Monday, November 30, 2009


I should know better than to go walking in Carlos State Park by myself. But it was 45 degrees out today and the sun was shining. I wanted to walk at least one more time in the park before it snowed again.

But I get a little turned around—all those twisty paths and spaghetti junctions where several paths meet. And the “You are Here” signs with a red dot in the middle of the spaghetti don’t seem to help me a bit. Arrows? Some point straight up at the sky. Others point off into the trees where there is no path at all.

I know as long as I stay on a path, I’ll end up somewhere. At least there aren’t any mosquitos.

I think my mistake today was taking a path that had a picture of a horse on it instead of a hiker. The horse path seemed to be going the right direction while the hiker path was counter-intuitive. In retrospect, I should have known that if I'm directionally challenged, counter-intuitive feelings should be ignored.

I knew that I had started my hike walking west. The afternoon sun had been in my eyes and the 15-mile-an-hour west wind was in my face. I remembered that much.

I knew I had circled north (right) at one point.

After a mile or two of north, the path kind of curved and split—and then the wind was on my back. Heading east, right?

It was when the path went four different directions that I got confused. So I took the horse path and ended up someplace that didn’t look familiar at all. And there were no people. I didn’t even see a horse.
I had to double back once when a path I decided to take led nowhere.

I hadn’t quite expected to be out in the prairie like this. Hmmm . . .

Man, there just isn’t anybody out here today. Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Anybody? Guess everybody must be at work.

What was that noise off to the right?!? If you meet a cougar, are you supposed to lie down and play dead or do you wave your arms wildly to scare it off? I can never remember.

Just head south-ish. South-ish should be right. But south-ish leads back into the woods . . .

Yes, a road. I knew there'd be a road. Where there’s a road, there’s civilization. Where there’s civilization, there’s got to be a parking lot. Where there’s a parking lot, there’s got to be my car. Somewhere. Out there.

Oh, how embarrassing. I had circled all the way around the park and back to the park entrance. It was probably only about three miles in all. It just seems longer when you’re not 100 percent sure where you’re going.

I was never worried. Ha, ha. I sorta kinda knew where I was, as the crow flies, the whole time. After all, the park is only 1,236 acres. How lost could I get?

I was sure glad to see my car.


I’ve been spending a lot of time lately putting together Tom’s family tree. It was last done in 1988 and, because they are such a prolific family, the tree was missing a few people—only about 110, give or take.

I’m not going to go into detail about his huge French Canadian family, but there was one item in his w-a-a-ay-back family tree that I found very interesting. It turns out that my children’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmothers on both Tom's mother's side of the family and his father's side, Marguerite Éloy and Jeanne LeGendre, were Fille du Roi from France. Translated, that means they were both a “daughter of the king.”

Don’t get excited—my kids are not related to Louis XIV of France.

However, Louis XIV had a lot to do with their being here today.

My childrens’ great-great (times 13) grandfathers, Jean Cosset [sic] and Claude Sauvageot [sic], came to Quebec, Canada (New France) around 1667. At that time, most of the settlers in New France fell into one of several categories: traders, storekeepers, workmen, indentured servants, dockhands, soldiers, seamen and clerics. It is not known what Claude first did for a living (most likely farmed). But Jean Cosset was an indentured servant who had agreed to work for three years for a man named M. Bertrand Chesnay to pay for his ship passage and living costs in Quebec. After three years, he would be free to claim land of his own in the colony.

In Quebec, Canada, in 1667, the men outnumbered women 6 to 1. Back in France, King Louis XIV was desperate to populate his new colony in Quebec. So he hatched a plan to send several hundred single young French women to New France to provide wives for the colonists. Of the 700-800 women who made the trip to Quebec between 1663 and 1673, 110 young women from Normandy, France, made the trip including a girl named Marguerite Éloy. Another girl, Jeanne LeGendre, came from another unnamed area in France.

The women were housed in lodges or convents under the supervision of directors (often nuns) where suitors could come and be interviewed by the girls. Usually girls (most were between the ages of 18 and 32) were married within five months of arrival. Incentives such as livestock and household goods were given to couples at the time of their marriage, and additional incentives were given for large families of over 12 children.

So in my children’s past lies two brave great (X 13) grandmothers who left France at the request of Louis XIV in 1667, booked passage on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean, and landed in a wild, unsettled Canadian colony where they married men they haad only known for only a short time. Together Jean and Marguerite Cosset had seven children and Claude and Jeanne had three.

