Our house was in Sinking Valley – nestled in the Allegheny Mountains. The valley got its name became of the limestone deposits  which sometimes deteriorated and caused the ground to sink in – causing sinkholes.  To get there we went out Kettle Road or as we said “going up the Kettle.” At the top we could see the entire town of Altoona (the town, by the way where the slinky was invented.)   For the next nine miles or so, the winding mountain road took us through sections that could rival any scenic highway in America. At one place, there is (or at least was) a mountain spring where people stop and get their drinking water.

After about eight or nine miles on the winding road – we came to Sickles Corner. When we lived there, Sickles Corner really WAS Sickles Corner – a small grocery/convenience-type store where we would often stop for ice cream. Now I think the corner is someone’s house – but the area is still called Sickles Corner.

About two miles further down Kettle Road,  we turned left on a wide, smooth-surfaced dirt road (now paved) which cut through two fields and disappeared into the trees. The entrance was bookmarked by two stone posts and across from the entrance was the Fort Roberdeau sign. We would drive about a mile before the road split – the main part of the road leading to a small cluster of houses and  a gun club. (Sometimes in the stillness of the afternoon, we would hear the staccato sound of the guns.) The other fork faded into a narrow, rutted path not much bigger than the width of a car. To the right we passed one of those famous sink holes – this one filled with brush. Usually a couple indigo buntings flitted around the pile of dead branches. Nearby this sinkhole was a great monkey vine – fun to grab the vine and swing back and forth.

We would continue down the road and up the hill to the left was the Kiwanis Camp. Didn’t seem like people were there too often – the place looked deserted. Once my parents must’ve talked to someone in charge of the camp because I remember they said we could use their swimming pool. We went up once  – I think I might’ve had some friends visiting  – and my mom went up with us.

But alas, the pool was deep and not very inviting, so I think that was the first and last time we used it.

Closer to the road was the barn that used to belong to the house, but was now owned by a man who owned property elsewhere – though he kept cows at the barn. Again, he told us we could go over to the barn when we wanted. (I think my parents kind of watched over the barn and cows for him – not actually feeding or taking care of them, but just making sure nothing went wrong). I often walked around the pasture and played inside the barn itself.

This picture was taken when we lived in the house.

Then you turned the corner and saw our house.  With the exception of one other family who lived at the end of the road – we were the only people who lived on this side of the fork.

A brook ran along the back of the house and disappeared into a cave. The brook appeared again several miles away. Two high school boys we knew sent something down the brook through the cave and then drove to the other end and sure enough, their “message-in-a-bottle” appeared.  However, I was told never, ever to go near the cave because it was dangerous (unstable ground) and I didn’t. I wasn’t afraid of it, but had a healthy fear of not getting too close (and for getting punished by my dad).

A corner of the yard was filled with a huge catalpa tree. Dad hung a swing from one of the branches and I liked lazily swinging over the brook.

The bridge over the brook - not when we lived there, but when we visited in the 90s. This is my niece, Beth, walking on the bridge.

We also had our friendly neighborhood blacksnake that liked to lie under the tree. Residents of the area liked blacksnakes because they ate the mice and other annoying rodents. Although we never saw one, the area was known for its rattlesnakes and copperheads – not so friendly neighborhood snakes. (A friend of mine woke up one morning and found a rattlesnake under her bed. She screamed for her older brothers and they came and killed it.) After that I ended my nighttime prayer, praying I wouldn’t wake up and find a rattlesnake on the floor.

The tree in the 90s.

Across the woods from the house was a wooded area where I loved to play.  I liked to collect the burrs, stick them together and make cups and saucers or I would pick huge armfuls of Queen Anne’s Lace and dye the white flowers with food coloring and put bouquets in every room of the house.

But the coolest thing about the woods was an old foundation from a Revolutionary War fort.  Before World War II (or sometime long ago) someone had figured out where Fort Roberdeau once stood and started reconstructing it – but then stopped. I declared it “my fort” and loved playing over there.

Fort Roberdeau was a lead mine and provided ammunition for the soldiers. The story goes that the ammunition would be put on a raft in the brook and sent through the cave — to come out when the brook appeared several miles away. (Not sure that’s what

Taken when we lived there.

real historians say – but that’s what we were told.) Actually, not much happened there. No battles were won or even fought. But it did become a place of protection for the farmers in the area (or so they say). Usually no one paid attention to the broken-stone foundation in the woods except sometimes on lazy summer afternoons, some scholarly-looking person would show up and ask where the fort had been located.

