inspire the kind of cross-genre collaboration that makes the world a more beautiful and interesting place, a million thanks.

Thank you for the books you assigned and we all enjoyed — The Bridge to Terabithia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tales of Despereaux, The Little Prince, The Fountainhead, Maniac McGee, Animal Farm, Captain Underpants.

Man, how we loved the Wax Museums, Multi-Cultural Nights, Talent Shows, and Track and Field Days; the Homecomings, Proms and Eighth Grade Farewells.

Thank you to the principals with your open doors and even more open hearts.

Thank you, Merci Beaucoup, and Muchas Gracias to the language teachers and the great big beautiful world they showcased.

Thank you to the volunteers — you’re just amazing and we’re thrilled to call so many of you friends.

Thank you, Appleton Area School District, from the feathered depths of our almost empty nests.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank You.

We’ve been just thrilled to know you.

Vinnie's first day of school

Vinnie is trying to smile here on his very first day of school, but he’s actually quite miffed. The name tag on his desk reads Vincent. He straightened that out toot sweet and enjoyed a happy, happy 12 years. Thank you to all of Vinnie’s teachers for not calling him Vincent and for helping him soar.

Coach Engen and Charlie.JPG

I can’t begin to describe the impact Coach Engen had on our son Charlie, who was thrilled to reconnect at a football game a few years ago. Thank you Coach Engen for encouraging Charlie to leave it all on the field.

Katherine and Parker

Thank you to Mr. Parker for being a talent whisperer, for putting in longer hours than anyone, and showing all of our kids how gratifying it is to work incredibly hard to achieve a dream.

payton and molly 002

Thank you to your charter schools, and team projects, and science fairs, and super cute third graders, Appleton. 

Thank you AASD for 24 years

Thank you AASD for 24 years.

The oldest alumnae on the court

And rides upon the storm…

“God moves in a mysterious way. His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.”

William Cowper 1779

I thought about that quote as I sat at the 10:30 mass last Sunday at St. Pius.

Pure laziness had brought us to this mass. We normally attend the 9:00 a.m. mass at St. Therese but decided to linger a little while over our pancakes and mosey over to a later service at a neighboring parish.

As it happened, an adventurous pilgrimage also delivered three busloads of teenagers to this particular mass, and a cool call to service brought a delightful young family of missionaries as well.

I spent a good part of the mass looking around in wonder and thanking God that all of us had converged.

Later, I spoke to Daniel Aragon, one of the chaperones on the Green Bay Diocese March for Life road trip that spent nearly 24 hours stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He also spoke of the God’s mysterious ways.

“Either I didn’t read God’s email, or He didn’t tell us, but I think maybe God planned all along that we would end up at that mass on Sunday,” he said. “I think He wanted all those young people to hear that there are other vocations and different ways to live their lives in faith…Had we left five minutes earlier, or five minutes later, we would have ended up in a totally different place on that turnpike.”

Instead, they arrived in Appleton just in time to attend mass and listen to young missionaries Jacob and Calena Rudd speak about their upcoming trip to Nicaragua to work in a settlement there.

It turned out to be the perfect coda to a weekend of faith that could have stalled in the Pennsylvania mountains, but instead gathered steam.

The group made its first adjustment to the weekend plans Friday night. In light of an approaching historic snowstorm, Aragon and the rest of the chaperones met with the priests and bus drivers and decided to leave Washington D.C. a day early. As they approached the Somerset, Pennsylvania exit, only about an inch of snow had fallen and they were poised to make it past Pittsburgh ahead of the storm.

Thanks to an accident five or six miles in front of them that shut down the interstate, they ended up stranded for 23 hours and 15 minutes although, according to Aragon, stranded is a deceptive word.

“When people hear the word stranded, it sounds like we were alone, lost and in the middle of nowhere  and no one knew where we were,” he said. “This couldn’t be further from our situation.”

With plenty of food, water, heat and bathroom facilities on board, the students and their chaparones made the best of their situation. Many went to help clear off cars and semis nearby, and invited drivers to join them on their bus. As they relayed information the National Guard provided them, they also listened to stories.

“It was really amazing. Some people were trapped for 24 hours and they were only five or six miles from their destination,” Aragon said.

One man in a rental car borrowed a cell phone charger. No one thought anything about it until the buses were freed and the group stopped at a restaurant to refresh themselves as best they could.

“When we parked our bus the man was there and he had the charger in his hand. He was looking for the student who had given it to him,” Aragon said. “Those are the kinds of things that happened. People were so thankful for the help they received from other people.”

The lessons of faith and love proved invaluable and, though they wore the same clothes they’d marched in 46 hours earlier, the group themselves had evolved by the time they arrived back in Appleton.

“You feel the hand of God playing there,” Aragon said.

(The following pictures are courtesy of the Green Bay Diocese)



My 30th and last semester as a high school mom

Want to know what Veteran’s Day is all about? Watch a soldier salute

The last Homecoming dance

The last Homecoming dance of my maternal career ended with the happy waft of laughter.

For a moment, I thought about grabbing my camera and heading back downstairs where Molly and her friends had gathered spontaneously to recap the night.

I knew exactly the kind of shots I’d take, the pile of shoes gathered by door, wilted corsages, sweatshirts and suit jackets tossed over gowns, happily bare feet.

