family photos

My family together after Grandma Laura’s funeral. One of those few times we are all together and looking good all at the same time.

Me with four generation of Crane boys, and not one of them was tickling me.

the sisters

These are my grandma’s two older sister, Emma (87 years old) and Sally (91 years old). There is some impressive longevity in the women on both sides of my family… I am happily hopeful for a good, long life.

goodbye grandma

In a few hours, we will attend my Grandma Lauara’s celebration service, or funeral. Her body will not be there – viewings were yesterday and today she will be cremated – and her being or spirit is in heaven. Today we will celebrate her life.

This week has been filled with loud family gathering in my mom’s childhood home – including Grandma’s two older sisters who are still laughing, telling stories, and cracking jokes. Today will not be that different. The celebration will start at Grandma’s church, continue into the fellowship hall and then just move a few blocks away to her home. This is the way it works in small farm towns on the prairies. Someday maybe I’ll take a few moments to share some of the stories about the old days – when my great grandparents homesteaded out here. For today, I wanted to share with you a couple pictures (including when my Grandma was downright foxy) and what I will read at today’s service – these are my mom’s words and memories written after my Grandma died that I edited to share with everyone. I hope they make you smile.

HERE is a link to her obituary.

In the voice of my mother, Nancy Kay (Neil) Crane:

Laura Mae Lewis Neil, mom.

As I thought about what to say today, I remembered meeting one of mom’s high school friends who said she had never met a nicer person in all her life. Mom had so many good qualities, but she could also alienate many of those she was closest to by fixating on a something that was part true and part fabrication. That part of mom was not easy, but let’s lay that aside and look at mom’s beautiful qualities – qualities that made her someone that if I could be a quarter of what she was, I would be proud.

Mom was fun. Making tents as kids or playing army in the garden – it was all ok with Mom. Growing up we floated the river, we did whatever sounded good and she was right there, glad that we’d have fun. She enjoyed a good movie and even more a good laugh. My children remember Mom roasting marshmallows over a candle in the kitchen  – just because it was fun. Or telling Steve, “Go get some wood for the fireplace, these kids need to make S’mores. Her love of a good time and easy laugh was her personality that was well watered by growing up on the farm with the Bergers nearby.

And because mom loved fun, messes created didn’t bother her. As kids, Mom never complained about coming into a house in a disarray from our cooking or a sewing or building projects. There was never a selfish, “Oh, I was saving that” of any item we were using in a project. Instead she delighted in what we were doing and admired our cleverness. She loved to tell the story of Jake getting Hilda Sletten’s sugar cookie recipe when he was just 5 years old. He came home and made them up all on his own. After years of hearing that remarkable story I finally asked, “Did he clean it up too?” “Oh, no. But can you imagine that he got the recipe and made them entirely on his own!” Now isn’t that having your priorities right?! I want to be just like that!

Mom was inclusive; she would never leave someone out. She didn’t want anyone to feel on the outside. If we kids brought friends home from school, Mom didn’t mind. I think I had girlfriends over weekly in high school for parties and Mom never minded a bit. Extra people for dinner – not a problem. If we invited others to stay at her home, she welcomed them. She has even had several people stay with her long term.  Sometimes that got to be difficult but it seemed to wear on her much more slowly than it would have worn on me. One time I was home visiting and Mom was suggesting I invite my in-laws for dinner. I was angry at Mryt but Mom had suffered from her even more. Still she encouraged me to let go of it and have them over -she didn’t want them hurt by us not having them over. May we all be so inclusive.

Mom loved her family including all the photos and gifts they gave her. As soon as she received photos of her grandchildren (and great grandchildren), they were up on the wall framed that is if they weren’t on her table where she was looking at them. She spoke again and again of how she got such a chuckle out of her latest great-grandchild, Jack. She said that in his newborn photo, he just looked like he had an opinion about things, that he just came out looking like that. And that tickled her so. And her house is full of gifts from her kids and grandkids. There are the vases that Steve and Jake got her in the early 60’s right through to the Christmas nativities that were just too pretty to put away. Whether near or far, her family was her life.

And after her family, mom just loved people. She looked at each person’s character – not their past choices, but where they are today. She delighted in people who turned around and people who were living life well. She did’t fear people. She did not lock her doors, preferring people to be able to come in at any point rather than keep out a possible burglar. A stranger was a friend she just hadn’t met yet. Every time she flew the outrageous miles to visit us overseas, she’d get off the plane saying the time passed so quickly as she had just met the most interesting person.

