Saturday, May 31, 2008


Earlier this week, we were stopped at a stop sign by Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis when we saw a man walking his dog across the street in front of us. It was a beautiful lab, leashed, trotting proudly ahead of his owner, a middle-aged Native American man. But what was so show-stoppingly amazing was that the dog was carrying a small paper McDonald’s bag in its mouth.

The bag could have contained anything—a tennis ball, for example. But I honestly believe that there was a hamburger in that bag. (Note: The bag was not big enough for the special with fries and a small drink.) And I think that man had trained his dog so well it would carry a hamburger in its mouth without eating it until the dog got to the place where his owner said it could.

The owner knew that he was causing a minor sensation at that heavily trafficked intersection with his well-trained, McDonald’s carrying dog. I knew he knew because he had a small, smug smirk on his face like “my dog’s cooler than your dog.” And he was right—his dog WAS cooler than everybody else’s dog.

That was one cool dog.

Friday, May 30, 2008


May I speak frankly with you about sinuses? They are those air-filled spaces on the front of your face, designed to act as a face buffer (i.e., If you get punched in the face, the sinuses cushion the blow. Helpful, no?). We never notice our sinuses on a daily basis, just like we never notice an empty wastepaper basket or an empty jacket pocket. They are just there.

That is, they are just there until the day you hear a strange rushing sound like running, echoing water. You naively think, “Did someone leave the hose running?” And then you realize the running sound is inside your face, and your sinuses are filling with an odd, unnamed fluid. It’s like a mechanic is changing the oil in your brain and draining the old oil into the sinuses behind your forehead (frontal sinuses) and under your eyes (maxillary sinuses).

For several days thereafter, your face feels sloshily full. Generally, you’re fine if you sit or stand erect and stare straight ahead. The problem comes when you inadvertently change your head’s position:

Bending Forward: All the fluid in your sinuses now gurgles forward like high tide on the beaches at Normandy. This changes your center of gravity making the front of your face the heaviest part of your entire body. People have been known to pitch face first off tall cliffs or eight-story buildings, giving rise to the notion that sinus problems lead to suicide. Not true—just a lost sense of balance caused by swashing fluid.

Lying Down, Face Up: All the fluid in your sinuses now spreads out to cover your entire face, exerting pressure on the frontal lobe of your brain, the part that controls language and reason. People with sinus problems who are lying on their backs should not make political speeches or major decisions. They should leave that to people whose sinus cavities are completely empty.

Lying Face Down: This is similar to bending forward in that all the fluid pools in the front of the face. But since bending is usually temporary and lying down is more long-term, the fluid has a chance to press longer and harder, creating a severe headache. This headache feels like a drunken cowboy has mistaken your face for the left rear flank of a steer and is pressing a branding iron against your forehead. It is not recommended that you lie face down during a sinus episode unless you want “Double ЯR Ranch” seared on your face for a few hours.

Flying on an Airplane: Flying on an airplane is possibly the most painful challenge a person can face while having a sinus episode. In a pressurized cabin, especially during takeoff and landing, the sinus fluid swells and sets like cement, causing the passenger to experience a childbirth-labor-like face pain. The passenger fears that 1) his/her face may explode and he/she will die, or b) his/her face won’t explode and he/she will continue to live like this, or c) his/her face will actively give birth to an alien parasite like Sigourney Weaver in Alien (Remember, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”)

Although normally functioning sinuses are helpful as a buffer during fist fights, they are definitely a pain in the face (pronounced fass) when they’re malfunctioning. I long for the day when my sinuses are mine again, empty and ignorable. In the meantime, does anyone have a Kleenex?

Thursday, May 29, 2008


While driving on I-94 north out of Minneapolis yesterday, we were in fairly heavy traffic when we found ourselves coming up behind a wreck of a car, duct tape and bumper stickers flapping in the wind. It didn’t take long to recognize it as an official “Red Green” car. (Red Green, for those of you who don’t get out much, stars in “The Red Green Show,” on KTCA-TV Channel 2 out of St. Paul. The sign on the outside of Red’s Canadian fishing lodge, “Possum Lodge” says in Latin: Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati, which translated means: When all else fails, play dead.)

Anyway, back to the car driving down I-94 north of Minneapolis. All along the side, from one end of the car to the other, was the official Red Green slogan, written in duct tape: “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” Since it wasn’t actually Red Green driving the car, it must have been one of his Possum Lodge helpers—kind of like one of Santa’s elves.

The traffic was heavy, so we stayed even with the car long enough to read a few more bumper stickers--and hood stickers and trunk stickers and side passenger door stickers (the car was a plethora of stickers and duct tape):

“Would you believe this is my good car?”asked a trunk sticker.

“Keep your stick on the ice,” warned a duct tape message along the top of the back window. Red Green likes to tell us to keep our sticks on the ice because he’s Canadian.

“Live Animals,” cautioned a sign on the back passenger door.

I looked everywhere, but I didn’t see Red Green’s official Man’s Prayer:

I’m a man . . .
But I can change . . .
If I have to . . .
I guess.

Maybe it was written on the other side of the car.

The driver, a young man in his twenties with a shaved head, didn’t exactly look like the Red Green possum-helper type; he needed some plaid flannel and a fishing hat. But he had evidently spent hours and hours (and gone through several cases of beer) in getting his car ready for a drive down I-94.

The car was so impressive that I gave the driver a fist pump as we went by. That’s always a turn-on for a guy—having a woman more than twice his age fist pump him as she whizzes by in a 1998 champagne-colored Buick Century.