Our family owned six acres (or maybe it was five). If you went down the road, past the cave, you came to a field. At one time this was a cornfield, but Dad and Mom had the field made into a baseball diamond. No, it wasn’t the Field of Dreams – but still the people came. Sometimes people from church would come out on a Friday night, play baseball, roast hot dogs and then sing and have devotions around a huge bond fire.

I have lots of other memories, too: Dad dictating his children’s books to Mom; walking around our property with Dad as he destroyed the destructive tent caterpillars with a a homemade torch;  growing my own zinnia and marigold garden in a little patch outside the back side door (seen in the top house picture); the  lilac bush in front providing a perfect haven to sit underneath and read. Which is why I think I am so obsessed with lilacs to this day. Which is why we now have seven lilac bushes in our yard – all different colors.  (You can kind of see the bush in the picture – I think this was taken in the spring and it is just beginning to bloom)

Even though we were isolated, Sinking Valley never felt isolated. Since Dad was a pastor, we made the eleven mile trip to town probably five out of seven days each week so we were always coming and going and we were always around a lot of people.

I went to school in Tyrone, taking the bus eleven miles the opposite direction through more scenic country. I remember one morning on the bus sitting behind a high school kid wearing a Penn State jacket. I spent the eleven miles learning how to spell Pennsylvania – and to this day spell it with a sing-songy quickness I memorized that morning.

And then one weekend Dad took a trip to Chicago to speak at a church and the next thing I knew, I was leaving  Pennsylvania and moving to the suburbs. My parents quickly sold the house to a family from church.

I cried. And I cried some more. I did NOT want to leave the mountains.

Not until I was older did I learn my parents weren’t that excited about leaving the house either. Dad promised Mom we would only stay in the Midwest for five years and then go back East where we were from. But by the time Dad left the church – I was married and had two kids. And … our entire family still lives here.

But there is a sequel to this story.

Stay tuned.


I know most of you know that I went to Springfield for my birthday and that we had an accident, but before I write about that – I do want to finish my Sinking Valley story. (And probably all that needs to be said about the accident has been written on FaceBook – Kelli has a picture up of the van. But I will post pictures of some other things we did.)



Although this was taken several years after we moved and it looked a little different, this is the church/house we lived in on Fourth Street

When I was a little kid, we lived in the thriving metropolis of Altoona, Pennsylvania – right down Fourth Street from the Pennsylvania Railroad shops. (I remember my dad saying that Altoona was the only place where you could go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning with an etching of your head on the pillow. Everything around your head was soot from the railroad.) I don’t think it was quite that bad, but it wasn’t the cleanest place on earth either.

My dad had grown up in the country (although right outside of New York City) and since my parents had married they had lived both in the country and town – but they truly wanted to move away from the city street that was close enough to the railroad shops to hear the lunch and going-home whistles. Our front porch was about two feet from semi-busy Fourth Street and we were backed up to a gas station. Even though we were friends with the owner and I used to hang out over there talking to the guys (how times have changed), my parents focused on buying their own home.

Oh, did I mention we didn’t live IN a house? We lived in a small apartment in the church. My playground was the Sunday School rooms. My tricycle was crammed in the back porch amidst VBS supplies and I spent a lot of time following the high-school aged janitor around.  Annoying him, I’m sure.

But buying their own home wasn’t easy for my parents. The people in the church were kind and generous, but not exactly rich and my dad didn’t get paid all that much when we first moved there. So, patiently, my parents put away $10.00 a week in their house fund.

And then when I was in first grade – they found it.

This wasn’t just any house, this was six acres of beautiful country with a farmhouse dating to the 1800s. The house was kind of run down, so they hired a man at church to fix it up. (I think he actually lived there for awhile.) Meanwhile, we still lived in town, but would go down to “the house” every chance we got.

The house itself was typical of an old farmhouse. The porch led to a sprawling kitchen with back stairs leading to the second floor. We made the dining room into a living room and had all the printing equipment for our church on a ping pong table in the room formerly known as the living room or parlor. Mom wallpapered the now living room in toile and four sunny windows looked out over our property. The front door opened to an entrance hall with stairs to the second floor and a 1/2 bath under the steps. (Or maybe that was a 1/4 bath – I think it was just a toilet.)

The upstairs had a landing with a set of steps going in each direction. One side had the master bedroom and two smaller bedrooms. I decorated mine in blue and pink. My large window looked over our side yard, a shed and a barn that at one time belonged to the house. The other side of the landing opened up into a small room with an old pump organ. Only three chords remained, but that was enough to fascinate a 6yo.   I loved to play it. Three other bedrooms made up the rest of that side of the second floor. Thankfully, one of those bedrooms had been converted into a bathroom.

