Category Archives: Traditions

The Family Frosty

A legend in his own mind.
A legend in his own mind.

Frosty is a member of our family, and a legend in the making. He was born one winter in the usual way: a clap-patted bit of snow pressed into the standard lumpy form and decorated with a mix of twigs, outdated accessories, and withered vegetables. I don’t know what it was about this particular snowman that earned our pity, but we soon committed to rescuing him from the sun.

But we didn’t have that magic hat. So we took a starter from his slushy side (like sour dough or friendship bread starter) hoping to capture his essence. Now, with a tradition of thirteen years and counting, we can hardly call him a guest even when he gets a little obnoxious.

To begin your own tradition you need a good snowfall, a ziplock bag, and a little freezer space.

Build and decorate your snowman in the usual, or unusual, way. If you like turtles or hula dancers (both seen on our street last year), go with it. You might even have your snow-person morph from character to character each year. Whatever inspires you.

While snowmen from the north may have weeks to enjoy their usual pursuits, those living in warmer climes have time enough for only a few photo ops, a snowball fight, or a change or two of accessories before sun tanning becomes their primary activity. Whatever the case, when your guy gets a little listless, it’s time to begin thinking about moving him indoors.



Watch carefully at this stage.

You might want to intervene as soon as his shoulders sag and his stare becomes vacant. I’m of the school that freedom is important enough to him that we dare the sun until the last minute. I allow Frosty to sink into total unresponsiveness, knowing he will revive as soon as the freezer kicks on.

An expectant Frosty wonders what color of scarf he'll wear this year.

An expectant Frosty wonders what color of scarf he’ll wear this year.

Whenever you decide, scoop a generous heart-sized ball of snow out of your snowman. (Actual heart tissue is not necessary and is difficult to determine in any case.) Pop the ball into a Ziploc bag and take him inside. I recommend a visible spot in your freezer until your snowman has made several outings.

Once everyone looks forward to his yearly return, you won’t forget about him. You can safely move him to the back, out of the way of your day-to-day activity. He won’t complain, but you might notice that the ice cream seems to disappear a bit faster without close supervision.

With every snowfall, or at least once a year, bring your snowman starter out of hibernation.

In our family we form the base of the new body around the ball. But those who are medically minded might enjoy a surgical procedure–inserting the starter as gallbladder one time and cerebellum the next. You can be creative here.

Oops! Make that Frostina. And boy is she surprised by how much the grandkids have grown.

Oops! Make that Frostina. And boy is she surprised by how much the grandkids have grown.

When it comes to long-term storage, you might be concerned about power outages or equipment or human failure. We faced that situation last year. When the freezer door was left ajar, our starter went limp. His color, though often white, was positively transparent. We feared the worst.

Luckily, Frosty’s health wasn’t compromised because we had a good seal on the bag. We simply refroze him.

If anything, his heart was strengthened by the experience.

Following these directions should give you and your snowman many happy years together. One day his legend may be the stuff of stories. So start your family tradition this winter.


The Stuck Pickup…and other legends III

Stuck in the Mind

See Part I here, and here for Part II

The Innocent Party

The Innocent Party

Now we come to the finer points of waiting out a hot…did I say hot? Make that a miserable  day of extreme heat.

But I had no right to gripe. I got to spend it at the river, plunging in to cool off when I wanted. Nicole was easily the happiest member of our party, swimming, watching the boats, even napping in the porta-crib with sweat beaded on her face. My Dad, on the other hand—

But I’ll get to that in a minute.

We had high hopes of rescue every time a group of canoe and kayakers rallied to the chore of delivering us from the river. And that was often. The Buffalo National River is almost a mandatory pilgrimage for those who love paddle boats. And since it was summer and high season, an unending stream of boats nosed past us while our pickup dangled its slipper in the river’s main channel.

So how many canoeists did it take to lever us out of the water? I can tell you the magic wasn’t in two or three or even four additional sets of biceps. The legend gets a little hazy at this point. I chalk that up to that honest fish tale phenomenon mentioned earlier. While I’m sure it was ten who couldn’t lift the rear of the truck, my husband remembers it as at least eight.

With the truck resting on its belly, and the water deeper just off the right rear fender, those trying to muscle it upward stood low enough that they had to lift from the chest, unable to get their legs into it. My father was cautious too, not allowing anyone to get into a position that had a potential for danger. He didn’t want anyone swept under the truck or to have it fall on them.