He probably went home and sandblasted all the duct tape off his car.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I heard once about a trial lawyer who used bumper stickers when interviewing potential jurists. In addition to the long list of the usual juror questions, he would ask the candidates if they had any bumper stickers on their cars. Evidently the lawyer thought he could tell a lot about a candidate who was willing to glue a “My Daughter is an Honor Student at Westphalia High” on his car as opposed to “I’m Not Ignoring Your Honking—I’m Just Reloading.”

Interesting theory—I don’t know if it can be proven. However, I am willing to take it one step further and have the trial lawyer ask the potential candidates if they ever forward spam emails (the “Fwd: Fwd: Fwd:” type). I think you can tell a lot about a person by the spam they foist on unsuspecting friends, relatives, and various address book recipients.

Take, for example, the emails that try to guilt you into forwarding the message: “If you’re really my friend, you’ll prove it by forwarding this email to ten more people including me, and I’ll get your email back—and that’s how I’ll know if you’re really my friend.” Or “If you don't forward this email, a little girl in Paraguay will die a horrible death with puss-filled boils and lesions covering the inside of her mouth—and her death will be directly on your shoulders.” My personal guilt-inducing favorite is, “If you forward this, you prove that you love Jesus (or God or the Ten Commandments). If you don’t forward it, you are ashamed of Jesus and you’ll burn in the fiery depths of hell for all eternity.” Guilt, guilt, guilt—delete, delete, delete.

Or how about the inspirational stories—the dog that led 100 people to safety in the World Trade Center (never happened), the kidnapped teenager (started the story himself), or the Iraq war amputee Purple Heart winner who still flies a flag 24/7 in a spotlight outside his home while singing “Proud to be an American? ” (he doesn’t exist) Even though these stories are easily verifiable by checking on one of those spam websites like or, people would rather just hit the forward button on their distribution list and send them on their way.

There is dirty joke spam, funny photo spam, patriotic spam, left-wing spam, right-wing spam, my-wing-is-better-than-your-wing spam, warnings about real or imagined dangers spam, National Geographic inspirational scenery photo spam, Obama-is-a-Muslim spam, religious spam—but spam by any other name is spam nonetheless.

A window to the psyche? Trial attorney jury selection material? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that we are in the address books of people who firmly believe that if they send an email on to five people in the next 15 minutes and wait for 36 hours while hopping on one foot and rubbing the top of their head at the same time, that unbelievably good (unnamed) things will happen to them. And if they don’t send that same email on, a plague will come to their land, and they will die, writhing painfully in a hospital charity ward . . . that is, if their computer doesn’t contract a virus first. Or maybe they can just avoid jury duty.

Monday, May 26, 2008


I just finished reading another one of those books where a bright and witty young author uses dysfunctional family/childhood memories to sell a million books and end up on the New York Times bestseller list.

This particular book was called The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. But if it’s not The Glass Castle, it’s Dress Your Children in Corduroy and Denim or Angela’s Ashes or Mommy Dearest or any one of another trillion or so books where childhood recollections of the social-services-intervention type become the basis for a prize-winning, multi-million dollar book deal.

Pul-eeze! If their childhood was so-o-o bad, then how did the authors end up functional enough to write a funny book in which their parents were completely incompetent and borderline jailable—and they were the plucky, goal-driven heroes/heroines? Children from really dysfunctional homes end up in prison making license plates, not going to Harvard on a liberal arts scholarship.

Luckily, so far I have escaped being busted. For years, I have been an amateur, untrained parent—muddling my way through, hoping that none of my children will write an expose about their experiences. I’m still living in fear, worried that someday one of them will go into therapy and recall those memories I so carefully repressed in them. Therefore, I have this piece of advice for anyone who is a new parent or about to become a parent: Don’t teach your children to write.

If your children seem interested in the alphabet, distract them. “Mommy, what’s this squiggly thing called?” “Nothing, dear. Evil people call it an ‘s,’ but it’s really the mark of Satan used by children to break their mothers’ hearts.” “Mommy, all the other kids in kindergarten are learning to write their names. Can I, mom? Can I?” “Sorry, ¥β ©®∑ ∞, your name can only be pronounced out loud, not actually written.”

A series of excuses should get you through the most persistent requests, usually in elementary school, until your children arrive in middle school—at which time they will have replaced a desire to write with starting a grunge band in the garage.

So unless you want to find yourself the subject of yet another best-selling book dealing with family dysfunction and abusive childhoods, just say no. Writing is a highly overrated skill that can come back to bite you. Your children will be much better off in the long run just learning practical skills, like artificially inseminating turkeys

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Tom has the clock radio next to his side of the bed tuned to 90.1, the Minnesota Public Radio Classical Music station. (Before you make assumptions about Tom, I must add that he scratches his armpits and plans his fishing trips while listening to the above-mentioned classical music. Just wanted to keep the record straight.)

On Wednesday morning, while I was making the bed, his radio still happened to be on. I was expecting to hear some inspirational bed-making music such as Burgermuller’s Rondo Alla Turca or maybe a Chopin Prelude in A. Instead, the song playing was entitled “Fluffy’s Master Plan for World Domination.” At first I thought I was hearing wrong—but no, it really was a song about a cat’s plan to take over the world. I don’t remember many of the lyrics, but I did catch, “Deny all the dogs a decent education,” which luckily rhymed with “world domination.”

Curious, a quick internet search for “Fluffy’s Master Plan” led me to a webpage about an a cappella singing group named “The Bobs”—who, it turns out, are a prolific, award-winning a cappella quartet with at least ten CDs for sale on Where have I been living?? Under a rock?!?

