Monday, March 30, 2009


We are starting to gather our belongings from the hidden corners of our Pebble Creek rental home. It’s amazing how quickly we’ve staked out territory, even when we knew it was only temporary. But as we’re packing, we have a wonderful memory of Saturday when our Colbie was baptized.

She stayed cheerful and ladylike all the way through the baptism, almost as if she understood that this was a major occasion. I think it was the little white dress with the satin bow that clued her in. She did sing loudly and emphatically after the service was all over, but by then, it didn’t matter. She was the star of the show, wearing the fanciest dress in the room, and pretty much everything she did that day was brilliant and cute.

It couldn’t have been a more special baptism: a priest with an Irish accent (“All of you fa-a-a-mily and friends, sittin’ here in the charch . . .”), a ray of sunlight beaming through the window onto the baptismal font, a dozen cameras adding an air of paparazzi, beaming parents, proud grandparents and great grandparents, smiling aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, and friends.

Tom and I are hoping to be there for all of Colbie’s major events as long as we are able. It’s a good reason to live to be one hundred.

Friday, March 27, 2009


While it may seem like life here in the sunny, 80-degree Garden of Eden is idyllic, our thoughts these days are with the people at home. Tom’s brothers and sisters who are also spending March in Arizona with us are from Denver, East Grand Forks, and Fargo. And if you have been watching the Weather Channel for the past few days, three of the cities in the news are Denver, East Grand Forks, and Fargo.

Tom’s two sisters and their husbands from Denver have been watching the blizzard news, knowing that their houses are being buried in a pile of snow. Tom’s brother and his wife from Fargo are on their cell phone with their children every day, getting updates on the sandbagging progress around their home in the Rose Creek addition. Tom’s other sister and her husband live right on the Red River on the Moorhead side and have been sandbagging for days. And Tom’s oldest sister from East Grand Forks is having flashbacks of the 1997 flood that submerged her basement in ten feet of water, right up to the top step on the main floor.

The nursing home where my father lives was bracing yesterday for 18 evacuated nursing home residents from the Fargo-Moorhead area, precipitating a move for him to a different room. It’s not easy to be almost 92 years old and be moved 100 feet down the hall, until you remember that the old folks from Fargo are being bused 100 miles during the evacuation.

Luckily, we don’t have family living in the shadow of Mt. Redoubt in Alaska or in the tornado zone of Louisiana. So in addition to our trip to Arizona, we’re experiencing a guilt trip, thinking of everyone back home dealing with the elements in the character-building upper Midwest.

Monday, March 23, 2009


(A story dedicated to Colbie.) Once upon a time, a little girl named Colbie lived happily with her mom, her dad, and her yellow lab named Tally. Colbie’s mom and dad loved her, and Tally worshipped her from afar. (Tally had to stay afar because she worshipped Colbie by enthusiastically licking her face and hands.)

Colbie had lots of pretty toys, but her favorite toy as a little brown bear with a florescent green tummy. The little bear had been perched on her changing table since the day she was born, so Colbie often smiled at the little bear to pass the time while having her diapers changed.

One day Colbie’s grandpa and grandma were babysitting. Colbie was sitting on her grandma’s lap in the backyard while Grandpa threw a ball to Tally. Back and forth Tally went, chasing the ball over and over. When Grandpa got tired of throwing the ball, Tally disappeared for a few minutes. When she returned, she galloped around the back yard, gleefully carrying an unidentified object in her mouth. Tally’s ears flew back in the wind, and the object in her mouth bounced up and down. Around and around the yard Tally ran, as fast as she could go.

“What’s she got in her mouth?” Grandpa asked.

Grandma noticed the bright fluorescent green. “She must have found an old tennis ball,” she said, distractedly wiping a little drool off Colbie’s chin. Colbie bounced excitedly every time Tally tore past the chair where she and her grandma were sitting. Everyone was having a great time.

But when Colbie’s mom came home, she knew right away what Tally had been so happily carrying around the yard. Naughty Tally had stolen the little bear from Colbie’s play pad, had sneaked it out her doggie door, and then had done several victory laps around the back, giving the little bear the ride of its life—but ripping it to shreds in the process. Now Tally was in big trouble.

Colbie was Grandma’s first little grandbaby, and she had read lots of stories about how the grandma comes to the rescue and saves the day. Grandma saw an excellent chance to help Tally get out of trouble and also save the little bear for Colbie. So Grandma carefully fished the little bear out of the garbage and said bravely, “I think I can fix this.”

