Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Move over, slow down, don’t forget to wave

I was driving a long, flat, lonely stretch of highway in central Illinois the other morning when I saw an oversized pickup truck coming toward me pulling something that extended way beyond his vehicle on both sides and overlapped the stripes marking his lane.

I couldn’t tell what it was at first, but as I got closer, I could tell that it was a disc, a farm implement often used to help prepare the soil for planting.

Back when I was a kid, halfway through the last century, some of the discs pulled by tractors like our Oliver 77 were maybe five feet wide or so. Today when fully extended, some can extend more than 40 feet. Even when they’re folded up, they reach way beyond those widths I remember.

As the truck and its tow load got closer, I noticed a road sign on the other driver's side of the road, which meant he had some choices – to slow down, so that he didn’t reach the sign as we met, to pull out around it, edging further into my lane or to stop – probably not a good idea.

I had choices, too. The best one I saw was to slow down and move on over to the shoulder, which, fortunately, was wide and level.

What did happen was that we communicated without communicating – farmer today to farm kid of yesteryear – both knowing what had to happen. We may have raised chickens at some point in our lives, but we both knew better than to play “Chicken.”

The farmer slowed a bit, I scooted over some and we passed without incident before the road sign – or one of us – became a victim.

It was a simple act, really, just the type of thing folks who live in the country do for one another – move over, slow down, wave an acknowledgement, a “thanks” and a “hey, no problem.”

The problem, this time of year, though, and through the summer into fall, is that not everyone traveling the roads of rural America is a farmer or grownup farm kid, a cautious driver or a patient soul.

As they fly down a 55-mph road at 70, radio blaring, checking text messages, bounding over the crests of hills or around curves as if they’re on the world’s fastest roller coasters, drivers often fail to consider that, somewhere along that road, may be one of our nation’s farmers driving a slow-moving vehicle or pulling jumbo equipment.

When drivers aren’t paying attention, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

In the coming months, if you travel those farmland byways, keep your eyes carefully on the road – no texting, careful with the cellphone use, don’t take your eyes off the road to adjust the radio.

When you come up over a hill or around a curve, slow down. You never know when a farmer may be traveling that road to get from field A to field B or going from the machine shed on the farm that’s been in his family for more than a century to a piece of land he’s cash renting down the road a piece.

He’s someone’s son, maybe a dad, an uncle, a cousin, a nephew or a grandpa – or she’s a daughter, a mom, an aunt, cousin, niece or grandma. Your inattentiveness could rob others of precious years together with this farmer they love, so, please, stop and think when you’re driving those country roads.

Move over, slow down, and when you meet or pass that farm driver, whether on Route 66 or another tranquil two-lane, don’t forget to wave. Betcha you’ll get a wave in return.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Monday, February 27, 2012

What makes a town a ‘hometown’?

Ever notice how some little thing crosses your mind, such as a question that should have an easy answer – one that you shouldn’t have to mull over, not even half a second, before you spit out your response?

But like a needle on an old 45 rpm record, you get stuck there. You can’t move forward. You can’t move back. You’re just going round and round trying to find the answer.

Let’s take this one for instance: What’s your hometown?

Ought to be simple, right?

Maybe, maybe not – seems as if to answer that question we need to ask some others.

Like these:

Is your hometown where you’re born, or where you started school, or where you graduated?

Is it where you married and had your children, where they went off to school?

Or is it the place you moved so your family could have new opportunities?

Is it where you want to go to rest, rejuvenate and volunteer when you retire?

Is it where your family has roots, where your ancestors settled as immigrants or moved in search of the American Dream, though you didn’t live there yourself?

Is it someplace you’ve always loved when you visited – or maybe someplace that you’ve never been, but it’s always called to you as if it were home?

For me it’s a little of several of these.

Though I’ve never visited Ireland nor had my grandmother, she was so proud of her Irish heritage that the Emerald Isle has always called to me, “Come home.” Someday, I hope to.

The Missouri hills where a grandfather was born and raised have always had a pull for me. I think it’s because when I’m there, I feel as if I’m stepping back to that slower pace, those simpler times. I’ll soon move there.

My hometown is also the Illinois community where I was born. Though I didn’t reside there until I started high school, my birth gave me a connection to its history that I cherish still today. And, because I spent nearly 30 years there, it earns a berth by sheer longevity.

My parent’s hometown draws me, too. It is where both sets of grandparents settled, raised their broods, lived until they died. It’s where I first learned the joy of volunteering, savored the taste of a soda fountain treat, visited a five-and-dime and went to a prom.

When I look at a Facebook wall or a newspaper article or watch a state championship football game, I see names I remember from my childhood visiting that town, including surnames found in a 130-year-old county history book. I watch that community come together to help a widow with a special-needs child or pay tribute to a fallen soldier, and it warms my heart.

