Family, Uncategorized

Help Me Solve a Family Mystery

This is going to be an usual blog post for me.

It’s a plea for help with a family puzzle.

Here’s the thing…

I have spent a good chunk of my adult life trying to solve a vexing family mystery.

julina
Julina Harris Snow Berkhimer July 3, 1909 – August 13, 1991

This beautiful woman is my Grandma Snow, my dad’s mom.

We thought we knew her well until her death in 1991 when we found out she was adopted.

My aunts found a family history document in the lining of her dresser drawer that had the word “adopted” scrawled next to her name.

Adopted?

Why didn’t we ever know this?

After learning she was adopted, we launched a search for her birth story.

Who were her parents?

What happened to them?

What is her adoption story?

Oh, there are theories like that she was left in a bundle on my great grandmother’s doorstep.

Or that a midwife delivered her and gave her to my great grandparents when the mother died in childbirth.

Or that the Mormon leader, Joseph F. Smith, who was my Great Grandfather Hyrum Smith Harris’ uncle, arranged for the adoption.

Joseph F. Smith’s wife, Julina, was a midwife and delivered many babies, so we have speculated that maybe she helped with this adoption, and perhaps that’s why they named their baby, Julina.

My favorite theory formed while reading the compelling book The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

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The book illuminates the brutal tales of abandoned children who were piled on trains from New York City and sent out to train stations across the country between 1845 – 1929 for people to poke, prod, foster, and adopt.

Some of these trains carried infants, and they made it as far as Utah and Texas — places where my grandma lived as a child.

I sent a letter to the records department of the New York Children’s Aid Society – just in case.

They had no records of a little orphaned baby in Utah or Texas in 1909.

We’ve searched vital records, court records, personal journals, orphanages, correspondence, church records, and visited with countless relatives.

Always dead ends.

We’ve given up on this for years at a time, but then, something sparks our curiosity, and we start searching again.

We want to know her story because it’s our family story.

julina child
Julina and her mother, Delia Sarah Rebekah Twede Harris

So, speculation aside, here’s what we know…

  1. Records say she was born July 3, 1909 at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City.
  2. She was blessed in Provo, Utah in July, 1909 by Roy Passey, her adopted father’s brother-in-law.
  3. In 1910, she shows up on the U.S. Census in Garza County, Texas where her father, Hyrum Smith Harris (45) and Delia Twede Harris (38) lived and owned a sheep ranch.
  4. Personal correspondence mentions having Julina “come to them,” and others mention that they “got their baby” in Texas. There is no mention of how they got the baby from Utah to Texas or how the adoption was arranged.
  5. She had no siblings. Hyrum and Delia had a child, Mercy Rachel Harris, in 1891, but she died a few months after her birth.
  6. She married Alton Roswell Snow April 23, 1928. After his death, she later married Mark Elwood Berkhimer April 14, 1969.
  7. We have submitted our DNA to Ancestry.com and continue to try to find matches that might help.

So, where do we go from here?

If anyone has any ideas, please share them.

Share this blog.

Help us solve this mystery.

julina 3
Julina Harris Snow Berkhimer

Maybe there is no reason for us to know.

Maybe her story is unknowable.

But, if anyone has any further details, hints, stories, correspondence, journals, or anything the slightest bit helpful, please share.

We would love to know about this beautiful woman and her story.

grandmasnow

Family, Memoir, Relationships

Forgive me Dad

Dear Dad,

I owe you an apology.

Remember after I moved to Washington, and every time I talked to you, you said, “When are you moving back to Utah?”

I remember when you finally stopped asking me that.

It was after one of your visits to Washington, and, at last, you seemed to understand why I loved living in D.C.

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We were standing at a busy intersection in Georgetown, and you said, “I can see why you love it here. This is your kind of place. You really are a city girl.”

So, now that I am back in Utah, I think of you nearly every day.

I think of how you loved the beauty and uniqueness of Utah’s mountains, rivers, and streams, and how I never appreciated them.

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I keep thinking about when you took us to Boulder Mountain, found a perfect camping spot for our trailer house, and planned a weekend of hiking, fishing, Dutch oven suppers, and thrilling in the beauties of nature.