After many attempts, my dad accepted the commission for a of a six mile slog through the Arkansas jungle to Morning Star in one hundred plus degree heat to get a tow truck . The fortunate got to spend the next several hours politely rebuffing all the high school youth who passed in their flotillas, assuring them that stronger men than they had already failed to evict the truck from the river.

A better way to cross rivers

A better way to cross rivers


The question is: why is repeating this adventure something of a family tradition? Why any story? Quirky details or hyped emotions might decide which stories we choose to tell, but they don’t explain our need to tell them.

I think storytelling reminds us who we are. Our lives are in a constant state of change as we grow, leave families, and make new connections and relationships. And the future will bring more changes.

Stories about our life link us to a fixed moment in time—something we can hold on to.

We spend most of our lives focused on the next thing—what we have to do, where we’re going. A Yoda quote puts it like this: “Never his mind on where he was—what he was doing.” Yoda taught that real life is not in a future that may not even happen. It inhabits the moment in which you find yourself—in other words, the now.

In that case, some might counter, stories about the past would be equally pointless

I disagree here When we tell a story, we slow down the motion picture of our life and get a freeze frame of a real moment—the people, the detail, the emotion, everything. We capture a little slice of life that continues to breathe. In telling our stories, we affirm that the puzzle pieces of our lives are important, not just the completed work.

And because we rightly make plans for the future, and look forward to our life with Christ, It is right to plant our feet deep in the life we are living. As we honor the past and the future we affirm the eternal nature of our souls. We affirm that God has been good, he is good, and he will be good.


Thankful to have hitched a ride the last few miles, my dad returned only half melted. With no tow trucks available he accepted help from a jeep owner who promptly got stuck himself in our thick bottomland sand. The driver had to wench both his truck and ours, one at a time, in a piecemeal fashion through a hundred yards of seasonally flooded ground.

Our river crossing was not an almost. With the boggy sand that awaited us we never came close to making it.

It would be great if all our stories were heroic and inspiring…or would it?

We’re seldom heroic people, after all. Things often go wrong. Even if its only the little stuff. (Don’t get me started on the farina again.)

But our stories still have the power to unite. In remembering them we frame our relationships and connect generations. But only if we are faithful to tell them over and over. So when your teenagers or grandchildren roll their eyes at you, ignore them. Remind yourself that you’re busy working on their legacy as well as yours.

A New Generation Takes to the River

A New Generation Takes to the River


The Stuck Pickup…and other legends II

Season with Emotion

Almost, but not quite.

Almost, but not quite.

For Part I check here.

We’d finished choking down the farina. With the crossing place chosen, we loaded our all too inadequate camping gear into the truck for a committed run at the Buffalo River. If we took it just slow enough not to throw loose rocks from under the tires, maybe….

The scouts had told us the water was slow and flowed no more than a foot deep for most of the crossing—no sweat. But, while rivers run anywhere in their course during the wet season, they like to carve themselves at least one deeper channel as insurance against going summer dry. That channel nested close to the opposite bank. It wasn’t more than a few feet wide and a foot deeper than the rest of the river, the rise from it quick. With a little speed, it should be no problem for the macho truck that had rappelled down to the riverbed.

That’s what we kept telling ourselves, anyway.

The Dodge powered across the sleeping river, bobbing up and down over the firm rock bed. When we came to the far side it lurched down into the deeper gully then pulled itself forward and up as the front tires found dry land. We started to congratulate ourselves.

But the right rear wheel lost contact with the riverbed. Our eyes grew wide as the river woke up, grabbing the flat panel of the rear fender. We feared the front tires would be torn from the bank. But instead, the river lifted and spun the back of the truck, pinning us against the bank with the one tire dangling.

Besides the details, there’s another thing that brings good stories to life—that gives them a shot at becoming a legend.

Stories with big emotions are stories we want to hear and tell.

I still remember the horror of the ride down the hill that day, and the sick “oh no” when the river grabbed the truck. I feel disgust at the thought of unsalted farina, though I’m pretty certain it couldn’t as bad as I remembered.

Garlic...or sand? You be the judge.

Garlic…or sand? You be the judge.

I bet you might have a story or legend about a time when you felt triumphant, like we did when we survived the descent to the river. Or maybe one that makes you laugh, like we do when we remember the time my Mom seasoned her Italian dressing with sand instead of garlic and we nearly rounded off our molars. (She forgot she’d refilled the empty bottle to make a music shaker for her preschool class.)

Telling the story of their vacation across several western states is a tradition in my husband’s family. The youngest, barely a toddler then, was in a hip brace consisting of a metal bar affixed between two industrial strength shoes. In the days before child restraints, my father-in-law built a raised platform in the middle of the back seat, extending across the foot space and butting against the front seatback, where little Julianne could stretch out for a nap or see out the windows with ease.

