Friday, December 19, 2008
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.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Yoo Hoo!! Thompsons! Where did you go?
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.
Friday, December 12, 2008
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.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
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
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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In January 2000, made a decision to change my lifestyle and get healthier.
- 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?
Monday, December 01, 2008
Brand new fancy-schmancy NordicTrack C2155 treadmill down in the basement.
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?”
Saturday, November 29, 2008
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
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.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
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
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.
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
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.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
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
“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.
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.”
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.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
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
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).
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 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.)
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
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
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.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
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.
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 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
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
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
Thursday, October 16, 2008
“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
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 www.mayoclinic.com.
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.
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.)