The word, sanctuary conjures up different meanings. It could mean an animal sanctuary, a place of meditation, or what we typically think of… a church sanctuary.

This little country church, pictured below, is the first church I remember attending. Green Mound Church is located in Southeast Iowa, in Henry county. It has stood for generations on this quiet, bucolic landscape where my Dad’s side of the family worshiped, observed baptisms, weddings, funerals, Bible School, and feverish revival meetings!

Green Mound

Green Mound 2

Across the road, sprawls the cemetery for the church. Most of my paternal relatives are buried there, Uncles, Aunts, and Grandparents, and even some dear friends.

I used to walk the isles of grave stones looking for familiar names, but mostly trying to find the oldest stones. Some predate the Civil War. Some carved in ornate relief. Heavenly angels and cherubs, flowers, scrolls and terms of endearment that fill the surfaces of granite. Some are but white, chalky slabs slanting from the earth. Their faces unreadable from the elements and time. Babies and young children occupy many of the plots, their young lives snuffed out by influenza, measles, and other diseases that we give little thought to, now.

It is a peaceful place. An unusual spot to commiserate with my friend, Rita. But, that’s just what we did one summer afternoon. We settled on the lush grass and spoke of our boyfriends and the trials of teenhood! Away from the commotion of our busy, loud families we talked about whatever we wanted.

Green Mound sanctuary

While scrolling through my Facebook last week, I came upon a picture that my childhood friend, Kathy Gerig Wiley, posted. It was of the Green Mound sanctuary. I was awestruck at how familiar it looked after all this time. Like I could step into the picture and start singing, “Amazing Grace.”

The smells of wooden pews, song books, and other aromas came flooding back to memory. The closeness of robust Iowa farmers and their wives added to the soup of smells that hovered over us in the heat of summer. Over-applied toilet water could not mask the lack of deodorant in those days! Cardboard fans adorned with, Solomon’s head of Christ gave little relief to the still, humid air. Fidgeting children drew on the back of church bulletins, and played quietly with books or fell asleep on their Mother’s lap.

Babies cried. Nodding-off husbands were jarred back to consciousness with a poke in the ribs by their wives, and from the pulpit, the word of God came down…delivered through Reverend Hughes. He reminded us of our shortcomings and the damnation that awaited us if we didn’t head the warnings of the Almighty’s word!

An alter-call would conclude each service. For those of you unfamiliar with that tradition, it is an invitation to walk to the front of the sanctuary and confess your sins, and become, “Born Again!”

I always dreaded, alter-call. For one thing, they would play the hymn, “Just AS I Am,” which would tug at anyone’s heart, and if you didn’t come during the first go-round, they would play it again! As a child I would peak to see if anyone went forward. I’d think about all the things I’d done in the past week–lied to my mom, teased my brother, impure thoughts about an eighth-grade boy, and I’d sneaked mom’s Tangee. I’d worn it to school like a dance hall floozy on “Gun Smoke!” You know, the usual adolescent sins!

Bible school was the most fun for me.  The surrounding farm community, and some from near-by towns would attend. Games, Bible lessons, and sack lunches outdoors filled the typical day. At the end, those of us, new born-agains, would be taken to the river and dunked completely under the muddy shallows. Somehow, I didn’t feel, “Whiter than snow!”

My Aunt Geraldine,  Dad’s sister,  played the piano. She was born for the job! Always dressed to the nines, she sparkled and played her way through every service.

My cousins, Lucy and Harold Grant also attended our church. I always looked forward to seeing them. We’d conspire to get together after church, maybe go swimming in town, or just hang out. What a treat…getting to go to the big town of Wayland.  I’d walk the streets with my Cuz, stopping at the grocery or hardware store for candy cigarettes and something to drink. It was a simpler time, no worries…just be back by dark!

It was the time of the “Can-Can” petticoats– layers of Tulle netting sewn together. Sunday was the day to show-off our newest clothes. All the girls tried to have the fullest petticoat. The real test was how high the skirt flipped-up when you sat down! The higher, the better!

It’s good to know that there are some things from my youth that are alive and doing well. These days the congregation is smaller, but the fact that this church still stands is a testament to the steadfast goodness and spirit of a faithful people!

Green Mound will turn 170 years-old this year. What an achievement!

P.S. I’d love to hear from current parishioners as to how things are going.


The New Baby

It’s January 1954, in Iowa. My Dad says, “It’s colder than a well digger’s ass in Montana.” That means it’s really cold! My brother and I have been waiting for our Mom to come home to us. “She went to get a baby!” My Grandma Ross says.

She’s been staying with us for a few days. I don’t know why it takes so darn long to pick out a baby, but I guess when you’re making a big decision like that, you need to take your time.