The Bobs’ top hits include songs like “Mopping, Mopping, Mopping,” (a post-hurricane blues song); “Get Your Monkey Off My Dog,” (Taco Bell backlash?); “Cow Tipping, Part II (diligent searching showed no Part I); “Please Let Me Be Your Third World Country (I can’t even imagine); “Let’s Adopt a Highway,” (finally some social consciousness?); and “There’s a Nose Ring in My Soup” (I’d rather not go there).

Turns out that for $14.98 plus shipping and handling, I could own any of a number of their CDs—including the CD entitled Shut Up and Sing containing their popular single, “Sign My Snarling Doggie,” a “reggae which courageously deals with the common social affliction of sports autograph sessions.” There’s even a holiday CD called Too Many Santas that features “Christmas in Jail” and “Mrs. Claus Wants Some Lovin’.”

Where have I been!?! The Bobs have been around for 20 years, and I’m finally hearing about them??

Luckily, Tom’s radio station choice brings some culture into my otherwise narrow world of art and asthetics. After all, if they’re playing it on the MPR Classical Music station, it’s just gotta be art! I’ve really got to get out more.

P.S. Hint—hint . . . My birthday is in October. Do I see The Bobs’ CD, Rhapsody in Bob, in my birthday stocking?

Friday, May 23, 2008


My very favorite movie is Amelie—although if you hate reading subtitles in French, it may not be your favorite movie. Because I have so little character of my own, I love movies that develop complex characters, and Amelie does it so well.

Just to set a baseline for comparison, consider the characters in a television show like Little House on the Prairie:

Charles Ingalls – strong pa
Caroline Ingalls – brave ma
Mary Ingalls – sweet pioneer girl
Laura Ingalls – spunky pioneer girl
Carrie Ingalls – little pioneer girl

See what I mean? (Yawn) How can a script writer develop those characters?

Now, here’s what the characters look like in Amelie:

Amelie - lonely, imaginative French girl who likes to dip her hands in grain, crack the top of crème Brule with a spoon, and skip stones

Amelie’s mother – killed (squashed flat) by a Canadian tourist who happened to be committing suicide off the top of Notre Dame (classic case of wrong place/wrong time)

Amelie’s father - the retired military doctor, who builds a shrine to his dead wife in the backyard, centerpieced by a painted plaster gnome

Blubber – Amelie’s only pet as a child, a goldfish with suicidal tendencies

Madeline Wells - the landlady whose husband ran away to Panama with his secretary

Callignon - the cruel and sarcastic grocer

Lucien - the one-armed cretin grocer’s assistant, often the target of Callignon’s cruelty and sarcasm

Madame Suzanne - owner of the Windmills café who limps because of an accident in her earlier career as a bareback rider

Georgette – Amelie’s hypochondriac co-worker

Gina – co-worker with a stalker ex-boyfriend

Joseph - the stalker ex-boyfriend who only stops stalking Gina, his ex-girlfriend, when he starts stalking his new girlfriend, Georgette, the hypochondriac.

Nino Quincompoix – Amelie’s love interest who scavenges for photos in the subway photo booths as a hobby, but whose real occupations are working part-time in a porn shop and part-time in an amusement park

There’s Raymond Dufazel, the Renoir painter suffering from brittle bone disease; Domonique Bretodeau with his hidden tin box of toys; the Mystery Man who turns out to be—oops, better not tell; and a host of other interesting characters too numerous to mention.

Amelie just has to be better watching than Little House on the Prairie, no offense to the strong, brave, sweet, and spunky Ingalls family.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


A question was once asked of a very rich man, “How much money is enough?” Some attribute the answer to John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. Other sources give the credit to J. P. Morgan, an investment banker and the richest man on earth in his day. But whichever man answered the question, either Rockefeller or Morgan said, “Just a little bit more.”

Rockefeller also said, “If your only goal is to become rich, you’ll never achieve it.”

For the past 35 years, it has been my good fortune (wait a minute—fortune has nothing to do with it) to be married to a man who answers the question, “How much money is enough?” with “Whatever I have.” Well, to be honest, nobody has ever really asked him that question, and he never really gave that answer. It’s what you would call a hypothetical situation (i.e., I made it up). But it’s true in theory.

He has never clipped a coupon on his life. He never goes to garage sales or estate sales or truckload sales or end-of-the-year blowout sales. He has never walked into a store and made an impulsive purchase, buying something just because it was cool or he had to have it right now or it was too good a bargain to pass up. His needs are so few that he makes only about three purchases a year (correction--five if you count salted-in-the-shell peanuts and beer), all of them carefully weighed and considered. He lives in his neat, minimal world and is completely happy with his modest belongings, even when they are a little outdated or the neighbors have a better one. He takes immaculate care of what he owns so his belongings last an incredibly long time—sometimes for centuries.

But then, occasionally, when you least expect it, he’ll cheerfully dig into his pockets and do something kind and helpful for someone. And that’s why life continues rather simply on Nissen Street, without the financial ups and downs that most households experience.

To be honest, sometimes I have to fight a strange urge to turn him upside down and shake him like a piggybank.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The true value of doing crossword puzzles is that it forces you to clean out your brain crevices on a daily basis. Scientists believe that humans only use about 10 percent of their brain’s capabilities (and we have all met people who use even less). But in all our years of living, we continue to store and stockpile huge heaps and mounds of information, shoving it into our brain’s closets and garage rafters. Unless we take that information and air it out once in awhile, it’s a perfect target for mental moths and brain termites that eat it all away.