The bear was slimy with happy-dog drool, so Grandma first threw it in the washing machine with a load of towels. It would be tough to assess the damage until the bear was clean and dry. Now Grandma knew exactly how an ER doctor feels when faced with a mangled accident victim: where should I start? Can I save a leg? Amputate an arm? Would the bear ever live a normal life? Would the bear teach Colbie to love the handicapped? Grandma was full of grandmotherly hope—like all those Hallmark made-for-TV movies where everyone learns a lesson at the end.

All Grandma had was a pair of scissors, $1.88 sewing kit, and two iron-on patches from WalMart. She also had a head full of stories about how grandmas come to the rescue, so she bravely started her surgery.

First, she amputated the bear’s little mangled feet, just above the ankle. Carefully she sewed the cut ends together. She looked at the stubby little legs and thought, ‘I think this bear can learn to walk again with proper therapy and prosthetics.’

Little Bear Half-Way Through Surgery, Post-Feet Amputations

Then she amputated the bear’s badly-mangled left hand and sewed the stubby end to its little chest. ‘Luckily, this bear is right-handed,’ Grandma thought optimistically, pushing the cheap needle through the cloth.

The gaping chest wound posed a bigger problem. Grandma wished she were at home with her sewing machine, but all she had was the little sewing kit. Still, she had read all those grandma-hero stories, and she was confident she could do it, too.

She pulled the wound edges together. That was when she discovered that not only had Tally torn the little bear, she had also eaten a little piece of it for lunch. Grandma tugged and pulled, and finally sewed a puckered, crooked seam down the front of the bear’s chest and leg. The bear did not look like it belonged in a grandma-hero story. It looked like it had been in an atomic war.

It now became necessary for Grandma to do a little plastic surgery skin graft to cover the scar. She stared at the WalMart iron-on patch, hoping for inspiration. Finally, she sat down with the scissors and carefully cut out the letters to spell “COLBIE.” She wished that the iron-on patch more closely matched the color of the bear, but it was beginning to dawn on her that this was NOT going to be a grandma-hero story. This was more of a reality TV show called “Grandma’s Extremely (Bad) Makeover.”

Lopsided Little Bear Following Surgery

The moral of this story was supposed to be: Grandma Saves the Bear (and the Dog’s Reputation).

Instead, the moral of the story turned out to be: Grandma Wanted to Save the Day but Lacked Talent and Materials. Evidently, being a grandma does not necessarily give you supernatural powers to do more than you were capable of doing prior to becoming a grandma. Nuts.

Monday, March 16, 2009


As usual, my favorite times are when our far-flung family can all be together at the same time. On Saturday night, after some of the family went to a Royals/Diamondbacks spring exhibition game up in Surprise, we all got together at our Pebble Creek rental and had dinner with lots of carbs for the girls because they were running an 8K on Sunday morning. The rest of us just ate lots of carbs in emotional support of their race.

After dinner, we all convened around the fire pit on the patio (notice: no logs—just gas and some space-age plastic chips) where we decided which of the family we wanted to sacrifice to the Arizona gods of dandy weather. Colbie was very fascinated by the flames, and I thought she looked especially cute by firelight.

Low-Tech Family Gathered Around the High-Tech Fire Pit

Today, Shannon, Jeanine, David, Tom, and I hiked up South Mountain. I don’t care how much “tilt” you put on your treadmill. Nothing in Minnesota quite prepares you to walk up a mountain—especially when it was mentioned that yesterday's local news reported that a man had died of a heart attack hiking up a Phoenix mountain. My heart was pounding fairly hard a few times, but luckily it held together.

Ten years ago, I would have been reading a book in the parking lot at the bottom of the trail. But now Tom and I are machines (well, perhaps machines is an exaggeration). At least we are at the point where we can make it to the top and don’t need to be evacuated by the Medi-Helicopter along the way.

One-third of the way. We still had 25 miles to go (or so it seemed).

Beautiful Day to be Standing on Top of a Mountain! Hurray for Spring Break!

Friday, March 13, 2009


As you can see from the picture below, life is quite perfect here in the Pebble Creek Home for Anal-Retentive Seniors. I feel very ungrateful for uttering even one discouraging word about this lovely, perfectly maintained gated community—but, gosh darn it, we got busted again yesterday.

