Chains and Rabbits

My brother Donald was a person who walked to the beat of his own drummer. He even had Little Drummer Boy as a music box in his teddy bear. He was willful, stubborn and shockingly never wrong in his 48 years on the earth. You could ask him; he would tell you.

When he went away for his first year of college, I did the expected older sister thing and bought a bottle of Scope, emptied it, poured in bottle of peppermint schnapps with some green food coloring and made him a going away present. I mentioned this in my eulogy at Donald’s funeral and my dad came up afterwards and said I did not know that! (There was quite a bit my dad was spared of the details of my life and Donald’s).

Donald Frantz High School Graduation, Aurora Indiana

Donald goes to school; I am 900 miles away and my mom is an empty nester. A few months into his freshman year, I get a phone call that went a bit like this.

Mom: I am worried about Donald.

Kristan: uh huh, why now?

Mom: Well, I am worried what he might be doing at college. He might be drinking!

Kristan: uh huh, probably.

Mom: And he is listening to that music.

Kristan: what kind of music?

Mom: That bad music, you know that one group …that group, you know… Chains & Rabbits

Now I did pause, it took me about 15 seconds to translate in my head Mom-speak to everyday human words.

Kristan: Do you mean Guns & Roses?

Mom: YES! That! I knew it was something bad and something good.

I did go on to explain that Guns & Roses was fine music, not likely to cause any of the horrid destruction she had envisioned, and I have spent the rest of my life every time a G&R song comes on thinking about them being Chains & Rabbits instead.

Me and Donald Frantz, Lombard IL before we started to listen to Chains & Rabbits

A Thousand Years

Alex had two hobbies as a baby, not sleeping and crying. I went through the maze of advice. Change my diet, don’t change my diet. Keep him up, let him sleep, sleep when he sleeps. Let him cry, don’t let him cry. It is serious, it is not serious. It seemed like for every piece of advice, a counter piece of advice was given. And all the time he would cry.

Alex coming home from the hospital 1999

Ok, he probably did not cry the entire first year but it did seem like it. I just remember feeling so very tired and like I had to be the worst mom on the face of the earth.

One night in desperation I put on the new Sting CD I had gotten and just started to dance, sway, bob move that parents have perfected and performed over the years. He started to settle as we made our way through the songs on the CD. When we got to Thousand Years, he stopped crying and settled in. The song ended and he started to fuss again. I one handedly backed up the CD and clicked on repeat one song. And he calmed down and fell asleep… as long as that song played and I swayed.

Alex October 1999

Even today I feel that same hopeless “what am I doing feeling oh wow this worked” when I hear the song play. Alex and I have many songs that make me thing of us and our relationship, but I would have to say this would be our “first song”.

Chantilly Lace

Trips I found fun. And I liked how they led themselves to more information. Smaller details or even more granular emotions. If you are struggling, don’t give up. Just try for one this month or pick one of our last few month prompts (items is a good one) and get started again.


Susan Scharf Frantz

My mother lived in a world and time of LPs and listening to the radio whatever it would offer (and what ever you could get to tune in). There were no playlists in her world. No mix tapes and Spotify was just a dream.

One of the songs that would make her whole face light up when it came on the radio was Chantilly Lace by the Big Bopper. She would sing along, pitching her voice low and singing “Oh baby you knoooooow what I like” and then laugh. To this day, I sing along, smile and try to sing deep when I hear it play. In my memory, the deep part was much deeper than I see it being as an adult. Granted I live in a world that I can just pull it up and listen when I am missing her or just need a smile. I try not to take it out too often so it doesn’t lose its magic.

Susan Frantz in her home in Aurora, Indiana

As an aside, my mother was not a makeup or perfume person, but she did always have a bottle of Chantilly the perfume in her bathroom. Personally, not a fan of the scent but that was her go to. I remember buying her a bottle of it when I got older. She would save it until the scent turned, but I think it made her feel fancy to see it in her cabinet. I sniff it in the store from time to time… it still makes my nose itch!


I find only two things wrong with Kauai. One it is too far away from where I live. By the second flight I am so anxious and like a toddler, keep asking myself how much LONGER are we on this plane. Two, people have found it and it is becoming less and less organic and noncommercial.