Enter the lowly crossword puzzle. In order to work a crossword puzzle, you have to recall vocabulary. For example, this morning, I had to unearth the word “isotropic” from a corner of my mind where it had lain undisturbed for years. Surprisingly, I find very little occasion to use the word “isotropic” on a daily basis; but this morning, I needed to find it. If I hadn’t done the crossword puzzle, “isotropic” would have sat unused in my brain, “a-moldering in the grave” (like John Brown’s body).

Just this morning, I was forced to find homonyms and definitions, abbreviations and acronyms, medical terms and geographic trivia. I had to recall a sports team, a semi-famous athlete, and an arena. I had to remember which college was in Tampa, Florida, and the Roman numeral for 1,583. I had to think of the name of a famous actress from the 1930s, as well as recall names of a doctor, a lawyer, and an Indian chief (it was Wilma Mankiller). There was a dreaded question on pop culture (not my strong area). I had to try to remember the name of a city on the Aker River as well as come up with an obscure agricultural term that I only know because my daughter dates an organic farmer. I had to know one Latin phrase (strong suit because I took two years of Latin in high school) and one Spanish word (common sense language). Thank goodness there was no French today, although I always hope there’s a German word or two to practice my two years of college German. I had to think of the prefix meaning “distant” and the suffix meaning “adherent.” I had to think of a four-letter first word in a title by Dostoevsky.

By 6 a.m., a person doing a crossword puzzle has done the mental equivalent of cleaning out ten closets, the attic, and the jumbled corner of the garage. There’s something cleansing about taking those words out of storage and hanging them on the clothesline to air out a bit before putting them back, fresh and restored, in the brain crevice where I found them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I’m not into apiary science (although it’s empowering to know the Latin word for beekeeping). But I read once in Anne Lamott’s book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, that if you’re out in the yard catching bees (and who of us doesn’t do that on a regular basis?), you don’t really need a lid for your bee-catching jar. On the other hand, if you’re catching butterflies or fireflies, you need to slap that ventilated lid on as fast as you can because butterflies and fireflies will definitely try to make a break for it if left unlidded.

Back to bees—Anne Lamott says, “ . . . you can keep bees in jars without lids, because they’ll walk around on the glass floor, imprisoned by the glass surrounding them, when all they’d have to do is look up and they could fly away. So . . . we’ll look up, we’ll get off our asses, or if we are like bees, off our glasses.”

I was thinking that this might be a good day to get off my glasses and get some things done. It’s time to stop looking through the old mayonnaise jar of my life, thinking about what I coulda, shoulda, woulda wanted to do today and blaming the glass for what I’m not accomplishing. It’s time to look up and see that big uncovered hole in the top of the jar and admit that the only thing between me and the blue sky today is my unwillingness to fly vertically as well as horizontally (especially since horizontal flight is so glass-smashingly painful).

Off I go—beefore I beegin to beelieve I really beelong inside this glass jar (good grief!).

Monday, May 19, 2008


The next time you are driving in bumper-to-bumper four-lane traffic in Minneapolis, or six-lane bumper-to-bumper traffic in Phoenix, or eight-lane bumper-to-bumper traffic in Los Angeles, I want you to remember the term “3-D Transportation.” I believe the problem with modern city transportation systems is that they are two-dimensional with all movement taking place on a flat plane surface severely limited by designated roads and highways.

Now think about a 3-D transportation system that not only utilizes length and breadth of a driving area, but also incorporates depth into the equation. In three separate newspaper articles this week, there were three new or relatively new transportation concepts described.

The first was an article about the Swiss-built Pilatus Porter aircraft. This is the first prototype of a set of rigid eight-foot wings powered by four jet turbines strapped to the back of a human being, which allows a person to fly above the earth at speeds up to 186 miles per hour. The pilot wears a protective suit and helmet; beyond that, the pilot is just hanging out in midair, suspended under the wing span. From a distance, he or she just looks like a big bird soaring up in the sky.

The second article describes a Japanese-built one-man helicopter, the GEN H-4, which has a chair and footrest for the pilot, two opposing rotors for stability, four engines, and a handle bar. It’s able to travel up to 56 miles an hour and is capable of ascending 165 yards into the air, although it is safer and more efficient at about 100 yards off the ground. Again, the pilot sits in the open air under the rotors and maneuvers the helicopter using the handle bar.

The third story was about the Segway personal transporter, which has been around for several years, but is now being proclaimed the most recent medical breakthrough for amputees and the disabled. There’s even a charitable organization called Segs4Vets which raises money to provide Segways to the huge number of military amputees and disabled vets returning from the war in Iraq.

So how does the 3-D transportation system work? First, at the highest altitudes will be the Pilatus Porter commuting crowd, the jet-powered wings capable of traveling several thousand feet in the air at high speeds. While the Pilatus Porter commuters would have to fly below regular commercial airline traffic patterns, they are able to go any direction, unconfined by roads and highways. Is the Pilatus Porter ahead of you going only 170 and you prefer 185 mph? No problem. With 3-D transportation, just dip below it or rise above it for a quick pass.

The second layer of 3-D transportation would be the GEN H-4s, the personal commuter helicopters that would be relegated to an altitude anywhere from 20 feet to 165 yards into the air. Again, they would not be confined by roads and highways, but could utilize transportation routes based on the shortest distance from Point A to Point B.

The Segways would be the designated handicapped vehicles. Just like we have handicapped parking spots in places that other vehicles cannot park, the Segways would not be limited to roads and highways. They could utilize road shoulders and ditches, cut across parks and parking lots, buzz through buildings using handicap accessible ramps, and otherwise make use of routes unavailable to automobiles and motorcycles.

