Dec 22, 2016

by Diane Dettmann

With the holidays just days ahead and many people coping with the loss of a loved one, I thought I'd share an excerpt from my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. On June 30, 2000, my loving husband died. Alone and broken, I struggled to make sense of my life. When December rolled around, the holidays hit me hard. With the support of my sister and her family, I made it through that first Christmas. Often family and friends don't know what to do to support you in those dark days of grief, sometimes all it takes is for them to be there for you. 

On Christmas Eve day, I stuffed my sweats into an overnight bag, along with John’s picture, and headed to my sister’s. Christmas songs whirled through the car as I drove north along County Road 18. As I passed through Stillwater, couples holding hands and a few last- minute shoppers shuffled along the sidewalks, gazing into store windows. The holiday music and lonely drive threw me into a panic. I gripped the steering wheel and searched for a place on the scenic road to turn around. I didn’t want to worry my sister, so I kept driving. To calm myself, I shut off the radio and pushed an Indian flute music tape into the cassette player. Giant pine trees and snow drifts flashed by the windows. I forced myself to focus on the gray road ahead while the gentle flute music calmed me.
Standing in the entryway, I set my shopping bag of gifts on the floor and stomped the snow off my boots. Mary sprinted up the steps and hugged me. She squashed my coat into the hall closet. When I walked down the steps into the living room more hugs and Merry Christmases greeted me. My friend Paula jumped up from the couch, wrapped her arms around me and whispered, “Glad you came.”
After dinner, laughter and holiday music filled the room. With amber logs glowing in the fireplace, we toasted family and friends. Like a bandage over a fresh wound, the festive mood hid my pain while we sat around the tree, sipped our drinks and took turns opening gifts. My brother-in-law snapped photos of Paula, Mary and me sitting on the hearth. Wearing a black sweater and the silver seagull necklace John bought me at our favorite art gallery on the North Shore of Lake Superior, I stared at the camera and tried to smile. When the flash went off my brother-in-law joked, “Ah, come on girls, give me a smile.”
 With the fire crackling behind us, I pushed a fake smile across my face as the flash went off. After everyone left we picked up the scraps of wrapping paper, the empty beverage glasses and said goodnight. Standing alone in my niece’s bedroom I realized I had forgotten to take my antidepressant pill. After brushing my teeth, I washed the pill down with a glass of water, clicked the bedroom door closed, and pulled John’s photo out of my travel bag. Dressed in my sweats I lay on the bed, brushing his cheek with my finger . . .  

Christmas morning arrived with partly cloudy skies and a glimmer of sunshine. In our pajamas, we sipped coffee and opened more presents. Halfway through the morning, I crashed. I wanted to go home. The smell of ham roasting in the oven nauseated me. Mary insisted I stay for dinner. To calm the grief rumbling inside me, I walked upstairs to the master bedroom and curled up on the bed. I took deep breaths, determined to make the pain go away. Nothing helped. Mary appeared at the door with an afghan in her arms. She smoothed the handmade throw over me and asked if I was hungry. I shook my head. She rubbed my arm and closed the door behind her.
Read more about the ups and downs of my widow journey in Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal in ebook and paperback.. Information at 

Oct 17, 2016

Courageous Footsteps: A WWII Novel by Diane Dettmann
By Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Reviews

The majority of novels about World War II are directed to adult audiences, but Courageous Footsteps is a story for teens and presents the experiences of Yasu and Haro Sakamoto, who are removed (along with their family) from their Glenville, California home and interred in a concentration camp.

All ages will find Courageous Footsteps a gripping, eye-opening approach, for several reasons. One is its ability to provide a stark contrast between the comfortable, middle-class American lifestyle experienced by the family at the novel's opening with life behind barbed wire fences after they are removed from their home.

Few other novels, adult or teen, so adequately portray the emotions, daily experiences, and struggles of the Japanese during this period of time. From the moment Pearl Harbor is bombed and war is declared with the Japanese to the President's orders to take away their lives, Courageous Footsteps progresses swiftly and documents the quick rise of fear and its accompanying prejudice, which place the family in constant danger and flux.

Nearly overnight, the Sakamotos become enemies of the people and are attacked, beaten, and maligned by strangers who only see their Japanese faces and not their American identities. Their personal possessions (radios, guns, cameras, binoculars) are confiscated by the Army in the name of national security, the family is forced to do the best it can under prison conditions, and camp regulations take over their formerly-free lives.

How does a family stay together and preserve their shattered dreams under such conditions? Courageous Footsteps is as much a story of this survival process as it is a documentation of one girl's evolving determination to escape this impossible life and resume her dreams.

Teens and new adult audiences alike will find Courageous Footsteps evocative, compelling, and hard to put down.

