Thursday, January 29, 2009


Whenever we get invited to a wedding, I always do a little mental wrestling about what gift to give to the bride and groom. I admit in the past few years, I haven’t been very creative, cautiously sticking to the Macy’s bridal registry or Target Club Wedd lists. Even more frequently, I’ve just bought a gift card or written a check and stuck it in a card.

But back when Tom and I got married in 1973, wedding guests were left up to their own devices. We didn’t have Club Wedd or scanning guns to zap bar codes at Pottery Barn. The guests just bought or made gifts that they would like to receive themselves, figuring we might like them, too. That’s why 35 years later, our rag drawer includes old, worn-out wedding towels and sheets of the most bizarre rainbow of colors—purple, avocado green, flowered pumpkin orange, striped gold and brown, flowered chartreuse, and electric blue. You know, the good old ‘70s hippie colors.

However, here’s what I find the most surprising after all these years. A few of the gifts I was the least excited about as a blushing 24-year-old bride have become some of my most prized possessions. These are items that in 2009, I would never dare give to a bride; but back in 1973, somebody decided that Tom and I couldn’t live without them. And they were right; the gifts have become treasures.

Below are two of the gifts that in my shallow youth, I didn’t appreciate nearly enough. But better late than never—they are now two of my favorites:

Porcelain figurine of an Old Man and an Old Woman

Schumann Arzberg Plate with a “Wild Rose” Pattern

Don’t get excited about inheriting these when we die; they are not valuable antiques. But they’re special reminders of an ages-ago wedding when I had long, brown hair halfway down my back--and Tom had hair, period.

And it’s kind of spooky: we look a little more like the little old man and little old woman in the porcelain figurine with every passing day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Last Sunday afternoon, I went over to the assisted living facility where my mother lives to attend a program to honor all the residents who are in the Wellness Program. My mother is in the “Salubrious” wellness group. The word salubrious actually means “favorable to or promoting health or well-being,” but my mother has decided in her own mind that the word means “top exercise group in town.”

After the program, we did what all Minnesotans do after they are honored for their participation in a healthy life-style program: we went to the dining room for coffee and strawberry cake with whipped cream frosting.

My mother and I found a round table with a half a dozen empty chairs and sat down. Soon we were joined by a couple of other residents. The woman seated next to me (I would guess her to be well over 90), was as thin as a reed but kept up a stream of chatter as she steadily whittled away at her slice of cake. She had left her husband sleeping in their apartment while she came to the program, and she was a little concerned about navigating her way back to him when the cake part was over.

“I have no idea how to find him again,” she confided to me, scraping her fork along the plate to get all the whipped cream. “I really don’t know how to get back to my apartment.”

“No problem,” I said. “You can just come along with my mother and me when we leave, and we’ll drop you off at your door.”

“You’re an angel,” she smiled at me. Then she leaned over closer and said mischievously, “Be sure to live dangerously so you don’t get so old.” She nodded wisely and then re-attacked her cake.

I just laughed. “That’s a good one,” I said. “Be sure to live dangerously . . . I don’t think anyone’s ever told me to live dangerously before. I’ve got to write that down.”

She continued eating her cake, nodding. “You do that, and write my name beside it—and say I’m related to Sergeant Edward.” Sergeant Edward was her husband, asleep back in the apartment.

“Okay, I’ll write down, ‘Said by Lois who is related to Sergeant Edward,’” I promised.

“But I have no idea how to get back to that apartment and find Ed,” she stated, distractedly chewing her cake.

“I’ve got you covered,” I said. “We’re going to deliver you right to your door when you’re done eating.”

Twice more before we left, she worried about finding her way back to her apartment. “One-three-three,” she suddenly said. “I believe it’s one-three-three.”

We were a strange parade as we left the dining room: my mother hanging on to my arm for balance, Lois steering her walker, and me. We didn’t exactly exit as the crow flies; it was more of a wavering, meandering path vaguely in the direction of the door. The hall was crowded with residents and their families, still milling around after the program and the cake.