So the 3-D transportation relieves traffic congestion by adding depth to the equation, and also by extending the flat plane of 2-D travel to include non-street/non-highway accessiblity for the handicapped.

So here’s the question: What then becomes of the lowly automobile and all the roads and highways currently in place? This is the true beauty of the plan. The automobiles and roads become the sole domain of us geezer drivers, who now are free to drive as slowly as we want, change lanes without turning on our blinkers, pull out in front of oncoming traffic, and drive down the middle of the line separating two lanes of traffic. We can now leisurely putt-putt our way from our morning coffee klatches to our volunteer jobs at the local ARC store to our $2.89 blue plate senior specials at the Dew Drop Inn without the constraint of traffic laws or impatient fellow drivers. The buzzing of the Pilatus Porters, the GEN H-4s, and the Segways above us and around us won’t be a bother; we can’t hear them anyway.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Yesterday morning, Saturday, it was 64 degrees at 10 a.m., so Tom and I decided to do a four-miler on the Central Lakes Trail. I had just eaten my way through the first half of May, and Tom had just gotten back from a week-long Lake of the Woods fishing trip in which fried fish, bacon, potatoes, creamed corn, and eggs had been the main entrees for seven straight days. A four-mile walk seemed in order.

Somewhere near Mile Marker 39, close to the Lake Geneva/Lake Victoria bridge, I began noticing graffiti spray-painted on the asphalt trail. Usually when I see graffiti, I assume the worst and demurely avert my eyes. However, this time, it was different. First of all, the penmanship and spelling were actually pretty good. I saw signs of intelligent life, rare in much trail graffiti. Secondly, it appeared to be Christian graffiti, encouraging me to love God and give up my sinful ways.

I’ll admit I was somewhat surprised to discover that spray painting a public trail was an appropriate way to spread the gospel. However, I found the graffiti to be very spiritually helpful, because it answered that annoying bracelet question, “WWJD?” Now I know exactly what Jesus would do. He would evidently grab a spray can of DayGlo orange paint and write the beatitudes all the way down the road to Damascus. I can see Him clearly, with His finger on the spray can trigger, carefully spelling out, “Blessed are the peacemakers . . .”

Of course, not being entirely up on my theology terminology, some of the graffiti abbreviations puzzled me. I’ve never been able to understand a word people are saying when they speak in tongues, so it didn’t surprise me a bit that I couldn’t figure out what they meant when they were spraying divinely inspired abbreviations on a biking/walking trail.

For example, W.O.C. kept appearing over and over again, occasionally interspersed with an L.O.C. I knew it was a secret Christian message because right next to it would be something like “Represent Jesus U Choose” in red and white spray paint (Pentecost colors) or a life-size cross with little rays beaming out in green spray paint, just like the cross really looked on Good Friday. So the abbreviations had to have some deep, religious meaning. Warriors of Chaos? Women of Color? And how about L.O.C.? Loss of consciousness? Library of Congress?

As I hiked briskly along, trying to avoid stepping on the holy messages for fear of offending a higher power, I sensed my spiritual unworthiness and lack of understanding. All I know is that the next time I am in the spray paint department at Home Depot and I hear a rushing wind followed by a still, small voice in my head saying, “Buy the paint . . . buy the paint,” I will not shrug it off lightly. I will buy that paint and spray whatever the Holy Spirit tells me to spray—on the Central Lakes Trail or Interstate 94 or the west side of the Pentagon. It’s what Jesus would do.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Last night was graduation—finally. I’ve had the date circled in red on the calendar so long that it seemed almost anti-climactic when May 16 actually came. One of the students even bought long-stemmed roses for all of us, so my students and I looked a little like 14 maroon-robed bridesmaids walking into the auditorium in the graduation procession.

We took pictures, we hugged each other—it was a glorious night. And I am incredibly, sinfully relieved it’s over for another year.

About three years ago, I had a student who said “thank you” every time she left class. Just that—“thank you.” And although it makes me sound needy and shallow, I will admit it: that “thank you” thrilled me every single time she said it. In that whole semester, I never-ever-not-even-once got tired of hearing her say it.

We thank the waiter or waitress who delivers our food to our table. We thank the checkout clerk who runs our groceries over a scanner. We thank the bus driver, the store clerk, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. But the teachers who spent three hours of prep time to create just that one hour’s worth of class time? We flee the classroom like they’re terrorists who have just held us hostage against our will for the past hour, a box cutter to our throats, threatening to kill us and our children and our children’s children. Even though it’s been years since I was a student, I remember that feeling well. I didn’t care how many people I trampled, how many lives were lost on my way to the classroom door—I just needed to get out of there! Air—air—I needed air!!

Even though I remember the trapped-student feeling, it was still nice when the student said “thank you.” That entire semester, she made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I was one step above a terrorist.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


In the book Running with Scissors by Augsten Burroughs, one of the main characters in his memoirs, the daughter of the wacky psychologist, had a fool-proof way of making decisions in her life. She practiced “Bible Dipping.”

Whenever she had a decision to make, she would make a bee-line for her white Bible, randomly open to a page, stab her finger at a word, and that would be an answer directly from God. It didn’t matter if it was a life-altering decision or a mere “should I have tuna salad or chicken on my sandwich?”, the Bible was consulted. She would flip open the Bible, stab her finger, and something like “One ox, six choice sheep, and some chickens were prepared for me daily.” (Nehemiah 5:14–19). And since the verse didn’t mention tuna, chicken it would be.

The author envied that this woman and God were buddies and He talked to her through her Bible dipping while everyone else seemed to have to muddle through making their own decisions.