I always knew my kids had an adventurous streak; now I know at least some of those genes come from Marguerite Éloy and Jeanne LeGendre, two of Le Fille du Roi, the King’s Daughters.

Sources:,, & King's Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi, 1663-1673 by: Peter J. Gagné.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


As Theresa Bloomingdale said, "If your baby's ‘beautiful and perfect, never cries or fusses, sleeps on schedule and burps on demand, an angel all the time,’ you're the grandma.”

And I am the grandma. Not only once:

World Wrestling diva, The Ravishing Miss Colbie, and her smackdown partner, Tally

Not only twice:

Miss Colbie’s perfectly healthy tag-team partner, due May 2010

But three times!

J9 and Casey’s perfectly healthy baby, due June 1, 2010

“A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for,” says the oft-quoted anonymous who obviously knows what he or she is talking about.

I’m inexplicably drawn to quotes about babies these days.

I also find myself humming song lyrics that can be changed to be about babies. Feel free to sing out loud (change ‘men’ to ‘babies’): “It’s raining babies! Halleluiah! It’s raining babies! Amen!”

Lists of baby names have suddenly become fascinating: Aubrey, Sophia, Isabella, Olivia, Eleanor, Avery, Eli, Connor, Holden, Simon, Parker, Miller, Harrison . . . Oy vey, makes my head spin.

Luckily, the grandmothers don’t have to name the babies. Way too much pressure. I think there are more names to pick from now than there used to be, and I can’t pronounce most of them: SanDella, Fallala, Nailaj . . . No, it’s lucky my baby-naming days are over.

Circle of life: two aging parents, Hobie in Cat Heaven, and to balance it all out—three grandbabies! Halleluiah!

Monday, November 23, 2009

R.I.P. HOBIE: December 1996 - November 2009

She made sure we all got up at the crack of dawn for 13 years. Our kitty alarm clock. But she wasn't feeling well any more--poor sick kitty. Tough day at our house.

Friday, November 20, 2009


I went for a ride to the clinic with my dad yesterday. These days, in order to go for a ride, we have to arrange for a van with a wheelchair lift. He likes the lift—“Hydraulics,” he explained to me as it raised him into the air. He’s still trying to teach me what’s what.

I sat in a seat behind him on the van and looked at the back of his capped head. I thought of another time I’d ridden in the seat behind my dad—back in 1952, I think, give or take a year.

I was little—maybe around four years old—and we had been driving home after dark from Fergus Falls one summer night. My mom thought she remembered we had been to see fireworks. My mom remembers she was in the back seat with a pile of five half-sleeping kids, and my dad was in the front seat driving our 1951 Ford sedan.

Our 1951 Ford

My dad put on the blinker and slowed down to make a left turn off Highway 59 onto the gravel road that led around the slough and home. A car that had been following close behind suddenly decided to pass us, just as my dad started his left-hand turn. Luckily, both cars had slowed way down. All I remember of the crash was that my dad’s head snapped backwards and his hat flew into the back seat.

My dad remembers that he got out of the car right away, and once he saw that his family was unhurt, walked back to the other car. As he approached the driver’s window, the driver was popping his glass eye back into its socket. My dad didn’t know if the glass eye had popped out on impact, or if the driver hadn’t been wearing it to begin with (not that the glass eye would have helped avoid the accident).

As soon as he started talking to the other driver, my dad could tell the man was drunk. We had been creamed by a one-eyed, drunk driver. This was before cell phones, of course, so we were all alone out there in the country. Luckily both cars were still drivable (our car had a damaged fender).

The other driver drunkenly insisted that we both turn around and go back to the Court House in Fergus Falls (that’s where the sheriff’s office was) to report the accident. Evidently, in his drunken state, he believed that the accident was my dad’s fault. My dad was happy to comply, knowing that the other driver was in the wrong.

My mom said that her neck hurt for months after that. When I explained that today, that would mean whiplash, lawsuits, insurance companies, and disability claims, she just looked at me blankly. Back in 1953, it just meant your neck hurt.

Even though the accident was 56 years ago, my dad still remembers the man’s name, but I don’t think I’ll put the name in this story. The man passed away in 1968, but his elderly wife and children still live in the area. Maybe they don’t know what their one-eyed drunken father/husband did back in 1953. It’s not something the average man wants to tell his children. Or maybe even his wife. Chances are, he probably just had to sleep it off in a jail cell over night like Otis, the town drunk from The Andy Griffith Show, used to do back in the 1950s. The laws and public perception of drunk driving were completely different back then.

