Gratitude Celebration 5: $50,000 Roller Skates

This is my fifth day of 60 days of gratitude for people in my life. For 60 days I’m writing a post to celebrate my 60th birthday. Enjoy this essay about my Uncle Walt and Aunt Aileen!

“So I took the fifty thousand dollars and I bought a pair of roller skates!” That’s what my Uncle Walt said once and it became the line that everyone used to characterize him! I never understood the story, but those words somehow encapsulate his lighthearted view of life.

Uncle Walt was my Dad’s oldest brother by fifteen years. He was an attorney in the small town of Celina, OH, not far from the even smaller town of Coldwater where the Bernard family grew up.  Aileen Courtney, his wife, was my Grandma’s younger sister, making Aileen my aunt AND my great aunt!

We visited them regularly for summer holidays, driving the one and a half hours from Dayton, OH through small towns until we passed Grand Lake Saint Mary’s with all its tiny cottages right next to the road.  The usual activity at Uncle Walt’s house was playing croquet in their back yard. If you’re not familiar with croquet, it’s that game with wire wickets set up in a course around the yard through which players hit wooden balls with wooden mallets trying to be the first one to maneuver the entire course. Like the other games our family played, anyone could play, and my Dad and Uncle Walt offered handicaps to level the field.  It felt pretty good to be able to beat one of the grown- ups every once in a while!

Thanksgiving was the big day with them, though! Every year, with only a rare miss, until I was 24, I celebrated Thanksgiving at Aunt Aileen’s and Uncle Walt’s. We’d get up early and trundle into the already-packed car, arriving when they were just getting up. Dad wanted to go early so he and his brother, with an army of others, could go rabbit hunting in the farm fields of Mercer County.

Starting at around age 10, I had the privilege of going hunting with them. I didn’t carry or shoot a gun. My job was to walk abreast of my Dad, Uncle Walt, my cousins Terry and Nancy, then later, her husband, Stan, and my brother Dan. Those were the usual hunters who I remember. My job, I started to say, was to flush out the rabbits. I only remember flushing out one rabbit, and that was a frozen one, sitting perfectly upright and still!

Mostly, what I loved was just walking across the fields of cut corn and soybeans, smelling the dry crops, studying the frost on the edges of the broad leaves and listening to my relatives talking and making jokes.  It felt really special to me to get to go hunt rather than stay at the house with all the other family. I got to be outside all day!

There were so many farms there in the countryside, but Uncle Walt would say, “Oh, it’s OK if we hunt here. I know this farmer.” Sometimes he would talk with a farmer outside near the barn. I thought he must know EVERYONE! In fact, he even knew somebody at the ice cream stand on the other side of town from their house! I never did figure out who we were going to see when Uncle Walt would say, “Come with me. There’s a man I need to talk with on the other side of town.” Then, he’d drive to Dairy Queen and buy me an ice cream cone.

And I thought it was pretty impressive that my uncle had his name in gold letters emblazoned on a certain window on the second floor of a building on the main street in Celina. “Bernard Law” the arching letters said. “He must be really important,” I thought. Well, I knew he was important to ME, because he did those same fun things with me and my siblings every time we visited! We’d play, go see that man across town, build a fire in the fireplace, and cook out in the backyard.

The picture was completed with my Aunt Aileen’s part.  For Thanksgiving, she would make chili for lunch, her own brand of chocolate chip cookies for snack, and prepare a sumptuous banquet for supper. My mom would always bring the pies, but Aunt Aileen made everything else.

A few times I got to go visit Aunt Aileen and Uncle Walt (that always rolls out as one long word!) for a whole week by myself! Just like solo visits to my Grandma’s, these were special visits too. I don’t remember being lonely there because there were so many fascinating things to play with. Aunt Aileen had a cupboard in the kitchen with the games I could choose – Pick Up Sticks, Mr. Potatohead, and one of those cards with the face and the iron shavings that you’d move around with a magnetic rod. In the living room there were several decks of cards in a certain drawer. I would build card houses for hours!  And then, downstairs in the basement, there was this Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest board game to play.