This morning, I didn’t feel much like going to work, so I tried a little Bible dipping, thinking that maybe this one time, I might get an answer. I closed my eyes, opened my Bible, pointed my finger, and stabbed. When I opened my eyes, I saw:

HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Oops! I guess the first page doesn't work. Close eyes, open Bible, point finger—stab!!

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men. - Proverbs 22:29”

Guess I’ll go get dressed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I think the secret to staying married to the same person for 35 years is tolerance; that is, flexibility and acceptance when confronted by your partner’s quirks and oddities.

At our house, for example, I am very tolerant of Tom’s habit of keeping critters in the refrigerator. Often when I am searching for the ketchup or trying to maneuver a spot for the milk, I have to push aside little styrofoam containers full of leeches and nightcrawlers and waxworms. I get a little creeped out when I see those slimy leeches doing their synchronized swimming routine through the opaque cover—but I remind myself, “tolerance, tolerance,” and assure myself that in many cultures, insects are considered delicacies. Women in some Asian countries have refrigerators full of scorpions and silk worms and dung beetles, ready to stir fry in the wok for supper.

While I have to tolerate Tom’s fishing bait in the refrigerator, he, on the other hand, has to tolerate me. I’m forever pecking away at the computer or scribbling notes on the margins of my crossword puzzle books or just in general adding to the world’s superfluous supply of words. But does he complain?

Last week I asked him, noticing that he never pecked and scribbled, “What do you do with all your thoughts??” He considered carefully for a moment. Then he raised his eyebrows at me and replied pointedly, “I suppress them.”

So much for tolerance. Those leeches might get a roller coaster ride down the garbage disposal one of these days.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I don’t know why, but as soon as I announced my retirement date, everybody was full of suggestions about what my “retirement job” should be. I kind of had a mental image of myself lying in a hammock by Lake Ida wasting away in Margaritaville—excuse me for having a fantasy.

However, after thinking it through and realizing that idle hands are the devil’s playground, I finally found the perfect retirement job.

In the newspaper is an ad that reads: “Males and Females, ages 0-75+.” Okay, so far so good. “All Sizes.” Even better! “Needed for TV, magazines, etc., PT flexible hrs. We pay $50+/- per hr.” Holy cow! Better than teaching!! “No exp. req. Jobs start May/June.” Yes, yes . . . “Bring snapshot to Holiday Inn, I-94/Hwy. 29, Alexandria, MN Thur., May 15th anytime 7p.m.-10p.m.” YEA, I know where the Holiday Inn is!! “Under 18, bring parent.” Whew, lucky it’s not ‘under 60’ because I think my mother goes to bed at 7 p.m.

A snapshot, a snapshot . . . if I’m going to be a movie extra/actor/model/dancer/reality TV performer, maybe I should get some professional headshots.

I read once about a casting call for “inbred” look people. The producers wanted people who were extraordinarily tall or short, unusual body shape, unusual facial features (especially eyes)—kind of an other-worldly look. They also needed people with minimal muscle tone, long stringy hair, and a starved, ravaged appearance, and a thin man of any ethnicity who is missing one or both legs. Hmmm . . . maybe not.

I’m looking for a casting call for a “woman of advanced years of Nordic heritage, looks best in turtle necks, near-sighted, bespectacled, thick-waisted, with abundant upper-thigh cellulite, a tremulous chin wattle, and a slight mustache.” If I ever see an ad like that, the part is MINE and I’ve got myself a post-retirement job!

I’m going to dig through the family photo album, find a snapshot of myself, and head on out to the Holiday Inn on Thursday night. According to the fine print, for a “small registration fee” and a “recurring billing product,” I too can “take it to the next level and follow my dream.” I can be that maggot-filled cadaver on CSI, the swastika-tattooed inmate on Prison Break, or the non-speaking forklift operator on an episode of The Office. My new career is just a snapshot and a small registration fee/recurring billing product away!

Monday, May 12, 2008


About twenty years ago, back in the 1980s, we put a gray brick paver sidewalk in front of our house. We neatly lined it with untreated timber, and the effect was a rustic-classy sidewalk that really led nowhere but looked nice in a 1980s sort of way.

Then the evil ants took over. The brick pavers were anchored in a sand base that the ants decided was home. Year after year, season after season, little hills of sand appeared in the cracks between the pavers as the ants built their underground tunnels. I poured ant poison on their cursed mounds; I swept away their devil ant hills.

We would go on vacation for a couple of weeks and when we got back, there would be ten, twenty, thirty new ant piles. I tried ant sprays, ant traps, ant sticky Tero liquids—but nothing worked. The poison just made them stronger as they became immune to all known insecticides on earth. In the twenty years the ants and I fought for dominion, they lowered the brick pavers by two inches. I know that for a fact because the timbers stayed in place. But the brick pavers just kept sinking and sinking as I swept away sand. The sidewalk is fifteen feet long, I am 5’4” tall, and an ant is 1/16 of a centimeter long—but they continued to win the battle.

Last summer, we dug up all the 1980s brick pavers and spent approximately . . . I was going to say a dollar amount, but I forgot what we spent. Anyway, we put in a brand new expensive aggregate sidewalk. It is solid; it is loaded with rocks. It has a waterproof, earthquake-proof, atomic-bomb-proof high-gloss sealer on it. At last, I thought, I am lord and master of my own sidewalk! It was a sleek and shiny fortress, an aggregate moat around the front of our house.

Guess what I saw yesterday? Four perfectly symmetrical ant hills on a small, infinitesimal atom-sized crack on the edge of the aggregate sidewalk.

