Four generations

I am SO excited to finally share the story of our four-generation photo shoot at a Minnesota sunflower field! Eep!

I want to begin by extending a huge thanks to the very talented Marissa Liljander of Sweet Roots Photography. She made it all possible! 

We've turned this into a special four-generation project. Here are the players: my grandma, Mary Ellen (a.k.a. "ME The Great"); my mom, Ellen; me; and my children, Maria, Jane and Archie. 

You can read my account of our sunflower photo shoot in the hot-off-the-press August issue of Minnesota Parent

You can watch a video I made using Marissa's images here

The third and final part of the project was a letter-writing prompt. Grandma wrote a letter to her daughter (my mom). Mom wrote a letter to her daughter (me). I wrote a letter to my daughters. And tying it all together, my older daughter dictated a letter to her great-grandma. That way each of us wrote and received a letter.

I'm sharing those four letters here, beginning with Grandma's letter and working down the generations to end with Maria's letter. 

O, my dear Ellen,

Would that I had the grace of an angel or the talent of a poet to convey to you my love and gratitude.

From the moment you were born on that stormy November night, you filled our world with joy. Our celebration of Thanksgiving Day that year was the beginning of a lifelong hymn of gratitude for the blessing you have been to your family.

 I remember years ago, when your dad and I would attend marriage retreats. Everyone would be asked to fill out forms about our various experiences. One question was “What was the happiest moment in each of our lives?” Your birth was always at the top of our separate lists.

 Your constant support has continued to sustain me through joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies year after year.

 Watching you become the mother then grandmother you are has filled me with such joy and pride, I almost have to pray for humility on a daily basis.

 To try to make a list of all your thoughtful, loving deeds through the years would be an everlasting project. To quote Charlie Brown, I would have to "get a sheet of paper, write numbers from 1 to 100, keep numbering till I run out of space, then get more paper.”

 So I have concluded, my darling Ellen – never mind that I don't have the talent or can't find the words. No choir of angels or legions of poets could possibly express my love and gratitude for you. Thank you, my precious daughter!

 All my love forever,  

Your "ever-blest" mother

Dear Christina,

My middle child! What joy you have brought me.

When you graduated from Medill, I indulged in a sense of classic accomplishment. You were successfully launched.

When you got married, I was aglow with personal gratification. Ted – who embodies character, intelligence, compassion, humor and character – was attracted to you because you embody the same virtues. Having promoted your personal development (and endured growing pains during your teen years), we supported your self-esteem, which enabled you to select the ideal partner and not settle for less.

When you became a mom, I was overwhelmed with an awareness of the universal cycle of life. As you are now too.

Watching you parent, I’m repeatedly impressed with your playful spirit. You are on your hands and knees, peeking through the dollhouse window, wearing the princess tiara.

You foster the kiddos’ creativity by providing beads and paint and pipe cleaners and spools of metallic ribbon. You fuel their imagination by writing letters and leaving treats from the fairies under the bushes. You pass out flashlights and lead a mystery hike on a magical, bimulous moon-lit night.

You don’t squelch their sense of productivity by complaining of messes. You view smeared peanut butter and dribbled toothpaste as evidence of risk taking, not of mistake making.

The love for my mom which you and your family liberally display warms my heart to its core – as does her delight in you and them. I look forward to your grandchildren carrying on likewise and basking in and returning my love.



Dear girls,

Being your mom is the greatest privilege and the most amazing role ever!

You have taught me far more than I could ever teach you. You’ve shown me how to live in the moment. You’ve demonstrated how to take your time and examine all the intricacies right under your nose.

I get to experience the world anew through your eyes, to rediscover that sense of wonder and remember how it makes you feel young and hopeful, bursting with possibility.

No matter what we’re doing, I love spending time together: reading books, going on picnics, dance parties in the living room, walking to the big pond as we sing “The Happy Wanderer.”

Sometimes the simplest days are the sweetest: playing in our pajamas on a quiet morning, taking a bath and then snuggling up for a movie, splashing around the driveway with a hose in your rain boots.

“Getting messy is a sign you’ve had fun,” we always say. I love when you have dirt under your nails and sun-kissed cheeks and sweaty hair. Fresh air is so good for us – in every season! You girls know that; you are hardy Minnesotans.

You ask such interesting questions. I don’t always have the best answers, but I try. Thankfully we can look things up together and learn as we go.

I hope you keep asking questions. I hope you never lose your confidence and sense of adventure. I hope you never forget where you come from and what a powerful force it is to be backed up by a loving family. I hope you believe, as I do, that you can do anything!

Thanks for making every day new and bright.



Dear ME The Great,

I love you, ME The Great.

I like to play in your toy room and explore your basement.

I like how you always have candy.

I like to march around in circles while you play piano.

You are a good singer. You are kind.

I love you because you love me.




 Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three young children in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at