As a kid one of our favorite things to do was go on canoe trips with family and friends. My parents had several spots we could put in and several we could take out. How long the trip was to take determined the in and out spots on the river.  We usually had at least one canoe that was the older kids and the adults would always have their own canoes.  For the kid’s canoe we were able to collect mussels, gather shells and go at a pace that worked for us.  I remember trips that included running into rocks in the middle of the river, going under trees that overhang the river, and my aunts riding in inner tubes down the river. The rocks that we would run into were marked with paint for years after, making them a favorite landmark to look at as we went down the river.

Our furthest spot to put the canoes in was at our farm we called the Ranch. It was at the very back of a field and had a path that went down a hill to the river. Right before the river spot were the foundations of buildings that had been part of the historic town of Conkey Town, most recently known from the Conkey Town bridge that was still standing years after the town was gone. While being by the river at the Ranch, we would play in the runes, with our favorite being an old fort some kids must have put together in the early 1900s. I used to love seeing what we could find at the spot.  I keep thinking I’m going to run down at visit it again to see if anything is left at the site.

Our next stop was by the old Chaney Ford Bridge. That bridge has since been removed and replaced. It was one of our favorite spots to put into the river, unless we really wanted to spend all day on the river. There is a spot on our property that is now a favorite place for kayakers to use to put in. Many leave trash as they cut across our property, making me feel that they are nothing more than trespassers with no regard for the land.

Our next spot was a bottom field that we have since sold.  It was just a short trip if we put in by the Chaney Ford Bridge and took out at our bottom field. (The rock marked with paint was between those spots)  While my dad would be working in the field, we also would play at the sandbars that marked the take out spot.  I can still remember the shape of the sandbar and how there would frequently be a small section of water that went half way around the bar on the field side.  That shallow water was a great place to see fix.  Around the sand bar it was frequently shallow enough to allow us to hunt mussels and we always thought we would find a pearl in some. On the far side of the sandbar were rapids that my brother and I loved to walk back and forth across, thinking we were testing fate. At the very end of the rapids was a deep hole that my dad had said was a great fishing spot.

The bottom field spot was where while taking out at one point my dad had told me not to park his truck on the sandbar. I parked it up on the bank… but at the end of the day I drove it down onto the sandbar to get the canoes. To me I had not parked it there, I had just driven it down for the pickup of the canoes. A completely different thing, but it turned out my dad wanted the truck off the sandbar because it would sink in the soft river sandbar. The sinking caused the truck to become stuck and I ended up ripping the 4 wheel drive out of my dad’s truck.  The truck required the wheels to be locked in, and somehow I hadn’t done it completely right.  I didn’t hear the end of that one for years after.

That take out spot was also the place that my husband had parked a truck with his brother and left it when we took a canoeing trip.  I was almost 9 months pregnant with our oldest and knew it was just a short trip – so I wasn’t worried. Cell phones were not a thing yet, our only cell phone was a bag phone that ran off the car. The trip was only a few hours and there were houses in an emergency that we could stop at.  Reaching the take out though we found that my husband to be safe hadn’t left the truck keys, and it turned out he hadn’t brought them either. So we reached the take out spot to find that there were no keys and no way to reach anyone. My husband and his brother had to leave me with his sister and walk all the way to my parents to pick up keys.

Our final spot was a place we call Bailey’s Bottom.  It’s 50 acres on the river in a very secluded area.  While building I debated it as a place to build but there isn’t an easy/cheap way to get power back to it and definitely no way to get a house back to the field. Several spots in the field flood there, and the lane back to the river would have huge ice chunks wash up the lane each year when the river would start to thaw.  The take out there was a nice spot that we had used to for cookouts and playing in the river with a tree swing that we would use to swing out and drop in the river. We’ve owned that particular field since the early 70s and can only access it through an Illinois park.

Stories from canoeing include

  1. My aunt riding in a tube after just getting her hair done and flipping the tube.
  2. Taking twinkie breaks upon seeing a rock coming and letting the canoe smash into the rock.
  3. Getting the truck stuck
  4. Forgetting the keys
  5. My dad stopping at a cousins to try to repair the canoes, we kids had cracked on a rock

I would love to be able to go down the river again and relive those experiences, but my youngest is afraid of water. We’ve decided it’s easiest to wait until he is out of school and my husband and I can get kayaks to go down the river. Kayaks will never be the same as the river trips taking coolers and spending the whole day in the river stopping at each sand bank.


