Monday, August 31, 2009


On Sunday afternoon, the fishing Frenchman took me out on Lake Miltona, north of Alexandria. This, of course, was after I said in an earlier blog that he never took me out on his boat.

Temperature: 72 degrees.
Wind: calm.
Water: like glass.
Walleye: not biting.

But sometimes that doesn’t matter.

It gives you time to contemplate the sky and the clouds . . .

. . . and your hand.

And it gives you time to reflect that it’s the end of August, so summer is almost over.

Every fall for the past 32 years, my stomach was in knots every Sunday night: Am I ready for my classes on Monday morning? Are my lesson plans ready for the week? Are all those stacks of papers I brought home on Friday graded?

Except that since I'm a newly retired teacher, summer being over is not as traumatic as it was a year ago. The knots in my stomach aren't there any more--I guess they're somewhere at the bottom of Lake Miltona.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


(One more entry about Poppy, the foster cat, and then I’ll never mention her name again. Maybe.)

“Au revoir, mon Poppy!” I’m saying it in French because I don’t want Poppy, the foster cat, to understand what I'm saying and get upset (she only speaks Latin and Spanish).

It’s moving day for Poppy. She’s leaving our bucolic, West Central Minnesota home that she’s lived in for two years to start a new life in a pet-friendly community apartment complex in the big city.

She uses her extrasensory cat perception to realize something is going on and tries to make a break for it.
From small-town cat to big-city cat in one short drive down I-94.

I’m a little worried about her: Will those punk cats from inner city domestic short-hair gangs try to force her to join? Will they make fun of her pink collar and pressure her to get her tongue pierced?

Will she get lost (like I do) as she tries to maneuver her way around the confusing streets of Minnetonka?

Will she get mixed up with the wrong crowd?

Will she adjust to living with a working woman with a busy social life after living with two old retired farts with nothing better to do than open the doors for her?

Will she understand that she can’t shred the carpet because her new home is a rental? Will she be able to breathe in that smoggy city air? Will she remember to come home at night? Will she eat healthy food? Is the water in the city safe to drink?

Désolé, vous ne pouvez pas revenir, mon Poppy.

I believe I took more pictures of Poppy leaving than I did when our children left for college. Or kindgergarten. Pathetic.

Friday, August 28, 2009


On June 26, 2008, I wrote an entry about Poppy, my daughter’s cat, who came to stay with us on a temporary foster-care basis in August of 2007. It is now August of 2009, and my daughter is finally coming home this weekend to pick up her cat.

It gives new meaning to the term “temporary.”

Poppy loves living with Tom and me because we are retired people who let her in and out, in and out, all day long. After two years, she finally has us very well trained.

But she will also love her new home because it has a door that leads directly outside, a front step to hide under (complete with a skittish chipmunk), and a huge evergreen tree with floppy branches all the way to the ground. Poppy loves a good evergreen tree where she can set up base camp for her life of feline espionage: crouching, spying, and pouncing.

In the past two years of foster care at our house, Tom and I have figured out her little cat personality:

1. Poppy likes to be scratched on her head and ears. But do not, I repeat, DO NOT touch her hind quarters. Bad things happen to the scratcher who tries to scratch Poppy’s hind quarters. We believe she may have had a traumatic hind-quarter experience as a kitten and could have benefited from counseling and medication at the time. Now we just like to think of it as part of her quirky personality.

Just the head, please--a little to the right.

2. If you are a neighbor cat, you are NOT welcome on our deck after dark. Poppy has a loud, eerie yowl to warn a strange cat away from her territory (and also scare the crap out of the human beings within earshot). Poppy has her own personal neighborhood watch: no strange cats allowed. And that means you, buster.

Poppy's Lonely Vigil on Night Watch

3. If you are Hobie, the permanent, rightful cat resident at our house, expect to be harassed. Frequently.

“Wazzzuuuuuup? Yo, where’s your sense of humor, homie?”

