September Breezes

Mariah_aOur family grew by one member this week. Her name is Mariah.

Mariah is the Australian Shepherd that my father rescued when he was 80 .

After my mother died, my dad was very lonely, but he did have the company of their two collies: Cassie and Nicki. Both of the collies were older. Cassie was my mother’s dog, and it was clear after Mom’s death that Cassie mourned Mom’s absence deeply.  Cassie passed away nine months after my mom did. Fortunately I was in Atlanta on business, and I was able to be with Dad when this happened. Nicki, who had been rescued by Dad from an animal shelter, lived until 2010, when she died simply of old age.

Dad did not think he needed another dog. My sister and I thought differently. So we told him the story of an Australian Shepherd that needed a home. He quickly came to know and love this little four-legged beauty.

She was five years old when Dad adopted her. She was shy and didn’t trust humans easily. Daddy spent a lot of time very patiently talking to her, walking her, brushing her, taking her for rides around town in his little MG Midget. She needed someone to spend time with her, and he needed someone to spend time with.

He named her Mariah in reference to the song, “They Call the Wind Mariah”, from the movie Paint Your Wagon. (Although in the lyrics the name is spelled “Maria”; it is actually pronounced “Mariah”).

“Away out here they have a name
For wind and rain and fire
The rain is Tess, the fire’s Joe
And they call the wind Maria…

But when you’re lost and all alone
There ain’t no word but lonely…

And I’m a lost and lonely man
Without a star to guide me
Maria blow my love to me
I need my girl beside me

Maria Maria They call the wind Maria

Maria Maria!  Blow my love to me”

So perhaps my dad did rescue Mariah, but Mariah rescued my Dad too. In her own way she may be rescuing me as well. I see opportunity to train her to “wake the girl” in the morning, which will be a huge assist in my daily routine. Her very presence in our house as made me far less a couch potato, and when I sit quietly with her on the front porch brushing her hair, I can feel my cares melt away.

Sometimes, when I walk with her at twilight, the September breeze blows and she sticks up her nose, prancing for a few steps as if she has caught wind of my Dad’s spirit. She smiles.

And they call the wind Mariah. Mariah. Blow my love to him.

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

Back to School

When he was in his late 70's Daddy bought this car and completely rebuilt it.

When he was in his late 70’s Daddy bought this car and completely rebuilt it.

Around here the arrival of cool mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings brings with it, not only the migration of birds and the chirping of crickets, but also the beginning of a new school year. As someone who thrived in academia, I love this time of year.

Not all people love school as much as I did (still do—any excuse to take a class), even really smart people. My dad was one of those really smart people who did not fare well in school.

From a very early age Dad was taking things apart and discovering how they worked, from two-cycle engines on model airplanes to the bicycles in Grandpa Arduengo’s bicycle shop to his first car. But his performance in school was a different matter. He writes:

“As a youngster I spent a lot of time day dreaming. I guess I still do. In school I would always take a desk in the back of the room next to the window. (I got moved a lot.) I did not like school. Sometimes I had subjects that I liked, such as ancient history. I knew I was smart, but I had a hard time memorizing things, especially spelling and multiplication tables. I remembered things when they interested me, but not when they didn’t.  My dislike of grammar school and junior high left me ill prepared for highschool, and I was 20 before I finally graduated.”

Daddy didn’t learn by sitting in a desk and listening. He learned by doing and figuring things out, as with his first car: Continue reading

My Father’s Voice

ConversationsOn August 16, 2014, the 63rd anniversary of his marriage to my mother, my daddy died. Mom and Dad are finally reunited, seven years after her passing. My dad’s death came relatively quickly after a diagnosis of metastasized cancer, but I did get to see him twice in August. I am thankful for the chance I had to hold his hand at the very end.

Throughout the years since my Mom’s death, Daddy had been writing stories of his childhood and youth on yellow legal pads and sending them to me. I had not read very many of them carefully, being caught up in the demands of my own family and career, but I did put them away for safe keeping. When he would find some piece of writing of his from his childhood, he would send it to me, and I have previously written an article about his 3rd-grade story, The Bird and the Dog, as well as some of the stories he told me about working in my Grandpa Arduengo’s bicycle shop in Tampa, FL.

But what strikes me this week, as it never has before, is his voice. As a child I remember exchanging letters and poems with my maternal grandmother. My mom was the parent who seemed to me to actively encourage my writing, and I always associated my interest in writing as something that I had inherited from her side of the family. However, in hindsight, my dad was the one who made sure I had stories to tell and time to tell them.

My Dad was the person who took me to the local airport where I would hang out listening to the story telling, recording things in my journal. He was the one who introduced me to true “characters” in life. My Dad and his father were the story tellers in my family. And, as I read the precious few original writings I have of my Dad’s—a few letters that he wrote to my mom, and the stories he recorded for me, I realize that it is his voice that echoes in mine.

For too many years, I discounted my dad’s writing because frankly I couldn’t overlook his spelling: it was atrocious. My elitism may have robbed me of a chance to revel in an amazing shared gift with my Dad. We bonded through our love of flying when I was a teenager, and when I was first truly exploring writing as a teen, I wrote about airplanes and the people who flew them. How much more could we have shared if I had listened more carefully to the stories of our family and helped him record them? What incredible treasures would I now have as I mourn the absence of him from my life—our phone calls to talk, our visits at Thanksgiving that I will so miss—because often he would tell me one little tidbit of his past that I did not know.