One of my favorite places to go and walk through nature is some property we own by the river.  There used to be a bridge that my children had named the Dangerous Bridge, it was old with holes working their way though the floor so that you could look down as you drove across and see the river. To get to the bridge from one side, you went down a fairly steep hill, made a sharp turn that went up a steep short hill and then drove across the bridge.  One of our memories  of that bridge was trying to cross in the winter and not making it up the short steep hill.  Somehow I got half turned around on the hill and had to have a neighbor get my van off the hill and drive it across for me. This was when cell phones were the size of bricks, but I did have one and my dad came to watch over what was going on.

Years after that incident, the county decided they needed to replace the bridge. Apparently there is a law/rule that says new bridges have to be able to be crossed at 55 miles per hour in the event of an emergency vehicle needing to cross.  The consensus was that the bridge would need to move.  The county proceeded to straighten the road and put in a new bridge that linked to where the road made another sharp turn on the other side. To do this they needed to cut through the middle of our field. The road commissioner and my parents made a deal with my parents thinking it was just for Right of Way through the field. My mother then placed a piece on the small side into a set aside program (CRP). This is where we are paid to not plant in that portion of the field.

Recently we noticed that the assessor’s office had changed our field on the small side to be listed as Right of Way. On their site it no longer showed our name for anyone looking up the land. The office claimed it’s still ours, just is marked as right of way for the county. Looking further into it we found that the county had included that land in the road right of way despite not being needed for the road. The official wording states that it will revert to us when it’s no longer needed for the road, which to me was right after the road was finished (or even always since they didn’t use that area).

That area is one of my favorites to walk through the woods. I also love getting in the river there and taking pictures of the sand banks. It’s amazing to me how much the river banks change over time with flooding, high water, and droughts all having substantial effects on the area.  The field nearby floods frequently with wet spots and washes out crops. The bank on the CRP program side is all soft river sand when you approach the river. Animal tracks are everywhere.

With the land listed in such an odd way on the PVA site it’s difficult for people to look up our property lines. We frequently have trespassers coming onto our property to put canoes and kayaks in. I’m not sure having our property ownership clearly filled out would fix this, but it would make me feel more comfortable. The people coming onto our property frequently leave trash and destroy things. Most of what they are destroying is vegetation, but the trash is what really bothers me. Additionally, we face liability if anyone gets hurt on our property. I’ve ventured past to find whole families playing in the river coming through our property. When high the river can be especially dangerous, knowing that my own grandfather drown and was a strong swimmer makes me even more afraid for the young children taken to play in the river by unaware parents.

How to get our property back is difficult. Part of the issue with it being listed as Right of Way came about from lawyers not knowing the legal descriptions of the land. Now my parents past lawyer and even the current lawyer my mother was using has passed away leaving us to navigate the property laws on our own as we try to find another lawyer – which also comes down to why we should be faced with the legal costs because of this.

We are currently also facing issues with another property that fell under another issue with the state. The property has been in our hands since the early 70’s. When my parents first purchased it, they had a friendly agreement with the park – not to mention that the road through the woods on park ground had always been used to access the property. My father maintained the road and farmed some park property for the local state park to use to feed their animals. Now with my father gone and a new park manager, the park has decided to close off our access. We had discussions with the park and finally worked out that we can access our property for now. They are asking us to lease the road from them after they work out a lease. As things currently stand the agreement is in limbo and we are waiting for more information from them. This all came about when the park paid to repave the road back to some of their property and wanted to close off the road completely.

Fixing a Car (Not so conventional)

Watching a neighbor work with a backhoe in our field trying to find an old well (that’s a completely different story), I was talking to one of my dad’s friends about my dad. All the things I know about fixing cars comes from my dad…. though none of it is conventional…. I’ll never forget my dad replacing the brakes on an old truck my husband and I had. Coming back to get it we found a large pile of parts next to the truck. My dad said simply, Ford includes a lot of extra parts. The brakes seemed to work fine – but I wouldn’t want to depend on having antilock brakes ever again in that truck. He had originally got that truck running by putting diesel fuel in the engine to clean it out after the motor had started to lock up with dirty oil.

The discussion turned to my father turning a car onto it’s side to replace the transmission. On another instance he had scared his friend Rick, who had found him with a bulldozer on it’s side and was working on the underside of the bulldozer. My dad thought the easiest way to work on the underneath of a vehicle was to flip it on it’s side. Rick thought my dad had flipped it and gotten pinned, an actual danger when working with machinery on a farm. I’m not really sure I know anyone else that thinks that’s the way to fix any vehicle, but I also know stories about people that vehicles have fallen on when a jack has collapsed.