And that’s the way my mind wanders as I go riding with my dad these days, looking at the back of his head, driving through the countryside.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I think I’ve discovered what Tom does to supplement his retirement pension.

He says he is going off to work at the local Food Shelf or volunteer at the VA Clinic. He says he is going off to referee football games or provide radio color for the high school hockey teams. He says he’s going fishing. He says he’s going biking. He says he’s going for a cup of coffee at a friend’s house.

Naively, I believed all those stories he told me until I read the comics page in yesterday’s newspaper.

Now I think that secretly, on the side, he has a little studio somewhere, complete with sharpened No. 2 pencils and a 64-crayon Crayola box, where he draws The Lockhorns cartoon.

That’s what I think.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Last year, I turned the big 6-0. My birthday stretched across several days and included a surprise party, flowers, three cakes, 50+ cards, and people singing the “Happy Birthday” song everywhere I went. I was the queen.

It’s only one year later, and how quickly the mighty have fallen.

It was my birthday again in October—the not-so-big 6-1. I was determined to be prepared. After the hullabaloo of last year, I was bracing myself for all the possible festivities.

I got up around 6 a.m. and started out the day with my coffee and crossword puzzle as usual. All of a sudden, I heard a huge THUD. 'What?? Was that a van door slamming? The flower delivery van already???’ I leapt to my feet, anxious to get to the door to collect the bouquet. Roses? A fall arrangement of mums? That’s when I noticed the desperately thrashing robin on the deck.

The THUD has been a kamikaze robin, smashing into my sliding glass door. I hurried over to the deck where it had fallen and watched it writhe around convulsively, fluttering, flapping, spinning and reeling. I am so bad at medical emergencies—what does one do for robin traumatic head injuries? Luckily, the bird settled down within a few minutes and flopped down onto the ground to do a little concussion recovery under the deck.

After an hour or two, I gave up my vigil of waiting for the florist’s truck and went for a walk on the trail. Nobody—and I mean nobody—was out walking on the trail that morning. It was one of those eerily quiet, too quiet, walks. Strangely silent. But because it was my birthday, I braced myself for the inevitable friends and relatives jumping out and yelling “Surprise!” at every bend in the trail. It became one of those jumpy walks where I kept looking over my shoulder and peering ahead around the corners. But I made it home without any surprise party trail ambushes.

That afternoon, Tom and I drove down to St. John’s University for a football game. We do it every year. However, this year we came during halftime so we didn’t have to pay to get in (ah, retired people—our cheapness is only topped by our miserliness which is only eclipsed by our tightfistedness).

When we arrived at the football game, the marching band on the field was getting ready to spell something out—H-A-P . . . could it be? H-A-P-P-Y. Oh, how embarrassing! Tom, you shouldn’t have! H-A-P-P-Y F-A-M-I-L-Y W-E-E-K-E-N-D! Oh, right. Family weekend. Heh, heh, um-hum. I knew that.

After the game, we took a walk around the campus, down by Lake Sagatagalan. No balloon-decorated pontoon full of reveling party throwers broke the calm stillness.

We also walked through the St. John’s Monastery cemetery. You should always walk around a cemetery on your birthday in case you are feeling bad about your age. Reminds you of the alternative.

We stopped for dinner at the Captain’s Table on Fairy Lake in Sauk Centre on the way back to Alexandria. We even got a window table. Since I was the one who impulsively suggested eating there, I knew there would not be 30 of my closest friends and relatives waiting to jump out. It’s always a good thing to do on your birthday—pick out the restaurant where you want to eat within a few minutes of eating there. It seriously cuts down on surprise birthday celebrations.

So be forewarned . . . your 61st birthday will likely be fairly low key. Don’t wait for flowers or surprise parties or cakes or candles or people dancing in circles around you. Don’t expect the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing the Halleluiah Chorus on your behalf. Expect a quiet little celebration with the person who has quietly celebrated the previous umpteen birthdays with you and doesn’t seem to notice that you’re not as young and cute as you used to be. That’s the guy to celebrate with.

Friday, November 13, 2009


It’s getting harder and harder to watch my 92-year-old father suffer. He’s been in a wheel chair for the past four years, and even before that, his quality of life was being eroded by that insidious enemy, Parkinson’s disease.

He was someone who worked hard all his life. At the age of 13, he was six feet tall and doing the physical work of a man. He was blessed with a good singing voice, wavy brown hair, twinkling eyees, and a sense of leadership that made others trust and respect him. He worked hard, but he always had a roof over his head, plenty to eat, a family that obeyed and loved him, and a strong faith. His life wasn’t perfect, but he had a good life.