4. If there is a carpet in front of a closed door, Poppy believes it is possible to tunnel a hole through the carpet and under the door. After two years of never actually tunneling out, she still believes it might be possible—a cockeyed optimist. Her proof: the carpet is definitely much thinner than it was two years ago.

5. Sometimes, it just feels good to curl up on a pillow, a bed, or somebody’s 98.6 degree lap. If the lap belongs to the friendly little Frenchman who says he doesn’t like cats, all the better.

So on Sunday, we’ll be packing Poppy into her little pet carrier and sending her off with her rightful owner. She’ll miss having two well-trained retirees at her beck and call (cats are a little narcissistic—all about numero uno). She’ll probably even miss grumpy old Hobie, although not necessarily on an emotional level. Rather on an entertainment level.

Don’t tell my daughter, but Tom and I will probably miss Poppy a little, too.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


My dad’s family got its start on June 21, 1911, with the marriage of the two people pictured below: his parents and my grandparents, Albert and Olga.

Albert and Olga’s Wedding Day, June 21, 1911

Fast forward to the mid-1930s. When the picture below was taken, Albert and Olga had raised six children, including my dad, Elmer:

Front row (left to right): Albert, Sr. (1885 - 1970), Albert, Jr./Al (b. 1927), Olga (1888 - 1998).
Back row: Eunice (1913 – 2007), Alice (b. 1919), Elmer (b. 1917) Mabel (1912 – 2008), and Mildred (b. 1922).

Those six children all married and had a total of 29 children. Last Saturday, we gathered for a “cousin reunion," which 21 of the 29 cousins (Albert and Olga’s grandchildren) as well as many of their spouses were able to attend. Three of Albert and Olga’s children (Alice, Mildred, Al) and their spouses were also there. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so I am inserting a “substitute” family reunion picture in here.

Notice: This substitute picture of someone else’s 1962 family reunion will remain here until somebody sends me a real picture of our 2009 cousin reunion.

Earlier in the summer, on August 2, just the “Elmer” branch of the family got together for a reunion (including Elmer’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, plus the spouses) for a total of 60 people:
Elmer and Lena’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and spouses, August 2009

Old question, “How many Norwegians does it take to change a light bulb?”

New question: “How many Norwegians does it take to create a family that grew to well over 200 people from 1911 to 2009?”

The answer is 2.

Way to go, Albert and Olga! Never underestimate the power of lutefisk and lefse!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SIGH . . .

Do you remember how my previous master home decorating plan was to just wait until Tom and I were going to sell our house in the year 2039 when we went to the nursing home, and then redecorate in the décor fashion of the day so the house would sell?

And do you remember when I wrote about the decorating intervention my daughters performed on me in June? (See July 25 entry, "Intervention")?

And do you remember the hours and hours we spent on ladders, scraping wallpaper off the walls of the kitchen, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms? Hours and hours—some of the wallpaper coming off in tiny, slimy pieces that responded only to brute strength and foul language?

And do you remember how we now have painted just about every wall in our house, completely eradicating the out-of-date 1986 wallpaper?

Do you remember?

Check out Friday’s headline in the “Life” section of our newspaper:


I should have stuck with the 2039 plan.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I keep forgetting it’s there—just a few miles north of my house. I’ve even got a state park sticker in the lower right-hand corner of my windshield, so you’d think it would be a constant reminder. Sometimes it’s just easier to put on my walking shoes and trek a few miles around the neighborhood or trot three blocks over to the Central Lakes Trail. But yesterday, Tom and I had an empty calendar for a change, so we drove to Carlos State Park, about ten miles north of Alexandria.

It was a cool day—never got over 70 degrees. And it was a Friday afternoon, so it was still pretty quiet since all the weekend campers hadn’t shown up in full force yet. But Carlos State Park was as beautiful as ever. We decided to stick to walking in the open areas next to the lake because at this time of the year, on the trails through the woods, the bugs outnumber humans about 87 billion to 1.

I brought my camera, and here’s what we saw:

One of the many docks at the park.

The trail between the campground and the swimming beach.

Hidden Lake Group Camp (unoccupied at the moment so we window-peeped).

Campers already congregating for the weekend.