Yet, when a town not quite as large, but just as much in love with its Friday Night lights as that one, opened its arms to welcome us for a few years, it, too, felt like home.

Before you say, “Heck, she calls every place home,” let me say, “No. I don’t.”

There were a couple of towns through the years that just didn’t feel right – kind of like trying to put a 78 rpm record on a 45 rpm turntable with its big spindle up. It doesn’t fit right, sound right or look right. No matter how hard you try, it’s never going to be right.

Stop and think about it, if you will. How would you reply if I asked you today, “What’s your hometown?”

Or is it better to ask: “What do you call your hometown?”

More than likely, when you look for that answer, it will have less to do with where you lived when, and more to do with how the community welcomed its newcomers and guests, looked after its own, celebrated its history, and emitted a harmony that sounded loud and clear.

When I meet someone who can name several towns they call “home,” it reminds me of how I felt when I was a kid and learned a friend’s family had a phonograph that would play all three speeds.

“Wow, are they ever lucky!”

Still, there is something to be said for the old 'maid' I remember who spent almost 100 years in one little town on the prairie, beloved by it townspeople, loving them in return, and for the young widow I met who sought and found the ideal community, works to promote its heritage and though she has lived many places, knows deep in her heart that she’s found her hometown.

Lucky, I think, is hearing the sounds in your heart that sing “hometown” to you.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pin me up, Scotty

I like to think I keep up on most of the latest trends in social media. After all, when I began my current career, one of the requirements was that the applicant “lives and breathes social media.”

I do.

It’s the first thing I do each morning – after reading my hometown newspaper online – and the last thing I do each night, sometimes after I’m already under the covers.

Off and on through the day and into the evening, I tweet, link in, goggle at Google+, face-off in Facebook, whip up blog posts, and watch my virtual stock fluctuate on Empire Avenue – when I’m not writing about all of the above, that is.

I try to keep up with my millennial colleagues and readers and stay ahead of my Gen X and boomer friends when it comes to understanding what’s what, who’s where and how it all works.

At least I did until a couple weeks ago.

One of my former coworkers is a busy 30-something mom, with one child in grade school and another who is a preschooler. With kids to shuttle here and there, special treats to bake, school projects to help create, and that little one tugging on her jeans, begging, “Mommy, can I?” or “Mommy, would you?” she doesn’t have much time or excess energy to spend using social media.

I didn’t either when my kids were that age.

So I knew I was in trouble the day her Facebook wall said, “Melanie (not her real name) pinned to Fun Recipes (not the real board) in Pinterest.”

My head started spinning faster than an out-of-control old-fashioned playground merry-go-round.

“What? Pinterest? Melanie is on it before I am? She doesn’t even LIKE social media! I am in trouble. This thing must be big – really big. I’d better check it out.”

It took me a day or two. Yeah, I know. I must have been sick. That’s not like me – not at all.

When I finally did venture over to look at Pinterest, I didn’t get it. The crazy place looked like the chair-side table at the beauty shop. It was like Midwest Living, Good Housekeeping, Taste of Home, Country Gardens, Elle, Zappos and Zulily all stirred up together, with a sprinkling of Guideposts and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations thrown on as garnish.

I took a deep breath, sucked in my pride and asked Melanie for an invite to the invitation-only site. When the email arrived from Pinterest, I signed up and started exploring a bit.

I still couldn’t understand what anyone saw in a social networking site that was nothing but a bunch of photos – that was, until I clicked on one and found out this place was much more than a bulletin board or scrapbook full of images.

A click on a photo of “Better than Sex” cake took me to the recipe. Well, so what? That’s no big deal. Even the “church ladies” have that recipe! When I clicked on an image that said “100 fun things to do with kids,” I found myself at a mommy blog with a list that might keep kids from whining, “Mom, I’m bored,” when they’re cooped up on a rainy day,

“Ah, ha,” I thought. “Now I get it. I can create boards to link to pages about books I like, websites for places I enjoy, tips that help me as a writer. And, I can use it to get readers to the stories my colleagues and I write.”

Oh, and there’s one more thing I can do. I can pin my blog posts on my boards at – and you can repin them.

Yep, I like this Pinterest.

Pin me up, reader.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The way streets ought to be

Did you ever take something for granted?

Consider streets, for instance – those thoroughfares that get you from here to there and back again, going north and south, east and west, intersecting at equal intervals, punctuated only by an occasional stoplight or stop sign, and going on until a cornfield jumps up and says, “Far enough.”

I sure did.

The first 29 years that I drove a car, I lived in a town with nice straight streets. In many cases, you could start out at one end and get almost across town before you reached the other end, whether you were going up and down or back and forth.

The other towns I’d lived in or visited were much the same. Some even had the courtesy to name the streets with numbers or letters in accelerating order, radiating out from a main drag.

Consequently, I lived more than four decades of my life, believing this as truth – all towns are on a grid.

Well, aren’t they? It only makes sense, right?