Mom didn’t know how to complain.  She could empathize but not complain. We had car trouble a couple times. Once after 6 hours in the car, I was hot and the kids were tired. The car broke down and she pulled out the lawn chairs that she had bought for us that were in the trunk (you know those orange ones that rocked) and said with her laugh, “We can sit here and watch that beautiful sunset.” Another time we were driving in the Dead Sea valley which has a similar climate to Death Valley. Our SUV broke down and I was thinking how miserable it was. Mom, who all my life has repeated the Cut Bank mantra of, “I just can’t stand the heat,” said on that blistering hot day, “You know, it’s not really all that bad.” What an attitude!

Speaking of weather, it didn’t matter what tropical country we were living in, Mom , living back in Cut Bank, swore the temperatures were just about equivalent whether it was winter or summer. Two years ago we were looking for a retirement home in North Carolina and Mom accompanied me as the realtor took us around. Mom compared everything– homes, weather and countryside– to what she knew, Cut Bank. Several days into this search the realtor asked how long she had lived in this interesting place – Cut Bank. Mom started laughing and said, “Well, 80 years!” Really, she should have been hired by the Chamber of Commerce as she promoted Cut Bank to everyone!

She was tough as nails, never really paying much mind to a bad cut or pain. And though she was miserable with hay fever, she never complained. Instead, she’d grab a Kleenex and say it was nothing, feeling much more empathy for someone else she heard who was suffering with the same thing than she ever did for herself. Even with arthritis she weaned herself off of aspirin a number of years back because she didn’t want to be dependent on it, but never complained of the pain – she could bear it.

I’m thankful that she died quickly. She never wanted to move out of her home, or have her driving taken away from her. She was always mobile. Due to her kind neighbors who mowed her lawn, shoveled her snow, got things off the top shelves and checked on her, she could stay in her home. She was always busy with church. I should have realized just how bad off she was on Sunday when she said she didn’t go to church to set up for coffee hour. She and Bev Burrows have done coffee hour for years, and she did it for others. She wanted people to have some place to go after church, instead of heading home. She never complained that there weren’t people who would come to it but rather her concern was that someone might be heading home from church without first having the companionship.

I debated suggesting the meal following this funeral today at her home, but how could it be anywhere beside in the fellowship hall which she enjoyed so much, including decorating it every year for Christmas. The beauty of it pleased Mom – I told you she was fun. She was into candles, Christmas lights, things that sparkled and made people smile. There wasn’t a year that she didn’t put up a full sized Christmas tree. She just enjoyed looking at it so.

Today as we eat one last time in the fellowship hall in honor of mom, Laura, I hope we can all celebrate her life as we share memories and stories with one another. She would simply delight in this reunion.

thankfulness amidst sorrow

Friday morning my Grandma Laura died suddenly from a heart attack. My mom no longer has a living parent and I am left with just one living grandparent  – one who’s person is slowly being stolen by Alzheimer’s. It was sudden and she had no history of heart problems and none of her other health problems suggested her time here was drawing to a close. And so there were no goodbyes; this week is filled with sorrow.

Amidst the sorrow though, I am thankful. Grandma Laura never wanted to move out of her own home or give up her car – both things we did not have to face with her. She did not want to be in the nursing home or suffer long disease, and she did not. Though we did not get to say our goodbyes, of these things I am thankful.

I am thankful that my parents were able to get on flights out of Khartoum, Sudan, in under 12 hours. I am thankful that I had not yet left for Africa, that I was not in Africa either unreachable or unable to leave. I am thankful that my work only asked what they could do to help and there was no question about my ability to go be with family. I am thankful for travel insurance. I am thankful that both parents are able to come, that all of siblings, and much of my (small) extended family, including my grandmother’s two older sisters, will be there.

Yesterday my forehead muscles were sore. Friday was spent on the phone with family members, booking flights, and working with my travel agent to rearrange my Africa travel. Apparently all of it was done with a furrowed brow using rather unworked muscles. I am thankful my sad muscles are out of shape.