Beach next to the public landing.

Boats rigged out for a weekend of boating on Lake Carlos.

Swimming beach and volleyball court (a little cool for swimming today).

Tom all tuckered out after an hour-long hike.

By today, Saturday, the park will be buzzing with people; but on Monday, it will have quieted down again. And now that I’m retired, on those weekdays after Labor Day, I can practically have the park to myself. I may have not taken full advantage of living so close to Carlos State Park all summer; but this fall, I can spend some of the golden days of autumn hiking its winding trails and reading a book on a bench by the beach.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Back in 1988 during a presidential debate, Dan Quayle , one of the candidates, made a comment in which he compared himself to John F. Kennedy. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, his opponent, interrupted disdainfully, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Since then, it’s become a phrase that serves to humble politicians with over-inflated egos.

Now we can put a new twist on that old saying: “Buddy (fill in the name), you’re no Andy Warhol.”

Back in 1974, the controversial artist Andy Warhol was getting ready to move his art studio from one location to another. Being an over-the-top pack rat, he became overwhelmed with sorting. He had saved everything in his life that had to do with his art, the people he knew, the social climate he lived in, souvenirs, newspaper clippings, post cards, letters . . . you name it—he had kept it. And he knew that as an artist famous in his own time, all of these treasures had value. Some day there would be an Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that would actually be interested in all the banana peelings and photo booth snapshots he had saved over the years.

So in 1974, at the suggestion of a friend, Andy Warhol bought uniform-sized cardboard boxes, dumped all the stuff from his studio into them, sealed them up, and sent them to a storage facility in New Jersey. After that, he kept an open cardboard box in his studio into which he would toss any object he couldn’t bear to throw away. At the end of every month, he would close up the cardboard box, seal it, and send it to that storage facility in New Jersey. When he died in 1987, he had accumulated 610 cardboard-box “Time Capsules." In addition, at the time of his death, his four-story townhouse in Manhattan was crammed to the rafters with more “treasures” that he could not bear to throw.

Archivists are now in the process of going through the boxes and sorting the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some must be thrown (a moldy piece of wedding cake from Caroline Kennedy’s wedding or oozing, unopened cans of soup) while some are priceless mementos. The archivists, clad in white smocks and latex gloves, reverently sort through the boxes, inventorying and preserving their contents.

But that’s Andy Warhol. He was a famous artist. His “Time Capsule” cardboard boxes are worth millions.

Which leads me to the rest of us:

The boxes and stacks in the closets, basements, garages, and corners of our houses are not worth millions. Archivists in white smocks and latex gloves will not be reverently sorting through our belongings when we die. Our archivists will be whatever poor shmuck relative gets stuck with the job of going through our piles of crap. There is no museum in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, with our name on it that is dying to see what oddities we’ve collected over the years. We weren’t invited to Caroline Kennedy’s wedding and don’t have a piece of her cake in a cardboard box in a storage facility in New Jersey.

So rent a dumpster. Get the telephone number of Goodwill. Find out when the local church is having a rummage sale. Figure out how to use Craig’s List and E-Bay. Especially if you happen to love your poor schmuck relatives who will have to sort through your mess.

We’re no Andy Warhol.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


(Another story from the nursing home, told by my 92-year-old father and 90-year-old mother.)

My father lived at home and worked for his father on the farm until he got married in 1941 at the age of 24. During that time, he was never paid any wages. Up until he got married, whenever he needed money, he had to go to his father, ask for the money, and tell his father what the money was for. Or if he wanted to go somewhere, my dad had to ask to borrow his father's car.

Finally, in the winter of 1941, when he was engaged to be married in June, my dad's father bought him his very first car. My dad was really proud of that car--a 1941 Ford that cost $695 plus $15 for a heater and defroster. The total cost: $710 because they didn't charge sales tax back then. My dad is still very clear on those figures--68 years later!

His father Albert told my dad it was his "pay" for working on the farm all those years. My dad kind of chuckled when he told me that. He said he thought his dad had gotten a pretty good deal since he had gotten a lot of free labor out of him in his 23 years.