I almost lost Lois a time or two, but finally we found her apartment: one-three-three, just like she thought. She opened the door cautiously and peeked in. An old man lay in a recliner, as still as death. “Sergeant?” she quavered. “Are you awake?” He didn’t move. “Sergeant?” she called again. Sergeant jerked suddenly and muttered something that sounded like “Ummgggummm.” Lois turned back to us and smiled broadly. “He’s alive,” she announced grandly.

She shut the door behind her, and we proceeded down the hallway to my mother’s apartment. It occurred to me that Lois didn’t really need a guide to her apartment. She just doesn’t want to be by herself when she inevitably opens the door and the Sergeant won’t wake up when she calls his name.

I suppose she wishes that she and Sergeant Edward had lived a little more dangerously when they were young, so they didn’t need to be so old now. (Advice credited to Lois, who is related to Sergeant Edward. There, I kept my promise.)

Monday, January 26, 2009


(Note: The following essay was written in 1938 by my mother when she was a 19-year-old student at Moorhead State Teachers’ College. It was published in the Literary Designs supplement of the MSTC student newspaper, The MiSTiC. The “three young farmers” in the essay are her brothers. She left the family farm at age 14 to attend high school in Fergus Falls, working for a town family for her room and board. Then at age 17, she moved to Moorhead to attend college and become a teacher. She is now 90 years old.)

All is slow motion in the sloping shaded barnyard at the eve of a hot summer’s day. Six warm and tired horses come plodding from the water tank, hoofs kicking into dust, heads down, and harnesses rubbing and jangling in the early evening air. King and Rock pause at the salt stone, taste the salt by nibbling at it as a child would candy, toss their wavy red manes, and follow the rest of the horses into the darkened barn.

Even before their bridles are removed, the horses are nosing about in their full mangers for their evening meal. Occasionally a big horse sneeze breaks the monotonous chewing sound as a head comes up from burrowing deeply into the dusty hay. Birdy is trying her best to ignore her colt because she thinks he is getting too old for baby-talk. As the harnesses are removed, six sighs of relief come from the chests of six horses. They make the farmer sigh, too, but not with relief; he knows that he yet has more work to do.

From a remote section of the barn he hears the bawl of the impatient and hungry young calves. They have nothing to do all day but wait for their next meal and chase flies from their broad backs; they perform that work diligently. When they get their hay and feed, they become a contented devouring herd.

The cows come home from the pasture; tired, too, they move silently, breathing heavily, clicking their hoofs together, and eagerly quickening their pace when they sight the watering tank. Pat nips and barks half-heartedly at the heels of the laggers. A short while after the herd enters the barn, the clanking stanchions are closed on their thick necks.

Three young farmers, carrying spotless but noisy milk cans, pails, stools and a filter, proceed to rob each of the fourteen cows of her day’s accumulated treasure. The dull drumming of milk falling into the foamy pail and the tune of a cheerful whistler are suddenly interrupted by the swish and the swat of a hard, bristly tail.

Three little kittens lie expectantly waiting for their milk. Suddenly, they are all on their feet, running to meet one of the milkers who is coming toward them with a pail of warm milk. After they have lapped their fill, they walk off, stretching; the dog solemnly takes over the responsibility of licking the plate clean.

The cows are “let out” to pasture again, the pigs are fed, the turkeys and chickens go to roost in the trees, and a cool breeze starts the windmill’s steady pumping; night falls silently over the slumbering barnyard.


I can’t believe the extremes of the material I watched on the treadmill over the weekend. I’ve gone from the veddy, veddy highbrow British dialogue of Wendy Hiller in Masterpiece Theater to the Wisconsin-nasal fumbling of Chris Farley reading off the teleprompter on Saturday Night Live.

Over the course of my weekend treadmill sessions, I watched a three-episode Masterpiece Theater production called All Passion Spent, the story of an 85-year-old Englishwoman who becomes widowed when her foreign-service husband of 60 plus years dies. She had given up her own dreams as a young woman to be a good and faithful wife to his dreams and ambitions. So when he dies, she decides she wants to politely ignore the advice from her 50ish/60ish children and live her own life.