May 12, 2016


"I want people working through grief to know they are strong, capable, resilient human beings who have the strength to survive the death of their spouse and find themselves again—maybe even for the first time." -Diane Dettmann   

After the death of my husband in 2000, my world as I knew it splintered into tiny pieces. Everything in my life changed including myself. I wanted my life back the way it was. I hated the new world I was thrown into and fought the changes imposed on me. 

I missed our evening visits over a glass of wine after a long day at work, his smile as we said goodbye in the morning and the love notes he left on the refrigerator when we were apart. My new social status changed who I was. Some friends stayed by my side even in the hardest moments of grief while others bailed on me. Everywhere I looked were couples in restaurants visiting over a romantic meal or hand-in-hand strolling down the sidewalk. Just the sight of them made my loneliness worse. 

Trying to make sense of my life, I read books about the "stages of grief" and honestly believed once I got through the first year, I would be fine. After months of tears, anger and pleading with God to bring John back, I finally accepted the truth-John was gone forever. Whether I liked it or not, I needed to find meaning in life again. The process of rebuilding took a great deal of energy and soul-searching. I spent six years alone rediscovering activities I enjoyed before I met John. I created an art studio in my basement where I could dabble in painting. Eased myself back into exercising by starting with short walks and eventually adding more steps. Grief is like exercise, easy to avoid, but once you lace up your tennis shoes and take the first step more steps follow. 

During those years alone, I took road trips to Montana to visit a cousin and my favorite Minnesota resort where I hiked and spent time writing late into the night. I poured my pain, sadness and grief into notebooks. Those entries eventually evolved into my book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. As I wrote the book, I questioned why I was sharing such a personal story with the world. The book took seven years to write with lots of starts, stops and doubts. In 2011, I put my fears behind me and released it into the universe. I have shared my story with a variety of groups over the years. The Kok Funeral Home invites me each year to share my grief story with others who have lost a loved one. After one presentation, the after care director wrote: "You are such an inspiration for grieving hearts. Your transparency and down to earth wisdom are deeply appreciated." 

Sixteen years have passed since the loss of my loving husband, my life has moved in a new direction as I carry the memories with me. The pain has softened over time, but the loss will always be a part of me. 

"During my long journey I realized, life on earth is a process of sunrises and sunsets; in between you live and breathe what life brings you."
 -Diane Dettmann, Author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels

Please bring hope to others and share my story with others.

Apr 2, 2016

Life and Loss Take Strength and Courage

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” Muriel Rukeyser

A story adapted from Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants (Outskirts Press), a book coauthored by Diane Dettmann and her aunt, Miriam Dloniak Kaurala. Book reprinted in 2008 in memory of Miriam Dloniak.

My grandmother holds no awards recognizing her accomplishments. Her name is not embossed on a star in Hollywood or etched on a granite memorial wall. Yet like many women of the past, she made valuable contributions to the quality of her family’s life and to the lives of others. Sharing stories of the strength and perseverance of everyday women of the past inspires women of today to see the value in their own lives.
            My grandmother, Hilja Lukkarila Kaurala, was born on October 8, 1888 in Simo, Finland located a short distance from the border of Sweden. When she was twenty-one, she packed up her belongings, left her family behind and came to America. After three years of working as a housekeeper for the wealthy members of society she became disillusioned with her unfulfilled dreams of America. She returned to Finland, but life there was dull and unpromising. In 1913, on the ship coming back to America, she met my grandfather, Paul Kaurala. She entered the United States through Ellis Island, my grandfather through Montreal, Canada. Some how they found their way to northern Minnesota where they reconnected and married in 1917.
            Before she married, my grandmother like many of the young women immigrants in the early 1900s, worked as a domestic. Determined to build a life in the new country and become an American, she took jobs as a cook, laundress, childcare worker, and seamstress. After she married my grandfather, they rented a house in Ely, Minnesota where she devoted herself entirely to making a home for her family. In 1923 they outgrew their house and moved to a small piece of land in the country that my grandfather had purchased before they were married.
            With four children under the age of six and a baby on the way, Hilja tackled the rigors of life in the wilderness with nothing but her two hands to help. My grandfather purchased an old, two-room house with a small attic, which he hauled to the site with horses. The bed bug infested house was not exactly my grandmother’s “dream” house, but she used her resourcefulness and ingenuity to turn the house into a home. Every Saturday for the first year she saturated a rag with kerosene and wiped down the coil springs on the beds. Then she dusted the mattresses with Watkins Bedbug powder. Her diligence paid off, within the year the bedbugs disappeared.
            The first year in the wilderness of northern Minnesota the family faced chickenpox, measles, and the bitter cold winter, but my grandmother never gave up. With her hands, always busy, she nurtured her newborn son, picked berries for pies, knitted warm woolen mittens, and created clothing out of cloth flour sacks. Life on the farm required a commitment to family and hard work. Hilja never hesitated to pick up a hay rake during the hot summer hay season or take the long cold walk to the barn in the subzero winter to milk cows. There were times that my grandmother probably thought of giving up or yearned for a more rewarding life, but she forged forward committing her skills and talents to her family’s survival and success.
            During the week my grandfather worked in the mines in Ely fifteen miles north of the farm. On the bitter cold winter nights, with wolves howling in the distance, alone Hilja gathered her four young daughters around their wooden kitchen table. Under the glow of a flickering kerosene light with a wood fire crackling in the stove, she taught the girls how to embroider. Even the youngest three-year old daughter joined in with a needle, thread and small piece of fabric. The long Minnesota winters provided the women with many happy hours of stitching and chatting that bonded them together.
            During World War II my grandmother belonged to a local Victory Club. At one of the meetings she suggested the group make cookies to send to the servicemen. When she was voted down, she came home with a firm resolution to undertake the project herself. Sugar rationing was in effect at the time but my wise grandmother had purchased a fifty-pound sack of sugar before the rationing started. For days Hilja and one of her daughters baked cookies. They mailed thirty boxes overseas so each soldier from their community received a box. When the thank-you notes arrived, my grandmother treasured each one. Four months later, she had a shoebox full of notes from grateful servicemen. She cherished those special notes until her death in 1965.
            Strong, courageous women surround us every day at work, in our neighborhoods and in the broader community. Like my grandmother many of them positively impact other’s lives and make a difference in our world. I hope my grandmother’s story inspires other women to see their strengths, value and potential. By sharing our stories we empower others!