His parents and two sisters lived to old age. He never lost a child to illness or accident. He was never rich, but he prospered through hard work and careful living. He led a successful, full life.

And now, he is suffering. Suffering quietly, but suffering.

I didn’t understand the value of this suffering until at the suggestion of another blogger (Roscommon to Imogene), I read a book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who endured years imprisoned at Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. Frankl emerged from the camps with a new vision of life, including the value of suffering. His book examines the idea of transforming tragedy to triumph. “When we are no longer able to change a situation,” he says, “. . . we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Frankl also says, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

It's incredibly hard to watch someone else’s suffering, especially when that someone is your dad. However, this suffering is not necessarily a negative part of life. It’s what a person does with that suffering—what one learns and how one grows from it, and the attitude with which one faces it.

I’m not too old to still learn a lesson from my dad.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Oh, yes I did. This afternoon. Walked ten miles.

Mile marker 140 on the Central Lakes Trail to mile marker 145 and back again. Ten miles—add ‘em up.

Eat your heart out. I’ve still got it.

Ten miles. Took me three hours, but I did it.

Sixty-one years old. It wasn't pretty.

I only took one break the whole time. At mile No. 7, a black dog wanted to be my best friend. I needed a friend about then, so I let it lick my hand and drool dog drool all over me.

I rule.

I may be old, but I can still walk ten miles.

2 to 4 a day--hah! Smashed that record.

I'm pooped.

Friday, November 06, 2009


The Wednesday headline in our local newspaper, the Echo Press, proclaimed, “Lake Carlos State Park to Remain Open During Special Deer Hunt.”

If that isn’t an out-and-out challenge, I don’t know what is.

It almost dares me to go hiking in Carlos State Park this weekend. Something about that headline just calls to me as I wallow in my retired, humdrum, mediocre life. It isn’t very often that I have an opportunity to do something that edgy, that life-threatening, that dad-gum dangerous within just a few miles of my house.

The newspaper story means that we hikers are free to roam throughout the park trails during the four days (November 7-11) that deer hunters will also be prowling to thin out the park's deer herd. The difference is, they will be armed and we will not. (Just like the movie, Human Prey.)

While the difference in armament sounds unfair, park officials tell those of us who still feel a need to hike in the park that we can even out the playing field: “Visitors should be aware of the special hunt and wear blaze orange or brightly colored clothing if they plan to recreate within the park.”

Yea, that really evens it out. Of course, it assumes that all deer hunters look before they shoot, are not color blind, don’t pull the trigger every time they see movement in the woods . . . and did not have a Bud Lite for breakfast.

But in my never-ending quest for danger, I’m planning to take a walk in the park this afternoon. Even though the hunt doesn’t start until tomorrow and technically I should be able to wear my civilian clothing one more day, I decided to dress on the cautious side.

My closet, however, is a dismal mishmash of black or gray clothing, with merry little splashes of mud brown and camouflage olive green.

Since I am too cheap to actually go buy anything blaze orange or glow-in-the-dark red, I scoured my entire house looking for the right colors. I discovered that not only is my wardrobe drab, my entire house is drab. I found only one blaze orange object and one wearable red object in the entire 1,490 square feet of my house. Using every ounce of my Norwegian ingenuity, I came up with this hiking outfit:

Wish me luck as I take what may prove to be my final 2-to-4-mile walk on the highway to the danger zone. (I mentally picture myself as Maverick and sing of Top Gun songs to give myself courage.)

I know what you’re thinking:

“Isn’t she brave?”

“I wish I had her courage.”

“That guy from Into the Wild has nothing on her.”

But be honest. Does the red hat make my head look fat?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


My subscription to Netflix continues to be my salvation on rainy days. I would ten thousand times prefer walking outside. (On second thought, make that twenty thousand times.) But sometimes, when the rain is coming down sideways, propelled by a 40 mph northwest wind, common sense tells me to go down the basement and have some quality time with my treadmill instead. That’s where the Netflix subscription comes in.

I have become a huge fan of foreign films. They work perfectly for the treadmill because with all the noise the treadmill makes, I have to run subtitles anyway. It doesn’t matter if a movie is in English or Babylonian Akkadian—I just read the dialogue on the bottom of the screen as I trudge along the conveyor belt, whittling my thighs and expanding my mind.

The latest exceptional foreign film I ran across was a movie made in Afghanistan in 2002, the first movie filmed after the Taliban government (in power from 1996 to 2001) was ousted by NATO forces.