Oh, there might be an exception here and there – a place where a "grand" avenue seems all confused, crossing the others at an angle, or where other streets stop so they won’t run into the schools placed squarely in their paths.

In case, as I did, you still believe the fallacy that all streets cross each other just so, I’m here to tell you the truth as I’ve discovered it.

It “ain’t that way” everywhere else.

Almost 30 years after I learned to drive, I found myself living near a pair of adjoining cities where it seemed as if I could count on one hand the number of streets that went straight though town – and some of those only went one direction. We won’t talk about how many times I looked up to see that every car except mine was going the other direction.

Streets in these cities usually ended after a couple blocks or went in circles, triangles or assorted strange trapezoids even a geometry professor would have trouble identifying. I learned not to venture far from the two major north-south streets and two east-west streets which I trusted myself to travel, believing I’d surely get so lost even bagel crumbs wouldn’t help me find my way home.

One day, though, trying a new cross street in the twin-cities, I found an obstacle in my way, one I hadn’t stumbled upon for at least a decade. Creeping across the street was a moving train.

I felt as if I were home again – nonsensical streets or not. I got so excited that I had to call the first person to come to mind who would understand my excitement – a teen from my hometown.

I should have expected his reply, one of the few words in a youthful vocabulary, “Uh.”

I knew he got it, though. After all, he answered me, didn’t he?

A few days ago, I found myself again in the town where I learned to drive, the one with the nicely laid-out grid. But, what did I encounter on a major north-south street?

You got it – a train, stopped dead in its tracks, blocking the roadway.

The good thing about Galesburg, though, is that I know how to get around obstacles – because in The ‘Burg, the streets make sense.

They did something right when they built that town.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The scribe writes home to The ‘Burg

If you had the opportunity to write a love letter to your hometown, what would you say? What if you’d changed, and so had the town – and you worried that you might be more in love with it than are some of the people to whom it’s still home?

And, as you wrote that letter, much as if you were writing to an old lover, you feared that, by professing your undying love, you’d turn the lover away forever?

Would you do it anyway?

This week my “Musings on Route 66” blog makes its first appearance on the virtual pages of my hometown newspaper, The Register-Mail. I’m as excited as a little kid about to take her first train ride and as frightened as a teenager about to start her first job. I remember those feelings. I experienced both in ‘The Burg.

One minute I’m thinking, “Oh, this is going to be so much fun!” The next, I’m worrying, “Ah, what if I mess up? What if they don’t like me? What on earth am I getting myself into?”

I left Galesburg, Ill. almost 15 years ago, a few years after completing my long-delayed college degree and shortly after attending my first Sandburg Days Writer’s Workshop.

I moved from that community, where I had to cross both the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad tracks on my daily drive to work in a supermarket, and relocated in a small town where the Illinois Central Railroad, Interstate 55 and Historic Route 66 ran parallel to our backyard.

On the commute to my new career, I drove a quiet, deserted stretch of the Mother Road, which ran between the Interstate and the railroad tracks over which Abraham Lincoln traveled to the White House and his body returned to his final resting place.

As I drove that two-lane, I thought of my new life and community, of the one I left behind, and of the people, places, experiences and history that left their marks on me. It was as if the stories were sitting there in the passenger seat, a huge stack of words – pushing and shoving, jostling for position – saying, “C’mon, Ann. We’re here. It’s up to you to put us on the page.”

My blog was conceived way back then, in 1997, those “musings on Route 66.” If it were a pregnancy, it would have set the record as the world’s longest. Though I’ve written and rewritten many of the stories in my mind or on a computer keyboard, some shared with no one, others with my fellow Toastmasters or nurturing mentors, the blog wasn’t “born” online until this January.

In early February, it ventured onto the virtual pages of Springfield’s The State Journal-Register. Now, it’s also journeying to the place I will always call “home” and to the paper I still read on my computer monitor first thing each day.

Galesburg friends, I’m as happy to welcome you to this blog as I was to see you when you came through my check lane at Giant Foods on East Main Street. You always brightened my day.

I liked you then. I like you now. I’ve missed you.

“Musings on Route 66” is me, throwing those passenger-seat words together on a page, sometimes just thinkin’, other times remembering what it was like to grow up in little towns and a small city in West Central Illinois, a baby boomer in a state with a powerful history and a rich literary legacy.

And, every once in a while, the words of this blog will have minds of their own, as they write love letters to The ‘Burg, for no matter where I reside, it – and you – will have a place in my heart.

Thanks, Galesburg friends, for joining my online and State Journal-Register readers on this literary “road trip.” It’s great to have you along for the ride.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Monday, February 20, 2012

If the timber could talk

I walked in the timber yesterday.

I should do it more often.

Even this time of year, when the trees stand naked to the world and the tall native plants of summer are replaced by a carpet of rusty-colored leaves strewn with twigs and toppled trees, there’s something about being out there that makes it worth the visit.