I was looking forward to being back in Africa this week and getting to share with you stories from the field. Instead I am returning to the farm town on the northern Montana prairies where my family homesteaded years ago. It is a beautiful and harsh land, and this week’s story will be one of family. Like all stories, it is one worth telling – the sorrows a well as the joys. Amidst the sorrow, I am thankful for family.


“It is amazing that there are conditions under which a group of people can be happy to sit under a tarp in a rainstorm.” ~Joel

I love camping because it removes all of the devices that are tethered to me and those with me – in my case phone and computer. It removes and lets us focus on each other, nature, and simply being.

Last weekend we were in the Smoky Mountains at Cosby Campground – a great site that I would highly recommend. We hiked, splashed in a stream, played cards huddled under a tarp, slept in tents, made good food over fires (including homemade tortillas and brownies), played with my nephew (who responds more to his nickname, Thumper, than his name), and talked. And I showered under the stars by the stream. Perfect.

dreams without boundaries

I remember the first time I saw my dad downhill ski and my mom ice skate. I remember because I was in middle school and I was amazed – they were good. Really good. As kids, my dad would save his money to get a season ski pass and my mom spent all winter gliding on frozen water. And there I was – a clueless middle schooler – falling down the slopes and wobbling on the ice.

I think most kids grow up knowing what their parents are really good at – the things they have been doing since childhood. But not me. My parents grew up with nine month winters and I grew up with nine month summers. I remember being in elementary school when dad was getting re-certified to SCUBA dive, and mom trying years later. I remember when we bought our boat – learning how to tie proper knots and to care for equipment immersed in salt water. I remember mom being terrified of high seas and open water, but we went anyway.

The lives that we lived as family are incredibly different than my parents’ childhoods. Each country brought new things to be learned – cultures, lands, and hobbies. Wherever we were, we truly lived. I was raised to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to do. Not because I was invincible, but because I could learn and persevere.

This makes my parents sound like wild adventurers. Maybe to some that is exactly what they are, but I really think that they simply chose to live. They like quiet nights at home surrounded by family. They like routine and typically steer clear of things that could lead to ‘legendary stories’. And in choosing to live wherever they have been, I think they have given me an incredible blessing – I cannot fall into the trap of believing that I am too old to learn new things or that I should be excellent, nay perfect, at what I do, at my chosen hobbies. I know that I can try and that I will, most likely, succeed.

And so, while I dream, I am thankful that I have spent my life watching my parents do (not just try) new things, that I have seen them work at relationships and life, and I am thankful they have grown through all of it. Seeing them ski and skate taught me about their pasts, but my childhood taught me how to live. I know I can always learn something, someplace, someone new. Today I am thankful that my dreams do not have boundaries.

world, i am an aunt

IMG_2560I am an aunt. On Thursday, September 24, my little little brother Chris and his lovely wife Esther had their first child. Little little brother you ask? Well, yes. I have two younger brothers and he is the younger of the two, so he is little little brother. The fact that he is by far the tallest of the three siblings just makes me smile EVERY time I say it.

Since we found out Esther was pregnant 8 months ago, I have been saying, “The kids are having kids.” You see, Chris and Esther knew what they wanted and got married 2.75 years ago. Crazy. Insane. At 21 & 22 years of age they knew what they wanted and were willing to commit to it. COMMIT – a shocking word in this day and age. And so I have jokingly called them the kids ever since. For the past 8 months Esther’s belly has grown and somehow it kind-of-maybe seemed real that there was about to be another addition to the Crane family, but it was surreal.

On Thursday surreal became real when Liam Hussein arrived 2.5 weeks early at a healthy 6 lbs 13 oz. He is going to be the only tall skinny white kid with Irish and Arab names in any school he attends (middle name after the late King Hussein of Jordan). The labor was without drugs, feeding is breast milk, and the diapers cloth. Yep, the kids are having kids. I am so proud of them and maybe, just maybe, when I grow up I can be like them.

19 hours

Time is such a beautiful and odd thing. As I write this I am sitting with at a bar in the Salt Lake City airport drinking a local amber. (Yes, I love the irony of drinking local brew in Mormon country.) When I land in Nashville in a few hours I will have 19 hours from touchdown to take off for Africa. 19 hours to do laundry, the final bits of packing, sleep, have a pile of meetings, set up some more electronics, recharge a few batteries, and get on the next flight. 19 hours in which I will get much accomplished, test the theories of multi-tasking, and hopefully enjoy one last soak in my tub while watching a tv show on the trusty mac.