“When can one please oneself if not in old age?” she asks her friend, in her well-modulated British accent. She was an 85-year-old rebel, but she was always very proper in her rebellion.

Then I played an old video entitled “The Best of Chris Farley,” which featured his Saturday Night Live skits from 1990 to 1995. The man was crazy and his characters were even crazier. Remember Matt Foley, the motivational speaker who lived in a van down by the river? Or “The Chris Farley Show” where he’d interview people like Paul McCartney and nervously ask irrelevant questions like, “What brand of socks do you wear?” Or the Chippendale dancer tryouts he did with Patrick Swayze? But my very favorite of all was when he and Adam Sandler (who looks like he’s about 12 years old in the video) did their “Lunchlady” song—“Sloppy joe, slop-sloppy joe.” I was just exhausted watching the man, and it had nothing to do with the treadmill.

So my eclectic taste—or complete lack of taste—has led to kind of a schizophrenic weekend of subtle British dialogue, crude slapstick humor, the very proper world of English aristocracy, and the antics of a manic comedian who finally died of a lethal cocaine/speedball/arteriosclerosis combination. I think I’d better start walking outside again before these people start taking over my head.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


My new role as “retired person” will lead me to spend less time in the fast-thinking world of academia and more time in the less-studied world of slow thinkers. Without naming names, my main retirement companion is a self-described “slow thinker.”

First of all, you mustn’t confuse a “slow thinker” with its two cousins: double thinkers (able to keep two trains of thought alive at the same time, leading to abrupt changes in conversation) or slow readers/creative thinkers (able to develop unique trains of thought as they slowly absorb the words they are reading).

No, slow thinkers just take their time organizing new information.

According to Justin Locke, the author of Principles of Applied Stupidity, “. . . when people scowl at you and tell you are thinking too slowly for their taste, take it as a compliment . . . It means you are being responsible to yourself. It means you are not letting them control you, intimidate you, or boss you around. It means you are commanding the pace of yourself and of the group, and you are not letting fear rule your thinking.”

We’ve all been in a tour group that pokes along while we wait for a straggler to catch up. We’ve driven on a two-lane winding highway where a long, long line of cars follows a slow-moving lead car. In every case, according to Justin Locke, the slowest person has the most control. The fastest people must change and adjust to adapt to the pace, but the slowest person has enormous control and everyone around them must adjust to them.

Fast people who honk or shout “Hurry up! Hurry up!” are trying to manipulate the behavior of the slowest. Fast people who accuse slow thinkers of stupidity are just trying to intimidate the slow thinker into adjusting to their own fast pace by name calling. However, if you’re a fast thinker dealing with a slow thinker, it’s important to understand that intelligence has nothing to do with it.

Bottom line: fast thinkers are forced to adjust; slow thinkers are in control. In fact, slow thinkers believe they are right to be careful, methodical, and uninfluenced by fear. They honestly believe most fast thinkers are rash, undisciplined, and prone to making mistakes.

So if you’re a fast thinker and, like Justin Locke says, “the idea that you can think faster than someone else . . . makes you smarter is very hard to prove,” welcome to my world. Just like the slowest driver controls the speed on a two-lane mountain road, my slow-thinking companion controls the pace.

Retirement is an opportunity to slow down and take time to notice the roses. So it’s all right that I learn to lay off the horn and let my slow-thinking companion set the pace down the two-lane highway of our retirement, admiring the scenery as we go.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Today I drove my new car 55 miles per hour. Yes, I did. After weeks of either not driving it or creeping like a nun (Beatles style) around the icy streets, I discovered that the 24-degrees-plus-sun today had melted County Road 43 down to the pavement. I felt like I was flying down the German Autobahn at 120 mph, so amazing was the difference. I didn’t open the moon roof or roll down my window (I was tempted), but it was still a hopeful sign.