It’s as if the wild raspberry bushes and tall slender oak trees in those Missouri woods are whispering, “Welcome back. Come visit more often.”

When I was young, we lived on an Illinois farm with a timber – a place where if you listened carefully, you could hear chipmunks rustling in the ground nearby and squirrels scurrying through the trees. If you looked closely you’d see a bird’s nest up above, and at just the right time of year, if you knew where to scavenge, you could find those delectable morel mushrooms nestled beneath a tree.

We didn’t spend much time down in the timber those days, though. Where we youngsters saw an opportunity for adventure, our more cautious parents worried over the sorts of things that parents should – snakes, wild critters, falling limbs, slippery slopes on the banks of the pond, people who might trespass in spite of the signs.

But there was one sanctuary where they did let us play from time to time. It was an area along the edge of the lane that went back past the back forty to the railroad track.

In this magical place stood a tree with a branch that hung down almost like a vine. It seemed to call out, inviting my siblings and me, “Swing from me, please.”

And, so it was that we named this little corner of our wooded sanctuary “Tarzan City.”

We could see Tarzan City and that tree from the front yard in the spring and the winter, and only imagine how it stood, hidden by the corn in the summer and fall – a sentinel, surely waiting for us as much as we longed to visit it.

When I stop and look back on the days on that farm, I miss searching for those cone-shaped morels deep in the timber in the spring, picking wild berries along the railroad track as summer came again, feasting on juicy sweet corn as it was about time to return to school, and riding a sled down our farm’s gigantuan hill in the winter.

Yet, to this day, one of the memories I hold most dear is of the timber sanctuary that for a day here and there became our Tarzan City.

I don’t swing from trees these days, but it’s funny how even in another state and another century, a timber can extend a greeting as warm and as welcome as those I can’t forget.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Those darned boys

Boys – they’re trouble, plain and simple. Time and again as I was growing up, they got me into trouble.

I think that’s why I thought they were so cool. When they got into trouble, they had fun doing it – most of the time, at least. And I did, too.

It all started with The Three Stooges. As Larry, Moe and Curly messed with each other and with others, as those “boys” whipped up antics others never dreamed of, I was watching, eyes glued to the screen, thinking, “I want to do that. It looks like fun.”

Sometimes I did – like when I tried to swing from the dining room drapes – and got shooed right down—or the day I was bound and determined I could shinny up the radiator pipe – and got my leg stuck between the pipe and the wall.

For the record, I had fun both times.

By first grade, I was mesmerized by the antics of Dennis the Menace. For my first school Halloween party, I talked my mother into getting me a Dennis costume and making a yellow cap to cover my long brown hair.

I’m sure was the only girl in my class dressed in a boy’s costume. I didn’t care. I could barely breathe beneath the plastic mask, but I was sure the menace was with me in spirit. I didn’t need to behave badly to feel good about the troublemaker I’d become under my stifling one-piece plastic outfit.

I found some real trouble, too, that year. A cute boy sat behind me in school, and I always had something important to tell him.

Imagine that – me, talking.

Some say I never shut up. They’re probably right.

Back then, teachers – even good ones – used disciplinary methods they can’t use today. After way too many threats from a teacher with the patience of a saint who finally reached her limit, I got my mouth taped shut.

It was all because of that boy, I swear.

Things went along pretty well until fourth grade, when I had another teacher with an extra dose of patience. (I'm sure to this day it’s because she didn’t have any kids of her own.) She made one mistake. She put that cute boy in front of me.

“Psst, psst, [Cute Boy], know what?”

No response. (My ten year old mind: “He loves me. He’s just playing hard to get.”)

“Hey, guess what?”


Teacher: “Ann, would you please come to my desk?”

Shuffle, shuffle, head hung low.

“How many times have I told you not to bother him during class?”

“It was important.” (This really meant, “He’s so cute I can’t stop bothering him. Why do you teachers keep putting us in the same row?”)

It was his fault. It must have been. I was just an innocent girl. It was always those darned boys, making me get into trouble.

In fifth grade, I’d found new heroes in paperback books. The ones I liked most were the books about trouble-making boys like Homer Price, Rupert, and Toby Tyler. I wanted to be them.

The orneriness reached its pinnacle in junior high when a new boy joined my class. Our math teacher, also the principal, was a cool guy. He tolerated quite a lot – like pretending he didn’t see us throwing our pencils so they’d stick in the popcorn ceiling.

The study hall teacher was not so cool. People got in trouble there every day. When Cute New Boy and I got caught passing notes in a dictionary, we were lucky we only got scolded and didn’t receive corporal punishment. Yep, in the ‘60s, teachers got away with that.

My trouble-making with boys came to an abrupt halt later that year when I got called to the principal’s office. Cute New Boy was flirting with me, I guess, by wadding up pieces of bread and throwing them at me as we ate our lunch on the wooden bleachers in the big school gymnasium. I threw some back.