We had gone several days without breaking a single rule, and then yesterday afternoon, we heard a knock on the door. In Alexandria, a knock on the door might mean a nice neighbor is bringing you a loaf of banana bread or offering to blow the snow out of your driveway. However, at Pebble Creek, the knock belonged to a “helpful” neighbor there to remind us about the garage door rule. (Rule #837: Garage doors must be kept closed at all times unless the house’s occupants are physically in the garage engaged in some type of garage-related activity.)

Back in Alexandria, of course, a closed garage door means you’re not home. Everybody leaves their garage doors up and we are regularly treated to displays of tools, garbage cans, bikes, fishing boats, snow blowers, lawn mowers—the usual collection of garage treasures and junk. However, in Pebble Creek, even if your garage walls are painted, have baseboard and crown molding (like ours), and all garage tools are tucked behind neat oak cabinet doors, your neighbors do not want to see the interior of your garage, even for five minutes. The rule: Drive in, shut the garage door, go in your house. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

We have never seen a posted list of the rules, so we’re just breaking them by accident as we live our normal lives. To our advantage, I think when we open our mouths to apologize in our Minnesota accents, there is a certain amount of condescending forgiveness (after all, they’re from Minnesota—what do you expect?).

This experience has helped me to understand what a totally slummy, tacky neighborhood I live in at home. We have barking dogs, open garage doors, garbage cans that sit at the curb for days, Christmas decorations left on house eaves until March, RVs and campers parked in driveways and alongside garages, street parking—and the worst condition of all, actual children riding bikes up and down the streets and playing in their yards. Yes, it’s going to be hard to go back to living among the slumdogs of Alexandria.

Thank goodness the eight inches of snow that fell in Alexandria this week will probably keep the dogs, kids, and garbage cans out of sight—and yes, may even help people to remember to close their garage doors like civilized people do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Today, Tom and I put on our walking shoes and went for a hike in the White Tank Mountains, about 15 minutes west of our rented house. We did the Waterfalls Loop (about three miles) although at this dry time of the year, there wasn't any water in the waterfall.

We are enjoying these 70-degree days--perfect weather for walking. And after months and months of walking on the treadmill breathing the less-than-fresh air of the basement, it feels great to clamber around on rocks and worry about wearing sunscreen.

View from the Waterfall Loop, White Tank Mountains

Monday, March 09, 2009


I just looked at the weather map for Minnesota for tomorrow, March 10. It looks like somewhere between 6-12 inches of snow for Alexandria.

March 9 Weather Map

This might be a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. Below is the full moon rising over the golf course at about 6:30 p.m. tonight. We were eating dinner out on our patio. The high today was about 72 degrees--a little chilly in the wind but nice and toasty in the sun.

Full Moon Over Pebble Creek Golf Course, March 9, 2009

Colbie danced the tango with Tom this afternoon while we were babysitting and appeared to enjoy it. She seems to be a natural dancer. She also rolled over the for the first time yesterday and has been sleeping throught the night since we got here. We take all the credit. Life is good.

P.S. However, I do love a good blizzard--and in a perverse way, I feel like I'm missing out on some of that exciting Minnesota weather.


(This l-o-n-g entry is a result of a conversation I had while visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago at the nursing home. We talked about family members who had served in World War I and II, Vietnam, Iraq . . . and they began by telling about my mother’s Uncle Oscar . . .)

My mother’s Uncle Oscar was the youngest of the ten children in her father’s family. He was born in 1895, and World War I was fought from 1914 to 1918, just about the time my great uncle Oscar was the right age for military service. He joined the Merchant Marine, whose role was to transport supplies across the Atlantic for American Expeditionary Forces. He was the first family member that my parents remembered as having a military background. They recalled seeing a picture of him in uniform, but I could only find a “civilian” picture of Uncle Oscar.

During World War II, my uncle Clifford (born in 1915) was assigned to a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit, the 142nd General Hospital. He was stationed in the Fiji Islands and also served in India. My mother said about her brother's service, “When Clifford got home, he said the worst part of the war for him had been riding home on the ship with the men who had lost their minds from the war.” My mother believed that the hospital in India had a neuropsychiatric ward where some of the soldiers were treated for what was called “shell shock” in WWII. Besides his experiences with the wounded soldiers, Uncle Clifford had been especially troubled by the desperate conditions of the native people he saw in Fiji and India where he was stationed.