This afternoon, my sister (also a 2to4aday-er) was in town, and she suggested that we walk outside before she headed back to the Cities. Outside—glorious outside! So we bundled up (it was still a sunny 24 degrees at 4 p.m.) and walked two miles on the snow-packed streets near my house. Even though we were slip-sliding around a bit, it felt wonderful to be outdoors again. Our stocking caps, turtle necks, and mittens didn’t at all interfere with feeling that maybe the worst of the winter was past—a genuine hopeful sign.

And tonight when Tom and I sat down to eat dinner, the sky in the west was still a little pink. For some reason, the food tasted better with some natural sunlight glinting on the leftover roast beef and reheated butternut squash and shimmering through the water in the Brita pitcher. After two months of going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark, and eating in the dark, the fact that the sky was still a little light at dinner was an encouragingly hopeful sign.

It’s maybe a little too soon to gloat that we’ve made it—to brag that we’ve survived another Minnesota winter. Maybe we won’t be able to honestly say that until April. But I feel like we might have turned a corner. And yes, tomorrow night some Alberta Clipper or Manitoba Mauler or Saskatchewan Screamer is scheduled to swoop down from Canada—16 degrees below zero tomorrow night, according to some sadistic weather forecaster. But at least there’s no snow in the forecast, just cold—so that’s got to be a hopeful sign.

We can make it. We can make it. We can make it.

Monday, January 19, 2009


In December, we decided it was time to replace my 1998 tan Buick Century and its 110,000 miles with a different car. The Buick wasn’t a bad car; in fact, it was very reliable because Tom takes meticulous care of our cars. But it was—you know, just time.

It took us awhile, but finally we did something we hadn’t done in 35 years of marriage. We decided to buy a brand new car. I had bought a new Dodge Dart in 1970 after I graduated from college, and Tom had bought a brand new Chevy Impala in 1968 after he came home from Vietnam. But since we were married, we never even looked at new cars, believing that new cars were for rich people or for single people.

With the automobile economy the way it is, we found that this time around, we were able to afford a 2009 silver Toyota Camry. It’s beautiful—a moon roof, a 6-CD player (my old Buick only had a tape deck), leather interior, heated seats, 30+ miles to the gallon. I feel like a millionaire whenever I walk past it parked in the garage.

But therein lies the problem. Notice I said, “whenever I walk past it parked in the garage.”

I am not allowed to drive my new car. Remember when I said that we’re having quite a winter here in Minnesota? Record snowfalls? Record below-zero temperatures? That translates into treacherously icy streets, multiple interstate highway accidents, thousands of around-town fender benders, and some of the worst driving conditions in years.

We got the car on December 29, and it still doesn’t have over 100 miles on it. It is sitting in the garage with the same gas in the tank that the dealer put in before we drove it home. Whenever I want to go somewhere, I always ask Tom, “What car should I take?” crossing my fingers, hoping that he will give me permission to take the new Camry. Instead he says nonchalantly, “Oh, I’m not going anyplace while you’re gone. Take mine.” Sighing, I just pat my Camry lovingly as I pass by it on my way to Tom’s car.

A well-meaning friend said to me, “Just take it out anyway. Who cares what Tom says.” Rebel advice!! Doesn't she know that would be about the time I’d slide through a stop sign and t-bone a garbage truck? I want the next 35 years of marriage to be as divorce free as the first 35 years have been. No, it’s best that I wait for his blessing.

I think Tom is trying to build my character, teaching me delayed gratification. But I do think I’ll go out to the garage this morning and sit in my new car for awhile. I might start it, turn on the heated seats, pop a CD into the slot, look at the garage rafters through the moon roof, and turn the steering wheel a little—and just, well, pretend I’m driving.

Winter can’t last forever; the ice has to melt off the streets sometime. And when it does, I’m backing that little Camry out of the garage, cranking open the moon roof, popping in a U2 CD, and hitting the open road. I might go all the way to Glenwood!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Here’s a different sort of book for you if you’re looking for something to read in one sitting. Maus, A Survivor’s Tale (My Father Bleeds History) is a biographical/autobiographical graphic novel about Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of the holocaust in Poland by the Nazis during WWII. Did you catch that it was a “graphic novel” (translated: comic book)?

