In Search of …. the Perfect Sugar Cookie

I was 6 or 7 when I tasted the perfect cookie. And I have been trying to replicate it since. They were bought at the SunMart store on Mt. Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids, where DrugTown stood for years when SunMart closed, and where Goodwill is now located.

Business started declining at SunMart after Hy-Vee moved in up the street, and I was sorry to see it go. I got my first lesson in “rights” and “wrongs” when I was caught shoplifting, before I knew the consequences for breaking the law.

I have many fond memories of the store; my first Hostess pies and Snowballs; the flavored tabs that fizzed when you put them in water to make a concoction similar to Kool-Aid; the fresh-baked donuts that melted in your mouth; and SunMart’s amazing sugar cookies.

Fifty years later, and I still haven’t found a cookie, nor a recipe, that comes close to it. Funny how our taste buds hold a memory; as if I will know it’s the one when I finally taste it again.

I’m going to do my best to find the perfect sugar cookie this holiday baking season. And even if I can’t find the perfect sugar cookie, I hope I come close.


Community Combats Hunger with Little Free Pantries

A few months ago, I read a story about someone who took the initiative to build a Little Free Pantry. The idea came out of the Little Free Library concept: “Take a Book; Leave a Book.”

The Little Free Pantry’s goal is the same, but with non-perishable food items instead of books.

The Little Free Library began with the goal to promote literacy, while the Little Free Pantry was born to not only to help those in need, but to raise awareness about the hungry some people face on a daily basis.

Kid-Powered Kindness is the organization behind the Little Free Pantries in the Hiawatha and Cedar Rapids communities. According to the Hiawatha Library website, it was created in 2014 after 4 year old Annabelle opened her Christmas presents and looked around at all of her new toys.

Alicia Mangin, Youth Services Librarian for the Hiawatha Library, said Annabelle told her Mom, “We have so many toys and there are kids who don’t have enough.” Annabelle reached out to her friends, gathered toys they no longer played with and donated them to kids in need.

“Kid-Powered Kindness is driven by the philosophy that kids can make the world a better place. Annabelle’s belief in this simple but mighty premise led the group to their newest world-bettering project.”

Hiawatha Public Library is just one of four sites that will be home to a Little Free Pantry.  Other sites include Hy-Vees on Edgewood, Collins, and Mt. Vernon roads.

The ribbon-cutting will take place at 2 pm today at the Hiawatha Library, 150 W. Willman Street in Hiawatha.   Lemonade and cookies will provided by Hy-Vee.


Tommy’s West Restaurant Believes in Traditions

Tommy’s West Restaurant, 393 Edgewood Road NW, has been a mainstay in the Edgewood Plaza in Cedar Rapids for many years, but tucked in the corner of the strip mall, it sometimes gets overlooked.


Chef Adam Mykris

But it shouldn’t. Tommy’s employees not only believes in good dining traditions, the amazing kitchen staff dish up home-cooking style cuisine that is comparable only to Mom’s.

Tommy’s dishes include Broasted Chicken, Meatloaf, and Chicken-Fried Steak, as well as Tenderloins, Philly Cheese Steak and Hot Beef sandwiches. They also offer a variety of traditional breakfast items and homemade pie.

And even though the folks at Tommy’s provide their customers with the best food and service possible, they are stepping up their game even more. There is a new chef at Tommy’s, who not only loves to create new dishes, he also believes in the value of traditions.

Adam Mykris started at Tommy’s earlier this year. He is the mastermind behind the restaurant’s current special, Summer Salads, which he created uniquely with Tommy’s customers in mind; a fresh twist to healthier eating.

The Spring Salad is made with fresh spinach, candied walnuts, fresh strawberries, and dried cranberries, with Chef Adam’s special poppy-seed dressing.

The Teriyaki Chicken Salad starts with shredded lettuce and is topped with a chicken breast marinated in teriyaki sauce. It also includes mandarin oranges and almond slivers, and is topped with Chef Adam’s Ginger Dressing.

The Fruit Nut and Cheese bowl is a variety of fruits, feta cheese, and candied walnuts with a raspberry vinaigrette.

The Creamy BLT Salad is an old favorite with a new twist; a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato, without the bread. It is also topped with cheddar cheese and croutons.

The Greek Salad begins with fresh spinach, Kalamate olives, feta cheese, and croutons, and tossed with Caesar dressing. You can add a grilled chicken breast for an even better flavor.