My mother remembered the first day my dad had the car. She was teaching school in a one-room schoolhouse north of Carlisle (District 111), and she remembers the day because it was one of the most embarassing times of their courtship for her. It had been a bitterly cold morning, and when she left her aunt's house (where she boarded while she taught) to walk to school, her aunt had insisted that my mother's cloth coat was not warm enough for the freezing walk to the schoolhouse. So her aunt had gone to the closet and pulled out an old-fashioned, ugly, thick wool coat with a ratty fur collar that belonged to her and insisted that my mother wear it to walk across the fields to the school.

Wouldn't you know--that was the day my dad got his new car and drove up to the school at the end of the day to show off the new car and take my mother for a ride. She was so embarassed, wearing her aunt's dumpy old coat.

My dad reassured her that he was so busy looking at his new car that he didn't notice what coat she was wearing!

The 1941 Ford was the car that they drove when they left for their honeymoon in Duluth after their June 13, 1941, wedding--all decorated for the day by family and friends. As a child, I remember seeing this picture and being amazed that the very proper woman I knew as my mother could ever be referred to as "Leapin' Lena!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


You've heard the old saying about the doctor's kids never getting medical attention and the cobbler's family going shoeless. Let me tell you that it's pretty much the same with a walleye fisherman--his wife never gets a boat ride.

On Monday, after much whining on my part (yes, I know how to whine), Tom suggested that we go fishing on Lake Miltona on Monday evening. However, the wind was blowing with gale force (23 mph with gusts to 33 mph), so the trip was scrapped. On Tuesday, the wind was still too gusty to fish on Lake Miltona where the fish are reportedly biting. But after I mentioned several times that both the summer and I were not getting any younger, we went to Plan B: Lake Ida.

When I say Tom took me fishing, I use the term "fishing" very loosely. I never catch anything. So fishing for me mostly consists of sitting in my end of the boat, holding a rod in my hand, admiring the scenery. Even my leech at the end of my hook senses that I'm really not expecting to catch anything as it dozes half-heartedly next to my spinner.

Every once in awhile, Tom decided to move to another spot on the lake where the fish also were not biting (there is always hope). As he whipped the boat into motion and sped across the lake to a secret sunken island or some other favorite spot, I sat smiling like a dog with its head out the pickup truck window, glorying in the wind, the water, and the sensation.

I know why people like to go fishing. When I'm out on Lake Ida at sunset, there is no economic recession, no global warming, no town hall meetings arguing health care reform, no bills to pay, no worries about aging parents. There's nothing but peace and tranquility. We saw 26 loons and a sunset that would knock your socks off.

Tom would rather catch fish, so I suppose our empty live well last night was another confirmation that a guy just shouldn't take his wife out fishing with him unless she's really committed to catching fish. However, I can still close my eyes and see that beautiful sunset and hear the sounds of those loons across the water. And for three hours, it didn't matter if Bret Favre signed with the Vikings or if Barak Obama was compromising with the Republicans on health care or if Brittany Spears lost 20 pounds in 4 weeks. It's called "Lake Ida Therapy," and it's cheaper than a psychiatrist.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


A couple of months ago, I read "'Tis," the followup book to Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize winning "Angela's Ashes." Then coincidentally, in July, Frank McCourt died at the age of 78. (I don't believe that my reading his book actually had anything to do with his death. Like I said, it was just a coincidence.)

It had been years since I read "Angela's Ashes," so I watched the movie last night (released in 1999, so it was an old one). I decided it would be my own last tribute to the great Frank McCourt.

The movie is especially meaningful since the U.S. is in the middle of an economic crisis. But after watching "Angela's Ashes," there's a whole new meaning to the complaints, "There's nothing to eat!" or "I don't have a thing to wear." Limmerick, Ireland, in the 1930s and 1940s was a pretty grim place for a kid to grow up. Luckily, McCourt was able to find humor even in the darkest of situations--and you can't beat an Irish accent for delivering humor.