Yeah, well, I hated camping.

Camping was b-o-o-o-r-i-n-g.

There was nothing to DO.

Remember how you called me “The Go-Go-Do-Do-Girl” because I couldn’t sit still?

Well, camping was torture for a girl who liked to be on the go.

And then there was the fishing.

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Just when I thought camping couldn’t get any worse, you took me out on a boat, put a worm on the end of a fishing rod, cast it into the lake, and handed me the pole.

And, there I sat for hours in the blistering sun, holding that pole with a worm dangling on the end of it, waiting for a fish to tug on my line.

You tried to make it fun, tried to help me see the excitement of reeling in a “big one.”

I’m sorry, dad. To me, it wasn’t fun. It was woefully unfun.

And, about that Boulder trip… You were so excited about that trip.

You talked it up like it would be the most fun our family could ever have.

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First thing on the agenda was to hike to the lake, hauling our fishing gear all the way.

It was probably a one-mile hike, but to me, it was Mount Everest.

I whined.

You cheered me on, telling me to concentrate on the beauty around me, and to envision how fun it would be to reel in “a big one.”

I wondered why we just couldn’t drive to the darn lake.

No vehicles were allowed. That’s what you said.

When we finally got to the lake, we saw our neighboring campers packing up their truck to go back to camp.

No vehicles allowed?

Mom and I were not too proud to ask them for an immediate ride back to camp.

You were probably thrilled to have me gone so that you could actually enjoy fishing without my unpleasantness spoiling the fun.

Fast forward to my life now.

Dad, I came home.

I am living in your beloved state.

And, I am hiking, and discovering what you loved.

And, guess what?

I’m not whining, asking for rides down the mountains or using the word “boring” to describe my adventures.

I am awed by the beauty around me, and I am sorry for being such a wimpy, whiny child.

I hope you will forgive me.

But, before you start thinking I’ve made a complete turnaround, I must tell you this: I still hate fishing.

I know it’s blasphemy to say that when I belong to a family of avid fisherman, but Dad, really, fishing is so blasted boring.

But, maybe you could give me a little credit for finally appreciating the beauty and uniqueness of the state you so loved.

Community, Family, Uncategorized

A Visit to the Beauty Shop

When I was growing up, my mom went to the “beauty shop” every week to get her “hair done.”

That meant she went to Beth’s, the neighborhood salon, and Beth shampooed, conditioned and towel-dried her hair. Then, she wrapped her wet hair around rollers, and sat her in a chair under a hooded hair dryer.

Think Truvy in Steel Magnolias.

truvy

 

After sitting under the hair dryer, probably reading a romance novel, Beth styled mom’s hair and sprayed enough hair spray on it to last for the next week.

Then, Mom slept on a pillow with a satin pillow case to keep it from getting messed up.

Last week I had the pleasure of going with my mom to “get her hair done” at Helen’s, a salon she’s probably been going to since Beth died many years ago.

I had so much fun walking around that salon that my mom worried I’d offended Helen.

I couldn’t help myself.

It was a step back in time.

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It made me think of Dolly Parton as Truvy saying, “I don’t trust anyone that does their own hair. I don’t think it’s normal.” Or, “The bigger the hair, the closer to God.”

I didn’t mean to be rude, I was just fascinated and impressed.

The thing about Helen’s and other salons like this is that they are not just places to get your hair done, they’re places of friendship and conversation that span decades, even generations.

Not only has Helen done my mom’s hair, she did my Grandma’s and two of my aunts’ hair. She knows a lot about my family.

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A well-worn chair in Helen’s salon

She asked my mom about my aunt, who is now in a memory care unit of an assisted living facility.

“I miss her,” she said. “I remember when she started to get dementia. I was out of town and she called me and said, ‘Helen, where are you? I went to get my hair done and you weren’t there.'”

Helen said, “I’m on vacation. Remember, I told you I’d be out of town?”

My aunt didn’t remember.

“That was the beginning,” Helen said. “Then it just got worse. It was hard watching her go downhill.”

Helen even styled my Grandma’s and another aunt’s hair when they died so that they would look beautiful for their viewings and funerals.