Grandma won’t say much about where this baby is coming from, or what it is. I guess we’ll find out when dad gets home.

We live on the river bottom. Dad says, ‘cause our house is real close to the river. Sometimes it floods our barnyard and fields. I think its fun when that happens. We wade out in the yard in our bare feet. The cows are up to their bellies in muddy river water. Dad cusses a lot when it floods.

Our house is big and white, and has two stories. Don’t know why they call them stories, but they do. Grownups have funny words for things. Our windows go to the floor so we can see out really good.

Grandma just said she heard a noise. We all go to look out the North window, and dad’s car is pulling up.

Grandma says we have to be quiet, cause we don’t want to scare the new baby. She’s real bossy…grandma. I guess she’s knows a lot about babies cause she had eight kids. Our Dad is the youngest of the bunch! Grandma says, my Mom got the “pick of the litter!” See…there’s a funny word, for a bunch of kids.

Anyway, I watch dad walk around the Buick and open the door for Mom. She’s holding a bundle in her arms. She walkin’ kinda’ slow.

Grandma hurries to the door and in walks my Mom with the new baby. Dad gives me a wink and messes with my brother’s hair. Mom looks tired, but she smiles at me. She sits down and peels away the blanket. I look at her and say, “What’d you pick out?”

“We have a girl!” She answers. “Her name is Eileen.”

We’re all gawin’ at Eileen like she’s somethin’ real special, but I feel a little mad, cause now I’m not the only girl. But, at least it’s not a stinkin’ boy!



So that’s the way it went, sixty-three years ago today!



Happy Birthday, Sis. Love you!



Egg Princess


Egg Princess0001

Long ago, in a far off small town, in Iowa, nine girls competed for the esteemed title of “Egg Princess!”

It was part of the Henry County Fair festivities, in Mt. Pleasant.

Mr. Biggs, the hatchery owner in our town, was the sponsor.

I had never dreamt of doing anything like this. Me…a beauty queen?

I only knew a couple of the contestants. Some of the other girls were daughters of “big farmers,”as we whose, parents owned small farms, called them. My Dad made a living on less than two hundred acres.

When Mr. Biggs approached my mom, she got all excited.  The adventure was on!

We were known to the hatchery in town because we owned a couple hundred laying hens.  Mom would sell eggs privately and commercially. Since she was a stay-at-home mom, it was her income.

It was my job to gather the eggs every evening, wash and crate them before I could start my homework.

Yes, wash them!

They had to be spotless–gleaming white for the buyers. If you’ve never had the pleasure of gathering eggs from cranky hens, you probably think eggs come that way– clean and white.

Well, no.

They don’t!

Some are covered with dried yolk from broken eggs in the nest and some have do-do on them from a lazy hens who decided it was too much work to take a break!



Egg Princess0003

I doubted that any of my fellow queen hopefuls had to do what I did, but that wasn’t taken into consideration in the final selection…”Yes, judge this poor girl has to wash eggs every night without pay, or praise!

We were pampered all morning. Had lunch at the plush Harlan Hotel in downtown Mt. Pleasant. We were interviewed, paraded in front of the grandstand at the fair in the afternoon. It was quite dramatic.

Tripping, was on my mind during the stage parading.

In the end, I didn’t win or place. A little deflating, but then it was an interesting glimpse into the world of pageants. And for a little while, I felt special.

I really didn’t think that being chosen Miss Egg Princess would change my life, or open doors to stardom down the road.

It did make me aware of how important young women, myself included, stressed about body image.

It’s one of those memories that make me smile, and suck in my stomach!




Blooms That Remember


Thirty-plus years ago, a lady gave me a gift. She just  happened to be the Mother of my principal at the Middle School where I taught. She also ran a daycare in her home where I took my son during the day.

She had a modest home, but it always felt inviting.  Her yard and flowers was something she took pride in. I was always amazed at the things she did with her small city plot of land and that little house that held so much love for her charges.

There was always something baking, or a craft being made in the kitchen. She was not one to sit around, there was always something to keep her and the children she cared for, engaged and inspiried.

One day, when I picked up my son, she was working in her side-yard where there were beautiful yellow Iris blooming. I mentioned that I was from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa which is known as the Iris City in my home state. She and her husband had ties to Iowa, so that started up another conversation.

Well the next day, when I came to pick up my son , she handed me a paper sack filled with Iris bulbs. “I’m  thinning them out!” She said.



I was so excited and grateful for her gift. We had recently built a home in the country. I knew just the spot for these beauties.

When I got home, I planted them right away.

That was in nineteen-seventy-something. Every year since, those yellow Iris have pushed their way up through the rocky soil, and bloomed just as they had that first year I planted them. Each spring I think back, and remember her.

I see her face, and think of her cozy home and her flowers.