The only problem with the setup was that she used it for neither. She spent the entire trip climbing back and forth from the front seat to the back, flailing her weapon clad feet at the heads and arms of her older siblings, John and Margie, while they howled and whimpered.


Continental Divide

Continental Divide

When the story of this vacation needs telling, and it often does, no one relives the natural glories of Yellowstone. Nobody reminisces about Jackson Hole and the magnificent Tetons either. (In fact, I didn’t even know Jackson Hole was part of the itinerary until the first edit of this post.) But every time the story is told, I half expect my husband to cradle his arm and whine about the horror of his sister’s brace.

Though they might mellow a bit, they still have a kick.

Obviously, your feelings can be changed by time. You might laugh now at what once embarrassed you. And what scared you silly might only give you a shiver. But whether we exaggerate, or deny them, the drama of the past flavors your storytelling .

My dad wrestled the steering wheel while trying various combinations of gas, but it did no good. The engine sputtered and died. Like a half-submerged rock or a snag, the pickup had become a water feature in the Buffalo River, chevron waves rippling from its fender.

We got out of the truck on the dry side, of course. It was a shame; we’d come so close to making it. At least it was a relief to find the Dodge stable, resting on its belly like a Seaworld whale on the deck of a pool.

Only one question remained: How many canoeists does it take to pick up a truck?

The finale next week.

The Stuck Pickup…and other legends

The Flavor of Storytelling

Almost, but not quite.

Almost, but not quite.

The title and picture may have given away half the plot, but there’s more to this story than the obvious. Telling it is a tradition in our family.  And traditions don’t become legends because of the facts but because of the flavor.

The flavor of this one is farina. (You might know it as Cream of Wheat.)

Years ago my husband, John, and I went camping with my parents and our infant daughter, Nicole, at the Buffalo River in Arkansas. After checking out their spider-packed and sweltering hunting cabin on the hill, we decided the gravel bar was for us. Just a quick eighth of a mile down the newly-dozed access road a cool paradise waited.

What we didn’t know at the top was that rains had washed a ton of soil from the road, exposing the skeleton of the rocky hillside.

Have you seen those movies where the hero has to cross a maze of stones suspended over an abyss? As he steps from stone to stone, he knows that at any moment one of them may give way. Add to that picture a 35 degree slope and you can imagine what we were up against. Attempting this balancing act in a pickup, with no possibility of aborting our ill-planned descent, the best we could hope for was to “fall with style.”

The lucky ones got to get out of the truck and direct the tires down boulders the size of laundry baskets. The unlucky, including myself and the baby, bemoaned our last moments as we straddled gully-washed crevasses two to three feet deep in an off-balance washing machine.

Oh, I think I forgot to mention that the Dodge 1500 truck wasn’t four-wheel drive.

But somehow we made it to the gravel bar. We celebrated our feat with roasted hot dogs and beans under a beautiful evening sky. Nicole slept the night in a porta-crib castle furnished with draperies against the mist, while the river wrapped us all in the sounds of running water.

The terror just might have been worth it.

Isn’t it funny how the biggest story or the greatest adventure can’t be told without the small details?


Buffalo in the Fall

The Buffalo in Another Season


A story grows larger than life as it’s repeated through the years. I’m not talking about embellishing it with falsehoods, or even the honest exaggeration of a “fish story,” but of the way in which a story gains the status of a family legend. We may think we are telling the great, bare bones of the thing just because it is amazing or funny, but sometimes it’s the intimate points of focus that make it immortal. As in any good novel or painting, you are drawn into the picture with the smallest brushstrokes.

Here is where the farina comes in. (I know you’ve been wondering.)

At breakfast we discovered that we’d forgotten the milk, so the cornflakes were out. But Mom had a box of farina. Stirring it into the boiling water, she realized that the salt was missing…also forgotten. (This might sound like an unimportant detail if you are used to instant packs of hot cereal, but I promise it’s a deal breaker with the old-fashioned cooked stuff.) A can of fruit cocktail would have to stand in for the missing sugar. Ready to dish up it up, we discovered the bowls too were AWOL.

Who planned this camping trip anyway?

Gagging down cups of unsalted farina and fruit cocktail, John and my dad tromped off to test the shallow, summer river to find the best place to cross.

Those of you who know the river have alarm bells going off in your head about now. Yes, we intended to cross the Buffalo without four wheel drive. But what choice did we have?

There was no going back.

Check back soon for part II of “The Stuck Pickup…and other legends.”