My one and only disciplinary visit to a school administrator’s office went something like this:

“Ann, I’m surprised at you.”

“But, the boys were throwing it first.”

“Yes, but you know better, don’t you?”

Looking at the floor, “I guess so.”

And then the line that hit the hardest, "I'm disappointed in you."

So much for orneriness – darned boys.

I wonder, though. Were they really the troublemakers , or was I?

Or, should I just blame it all on Larry, Moe, Curly and that little blonde-haired boy with the cowlick?

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Monday, February 13, 2012

He ‘don’t bring me’ flowers anymore

I don’t get flowers on Valentine’s Day. 

Don’t feel sorry for me, please. I want it that way. 

No, I’m not an old spinster. The first half might be right—a little, depending on the definition. The other half—hardly. My hubby and I are pushing forty years of marriage.

And, for the last umpteen years, he hasn’t given me flowers on Valentine’s Day. I asked him not to. 
Here’s why.

He likes to give me roses, red ones. Have you ever noticed how the price of those things goes through the roof this time of year? It’s no accident. It’s a conspiracy. (No, florists, please. Don’t come after me.)

I’m not about to have my hubby spend oodles more of our hard-earned money than he would have a week earlier or a week later. So, he doesn't.

Instead, he surprises me from time to time—like he did a few months ago. 

I was working at my computer one morning when he was getting ready to leave for work. Sometimes, I’m up that early. Lots of times, these days, I’m not. And, when I’m not, he doesn’t wake me to kiss me good-bye. 

And, that’s okay, too. After this long, I’ll take my sleep when I get it and my kisses some other time. What can I say – it works for us, okay? 

But that morning, for some unknown reason, he left without saying “good-bye,” without giving me a kiss. I called him a little later. 

“Where are you?” 

“Driving.” Translate: “What else would I be doing at this time of day?”

“You didn’t kiss me good-bye.”

“Oh.” Translate: “So what? I don’t kiss you good-bye lots of days.”

“You never leave without kissing me.”

“I forgot.” Translate: “What’s the big deal?”

And, it wasn’t, actually, but I was kind of having fun with this by then, so I wasn’t about to let him think it didn’t matter.

“Well, don’t let it happen again!” Translate: “It’s okay, really.” 

At lunch time, I heard my phone. “Ping.” 

I picked it up, saw I had a text message, and read, “I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you.” 

I smiled so big my cheeks hurt. Boy, he was sweating it.

When hubby got home from work that day, I was still busy working in my office. He came in, grabbed my shoulders, turned me to him, and planted a big, "here-is-this-what-you-wanted?" kind of kiss on my lips. We were both laughing so hard I almost fell out of my desk chair. 

Later, I went to the kitchen to start supper. There on the counter between the coffee pot and the sink was a beautiful single red rose, with greenery and baby’s breath in a bud vase. 

I smiled, this time with a bit of a tear in my eyes. 


From the other room: “What?” 

I peeked around the corner. “I love you.” 

He grinned. “I know.”

I don’t get flowers on Valentine’s Day. 

You know what? That’s okay. I’ll take an unexpected floral surprise any other day of the year.

But, he’d better not forget the chocolate-covered caramel pecan candies on Feb. 14, or he’ll have to pay up with a whole bouquet of roses the minute the price drops. 

(By the way, if you can’t get that song out of your head, here are Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond with “You don’t bring me flowers” anymore.) 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Happy 203rd birthday, President Lincoln

Since I was a small child, I’ve been smitten with Abraham Lincoln.

Why? A combination of things, probably – things like parents who told me stories of the 16th President and took me to visit Lincoln sites, books that kept Lincoln lore alive, school trips, and living in Illinois where his aura is so strong. Chances are many of you came to admire him by similar paths.

But I like to think there was one more force even stronger in my Lincoln journey. I was born in a hospital about a block from Old Main at Knox College where a Lincoln-Douglas debate was held in 1858. I have my suspicions that almost 100 years later, there was a bit of “Lincoln dust” still in the air and it blew in the nursery window, landed on my shoulder and left me intrigued with the railsplitter for life.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Because of this love for Lincoln, or what many call my “obsession,” I started a blog, Lincoln Buff 2, during the Lincoln Bicentennial year.

In celebration of Lincoln’s 203rd birthday, I dug back into the archives for the blog post I wrote just after midnight on Lincoln’s 200th birthday. I spent that week in Springfield and savored all the excitement. Come along. Relive the adventure with me.

From Feb. 12, 2009: "Happy 200th birthday, President Lincoln!

"Here in the Land of Lincoln, the clock just struck midnight. The big day we've looked forward to and planned for is here. It's time to wish Abraham Lincoln a happy 200th birthday.

“As I type this, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is hosting an all-night vigil for Lincoln. In conjunction with the vigil, original copies of the Gettysburg Address, Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment are on display.