The biographical part is that Vladek is telling his personal memories to his son, Art, who is a professional cartoonist. So naturally, the story was told as a cartoon. The Polish Jews are depicted as mice (the word “Maus” is German for “mouse”). The Nazis are cats (what else?), and the non-Jewish Poles are pigs. The story switches back and forth between Vladek’s harrowing story and the complicated bickering between father and son going on in the present time as the story is being told.

The first volume takes place in Poland during the persecution, hiding, and fleeing part of Vladek's story. So while you’re at the library, also check out Maus Part II, And Now My Troubles Began, which describes Vladek’s experiences as he is arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. The Nazi cats don’t get any nicer at Auschwitz than they were in Poland.

Interesting, unique concept in historical biography—mice, cats, pigs, cartoons. But I couldn’t put either volume down until I had finished them. Honestly, it’s one of the most insightful books I’ve read about the holocaust and how it shaped the lives of the survivors.

Friday, January 16, 2009


We’ve been having quite a winter here in Minnesota: record snowfalls, ten-year temperature lows (-31 degrees one morning this week), record snow blower and snow shovel sales. So this morning while I was watching the national weather report, it occurred to me that my new granddaughter will have to be taught winter snow skills at some point since she’ll never acquire them naturally in Phoenix, Arizona. And who better to teach her snow skills than her grandmother?

First, I will need to teach her to make snow angels. It’s not as easy as it looks. A snow angel maker must be fearless and fall straight backward into a pile of snow (kind of like those “trust” exercises at team-building seminars, except there’s nobody behind you to catch you). After the snow angel has been armed and legged, a snow angel maker has to almost levitate to leave the imprint undisturbed in the snow.

Then it’s important to teach her how to jump off the deck railing into a snow bank. Technique is everything here; we don’t want any head-first dives. The goal is to do a feet-first plunge that implants her firmly, waist deep into the snow below.

Then I need to show her how to sit on a little plastic sled, push herself forward with her hands, and careen down a snowy slope. We will start out with the little hills in the neighborhood and eventually graduate to a bigger hill after she gets the hang of it.

Her grandpa will have to teach her a few things I’m not very good at. For example, he will have to take her to Noonan’s Park and teach her how to skate. Everybody in our family except me is an expert skater. I've been told it’s best if I just stand along the edge of the pond and guard their boots. Grandpa might even have to take her out ice fishing—but probably just once. It seems like after he took our own kids ice fishing, they never wanted to go again. Then definitely, he will have to teach her how to ski at Andes Tower ski hill. I used to ski in my day—but a 100-mph trip into the woods at Afton Alps one brisk January day in 1989 cured me for life. Yup, skiing is definitely Grandpa’s job.

Then I’ll show her how to build a snow fort, dig a snow tunnel (the safe kind), and throw snowballs (we’ll ambush Grandpa!).

Finally, I will need to teach her how to shovel the driveway and sidewalks. She has to learn that snow isn’t just to play in; it’s also used in Minnesota to help build children’s characters. We may need to take a grandmother/granddaughter trip to Fleet Farm to buy a little red plastic shovel, just like her daddy and her aunts used to have. I’ll be sure to teach her to lift with her legs, not her back, so she doesn’t ruin her chances to become a neurosurgeon, a prima ballerina, or an F-16 fighter pilot when she grows up.

It’s a big responsibility, teaching a little Arizona granddaughter how to get the most out of snow. I can hardly wait until she’s old enough to visit us in the winter and learn all the skills a kid needs to be taught by her Minnesota grandparents to survive the winter and build some character.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I find myself a little nostalgic as I ease my way into retirement. The one part of work that I will miss more than any other part is the people with whom I worked for the past 32 years or so. It wasn’t perfect—I can think of three people in 32 years who made my life a bit miserable when I let them. But when I consider that I’ve had hundreds of co-workers over the years,that’s a pretty small percentage.

So what made my co-workers so terrific?

First, I have been fortunate to work with people who have wonderful senses of humor. Always the first laugh of the day is with a co-worker or two at 6:30 a.m. Usually it’s nothing earth-shatteringly funny—just a way to connect at the beginning of a tightly scheduled day. A good laugh and a shot of caffeine make the walk down the hall to our 8 a.m. classes seem more like a skip down the Yellow Brick Road rather than the Bataan Death March.

