Grandma & Grandpa are leaving us tomorrow morning after spending the month with us. It’s been a whirlwind! They spent time exploring Stuttgart, the nearby villages, Nuremberg, Konstanz and the Bodensee, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. But most days were spent hanging out at the pool, cooking, playing with toys, watching TV, and going for hikes around our village.

We also are all about 5(+) pounds heavier because Grandpa kept insisting he treat us for dinner at all the local Biergartens. We will definitely miss them, but look forward to seeing them again soon!

Two Peas in a Pod

One of my fave pics from this past week with Nona. These two have so much in common. Two peas in a pod, I say. Both are the second-born in their families, both the second daughters. I know Lola really appreciated it whenever Nona pointed out that it’s “a second child thing” … almost like a badge of honor. These two are part of a club, and since I’m the oldest daughter myself, I don’t belong to it. (But Aunt Jill does, too!)

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Special Guest

This photo was taken the day we said “auf weidersehen” to my mother a few weeks before we moved to Germany in late 2014. Despite constant check-ins via Skype, Facebook, and messages over the years, I know she’s going to have a heart attack when she sees how big the kids have grown since that day.

And of course, Junior’s ready to meet his Nona! See you soon!

End of the Visit

Martin and the kids are on their way home as I type this. Last night during our phone conversation, one girl seemed a bit resigned and the other girl burst into tears at the idea of leaving their grandparents and endless days of kayaking, amusement parks, limitless Nutella jars, shopping sprees and whatever else my family lavished on them. Continue reading

No Limit To the Power of a Good Woman

The following is the eulogy I gave at my grandmother’s memorial service over the weekend.  It was crafted with help from my step-mother Linda who had input from her siblings and Mary Jean herself. 

Grandma MJ in her late teens

“There is no limit to the power of a good woman.” 

That was the name of an award Mary Jean once earned from [a local high school there in Cincinnati.] She received it because of work she did there, designing stage sets for student musicals, serving as the PTA president, and co-chairman with Bill Fanning to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary.

Yet, I find it fitting as a description of Mary Jean and the life she lived, and the life we honor here today. There is just one thing I would add to it, though. There is no limit to the power and HEART of a good woman.

And Mary Jean was a good woman.

She was born on April 12, 1930 here in Cincinnati, where she grew up with her late-sister Rita and brother Bert. By all accounts, she was a bright, feisty, and popular girl who made friends for life. After high school, she attended two years at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, which is where she met a dashing military veteran named Charles, who she married in June 1951.

He was the love of her life for more than 61 years.

She incorporated her arts talent and knowledge in so many creative ways while raising their six children, Chuck, Bill, Mike, Linda, Sue, and Karen. There were handmade Halloween costumes: Batman & Robin, Little Red Riding Hood, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and more she kept in a trunk for playtime. Frazzled jeans were hemmed, prom dresses were crafted and sewn.

Christmas cookies were baked by the hundreds, and given away as gifts to family and friends. She thought she was being crafty by hiding these cookie gifts in the bottom of garment bags in the attic, but rumor has it, six little detectives were always able to sniff them out, thinking Mary Jean surely wouldn’t miss just one cookie.

She was known as a real “bandsaw bandit” creating patterns and cut-outs for all kinds of wood crafts, to include a life-size manager stable scene complete with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, three kings, angels, shepherds, and sheep, for all the neighbors on their street, where she and Charley raised their family.

Over the years, there was “Girls Nite” with her girlfriends from grade school and high school at St. Ursela. By then wives and mothers, these ladies met once a month, rotating amongst their homes, always bringing chips and dip, and lots of chatter while playing Bridge.

Mary Jean’s daughters, Linda, Karen, and Sue especially loved when the ladies came to the Magness house. The girls always tried to listen in on the grown up talk and sneak into the circle to refill the chips and dip, to just briefly be part of all the activity.

And activity was a constant at the the house.

With six kids, that was inevitable. Somehow, Mary Jean was always on top of it. She attended football games and swim meets, baton lessons and parades, Girl and Boy scout meetings. She supported all her children, making sure all of them got their college education so they could achieve their career goals.

And when her kids grew up and left the house to begin their own lives, she always kept her home open and inviting to them. As any parent would, she happily welcomed them back in when they needed the support, and just as happily, helped them move out again, too.

