In the next week or so, I’ll be posting the survey responses of those who have given me permission. Let’s start that roll with the responses of Allegra’s pappy and our family best friend, Virginia. 

Quick aside: the first sentence of Virginia’s #6 (her ideal day) made me teary. Twenty years going back and forth with cancer; currently on her I’ve-lost-count round with chemo; pain with a lot of types of movement due to loss of cartilage in her joints from radiation and chemo; crazy messed up bowel and urinary systems as a result of the cancer treatments; a nephrostomy tube attached to one kidney; unable to sit comfortably without an inflatable donut pillow under her bum; a palliative pain pump the size of a hockey puck under her skin at her waistline…and in the midst of all that, she remains hilarious, uncomplaining, and insightful. You want some life perspective? Take in her first sentence to question #6. 

Anyhow, now that I’ve tantalized you, let’s start with Byron’s answers.


Name: Byron Johnson

If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be? Why?

The feeling that there is never enough time in the day to do all the things that I want to do. Every day I want to create, cook good food, be physically active and/or be outside for hours, make a difference at my job, and spend time with people I enjoy. Every day consists of tradeoffs, choosing one thing to focus on or trimming down the time spent on each activity. Making those decisions is hard. Sometimes the flow of the day dictates what happens and what does not. I would love to be able to control my days so I did not have to make these choices.

What has been the best trip of your life? Why?

Spending a year in Turkey with my family. Why:

  • It was long enough to be immersed in the culture and to begin to understand some aspects of it. I left wanting to learn and experience more of Turkey.
  • It had extremely high spots and extremely low spots, mentally. Experiencing a high spot after being low really heightens the experience and gives it more meaning. I think of our trip to the Mediterranean in the spring of that year and how we really did not realize how much we needed that experience until we were experiencing it. That trip within our year abroad was magical.
  • The experience has rippled out into our lives far beyond the year we were abroad. We all came back changed and with a different outlook on the world and life. It was transformative, as all good travel should be.

What has been the hardest decision of your life? Do you think it was the right one?

Making the decision to leave my first full-time, permanent, job because I was miserable. I had worked for 3+ years in my field and finally had the opportunity to not work seasonally and live and work in communal situations. I was making a salary, had benefits, and a possibility for stability for the first time since I graduated from college. But I hated what I was doing and I wasn’t very good at it. I was lonely. I was sick a lot during that year, mostly from the stress of the job and not being very happy. I agonized for months about what to do, consulting with my parents and going on long runs just to think. I spent hours watching “The Simpsons”, doing sit-ups, and waiting to go to bed because then the day would be done. I worried about what would happen after I quit my job. Would I get another? Was I done in my field? How would I make money? I felt like I would let my employer down and in a tough spot if I left. But, eventually, I knew I had to leave or things would just get worse for me.

It was the right decision. While it was hard to make, I realized that things work out. Three months later I was employed in my field and in a position that suited me perfectly. I realized that people and organizations move on and personal happiness is more important than an organization.  If I hadn’t made that decision I might not have met your mother and I would not be answering this survey right now.

What have you worked hardest for in your life? Was it worth it?

For me, what I have worked hardest for is somewhat sideways and not a stated goal I set and achieved in my life. The hardest thing I have worked for is the knowledge I have NOW of the things that make me satisfied, challenged, and fulfilled in my life. I have gone through a lot of trial and error, time and energy, money and sweat to discover the few things I need in my life to be happy. I’ve tried rock climbing, subsistence gardening, canning, hunting, pottery, journaling, ultramarathons, and many other things. From these experiences I learned a lot and gained perspective on the world, but the biggest take away has been that these things do not fulfill me. By ruling out what does not satisfy me I have discovered the few things that deeply and truly make me happy—cooking and eating good food (with people I love), stitching, physical activity (with people I love), crossword puzzles, and the access to the world my library card gives me.

It was totally worth it. I have experiences that tie me to lots of people and can connect with them because I have experienced something that may be their passion. I also have a lot of years ahead of me and I now have a succinct idea of how to fill that time.

What is the best museum you have ever been to? What made it so good?

The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.

It was so good because it brought together so much of what makes us Americans in a way that really touched me. I cried at least three times during my visit. I feel like I could visit the museum weekly and still be in love with it like I was after my first visit.

What would your idea of a perfect day entail?