IMG_6270While touring the salon, I heard my mom telling Helen about something, and then she said, “Helen, what would mama have done?”

Who has that kind of relationship with their hair stylist?

Not many of us can ask our hair stylist about how our mothers would have handled a situation or a problem.

It struck me as unique and beautiful that my family has “roots” (pun intended) with Helen’s hair salon.

Helen and my mom
Helen and my mom

My visits to the hair salon are never as personal or friendly as my mom’s visits to Helen’s.

The guy who does my hair is just that… a guy who does my hair.

I like him. I know he’s from Turkey and that he’s married and has a young daughter. But that’s the extent of our relationship. He doesn’t know my mom, my sister, my family, or what my mom would do in any given situation. He just knows about my hair.

Helen’s may not be a high-end, fancy salon, and it might not make the historical register, but for many women, like my mom, Grandma and aunts, it has been a personally significant place where a woman named Helen dedicated her life not just to cutting and styling their hair, but to witnessing their lives, keeping their confidences, and being their friend.

IMG_6271From the clock with hands made of scissors to the “rain hats” for sale on a peg board, it was a charming salon, full of stories.

Someday I’m going back with a notebook and pen or a tape recorder and I’m going to say, “Helen, tell me everything you know about my family.”

So, watch for another blog on this topic because I sense that after years of doing my mom, grandma’s and aunts’ hair, Helen knows a lot more than how to style hair…

 

 

Family, Uncategorized

An Unforgettable Phone Call

We can probably all remember a phone call that changed our lives.

One of those phone calls for me came 24 years ago today.

It was a Sunday morning. I was at church, conducting a children’s meeting.

Doug came in, looking very somber, and motioned for me to come out into the hall.

I instantly knew something was wrong.

My mind quickly raced through the possibilities.

I followed him out of the room, and we walked toward the Bishop’s office.

There was a heaviness in the room and a serious tone that told me I was about to receive very bad news.

The Bishop was standing behind his desk, holding the phone.

He handed it to me; and, I reluctantly said, “Hello?”

“Bless your heart,” said my Uncle Sherm in a broken voice. “Here’s your mother.”

“Laurie,” Mom said, not mincing any words, “Dad died last night.”

I didn’t hear anything after that.

I’d just seen my dad. He took me to the airport and carried my luggage to the gate. He was fine and very much alive.

“What?” I asked, stunned and frozen.

“Dad died,” she said. “I woke up this morning, and found him dead.”

My dad was 57 years old — a year younger than I am now.  He died of a massive heart attack.

That one phone call changed my life.

dad

Sometimes I wish the phone would ring and I could have a conversation with him — five minutes would be good. Or how about 30 seconds? I’d take that too.

I might not be able to talk to him, but I believe he’s around — not physically, but spiritually.

How could he not be?

Our love for our families is too deep, too permanently planted in our souls for us to just float off to another realm and forget about them.

So it only stands to reason that God would allow our family members to stay close.

I cannot imagine us sitting comfortably on a cloud, polishing our halos,  waiting patiently for the rest of our families to sail up and join us. God’s got to have more in mind for us than that, and it has to include some spiritual closeness to our families.

I cling to the words of the LDS Apostle Jeffrey Holland, “God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face…From the beginning… God has used angels as His emissaries in conveying love and concern for His children.

“Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near.”

I haven’t seen my dad, but I surely have felt his presence — even if it’s just through a memory, a song he loved, a fisherman that looks like him or someone who knew him that shares a story about him.IMG_2414

There was a time I worried that I couldn’t remember what his voice sounded like. It bothered me that I couldn’t remember. Then, one night, while sleeping, I heard his familiar voice say”Laur, it’s time.” I woke up immediately because I knew that voice. It wasn’t like a fuzzy dream. It was as clear as it was when I was a teenager and he would call up the stairs to wake me up in the mornings by saying, “Laur, it’s time.”

Sometimes I wish that would happen again.

Better yet, I wish the phone would ring, I’d answer it, and he’d be on the other end.

Now, that would be an unforgettable phone call.

 

Family, Uncategorized, Writing

Writing it all down

It’s New Year’s Day 2016.