“Until after 11 p.m., the line to view the documents wound through the lobby, down the hall, into an exhibit holding area and around the museum plaza. It reminded me of a visitation I once attended for a well-loved school teacher who died much too young. As in that case, the people coming today were there to pay their respects to someone whose life made a difference.”

Feb. 12, 2012: Those same three documents are on display again this year, and the 13th amendment is all spruced up, just waiting for your visit.

The celebrations may not be as elaborate and as many this year as during the bicentennial year, but chances are that wherever you are, there are Lincoln birthday events nearby. A great place to keep up with Lincoln happenings year-round is the Abraham Lincoln Online website.

And don’t forget to watch The State Journal-Register’s Abraham Lincoln Observer blog where Mike Kienzler spreads the word about the latest, greatest and sometimes even not-so-great goings-on in the Lincoln world.

Again today, I’ll use the words I used in 2009. I mean them as much now as I did when I wrote them three years ago:

“Please join in a celebration of Lincoln's big day. If you can't, at least take a few minutes to stop and reflect on how the life of one individual can change the course of history. Lincoln mattered then and he still matters today. Remember the life he lived and emulate the values he espoused – hard work, honesty and lifelong learning.”

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why I love Girl Scout cookies

It’s that time of year again, so Jay Redfern, an editor at my hometown newspaper, The Register-Mail, did a blog post recently on Girl Scout cookies.

I caught wind of Jay’s story through Twitter, because these days about a hundred miles separates me from my hometown of Galesburg, Ill. 

The first tweet I saw said, “What’s your favorite kind of Girl Scout cookie?”

Then, as time went on, the tweets became more specific, directed to people like @AlRoker (DoSiDos and Tagalongs) and @PumaBerkman, aka Lance, the famous St. Louis Cardinal (“the peanut butter ones”). He also asked local celebrities—teachers, business people and more—which they prefer. 

But one of the celebrities struck me the strongest, because when I think of Girl Scouts, I think of her.

To me, Girl Scout cookies represent all those things we said we’d try to do when we made the Girl Scout Promise, all those things we said we’d do our best to do when we recited the Girl Scout Law.

They remind me of making new friends, and keeping the old—one silver and the other gold.

I think of Girl Scout cookies and I think of loyal customers, neighbors who bought cookies from me year after year. I think of goal-setting, of wanting to beat my sales from the year before. I remember working to get each order together right and counting change back just so. I remember keeping my customer list, so I’d have it the next year. (I still have it. It means even more to me now than it did then.) 

And, I remember my daughters learning all those same things.

Girl Scout cookies remind me of a pressed brown uniform and beanie, getting my wings in the fly-up ceremony, trying to sew hard-earned badges on a sash by hand and poking myself with the needle about a zillion times.

Those cookies remind me of a night spent in a big lodge at Black Hawk State Park and another under the stars at Galesburg’s Lake Storey. 

That’s where the other celebrity comes in. 

The year I went off to camp for the first time, with my brand new pocket knife, a potato and a can of vegetable soup for hobo stew, I met one of the smartest people in my little world—my camp counselor, an older Girl Scout who taught us how to use our knives to carve bars of Ivory soap into treasured sculptures, then clean the knives in a bucket of soapy water so we could use them to peel the potatoes for our stew.

That counselor taught us to sing silly songs about a chicken who couldn’t lay an egg and sticking our heads in little skunk holes. 

She may have fallen a little out of my favor when she taught me how to clean the latrine, but she reached hero status for life, when as the whole camp lay in the grass, sleeping bags lined row-by-row, she stood under the starlit canopy and sang “Ghost Riders in the Sky” for us, while playing her ukulele. 

Until that day, I’d never met anyone who played the ukulele—and it was decades before I met another with that musical gift and wonderful little instrument. As I fell asleep in the light of the moon, I figured I’d probably met one of the smartest, most talented people I’d ever encounter. 

I didn’t know the word “mentor” then, but that week Semenya McCord became one of mine. Now a jazz musician and music educator, she still fills that role, inspiring me to pursue my dreams—though different than hers—just as she has pursued hers. 

I think of Girl Scouts—and of Semenya—when I see a bar of Ivory soap or hold a pocket knife.

When Jay asked about Girl Scout cookies, it wasn’t just the taste of a cookie I remembered, but experiences and people I cherish yet today. Oh, the memories that simple question awoke.

In case you’re wondering, though, my number one choice always was and still is today Thin Mints. 

And so is my mentor’s.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A little blog begins a big new journey

This is a scary, happy kind of time for me. A blog that was conceived as a musing on a two-lane highway more than a dozen years ago starts out on a new adventure.

Like the mother I was years ago watching my kindergartners, their tiny little legs climbing great big bus steps, the “Mommy” looking on as the door shut and the yellow monster rounded the corner, I can’t help but wipe away a tear or two. They’re tears of fear for what this new little blog may encounter and tears of joy for what it might become – and, yes, tears of relief that we’ve made it to this point.