Even with her kids out of the house, Mary Jean stayed busy. There was volunteering at Mercy Fest, where she made Christmas ornaments and decorations for fundraising for a local hospital. She served as parish council president at her church, helping with the holiday walk, angel follies, serving as a CCD teacher, and at church festivals. She was also an associate member of the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph since 1984, co-founding the Ms Margaret’s Guild, meeting for luncheons to share faith and prayers for others.

With Grandpa Charley and Grandma MJ at the beach in 2006


I should pause here to mention that I learned of these things about Mary Jean a little bit after the fact.

I first met Mary Jean when I was 17 years old. She came into my life, and the lives of my sisters Jill and Jinger, when my dad Larry married Mary Jean’s daughter Linda.

I was still in high school, obviously still living at home, and was well aware of the awkwardness that arises when two families blend together.

Would this new family like us, and accept us? Must we always add that caveat, that we are the step kids? How would we make up for our lack of history?

And what would we call her?

The thing I didn’t yet know, but would quickly learn about Mary Jean, was that her loyalty and commitment to family didn’t stop with those connected through name and blood.

If she loved you, you were family.

From the very beginning, she loved us. And insisted we call her Grandma MJ.

No caveats about being the stepkids, no explanations needed. She opened her heart to us, and we became a part of the grandkid gang with Charlie and Katie, Daniel, Robbie and Sarah. Years later, that love and acceptance extended to my own children, her great-grandkids, and my sister’s daughter.

Here are the things I know about Grandma MJ from countless family get-togethers with Chuck, Bill and Sandy, Mike, Julie, Sue and Tracey, and all the rest, trips to the beach, barbecues on the banks of the Ohio River, lunches, Easter egg hunts, and visits.

Mary Jean was small in stature, but huge in personality, and so full of energy.

She lived life to the fullest. Not a day went by that she wasn’t involved in something with her friends, family, church, and community. Not a single day.

She always had her cigarettes, and her beverage of choice nearby.

She always walked us to the door, and stood at the window, waving goodbye when we left her home, never moving until we were no longer in sight.

She loved her memories, and kept thick scrapbooks full of them. She enjoyed researching her genealogy and left behind books full of information. Photos of friends and family decorated her walls at home.

And she loved to talk.

And she always had to have the last word. The very last one. Once her family accepted that, they loved her more and more. She continued to use her art and creativity to bring love and joy to others.

She personally created all the centerpieces for my sister’s wedding reception when Jill married Greg, and every Christmas, my children are creating memories surrounded by her amazing woodwork and ornaments. She did this for all her grandkids.

Details were important to her. She never forgot a birthday or anniversary. Not a single one. I received my first birthday card from her when I turned 18 years old, and my husband got his first card just months after we were married. In fact, a few weeks ago, when Grandma MJ was checked into the hospital a few days before my son turned two years old, she turned to Linda and my Dad, and said, “Can you let Julie and Martin know that Jaz’s birthday card is going to be a little late?”

All the things she was facing at that moment, and she was concerned that my little boy wouldn’t get his card.

That was Grandma MJ.

She was sentimental, but also very direct and no-nonsense.

When Grandpa Charley passed away last year, she and my oldest daughter were talking about it, and as my daughter expressed her sadness and fear of others dying, Grandma MJ was matter-of-fact. “This is life,” she said. “When it’s our time to go, it’s time to go, you know? It happens to everybody, and we just gotta hope we lived a good life and love each other so when it’s time, we can accept it.”

Grandma MJ was ready for whatever God had in mind for her. She was ready to die, and she wanted to be with her dear husband Charley again.

The family all together for our grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary in 2011.

And because Grandma MJ had lived such a good life, because she loved us so much and did so much to show us that, we were ready, too.

Sad, but ready.

While MJ, of course, could not be here to have the last word, I would like to share with you the last words she heard before she passed.

They were said by her daughter Linda, who crawled into bed with her, and whispered the following in her ear: “I give you permission to return to God. When God is ready for you, you can release your body and relax in your essence. There will be no more suffering, you are forgiven, you are loved. You have been a great mother, and all your work is done. I’m so proud to be your daughter. Return to God, return to home. No need to say goodbye, you will be with me in spirit always.” 

We love you, and will miss you, Grandma MJ.