The salads are available for a limited time, so come in soon and experience one for yourself!

About the Chef

Chef Adam grew up in the Marion area and graduated from Linn-Mar High School in 1999.

“I’ve been interested in cooking most of my life,” he said. “I started helping my mother when I was little. As I grew older she let me help a little more, making pasta, cutting vegetables, things like that. I just really enjoyed it.”

After graduation, Adam said he took some time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life and realized his passion was with cooking.  He looked into the program at Kirkwood and knew that’s what he wanted to do.

Chef Adam worked at the Doubletree Hotel for two years before coming to Tommy’s. He started as a line cook, and was promoted a few months later as a sous chef, or assistant to the head chef. He has also held positions at Granite City and New Pioneer Co-op.

Besides creating the Summer Salads, Chef Adam recently introduced a homemade strawberry lemonade pie, which is made with a lemon meringue base and fresh strawberries.

“Tart and sweet; the best of both worlds.”

Chef Adam is also beginning plans for a fall menu, which will feature a few new dishes.

“Most people like to try new things, while others like things the way they are. We want to make sure everyone is happy, so if you have a favorite, we would love to hear from you!”

In his spare time, Chef Adam enjoys spending time at home creating new dishes and experimenting with the recipes he already knows.

“I can take an ordinary recipe, add a few new ingredients, and make them even better than before.

“It’s what I love to do.”


Cedar Rapids a Stronger Community

Cedar Rapids is no stranger to floods. For as long as anyone can remember, the Cedar River has wreaked havoc on those who live and work close to its banks.

KCRG Photo

KCRG Photo

When a foot of rain fell in communities in northern Iowa two weeks ago, meteorologists predicted the Cedar River would challenge historic levels, and flood the communities along its banks.

It was apparent that Cedar Rapids was on the verge of another major flood only 8 years after the Cedar River rose 20 feet above flood stage. Many found it hard to believe it could happen again so soon.

(It cost the city over $2 billion to restore the downtown area and took it years to recover.)

But instead of panicking, the entire community sprang into action, filling sandbags and moving items from businesses and homes in the downtown area.

Some located available resources and sought shelters for displaced citizens. Others made meals for those who were hungry. Everyone opened their homes and their hearts to those affected by the flood.

In other words, we did the same thing we did 8 years ago, only better. We knew now what to do, and we did it.

Cedar Rapids held its breath as the river began to rise. Drones and social media kept citizens up-to-date on the areas hardest hit, including Ushers Ferry, Seminole Valley and Ellis parks, and areas southeast of the river.

And as the river crested, Ron Corbett, Cedar Rapids’ mayor, that if the Hesco barriers (which they used to build a wall around the downtown area) held, “they would have saved the city.”

The barriers did hold the flood waters back (though there was some controversy about how the city determined where to place the barriers) and the majority of the downtown area was spared.

But it wasn’t just the barriers, the pumps, and the sandbags that saved our city. It was the countless volunteers who poured positive energy into filling sandbags, moving furniture and equipment; those who brought food and water to the volunteers, and worked around the clock to make sure our homes and businesses were safe; these are the real heroes.

It is because of them that we are emerging from this close-call an even stronger community.

Local band, Four Star Fate, wrote a song to pay tribute to the people in our community: “We Rise Above”

CR Cold Cases Hit Too Close to Home

Matt Pusateri seemed like a nice kid. He was tall, and had nice eyes, black wavy hair, and shoulders so broad they belonged on a man, not a 13-year-old kid. Matt and I went to school together at Johnson Elementary and McKinley Junior High, and Washington High  schools.  

What I remember most about Matt is his shyness. He hardly said two words to me while we were in school together. The only time he did speak was because we were in a group for an assignment, and I asked him a few questions about what we were doing.

I sometimes passed him walking to and from school, his eyes focused on the ground as he moved onto the grass to let me have the sidewalk.

Matt was murdered in 1988, 7 years after graduating from Washington High School. A driver for Yellow Cab, Matt was shot in the head while sitting in his cab about 3 a.m. Nov. 12, in a parking lot in the 800 block of Sixth Street SW in Cedar Rapids. Matt was 26 years old.

I heard about the murder on the evening news, finding it hard to believe that something like that could happen to someone I knew. I didn’t know Matt personally, but what I remember of him, he was quiet, didn’t make trouble, an all-around good guy.