Second, I have worked with generous people. We help each other, we bail each other out, we share information and materials,we row the boat together. We tell each other if we have spinach in our teeth. We all know that when one of us looks good, we all look good—and since teachers often aren’t the best-looking people in the world, we need all the help looking good that we can get.

Third, I have worked with people who really, truly want the students to succeed, even the less lovable ones. We all have different styles and we all do things our own way. But bottom line: the students are why we're here.

Fourth, we try really hard to resolve our differences. Sure, we mumble and mutter sometimes—but then we figure out how to get back on track.

Finally, I trust the people I work with. I think we all try very hard to follow the rules and do what is right. I think we all mean well, even when we make mistakes. I have been lucky to work with people who have honesty and integrity. I don’t worry that we’ll all look bad on the 6 o’clock news one night. We might screw up sometimes, doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, but our intentions are always good.

So that’s what I will miss the most—these young whippersnappers who will continue to go to work, even when I’m no longer showing up. They'll be carrying on the good cause and fighting the good fight!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I just watched an excellent movie. (I can tell a movie’s good when I look down at the odometer on the treadmill and I’ve gone four miles without even realizing it.)

The movie is Vitus (subtitles since it’s a Swiss movie) and it stars a 12-year-old prodigy with an IQ of 180 or so (played by a 12-year-old who’s a piano prodigy in real life). If you speak Swiss-German, you won’t need the subtitles; if you don’t speak Swiss-German, you’ll need to do like the rest of us and read as you’re watching. I always use subtitles on the treadmill anyway because I’d have to crank the t.v. up to “raise the roof” volume in order to hear it over the noise of my highly intense athletic workout (or else I just have noisy shoes).

Vitus is a love story between a boy and his grandfather. Very insightful movie—the kind you don’t want to end. And the kind that make the walk on the treadmill seem almost like a walk on the trail.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Because we were gone so much during Christmas, I have been reluctant to take down the Christmas tree. I like having its glowing presence in the living room as I sit and read in the evening. Besides, Hobie (my Jabba the Hutt cat) loves to chew on the lower branches. Every morning, my carpet has at least one hairball festively adorned with fake green pine needles intertwined with cat fur. Since we both enjoy the tree so much (me for its ambience, the cat for its plastic pine digestive aid qualities), I have left it up a little longer than usual.

But today I took it down. And when I did, I carefully packed away my ornaments that I’ve collected from our travels. I know I did this once before, but golly—I won’t be seeing them again for a year and it makes me kind of sad to pack them away.

Spanish lady from Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Cherub from Rome, Italy

Estonian lady from Tallinn

Lighthouse from Sanibel Island, Florida

Sand dollar from Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego, California

Okay, it's all put away now. Adios, arrivederci, hej då, jumalaga, goodby, my little ornaments. Until we meet again around the Christmas tree next year.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


It’s been a tough winter here in Alexandria. We set a record for snowfall during the month of December—28 inches of it fell during various snow storms and blizzards throughout the month. In the past 10 years, we’ve averaged only about 4.5 inches in December. So this winter, we kind of blew the old records out of the water (or the ice, in this case). It’s treacherous driving and it’s even more treacherous walking outside. At our age, one slip, one fall, and it’s straight to the nursing home—do not pass go, do not collect $200.

That’s why it’s been two months since I’ve had a chance to walk outside, with the exception of the week we spent in Arizona over Christmas. Even the fancy schmancy treadmill that we got in November can’t make the walking any more exciting: one foot after another as the belt goes round and round.

So this winter, Tom and I depend on our Netflix movies to provide the scenery for the 2 to 4 miles a day that we walk.