But nothing created memories of Aunt Aileen’s basement like roller skating! Either by myself or with siblings, roller skating in Aunt Aileen’s basement was a formative practice second to none! I could skate there for hours, getting my maneuvering around each pole just right, moving around the chairs and the ping pong table without poking my hip, even occasionally sneaking through the huge built-in closet with two doors.

So, maybe that’s where that $50,000 for the roller skates came from! Maybe that’s all got to do with the investment my aunt and uncle made in taking care of his brother’s kids, that priceless gift of making us feel special and having childhood adventures and being conscientious community people in a small town. I’m sure Aunt Aileen and Uncle Walt had struggles and disagreements and difficult times, but in my eyes they were prosperous, generous, and optimistic.

It’s still hard for me to send off a loved-one who is driving off without dancing after them waving goodbye with both arms, making funny faces and shouting Goodbyyyye!” until they’re out of sight. That’s what Uncle Walt used to do, and it caught on.

So, thanks Uncle Walt and Aunt Aileen for helping me develop a light heart!




Gratitude Celebration 4: Grandma Graciousness

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 posts of gratitude for people in my life. Today, I’m remembering my Grandma, Mary Zugger.

I liked my grandma. She was the only grandma I knew, my Dad’s mom having passed away when he was only 16. Grandma would come from Buffalo, NY on the train. My grandpa had worked for the railroad for his career and earned her free rides on the train. My memory snapshot is of her sitting at our kitchen table with beer in a glass and a cigarette in her hand. She would send me to the neighborhood grocery store with a note giving the store manager permission to pick up her Lark cigarettes, a whole carton of them.

A couple of times I got to go visit her by myself, with no other brothers or sisters from among my 9 siblings,  I would ride the train with my grandmother to spend a couple of weeks with her. Once, when I was 12, I got to go by myself. My mom put me on the train wearing my navy blue sailor dress and clutching a whole role of cherry lifesavers. It would take us probably 7 hours to get from Dayton, OH to Buffalo, then we’d catch a cab and ride to her house. When we got to her flat in the upstairs of the house where she grew up and raised her own 5 children, she would immediately make hot cocoa.

She would light up her old gas stove, lifting up the burner plate and striking a wooden match to spark the blue flame. She’d make the cocoa with milk, cocoa, and sugar.  That was the beginning of the special things grandma would do with me.

We’d go to the band concert her son conducted. We’d walk to the 5 and dime where she bought me a doll. It was NOT a Barbie doll, which my mom would not approve. This was a Barbie look-alike, though. For the next week or so that I stayed with my grandmother I played with that doll. My play spot was a really neat closet in the bedroom adjoining the kitchen. It was two steps up from the floor and closed with a folding vinyl door. That closet became my doll’s world where I could give her a wonderful life. I made her clothes from scraps of fabric left over from a dress I had seen my grandmother wear.

My grandmother gave me a big challenge on one of those visits. The downstairs neighbors had taken me with them to their family beach outing. I had a great time and bounced up the stairs into the kitchen at the end of the day. Grandma, with her neatly combed grey hair, looked at me with a firm look, saying, “Did you say ‘thank you’ to the Biddles for that nice outing?” I looked down at the floor. “Well, you go right down there and tell them.” I was so ashamed and shy that I inched down the inside back steps to their kitchen door – and just sat on the bottom step. I sat for a good 20 minutes but I did not knock on their door. I never have understood my reason for refusing to thank the Biddles, but I just couldn’t do it!

Funny how this memory of my grandmother insisting on gracious behavior and me being ashamed and afraid of giving it, has stayed with me!