I have a hard time understanding why how someone could do that to another human being, with no regard to human life. Do they even have remorse for what they did? Unfortunately, the world may never know. Matt’s file is among 38 other Cedar Rapids Cold Cases, unsolved murders or missing person reports, since 1959.

Michelle Martinko is another unsolved Cedar Rapids murder. Michelle was in the class ahead of me at Kennedy High School. She was shopping at the newly opened Westdale Mall in December 1980, and when she went to her car, someone was waiting for her. 

Several witnesses were interviewed and though there were one or two suspects, the murder remains unsolved.

I didn’t know Michelle personally, but she was a friend of a friend. The day after the murder, the entire student body walked around in a stupor, trying to get our heads wrapped around what had happened. It could have been any one of us. I think that was the first time I really thought about how precious life is.

Other cold cases include Paula Jean Oberbroeckling, who was killed in 1970.  A book was written about her, (by her friend, Susan Taylor Chehak) that includes details about the murder and the people involved.

I was only 7 when the murder happened, but I have heard about the cold case throughout the years and decided read her story, which is interesting, but sad, at the same time.

Another cold case involves a boy named Guy Heckle. He was 11 when he disappeared February 3, 1973, during a Boy Scout camping trip near the Duane Arnold Nuclear Energy Plant (now Next Era Energy) in Palo, just a few miles to the west of Cedar Rapids.

Guy’s parka was found, snagged on a log on the banks of the Cedar River, but Guy’s body was never recovered.

I remember when the Kum & Go store on Mt. Vernon Road was robbed, and the cashier, Brian Lee Shappert, was shot and killed. Brian had just started his senior year at Coe College and was working the last shift alone that night. He had been promoted to assistant manager only two weeks before.

A customer came in at 3:15 am  to buy some gas and found Brian’s body.

In the early ’70s, we moved to 30th Street Drive. I heard about Lynn Schuller, who lived further up the road, in a scary story told to me by my older brother. He said that Lynn’s husband killed her and chopped her up in little pieces, and then fed them to their pet alligator.

I was 9, and I believed it!  Every time we passed the Schuller house, and I saw the pond sitting just a few yards from the house, I thought about that well-fed alligator.

Over the years, I forgot about the story, until I read about Lynn on the cold cases page. How ironic that the “urban legend” would have materialized into a true accusation? Could someone really do something like that in Cedar Rapids?

The article states:

“When Keith Schuller reported his wife Lynn Schuller missing in August 1972, police suspected murder from the beginning.

More than four decades later, they still believe Schuller is responsible for her death, but don’t ever expect to find her body. Why? The suspicions surrounding her disappearance sounded so much like that of local folklore that even police were reluctant to acknowledge Keith Schuller could have committed such an abhorrent act.”

It is a sad thing to see so many victims, whose killers are still walking around free, and the saddest part is, they may never be caught.


Unanswered Questions Surround Local Cemetery

I live on a street just off of Mt.Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids (Mt. Vernon Road was once known as the Oldbrockman Lincoln Highway). The neighborhood is like any other, until you turn the corner at 14th Avenue and onto Brockman Drive. Then it gets kind of creepy.

Every day I take my dog, Bindi, for a walk around the block, and though I have become accustomed to the blank space midway through the block between Brockman Drive and 38th Street, I sometimes stop and wonder about it.

A sign sits just off the road naming the space as “Brockman Cemetery.” I have always thought it odd that a cemetery would be placed mid-block in a area like that. But that wasn’t the oddest part; from what I could see, there weren’t any tombstones.

I thought about venturing up the short hill to see if maybe the tombstones were thebrockman2 flat variety, but decided against it, just in case it was a real cemetery. (I might come face-to-face with a restless spirit.)

The other day as I was strolling past the cemetery, I decided to snap a photo and ask Mark Stoffer Hunter about it. (Mark works at the History Center and is an expert on the history of Cedar Rapids.)

I told him I looked up the Brockman Cemetery online (, which stated, “Very little is known about this old cemetery.  Nestled among a quiet Cedar Rapids neighborhood, there are no stones visible and only a little wooden sign indicating the presence of a cemetery. 

“According to records in the Linn County Recorder’s office, the land was originally part of the property owned by W. L. & Ellen Brockman who in 1855 transferred 1 acre to Andrew F. Brockman, William F. Steward, Warren F. Brockman and John Robb to be used as a cemetery. It was recorded officially in the Linn County Recorder’s Office on September 1, 1862. 