Lord, someday I’d like to be as persistent as a sidewalk ant.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


The past three years, I have spent a good deal of time popping in and out of Nelson Gables, the local assisted living facility cleverly disguised as a five-star hotel. Also, the past two weeks, I have made many visits to Knute Nelson Nursing Home, which unfortunately cannot be disguised as anything but a nursing home, albeit a five-star nursing home.

In both of these facilities, the lobbies are often littered (did I say littered??) with old people, sitting in chairs—just sitting. And in both of these facilities, I am reminded a book by Andrew Weil, M.D., called Healthy Aging, which contains all kinds of good, practical advice about how to grow old the best way we possibly can. But there was one chapter in the book (Chapter 15 on The Mind: Thoughts, Attitudes, and Emotions) where Dr. Weil really hits home when he says that older people worry about three things: they don’t want to suffer, they don’t want to be a burden, and they don’t want to have an unmeaningful life.

So here they are, scores of old people, sitting in chairs, lying on beds, often living exactly the end-of-life scenario they’ve always feared. It’s in these two places that I’ve realized that the mental part of growing old often requires more outright courage than the physical part.

Dr. Weil ridicules all the advertised miracle treatments—lotions, potions, cosmetics, surgeries, and anti-aging gimmicks—that promise the fountain of youth. And then he goes on to tell the REAL secret to aging successfully. If we go to a doctor who prescribes drugs for our “old lady/old man” syndromes, he emphatically encourages us to make life changes before resorting to drugs:

1. the strong correlation between physical activity and successful aging
2. the importance of healthy eating and the folly of vitamins/supplements as a replacement for healthy eating
3. the value of sleep and rest
4. the importance of touch
5. the power of minimizing (changing your reaction to) stress
6. the science of happiness (live with nature, unlearn ‘judging’ habits, learn what you have the power to change and not change)
7. the need for flexibility and humor

I go into my tirades about my resolution to "just say no" to drugs—and how I’m going to put myself out to sea on an ice floe when I get old. Healthy Aging just underscores how common that feeling is. Here I thought I was so unique in feeling I don’t want to suffer, be a burden, be meaningless, yada yada. Ironically, it turns out that every geezer in town feels the same (humbling to see how normal I am).

I think I need to start spending more time at day care centers and nursery schools rather than these assisted living and nursing home places. I’m starting to worry about things I won’t need to worry about for another 25 years. But the list above—different story. I need to live that list, starting yesterday!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


We just got the word at work that before May 16, we will need to reset a new password (under Policy No. v1 6 0421108, Password Usage & Handling Guidelines).

I was about to pull out my old faithful password “DaffyDuck,” when I noticed that the new policy even had Subparts A, B, C, D, and E. Something told me that “DaffyDuck” wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Sure enough, I now have to have a password with a minimum of eight characters and “must include a minimum combination of two character types and should include a combination of 3 character types such as: numbers, special characters, and lower and upper case letters.” Honestly—word for word from Subpart B.

Not only that, but every 180 days, I have to think of a new combination of a minimum of eight characters which must include a minimum combination of two character types , etc., etc., etc. If you don’t believe me, just read Subpart C.

At the suggestion of a co-worker, I finally thought of a new password that might fit their requirements:

Then after 180 days, as directed, I will change the password to:

Subpart D explains that if I don’t type the password in correctly in three tries, I will be locked out because of a password failure and either need to wait 15 minutes to attempt again or have my account “administratively reset.”

I suspect I will get to know my administrative account resetter on a first-name basis.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


An article in yesterday’s (May 5, 2008) Fargo Forum was entitled “Who Should Doctors Let Die in a Pandemic?” A group of eminent researchers and doctors from around the world have decided that certain people will be expendable when health care during a flu pandemic is at a premium. It’s not that these people will be executed or euthanized; however, when beds and medicine are scarce, these people will probably be parked in the hospital broom closet along with the mops and Pine Sol.

So here they are:

· If you’re older than 85, you will need to lie about your age to get an aspirin.

· If you are the victim of a severe trauma (such as a gunshot or car accident), they aren’t going to waste the time on you (they figure if you were stupid enough to get yourself shot or smashed, you asked for it).

· If you are a severe burn victim over the age of 60 (60??? Life just begins at 60!), you will probably just be brought directly to the morgue. (Lesson? No playing with matches during a pandemic.)

· If you have severe mental impairment, including Alzheimer’s, they will not waste a Band-Aid on you.

· If you have any severe, chronic disease like heart failure, lung disease, or unmanageable diabetes, you are a goner.

Well, that about takes care of everyone I know.

It seems like if you are a little old, a little bloody, a little dotty, somewhat on the crispy well-done side, or have a medical chart more than ½-inch thick, you might as well call the funeral home and make the arrangements. The medical community will not have the time or inclination to help you.

With these standards, flu victims such as the Pope Bendict XVI, George H.W. Bush, Paul Newman, several hundred Iraqi War veterans, and a few firefighters who fought the blaze at the World Trade Center on 9/11 would all be shuffled to a side hallway in the hospital. Meanwhile flu victims O.J. Simpson, child pornographer Chester Molester, and Brittany Spears would be given the presidential suite on the top floor of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

I think we might need to put those researchers and doctors back into their conference room and not let them out until they come up with a better pandemic plan.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


In the Friday, April 25, issue of the Fargo Forum, the headlines read, “U.S. Invades Canada.” Luckily, I caught the little blue disclaimer box in the corner that said FAUX NEWS (French for “Fox News,” I believe). I was dying to read the story; unfortunately, it happened to be in the newspaper on a day that I was too busy to read it. So I was hoping that Tom wouldn’t recycle the newspaper under the cats’ litter boxes before I had a chance to see what it was all about. Today, I finally had time to go out to the recycling bin in the garage, and there the newspaper was—pristine and clean. I did not have to lie down on my stomach in the laundry room next to the litter box and read the cat urine-soaked story after all.