I’d tucked myself in bed a good while before, but it wasn’t my bright red flannel PJs and gold Packer robe that kept me from tip toeing down the stairs for a few more photos.

I have no jammie shame.

I stayed put because, for once, my camera and I didn’t want to intrude.

We shot 189 pictures Saturday night and I loved them all, even the blurry ones. I loved the pre-shots that should have smelled of hairspray and nail polish, and sounded like cheerful compliments. “Oh my God, you look amazing!” “I love your dress!” “Where did you get your shoes? I love them!” “Oh my God Emma just left with my dress in her car!” “Do you want to borrow one of mine?” “Yay! Sam’s here!” “I made you all corsages.”

I loved the just-one-more-before-we-go shots on our front porch when everyone stood politely though they were anxious to get on with their evening.

I loved the big group shots, and the groups within the groups shots, and the goofy shots, the sweet shots, the parent shots, the just-one-more shots, the parting shots.

My 14th Homecoming Dance photo shoot went very much like my first.

I’ve shot Homecoming pictures in freezing weather, in backyards, in country clubs, on a river, in the park and, once, on an actual red carpet.

I’ve stood, 14 times, with groups of parents waving goodbye to girls in wobbly heels and boys in stiff shirt collars. I’ve both seen and participated in the quick slip of an extra buck or two, the sly repinning of a sagging boutonniere.

“Have fun!” “Be good.” “Be safe.”

“Be safe.”

“Be safe.”

When I heard our side door open late Saturday night, and loud whispers drifted up the stairs, I stayed put.

Turns out, my work was done.

Hair and makeup

Hair and makeup usually happens at our house, which means crimping, curling, chaos and chatter.

Theatre kids

These theatre kids can rock the make-up. It’s a whirl of kindness and cat-eyes.

Multi Tasking

Impressive multi-tasking.

Vince and Molly

I love this picture of Molly and Vince.

Molly and Colleen

Colleen and Molly have been friends since birth.


I honestly didn’t think she’d do it. Here’s Molly gamely leaping off our front porch on her way to the Homecoming dance.

Jack Molly and Rachel

I think this might be my favorite picture because no one knew I was taking it.

Mary Poppins

A nod to Mary Poppins from Ms. Poppins herself, and Jane Banks.

Molly and Jack

Neighbors, classmates, cast mates and friends. Also, they matched the chapel doors nicely.

Molly and Jaya

A pop of color. Check out their wrist corsages, made by the talented Syd.


This picture makes me laugh. The senior girls are waiting for someone, the junior girls a vogueing and the sophomore girls posing. Parental paparazzi abound.

Molly and Me

Our last Homecoming dance. Spit. spot. My work is done. (Photo credit Jaya Mallela)

Ready, set…wait!

Molly clearly wanted to move things along quickly yesterday as we set up for our annual jump off the front porch, first day of school picture.

“Let me know when you’re ready,” she said, just after hustling me outside.

With the sun just stretching out over the football field next to our house, I squinted down at my camera settings.

I looked up just in time to see her flying at me.

I clicked a few times.

“Did you get it?” she asked.

“Well, it’s kind of blurry,” I said. “I thought I was supposed to tell you when I was ready.”

“I saw you nod,” she said as she headed back into the house.

I wasn’t ready.

But, blurry pictures seemed just about right for the last, first day of school picture of my parental career. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this particular last. I’ve had little people flying at me off various front porches since 1992. I expected to be sad.

But I wasn’t and I thought about that as I headed off for my morning jog, which, all summer, had been utterly devoid of human company. I failed to factor in the whole first day of school thing.

To my horror, I found pods of high school students lined up along my route, waiting for the first day of school bus. I thought about changing my route. Instead I decided to embrace the opportunity.

“Have a great first day!” I yelled in a chipper voice as I huffed past the first group.

Mostly, they just stared at me.

“Thanks!” said a sweet freshman boy.

For the next group, I upped the ante.

“Have a great year!” I yelled.

They looked up from their personal devices and stared.

“No,” said one particularly morose boy.

I stopped and turned around for a moment or two.

“Wait, did you just say, ‘no’?” I asked. “You can’t say no. You have to at least try! You’re going to have a really great year!”

I had to cut myself off at that point. Even I was becoming embarrassed by the level of my enthusiasm. I lumbered on and spied a mother hiding behind a tree as I approached the next group. I saw this. I honestly did.

Before I reached that bunch of kids, they loaded themselves onto the bus, so I satisfied myself with a hearty wave.

I continued my run with an odd pep in my step. I wanted to share my optimism with the tree-hiding mom, but I left her in peace.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been doing this mom thing for a very long time. I know exactly who those kids are. I know their parents, their friends and their teachers. I think I even know the cool young adults they’re about to become.

Here’s something I also know, 2015 first day of school people, it’s going to be a great year.

Go get ‘em!

Molly was barefoot and anxious to get back to the scones she was toasting, so the pictures are less than clear, as is my own reaction to Molly’s last first day of school. Still, I think they sum up our attitude. It’s going to be an exciting and incredibly quick year.

Here we go…

Farm and last first day of school 018 Farm and last first day of school 022 Farm and last first day of school 023 Farm and last first day of school 024 Farm and last first day of school 025 Farm and last first day of school 026

Happy 17th birthday Molly B from Me

Oh shoot! The miraculous fall and rise of Molly’s senior portraits