I’m grateful for my grandmother being a regular presence in my life. Because of her, I usually had a fully ironed blouse to wear under my high school uniform. She caught me one morning, running late with my morning dressing and rushing to get a blouse ready. “You need to iron the whole thing, not just the collar and front, Regina,” she said in that soft and commanding grandma voice. “But, Grandma, I’m wearing a sweater and that’s all that shows!” I argued. She didn’t need to say anything else, just watch me – as I ironed the rest of the blouse. I won’t claim to consistently iron my blouses to her standard after that, but I always heard her voice cajoling me to do it!

As a young adult, newly married and rehabilitating an old house in Covington, KY, my grandma visited me and my husband in our ramshackle abode, slipping between the stacks of drywall and happily chatting in the only finished room, the kitchen. Our entertainment for the Saturday she was there was to go to our rehabbing friend’s house to help bash old plaster off the walls. Grandma said, “Sure, I’ll come along. I want to meet your friends.” She perched herself on an upended barrel or something, sipped her beer, and smoked a cigarette, happily watching everyone for the few hours we were there. “What a cool grandma you have!” everyone agreed. She claimed to have had a good time too. That felt really gracious to me that she would do that!

When she was dying of cancer at age 80, I went to visit her with my oldest son who was four years old. I was pregnant with our second child. The last time I sat with her and talked I told her that I’d name this child after her. She smiled. I didn’t see her again, but I kept my promise and named our second son Adam Courtney Reiter, using her maiden name as his middle name.

So thanks, Grandma Mary Courtney Zugger for being a firm authority who was also gracious and generous. Thanks for showing up frequently in my life and giving me special attention and time on my own.

Gratitude Celebration 3: Karen: Perfection Emulated

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude to people in my life! Today is the third day. I honor my older sister, Karen.

I had this view of my life that I would follow in my sister, Karen’s footsteps. She’s three years older than I, and did everything perfectly (well, except play that Chopin piece with so many repeated notes I wanted to scream down the stairs from my bed, “Just play the thing through! Stop repeating. Stop repeating!”). She was smart. And popular, but not in the boy-attracting way my older sister, Claudia was. Karen dazzled me with her ability to gather groups of friends into marvelous events that I always wanted to be part of. Her friends were so interesting, and talked about important things like social activism and personal growth and things like that. She was such a nice big sister that she did invite me a few times! I was invited to her friend’s party on the night of the first Moon Walk. I was in Karen’s glorious circle of friends with eyes glued to the full moon on July 20, 1969, sure that I could tell that the moon had been breached.

And I was a participant in a weekend retreat with Karen’s friends and some of the religious brothers of the all-boys high school that matched our all-girls one. I felt so grown up to be included, and yet my shy unworthiness drove me to escape to the privacy of the bunk room when I got scared to share my true feelings during one of the talking circles. I’ll always remember how one of Karen’s friends discovered that I was missing and came to gather me back into the group.

Karen set the example that I wanted to follow, and thought that I would. She played piano for her senior class play – South Pacific. Wow! She was good. When I was a senior, I was chosen to accompany the play, but our director didn’t have an orchestra like the one in South Pacific. We just had two pianos and classmate Paula and I took turns playing half of the score – the treble clef – while our music teacher, Rose Geysbers, played the bottom half. I was not as good as Karen had been and our play was not as grandiose.

Karen led the way with having her second child born at home. That home was a cabin in the backwoods of northern Idaho, a couple of miles down a dirt road to the nearest gravel road about 20 miles from town. My husband and I, when we had been married two years, had the job of going to town to call the midwife when it was time for Karen to deliver. Well, when that moment arrived, we were out walking in a nearby marsh, watching a moose! We saw Weezil, Karen’s husband’s, drive by and we realized that we had probably missed that call. We arrived at the house in time to see their son’s birth, everything under control without our help. Afterward, as we sat in the kitchen talking with the midwife, I said, “When we have children, we’ll probably have our first one in a hospital. It would be safer that way.” The midwife promptly replied, “Why sacrifice your first one? That might be the only one you have.”  We thought about that, and when our first son was born, exactly one year later, we were at home with a midwife helping us.  Thanks, Karen, for leading the way!