Kauai North Shore. 2010

When we were planning for our wedding, we reached the decision that a destination wedding with few guests solved a lot of our coordination issues. We also thought it should be a beach as we dream of living one day by the ocean. My boss at the time had told me a great deal about Kauai and she had been many times. The seed was planted. It was fantastically easy to get married there. And I fell in love with the island. We did many tourist things that first trip, fascinated by the beauty everywhere you looked. We took a helicopter tour to see where they had filmed movies. We found the waterfall where “de plane” was spotted weekly on the TV of our youth. You could not get fast food and not a Starbucks was seen, but you could eat more fresh seafood than you had ever dreamed of.

Do not be fooled, those are rain clouds!

I am embarrassed to admit that I have lost track (ok yes, I could look through scrapbooks) of the times I have been to Kauai (always the north shore); they all just blend into one relaxing yet invigorating moment in life. Except for one trip.

Working around Spring Break and other work commitments, we had booked to go the end of March 2014. I ended up having to book two different places for our week stay due to scheduling issues. But we were on the Northshore and both places looked very fun in their very different ways. It had been a balancing trick to schedule vacations while our parents got older and struggled with health issues. Bud, my father-in-law, had passed away two years earlier and my mother was in a nursing home near us. I had a friend network set up to visit her when we were gone, but she failed rapidly and died mid-February 2014.

No one mentions that there is a lot of work to do when someone dies. Physical work like cleaning out their belongings, scheduling a service, deciding what to do with the belongings, writing thank you notes, closing accounts, filing final taxes are just a few things that come to mind. Not to mention normal daily living of work, meals, cleaning, shopping, and taking care of family. There is often no real time to grieve. I didn’t realize that at the time, I thought I was doing quite well juggling all the things and moving forward with my loss. It never even crossed my mind to cancel or postpone our vacation.

Our first place was across the road from the ocean, just a quick walk to the water. It was a bungalow sort of place with a giant poster bed and the jungle all around. It had an odd bathroom set up of two sinks on opposite corners of the bathroom. Odd, but it worked. It also rained. We knew we were headed there in rainy season, but I don’t think we knew how much it would rain. In Kauai, you expect a shower around 3/4pm and then poof, the sun is back. This was not like that. It rained and rained.

Kristan watching Gilligan’s Island

And I had finally stopped racing around and could let my guard down. It hit me; my mom was gone. I had no regrets, no ‘I wish I would have done/said/tried’. I just missed her, a big giant ache of missing. We walked the beach in between the rain showers and saw rainbows when we timed it wrong (right?) and walked in the rain (I am pretty sure I have never walked in the rain that much my entire life as I did on this trip). And plopped down on that giant four poster bed and watched episode of episode of Gilligan’s Island. A favorite from childhood and oddly one of the only channels that came in well during the heavy rains. By the time we moved out of that bungalow to our new accommodations, I was starting to feel like I was dealing with my sad. But Gilligan’s Island will always be tied to how I felt then and how surprised I felt at the depth of my loss when it hit me all at once when I had convinced myself that I had dealt with it.

Rain and Rainbows Kauai. 2014

We moved to a fancy condo where the man who owned it also owned a label maker, and it was no doubt his very best friend. Everything as labeled. He had owners’ manuals for everything. He also had an appliance for everything. Want shave ice… use this. It was astounding and tad intimidating.

Oh my
Also found of little plaques

Day or so there and we decide to take a hike. We had brought our shoes and poles and decided why not. Matt indicated he found a shorter one that had a waterfall we could turn around after seeing and returned. I packed some trail mix, light snacks, water and we headed out. I figured it might be a morning trip and we could do dinner later.

Kristan pretending to be a mountain goat in the rain. 2014. Na Pali Coast

I can honestly say it was the hardest hike I had ever been on and ever will have been on because … wow. I legit, thought I was as good as dead when we came back around the cliff face where if you slip you just fall REALLY FAR into the ocean and it was raining sideways. Some of the pictures we took that day are my very favorite and I still cannot believe I got to experience that. I also gave up before we got to the falls because I feared I would not have the energy to make it back (it was a BIG tad longer than just a morning hike). We were muddy and I took the last steep incline intentional on my butt as I was so tired and feared falling. Needless to say, I did enjoy Mr. Labels giant bathtub though I fretted if I was ever going to get all the dirt off me AND then the tub!