As of 1954 the only identifiable stone visible appears to have been that of two wives of Wm. Stewart:  Ann Stewart, who died Mar. 23, 1847 at the age of 51 years; and Phebe Stewart, who died July 20, 1848 at the age of 31 years.”

Dairy Dale School

Edina Donohue stands with her students at the small red-brick Dairydale School. At the time, Dairydale was in the country but the location was at the northeast corner of what today is Mount Vernon Road (Mount Vernon Rd.) and 34th Street (34th St.) SE. Front row, from left: Carl Van Antwerp, Beryl Wood, Marie Kaylar, Allan Nelson, Lumir Stolba, Pluma Terrill, Harold Bean. Middle row: Ernest Wood, Joe Nelson, Walter Woolridge, Ferman Clark, John Grow, Frank Pachta, Marvin Nemecek, Viola Kaylar. Back row: (only six students in this row are identified): Ronald Prior, Lucille Manson, Mae Woolridge, Mae Zrudsky, Mable Van Antwerp, Elmer Nemecek. 1920. (Photo courtesy of Dorothy Nemecek, wife of Marvin Nemecek). (Gazette Article)

Mark wrote back: “Not too much more is known about this beyond what you found already. I did a little more digging on it and found a connection to the cemetery with the old Dairydale School and Church which were both once located at the NE corner of Mt. Vernon Road and 34th Street SE (where Little Caesar’s Pizza  is now). Apparently folks buried in Brockman were members of the Dairydale Church and went to the school.

Mark continued: “I wrote up some of this history and sent it to Linn County Conservation (which owns and oversees care of Brockman Cemetery) and they told me they were going to put up a new sign there with more history. I haven’t seen it put up yet so I will need to get back to them.

Always got the impression that Brockman Cemetery was essentially abandoned by the Civil War era but I love that the site is still preserved.

There were several of these little ‘family graveyards’ In what are now parts of Cedar Rapids, but many of the others were forgotten over time and new development was built where they once existed.”

Tribute focuses on the good

I’ve been busy the past few months. So busy, in fact, that I haven’t had much time to write my usual blogs.

I decided to go ahead with an idea I have had for several years and launch Tribute magazine. However, a friend advised that I not launch in the “J” months (January, June, July), so I decided to wait until August to put out the first issue.

But before I could start laying the pages out in InDesign for my magazine, I had to create a website that would promote it.

That’s when was born.

It was a task that was more difficult than I imagined. I had to decide the theme of the website. I already knew what the magazine was going to be about (people who make a difference in my community), so the website would have to somehow reflect that.

I created the website through Weebly, a site I like and have used before several time.  Unlike other do-it-yourself websites, Weebly is easy to use and navigate. It has a variety of unique responsive themes to choose from and includes several add-ons.

After deciding on a theme I liked, I had to design the pages and decide what would go on those pages.

What is it specifically that people want in a community website? What kind of pages would I have and what kind of stories would I have?

As I thought about it, I came up with an idea that fit with my character and personality, as well as a site that would help keep the people in my community informed, and show them there is good news all around us.

I would create a website that only reported the good and positive news in our community.

I came up with the idea after hearing so many people saying there’s nothing but bad news in the world. But that’s just not true. It only seems that way because the bad news is what draws the people in. The drama and chaos is what pays the bills, unfortunately, so that is what is most prevalent.

What I have realized in the past few months is that I am in competition with everyone else on the internet. I am in competition for everyone’s attention, and that means coming up with interesting content, as well as having exceptional writing, and marketing skills.

As a result, I know my website needs to be unique, which is probably the most difficult aspect of this venture. And I believe it is.

Tribute promotes the positive and focuses on the good; good news, good people; everything good. 

Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

I may not be able to change the whole world, but maybe I can provide some peace in my little corner of it.

Tribute on WordPress









You’re never too old for Halloween

I love Halloween. Ever since I opened my bag and uttered the magical words, “Trick or Treat,” for the first time, I was hooked.haunted house

No matter if it was raining or snowing or blowing like a typhoon, I was determined to go trick or treating every year. For a little kid who was addicted to candy, it was a holiday that ranked right up there with Christmas.

The year I turned 13 was a little disappointing one. True, becoming a teenager should have been thrilling enough, but the way I saw it, it meant I had to grow up. And when my mom told me I was too old to go trick or treating, I was beyond disappointed. I got over it, though, when I realized I was now old enough to do other fun things on Halloween, things like terrorizing little kids, TPing trees, and ….