Watching "Angela's Ashes" in my air-conditioned living room (with a kitchen full of food and a closet full of clean clothes) was a great way to spend a hot, humid Friday night.

Friday, August 14, 2009


I don’t know the year my four sisters and I started a Round Robin letter, maybe back in the mid-1980s or so. But in the spring of 1991, 18 years ago, I began saving my letters.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term ‘Round Robin,’ in my family, we use it to describe our family correspondence. Every time the fat-enveloped Round Robin comes to my house, I take out the letter I wrote previously, add a new letter with the new news, and then send the pack of letters on to my sister Laurie (who writes a letter and sends it on to another sister, etc.). It’s how we stay caught up with family news. A few years ago, we added my brother and mother to the Round Robin rotation, so now there are seven letters making the rounds.

In 1991, I was about to throw away my old letter as I added my new letter like I always did, but impulsively decided to save it. After that, I started keeping all my letters in a notebook. This morning I counted my Round Robin letters and found that I have 84 letters, a running commentary on the comings and goings of my family during the past 18 years.

The first letter, dated in the spring of 1991, catches my now-grown children in 4th, 5th, and 9th grades. I wrote this about my youngest daughter, who is currently an elementary teacher in Casa Grande, Arizona: “Her favorite thing is to play with her dolls. She is playing ball and taking swimming lessons this summer, not because she particularly wants to, but because she can’t play dolls continually. She wants to be a pediatric nurse when she grows up for two reasons: 1) she just learned how to pronounce it, and 2) she thinks it might be kind of like playing with dolls.”

In 1991, my middle daughter, who is currently a school social worker in the Mound/Westonka School District, was having a spectacular year in 5th grade, gaining confidence and maturity: “Her teacher this year is a wonderful, creative woman who made Shannon blossom. I love it when the kids have years like that.” Unfortunately, that 1991 comment jinxed something because a Round Robin letter in 1992 tells about Shannon’s 6th grade teacher-from-hell. If I remember right, the teacher was fired (or quit) sometime in the middle of the school year.

A letter in January1997, tells about when our son Ryan, who is currently an Air Force fighter pilot, traveled through blizzard conditions in both Minnesota and Colorado to return to the Air Force Academy after Christmas break. I wrote in the Round Robin: “He has started flying now this semester (one of his eight classes!!) in a T-3 trainer plane. The email we got the day he flew for the first time was the happiest email he has sent home in 2 ½ years [at the Academy]. It was worth the pain!”

In the spring of 1991 (and every spring, for that matter), Tom had just gotten back from Baudette, Minnesota, where he and eight other men had been fishing over opening weekend (some things never change). And I was finishing up teaching spring term and was enrolled in 12 credits of summer school in a master’s program. No summer tan that year.

When I read through those Round Robin letters, I can’t imagine how we managed to get everything done. I suppose we were younger and more energetic—and maybe there were more hours in the day back then, more days in the week.

I don’t know what will eventually happen to all these Round Robin letters. I suppose my sisters, brother, mother, and I will keep writing them until we’re all too old to hold a pen or type the words on our computer keyboards.

And someday, I imagine my kids will be stuck with sorting through my ‘treasures,’ asking each other, “Why in the world did she save all this junk?!?”

Monday, August 10, 2009


Several months ago, I was told that if I thoughtfully listen to my “inner voice,” it will give me direction in my life. So I began to listen. Very carefully.

I heard nothing.

I listened harder, but I still heard nothing.

Given my multiple talents and expensive Ivy League college education, I fully expected my inner voice would say something profound: “Bring peace to the world!” “Save the children!” “Solve the economic crisis!” “Spread the Gospel!”

But when I finally heard my tiny inner voice, I realized that it was telling me to pick up garbage.

It’s true. Every day, when I go out for a two- to four-mile walk, I pass discarded pop cans, beer bottles, fast food wrappers, shopping flyers, and empty cigarette packs lying in the street gutters or in the grass along the walking path. Most of the time, I don’t even need to bring a bag from home to collect it in because I also regularly walk past plastic grocery bags, either blowing in the wind or caught on tree branches.