I’m sitting on the couch thinking, “I should write a New Year’s blog.”

Last year about this time, I wrote a blog called Blah-Grrr, which was less than inspiring, but it captured my mood at the time.

This year, I want to write something BETTER, more MOTIVATIONAL, but I’m stuck.

Hello Writer’s Block.

(The inability to tap into the writerly part of your brain where thoughts turn into words and sentences.)

Part of the reason for this mental block is that I’ve set myself up with the idea that I should write something INSPIRING or MOTIVATIONAL.

Writing expectations can be lethal. They choke creativity.

No idea is good enough. No thought cogent or powerful enough.

And no good sentences can flow from that kind of clogged up mental mess.

Not only do I have crippling blogging block, I seem to have unintentionally infected my family with it.

For Christmas I gave everyone in my family five-year journals.

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One of our Church missionaries introduced me to them.

She called hers her “most prized possession.”

Her dad gave one to all of his family for Christmas a few years ago and she’s written in it faithfully since.

“It’s awesome to look back and see where I was and what I was doing on the same day in previous years,” she said.

I’m a writer, a journal keeper, and big believer in creating personal histories. So, this sounded like a great gift idea.

Side note: A friend in college once said to me, “What is it with writers? They don’t think things are real unless they write them down.”

Ah, yeah…because they’re not.

Last night, Doug started a group text reminding everyone to start our new journals on New Year’s Day.

 

My sister, Sallie, said, “I can’t wait to start my new journal. I have to do something more exciting tomorrow than taking down the Christmas tree though. I don’t want to judge myself for the next five years for having a boring New Year’s Day.”

Annie said, “I know! I feel pressured to do exciting things!”

Then, Sallie, who drives a red convertible VW, said, “I’ll pick you up, Annie, and we’ll drive around the lake with the top down and then hike Y Mountain at midnight so that we’ll have something fun to write about.”

convertible
Cruising in the Convertible

“Too bad we’re in North Carolina,” Annie replied with a sad face emoticon.

Sara texted, “I was thinking of having a focus — like writing about a funny thing that happened or the best part of my day or tender mercies.”

Having a focus sounded like a good idea to me too — a kind of writing prompt.

“I’m just going to write about the weather,” Doug said.

“Good idea, Dad,” Sara wrote, “Or you could just copy your daily horoscope into your journal.”

Today Sallie texted me to see if I’d done anything exciting to write about.

“I walked on the beach, watched an episode of Oprah’s Belief series and then called a friend who just announced she and her husband are going to Brazil for a Church mission. Is that interesting enough? Or maybe something amazing is yet to happen.”

“We have faith,” she responded.

Yes, if faith means believing our lives on New Year’s Day 2016 literally will be ones for the books, then we have faith.

That’s a lot of faith.

No wonder I can’t write a blog.

I can’t even think about that tiny little paragraph I need to write at the end of the day, let alone write a 500-word blog.

How can we live each day for five years worried about whether our lives are interesting enough to write about?

Well, see, that’s the thing. We can’t. So we don’t think about it so much. We just do it.

We just pick up a pen, or put our fingers on the keyboard, and write.

Start with a word and go.

How’s that for MOTIVATIONAL?

I sometimes don’t know what to write, but I try to write anyway.

Sometimes it’s just nonsensical junk that ends up on the page, and sometimes it’s something that’s surprisingly good.

But writing well isn’t even the point.

The point is expressing ourselves, and what makes it fun is that it’s all stuff that comes from inside of us, stuff that defines us and our ordinary lives.

And that can be wonderfully rewarding.

(And you know that if you don’t write it down, it’s not real, right?)

Get writing people. Make that your 2016 New Year’s resolution.

Capture your life on the pages of a notebook or on a blog or in a daunting five-year journal.

Your life is probably a lot more interesting than you think.

Let me end with this great little nugget from a writer named Victoria Erickson.

“Why write? Why should we all write? This is what I recommend…pick a word and see where that word takes you. Because you store everything in your body: the gorgeous, the ugly, the painful, the ecstatic. It’s all there locked away in your cells where memory, tension and confusion remain day after day, waiting to be set free. You don’t have to show it to an audience or your spouse or your children or even yourself again. But when it’s written down as a list, as a paragraph or poem or story, you can go to bed with greater understanding of yourself, of the world, or even of both yourself in this world. And at the very least, you know all those things are out of your body. Writing is essentially becoming free. It all begins with a word.