Haunted Houses!

Every year for as long as I can remember, Cedar Rapids had at least one haunted house that would terrify the pants off me. But as I got older, the thrill began to wear off.

But there was one time when I realized I wasn’t as brave as I thought. It was 1980 or ’81, and my boyfriend  at the time took me and his little sister to a haunted house, which was said to be the best yet.

“According to who?” I asked in defiance.

“Everyone I’ve talked to,” he said, trying to build it up as best he could.

“Well, I’m not afraid,” I told him as we stood in the line for our turn to get in. After nearly an hour, it was our turn. We stepped into the purplish-green light and came face to face with a mummy (with a horrible make-up job).

I turned to Bruce and said, “Told you it would be lame.”

He didn’t answer, but walked ahead me. I grabbed his hand, and then Deanna’s, and we made our way through the dark rooms, lighted only by occasional grim scenes, played out by bad actors. Fake, fake, fake, I said to myself as we wandered through the rooms.

As we went through one door, the lights suddenly went out.  I felt Bruce pull me along, but then he let go. I could hear people upstairs and in the next room banging on the walls, chains rattling, moans and shrieks sounding throughout the house.

Deanna grabbed my arm with both hands and screamed, “I need to get out of here!”  And then she screamed as loud as she could, “Let me out! Let me out!”

She pushed past me, though the door, and shut it on me.

“Wait!” I called to her but she was gone. I was on my own.

Okay, don’t panic, I told myself. My heart started to pound in my chest, as I felt my way along the wall in the dark, not really sure where I was going. I called for Bruce and Deanna but they didn’t answer.

I saw light flicker in the shadows, and I knew I was almost out. I finally found the door and opened it. But as I did, I came face to face with an ax-wielding monster!  He was about ready to bring the ax down on me when I pushed him as hard as I could, screaming so loud I could feel the muscles in my throat being stretched. For a split-second, I lost my grip on reality, and shut my eyes to the horror I was experiencing.

I could feel myself fall but couldn’t catch myself. With my eyes clenched shut, I landed on top of the would-be ax murderer. Suddenly, I heard squeals of laughter. I opened my eyes and saw Bruce and Deanna standing over us. Realizing I would live another day, I stood up and smacked Bruce on the shoulder.

“You jerk,” I told him, but I knew he got me.

The monster, who happened to be a friend of Bruce’s, stood up and took off his mask. I had to admit, they played a pretty good joke.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a really good haunted house, but there was always at least one haunted house in CR, where people could find a few thrills.

Until this year.  This is the first year in a long time since Cedar Rapids won’t have a haunted house within its city limits. Circle of Ash, located at 412 7th Avenue SE, has been around for the past 14 years, but won’t be in operation this year.  However, the website promises that it will return next year, “better than ever.”

But never fear-there are haunts that still close enough to drive to … if you dare.

Bloomsberry Farms, 3260 69th Street in Atkins, offers a variety of family activities by day and Scream Acres by night. At Scream Acres, which includes two indoor haunts-Curtain Chaos and the Slaughterhouse-and a Haunted Corn Field.

A few haunted houses are the north of Cedar Rapids, and might be worth the 45 minute drive.

Garrison’s Haunted is located in Garrison, halfway between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, but only opened on the weekends till Oct. 24.

Harris Haven Funeral Home, 3767 Lafayette Rd., Evansdale, is just outside of Waterloo. (I don’t know about you but the thought of a haunted funeral parlor is extremely tempting!)

The Heart of Darkness, 5111 Osage Road, Waterloo, is a haunt through a 22,000 square foot field.  It features a monster midway with games and entertainment, and tickets can be purchased online.

Panic Park Haunted House , 5932 North Union Road in Cedar Falls, which is home to UNI.

Dark Chambers is located at 121 E. 4th Street in Dubuque, northeast of Cedar Rapids. It also offers a lighted haunted house for a cheaper admission price.

Halloween isn’t even close to what it used to be, but it can still be pretty fun for the kids, and kids at heart, like me. And even if haunted houses are rare in your neck of the woods, you can still curl up with a great Halloween flick (many come to mind) and scare yourself silly.