The gist of the story was that back in 1930, the War Department developed a Plan Red in case England ever used Canada as a means to invade the U.S. The plan? Attacking Winnepeg from North Dakota, invading Quebec and Montreal from Vermont, and seizing all the Canadian ports on the Great Lakes and the Atlantic seaboard. As the author of the article said, “At that point, it’s just a matter of time before we bring these Molson-swigging, maple-mongering Zamboni drivers to their knees.”

Even more interesting was that Canada, as early as 1921, had a plan to invade us! The Canadian director of military operations (a man named James Sutherland “Buster” Brown), posing as a tourist, actually drove his own vehicle to the areas he thought Canada should invade (like Minneapolis) and took reconnaissance pictures with his own camera and picked up free maps at gas stations (really low budget operation).

Now in the 21st century, with these invasion plans declassified, we only have fake wars with Canada. I know from personal undisclosed secret sources that the U.S. Air Force and the Canadian Air Force stage fake wars every once in a while. (If I tell you how I know this for a fact, I will have to kill you. Therefore, we will leave my secret sources out of this discussion.) In these fake wars, the stakes are high. If the Canadian Air Force wins, sometimes the punishment is that the Americans have to say “eh?” for a week (as in “Nice day, eh?”). Visa versa, if the Americans win, the Canadians have to say “amazing” for a week (as in “Amazing day, isn’t it? That’s amazing! Your Air Force is amazing!”) Other times, the Americans just make the Canadians drink Bud Light, the ultimate humiliation if you are a Canuck. (5/3/08)

Saturday, May 03, 2008


With billions and billions of people currently living on earth, or have lived on earth in the past, the chances of having a completely, totally unique thought are microscopic.

Occasionally, I have had what I thought might be a “unique thought.” I specifically make a point of stopping and telling myself (drumroll), “No one on earth has ever had that exact thought before.” However, here’s the clinker: I DON’T WRITE THEM DOWN. Then later, when I want to ponder the unique thought, I can remember that I noted the thought was unique, but can’t for the life of me remember what the unique thought was. (P.S. They’re not great thoughts—they’re just unique. That’s the only requirement. They do not have to be great.)

One night, I woke up at 2 a.m., shaken with a thought so profound that I forced myself to get out of bed, walk to the kitchen, find some paper, and write the thought down. In the morning, I found a piece of paper on the kitchen counter that had these words scrawled on it, “Secrets in the Attic/Skeletons in the Closet/A Body in the Basement.” I have no idea what it means. Is it the title of a book? Is it an intra-cranial ESP message from an extra-terrestrial creature? But for some reason, at 2 a.m., it seemed incredibly important that I remember it.

Once I was present when I was sure a completely unique thought was being uttered for the first time. We were driving Ryan and his friend Tank to the airport in Minneapolis after a fishing trip to Canada with Tom. After spending eight days working hard for their walleye, the young men decided that fishing for walleye is similar to fishing for cats. Those walleyes just do as they please. ‘Aha!’ I thought. ‘An original thought!’

When I congratulated them on their originality, Ryan argued that this wasn’t a completely original thought because there is a television commercial and an old saying about “herding cats,” but I still think it counts because their brains took another Y in the mental road and made the walleye comparison. Fishing for walleye is like fishing for cats . . . I like it. It might explain why there are so few packages of frozen walleyes—and cat fillets—in our freezer.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Yesterday, at a meeting with our new campus technology guru, I had a wave of weariness hit me like a tsunami.

Sheldon, the guru—that’s his name, Sheldon (seems like it should be Buzz Lightyear or something)—sat taking notes on his notepad computer as we discussed software we needed to have loaded on student laptops for next fall and whether it would be compatible with Microsoft’s VISTA operating system (which, by the way, will be replaced in 2010 because of consumer complaints about that new operating system). Anyway, as Sheldon spoke, that’s when the tsunami struck and I felt like I was being sucked under in a huge tidal wave of complexification and feature fatigue.

A couple of years ago, Ellen Goodman (Boston Globe) wrote an editorial in which she described a new toothbrush (the IntelliClean System) that comes with an instructional DVD. Ms. Goodman said, and I agreed, it was the final straw in the “complexification” of everyday life. When you need an instructional DVD to do a job that you could also do by smearing a little toothpaste on your finger or a birch twig and rubbing it over your teeth (don’t say you haven’t done it in an emergency), life has gotten too complex.

In the past couple of years, I have added to my personal life: a cell phone, a digital camera, a digital mouse for my laptop, 1-gig flash drives, a digital photo frame, a Picasa album system for organizing photos, Skype satellite-computer phone system, and other technology too numerous to mention.

I also understand that I absolutely should have a blue-tooth, a Blackberry, an MP-3 player, a PSP, an iPod, an HDTV, Ti-Vo, and other technology that people have told me is a necessity . . .

Even Tom’s beloved fishing now uses depth finders and fish finders and underwater cameras and GPS—but he and his fishing buddies still have trouble catching fish on opening weekend.

I would like to selectively keep the technology that makes my life richer—technology that enhances the quality of my life, not the complexity of my life. But I would also like to reserve the right to say “no, thank you” to any new technology that just makes a simple task more complex. “No, thank you very much, sir,” as Benny Koep used to say.