I couldn’t have said it any better. Thanks Victoria.

Now, get writing.

Figure out a way to capture 2016 in writing.

It’s only going to be real if you write about it …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family, Memoir

A not-so Cinderella experience

Have you read the quote that Cinderella is proof that the right pair of shoes can change your life? I’m not sure if that’s true but I am proof that a memory of the wrong pair of shoes can stay with you forever. IMG_4775 I recently saw this picture on Facebook and it brought back some funny shoe memories.

Let me say at the outset that I had shoe problems as a child.

Problem #1: When all my friends were buying shoes in adult women sizes, I still wore children’s shoes. Imagine the horror of dressing like a child when all your friends are discovering the thrills of grown-up woman shoes.

Problem #2: I lived in a town with two small department stores — JC Penney’s and Christensen’s. Shoe options were limited in both.

Problem #3: This follows-up on problem #2. There was a shoe store in town called Tip Top Shoe Repair owned by a man named Jim Damico. Wonderful man, wonderful family and a shoe shop full of the sturdiest, most practical shoes and boots a man could ever want.

Problem #4: My mom didn’t drive so going shopping out-of-town wasn’t easy. More on that later…

According to my mother, I was the “pickiest child that ever lived” when it came to shoes. Since we really only shopped for shoes and clothes once a year — in August before school started, I had to be picky!

Shopping wasn’t a hobby then like it is now. We bought essentials.

And, by the way, someone reminded me recently that when I was in elementary school and middle school, we had to wear dresses to school.

Yes, I’m that old.

Get over my age because we’re moving on with this story…

Shopping was an ordeal.

Remember problem #4 about how my mom didn’t drive?

Well, my dad was the town milkman.

See where I’m going here?

When we went school shopping, we piled into his one-seated Snow Dairy milk truck with the foldable door and had to either stand for a bumpy ride or sit on milk crates covered with gunny sacks full of ice to keep the milk cold. Dad drove us to Provo’s Main Street. Then, he pulled the handle to open the folding door and we all spilled out on the sidewalk to head off on our big annual school shopping adventure.

I had to share that one day of shopping with two brothers. (My sister came along later.)

A trip into one store and my brothers had new Levi’s, a bunch of shirts, socks, underwear, and shoes; and then it was my turn.

“How much longer are we going to be here?” the brothers started whining.

It went downhill from there.

Store after store, and no shoes I liked.

“Just get some! Who cares what they look like!? Here, take these,” they’d say as they shoved one atrocious pair after another at me.

Then came the worst thing of all from my mother: “We can’t spend all day looking for your shoes. Your dad will be here to pick us up soon, so you’re going to have to go shopping with Dad later.”

Did she say ‘”go shopping with dad?”

I begged her to give me more shopping time, but with two grumpy brothers burdened with bags of their new clothes, and my dad expecting us to meet him at the corner so that he could take us home in his milk truck, I was doomed.

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Thanks to Robert Lee Marsh from Springville for sharing this picture

He took me to Tip Top Shoe Repair. Remember the store with sturdy man shoes? “Hey Jim. She needs some good school shoes. What have you got?” Jim pointed out the saddle oxfords.

I’m not talking about the fashionable kind.

saddle-oxford-shoes-adult-800x507 “Noooooo. Dad, nooooooo. I can’t wear those.”

“Jim, let’s see them in her size.”

“Dad, seriously, I cannot wear those shoes. Look at them!”

Honestly, I would rather have worn the shoe boxes instead of those clunky shoes.

Jim brought them over to me and started threading the thick laces through the shoelace eyelets.

Podiatrist-approved orthotics, I was sure of it.

Seriously, nooooo. Dad!

I tried them on and they felt like heavy, immovable blocks of cement with white-tipped toes. “We’ll take ’em,” he said. “These will last you forever.”

What child wants orthopedic shoes that will last forever?

I may have worn them once. They were the most uncomfortable shoes ever made.