Challenge #5-A letter to my dad

My fifth project in this writing challenge is to write a letter to anyone. As many of my readers know, my dad passed away Sept. 6, 2008, and though I knew the man for my entire life, I didn’t know him. A few years after he died, I came across his life story. I wasn’t looking, but somehow I found it. Maybe the universe wanted me to find it so I could better understand my father and his crazy life. I do now.

Dear Dad,

It’s been almost 7 years since you went away. And as you might have expected, life has continued on. Every once in a while I’ll see or hear something that reminds me of you and I pause to remember your face, your walk, or the aroma of Old Spice that permeated the air around you.writing challenge5

The grandkids talk about you often and remember how you gave them candy and ice cream all the time. They tell their kids stories about you, and once in a while, I’ll look into their faces and see you there.

I found your life story a few years after you died. It was scattered in several boxes, but I found all the parts and was able to piece it all together. I learned a lot about your life that I didn’t know, such as your family’s move to Beloit when you were 2, and how Grandpa Meis was a butcher before he became a store owner. But what struck me most about your stories was your ability to capture a memory with words.

One of my favorite stories is the one about the rag man and his cart. It took my breath away. I was caught up in the moment, watching the little boy as he played in the alley dirt. I heard the creaking of the wheels, the clomping of the horse’s hooves as they hit the hard ground, the swish of its tail as it swatted the flies away. I could smell the sweet summer air and feel the light breeze on my face.

I didn’t just read your story; I relived your childhood memory.

It was then that I realized how much I wanted to write like you. I want to be able to write so the reader walks away with the same feeling your stories gave me. Your stories inspired me to become a better writer.

I miss you, Dad. I wish I would have talked to you more when you were alive. I would have asked to read your stories and maybe we would have talked about what life meant to you.  I wish I would have known the man, as well as the father.

But I think the reason I didn’t ask was because I was mad at you, which didn’t occur to me until after you died. I resented you for not being the father I thought you should be. I wouldn’t let myself see anything but the expectations I had for you. I put a wall between us that I thought was saving me from being hurt, but what it did was prevent me from getting to know you as a human being. I know now that you did the best you could with what you had.  I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, and now it’s too late to do anything about it.

If I could, I would tell you that I’m sorry and I love you, but I hope in your heart you already knew it.

You have given me so many wonderful gifts, and though I feel like I haven’t given you much in return, what I can do is live how you taught me to live; to treat others with kindness and compassion; to be honest and generous; to have faith in God, help others in need, and do what I can to make the world a better place.

I’m reminded of a quote I saw recently: “Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day.” That’s how I feel, too, because even though I miss you, I know you are still here with us, in spirit.

Love, your daughter,









Challenge #1- An autobiography

There’s a lot more to my life story than what I am about to write. The long version would fill countless pages and take more than a couple of days to write, but I think I can give readers a fair synopsis of what it’s like to be me in 1,500 or less.writing challenge-1

I was born April 8, 1963, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Tom and Betty Meis. I was the youngest of eight kids, until my little brother came along unexpectedly two years after me, and then there were nine.

My first memory was when I was 2. We lived on 31st Street SE, a dead-end street, behind Bever Park. There was an elderly woman who lived on the corner and take a walk every day at 3 o’clock. As soon as we’d see her start walking up the street, I’d  run out to walk with her. She was a nice lady and invited us to her house for cookies afterwards.

We moved in October 1965, but only a few blocks to the south. We were still close to Bever Park, where my brothers, sisters, and I spent most of our days. It had a playground with swings, slides, and a fire truck with a real firepole you could slide down. A small creek (or crick, if you’re from the Midwest) ran through the park, complete with fish and frogs, with a small waterfall at the end that emptied into a drain. A huge rock, leftover from the Glacier period (but my brother had me convinced it was a meteor) sat on the bank below the concession stand that we’d play on and dare each other to jump off.

Bever Park was home to a variety of animals, including a lion, bears, peacocks, and monkeys. As I lay in bed on hot summer nights with the windows open trying to catch a cool breeze, I could hear the roar of lion echo through the neighborhood. The peacocks joined in and added to the beautiful melody.

The park had a cement wading pool that was filled every morning with water so cold it took your breath away. The concession stand sold everything from candy buttons and taffy, to Popsicle and banana fudge bombs. The park was always packed with kids and families enjoying the summer days. But about 20 years ago, the popularity dwindled as the animals were taken away and people became busy with other things. Bever became just another park.