The inner voice very firmly says, “Pick up the plastic grocery bag and fill it with litter.” So I do—soft drink cups, plastic lids, straws, candy wrappers, cellophane, empty firecracker cartridges, cardboard, aluminum siding, pink insulation and cardboard blown from a nearby construction site.

I have started picking up everything I see along my two- to four-mile routes. On Saturday, I found hot pink lace underwear in the middle of Seventh Avenue. Someone had a much more exciting Friday night than I did. Since it wasn’t my size, I just threw it in the bag with the rest of the trash.

If I pass a garbage can along the trail or in a park, I dump my bulging sack. ‘There,’ I think, ‘done!’ But then I’ll see another plastic grocery bag snagged on a bush, and I have to start my litter pick up again.

This Morning's Finds

That inner voice keeps nagging, “Pick up the garbage.” So I do.

Someone else’s inner voice will have to tell them to save the whales or stop global warming. For whatever reason, I was just assigned one of the humble jobs.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


As soon as I got up yesterday morning, I noticed the difference. Instead of having cool, dry air from Canada, the jet stream had shifted and we were getting that drippy, gooey Gulf of Mexico air. A humid mist hung across my back yard. The air was thick and heavy, and the leaves hung limply from the trees.

I knew right then it was going to be a bad hair day.

Even on a low humidity day, my hair has a mind of its own. My hair is a direct gift from some lumpy-haired Norwegian foremother—thick, sturdy hair genetically designed to be tied back into a practical bun while hoeing a potato field in Norway. It was never intended to be worn in some modern sleek, silky cascade or a tousle-haired flow. My hair was intended to provide warmth in a cold, Arctic Circle climate, kind of like a worsted wool knitted cap, perched on top of my head. It was never designed for beauty; it is thick, lumpy, utilitarian hair.

I’ve never been good with hair appliances. It seems like I don’t have enough hands to manage all the maneuvering that need to be done simultaneously. “Straighten your hair,” I am advised. “Round brush your hair,” someone else says. Fluff it or smoosh it or crisp it or fry it . . . it doesn’t make any difference. I never have enough hands and it always ends up looking the same. And throw in a little humidity—oofda feeda (the only Norwegian swear words I know). It’s Larry from the Three Stooges, it’s Albert Einstein, it’s Danny DeVito—all three of their hairdos rolled into one.

My sympathies, Albert. I know how you feel.

I went for a three-mile walk in that humid afternoon, and when I came home, my hair had turned feral—like some wild animal with its paw in an electrical outlet, perched on my head. Like Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap on methamphetamines. I went the rest of the day with three hair bands holding it in place, like little lassos roping a wild mustang. I was afraid if I took them out, my hair would frizz out and knock pictures off the wall.

I’m not normally a vain person, but I may have to cancel all social engagements until the weather changes and we get some more of that nice, dry Canadian air. You know, the fair hair air.

Friday, August 07, 2009


I keep finding Happy Baby Organic Banana Puffs stuck around my house in odd places—in the crack between the couch cushions or in the folds of a towel in the laundry pile. Those fluffy, tasteless little puffs stick to everything.

I am still finding brightly colored plastic donuts from the Rock-a-Stack—in my purse, under the couch, in the back seat of the car. Colbie really liked those plastic donuts—especially the green and blue ones.

I’ve folded up the high chair, put away the bibs, collapsed the stroller, washed the sheet for the Pack-and-Play portable crib. I found the three little books I tried to read to her one day, but she just wanted to eat them (lending new meaning to the term “this is a really good book”). She especially loved “Go Dog Go.”

Whenever I hear a noise, I momentarily think, “Oh, Colbie’s awake,” until I remember she’s not here anymore and the noise is really just a cat wanting to come inside or a dove coo through the open window--or maybe Tom scratching himself.

It seems like every time I turn around, there’s a reminder that Colbie is back in Arizona and I’m back to being a civilian again—an off-duty grandmother.

Withdrawal—grandbaby withdrawal. I’m not exactly in a fetal position, but it’s darn close.