If you can’t figure out why Barak Obama won’t just bring American troops home from Afghanistan, well, you might want to watch the movie, Osama , to understand one reason why. (Click the link to watch the movie trailer.)

I think history will show that in addition to its other evils, the Taliban’s oppression of women is every bit as immoral as the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews and America’s 200-year history of slavery. The Taliban forbids a long, long list of activities we take for granted (and enforces with punishments including arrest, torture, and death in the famous soccer stadium executions). Included in this list are major taboos for women, most importantly bans on education and employment. In addition, any public appearances by a woman must be in a traditional head-to-toe burqa, escorted by a male relative.

Osama tells the desperate story of a household of widowed women (a grandmother and mother) along with a 12-year-old daughter who, because of Taliban laws, are living in poverty and starvation. The writer/director of the film points out that women under the Taliban are not so much protected as they are repressed, powerless, and abused.

All events in this low-budget movie are based on real-life events related by newspapers and personal interviews to the Afghani writer/director, Siddiq Barmak. The “stars” in this movie are like those in Slumdog Millionaire: Afghani children found in refugee camps and the street and asked if they wanted to be in a movie.

This movie doesn’t give a black and white answer to the question of what role the United States should play in Afghanistan. But it certainly gives a face to the enemy—the Taliban—and the perverted, radical interpretation of Islam ideology that sentences women to lives of hopeless desperation.

It's surprising what you can learn on a treadmill.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


On Sunday afternoons for years, Tom has made a point of being available to watch the Vikings games. However, it was always painful for whoever watched with him. It seemed like the Vikings were always so—well, so disappointing to him. Even when they won, he’d seem disappointed by the way they won.

On Sunday, it finally hit me. The reason for all the Viking negativity over the years is that in reality, I am married to a closet Green Bay Packers fan. Stupid me—I had just been ignoring all the signs for the past 36 years.

Sign No. 1: He grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, watching the Green Bay Packers throughout his formative years. His idols were Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr, who led the Packers to two Superbowl wins in 1967 and 1968. Everybody in Fargo, North Dakota, was a Green Bay fan during the ‘60s. Everybody.

Sign No. 2: Even after Tom moved to Minnesota in 1972, he still had trouble getting fired up about the Vikings. In retrospect, Tom was just going through the motions of being a Vikings fan, mostly because we only had three television stations and the Vikings were all that were on. Sometimes he didn’t even bother to go through the motions.

Sign No. 3: In the summer of 2001, Tom and I drove from Alexandria, Minnesota, to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It should have been a pretty straight-forward trip. But no—we had to drive approximately 8 million miles out of our way so that Tom could have his picture taken in front of Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

He even talked his way past some maintenance guy so he could get his picture taken inside the empty stadium. An empty football stadium. 8 million miles out of our way.

Sign No. 4: From 1992 until 2007, when Bret Favre was the Green Bay quarterback, Tom always spoke about Favre in reverent terms. He stopped short of genuflecting when he mentioned Favre’s name, but he had a special hushed voice reserved only for Favre. He never used that tone when he talked about Fran Tarkenton (that no-good *!#) or Tommy Kramer (that worthless *^$#@) or Randall Cunningham or Daunte Culpepper or Tavaris Jackson (a series of $#@&! quarterbacks). Oh, no. That voice was saved for his very special friend, Bret Favre.

Sign No. 5: On Monday night football a couple of weeks ago, when the Vikings played the Packers, Tom seemed oddly subdued when Favre and the Vikings won. It must be how Selena and Venus Williams’ family feels when they play tennis against each other. Who do you cheer for? Favre vs. Green Bay—an emotionally wrenching event for Tom, I see now.

And finally, Sign No. 6: On Sunday night, there were a couple of minutes left in the Vikings-Packer game and dinner was ready. Everything was out of the oven and the table was set. Usually, it’s me in the kitchen calling to please come and eat, but yesterday, I was sitting on the edge of a chair in front of the TV, hoping the Vikings wouldn’t blow it in the last five minutes like they did the week before. Tom, on the other hand, was in the kitchen quietly dishing up squash and salmon. “The Packers will come out on top,” he called to me in the other room when I failed to show up for dinner.

“Typical negative Vikings fan,” I thought to myself.

And then the lightbulb went on in my head. “No, he’s not a negative Vikings fan. He’s a gosh-darn closet Green Bay Packers fan.”

Don’t ever say you can’t learn something new about the guy you’ve been living with for 36 years. Some of it’s pretty and some of it’s not. And in this case, I believe the cheesehead has finally come out of the closet.