She is gone now, for many years, but the friendship and love with which she gave me those bulbs, live on.

Thank you, Lavera Stineman.



What’s In A Picture?

In the next few blogs, I’m going to talk about what’s in a photograph. Lord knows I have hundreds, if not thousands of them.

Photographs have always fascinated me. Have you ever gone into an antique shop or an estate auction and there laid out before everyone to see, is someone’s past treasures?  And, there it was…staring back at you… a photograph of a young couple, a family portrait, or scenic landscape. You think how could someone part with such personal artifacts?

Since my parents passing, I’ve inherited boxes, envelopes, plastic tubs…ugh!. My little office is stacked high with memorabilia, and photos. They whisper to me every time I sit down at my desk.

I don’t know about you, but when I look at a picture I see more than the faces staring back at me.

I look at the background, foliage, wallpaper, clothes, hairstyles, vehicles, and most of all… facial expressions.

You see, I am a lover of old things, including photographs. I get some of that from my parents. The history part from my Dad, and the picture-taking from my Mom.

It’s a blessing and a curse. I am known in my family as,”The keeper of our history!”

“Call Karen, she’ll know.”

So today I’m starting with a photo I came across while going through Dad’s tub!

He was the youngest of eight children… the third boy.

My grandmother doted on him. My Aunts would tell me about “his royalness” whenever they got the chance.

If you read my book, Corn Rose, you know what I’m talking about.

My grandparents weren’t rich, they struggled as bottomland farmers during the depression. With eight children there was never enough. They did, however eat well with the produce they harvested and the meat they fattened. It was not a life for the weak in spirit.

So, what does this picture say?

Grandma Ross, Dad, Gerldine

Dad stands beside his beloved mother– his silky blonde hair swept across his forehead. Those prominent ears and sturdy build, would eventually the rest of him. He wore overalls his whole life, only exchanging them for more formal wear when attending a funeral, or occasional church visit. He would grow to six-foot-four inches in height. Marry and divorce. Find his lifelong partner later when he traveled to California after the war. The big one, WWII. Then eventually become a farmer like his father before him.

He was a meat and potatoes kinda’ guy.

A no-nonsense adult who wasn’t given outward gestures of affection. I think I can see where he got this when I look into my Grandmother’s eyes. Dad would die when he was 89 years-old.

My Aunt, on the right, was a favored child, also.  A force to be reckoned with, This youngest girl, would go on to marry young, fifteen. She would have one child, a son. She kept the books for her husband’s successful construction company. She would live of luxury. She loved  the finer things in life, nice homes, cars and furs. Probably because she didn’t have those things growing up. Even as a young girl she has the look of determination.

She would live a long life, well into her nineties, and die in her own home.

I could never figure out why no one smiled in those early days of photography. When I was a kid, I thought they must be sad or have bad teeth.

My grandmother was a strong woman in stature, and in will. She worked hard, and love to play hard too! I learned a lot from her. I’m sure she made the dress she was wearing as well as her daughters, and maybe even my dad’s. The left arm that drapes limply across my Grandmother’s lap seems to show a hint of weariness. She has lived more than a lifetime when this photo was taken. The soft mouth of a once young woman, now slopes down at the corners. She must make everything she wears, eats, and sleeps beneath.

I remember that gigantic maple tree in the background. It would stand in that spot for many generations, shading us in the hot, humid summers in Iowa. But in this picture it looks to be early spring, circa 1926 or so.

The pump, just behind and left of my grandmother, lets the viewer  know they didn’t have running water. When I was a child that pump had an arbor over it with vines covering the structure. It made for a cool place to get a drink, and for the hired men to take a much-needed break.

The saddled horse looks like he’s ready to go, or maybe he’s brought a guest.

The ladies attire appears a little fancy for a weekday. Maybe they’ve been to town or church.

The shades of black and white shift into color when I remember these three.

How often we pass by a kin, hanging on the wall, and never give a thought to what’s was going on–on that day– that year– in that place!

Take a journey with me, as I  take another look, and decipher some pictures from the past!



4 H

When I was a kid, in Iowa, I was involved with 4 H. I loved animals and wanted to show my sheep Curly, and Hereford steer at the County Fair.

The cruel reality of this venture was, I’d have to walk my ewe or steer up to the loading chute to their eventual slaughter. After the months of feeding, grooming and recording all that was required in my 4 H ledger, it was hard not get attached to my projects.

I have always loved animals. It was me who’d try to save a paralyzed cat who drug her hind-legs behind her after being stepped on by one of our cows. The chicken who had flown into a sharp branch and had to be extricated from the low hanging limb before she made things worse. The birds who flew into our windows like kamikaze pilots. I was the Dr. Pohl to our farm animals, and any other four-legged critter that crossed my path, in need.

