Each month we ask our readers to respond to a question. For our May 2014 issue we asked: "Share a sister story?"

Sisters of the Sahara
The Sisters of the Sahara is a dance ensemble started in 2006 to create and perform a wide range of styles of Middle Eastern dance, often referred to as belly dance. Our goal is to educate people about what Middle Eastern dance is - and what it is not.

Our members range in age from their late 20s to early 50s, and include a college professor, a financial analyst, a chiropractor and a high school teacher. We have all types of bodies - from petite to 5-foot-11. Our range of Middle Eastern dance training is from 5 years to over 15 years. All of us consider Middle Eastern dance a lifelong learning experience.

One member commented: "I think belly dance makes you realize that you are capable of doing more than you think you can, every single person/body type/age is capable of being graceful, artistic and creative."
Aliyah Sahar, St. Paul
Editor's note: The Sisters of the Sahara Middle Eastern Dance Ensemble was formed by Leslie Kennedy (aka Aliyah Sahar) and Kristine Paul. www.thesistersofthesahara.com

Full circle
I have sisters - only sisters. I am the oldest of the five daughters of Rhoda and Howard. We are sisters who span a 16-year period. When I married and moved to California in 1969, my youngest sister was 5. It was 10 years before I was once again living in the same state (Minnesota) with my sisters. It has been with the passing of years that we, as sisters, have grown relationships as women friends.

Rhoda had a gold band with five different birthstone chips, one for each daughter, in birth order (we each had our own birth month). This was her mother's ring. She began wearing it in the 1970s and had it on just about every day until she died in 2009. The ring went into a small pouch and was tucked away. Then Howard passed away in 2011. Then the household was dismantled. Then the pouch with ring resided with the middle sister.

Then I had my birthday. Three sisters were able to gather for an evening of dining, beauty treatments, laughing and, finally, some birthday cake and gifts. I noticed the cameras were clasped in their hands and they could barely sit still while telling me to "open the gifts, open the gifts." So I did. There it was, in a nice ring box, cleaned, shiny and special. The mother's ring was now a sister's ring. And being the oldest, I had been gifted with it by my sisters. I slipped it onto my little finger and it just fit.

I could never wear a mother's ring, as I have not had any children, but I feel so honored, grateful and loved to have a sister's ring.
Paulette Anholm, Grand Marais, Minn.

A powerful presence
I have four sisters and I cannot imagine my life without them. They are the very definition of family. We laugh together. We comfort each other. We support each other. The oldest is a great financial adviser. The next is the family organizer. One is the creative one and the youngest is the one who pushes us to be our best selves. We are a force to be reckoned with. Our mother came from a family with six girls and one boy, and those aunts still are a powerful presence in our lives. They taught us well.
Christine Janty, St. Paul


Pass it on
I flew to Chicago to celebrate my 75th birthday with my sister Margaret Helen and her family: her husband, Mike; daughters Peg, Kathy and Sharon; Peg's girlfriend Ruth, and Kathy's boyfriend, John.

After dinner they sang "Happy Birthday" to me. I said - I don't know why - "We couldn't have had better sisters." My sister said, "That's right! That's right!" Peg said: "It's because you're such good sisters that we're such good sisters."

Later, I thought about our mother and her sisters, Margaret and Helen. They were caring, generous, humorous and energetic, and they enjoyed each other's company. My sister and I enjoyed them, too.

You don't teach your daughters to be good sisters. You show them.
Betty Ann Burch, St. Paul

Lesson from a hot summer night
The Chicago hostel intimidated us, but I boldly lugged my bag through the crowd gathered on the front steps, urging my sister to follow. We were two gals on a road trip; she was 15 and I was 27. When we opened the door to our room, she said, "I'm calling Dad to send us money. We are staying in a hotel." "No," I insisted. "This is fine." The room was bare with two twin beds, but it seemed clean. After a day of thorough Chicago tourism with temperatures in the humid 90s, we lay in our beds with rented sheets, worn out from walking but unable to sleep because of the heat and the noise. There was no air conditioning; there was no fan. There were only two open windows with no breeze, the sound of multitudes gathered on the steps below and two sisters talking late into the night.
Lindsay Taylor, Minneapolis

Sister adventures
I am fortunate to have three sisters. Several years ago, we decided to get together weekly for lunch. This led to days and then long weekends or more together. Now, Wednesdays are sisters' day. We get together to quilt, shop or just talk. Fortunately, we all like the same things.

We have traveled to Mazatlan, Mexico; Las Vegas; Washington, D.C., and Chicago, as well as closer destinations such as Duluth and Rochester, Minn.; Madison, Wis.; Branson, Mo., and Galena, Ill. We have a great time and never tire of each other.

We call our oldest sister, Mary Ann, "Mother Superior." Our youngest sister, Kathy, does most of the driving. Eileen and I are the middle sisters, so we just enjoy. However, on trips, I take the pictures and Eileen takes care of the money. I attribute our good fortune to wonderful parents.
Dee Feldmann, Hudson, Wis.

Little sister reflections
I was born on her first day of high school in 1965. My sister was the oldest, and there were three younger brothers. For the next 20 years, she was my mentor, my protector and the person who always had my back. Weekends at her apartment - amazingly, her friends allowed the "little sister" to tag along. She helped me learn to process a challenging family, including the suicide of our brother when I was just 12.