Although my uncle Clifford was able to share some of his experiences in WWII with his family when he came home, my mother’s brother Fred (born in 1908) “had a different nature” and did not want to talk about his experiences. From letters and bits of information, my mother said that Fred’s job in the Army had been to build bridges. At first he had been asked to go to Norway to work with the Underground Resistance because he spoke Norwegian fluently. The Nazis invaded Norway and occupied it for five years until WWII ended. However, unexpectedly, Fred was told he wouldn’t be going to Norway and instead was sent to the front. Fred was in the famous “Battle of the Bulge” that helped to end WWII.

My father recalled that his older cousin Lorance had just started his medical practice in Montana when he was asked to serve as an Army medical doctor in World War II. He was assigned to the Advance Military Hospital as a surgeon with the 69th Infantry of the 1st Army. His unit went through Belgium and central Germany. He received commendations for the Battle of Rhineland, the Battle of Central Germany, and the Battle of the Bulge. He told a nephew that a civilian doctor could practice medicine for thirty years and never see what he had seen. (I was unable to find a picture of Lorance in the family photos.)

My father’s younger brother, Al, joined the Army in the early 1950s, thankfully too late to see action in World War II. In my own generation, the Vietnam War was the conflict that my peers were being drafted to fight. I had brothers-in-law in the Marines and Navy, a brother and brother-in-law in the National Guard, and cousins who were also drafted into the military.

My husband Tom was in ROTC at NDSU, so in 1966, when he graduated, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Within a year, he was sent to Lai Khe, Vietnam, as an ordnance officer in the “Big Red One,” 1st Infantry Division, 701st Maintenance Battalion, Company C. Although he was not involved in direct fighting, his base was under persistent rocket fire, earning it the nickname, “Rocket City."

Tom had 19 young men under his command in his platoon, ages 18 to 24. Early one morning, while his men were still asleep in their “hooch” (barracks), a rocket hit directly in the middle of the building. Six of his men were killed instantly and another half dozen were wounded. Only 7 of the 19 young men in Tom’s platoon made it unhurt through that rocket attack. He keeps the names of the soldiers who were killed in a small notebook. When we visited the Vietnam Wall replica, he brought his notebook along and found their names engraved in the wall.

Finally, my son and his wife are both Air Force pilots. In 2001, they were deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, under “Operation Southern Watch" with the 523rd Fighter Squadron. Following Operation Desert Storm when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the allies imposed northern and southern no-fly zones over Iraq. The U.S. and British air forces patrolled the air over these no-fly zones, primarily to protect coalition aircraft from Iraqi MiGs. During their deployment, they each flew approximately 20 combat missions.

In 2006, they deployed to Korea, where my son was stationed at Kunsan Air Force Base on the China Sea (8th Fighter Wing) and his wife was stationed at Osan Air Force Base near Seoul (51st Fighter Wing). They are now at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

Although I am proud of members of my family who served in the military, I sincerely hope that my granddaughter’s generation will never have a war to fight.

Friday, March 06, 2009


We still keep walking, Tom and I—and the goal is always two to four miles a day. We’ve been getting up and walking at 7 a.m. for about an hour, and that works pretty well. Most of the Pebble Creek self-appointed, busybody, path Nazis are still in bed, so we get to walk in peace. Once we figured out where the walking paths are, we have had some beautiful walks.

Walking Path at Pebble Creek

This morning, we had to babysit early, so we took Colbie and Tally, my son’s yellow lab, for an hour-and-fifteen-minute walk in a park near their home. They have such a cool stroller—nothing like the wobbly-wheeled, flimsy strollers we had back in the Dark Ages when Tom and I had little kids. With this stroller, we could walk as fast as our 60-plus legs would carry us, and the stroller maneuvered beautifully.

Colbie and Grandma Walking Our Two-to-Four-a-Day in the Park

How does life get any better than this? It couldn’t possibly!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Tom and I got to start our official babysitting duties today, and let me tell you, it was miles more rewarding than hanging around Pebble Creek and watching old people get older.

I will be the first to admit that Colbie much prefers her mother and father to Tom and me. However, when they aren’t around, she likes us just fine! We did a little fast talking a few times, and I’ll have to admit that I made train noises as I choo-chooed around the house, bouncing her out of some exciting moments. But she took a bottle from me, tolerated my changing her diaper twice, and even went to sleep (no doubt bored to death with skills I honed as a classroom teacher).