We found out later that people actually had been trapped on the other side of the water we had to hike through and be transported by helicopter to the main area after spending the night. (we also also learned that people had died hiking that trail and we check a bit better now just exactly where we are hiking! LOL)

Matt and Monk Seals. 2014

I almost forgot the Monk Seals. We had never seen them before but that year for whatever reason, they were beaching themselves to rest and we saw quite a few, so many in fact we got two tiny stuffed ones that road in my car for years to remember them. What magnificent creatures. The locals took such good care of them making sure tourists stayed away and let them rest so they could return back to their homes.

Steele Farms

Before I had my own family, I worked for a man; his wife was this dynamo of a woman. She was 100% focused on creating memories for her kids/family that they would cherish forever. She read books, planned events, and implemented new family traditions. She intimidated the heck out of me. I remember thinking that if I ever had my own family, this was a bar I was never going to be able to hit. One time she told me that she had read if you are trying to make a memory, involve as many of the sense as you can. (That was why on their annual hunt for a Christmas tree, she made sure they had apple cider donuts first, she was a planner!). I do think that is good advice, and I think I do it to some degree… granted I also just like sweets and food.  My family’s memories are more hit and miss, less planned more organic. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Steele Farms was an organic one that worked. In 2011, I was looking for some sort of family activity to do that fall. Something fun, maybe pick your own pumpkin from a patch. I found a corn maze. Even having grown up in the Midwest where this is a common fall adventure, I had never been. So the three of us set off to Steele Farms having no idea what to expect.

Each year the farm makes a new maze and there are stops in the maze to get a stamp or punch to enter to win something (we have never won, it really wasn’t about that). They have hay mounds to climb and cut out wooden figures to pose behind or next to (we are big fans of that) It was honestly just happenstance we took Alex’s picture by the big pumpkin cut out with height measurements.

Steele Farms; the pumpkin keeps shrinking

We picked out our pumpkins (carefully cutting the stems with giant cutters that I let the 11-year-old handle himself). We may have carved one of them that year, but we also saved one for the wooden turkey face and feathers to extend its life into November. I would smile remember our fun day of unexpected surprises every time I pulled in the driveway that fall. Needless to say, it was not difficult to convince them to go back.

Alex and tiny pumpkin

And go back we did five, six maybe even seven more times. Each time posing with the large cut out pumpkin or the school bus with the boys “fighting” in the back or trying something new. The more I think about it, I wonder if Alex would meet us there this fall for one last Pumpkin Picture.

Chain O’Lakes

For many years, we would rent a cabin at Chain O’Lakes State Park just northwest of our house.  Cabins in the summer can only be rented for the week, which was probably the right amount of time for Matt and Alex and about 5 days too long for me. I had never been a camping person. I like the outdoors. I like taking walks in the woods and feeling the sun on my face. But I just have never figured out the adoration for camping. Maybe it was growing up in a house where the nature kept making its way inside. Maybe it was my allergies to everything from cut grass, tree pollen and warm-blooded animals. Maybe it was the emotional scars from Girl Scout camp and the daddy long legs on the faded yellow/gold tent canvas. Not sure, just know that my mother was greatly disappointed that I did not inherit her love of camping.

We own a tent. Alex has camped in our back yard with it and maybe with friends one time? I have not camped in it and do not feel my life is lacking for this oversight.

Chain O’Lakes seemed like a good compromise. It was a cabin, rustic but had warm/cold running water, indoor bathroom, small kitchen with stove and fridge, beds with thin alleged mattress and a lovely porch with a swing and screens to keep out the bugs.  It has a lake with a small beach, canoes and kayaks you can rent and a small store that sells ice cream.

Chain O’Lakes Cabin

I found these trips a tad stressful as I needed to remember everything; pots, cooking utensils, all the food, containers, condiments, bedding, towels, shampoo, clothing, candles, trash bags, and the list goes on and on. I would invariably forget something and then kick myself for not remembering. Each year it did get a bit easier as I had my old list and I would frequently jot down things I forgot for next time.

Alex getting the grill ready. 2013

 Like so often happens, the best memories were those that just happened. One of the first trips, Matt and Alex went out to get the grill ready for the burgers. Now both of these dudes have a healthy appreciation and love of fire. The blaze coming off the grill might have been seen from the moon and Alex’s eyes were as big as dinner plates, through out the evening he would recite the tale of lighting the grill and the woosh it made. We made a small fire after dinner and toasted marshmallows, some finding their way into the flame. We hiked and found geocaches back when they were the rage. And took many a canoe ride around the lake and back some of the channels, sometimes getting stuck depending on the water level. The first time we went a fire was made in the wood burning stove… which while fun also made the cabin (it was summer time) somewhat close to the temperature of the sun.