I met Jenny in first grade.  She had about a hundred cats and there were always kittens running around. They had a willow tree in their backyard with a swing that hung off it and a cement swimming pool. She told me one time they buried their poodle in the back under the tree and I was afraid to step where it was buried.

Jenny and I had a lot of fun together and had great imaginations. One of our favorite games was pretending we were orphans and had to take care of ourselves. (I think it was because one of our favorite book series was The Boxcar Children).

Jenny moved to a farm when I was 8 and we lost touch for a few years. One day she called me out of the blue and invited me to come to their farm. Amazingly, though I had lived in Iowa for 10 years, I had never been to a farm.

I had a great time. We played with the cows and goats, and ran after the ponies in the pasture. Once in a while we caught one of the slow ones and jumped up on its back.  They would buck or run into things to try to get us off, but we held on to their manes for dear life! Only once I fell off, but I got right back on.

One night when I was 11, Jenny asked me to go to an auction in Walker, a town north of Cedar Rapids. I had never been to an auction but Jenny told me how it worked. We walked up and down the stalls looking at all the horses, choosing which ones we wanted to bid on. When a scared colt came up for bidding, I felt so sorry for him. I wanted to bid on him so when the bidding started at $5, my hand went up. I looked at Jenny’s mom, who nodded and encouraged me to keep going. The farmer bidding against me must have had a soft heart because pretty soon he stopped bidding and the colt was declared mine…for $27.

I was thrilled, of course, as any horse-loving kid would be, but panic set in once I realized I still had to pay for it and figure out how to get it home. Luckily, Jenny’s mom had a soft heart, too, and told me she would pay for it and I could pay her back. We didn’t have a horse trailer, either, so it was decided that Jenny’s older brother could hold the horse still while they transported it home in their pickup. ‘

I named him Star because he reminded me of the colt in Marguerite Henry’s, Sea Star. I adored Star, and spent most of my weekends and time off school with him. He was only a year old and not trained yet. Jenny and I worked with him as he grew and the day came when I could finally ride him. I loved riding him in the huge fields and woods next to Jenny’s farm.

But, as I got older, other interests caused me to lose focus on Star and it was apparent he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved. After a lot of thought, I sold him to Jenny’s little sister.

I graduated from Kennedy High School in 1981, where I was active on the school newspaper. I met Bruce and we dated our entire senior year. We had planned on going on to college, but decided to get married instead.

July 3, 1982 was a hot and humid day. Morning showers gave way to a sticky 93-degree afternoon, but I was oblivious to it. The frosting melted on our wedding cake, my make-up ran, and my hair fell because of the humidity, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was that moment, and I was marrying the man of my dreams, my best friend. No matter what happened, we would face it together, because we could do anything as long as we were together.

That sentiment lasted about 6 years.

The year our youngest daughter was born, it was apparent our marriage wasn’t working. I filed for divorce, thinking life would be better for everyone, but the only thing I found was heartache and another child.

Two years after Sean was born, I got married again, but that too, ended in divorce. And just when I thought I would die alone, I met someone I thought would change it all.

Have you ever heard the old saying, third times a charm? Well, it’s not.

I took a good look at my life. I wasn’t happy with what I saw, but I didn’t know how to change it. In April 2005, something wonderful happened. I became a grandmother.

At that time, I was a heavy smoker, smoking two packs a day or more. I drank a lot, too. I was depressed and lonely and kind of a mess.

But having a grandchild changed it all. I wanted to be a part of my grandchildren’s lives and watch them grow up. But the way I was going, I didn’t think I would even see 50.

I made the decision to change my life. I wanted to feel better. To be better. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

So I took the first step on my new path and quit smoking and drinking.  I went to therapy and confronted my demons. I learned how to meditate. And I wrote. A lot. I filled eight 5-subject notebooks with notes and affirmations that reminded me why I chose to undertake this massive task. Before long, I started to see the changes, not only in my life, but in myself.

I went back to college and graduated with honors from Mount Mercy University with a degree in Journalism. I started a newspaper  in Hiawatha, a town north of Cedar Rapids, and though it lasted less than a year, doors began to open for me.

Along the way, I met someone who changed my life even more. He showed me that I could do anything I set my mind to and gave me the confidence I needed to keep going. And I wasn’t alone anymore, even though now I know I never really was.

I have to stop here, but there is so much more to this story, so much more to tell.  But someday I will finish it … and then you’ll know the rest of the story (Thank you, Paul Harvey.)