Tom and I feel like real grandparents now instead of those fake, long-distance wannabe kinds. And we get to go back Thursday and Friday to do it again. We will treasure this chance to spend some time with Colbie and have her get to know us. We have been feeling like Minnesota is a v-e-r-y long ways away from Arizona.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


If I thought trying to get through airport security was tough, I have now found something even tougher: a senior citizen gated community. Anyone who knows Tom and me knows that we are law-abiding citizens. We follow the speed limits, cross the street at crosswalks, and, as a rule, follow all the rules. But despite our valiant attempts at good, clean living, we have been busted for something every day that we’ve been here.

Our latest was this morning at 6:30 a.m. I noticed a white truck parked at the end of the driveway. We had carefully put our garbage and recycling at the end of the driveway like we were supposed to. (Tom had put it on the left side of the driveway, but I knew it was supposed to be on the right side, so I moved them. Then Tom had to move them again because he knew that they were supposed to be three feet apart, and I had put them one foot apart.) We thought we were all set.

So why was the white truck parked at the end of the driveway, and why was a man writing feverishly on some type of a paper? BUSTED! He was writing out an “educational notice” (not a ticket, he explained), telling us where plastic bags were allowed and where bags were not allowed. And Tom, being a little color blind, had gotten the green recycling bin mixed up with the brown garbage bin. This man’s job was to go up and down the street, check inside bins, and make sure everybody was doing it right.

If we wander into an activity area like the pool or golf club, we are carded. There are no body cavity searches—but we always have to carry our renters’ pass with us at all times because security has the right to stop us and check our identification. I guess that’s so illegal aliens, small children, or anyone under 55 can’t sneak onto the grounds and go swimming in their pool or play shuffleboard on their court. Very exclusive.

The sidewalks and golf cart paths meander everywhere. The only problem is that they look very much alike. Tom thinks that maybe the sidewalks are six inches narrower, so after walking on what we thought was a sidewalk and being told in no uncertain terms by a man on a golf cart that “it is illegal” to walk where we were walking, we are understandably a little skittish.

The Pied Piper has gone through this community and taken all the children and rats. Everything is very beautiful. The houses are beautiful, the yards are beautiful, the golf courses are beautiful . . . in a Stepford Wives kind of way. The rules are there, I know, to prevent the kinds of problems that people had with their neighbors back in their pre-retirement lives—hot rodding teenagers, barking and unleashed dogs, people who don’t take care of their yards, etc. In the meantime, Tom and I are cautiously feeling our way around, trying not to break the rules, here at the Pebble Creek Maximum Security Facility for Senior Citizens.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


I'm experiencing a huge amount of culture shock. Two months ago, I was a hard-working teacher, setting my alarm for 5 a.m., worrying about whether or not I was ready for my 8 a.m. class. Every morning,I left my three-bedroom rambler with its shabby carpet and 1980s wallpaper, got into my ten-year-old Buick with 180,000 miles on it, wondering if the streets were icy and if the predictions of three inches of snow would actually come to pass.

This morning, I am in our rented house on the 9th hole of the Pebble Creek golf course in Goodyear, Arizona, and it's supposed to get into the mid-80s today. The greensman just went by my patio, mowing the grass, getting ready for a busy Sunday on the golf course. I am securely locked into a gated community where no one is granted entrance unless they have the proper credentials. The community is a maze of cul-de-sacs; the map looks like a paint-by-number picture. I have no idea where I am, so even if I took the car keys, I wouldn't know where to go.

The only thing I know for sure is that my granddaughter is approximately three miles away. If I should feel the urge, I can just call up my son and his wife and say, "May I come and give Colbie a hug?" Chances are very good that they will let me. Yesterday, she smiled at me five times, even though she definitely prefers her mom.
I am still tiptoeing uncomfortably around the rented house, even though we stayed in it for the first time last night. To say that it is twenty times more elaborate than our house in Alexandria would not be an exaggeration. I am trying to figure out the light switches, the "activity remote control," the stove that looks like a spaceship, and the three pages of instructions on how to operate all the technology. I am also trying to understand how much money you would have to have to paint the inside of the garage chocolate brown and put in crown molding and baseboard (really!!). I do think about starving children when I look at some of the extravagant features of the house.
My comfort level is a little shaky right now; I believe a stranger might say I have a "deer in the headlights" look. I've put a couple of pictures below: one is inside the house and the other is out on the patio, looking out over the golf course. Hopefully my adjustment period will be quick. After all, we've already paid the rent, so I might as well enjoy all this opulence!

Formal Dining Room and Kitchen

View from the Patio (this is half of the patio!)