Diane Dettmann, a writer, teacher and presenter, is interested in issues related to women and education. She is the author of Courageous Footsteps: A WWII Novel and Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. Diane is currently working on the sequel to Courageous Footsteps that will be released in the summer of 2016.  She is also the co-author of Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants and a contributing author for the national Women’s Voices for Change organization in New York City. Information about her books available at

To order autographed copies contact Diane at

Mar 18, 2016

Life of An Author


When the email arrived, I almost deleted it. After reading the whole message, I wondered why are they asking me, an author over sixty, to be a model in a style show? I’m kind of a recluse, who spends most of my day in my black yoga pants sitting behind a laptop. I have only a few dresses in my closet that I seldom wear except for weddings or funerals. When I found out six other authors were participating and that the “Style Speaks Volumes” show was a benefit for our local Stillwater Public Library Foundation, my author conscience kicked in. How could I possibly say no to that? 

The fact that it was a collaboration between three local businesses: Valley Booksellers who would be selling our books, the Sash clothing store that offered a special discount, and Reve’ Bistro which included a complimentary lunch, I figured what the heck. I decided even if I had to wear a push up bra and give up my yoga pants for a couple of days, the experience would be well worth it.

After I jotted a quick reply and hit send, panic set in. Since retiring I had seldom worn high heels, much less walked down a runway. The only modeling experience I had was at an outlet mall in a small town in Minnesota years ago. My younger sister had talked me into it and only a handful of women showed up. I thought about calling the organizer to tell her I had changed my mind, that I was too old and not a qualified runway girl, but a little voice inside of me said do it.

A few days later, I called Carol the owner of the clothing store to set up a time to try on outfits. The day I walked into the shop, Carol welcomed me with a big smile. We had a lot in common. She was a widow and had recently retired from teaching. Now she was following her dream of owning her own clothing store and loving it. After an hour of trying on a variety of clothes, I selected two coordinated outfits and a coat to model.

Then Carol walked me across the hallway to the Reve’ Bistro which was in the final stages of construction. She assured me it would be ready on time and showed me how I’d weave through the dining room, pause at each table and model my outfit. Then quickly go back to the dressing room and change. As I drove home, a sense of calm rolled over me. I was excited about the event and totally relieved that I didn’t have to wear high heels or navigate a runway.

The night before the event, a snowstorm hit, closing schools and making travel difficult. But this is Minnesota. With a sold out crowd and seven authors turned models, the show went on. The day was magical. Stylists from the Monde salon set up an area in a small alcove where they styled our hair and did our makeup. I, along with the other authors, loved the pampering.

Dressed in my first outfit, I strolled into the Bistro filled with women of all ages, stopped at the first table and twirled around. The ladies greeted me with a smile and an oolala as they admired my comfortable red and black outfit and ran their fingers over the fabric. Before I moved on, they found my picture in the program and asked about my books. With the room filled with laughter and energized conversation, I looked around at the other authors and their smiles said it all. Stepping out of our comfort zones was well worth it. As we sat around a table enjoying our complimentary lunches and signing copies of our books, I realized it’s never to late to try new experiences that enrich our lives and help us grow! Diane's Website: