Friday, December 19, 2008


It's official: I'm no longer a teacher. I am a former teacher. Today was the final day of fall semester, and I don't see my name on the teaching schedule for spring semester.

I've been feeling a little fragile all day. I've taught my last class, graded my last paper, entered my last end-of-semester grade. No more lesson plans, no more pre-class butterflies, no more purple pens writing praising/encouraging/constructively criticizing remarks in margins of papers. No more learning new software and wrestling with hardware; no more frantically trying to work through a new textbook that the publisher decided to release five minutes before class started. No more teaching highs; no more teaching lows. No more hours at the kitchen table on Sunday night, working my way through a stack of technical writing statistical reports.

No more waking up at 2 a.m., worrying about some other mother's child who isn't doing well, who isn't adjusting very well to college responsibilities. I . . . am . . . exhausted. And I will miss it. It was a wonderful, worthwhile way to spend my life.


We aren't even prejudiced. Colbie may very well be the cutest baby ever born on the continental U.S. (I would have said "in the world," but I didn't want to sound like I was exaggerating.) We'll be meeting her in just a few days.

Monday, December 15, 2008


2:28 a.m. Phoenix time, 6 lbs. 13.5 oz., 19 inches long.
Mother, father, baby doing fine!
Grandparents on Cloud Nine!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


If you are from Minnesota, you can skip this entry. You're probably seeing the same thing right now out your window. This is for all of you ex-Minnesotans who really, really miss the changing seasons.

Generally, when I look out my back window, I can see the Methodist Church, the church parking lot, and the church parsonage--clear as day, half a block away. Today, this is what it looked like out our back window. Even Poppy, the cat who NEEDS to be outside, didn't need to be outside today.

Disappearing church

And our neighbors across the street are just so barely there. In case you needed a Minnesota fix . . .

Yoo Hoo!! Thompsons! Where did you go?


New experience: I just read a book where I put off reading the final ten pages for more than 24 hours because I just dreaded how it would end. And I didn’t want it to end that way. But it had to end that way. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m not the intended audience for the books I read. They’re being written for someone else—someone much younger and more flexible than I am. Someone not as easily disappointed.

The book I was reading was Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. Prepare to be inspired and thrilled and enlightened--and utterly, completely bummed out in the ending, because that’s the way it had to end. The book is loosely and fictionally based on the 1996 Japanese Embassy hostage crisis in Lima, Peru.

Sometimes there are books that make me think contrary my normal values and beliefs. Secret History by Donna Tartt made me understand the need to murder someone (yes, Bunny must die!!). Lamb: The Gospel According to Bif, Christ’s Childhood Friend by Christopher Moore made me think that maybe one of the three wisemen actually was a Buddhist. And Bel Canto made me really, deeply sorry to see the bad guys lose. I’m getting too old to read books like this.

I recently expressed to Tom that all the books I was reading lately were kind of bizarre or depressing. So in thoughtful Tom fashion, he brought me a suggested reading list from a newsletter of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart Convent in Fargo, North Dakota, in which Presentation nuns had all written down a list of their favorite books. After all, if they're good enough for the Presentation nuns, he figured I might benefit from them, too.

Here’s the new list of books the good sisters recommend: A Monk in the Inner City, The Hard Work of Hope, The Power of Now, They Come Back Singing, and Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. Just by their titles, I know these are books that will inspire and lift me to become a better human being. Heaven knows I need all the help I can get.

And unlike Geek Love, the book I read before Bel Canto, these books will not contain even one aqua boy with fins instead of arms and legs who is the father of the albino dwarf’s illegitimate baby, Miranda—who coincidentally was born with a small tail protruding from the end of her spine, although Miranda was a very talented medical artist. (I am not exaggerating. This really is the plot of the book Geek Love.)
For whatever reason, some of the books I’ve been reading lately are making me feel a little weary—like I’m not the intended audience. Maybe Tom's right and I’ll benefit more from the good sisters' suggested reading list.

Friday, December 12, 2008


At Christmas time, people bring out their collections: Department 56 Christmas villages complete with electric trains, Santas, SnoBabies, Willow Tree figurines, Christmas dishes. And I have to admit, cheap as I am, I have a collection, too.

It costs a ton and a half of money to travel. Yes, I know I can backpack, sleep on the floor in hostels, and hitchhike on the back of mule carts across the Gobi Desert. But I’m old, and I need a bed and running water. So when we travel, I don’t budget a lot of money for shopping and souvenirs. My family back home knows how frugal I am; there are no t-shirts that say “My Mom Went to Estonia and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” in my children’s closets.

But everywhere I go, I try to find an ornament that I can bring home to take out at Christmas time and hang on my Christmas tree. It doesn’t have to be a real tree ornament. With a hot glue gun and a 69-cent pack of wire ornament hangers, I can make just about anything into an ornament. Refrigerator magnets, tiny souvenir plates, carved wooden trinkets—nothing is safe from being noosed and hung from a branch on my holiday tree.

Last Friday night, Tom and I set up our six-foot artificial flocked tree (complete with fake pinecones) that we got at Menard’s. It looks kind of cute after the sun goes down and it’s all lit up with twinkly lights—if we squint a bit and drink a little wine. Add a pine-scented candle somewhere in the room, and you almost feel like you’re stopping in the woods on a snowy evening with Robert Frost—well, with a little imagination.

So while other travelers are buying gifts for family and friends, I am scrounging around in foreign bargain bins or haggling with street vendors, looking for little doo-dads. Then in December, I can carefully hang them all on my almost-life-like fake Christmas tree (complete with fake pinecones) from Menards. That’s when it really seems like Christmas.

Camel from Tunisia
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Moose from Homer, Alaska
St. Petersburg, Russia

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I feel sorry for everyone who doesn’t subscribe to the Fargo Forum these days. I’ll bet your newspapers are full of doom and gloom: state budget shortfalls, laid off workers, death-spiraling housing markets, rising costs, tough times.

If you subscribed to the Fargo Forum, the headlines on Tuesday, December 9, would read: Free North Dakota Tuition Plan Rekindled—New Version Broadens Eligibility.” We’re talking free college tuition here. Don’t get me wrong; I know the bill didn’t pass in the North Dakota House (killed on a 28-65 vote). However, just think about it. It’s December 2008, and the country is in a recession. Here in Minnesota, the state has a hiring freeze and a $5.2 billion budget shortfall.

But on the other side of the Red River, North Dakota is wondering what to do with a $1.2 billion surplus, mainly the result of oil and agriculture revenues. Unemployment is among the lowest in the country, and sales of new cars are up 27 percent over last year. And they’re thinking maybe they should take some of that extra state money and help their kids pay for college.

That’s why I can’t help but looking longingly in a westerly direction and think, “Ah, North Dakota. Wouldn’t you like to be more than just friends?” After all, it takes me two hours to drive to the Twin Cities, but only an hour to drive straight west to North Dakota.

Jim Lileks, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune (a Minnesota newspaper on the verge of bankruptcy) wonders whether it might not be in Minnesota’s best interest to just take over North Dakota. In a recent column, he says:

We need bold, new solutions, like annexing North Dakota. They have natural resources aplenty, and the population density of Antarctica, even if you figure in penguins. Pushover. We have National Guard soldiers who've been to Iraq; I think Fargo would be an easier tour of duty. We would not only be bigger and richer, we would be the weirdest shaped state in the nation, and cement our stature as the state with the greatest number of old guys named Elmer.”

Somebody named westernmn had this comment in response to Lileks’ column: “Living in western Minnesota feels almost like being in a different state. . . I've often thought we have more in common with the Dakotas than southeastern Minnesota, where the metro is (people from the Twin-Cities think they are located in the center of Minnesota). There's a North and South Dakota, maybe we should succeed from Minnesota and become ‘East Dakota.’”

So here’s my home-made map of what I think the new state of Dakota would look like:
The new Minnesota looks quite a bit like the old one—just thinner. And the state is currently into belt-tightening, so this just might be the answer. Of course, those of us in East Dakota would be happy to help North Dakota figure out what to do with its budget surplus.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Another story about Carlisle from my 90-ish parents during a visit at the nursing home.

On Sunday, when Tom and I brought my mom over to visit my dad at the nursing home, the conversation turned to horses. I think the conversation started because we were having some snow flurries, and my mother remembered that when they were kids, they always wished for snow at Christmas time so they could take the horses and sleigh to church on Christmas Day. Back in those days, Hedemarken Church had a barn on the north side where all the fathers would unhitch the horses, get them out of the wind and cold, and feed them a little hay while the families attended church inside. The barn was torn down when most people started driving automobiles to church in the 1930s.

My mother especially remembers their horses Daisy and Prince. They had originally belonged to the Pergande family, neighbors who were retiring from farming and were auctioning off all their farm equipment and animals. Mr. Pergande approached my mother’s father, Edward, prior to the auction, wondering if he wouldn’t bid on those two special horses because the Pergandes wanted them to go to a good home where they would be treated well. My mother seemed quietly proud that her father had been asked to do that.

Anyway, her father did purchase the horses at the auction. Daisy and Prince weren’t just any old farm horses; they were “small and quick.” My mother laughingly remembers that when they were hitched up to the sleigh in the winter, those horses would run with the sleigh. And when her father went to hitch up the horses after church was over, she would watch him running in circles with the two prancing little horses, around and around the sleigh to settle them down because they were so excited at the prospect of pulling the sleigh back home.

But although they were little and quick, Daisy and Prince were still expected to pull their weight with farm work. They would be hitched up with the big sturdy work horses, the five-horse teams balanced just right (two in the front, three in the back, my dad remembered), and Daisy and Prince would work in the fields right along with the big draft horses.

My mother remembers another set of neighbors, the Sundrys, who were also retiring from farming and had a saddle horse that they needed to sell. They, too, approached my mother’s father and wondered if he didn’t want to buy their horse, Babe. Although the horse belonged to the whole family, it was my mother’s older brother Clifford who loved that horse the most. He faithfully took care of her and rode her to Saturday confirmation classes.

Both my parents' familes had twelve to fourteen horses at a time, and they were carefully taken care of. The horses were very, very important to the farm operation. The reason farms needed twelve to fourteen horses was that the teams had to be rotated for work, especially in hot weather. My mother recalled one time when her father was working out in the fields on an unusually hot day. He was so close to being done with a field that he worked the horses longer than he normally would have, just to finish the field before heading back home. Later, my mother’s brother Clifford came running into the house from the barn, very upset. “Jerry [one of the horses] is in trouble,” he told his father, worried. Later that night, Jerry died of heat exhaustion. My mother said that her father felt just terrible—he felt so responsible that his hard-working horse had died, as well as the economic loss. The guilt stayed with him a long time; her father never pushed a horse that hard again.

So that’s what happened on Sunday at the nursing home—looking out the window, watching the snow come down, remembering the horses and sleighs from 80 years ago.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


This is a warning to all of you: either be happy or stay the heck away from me. A multi-million dollar, twenty-year study by some of the finest minds in the country has finally proven beyond doubt that happiness is catchy—but so, unfortunately, is unhappiness.

Earlier multi-million dollar, multi-year research by very smart people concluded that obesity and cigarette smoking are contagious, too. That is, if you hang around with chubby friends or family, you are more likely to become a chub scout yourself. Ditto for cigarette smoking. But now there’s a new twist on the value of hanging around with the right people—your happiness depends on it.

Researchers have found that happiness is contagious—it’s a collective phenomenon. To paraphrase the researchers’ results, we pick up our emotional state from people around us through mimicry and emotional contagion. We copy actions, facial expressions, and emotional states that we observe in others—whether we’re around them for a few seconds or for weeks or months. (Time is immaterial here. When we’re around unhappy people, it just seems longer.)

The study, done by American researchers (sociologists from Harvard, UC San Diego, etc.) called the Framington (Massachusetts) Heart Study, was conducted from 1983 to 2003. The study, like most academic studies, is full of big words like “ego” and “cohort” and “first order relatives” and “systematic social ties,” and “base mean index score.” But the bottom line of the study was that happy people tend to be connected to one another in big happy clusters. In the study, researchers found that clusters of happy people and clusters of unhappy people were too large, too defined, to be just chance occurrences.

So be wary of hanging around with Debbie Down-in-the-Dumps and Martin Miserable. They are not only affecting themselves; they are creating a ripple effect of unhappiness around them. Their entire cluster of social ties is being pulled down into their sucking, swirling vortex of wretchedness. Thanks a lot, my downer friend.

On the other hand, the researchers are even tentatively saying that happy people create their own karma (therefore making the TV show My Name is Earl accurate and prophetic). Because happiness spreads from person to person, the happiness we create around us ripples to others, and ripples and ripples and ripples, until eventually it comes to ripple back over us. Now isn’t that a good reason to make an effort to smile?

Friday, December 05, 2008


I wish I remembered where I read it so I could give credit where credit is due. Maybe it was in Ann Patchett’s book, Bel Canto. Maybe it was in the Reader’s Digest. Maybe it was on the back of a shredded wheat box. But somewhere I read that most people in their lifetimes make six connected decisions that change the course of their lives.

Personally, I think this might be a rip-off of the old game, “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” a brain game invented by three students from Albright College that theorizes that any actor in Hollywood can be tied to actor Kevin Bacon in six steps. For example, if you “six degree” Kevin Bacon with Jessica Tandy: Kevin Bacon was in Flatliners with Julia Roberts, who was in Closer with Jude Law, who was in The Talented Mr Ripley with Gwyneth Paltrow, who was in Seven with Morgan Freeman, who was in Driving Miss Daisy with Jessica Tandy.

But let’s get back to the subject of six major decisions that bring you where you are today. The choice of your “Six Major Decisions” will change, depending upon where you are in life. What may have looked like one of the top six in the year 2008 may not even make the list in 2030. So the list will reflect where you are today, at this time.

Right now, without much explanation, these are the six major decisions as of December 5, 2008, that have changed the course of my life:
  1. In 1968, turned down a fine arts scholarship offer at UMM to major in theater and English and continued on track for Business Education at MSC.
  2. In 1971, agreed to let my boss introduce me to someone he had met who worked for another agency and who my boss thought would “be just perfect” for me.
  3. In 1981, made a decision to resign my teaching position rather than take a maternity leave, directly leading to returning to school and getting a master’s degree in English.
  4. In 1985, made a decision to go to Colorado for Christmas, which I believe did more to shape the direction and goals of all my children than any other single piece of parenting Tom and I did.
  5. In January 2000, made a decision to change my lifestyle and get healthier.
  6. This one is still up for grabs. Could it be my decision to retire in January 2009? Or will it be a later decision at another fork in the road that leads to even greater changes?
Maybe my sixth decision will lead me to starring in a movie with Kevin Bacon (see Decision 1 where I turned down the theater scholarship). Full circle. Why not? Don’t all roads lead to an encounter with Kevin Bacon?

Monday, December 01, 2008


Our new treadmill arrived today. It’s much more sophisticated than the one we bought eight or nine years ago—the one that recently passed away from high mileage and old age, may it rest in peace. The new one is a NordicTrack C2155 with a two-speed fan, an Interplay Musicdock for an 8-stage iPod workout routine (iPod sold separately), a 12-grade incline, a pulse/heart rate monitor, and a digital training zones screen display. I think it can also make a seven-course dinner.

Brand new fancy-schmancy NordicTrack C2155 treadmill down in the basement.

When I drove home from work today, the car thermometer showed 18 degrees. The stiff wind out of the northwest was strong enough to make the flag by the Knights of Columbus bingo hall stand straight out. So when I walked through the door and Tom told me that the new treadmill had been delivered, I decided to try it out.

Instead of bundling up and enjoying the sights of nature through the half-inch slit between my stocking cap and scarf, I watched “Cash Cab” on the Discovery Channel. And instead of inhaling the fresh, icy air of a late Minnesota afternoon, I inhaled the slightly stale air in the basement, punctuated with the aroma of the cat litter boxes in the laundry room. It took me a while to figure out all the buttons and digital read-outs; but the belt went around smoothly and the little fan blew an enthusiastic breeze on my sweaty brow.

I still plan to walk outside whenever I can. After all, we want to make this treadmill last as long as humanly possible. But the main reason I need to walk outside is the endorphin factor. I believe wholeheartedly in the theory that exercise produces endorphins, which create a sense of positive well being. However, for some reason, treadmills don’t bring out the endorphins in me. I can walk two to four miles on that treadmill, and all I feel is kind of sweaty. But when I walk the two to four miles outside, I feel downright happy. Endorphins are nature’s way of saying, “Now isn’t this fun?”

So God bless the fancy new treadmill—it will save me from frostbite and fractured hips on those bitterly cold days when the paths are too treacherous to navigate safely. But I look forward to any days I can be outside walking, radiating my sparkly endorphins all along the trail.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Yesterday on our walk, Tom and I took a swing around Noonan Park to add an extra half mile to one of our same-old-same-old routes. And Holy Zamboni, the rink rats are back!

In another month or so, usually during Christmas vacation, the Park Department will put up the official hockey boards and the official hockey nets—but who can wait until the ice is 100 percent safe and neatly chiseled smooth by the Park Department Zamboni? A few quick cell phone calls, a text message or two—the word is out to bring a couple of shovels, drag two nets out of somebody’s garage—and presto, change-o. Noonan Pond is a hockey rink. All it takes is the sound of one stick smacking on the ice, one puck sailing through the air, and the rink rats start gathering.

They’re dressed in a motley collection of hooded sweatshirts and stocking caps. Usually one hot-blooded showoff is out there in a t-shirt. Somebody parks an old blue Corolla in the street, leaves the door open with a CD blaring Disturb’s “Indestructible,” and the rink rats have heavy metal accompaniment.

Across town at the multi-million dollar indoor hockey facility, coaches hold tryouts. The organized teams in their matching jerseys play at pre-determined times against other teams brought in from neighboring towns in big diesel-burning buses. But at Noonan’s Pond, anybody who is old enough to hold a stick and bold enough to step over the snow ridge on the makeshift rink gets to play.

“The ice is thin!” the authorities warn. “Stay off the ice until the ice is at least four inches thick.” Of course, Noonan’s Pond is knee deep at its deepest; the biggest hazard of falling through is finding yourself up to your knees in goose poop and green algae. But the rink rats don’t mind; their sticks have been taped and their skates have been sharpened since October, just itching for somebody to start a game of pick-up hockey at Noonan’s.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Tom has been volunteering at the local food shelf ever since he retired about three and a half years ago. Clients who frequent the food shelf, Tom has found, are very fond of bread, doughnuts, cereal, macaroni and cheese, hamburger, hotdogs, and frozen TV dinners. Most clients like food that they can eat right out of the package or prepare by putting in the oven or the microwave for the time specified on the package. For whatever reason, many aren’t so fond of food that needs to be fixed.

Every fall, local Alexandria residents have generously brought in garden produce to share with the food shelf clients. They bring boxes of apples, sacks of potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, pumpkins—just about every kind of produce gardeners find themselves with too much of in the fall. The food shelf clients gratefully accept all the apples and potatoes and tomatoes—these are foods they know and understand. But they really have trouble taking home the squash.

Now Tom and I love squash. So Tom has a little trouble understanding why the food shelf clients, when offered a dark green buttercup squash or a sleek tan butternut squash, ‘er’ and ‘ah’ around, not wanting to appear ungrateful, and eventually decline the hard-shelled vegetable. “I—um—don’t know how to fix a squash,” is the most common response Tom gets when he offers to pop a squash or two into their carts.

Tom has even gone so far as to give cooking instructions. You would have to understand Tom’s cooking skills to know what a stretch this is. He does not cook. Period. Yet he tries to get the clients fired up, trying to remember what he’s seen me doing when I bake a squash. It sounds kind of like Ms. Fitzmeyer’s second graders who are asked to tell how to bake a Thanksgiving turkey (“You put the turkey in the microwave for 15 minutes and then put bread in it.”) Tom’s instructions were something like “poke holes in it and put it in the microwave for 8 minutes and then cut it in half and take out the seeds and put brown sugar in it and then microwave it for 8 more minutes.”

Actually, I cut it in half, seed it, drizzle a little sugar-free maple syrup in the middle, put the halves in a pan with a little water in the bottom, cover it with foil, and bake it—time depends on the size and type of squash, anywhere from one to two hours at 350 degrees. The microwave only comes into the picture if I’m in a hurry.

So the piles of squash sit there at the food shelf, lonely and neglected. Tom absolutely hates to see food go to waste, so he brings home a squash or two occasionally. “The man who brought them in said we should help ourselves, too,” he says in his own defense, knowing how I feel about stealing food from poor people. But I fix them anyway. In the past two weeks, we have had a spaghetti squash, a delectia squash, a butternut squash, a buttercup squash, and a sweet dumpling squash. We are so full of fiber that we could pass ourselves off as stuffed animals.

But mostly I feel guilty because I know the food shelf clients are eating that gluey Kraft macaroni with its powdered orange cheese—and Tom and I are dining sumptuously on the lovely golden nutrition of a homegrown organic squash. Life ain’t fair.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


This time of the year, every time I can still get out on the Central Lakes Trail for a walk, it’s like a gift. However, it doesn’t look the same as it did last summer or last fall—or even a couple of weeks ago.

Traffic has really fallen off on the trail as the weather has gotten colder. People are a little wary of any slick, snow-covered streets and paths. For the most part, they’re hunkered down in their winter mode—maybe just waiting for more snow so they can cross country ski or snowshoe. Or maybe they’ve got a treadmill in the basement or a membership at Any Time Fitness. Maybe they’re those faithful mall walkers, making their round-and-round circuits early in the morning before the mall stores open up at 10 a.m.

But this time of the year, it’s easy to be aware of the other die-hards out there on the trail. We all leave our marks—big feet, little feet, man feet, lady feet, kid feet, dog feet, maybe even a few squirrel feet.

Sunday feet on the Central Lakes Trail

We’re the brother/sisterhood of walkers, and we’ll keep walking the trail until the snowmobilers force us to dive for the bushes.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Note: Another Carlisle story told by my 90-ish parents. They really laughed when they told this one.

In 1941 when my father was getting ready to marry my mother, they needed a place to live. My father still lived with his parents on the “home place,” the original farmstead settled by his grandfather in 1871. In fact, my father was even born in that house. But he and my mother really needed a place of their own. Too many Norwegians under one roof has never been a good idea.

On the north edge of the family farm was an old house, about a half mile from the home place, which my grandfather had rented out for 25 years to Martin and Agnes Ugstad. The house was in very bad shape, but Martin was still ‘madder than a hornet’ when he was told he would have to vacate the house and the land he had rented all those years so the newlyweds would have a place to live. He “went on a toot,” according to my parents, and would tell anyone who would listen that he didn’t think it was fair that he had to get out. It was his home, and there were lots of memories there.

One of the memories that Martin probably would just as soon have forgotten was that one of his sons, Olaf, was born in a car. When his wife Agnes went into labor, she announced to Martin that she needed to get to the hospital in Fergus Falls. Earlier, Martin had made arrangements for their young, unmarried neighbor, Harold Skistad, to drive them to the hospital. Martin’s car was an old, unreliable vehicle without a top on it, so Harold had promised to drive them in his car when the time came.

It should have been an uneventful trip; but at the last minute, Martin decided he looked a little scruffy. He didn’t want to go to Fergus Falls to the hospital until he had shaved first. So while Harold and Agnes waited, Martin shaved. To make a long story short, a clean-shaven Martin had to deliver his son Olaf in the back seat of Harold’s car on the way to Fergus Falls.

Poor young Harold. In those days, it wasn’t even polite to say the word “pregnant” out loud. After witnessing Agnes’s childbirth and delivering the baby and parents to the hospital, an anguished Harold drove home to the farm. He was so embarrassed about what had happened that he went straight upstairs to his room, shut the door, and wouldn’t come out. And Martin had to pay to have the backseat of Harold’s car reupholstered. It was a costly shave.

So when my parents got married in 1941, Martin and Agnes were forced to make other living arrangements. They borrowed some money and bought a farm west of Carlisle. The owner was ill and needed to sell, so Martin got the farm cheap. The first summer on his new farm, Martin had a huge bumper crop and was able to pay off the farm in one year. It was the first time in his life that Martin had owned his own land instead of renting it. He later sheepishly admitted that my parents’ marriage might have been the best thing that ever happened to him.

Everyone was relieved because Martin had been so furious when he lost his rented house and land to the newlyweds. Ironically, that house that Martin was so mad about losing was in such disrepair that my parents immediately started building a new house (total cost: $4,000) a few hundred feet away. They only lived in Martin and Agnes’s rented house from June to October. In October, they carried their belongings “one dresser drawer at a time” up to their new house. And that’s how that happened 67 years ago.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Bad pun, I know. But the past few days have really challenged my resolve to walk two to four miles a day. Late last winter, the motor on our treadmill started acting up. It would work fine for about 20 minutes or so, and then the tread belt would stop suddenly, nearly catapulting us over the front console because of our high-speed inertia (all of us high-intensity jocks generate high-speed inertia). After 30 minutes, a strange odor like burning plastic would emanate from underneath the machine.

After each jerky, smoke-filled session, Tom and I would discuss having the machine repaired or even replacing it because of its high mileage. But then spring came, and the weather warmed up, and we would much rather walk outside anyway. All spring, summer, and fall, the treadmill sat idle in the basement. I think we were hoping it would repair itself, like salamanders that regenerate their tiny limbs when they’ve lost them battling in their little salamander wars.

It’s November now. When the weather took a turn for the worse last week, we reluctantly headed down to the basement to start the winter treadmill routine. But surprise, surprise, time had not healed all wounds. The treadmill would work fine for 20 minutes, then stop, then start in fits and jerks, and finally emit the burning plastic smell, just like it had done last winter.

So it was back to the outside walking. Today when I got home from work, the temperature was 19 degrees—which wouldn’t have been so bad except for the 29 mph NNW wind with gusts over 30 mph and a wind chill temperature of 4 below. I put on my long underwear, my thickest sweatpants, my leather walking shoes, a thick pair of socks, my turtleneck shirt, my fleece vest, my wind jacket, my stocking hat, a chin band, a scarf, my hood—and started out for my walk, whining as I went. It was dark, it was cold—but after I got going, honestly, it really wasn’t that bad.

So we’re building a little character these days until the new treadmill is delivered early next week. It’s two to four a day, no excuses.

P.S. We donated the old treadmill to our neighbors down the street who own a pitbull. People have called the police three times to complain about the snarly dog when it's outside, so the police told our neighbors to get a treadmill and exercise it inside. This is a true story: our treadmill is now part of an exercise program for a vicious dog. I love happy endings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Last night I was watching a 90-minute movie entitled “Ten Canoes.” It was an Australian movie filmed on location in an Australian outback swamp, using aboriginal actors speaking in their native aborigine language, and telling an old aborigine story about how to be a better person and live right. After slogging through the first hour, I looked at my watch, realized I was getting older by the minute, and clicked the fast forward on the DVD. Since I was reading English subtitles anyway, I just read a little faster as the aborigines jerkily hurried through the rest of the story in their fast-forward Alvin and the Chipmunks voices.

I felt a little bad, knowing how hard all those aborigine actors had worked to make this movie. But golly, life is short. And they took 90 minutes to tell a story that could have been told in 9 minutes without losing a single element of the story. But that’s not the aborigine way. They’re a slow-thinking, deliberate people who don’t like to rush anything, especially stories about how to be a better person and live right.

When the movie was finally over, I walked to the kitchen to slip the DVD back into its Netflix sleeve. That’s when I saw the bananas on my counter. In the past, I would have just passed by the bananas without a thought. But since I’m 60 now, bananas cause me to philosophize:

Life is like a bunch of bananas you buy at the grocery store. You find the ones that are a little green because you want them to last awhile. The next day, you peel a slightly green banana and pucker your face a bit because it tastes a little sour and woody. But you figure, what the heck—you’re still getting potassium and fiber. The next day, the bananas are a little riper; the peel comes away a little easier, and the sour, woody taste is mostly gone. By the third day, the bananas are darn-near perfect. The firm, yellow peel slides right off, and the fruit is just soft enough to release the full banana flavor. On the fourth day, the peels are a little deeper yellow, but sure enough, the fruit is still succulent and sweet.

It’s the fifth day that you notice the change: the small brown freckles are starting to appear on the peel. The fruit on the inside is a little softer, and you need to be careful not to press it too hard when you’re slicing it on your cereal because it tends to mush up a bit. By the sixth day, the brown freckles have turned to brown spots, like skin cancer spreading over the yellow surface. The banana has taken on an almost sickly sweet flavor, and gelatinous tan spots need to be surgically removed from the fruit before eating it.

On the seventh day, you can smell the bananas even before you walk into the room. The over-ripe aroma smacks your nose as you come around the corner into the kitchen, and you look at the blackened skin of the bananas, trying to muster your courage one more time. Should you eat this shriveled fruit that today resembles the shrunken heads hanging around the front door of the local witchdoctor? You shrug and make a decision, based on hunger and practicality—or on aesthetics. To eat or not to eat, that is the question. Finally, you have to decide—one more morning on the cereal, or mash it up and make banana bread?

Bananas on their way to becoming banana bread

I think the reason I fast forwarded “Ten Canoes” last night was because after I turned 60, I’ve started noticing the brown freckles on my own banana skin, and I suspect that some of my fruit inside is going to mush. So much to do, so little time. Ergo, the decision to fast forward through a movie that’s taking just a little too much of the precious time I have left—before I go to that big banana bread in the sky.

Note: Although everyone who turns 60 tends to philosophize more, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the philosophy will be wise and deep. It might just be looking at banana skin freckles in a new, slightly near-sighted way.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Note: Another long Carlisle story from the nursing home as told by my 90-ish parents. You might want to go to the bathroom first.

“Oh, please,” I pray to Saint Ufdah, the Norwegian patron saint of broken dishware and other minor tragedies, “please don’t let me be the one to break Mrs. Skogen’s bowl and plate.”

When my parents moved from their home to a smaller apartment in 1999, my four sisters and brother and I divided up family treasures that my parents couldn’t fit into their much smaller space. I was fortunate enough to get a cut glass serving bowl and plate that were on the table at every family holiday I can ever remember when I was growing up.

Along with my new ownership of the cut glass bowl and plate came the enormous, self-imposed responsibility of keeping them safe. The dishes had been in our family since June 13, 1941, a wedding gift given to my parents by my mother’s family’s neighbors, the Skogens. The fact that the Skogens truly did not have two nickels to rub together and could not afford such a beautiful wedding gift made it all the more special.

Cut-glass bowl and plate, a 1941 wedding gift from the Skogens

The story starts in May 1920 in rural Carlisle Township, Minnesota—ten miles from the nearest hospital in Fergus Falls. Mrs. Evjen, who doubled as the area midwife and owner of the Carlisle grocery store, was on high alert. On a farm west of Carlisle, Mrs. Skogen was expecting a baby any day.

Even in a rural Norwegian community like Carlisle, where everyone farmed and everyone belonged to Hedemarken Lutheran Church, prosperity did not come equally to all. Some of the farms around Carlisle were rich and fertile, but Skogen’s farm was small and filled with sloughs. Mr. Skogen struggled to make a living for his family. With three children already, Mrs. Skogen’s impending delivery just meant another mouth at his supper table and one less piece of potato lefse on his own plate.

When Mrs. Evjen, Carlisle’s official midwife, was summoned in the middle of the night, she could tell right away it would not be an ordinary birth. Mrs. Skogen was about to deliver twins and the Mrs. Evjen would need help. My grandmother Emma, who lived on the next farm, was quickly summoned. Emma was not a midwife—just a former one-room school teacher with six children of her own. But she had a knack for handling newborns—and with two new babies, Mrs. Evjen would need help.

When Emma arrived at the Skogens, half awake and out of breath, she was immediately aware that something unique was happening. In the tiny one-bedroom Skogen house, there was no private bedroom for the births to take place. Mrs. Skogen lay in labor in the same room where her three older children were sleeping.

Throughout the night, Mrs. Skogen bravely endured the labor and birth of her twins in absolute silence, concerned the entire time about not waking her other three children. The three women worked silently together as a team, and finally two healthy babies were delivered.

When Mrs. Evjen broke the news to the father about the twins, poor Mr. Skogen, without a Hollywood script to read, ensuring that his words would be compassionate and fatherly, sighed and uttered the words that were in his Norwegian-farmer heart: “I’d rather it would have been a bin of calves.”

Emma went home from helping with the births of the Skogen twins completely in awe of the brave mother who hadn’t uttered a single cry during the delivery. Mrs. Skogen became a new measuring stick for bravery at my grandmother’s house. “Was she as brave as Mrs. Skogen?” Emma would ask whenever another baby was born in the community.

In addition to the five Skogen children in this story, a sixth girl was born later. According to my mother, all the Skogen kids grew up and “made something of themselves.” Emma would probably tell you that the children’s success was due to their good, brave mother. She would have given very little credit to the father who would have rather had calves.

So in 1941, when my mother opened the wedding gift containing the beautiful cut glass bowl and plate from the Skogens, she assumed that somehow it was a ‘thank you’ to her mother, Emma. Mrs. Skogen was acknowledging that silent team of women who worked to bring two more babies into the world while not waking the children sleeping on the next bed.

So please, dear Saint Ufdah, don’t let it be me who breaks that bowl or plate. But if I do, please make me as brave as Mrs. Skogen in dealing with the broken pieces.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I watched a movie this week that I’m having trouble getting out of my head. It’s one of those movies that is so strange, so unlike movies I usually watch, that I keep thinking about it, over and over. The name of the movie is Delicatessen, a French movie (had to watch it reading English subtitles) which takes place in a science-fiction, post-apocalyptic setting. But it’s a comedy—well, a black comedy.

Post-apocalyptic times are desperate times for meat-eaters. The stark, burned-out landscape isn’t conducive to raising cows and chickens, I guess. So in a scarred, crumbling neighborhood, the residents of one apartment building, with a delicatessen at the street level, have found an answer of sorts. They run a continual ad for a “handyman”—free room and board included—attracting a steady supply of applicants. However, after a few days, the handyman becomes the Meat D’Jour for the residents, courtesy of the delicatessen butcher.

The cast of characters includes the butcher’s lonely cello-playing daughter; a family of five including a bickering couple, two mischievous boys, and a deaf old mother-in-law; a formerly wealthy man and his chronically suicidal wife; two brothers who make cow-moo noisemakers in their apartment; a diabolical postman; the snail-eater in the basement; and troglodytes in the sewers.

The hero of the movie is the down-on-his-luck, out-of-work, gentle-hearted clown who answers the ad for the handyman and becomes the latest potential victim—unless the butcher’s cello-playing daughter can figure out a plan to save him with the help of the grain-eating, sewer-dwelling troglodytes.

Delicatessen is an older film—1991—directed by the same man who directed Amelie that I wrote about back on May 23 because I loved the movie so much. I hope it doesn’t mean that I’m losing my mental faculties when I am suddenly attracted to odd, quirky French movies with English subtitles. I think it just means I’ve been married to the little Frenchman too long.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


When we were on our Mediterranean trip last summer, we fell in love with chilled soup. Maybe part of it was that it was 100 degrees all the time, and nothing about hot soup appealed to us. Or maybe it was because it was something we had never eaten back home in Minnesota.

Blueberry Soup

Yesterday morning, I decided to recreate our Mediterranean experience by making a batch of chilled blueberry soup. We had it for dinner last night, and here’s the recipe (yes, I realize it was a 28-degree November day in Alexandria, Minnesota, and all the ingredients were out of season).

Here’s how you make it:

Step 1: Change into a lavender-colored shirt.

Step 2: Mix a 16-ounce bag of frozen blueberries, 3 cups of water, ½ cup sugar or Splenda, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. salt, and 2 T. lemon juice into a one-quart saucepan.

Step 3: Bring this mixture to a gentle boil (NOTE: A vigorous boil will send the blueberries plopping and exploding all over the stove—and all over your lavender shirt). Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Step 4: Pour ¼ of the mixture into the blender to puree. (PERSONAL NOTE: If you fill the blender too full, the thin, scalding-hot blueberry mixture will end up all over your cupboard, your walls, your lavender shirt, and anyone standing in the immediate vicinity. You will look a little like Smurfette in your mushroom house in Smurf Village.)

Step 5: After you have pureed the blueberry mixture, pour it carefully into a big bowl, cover, and chill for several hours. (NOTE: The pureed blueberry mixture has a tendency to have a backwash tidal wave reaction if poured too quickly. Blueberries will leave stains on your formica countertop, your porcelain sink, and your lavender shirt if not scoured immediately.)

Step 6: Before serving, blend in 2 cups of plain or blueberry yogurt. (NOTE: If you are a vigorous stirrer, you may want to continue wearing your lavender shirt during this step.)

Step 7: Ladle the soup into bowls and enjoy the fruits of your labor. (NOTE: You may want to continue wearing your lavender shirt during dinner in case you are prone to shirtfront dribbling when you eat soup.)

That’s it. Blueberries are the #1 antioxidant fruit when compared to 40 other fruits (which means anti-cancer and anti-aging diseases). And the yogurt contributes to intestinal bacterial growth that aids in digestion. So have another bowlful—it’s good for you!
(Blueberry Soup Making Day)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I’m ready. I’ve got my grandma mode ready to go. I’m guessing my daughter-in-law probably has her suitcase packed for the hospital. I suspect my son is keeping his car filled with gas, just in case the baby comes early. And I know I’m ready: got my bling, got my threads.

On the day of my little granddaughter’s birth in December, I will put on my brand new pink t-shirt that announces I am the “New Grandma.” And I will put on my brand new grandmother’s necklace sporting the very first of (I hope) many little baby rings, this one with a December birthstone.

It doesn’t matter what is happening the day the baby is born: wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, or an invitation to Barack Obama's inaugural ball. Whatever I’m doing and wherever I’m going, the “New Grandma” t-shirt and grandmother necklace are the dress of the day. I’ve got them all laid out, ready to go. Like I said: got my bling, got my threads. I’m ready to be a grandma.

Monday, November 03, 2008


First of all, if you are sitting in Arizona or Texas or Jamaica or someplace like that, you can stop reading right now. What I am going to write about will mean nothing to you. However, if you are from North Dakota or Minnesota or Canada, you will understand exactly what I mean when I say that the past four days have been extra special November bonus days

It could be snowing (in fact, we did have a snow squall on Sunday, October 26, but it all melted again). It could be blowing 30 miles an hour out of the northwest, a good ol’ Alberta clipper—or straight out of the north from Hudson Bay, up near the Arctic Circle.

But it’s not. We’ve had four days in a row of balmy fall weather—and Tom and I have logged around 15 miles on the Central Lakes Trail in those four days. It’s true, the leaves are mostly gone. All that’s left are a few hanger-on-er leaves that are too stubborn to blow away and will probably last the winter.

Balmy November Saturday on the Central Lakes Trail west of Alexandria.

I feel nostalgic right now. If it were to snow a foot (which it could legitimately do any day), the countryside has prepared itself. The final colors of a beautiful October have faded and gone—the reds, oranges, yellows, and maroons have fallen into soggy brown piles under the trees. The trail still has a beauty of its own, but right now, it looks like it’s just waiting, bracing itself for winter. That’s when the snowmobilers take over the trail, revving their noisy engines as they fly down the trail, the scenery whizzing by at warp speed.

I think of the Central Lakes Trail as a live entity; and in my mind, I believe the trail much prefers its spring, summer, and fall users—the walkers and the runners and the bikers—to its noisy winter users.

I’ll think of this when I’m down on the treadmill this winter.

On Saturday, I saw a father and his three little daughters using the trail. The father and middle daughter were pedaling away on an adult/child tandem bike and pulling a child bike trailer holding the littlest girl, singing away at the top of her voice. The oldest daughter, about 8 years old or so, brought up the rear, pedaling to keep up with her dad and sisters. It looked like an ad for the “Father of the Year” award. We met one of my co-workers walking with her daughter and the family dog. We met men and women biking alone or in pairs, some in regular clothes and some in biking spandex. We met an older couple (yes, even older than us) who greeted us and commented on the beautiful day. Everyone was smiling. We were all out there together, enjoying the November afternoon, knowing that any day, one snowfall later, we would all be at home, walking on the treadmill in the basement until the snow melted off the trail again.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I don’t know if this is strictly a Midwestern tradition, but in Alexandria, Minnesota, whenever a parishioner dies, the head of the funeral lunch committee at the local Catholic church gets out her call list and starts speed-dialing her way down, snapping out the order, “Hey! Two dozen bars and have them at the church by noon on Saturday.”

There’s a sense of urgency in the chairperson’s voice, like an E.R. doctor barking: “Nurse! Get me a 5000-unit heparin intravenous bolus followed by a drip at 1000 to 1200 units per hour—STAT!” There’s almost an insinuation that if we all make bars and if we all hustle them to the church within a prescribed amount of time, that somehow, someway, the corpse will rise from the dead.

Or maybe the urgency isn’t because of the deceased parishioner. Maybe the bars are for the mourners as part of the grieving process—you know, the eight stages of grief: SHOCK & DENIAL; PAIN & GUILT; ANGER & BARGAINING;DEPRESSION and LONELINESS; UPWARD TURN; WORKING THROUGH; ACCEPTANCE & HOPE; and THE FINAL STAGE, HEALING THROUGH BARS.

Tollhouse bars cooling on the kitchen counter, ready for delivery to the church.

So it’s a call to action when the phone rings and the chairperson of the funeral lunch committee urgently requests two dozen bars in a disposable container (no glass or aluminum 9 x 13 cake pans, please, as they just pile up in the church kitchen). What will it be this time? scotcheroos? turtle brownies? caramel dream bars? lemon delites? What recipe will help the family cope better?

That’s our Christian mission: Make those bars and get ‘em to the church on time. If we do, perhaps the mourners’ grief will be lessened as they munch on krispie marshmallow squares in the church basement following the graveside service.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Today was the big day. I had even thought about taking a camera along to record the historic event, but then I remembered that I would be alone and it would be dark—not exactly prime camera conditions. In any event, I was doing some mental drum rolls and trumpet fanfares as I steered from my usual 6:20 a.m. route to work and headed toward the U.S. Post Office.

Today was the day I was officially going to mail all my official paperwork in to the official state of Minnesota to get the official wheels rolling for my official January retirement. I had one envelope for the Teachers’ Retirement Association and one for the Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association: two envelopes that marked the beginning of my new life as a retired person at the end of January.

I had carefully filled everything out (going so far as to fill out practice forms first so I didn’t make mistakes on the finals). Tom and I had gone to a notary public to validate signatures on the forms. I had put in my birth and marriage certificates to verify that I was a legitimately-born person and that Tom was my real husband.

The plan? Drive up to the outdoor mail depository behind the Post Office and ceremoniously deposit the two envelopes in the receptacle while humming “I Did It My Way.” It was destined to be a time-standing-still moment.

Now I’m not superstitious. When someone says, “When your palm itches, you will come into some money,” I just laugh merrily and make a mental note to change my dishwashing detergent. And when someone warns, “If you count the number of vehicles in a funeral procession, you will soon have a death in your own family,” I wave my hand airily and say “pshaw.” And even when people say not to tickle a baby’s feet because that will cause the baby to stutter, I give their toes a little tweak anyway.

However, when I drove up to that mail receptacle to drop in my two life-changing letters, the sight of a completely trashed mailbox caused a moment of consternation. It looked like a Mack dump truck had backed into it—and then backed up and hit it again.

Mailbox (picture taken later in the day)

I racked my brain: Was there an old saying about never mailing your retirement applications in a smashed mail box or you would lose your pension in a bad economy? (Let’s see, “If a bird flies into your house, a death will occur . . . Two deaths in a community will be followed by a third . . . Never say ‘thank you’ when someone gives you a plant or it will die.”) I was pretty sure I had never heard an old saying about mangled mailboxes and retirement letters.

Picture of me taking a picture of the mailbox.

I drove around to the front of the Post Office, parked my car, and walked inside the lobby. It was quiet and dark—the main part of the Post Office wasn’t open yet. The mail slot in the lobby looked healthy and whole. I carefully opened the little door to the mail slot. I could hear cheerful voices of the graveyard-shift mail sorters coming from the room in the back. I did a little mental drum roll and a trumpet solo as I dropped the letters into the slot. I waited; nothing happened. No explosions, no screams, no sounds of the Teachers’ Retirement Fund shattering into a million pieces. I quietly closed the little door and went back out to my car.

Now it’s official, smashed mailbox or not.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I’ve just seen another one of those “must-see” movies—about the Lost Boys of Sudan entitled God Grew Tired of Us. I’ve been reading in the Fargo Forum since 2001 about the teenaged immigrants who were resettled in the U.S. from Sudan (with an annual average temperature of 100 degrees). Some were sent to Fargo, North Dakota, in January—yes, January, in below zero weather and were expected to assimilate into the climate and the culture at a polar opposite of their own.

Although the movie doesn’t follow the Fargo group, it does tell the story of other Sudanese boys who went through many of the same struggles in other parts of the country.

The movie helps understand what led to the cause of the thousands of Lost Boys to begin with—the civil war in Sudan, the order to kill all boys in Southern Sudan ages 5-18 because they were potential soldiers, their subsequent pilgrimage/flight to Ethiopia and then to Kenya, the refugee camp, the U.N. resettlement program. Very interesting, very sobering—but underneath it, a resilience and humor that is pretty amazing.

These boys formed families when their own families were killed or separated from them. And although we Americans egocentrically believe that America is the answer to every immigrant’s dream, it’s a tough place to come with its unfamiliar processed food that causes stomach aches, unfamiliar technology that sometimes frightens, and less-than-welcoming citizenry (picture a group of black Sudanese faces on the streets of an all-white Fargo neighborhood).

It’s a documentary, but it’s told like a story. I will never again read another article in the Fargo Forum about the Sudanese immigrants without thinking of this movie, God Grew Tired of Us.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed for myself and other Americans about how little we know of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


The reason I haven’t written for a week is not because nothing has happened; in fact, it’s just the opposite. It is quite exhausting to have a birthday and turn 60, I’ve found out. After we got back from the North Shore, we got an offer to pontoon down the Mississippi River on a sunny October Saturday afternoon. That would have been a lovely time all by itself; but at the end of the pontoon ride, there was a surprise 60th birthday party for me with balloons and cake and French champagne and some of my very favorite people! And my birthday wasn’t even for another six days!

Then, because my employer does not have a specific policy about employees getting a week off work when they have a significant milestone of a birthday, I was expected to teach all week—including calculating mid-semester grades for a hundred students and conducting a mid-
semester advising day. But finally, Friday arrived—the actual birthday—and there were good wishes from co-workers and 15 birthday cards in the mail at home and two lovely bouquets of flowers to help commemorate the day. And I have been sung to a total of eight times (yes, I counted).I think my birthday is over now. I am officially 60 years and 2 days old. If the next 363 days are as much fun, I think I will like being old.

So I finally got my retirement letter written, my plantar’s fasciitis is much better, the walking trails have been beautiful this fall, and life seems to be good. When I listen on the radio to reports that the economy is falling apart and the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I just want to suggest to people that they live simply and within their means, walk two to four miles a day, go on a trip once in awhile, try to stay positive, give their employers an honest eight-hour day, and take naps when they get tired.

Now that I’m 60, I feel like I should start philosophizing more. Isn’t that what old people do?

Friday, October 17, 2008


Tom and I just got back from two days on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We drove up to Duluth on Thursday, and then took Old Highway 61 (North Shore Scenic Drive) from Duluth to Two Harbors. Along the way, we stopped at the French River to sit on wet rocks.

Hanging Out by the French River

We got into Two Harbors Thursday afternoon, so we were able to walk down to the waterfront before dark. Then this morning, we went down to the shore again and walked around the beach and out onto the breakwater.
Tom hiking out to the end of the Breakwater in Two Harbors

Later this morning, we drove to Gooseberry Falls State Park where we spent 2½ hours hiking around both the Lower and Upper falls loops. It was a perfect hiking day, about 50 degrees, maybe a bit past autumn color prime, but a great day of hiking. (My plantar fasciitis will probably be screaming at me in the morning, ‘You idiot!!’) We found out that there are a dozen state parks at intervals along the North Shore and vowed that we will hike every one of them—but not today.
Lower Gooseberry Falls in the background
Finally, we drove back to Duluth and went down to Canal Street. We ate lunch at Grandma’s, the home of the famous Grandma’s Marathon, and then finished our trip by walking along the boardwalk in Canal Park. What a great way to spend two days!
Beautiful Lake Superior

It’s nice to know that after 35 years of marriage, Tom is still my favorite hiking partner—and I’m sure he’d say the same (if he knows what’s good for him.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008


“It is with a heavy heart . . .” No, scratch that. “I would like to respectfully inform you that I will be . . .” No, too weird. “I have very much enjoyed the past 32 years . . .” W-e-l-l, there have been days.

“Pursuant to Article 351 in the master contract, I am hereby officially informing you of my impending retirement . . .”
Whoa, Nelly! Sounds like I’m writing a Congressional bill.

“I regretfully tender my resignation to pursue a life of leisure . . . No, that makes me sound lazy. Besides, I’ve been putting off doing projects at home for so long that my list is now approximately eighty miles long. Life of leisure? It will probably be awhile before Tom and I are regulars at the dances down at the Senior Center.

Who would have ever thought that writing a retirement letter would be such a challenge. I thought it would kind of write itself.

“Working here for the past 32 years has been the most rewarding experience of my life . . .”
Well, not exactly. It actually was my life, in a sense. Think of the hours I’ve spent in the classroom or the time in my office frantically preparing for classes or the weekends correcting papers on the kitchen table. Think of the sleepless nights I’ve had, worrying about students (for example, this past Tuesday night). Most of the stressful times I’ve experienced were directly job related. Virtually every single gray hair on my head was bought and paid for by those students.

“I quit! Take this job and shove it! . . .”
But to be fair, most of the recognition I've received and satisfaction I’ve felt in my life was because of that job.

Just keep it simple: “I would like to inform you that I am retiring from my teaching job effective January 31, 2009 . . .” It seems like a life-changing event of this type should have a more dramatic ending--a clap of thunder, a flash of lightning, and a voice from heaven saying, "Well done, oh good and faithful servant." Or am I getting retirement mixed up with a Cecil B. DeMille movie?

Friday, October 10, 2008


There’s nothing more pathetic than old people doing an organ recital: my ouji hurts, my falapagus aches, my glutiglopilus is inflamed. Yuck! That’s why it’s with great reluctance and self-conscious rectitude, I describe my first athletic injury.

This is my (drum roll) first athletic injury since starting my two- to four-mile-a-day walking habit. Yes, an athletic injury—no scoffing, please. Since I only go to the doctor every five years (where the doctor tells me I am just fine and have the blood pressure of a teenager), my athletic injury is self-diagnosed. But I’m 100 percent sure of my diagnosis, courtesy of

The Mayo Clinic website describes the sensation as a “sharp pain in the inside part of the bottom of your heel, which may feel like a knife sticking in the bottom of your foot,” otherwise known as plantar fasciitis. It’s been coming on gradually for a couple of months; but it hurts the worst when I first get out of bed in the morning, when I’ve been standing for awhile, or when I get up after I’ve been sitting. So it seemed more like a condition that hurt when I wasn’t walking, rather than when I was. But on Wednesday, when I got out of bed, it was more like a Bora Bora machete was sticking in the bottom of my foot than Mayo Clinic’s knife analogy.

So I’m doing all the self-treatment exercises (cold packs, towel stretches, calf stretches). And I even went so far as to crawl into the back of my closet and resurrect a pair of black EasySpirit oxford/tennis shoes that I had bought for some trip or other and wore only twice.

They are easily the most comfortable pair of shoes I have ever owned; but even for a non-vain person, they are also easily the ugliest shoes I have ever owned. However, because I wanted to get better, I put those ugly shoes on and wore them to work yesterday. And today. And I didn’t walk 2-to-4 Wednesday, or yesterday, or today. (I can feel the mental illness creeping in already.)

So tomorrow morning, bright and early, I expect to be cured. I’ve iced, I’ve stretched, I’ve worn the ugly shoes. I expect to rise from my bed a cured woman. I’m not much of an athlete; three days should be enough to cure me of my not-much-of-an-athlete injury. If I need to, I'll even walk my 2-to-4 wearing the ugly shoes.