My words come back to the pages where they first earned a byline in 1998, at the newspaper that Abraham Lincoln said “was always my friend,” The State Journal-Register. (Actually, he said “The Journal paper…” but that paper lives on in this one today.)

My blog will join those of veteran journalists and other bloggers on the newspaper’s website – and I’m as giddy as a junior-high girl peeking around the corner at the boy of her dreams.

If this is the first time you’ve read my words, welcome. If you read some of them before on the SJ-R Books page, on my Lincoln Buff 2 bicentennial blog, through social media, or in a publication or on a website for which I have written professionally, thanks for joining me again.

This adventure is nearly as new for me as it is for you. “Musings on Route 66” was born as 2012 opened its eyes, born to be a place where I could write about the things that tug at me, where I could share my passions with others.

I’ll tell you about aspects of Illinois history and literature that move me. I’ll write about things that touch me as a baby boomer. I’ll share stories of sensational beings and simple things, including stories about my second-favorite state, Missouri. And, from time to time, I’ll write about that two-lane road that stirred these musings in the first place – or I’ll just “muse” about something that won’t go away until I get it written down.

I’m a lifelong “word nerd,” so I’ll also write about books and quotes that I love or believe are worth sharing.

Because those same words give me great pleasure as a writer, I’ll talk about the craft. My words didn’t get to this page by themselves. Along the way, I had many fine mentors and writers – known well and little-known – encouraging me even when they didn’t realize it, sharing their pointers and guiding the way.

Now, it’s my turn. If you’re a writer or writer wannabe, you’ll want to visit the “Wanna be a writer?” section of my blog for tips that can help guide you as they have me.

If you dropped in today out of curiosity, why don’t you pretend like you’re Mike and Frank from “American Pickers”? Snoop around, climb in the attic, look in the corners. You just never know what might turn up. And, once you head down the road, don’t stay gone long. You never know what new old treasures you might find the next time you drop in.

Thanks for stopping by.

As The Beverly Hillbillies said back in this boomer’s younger days, “Y’all come back, y’hear?”

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

How do you show value?

I’m “all about” social networking. It first became part of my life in the fall of 2008 when I began my first blog, Lincoln Buff 2. By Lincoln’s 200th birthday, I was “experimenting” with Twitter, eventually found myself pulled to Facebook, and later, when Google+ hit the scene, I hit it, too.

I tried MySpace, but was a latecomer to it. It just didn’t pull me in – and that new kid on the block, Pinterest, I’m just getting to know her.

But, the one that prompted me to write this post this morning is Empire Avenue. I still don’t quite understand everything about it, but I can tell you this much. It’s a place where I have value. My interactions on other social networks translate to dollars and cents – not real, but virtual – on Empire Avenue.

Well, not dollars and cents, exactly. The “currency” there is called “eaves”. Members of the social network get eaves for things they do elsewhere, like writing a new blog post, posting and receiving comments on their Facebook walls, tweeting, interacting on Empire Avenue, and more.

Social media is not just my passion. Since April of 2011, it’s also been part of my job. That’s why I retired from one career and started out on another. That story – how I got from Point A to Point B, and why and more – is a tale for another time.

Let’s just say I’m almost as passionate about social media and its value to connect and teach as I am about reading, writing and Abraham Lincoln – some days even a little more so.

And, though I’m still a bit curious about the value of Empire Avenue in my life long-term, I like the way it makes me feel valued. Here’s why.

Each member of Empire Avenue has a value, beginning at 10 eaves. Just like real stock, the value rises or falls. Just like a real portfolio, a user’s net wealth increases as the stock pays dividends and as users buy stock in one another.

Right now, as I’m making more time to tweet, posting regularly on Facebook and writing blog posts, my value is increasing. Just this week, I’ve gone from 40.61 to 46.35, while most of January my stock ranged from 31 to 33. And, on Sunday, my Net Wealth increased to more than half a million eaves. I feel rich!


Because people I don’t even know are saying to me by their actions, “Ann Tracy Mueller, LINCOLNBUFF2, you have value.” As they do, I see my value increasing on the monitor in front of me. I feel more valued.

But, showing value happens more places than just on social media.

It happens at home, when we tell a youngster, “Great job. I’m proud of you.” Or when we tell our spouse, “Thanks for emptying the dishwasher. I appreciate that.” It happens when we tell a coworker or a boss, “Thanks for backing me up on that decision. It meant a lot to me” And when we tell a cashier, “I appreciate how carefully you handled my fruit. You’re good at what you do.” Or send a note to a photographer that says, “Great shot. Love how you let the light work for you in this one.” It happens when we send an email to a friend fighting cancer that says, “I’m thinking of you today. You’re in my prayers.”