As I was growing up my parents wanted to get us a stick shift to practice….the chance came up to get a Datsun that had the clutch destroyed. My dad’s solution was to teach us how to change the clutch. First you flip the car on it’s side. Everything I know about how a clutch works comes from that experience, with the two plates that spin and catch and when you push on the petal it pushes them apart. My dad’s description somehow worked for me to picture it in my mine, and flipping the car on it’s side and letting us see it was so easy to work on the car. I don’t remember when happened to that car after that, but how a clutch works and my dad flipping that car were all fond memories.

My dad had made sure that my brother and I started steering and driving at a very early age. Everything from sitting on his lap to drive a tractor to driving a go cart around the yard. My first go cart had a drill for a motor with an extension cord that could be unplugged when I got too far away. As I got older I was trusted with larger and larger vehicles – though the go cart that I started with was probably at two years old. We moved up to driving the pickup truck down the lane and through the fields while my dad was working on the farm.

Meal (the one that shaped me most?)

I have the Becoming journal and have slowly been working on it. I was just faced with the question about the most memorable meal. Of course over time I’ve had lots of family meals that meant a lot to me, and I can remember getting together with friends and family. Days when we had large groups and days when we had small groups gathered around our table. There were days when we ordered in and days when I worked hard to fix something new I’d never cooked before. I remember fixing a meal for a speaker in physics that was allergic to Gluten – the first time I’d heard of that, and being so careful, having another speaker stay over at our house after speaking about his radio show on the Bermuda Triangle and other mysteries, ordering a live lobster and playing with it when Kevin was little before cooking it in a condo in NJ. There was the day I threw a surprise party for my husband and invited his whole department for his 50th birthday. My grandmother was there and the candles were so hot! We also had days when we ate at my mothers and days when we were invited to friends and of course there were days when we were invited to my in laws to eat. I remember one meal where we got to eat out at IKEA with my in laws and on the same trip there was a meal at a restaurant with that whole side of the family. On my mother’s side there were also lots of meals in Texas eating with family there. There was a meal in a building that was freezing where we all huddled by the window to stay warm and a meal that was served so late that we thought we would never get food (That one was at a place that we didn’t really knew where we were, we ended up lucky to find our way back to my aunt’s for the night). There were so many others too. Each one has a special place in memory.

The one I ended up thinking was special enough to include in Becoming for me though involved my meals in China. Around 2005 I went to China to present at a conference for my boss. The conference was an Environmental Informatics conference and the furthest I had ventured before was to Canada, so China was a new experience for me. I had travelled with my husband, including a sabbatical to New Jersey that included a trip to New York City a few times… and for someone from a rural farm in Illinois that was really venturing out. What I knew about China really came from my experiences with my roommate in college, Shiqi Yuan, who was from Shanghai. I loved Chinese food, the authentic kind that Shiqi made when we traded off cooking but the rest of my knowledge came from the little I’d picked up about why she didn’t want to return to China. She was born in the year of the Horse which Shiqi said was bad luck and would mean that she would most likely not be able to marry when she returned home. (There was also something to do with the one-child policy but over time I’ve forgotten that) While we were in college Tiananmen Square also occurred. Tiananmen Square was a scary event if you were a college student and knew (and cared about) anyone from China, I’m sure in China the news didn’t carry much information about what was occurring, but here we were watching all the news. So years later when I was asked to go to China, the first thing that went through my mind was Tiananmen square and what happened to those students. I’d lost touch with Shiqi… but I knew the government in China is pretty strict… In the end, writing about a memorable meal I ended up with the meals in China.

At the conference in China most of our meals occurred family style at a ‘Chinese Restaurant’. I thought it was a little funny that the location had a sign labeling it the ‘Chinese Restaurant’ as we were in China – isn’t every restaurant there Chinese? The meals were all family style, and since the conference took place on an island right off the cost of Mainland China in Xiaman China, a lot of the focus was seafood. None of the items you would find at a standard Chinese restaurant here in the US. I remember seeing a fish with the eyes still on – that one we all took a picture of! Most of the meals I ended up sitting next to a Malaysian general who seemed to follow me around for most of the conference. My favorite meal though was at the Beijing hotel that was our stopover before heading back to the US. The only part of the meal I really remember though was an appetizer with tomatoes, mozzarella, and a balsamic vinegar. It was SO good! I ate alone and I was in a foreign country – over 14 hours by plane from home. So my thought is for the journal Becoming, that would be the meal I had to include. If you can eat by yourself 14 hours (by plane) from home and feel comfortable in a country that you don’t even speak the language you are one step closer to Becoming. In reality, you should be able to feel comfortable being with people or being alone…. I love being with people that are diverse (I can learn so much!).