The last five days were spent in Montana pulling up childhood memories. I spent two nights at a cabin my grandfather built in Essex, which is basically across the highway from Glacier National Park. He died of old age and strokes while I was in college, but the cabin remains. Grandpa has no time left, but the cabin remains not quite frozen in time. Walks in cool mountain air, huckleberries and raspberries on wild bushes, and the trains not far away crossing the Continental Divide.

Then two nights in Cut Bank, the small town where my mom grew up which appears as a cluster of homes and trees surrounded by endless wheat fields and dry prairie grass. At night here the constellations still grace the night sky; this state is not called Big Sky for nothing. Grandma still lives in the home my mom grew up in – the one where we made more s’mores in the backyard and pinned on superman capes that were really towels as kids. Grandma is old and wrinkly, but still grandma, and she is still holding onto life. My other Grandpa lives down the street from grandma and is starting to fall to Alzheimer’s. Stories are repeated more than normal and there is much amazement that clothes can come out of the dryer completely dry – if you know how to use it. Here time is regressing and moving forward all in one. Somehow it seems appropriate that in this town with insanely wide streets that few people reach the 25 mph speed limit.

Before long my 19 hours in Nashville will begin, and I am working on getting my brain up to speed as it seems to have been put in the cruise control mom now uses to not speed in Cut Bank. I am headed from no cell reception or email to a life dictated by my iphone. From slow time to fast forward – all just a plane ride away in this nation that we call the United States of America.

a season of a camping

As I sit to write this, I feel rich because of the camping trips I have had this season. Not because they were to the most exotic places imaginable, but because they were trips made with friends and lasting memories were created. There were 2 trips in Tennessee, 1 in Kentucky, 1 in North Carolina, and 1 in Washington. On 2 of the trips people came from 4 different cities to join in on the fun. We hiked, told stories, played games, cooked food, had deep conversations, burned wood (and other things), and laughed much. Friends plus nature is so beautiful and good for the soul. Here are some of the people, some of the laughter, from those trips. (One trip has no photo documentation due to much rain… so here are pictures from four trips.)

TU friends

Four friends from college days reunited.

bethany & james

Marriage is good.

renee & kylie

So is falling in love.

the fence

“Come on Pam… I’ll help you make it over the barbed wire fence.” On this hike, I was the only person under 6 feet tall. And yes, with help, I did make it.


I told you there was laughter.

tara & araella

For mother and daughter, fantasy stories fill the hours.


“Aren’t you impressed with my packing?”

pam & josh

Getting ready to hike a beach on the Pacific Ocean to find a campsite.

beach camping

Down there is where we camped listening to the ocean through the night. Just like camping when I was a kid – except a lot colder.


That mustache is the source of endless conversations. That look… well… what is family for but to document such things?!


My beautiful mom.

course 1

This was course one of dinner that night. Yes, we are all diving into the pot with spoons so as to avoiding doing dishes as much as possible.


Just to demonstrate that I do in fact believe in eating well while camping.

matt & chris

The brothers use creative measures when no ladder is available.

chris & lauren

“L come over here and help out.” “What?” “You are so much lighter than M.” I love the expressions on their faces.

teeth brushing

No, he is not an invalid. Yes, there was laughter.


A few weeks ago I went to Atlanta to celebrate my birthday with my siblings. My brother’s lovely girlfriend, LL, took these pictures while we were wandering around the beautiful cemetery. Someday I will write on laughter; I think it is music for the soul. Until then, a few photos.

making the new york times

Sometimes you just have to brag, and I feel like making The New York Times is a braggable event. On Sunday MC, my little brother, had an article published in Nature Methods, a highly respected technical journal. Then his accomplishments were made available to the masses through an article in The New York Times. The article came out on Tuesday and is available online here.

the brother’s graduation

CC graduated a day after me….in a city five hours away. It made for a long but fantastic weekend filled with family, friends, food, ceremonies, and some sleep. 

CC helps to design, build, and race ‘Baja’ cars every year. This year’s car is nearly ready and will be raced the beginning of June. 

The whole family. 
With the parentals (yeah…CC’s height is not normal for our family). 
The biological kids. 
With the wife. 
Yeah…he’s done with school and off to vacation and then a job!