A few good movies that I’ve walked my way through in November and December were: Mama Mia! (lots of good Abba songs to march along to), Snow Falling on Cedars (interesting perspective of the Japanese internment during WWII), The Road Home (absolutely stunning in the simplicity of the storyline), Danny Deckchair (no, really—Danny Deckchair!), Empire of the Sun (a boy, a war, a story of survival), The Band’s Visit (ha!), The Two of Us (a war, a boy, an old man), and Nanny McPhee (children’s movies are often much better than adults’ movies). I liked Arranged, Atonement, The Red Violin, Juno, The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant, My Left Foot, Ladies in Lavendar, Like Water for Chocolate.

But we’ve watched some really bad ones, too: 12 Monkeys (Bruce Willis—I shoulda known better), Superbad (Tom watched it first—told me not to bother), Mama’s Boy, Live-in Maid, Burn After Reading, The Astronaut Farmer . . . all of them could have been named Superbad.

It looks like all I do is sit around watching movies. The only part of that statement that isn’t true is that I walk on the treadmill watching movies. When I can’t be outside because of the 28 inches of snow on the ground and ice-covered streets, I guess walking on the treadmill watching movies works as a second-rate substitute until spring finally comes and we can hit the trail again.

Monday, January 05, 2009


I can’t believe how many opportunities have presented themselves, now that retirement is looming. Just the other day, a headline reading “Reality Show Seeks Norwegians” in the Fargo Forum fairly jumped off page 1 of the Metro/State section.

Here’s the the story: A Scandinavian television production company (the same company that produces Norway’s version of American Idol) is putting together a reality TV show in which “fun, outgoing Americans with Norwegian ancestry” compete in “extreme cultural challenges” for a prize of $50,000. According to the article, on a budget of $100 US per day, the contestants are given a variety of challenges, presenting opportunities to be “in a strange country doing foreign things.”

To be honest, I’ve been in a strange country doing foreign things before, and nobody was paying me $100 a day to do it. In fact, I believe I was the one paying $100 a day for the privilege of being lost, confused, culturally disadvantaged, and not speaking the language. That’s why this seems like an infinitely better way of traveling.

There are a few strings attached: 1) contestants must be of Norwegian heritage (any percentage will do); 2) contestants must never have visited Norway before; 3) contestants must be between the ages of 18 and 60; 4) and, of course, contestants must be fun and outgoing.

Am I perfect for this show or what? I am 100 percent Norwegian (all great grandfathers came over on the USS Krumkake in the 1800s). And although I’ve been to Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, I’ve never set foot in Norway. I am exactly 60 years old, just at the cut-off age—and I can fake being fun and outgoing during a 5-minute entry video and a half hour personal interview. (Actually, the fun and outgoing is kind of an oxymoron—a fun and outgoing Norwegian? Isn’t Norway the country that invented clinical depression?)

For anyone out there with a bit of Norwegian blood flowing in their veins, there’s a website that explains the contest rules: There are some forms to fill out and a video to shoot before January 25, the application deadline date. But I think I’ve got a shot at it.

My hidden advantage is that I can also speak a few words of Norwegian: Jeg er så glad hver Julekveld, ja, nei, tusen takk, vær så god, lutefisk, lefse, and ufdah (translated: I am so glad each Christmas Eve, yes, no, thank you very much, you’re welcome, stinky fish, potato tortilla, and oh crap).

Yes, I think I’ve got a shot at it.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


On Friday morning, I had to be the designated driver when Tom had an upper GI test at the hospital. The hospital staff knew in advance that they were going to fill him full of hallucinogenic drugs, so they warned us he could not drive himself home. At 6 a.m., Tom and I reported to the outpatient surgery center registration desk. I handed over to the nurses a perfectly sane 64-year-old man, and an hour and a half later, they returned to me a loopy, senile, doddering old fart.

His upper GI test turned out to be clear (pinkest esophagus in town). However, because of the drugs they had mainlined into him during the procedure, the nurse sternly sat down with me before she turned us loose. “He mustn’t operate any machinery the rest of the day,” she warned.

“Okay, no driving,” I said back solemnly, nodding my head in understanding. I tried to look responsible enough to be his caretaker.