Homeschooling was another endeavor that Karen mastered and I simply accomplished. As our children grew, we rarely saw each other, both occupied with our all-consuming jobs of raising children. She still lived in Idaho. I was in Arlington, VA and then Evansville, IN. I heard of all the impressive things she was doing with her kids: learning Proverbs, winning fiddle competitions, reading the classics out loud in groups, sewing quilts. I was muddling along with my sons, but never thought I was doing things as well as she was. It was several years later, when my youngest son was 16, playing his solo cello recital, with me accompanying him on piano, that my sister’s admiration for ME dawned on me.  She had made the trip to be present at his recital and gave a tender greeting to our guests, applauding me for being a dedicated, skillful, and talented mom and exemplary homeschooler.  I had never thought that SHE admired ME! So, thanks for your graciousness, Karen!

One of Karen’s expressions in perfection is in piecing quilts. Hers are stunning works of crisp, meticulously angled patterns in vibrant colors. I continuously marvel at the precision displayed in her designs. While Karen’s fabric projects have been amazing quilts and dresses, mine have been hiking gear. I can get by with sewing that just does the job of holding the pieces together! I’ll leave the perfection to her!

It used to be that I compared my lower level of perfection with Karen’s high level. Well, it’s true that we’ve played in some of the same arenas and that our performance there has been different. I’m happy to say that now I’m able to simply celebrate our unique creations and ways that both of us have been willing to be women of courage and perfection, not afraid to stand outside the norm and to be pioneers in birth, education, and crafts.  I thank you, Karen, for being someone who strives for perfection and high quality in everything you do!

There’s an experience that Karen has had that I don’t want to follow.  Karen’s youngest daughter passed away just three days after her eighteenth birthday.  It’s been a number of years since then, I have lost count, but I know the wound is still raw. With deep sadness, and heartfelt sympathy that I know I can never truly express adequately, I turn my sister to the care of other mothers who have lost children. So, it’s not really gratitude, but compassion that I offer to my sister for weathering that sadness and leading the way through grief and loss. Perhaps my sharing this can encourage any of you readers who understand to enfold my sister in your loving care.


Gratitude Celebration Day Two: Claudia

Today is my second day of SIXTY DAYS OF GRATITUDE to celebrate my sixtieth birthday!

Today, I’m giving thanks for my oldest sister, Claudia.

Claudia, my oldest sister

She is five years older than me and I always admired that she was beautiful and popular! I was grateful for being able to borrow her clothes because she always had better ones! At least that’s what I thought when I was 15! Once, though, I had a vest and she had a skirt that went together well, so that time I felt equal!

The funny thing is that I still like to borrow her clothes and I still think she is beautiful and popular, but I also think that I am too! This Christmas season, when we were both staying at our mom’s house, we both got glitzed up for Christmas Eve in Claudia’s clothes. It worked out great because she could show off two glitzy tops and I could surprise everyone with wearing a glitzy top.

My big sister, Claudia, introduced me to a long list of firsts:

  • Lentil soup
  • A diaphragm
  • Touch for Health
  • Herbal tinctures
  • Massage
  • Decorating Christmas trees with Milkweed fluff
  • Montessori lessons
  • Sharing our true feelings
  • Radical Forgiveness
  • Ice Skating Jumps

Claudia has been my closest sister, one who has shared more ups and downs than we have shared with our other siblings. She came to support me for two of my home births and stayed even when it was hard for her. She accepted me when I was having an affair even when it reminded her of being abandoned in her own relationship. She leans on me and lets me coach her with my Radical Forgiveness tools and shares her Byron Katie’s The Work tools with me.

I don’t think we knew how to be supportive sisters when we were young, but we’re making up for it now! I’m getting to know Claudia better, now that SHE is courageously singing her heart’s song. Here’s what I’ve found out.

Claudia is following her heart’s desire to be a Real Cowgirl. Her motto is:

A Cowgirl gets up early in the morning, decides what to do,and does it.
-Marie Lords, 1861

Cowgirl Standing on Horse

​She spent summers out West with our uncle. He bought her first pair of cowgirl boots.