Our relationship radically changed after I finished college. Suddenly, we were equals, and 14 years didn't seem quite so big. And I didn't feel like just "her little sister" anymore. We figured it out, as we always did, talking and mulling over everything - transforming our relationship into its new shape. Now we were and continue to be best friends (for real BFFs). I can't imagine my life without her!
Kris Sanders-Gendreau, St. Paul

Memories of sisterhood
I see my sister's face caught in time - her bright eyes and smile in an unwavering gaze at the camera. Thirty years ago at the age of 24 she died, and so did her part of the relationship we had. She took all of the arguments (sometimes huge!), the hilarity (laughing so hard we could hardly breathe), the grudges (which could last for days), the experiences, the memories and the connection that we had. I am left without her part of those stories in my life; that piece will always be gone.
Today, I love to watch my daughters in the relationship they've built. They communicate with glances and secret codes. They connect through shared experiences. I'm grateful for their sisterhood, for the sisterhood that I had and for the memories I hold.
Tammy Benke, Inver Grove Heights

My sister's blue river eyes
Forty years ago, when I was 7 years old, I awaited the birth of my baby sister. I waited nine months to welcome her, my friend, my ally, my only sister. Just before she was to be born, she died. Pain surrounded my family like a heavy, dark cloud. Years and years went by, the dark cloud hidden and not far away.

I wonder and I imagine her story. My sister dances in her long flowing skirt, colors of purple and green. Her wild, curly hair covers her back like golden sunshine. Her T-shirt says "friend." Her heart accepts all. She stomps around in her black boots, confident, mysterious. Bracelets of silver guard her wrist. Her peaceful spirit fills the room. She opens her arms with love and holds me in her blue river eyes.
Mary Cowette, St. Paul

We three
We three
We are lucky,
we three,
blessed,
because I know sisters who don't like each other,
who don't have that fierce love
that leaps out in defense
against any hurt,
real, potential, imagined or otherwise.
Alliances shift, often within a single conversation,
the currents of our friendship
ebb and flow with the seasons of life,
our lives.
We know each other
the way we know our moles, our wrinkles,
knowledge unspoken
because there is no need to state
what to us is a pillar of life,
a fundamental strand of our DNA -
our love for each other.

Keely Tharp, Roberts, Wis.

My Sister the Seamstress
Stacked high in a snug South St. Paul sewing room,
thick folds of calico and chambray
await the family brides and mothers-to-be
who name a theme and a color scheme.

Will it be bear paws or hens and chicks?
Whirlwinds or pinwheels?
Earth-, jewel- or tropical-tones?
Enough to cover a crib or a king-sized bed?

My sister calls the small-town quilt shop out west
seeking a teal batik to pair with the emerald gingham
picked up on a whim years before.
She knew she'd find the quilt for it, one day.

She cuts out hundreds of tiny triangles
only to quickly stitch them back together again
to piece a dappled, patchwork river
that flows across a quilt top.

Neither a migraine's pain nor throbbing wrist strain
slow my sister, the seamstress:
the forty quilts she's stitched over the years
warm us with the craft of her love.

Susan Koefod, St. Paul

A defining moment
I had grown up hearing stories of my Dad's younger brother being a "tag along," always hanging around and unwanted. As the youngest in my family, I certainly didn't want to be the "tag along" sister.

When I entered junior high in seventh grade, my sister was a ninth-grader. I was grateful that our school had separate wings for each grade, so I wouldn't run the chance of accidentally bumping into her and giving the impression I was seeking her out. But one day I turned a corner, and there she was with her friends! I couldn't turn around without looking stupid, so I thought maybe it was OK to just say "Hi," and then walk by - so I did. But my sister stopped me, seemingly excited to introduce me to her friends. That was a defining moment, for a new paradigm of enjoying each other's company.
Cindy Cummings, Sarona, Wis.

A hole in my heart
My sister and I grew up in a volatile family. I was 2 years older than she was, yet I was her protector. She would sometimes call me Mom. I knew she looked up to me. We went to the same high school, and though she saw me being promiscuous and becoming addicted to alcohol, she never thought different of me. She loved who she knew I was inside.

I became addicted to heroin at the age of 19. She still never treated me any differently. Yet after each heartbreak she suffered after each promise I broke, she finally distanced herself from me.

Although it hurts, I don't blame her in the least. I can't imagine the pain that each disappointment caused her. I am still struggling, seven years later. She is still not in my life. I cannot wait for the day I find enough strength to stay sober. I hope she can forgive me; I don't know if I can forgive myself. I love her and miss her and can't wait to hug my sister again.
Jenny, Minneapolis

The cool club of two
I was 13 and my sister was 10. We were feeling less than cool one summer and decided to form a club: Stupids Anonymous. The rules called for sharing 10 instances of stupidity a year. "Dulce est despire in loco" was our motto - "It is pleasant and proper to be foolish once in a while."

Years later, I am still a member of the club, always meeting the yearly requirement. I once tried to resign, telling my sister over the phone that I just didn't feel stupid anymore. There was a long silence, and then she said: "That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

If she wasn't my sister, we would still be friends. Being able to share with her life's inevitable screw-ups has given me an open-hearted humility that leads to freedom and the ability to really be myself. As cool as I can be. Or as stupid.
Nancy Vala, St. Paul

Sister Cities
"Twinning," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. Bemused and curious, Ahmed asked for an explanation. A physician from Iraq who was visiting Minneapolis was introduced to the idea of Minneapolis and his hometown, Najaf, becoming official Sister Cities. Invited by the Minneapolis City Council in 2009, Najaf's officials accepted the invitation and it was so.

President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s conceived of the notion of Sister Cities following his lifetime career in the military, including World War II. Sister Cities International now includes hundreds of linked cities and is an independent nonprofit organization.

Perhaps considering the concept of "Sisters" as a relationship of mutual respect and enjoyment, Eisenhower suggested that "citizen diplomacy" might succeed where military exercises did not.

Ahmed, after some thought and discussion, asked if it would be possible for all Iraqi cities to have a Sister City in the United States. He smiled at the thought and said, "I like the idea."
Kathy McKay,St. Louis Park
Editor's note: McKay is the director of the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. www.reconciliationproject.org