The stove… not for use in the summer.

One time we went, about night two the alarm for the sump pump went off. Of course, this started in the middle of the night, so there was a great deal wandering around the cabin looking for the source of the horrid noise. Once we realized it was not our cabin but outside, we pondered. We are in the wilderness, and while probably safe from mountain lions, bear and pumas, there were still pretty good odds of running smack into a tree, falling down a hill or twisting and ankle as it was crazy dark outside, what with being in the woods and all. Matt prowled a bit outside while we waited for word. He located the direction of the sound, but real inspection happened the next morning. We spent the next day joking about running over the alarm with our car to beating it with tree limbs.

2013. No I didn’t really hit it but man was it tempting!

Would I go back again if they wanted to (it has been years since we have gone)? Yes, very much yes. So many great spontaneous memories were made there.

Bowl of Chalk

We took a vacation to London and then took the train to Paris for a few days. As this was my and Alex’s first time to both cities, I tried to plan as much as possible. I did hours of research on what to see and do, knowing full well we could not do it all. One tour kept coming up in my research, the Bowl of Chalk tour. This enterprising young man researched and made of tour of street art around London. You were to meet at a certain place and you would walk with him throughout the city as he told you about the different artists and London.

Stops on Bowl of Chalk

It was such an interesting combination of art and history all told at a slow, conversation style delivery. Docents are interesting and informative if you are visiting a famous home or location.

Do love me some Stickman!

Heck, I was a docent for years at Hillforest in Aurora, Indiana. It was the home designed by the owner Thomas Gaft.  I wore hoopskirts and took visitors through the mansion pointing out the italinate architecture and the very narrow staircase that led to the “man cave”. This was actually the round part of the mansion at the top that looked like a steamboat captian’s viewpoint. It did have an amazing view of the Ohio River and I always enjoyed that the narrow staircase was to keep out women with their large skirts, but I would just mash mine together and tromp on up.

1981. My Hillforest docent dress my mother made and we made the hoopskirt out of wire coat hangers and muslin.

We saw a Banksy before he was so well known in the United States. We saw street art created on old chewing gum left on the pavement.  I have forgotten all the names except Banksy but during the tour we would see additional pieces around and started to recognize the signature style of some of the artists.

Bowl of Chalk Tour guide upper right

Now when I travel I try to find individuals who give tours like this in the area. We found a lovely one in New Orleans. It just gives a whole different perspective of a new place and a tad off the beaten path.

Theme Parks

I never went to the theme parks with my parents. I remember going to Disney in Florida with my grandparents as a tween and maybe with friends to Kings Island. When I had my child, I swore I would make sure he knew theme parks. If for no other reason to be able to catch allusion and references. To feel in the know. When he was small, five maybe, we did Disney. He probably remembers the Mickey Bar (a dilly bar with ears). Not sure he has any more memory than that. However, we did do Universal … twice.

2015 Universal Theme Park vs 2010 Universal Theme Park

The first time he was young. NYE of 2010, which would have made him 10. He had round wire glasses and honestly looked a great deal like Harry Potter. In fact, one of the highlights on the trip for him was being selected in the store to have his wand personally selected for him… apparently, they thought he looked like Harry Potter also. He kept telling me, out of all those people they picked ME! I wonder if those workers know the power they have in little lives. We drank Butter Beer, rode rides, nothing too big and scary and he slept through the fireworks brining in 2011 while we were back at the hotel. It was fun, easy fun.

2010 Universal Theme Park vs 2015 Universal Theme Park

We went back five years later and thankfully the pictures were still in a digital album my husband had created, so we tried to recreate a few of the pictures. This trip was a lot more rollercoaster and scary rides. But still the same amount of easy fun, laced with more adventuresome meals. We ate giant pretzels and donuts. He road rollercoaster as we grownups stood on the sidelines or ok, waited on a bench and rested. He didn’t get selected for a personal wand, but it was fun to see what he remembered and what was new for all of us.

2015 Universal Theme Park vs 2010 Universal Theme Park (back story … we bribed him a dollar in 2010, inflation hit me hard in 2015!)