But, in order to show my subjects, I had to be enrolled in girls 4 H as well as the boys division. In those days, it was separate. So, reluctantly I joined the girls side and made a cake or something so I could get on with the more important projects, my animals.

My Dad took me to a neighbor who raised Herefords. He let me pick out a calf for my project. I was so excited, riding with him in our pick up with the stock racks rattling as we traveled to our destination. Not much was said on the way, but I could feel his excitement for me. Good memory.

My problem was, I got attached, and dad knew it. He’d try to prepare me for the inevitable, but it was difficult. When you’ve looked into the eyes of a bovine, with those long eyelashes and deep brown pools of innocence, it’s hard not to love them.

I still have the halter, but my steer, well…I’m not going there.

me with 4h calf0002with sheep0001

This was taken on my parents front porch with my brother Stan, and sister Eileen. I was training my sheep to lead. My Grandpa Ross gave me my first lamb. He wasn’t much for showing emotion…hugging etc, but he did see to it that I got my lamb. I guess it was his way of saying he loved me. It meant a lot that he trusted me to care for one of his animals.

I was so proud! How many girls do you know, who have a pet lamb?

And, check out how stylish I was doing it!

Me with 4h sheep0002

This is Curly, my adult ewe. She was a sweetheart. Sheep are trusting and docile. That’s why they are so vulnerable to predators. Thus the Biblical passage, “Like lamb to the slaughter.”

Note the fresh cow-patty in the foreground.

I wish more children could experience the joy of caring for an animal. Whether it’s a guinea pig or show horse, it’s a great opportunity to educate children about love and loss, of management, and the responsibility of caring for a living creature. The utter and total dependence it has on the caregiver.

So, go out there and get that child you love, something to love.

Preferably not a snake, but it’s your call!







Christmas Traditions

Christmas means many things to many people.

If you’re a Christian, you believe in the birth of Christ as our savior, as the Bible proclaims in Luke, Isaiah, and Matthew.

If you’re of the Jewish faith you celebrate Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights.

America is blessed with many beliefs and traditions that makeup the colorful and complex quilt, that is our country.

I’m not going to write about all of that, but about the differences in my own home. The difference between my Husband’s traditions at Christmas, and what I experienced in the Ross household, growing up.

It has, on some occasions, caused interesting discussions when the holidays roll around.

I grew up with the Christmas Story, which we as children performed at each of our school and church programs every year. It was the reason we celebrated. But, Santa was a big deal as well. On Christmas Eve mom would make a large pot of Oyster Stew, and my brother Stan and Dad would eat raw oysters on crackers. I wasn’t a fan of the oysters, but I did like the creamy soup part.

Christmas early 60s

Our parents didn’t have a lot of extra cash to spend on presents, but they always managed to get us at least one of the things we pined for all year. We couldn’t wait for Christmas Eve and Santa. As we got older, of course, Santa slipped in importance.

Now with grandchildren, he’s reappeared!

Caroling with friends after we opened presents was a tradition that I always looked forward to. No matter how cold it was, we– with our youthful bodies and exuberant attitudes, were oblivious to the sub-zero temperatures of Iowa winters.

Phil and christmas train0005

On the other hand, my husband’s family’s focus was strictly centered on the religious beliefs of Christmas. He grew up in the Mennonite faith—Santa wasn’t a part of it. Instead of opening gifts around the tree, that Santa left, their gifts were displayed on the breakfast table on their plates, Christmas morning. I’m sure devotions and prayer were conducted before they were opened. It was tradition that followed his ancestors, Russian-Germans, who emigrated from the Colony of Molochna, in Southern Russia.

The following link explains the tradition…

Also as explained at this web site…

As with all Mennonite cultures, Christmas tradition centered around food and religion, but many Mennonite homes also held on to a German version of Santa Claus. He was not dressed in red, but looked more like a common peddler. To the Russian Mennonite children he was called the Weinachtsmann. He was not expected to go down chimneys, but he did come bearing gifts of tasty treats.

In other homes, a simple Christmas story of the babe in the manger was enough to stir the imagination of the children. It was enough that Mamma and Papa provided the treats.

On Christmas Eve, the children would set out their plates around the table, and on Christmas morning they would find them filled with wonderful Christmas cookies such as Pfeffernusse, and peppermint cookies, maybe some platz if there was fruit available, and, of course their were always candies of every imaginable shape and flavor.

The children were as thrilled with their plates as a modern child would be with a bundle of the finest toys

My wish, this Christmas, is to look around and see the good that is in the world—there is plenty.

So, whatever your traditions or beliefs, I hope your Christmas is filled with Christ’s gift to us, the love and joy he promised us through a baby boy, born in humility to a young couple with little in the way of possessions, but rich in faith and hope.