“No, not even a snow blower or a blender or anything else where he might hurt himself,” the nurse cautioned soberly. Tom stared at her, glassy-eyed, smiling at her as if she were an angelic vision. (She was in her middle 50s with long gray hair pulled back in a pony tail. Her name tag read ‘Theresa.’)

“He mustn’t drink any alcohol for 24 hours,” she continued emphatically. I looked into Tom’s glassy eyes; it was only 7:30 a.m., but he looked like he had been drinking for days.

“No alcohol,” I repeated. Tom nodded, fascinated with a crack in the wall.

“He shouldn’t make any major decisions today,” she said, looking sternly at Tom. He smiled back at her goofily. He appeared to be in love.

I hesitated a moment. Might this be a golden opportunity to get my way in a few household decisions that Tom had been reluctant to rule in my favor? But my conscience took over. “No major decisions,” I agreed reluctantly.

“He might have some short term memory loss,” the gray-haired nurse continued. Tom smiled at her as if she had offered him a gift.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely. Evidently, there were a few things he wanted to forget. He blinked twice, and then turned to me. “Did you talk to the doctor?” he asked.

“Yes, the doctor came in after you were done with the test, and he said everything was fine,” I reassured him. The gray-haired nurse nodded in agreement, and Tom smiled benignly.

We were finally allowed to leave. Tom clung to our arms, tottery and wobbly, as we made our way out to the reception area. The nurse left us at the front door, handing over complete responsibility to me. “Hang on tight to him,” she scolded when I didn’t take his arm. “It’s slippery out there.” Tom beamed at her in appreciation. I was afraid he might hug her, so I gave him a tug and he followed obediently.

“Did you talk to the doctor?” he asked again when we got in the car.

I put the key in the ignition and looked at him sideways. “Yes,” I repeated patiently. “I talked to the doctor and he said that everything was fine.” Tom nodded contentedly.

When we got home, Tom decided he wanted oatmeal, so I cooked him a bowlful with raisins, his favorite. As I set the bowl in front of him, Tom asked carefully, enunciating his words slowly, “Did you talk to the doctor?”

“Um, that’s the third time you’ve asked me that,” I said, concerned. “Don’t you remember that I told you he said everything was fine?”

Tom looked at me blankly. “I did?” he asked, carefully spooning his oatmeal into his mouth. Later I found the half-eaten oatmeal by the sink, and he had gone to his recliner in his office. He was dozing under his favorite blanket. A few minutes later, he called, “I think I’ll go to bed and lie down awhile.”

“Good idea,” I called back. Then I heard his voice float back, “Did you talk to the doctor?”

“Yes, he said we’d have to amputate your head!”

“Okay,” he said, and headed back to the bedroom.

I think I had a little taste of what life might be like in 25 or 30 years. I can hardly wait.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Note: If anyone is still reading this blog, I apologize for the long hiatus. I hope you didn't give up on me.

I am so proud of my family. I guess everybody feels like their family is the best . . . dysfunctions and all. As long as we stay out of a car, we are okay. (I just close my eyes when my fighter-pilot son drives and my middle daughter does the same when her father is behind the wheel.)

I love everyone in this picture, including the dog. I love them with all my heart. I don’t say it out loud to them because we’re not that kind of a family. But I love them. I love my children, I love the people they chose to marry, I love the dog, and I REALLY love that baby . . . I loved Christmas this year because for the first time in four years, we were all together. For the first time in four years, I could look down the pew on Christmas Eve at the church at Luke Air Force Base and see all of my family in a row.
We ate brisket and roasted vegetables—and it didn’t matter that the red potatoes weren’t exactly done and that we forgot the biscuits (they taste okay as a third course, too). And I suppose that Christmas felt a little weird to my daughter-in-law and my son-in-law because somewhere (California or Minnesota), their own families were celebrating Christmas the way they remembered doing it all their lives. But it was important that they were there, with us, this new family that we have created.

So this Christmas Eve picture was taken after we had all been to Christmas Eve church at Luke Air Force Base. My son propped a camera up on a little tripod, set the timer, and ran like a bunny to grab his place next to the dog. This is my family. The one I’m really proud of, the one that I really love.