Maybe if I’d been a child in the fifties and wanted something to go with my poodle skirt, they would have been acceptable, but trust me, those were some bad shoes.

My dad was the most practical man that ever lived. I’m sure he thought Cinderella was silly and ridiculous with her glass slippers and magical life.

But at 10 years old, I could have used a fairy godmother who could sing some bibbidy-bobbiby-boo and transform my saddle oxfords into stylish shoes fit for a fourth grade shoe queen.

Family, From the News, Memoir

Lessons from NYC 9-11 Memorial

We recently visited the new 9-11 Memorial in NYC, which commemorates the lives of those lost in the terrorist attacks.

One word: sad.

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a piece of an original staircase from the World Trade Center
a piece of an original staircase from the World Trade Center

Visitors streamed through the museum in silence; many with tears running down their cheeks.

There were some parts of the museum that were so moving, I stifled outright sobbing.

People lingered over the exhibits, especially the ones with recorded voices of passengers on the hijacked planes calling their loved ones to tell them goodbye.

It struck me that in those final, horrific moments of their lives when they knew they were going to die, they called home and said, “I love you. Tell my family I love them.”

That was all they had to say.

That simple but common message summed up what mattered to every one of those victims; and in the end, their messages reminded every museum visitor what really matters to all of us.

A friend of ours, Walter, recently died from cancer and when his daughter spoke at his funeral, she said that as he was in his last days of his life, going in and out of consciousness, each time he awoke, he just wanted to repeat the words, “I love you” to his surrounding family.

He needed to make sure they knew.

I read an interesting quote that said boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend — everything has an “end” except family.

I didn’t hear any 9-11 tapes of people saying, “Tell my boss that report he needs is on my desk!” Or even “Throw out my incriminating personal journals and delete all my emails.”

A 33-year-old equity trader left a message for his mother as he saw people began falling from the windows above him in the Twin Towers.

“Mom, my building’s been hit by a plane. And right now… I think I’m OK, I’m safe now but it’s smoky.

“I just want to say how much I love you (voice breaks a little) and I will call you when I’m safe. OK mom? Bye.”

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/chilling-final-words-of-those-who-417979#ixzz3814p9Kjj

According to the above Mirror.co.uk story link, “more than 1,000 phone calls were made in just 10 minutes after the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, struck. And thousands more kept calling as the horror unfolded. Some reached loved ones, others left heart-rending messages.”

 

A real estate broker who had just accepted a promotion at another firm was clearing his desk for his move when the towers were hit.

 

He left a frantic message for his wife and daughter, Nicole, as he became trapped. He said: “There’s a fire. I love you, tell Nicole ‘I love you’. I don’t know if I’m going to be OK. I love you so much.”

One phone call, one urgent message.

In the last moments of their lives, they only wanted to call home and tell their families they loved them.

Isn’t that what we would all do?

It made me ask myself a series of questions:

Does my family know how much I love them?

Do they know how hard it would be for me to leave or lose them?

Have I loved them all individually and fully enough that they would always remember my love for them?

 

Is there such a thing as enough love for a family?

Does my life reflect that my family is my absolute top priority?

One thing I know for sure is that if I were on my deathbed, like my friend, Walter, or going down in a plane or into a pile of rubble like the 9-11 victims, my only thought would be just like theirs — tell my family I love them.

I’d pray a desperate, crucial prayer that somehow my family could grasp the infinite, boundless depth of that love.

The obvious, looming question here is Why wait?

For me, having my life show that my family is what I value most means small things like moving away from my computer when one of my family members calls and focusing completely on our conversations.  

It means remembering to add our new son-in-law to our silly group text conversations, and even trying to consider what he might like to do other than shop when he is with us. (I’m not used to boys.)

It means scheduling time to be together as often as possible, and never forgetting to verbally say, “I love you!” I also think it means being specific about what I love because we can all go a long way with a genuine, specific compliment.

Going to the 9-11 museum didn’t teach me the importance of family. It just reinforced it. And it reminded me that in all the horror of 9-11, and all the other bad things that can happen in life, we have to circle the wagons around what matters most to us and then live like it really does.