My mother later had mentioned that she and my brother thought that I would end up detained in China. Apparently they had discussed it. Things my mom says have a habit of deflating me, every statement no matter if it starts with this is great, or thanks for doing this always ends with but you could have done, or if only you, or this needed more… I try so hard not to do the same thing with my kids, though I’m sure they think I always see the negative in every situation as I weigh the pros and cons of everything. Debating what could go wrong vs. what the benefits are of everything we do.

I went on to lead a state robotics championship for FLL, serve on the board for a museum, and teach at a university… all things that I am proud of having done. Having ventured out of my comfort zone and headed to China was just one of those small steps on the way there.

Too Much or Not Enough

Every so often I wonder if I did enough or too much for my kids and I think back to how much my parents did when I was growing up. I frequently think about what my parents didn’t do…. but there are things my parents did. When I was in school one of my desires was to use the library. Of course there wasn’t a local library….now with internet access, books are as close as the nearest internet connection and the big question is internet access. If you can just afford internet you have access to almost anything. Our school district is currently working to obtain hotspots for kids to have access to internet during remote learning. That internet though may be filtered and block sites that the school considers to not be for schoolwork…. – Back to my own childhood though! When I was a kid I really wanted to use a library. Our township didn’t have a library, but because my parents were farmer’s we did pay taxes on a library. The nearest library was in the town of Fairmount (Vance Township) and we owned land that had at one point had a house on the property. My mother decided to ask the librarian for a card (which was denied), but she petitioned the town board who agreed. I GOT my library card. I remember using that card as I drove back and forth to check out books. The library was small and the only thing I remember for sure checking out to read were the Earl Stanley Gardner books. I could swear they were to the left as you entered the library…. I’m not sure if the library is in the same place in town now, but I was so happy to have a library card. Reading was something I loved doing as I grew up. The Nancy Drew series was one of my favorites. I would tear out the list of books from each book and mark off the books I already had so that I could hand it out to my aunts in order to ask for the other books for my birthday and Christmas each year. I’m not sure I asked for much else any holiday.

Today I was telling about one of the things I did for one of my boys. I’m not sure over time if my boys will remember the times I failed to do what they expected for them, or the times that I went above and beyond for what they needed. The time I was remembering in this instance though was when my middle son needed to interview someone for school that worked with animals. The kids could choose anyone they wanted and most of the students were choosing people that raised horses or were on farms. My middle son had been enamored with elephants his whole life, including carrying around a stuffed elephant. He had an elephant pillow, a ride on elephant stick, a stuffed elephant, and so much more. The assignment was for second grade and we had just moved to Bowling Green Kentucky. My kids were attending a new school – private Catholic school, and were adjusting. So I decided to call the zoos nearby (by nearby I mean Louisville and Nashville) and find one that allow us to interview the zookeeper that took care of the elephants. I was happy to receive a call back from the Louisville zoo and hear that they would let us talk to the zookeeper. We arranged a day and time and headed to Louisville.

My oldest had a friend that was spending a lot of time at our house and he joined the group. In the end my husband and I headed to the zoo with our two kids (the little one wasn’t born yet) and a spare, and got to talk to the zookeeper, but not only that they let us meet the elephant. Elephants are so cool! We also got to feed the elephants, and learned a lot about elephants. I’ll never forget how interesting an elephant’s tongue is – kind of like an escalator. We spent the rest of the day exploring the zoo.

It’s easy to remember the mistakes we make, but they should be counteracted by the good. I remember a class I took that included information about it taking something like 7 good acts to undo each bad….. Of course we also had a discussion today about whether school is for social or for academic. I know for me the social experience was bad in school and I would rather everything have just been academic….

Touched the Tongue

The Honey Bear

Our families first deer, Bambi, came from a man in Danville who had collected animals. He had a wild array of animals and had decided to get rid of them. I still remember going to his house and waiting in the house seeing his monkey and others while my dad went out to pick a deer and get it loaded up. The monkey had been poorly treated at some point and was called SOB. The stories really involved the poor monkey having been tortured. I know in the end the monkey ended up turned over as a research subject at the University of Illinois.

While we were in the building waiting though I got to see a honey bear and wanted it. They were SO cute! Over time my parents collected more animals and the man kept selling off his animals. When he got down to the end of his collection the people buying the honey bears and monkey dropped by our house to see if they could make a deal with my dad. We had a large collection of deer by this point and I was really hoping! The men wanted the cost of two deer for a honey bear though, and my dad didn’t see the value in a honey bear…. In the mean time the honey bears had climbed all over the cab of their truck and locked the men out of their truck. Somehow my dad got them back into their truck, and back on their way. If I remember right my dad might have bought some deer from them though.