Little things – little things any day, little things everyday – show others – those we know well, and those we’ve never met – that they have value.

That’s why I keep playing Empire Avenue. It tells me, “LINCOLNBUFF2, you’ve got value.”

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reflections on reading, writing and ‘rithmetic

“I’m reading about writing, and later I’ll write about reading.”

These words I shared with my husband as I left the living room where he was spending time with old friends – Sunday morning television anchors telling stories he enjoyed – as I went off to read and later create some of my own.

My old friends are on the pages of books.

Instead of reading that morning, I felt drawn to write, to capture right then, on the computer monitor before me, what was floating through my brain.

It wasn’t always that way. I didn’t always have that luxury. But, looking back, now, I know that’s okay.

As a youngster, I fell in love with words. Remember that Little Golden Book, the red book with the one word title, Words? If you don’t, you missed a little bit of magic, I think.

The book has evolved through the years. The version I remember had little boys and girls of the 1940s and 1950s, not too unlike the ones in our “Dick and Jane” primers at school.

Through that book, even before I went off to a big red brick school house, I’d learned to recognize those words, “big” and “red” and more, from that little 25-cent book.

And, as I watched how words could be woven on a page to tell stories, I began to fall in love with them. I loved putting them on paper myself and retrieving them by reading words others had left for me to discover.

Once I found out about numbers, I liked them, too. It was fun to see how numerals worked together, not the same as letters, but in their own unique way. They had an order to them that letters didn’t.

Oh, sure, letters had to march just so onto the page to spell this word or that, and those of us who got them all in the right order, words one through 20 on the spelling list, got a bright shiny, colorful star and a letter A, followed by an arithmetic sign, +. Funny, isn’t it, how even then, back in first grade, numbers and letters, writing and ‘rithmetic, were intertwined.

But there was more latitude with letters, with words. You could mix them up and they still worked. Do that with numbers and you’d have a disaster. No matter how you tried to explain it to the teacher, two plus two were never going to equal five.

Just as those words and numbers were intertwined, so it was to be in my life.

As a senior in high school, trying to decide what my major in college should be, I was torn between the math formulas that kept me mesmerized, nose to the grindstone in Sister Charles Ellen’s math class, and the words that drew me to the page in the Mike Royko articles we studied in Sister Theresa Rose’s journalism class and the contemporary novels we studied in Sister Denise’s senior English class.

In college, I ended up being drawn to my school’s English program. When I left two years later, I spent more than 20 years working with – balancing – numbers everyday as I worked with grocery store ledgers.

In the long run, the call of the words was louder, so when I returned to college in my late 30s, they won out.

Today, as a writer and online editor for a communication news website, I “skip, scan and retrieve” thoughts written in hundreds of online articles each week. Yet, when my time’s my own, as it is more often at this stage of life, I do what I love most.

I read about writing, write about reading and often do either – just because I can.

I still know how to work a mean equation when I have to – but, don’t get too excited, my math-loving friends. I’m not so crazy about ‘rithmetic that I celebrate or count down to “Pi day.”

Carl Sandburg’s birthday, yes. But, wait, what was that one poem he wrote?

Ah, yes … “Arithmetic.”

On second thought, for the sake of all those numbers I juggled, I guess I could at least treat myself to a piece of pie on March 14, couldn’t I?

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What? A blank sheet of paper?!

I walked into my office and noticed the blank Word document open on my computer monitor. I rarely see such a beast, especially staring back at me like a lion with its jaws wide open, scary-looking.

Normally, I’m sitting in front of the keyboard, which is just below the monitor and, as soon as I open a new document, I set right to work putting words on “paper” – virtual paper, ‘tis true, but paper nonetheless.

It may be something as simple as a link to an article, or a working title of a not-yet-written story. It may be a date or a “Dear SoAndSo,” but 99 times out of a hundred – or more often – as soon as that document is opened, the virtual ink hits the page.

I’ve heard of people who are frightened of what the blank page represents to them, of people who lament that they have writers’ block or a fear of the words that may flow from their fingers, but I’m not one of them.

Maybe I should be, maybe I’m too bold in thinking that anyone, anywhere would want to read anything at all that I might write.

But, I’m not afraid – of the blank page, at least.

I’ll admit, sometimes words come easier than others and from time to time when I’m writing for someone other than myself and my readers, I struggle to find the right words or to craft the message I’ve been asked to craft, but I guess it boils down to this. I love words. I love the way they play together on a page. I love the way I put my fingers on the keyboard and letters dance together in front of me, sometimes saying things that surprise even me.

My wish for others who put words on a page or must or want to is that theirs, too, will have as much fun playing together as mine do.

Yet, just to be safe, so that I don’t have to walk into my office and see that big ferocious lion of a blank page staring back at me, next time I leave the room, I’m going to type something on the page before I leave, even if it’s just, “Hi, Ann, welcome back!”

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

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