  • Coffee
  • Physical activity—it could be running, hiking, biking, or swimming.
  • Good food, shared with people I love
  • A surprise experience. Having something unexpected, yet wonderful, makes a day super special. It would not have to be big. It could be finding an unexpected patch of wild blueberries on a hike and gorging until we were full.

What’s something you wish you would’ve learned when you were younger?

To dance.

What is your favorite word?

Inshallah—Arabic for “if God wills”. I love the way this word rolls off the tongue and the sentiment of hope, yet uncertainty, with which it is used.

What is your favorite place that you’ve ever gone swimming?

Lake Superior, which I swam in earlier today.

If you have been to college, where did you go and did you have a good experience? What was the best part? Any advice?

Grinnell College. It was a tremendous experience. The best part was expanding my worldview beyond what I was exposed to growing up. I met people I would not have known otherwise. I heard new music. I realized people approached life and living differently than I did. College allowed me to realize that the world is a giant place to explore and something to always learn from.

My advice—GO TO COLLEGE AND IMMERSE YOURSELF IN EVERYTHING THAT CATCHES YOUR FANCY.


And now Virginia’s answers:

  1. If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be? Why?  My habit of speaking before thinking about the possible short-term and long-term effect of my words.  I have often wished I could “unsay” something.  “Be impeccable with your words” is the best advice I continually try to follow.
  2. What has been the best trip of your life? Why?   To Peru with Kirsten.  It was well planned and well executed between Kirsten and this tour company.  I was not in charge.  My reactions went from skeptical to reluctant to neutral to surprised to delighted to very grateful.  The bonus was that I caught a pirhana fish, walked beside a tapir, had my shoes pecked by a wing-disabled red, white and blue parrot, allowed feathery-footed millipedes to crawl up and down my forearm after a rain, and got to hold a young three-toed tree sloth in Inca village along the Amazon River.  It peed on my tshirt and I vowed never to wash it.  It somehow got into the laundry, but I have a photo, which is actually better.  Easier to share.
  3. What has been the hardest decision of your life? Do you think it was the right one?   To marry a man, because I wanted to do “the right thing” and that’s what seemed like the right thing.  It was in June of 1964.  I left this wonderful man in the summer of 1966 and went to Germany to study for a year.  Was divorced “long distance” in January of 1967.  Very amicable divorce and we were both better off.  Douglas eventually married the right woman.  They are still married, so I don’t feel bad on his account. And I am definitely in the right relationship now!
  4. What have you worked hardest for in your life? Was it worth it?  I worked hardest to acquire a good command of the grammar and an authentic-sounding pronunciation in several languages, but mainly in German and French.  It was definitely worth the effort!  
  5. What is the best museum you have ever been to? What made it so good?  Le Quai d’Orsay museum of impressionist art on the Seine’s left bank in Paris.  It’s an old train station, huge, with great natural lighting from above and a huge clock with gold hands and numbers.  It has an excellent restaurant and the WCs are very clean. But most of all, I love to stand in front of the works of artists like Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Seurat, DegasCezanne, Gauguin, Mary Cassatt, Pissarro, Bethe Morrisot, Renoir, and others and let it sink in that these are the very paintings which they created with paint and brush strokes and their particular way of seeing life.I am so touched that sometimes tears well up and then even I see things differently!
  6. What would your idea of a perfect day entail?  It would include waking up feeling grateful that I live in safety and have choices.  I would accomplish what I intended to accomplish on that day so that by bedtime I would have no regrets for misspending my time and I would be satisfied that I had caused several people,including strangers, to smile and perhaps laugh. 
  7. What’s something you wish you would’ve learned when you were younger?  How to navigate in Facebook and how to speak and write Japanese.
  8. What is your favorite word?   cherish
  9. What is your favorite place that you’ve ever gone swimming?   The Indian Ocean off the SE coast of Madagascar, among coral reefs
  10. If you have been to college, where did you go and did you have a good experience? What was the best part? Any advice?  I graduated from St. Olaf College.  It was a wonderful, life-affirming experience.  The best part was exposure to new ideas, to poetry and literature, to interesting, deep-thinking people (both professors and students, and one German war-bride living a challenging life in Northfield and who hired me to tutor her in English).  Advice?  If you need advice about ANYTHING, ask your mother or your dad, or both, because they know you better than anyone and they are not judgmental.  I predict that you will love being a college student and you will make good use of your new and stimulating environment.

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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