So, as I go back through those yellow legal pad pages and read, I will hear the echo of my Dad’s soft Southern voice, his gentle “darlin’” whispered through time and eternity to me. I will miss him dearly. And I will tell his story.

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.



A Mammoth Find


DSC01928We are back from nine days traveling in the “wild west”. During this vacation my daughter was able to become a junior paleontologist at a mammoth dig, a junior ranger at Mount Rushmore, go “spelunking” at Wind Cave and learn about the geologic origins of the Black Hills of South Dakota, hear the legends and stories of the Native Americans through their dance and music, and hear the legends and stories of the pioneers of the western U.S. through their stories and dramas.

Our first stop was the amazing Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. This site was discovered during the early phases of construction of a housing development in 1974 by one of the bulldozer operators who was clearing the land. Fortunately, he was an amateur paleontologist, and when his bulldozer turned up a mammoth tooth, he stopped everything and reported the finding. The developer and the surrounding community realized what they had and preserved the site for research and education. They bring in visiting scientists from around the world to work at the site, and from the work of these scientists we have learned much about the animal life that flourished in the area we now know as South Dakota 26,000 years ago. Continue reading

The Art of Asking Questions

Playing with plasma and spectral glasses. Physics is fun!

Playing with plasma and spectral glasses. Physics is fun!

My daughter and I attended Jim Lenz’s Science Show at the public library. Mr. Lenz grabbed the children’s attention, allowed them to participate, laugh, shout out answers and get excited about what they were seeing.

And he asked them if they knew what science was.

None of them had a nice, short definition for science, and he defined science for them as “the art of asking questions.” As a scientist, I have been chewing on that definition for a little while. It’s a good definition, because that is what scientists do: we ask questions. But not just any questions. When a scientist wonders about something, the questions eventually get asked in a way that a prediction can be made (a hypothesis), and the hypothesis can be tested in a controlled manner. Asking the right question is, indeed, an art.

But even more important than asking the right question, is having a mind that is open and observant to the world around it. Many people have said that the greatest scientific discoveries are not marked by the exclamation “Eureka!” but rather by the puzzled expression, “Hmm, that’s funny…I wonder why…”

And that is, I think, the crux of science: the WHY. Scientists, like children, see something that just doesn’t quite make sense to them, and they ask “why?” Continue reading


IMG_0205Spring has sprung and with it so have the bubble wands. My daughter even put a jar of bubble juice and some bubble wands in her bike basket and toured around the neighborhood sharing her love of bubbles with her friends. Bubbles are indeed magical, and since the earliest age she has enjoyed chasing bubbles around the yard, catching them in the bathtub, and making giant bubbles using a homemade wand and homebrew bubble juice. And I have enjoyed having an excuse to play with bubbles myself.

At the Discovery Center in Rockford, our favorite exhibits are the giant bubble and the bubble window.

When you stop and think about it, bubbles are fascinating. Why do they form perfect spheres and not cubes or some other shape? How do they form the fascinating multicolored films that you see? Why can you only “catch” bubbles when your hands are wet and soapy?

It turns out there is a lot of science in those shimmering orbs that we chase around our yards on summer evenings. Continue reading

For the Girl with Rocks in Her Head

Finds for two rock hounds.

Finds for two rock hounds.

When I was a little girl, my big brother gave me a beautiful book about rocks, minerals and gemstones. He inscribed the inside of the book: “For the girl with rocks in her head.”

At that time I had a large rock collection. When I was growing up, we lived along a dirt road. The road cut on each side was deep, and almost anywhere you looked along the road you could find outcroppings of quartz or rose quartz. I was constantly bringing home new rocks—beautiful ones, shiny ones, rocks that had neat shapes. I even had my own rock tumbler, which leaked out all over the living room carpet and generated an interesting response from my mom to my “scientific” pursuits.

Apparently the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

Our daughter has been captivated by a particular issue of National Geographic Kids magazine that featured gemstones. This has led to her adding a rock collection to her collection of precious pinecones. We have read the gemstone article in that magazine repeatedly.

For one of our day trips during Spring Break, we decided to explore Cave of the Mounds National Landmark. We took the tour through the cave and received many cave kisses along the way (water drips on our head from above)—we saw fossils, interesting cave formations, and underground rivers and ponds. Then we bought a bag of sand and stones and rinsed it in the sluice to see what gems we could recover. We found amethyst, pyrite, quartz, rose quartz and many other delights. After that we learned how to use a ratchet and cracked open a geode to reveal the crystals inside. We hiked the trails and saw some of the first flowers of spring, talked to one of the gardeners, and in general had an amazing time exploring and discovering all about the world around us.

I was reminded of a trip with my parents to a cave in Tennessee that had an underground lake—I have a vague recollection of lights on the lake and a boat trip on the underground lake.

The staff at Cave of the Mounds was terrific, spending time with the guests, doing a great job answering questions and helping people explore and learn. We have an amazing treasure in our backyard, and I highly recommend visiting.

Even on Easter my daughter was collecting pinecones and looking at rocks while on her Easter egg hunt—I think it’s wonderful that the natural world holds this kind of pull over candy for her.

I’m so glad that she has rocks in her head.

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.