Claudia Riding 10 Spot


Those childhood summers branded her soul with horses, sagebrush and wide open spaces.

Reading a Book with a Hor


Now she is free to follow her 10 year old’s dream to be a Real Cowgirl. For the past 4 summers, she has worked on ranches with horses.  She is doing whatever it takes to find year round employment on a ranch as a Real Cowgirl. She is studying natural horsemanship and is certified Parelli Level 1.

My Birthday Kiss


What she really loves is being part of a herd, standing around listening to tails swishing and hooves stomping, smelling hay and fresh manure, seeing wide open sky, and feeling a velvet horse nose on her cheek.

Cactus, Claudia and Candy in the Snow


If you want to enjoy an uplifting taste of Claudia’s adventures, here they are, put to music that will touch your heart and inspire you to know and follow your own dream.

If This is My Last Song

Claudia’s Year of the Horse

 Happy Trails to my Dear Sister Claudia.  May she ride into the sunset, and die with her boots on. May all of us follow our heart’s desire, no matter what it is and no matter what age we are!




Gratitude Celebration: Day One!

It’s my 60th birthday and I thought of a way to celebrate all sixty years. Every day, I’ll recognize someone who blessed my life along the way!

I’ll start with my parents. I know that’s two people, but I figure since it took both of them to get me here, they come as a package to start off this party. Thanks a million Mom and Dad, Patricia and Jim Bernard, that is.

I was their fourth child. When I was born they didn’t know they would be having six more kids, so I was the special baby for a little while anyway. I have a LIFETIME of gratitude for my parents. I’ll make it easy and just start a list of thank you’s:

  • The basics – helping me get here
  • More basics – food, clothes, beautiful homes, school all the way through college
  • Special things like teaching me how to sew, build things, use tools, and start gardens
  • Dad taught me how to do plumbing (Remember when my Dad and I did 36 joints in one day in the basement of my first house in Covington, KY? That’s soldered copper pipe joints don’t cha know?
  • Mom went with me and my Biology Class to the Great Smoky Mountains Wildflower Festival. That’s where I first saw liverworts, which is very special for someone who loves plants!
  • They took me and my siblings out West a few times, camping, and spending time in the mountains. A seed was planted for future adventuring when I asked my mom if I could walk over to the top of a bald spot on a distant mountain. She said, “Sure!”  What a smart woman, ’cause even though she knew that I would not walk that far, she let me find out for myself. Years later, when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2008, I remembered that moment and realized that while walking that trail I often walked to the peaks of distant mountains.
  • When I was 17, I backed my dad’s car into another car, denting it. I was mortified and so embarassed!  I thought, “He’s not going to let me drive, ever again – he shouldn’t let me drive, I’m not a good driver!” He didn’t say that. The next morning, he said, “OK, let’s go! You drive!”
  • And the most significant gift, which I have only recently realized was my dad’s contribution to my biggest transformation in life was when he said, “When are you going to get a real job? Teaching at an outdoor education center is not a real job.”  It’s been only in the past few years that I’ve realized how deeply I swallowed that belief that what I loved to do most was the thing I could not proudly do! Transforming that belief and claiming my calling as an outdoor educator has given me the opportunity to realize my personal creative power. So, thanks for that, Dad.
  • Having a book about the Appalachian Trail in the home library. The idea of hiking the trail lay secretly dormant until I was 50!
  • I’ll add more points of gratitude to my parents, but you get the idea!

Thanks, Mom and Dad for being exactly the parents I needed!!

This is the book that helped me turn my resentment of my dad’s discounting of my vocation into a powerful transformative accomplishment.


Radical ForgivenessRadical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle

by Colin C. Tipping

Get the first chapter here for free.

Buy the book here. Click on the logo. This will take you to the Radical Forgiveness store. Search “Books” for Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle. And be prepared for some SHIFT!

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