Traveling with a 15-year-old is much different than a 10 year old. They were trips to the same place and yet different. We all were different and I am so glad we did it and that we took pictures of both!

Fishing in Wisconsin

I have a notebook that I have labeled with the topics for the year and when I get an idea: I jot it down with enough notes to prompt the story I want to tell. It helps. It helps a lot. Because being creative under pressure, well it doesn’t work for me. My plants page was empty, might be why May didn’t go so well. Anyway, trying to refocus for June in both writing and writing down nuggets of ideas. If you don’t have a notebook, I do suggest you get one and dedicate it to the process. It does help if you use it.


I have no idea how long my paternal grandparents went to Wisconsin to fish in the summer June-ish) for one to two weeks. I wonder if they went as young parents with a young son and how they even found the spot. I know they had it down to a science; what to take, what could stay home. I am pretty sure my mother went up there early in their dating/marriage. It was one of those things you never questioned, just something that was.

Bluegill was the main fish to be fished. I can remember going with my grandfather and fly fishing one year. Wow they were biting. I told him if it was always like this, I wouldn’t mind going fishing. He laughed. He had a great laugh. Many, many meals of fried (lightly breaded in flour and thrown in a frying pan of oil) bluegill were eaten.

The thing was every so often a much bigger fish was caught and then everyone had to pose with said fish. To the point that if you look on the back of the pictures, you have no idea who actually caught the fish, it was more a slide show of who was on the trip. Pretty sure there are pictures somewhere of my parents holding the same fish as below.

Grandpa with the fish
Grandma with the fish
Aunt Mary less than thrilled with the fish

A story told to me often was on a trip where I got to go along (maybe my first one) and at nap time my grandfather said he would watch me. And then promptly snuggled down beside me and fell asleep. I probably slept a tad but then got up and found my crayons, which would have been ok, but I did not find the paper, so I used a wall. You could still hear the anger in my mom’s voice many years later of the necessity of her to scrub the walls in the cabin because my grandfather fell asleep. When he was reminded of the story, he would smile and wink at me, pretty sure he found the whole thing quite funny.

Two besties napping, Grandpa and me

With no tv (and the internet not existing at this time) there was much to read and card games to play. (or watch play, even then I was not a huge card playing person).

My aunt and her husband continued the tradition until just last year with their family. It was the last year for the “resort” as it was being sold and the couple that ran it was retiring. I bet she has some fabulous memories of it also. I remember most the smell of fried blue gill, talking into the many box fans that were going to cool it off, having them save milk cartons prior to put the cleaned fish in with water and freeze for the trip back home (and fish eating in the fall) and getting my very first leach on my foot (gah!).


I like roses. I like them a lot. I do not remember cut roses or even rose bushes around my house growing up. As I got older, I realized why.

When I was younger my mother would splurge on this lotion called Rose Milk. I thought it was the Most Fancy, Best Smelling lotion ever. Trader Joe’s makes a similar scented lotion around February. I found it two years ago and it almost made me cry as it smelled like my mom when she wanted to be fancy.

Lotion from the 1970s?

My father hated roses. Hated any plant with a thorn or sticker on it. The house I am living in now had a rose bush when I moved in. I had no idea how to care for it, so I asked him as he was a Master Gardner in two states. He told me to dig it up and that he doesn’t give advice on anything with thorns.  I did end up killing it, even with all the love I gave it.

Matt and I, Tralee Town Park, 2011

When we visited Ireland our first stop was in the village of Tralee. I had picked it for no other reason than it was close to the Cliffs and not so far to drive the first day after we landed. As it was, we were so exhausted we got there, had tea at the B&B and went to walk to town to find dinner. Refreshed from pints and fish/chips. We walked into town proper and discovered the town park and rose garden.

We just wandered around and looked at the roses. Marveled in the color and smell and peacefulness of the whole area. We later found out that it was home to over 35 varieties of roses and covered over three acres. There is a statue that people put a rose in their hands and a memorial plaque from Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy that I liked the quote so much I made sure to take a picture so I could remember it. I think of that diamond in the rough we found by chance often; it was just what I needed.

statue commemorating Mary O’Connor sculpted by Jeanne Rynhart

“I find it interesting to reflect on what has made my life, even with its moments of pain, an essentially happy one. I have come to the conclusion that the most important element in human life is faith.” – Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.