The basement was dark, gloomy and damp – with a coal furnace which had to be stoked each winter morning. (Now, THAT would be fun. I think I’m glad I was the kid and and not an adult living there.)

For a year or two we owned the house without living in it – but then came the day we actually moved “down to the valley.”

I’ve told you about the inside of the house, but it was the land surrounding the house that made this a kid’s dream.

To be continued.


Not the original crazy story – but a crazy story.

This morning I had to go to the doctor and get poked by a needle. The nurse was very friendly and we were chatting and I thought about something I hadn’t thought about for years. I said, “My parents conditioned me to be brave when stuck by needles when they bribed me with a bunch of toys if I didn’t cry when I got my vaccination back when I was in first grade.” End of discussion.

Later I was talking to my mom and while telling her about the doctor’s visit she said, “We taught you to be brave when we bribed you not to cry when you got your vaccination back in first grade.”

That was weird enough – that we both thought of the same story for the first time in many, many, MANY years.

But this gets weirder.

This afternoon I had an unexpected visit from Rob and Leah. As we sat talking I explained that the boxes in my living room were books I was collecting for another trip to Half-Price books. Leah told me her sister really liked history books, so I went over to look at the books to see if I had anything her sister would like —

–And stuck in a copy of Doctor Zhivago was my certificate of vaccination from when I was six-years-old. I didn’t even know I had such a thing.

Just very weird.


So yesterday after church, the 8yo and 11yo and I went out to eat.

The restaurant (a well-known Italian franchise) was packed, but we had a great  and attentive server named Sarah who just moved north from Louisiana.

While we were waiting for our food, another server dropped a glass which exploded into hundreds of pieces – right next to us – in fact, one hit the 8yo on the leg – however, she was wearing tights and it didn’t hurt her.

We watched as our server stood watch over the glass, until another server came with a mop/broom and then the manager herself came and guarded the broken glass until every last piece was up.

The girls watch the entire procedure and the three of us got into a discussion of broken-glass protocol. We noticed how it all seemed to be down to a particular sequence.

Then we got curious, so we asked Sarah h0w often a server broke a dish.

Sarah was more than happy to let us in on some statistics, which I will share with you because I know you were wondering about this very thing.

On a busy day,  one of the servers will break or spill something about once an hour.

On a slow day, only one or two breaks or spills will happen during the entire day.

Sarah even stopped by on the way to another table with a tray of drinks to tell us: “This is the type of tray that is most likely to spill.”

Now you know.


Anyone who knows our family well knows about the whole Lusitania thing – how if it hadn’t gone down, we wouldn’t be here.

Because my grandfather (who lost his first wife and their two children on the ship) wouldn’t have married my grandmother and they wouldn’t have had my mother and so on and so on …

So I when I saw the sheet music to “As the Lusitania Went Down” on e-bay, I bought it.

Talk about tear-inducing music!

Where do you sing such a song?


The sun was sparkling brightly
upon the ocean foam,
The Lusitania, speeding fast,
was very nearly home.

Then came the blow so sudden
that pierced the vessel’s heart.
But while the crowd surged o’er the deck
a young man stood apart.

He stepped into a lifeboat,
but ere it left the deck,
he saw a woman and her child
upon the sinking wreck.

“Come, take my place”
he told her, and as she stepped inside,
he thought again of those he loved
and like a hero died.

He thought of the girl who loved him.
He thought of their wedding day,
as he looked on the angry ocean
eager to seize its prey.

He thought of his poor old mother
in a little southern town.
And sadly sighed “thy will be done”
as the Lusitania went down.

Arthur J. Lamb and F. Henri Klickmann


We were driving home from a conference in California and decided to stay overnight in Georgetown. We were late in the season and most everything was closed – including all the restaurants – but we had been driving all day and didn’t really feel like getting in the car and driving to another town for food.

We ended up getting a sandwich wrapped in plastic from a gas station (Yuck! I have a real aversion to stuff wrapped in plastic that you know is at least two days old. Especially sandwiches or pastries. Yuck and double yuck!)

But then we walked around town, enjoying the hilly streets and looking in the shop windows. We came to this gallery and it was amazingly actually open. We went in and the owner was there rearranging some things. We looked at the picture (we both enjoyed wild life photography) and chatted with the owner. I can’t remember if we actually bought this poster or if she gave it to us. If we did buy it, it wasn’t very much – but it looks good on the off white of the hall.


This is one of many postcards I collected from trips we took when I was a little kid.

They now decorate the bathroom. Amazingly, I found a shower curtain with postcards on it – I can’t remember where, but it was at an odd place like Home Depot (or somewhere you don’t expect to find shower curtains). Wherever it was, I remember I wasn’t really looking for a shower curtain when I found it.