Wednesday, December 30, 2009


For the past two nights, I have been totally alone in my house. Tom went on an ice fishing trip to Red Lake (fishing trip number 947, according to the wife calculator).

My Christmas company—my sister, my brother-in-law, my niece, my two daughters, my son-in-law—have all gone home.

I don’t even have an anti-social cat in the house to keep me company any more. (Rest in peace, little Hobie.)


I have played dominos and had pizza with my former teaching buddies.

I have cleaned the house from top to bottom.

I have washed seven loads of laundry, including three loads of sheets and two loads of towels.

I have visited my folks. Twice.

I have exchanged Tom’s Christmas gift that needed to be exchanged.

I walked on the treadmill—two miles yesterday and four miles today.

I have read my book.

I have taken down Christmas decorations.

I have watched two movies.

Man, this house seems big and empty when I’m here all alone. I keep thinking I hear the cat, but how can I hear the cat when there’s no cat and those can’t possibly be cat noises?

So I decided to send these New Year’s greetings to you--to keep my mind off the cat noises that aren't really there.

I colored these pictures myself with markers I found when I was cleaning out a drawer. I think the markers are about 100 years old. Did they make colored markers in 1909?

If you like, you can print these out and hang them on your refrigerator to make your kitchen look more festive.

I think it’s lucky I’m leaving to spend the New Year in the Twin Cities. I believe when a 61-year-old woman starts sitting at the kitchen table, coloring pictures all by herself, in an empty house full of imaginary cat noises, it’s time for a change of scenery . . .

Happy 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009


My dad’s right hand has always been smaller and weaker than his left hand. We children always thought of him as a strong man, but that right hand never looked quite right. Polio—we always knew it was caused by polio, back in the days before polio vaccinations.

Here’s the story my parents told me of the scary summer when the second-grade boys around Carlisle got sick:

It was 1924. School was out for the summer when four little second-grade boys developed flu-like symptoms. On the west side of Carlisle, little Frank was in bed with severe cramping stomach pains. His parents, Alice and Ted, were gravely concerned.

On a farm a little farther west, my mother’s brother Clifford was so ill that he was in bed. My mother remembers that her parents’ bedroom was downstairs off the living room, and the children’s bedrooms were upstairs. Her father never went upstairs. However, seven-year-old Clifford was so ill that her father went upstairs to be with him. That’s when she knew how sick her brother was, when she saw her father climbing the stairs. She was five years old at the time and still remembers it because it was so frightening. Her parents didn’t know what was wrong with Clifford, just that he was terribly ill—neck pains, back pains, headache, severe flu-like symptoms.

The mother of another second-grade boy, Orville, sent word that her son was very, very ill with these same symptoms.

And at my dad’s farm, seven-year-old Elmer was alarmingly ill.

Word spread quickly in the farm community that there was something “going around,” that several second-grade boys were very, very sick. An ice cream social planned for Hedemarken Church was cancelled. Families isolated the sick boys from the other children in their families. There was general alarm because in 1924, childhood diseases often resulted in death.

While Frank, Clifford, and Orville were treated at home, my father was having different symptoms: paralysis, high fever, severe pain. In 1924, my grandparents had four girls and one son—my dad. He was a big, strong boy, several inches taller than many of his classmates. But when Elmer was lying on his bed, struggling to breathe, his father Albert did the unusual: he scooped him up, blankets and all, put him in the backseat of his 1917 Dodge, and drove him to the doctor in Fergus Falls. Albert was afraid his only son was dying. My dad remembers the ride to Fergus—he recalls that the side curtains on the 1917 Dodge were flapping in the wind as his father drove him to the doctor.

My father’s diagnosis was “infantile paralysis,” (later known as polio myelitis), according to Dr. Baker, a physician at the clinic. The rest of that summer and all through the fall, my grandfather would drive my father to Fergus Falls for treatments. When I asked him what the treatments were, he said he remembered Nurse Sutter laying hot, wet towels all over his body. (Sister Kinney didn’t develop her famous physical therapy treatments for polio until the 1930s.)

My dad missed school all fall but rejoined his class around Christmas time. The other boys recovered from their illnesses, too. Frank and Orville escaped without any lasting effects, having a milder form of polio where the virus was confined to the intestinal tract. My mother’s brother Clifford had permanent weakness in his back and chest, and my dad’s right hand and forearm had muscle damage.

In the early part of the 20th century, the infant mortality rate was nearly twice as high as it was when I raised my children. When I brought them in for their immunizations—mumps, measles, rubella, tuberculosis, polio—I never had to worry that they would contract many of these diseases that were so common—and feared—in my parents’ day.

All I had to do was look at my father’s right hand to know how lucky we were.

Monday, December 21, 2009


It was my turn to take my mother to the doctor. My sisters and I take turns, depending upon who has a free calendar.

Taking my mother to the doctor is not nearly as much of a rigmarole as when my dad has to go in the medi-van with a hydraulic lift. We can just throw her into the front seat of the car, and away we go. (Well, in reality, it may go a little slower than that. She has only one gear these days—first gear with a sticky clutch.)

She often has a story to tell the doctor. Usually it has nothing to do with health or medical issues. He will say some innocent remark, and that reminds her of a story. Today, he wished her a happy birthday in five days (December 26). She’ll be 91. That reminded her of when she was born in 1918.

So here’s the story my mother told in the doctor’s office today:

It was December 1918, and my mother’s mother Emma was due to give birth to her sixth child, my mother. Maybe Emma, who often helped the local midwife, had seen too many things go wrong in those home deliveries. But as Emma’s due date approached, she announced to my grandfather Edward that she didn’t intend to have this baby at home like she had done with her previous five children. She was taking the train in to Fergus Falls and she was having that baby in the hospital! Period. End of discussion.

My mother’s parents, Emma and Edward

Back in 1918, when it snowed in the winter time, the roads were never plowed out. The only way to get to Fergus Falls was by train. So as the due date approached, Emma, 8¾ months pregnant, climbed on a train and took a ride to Fergus Falls. There she stayed with her sisters-in-law Inga and Thea (Edward’s sisters) until she was ready to deliver. And that’s how my mother came to be the first baby in the family to be born in a hospital instead of at home.

Edward’s two wonderful sisters, Inga and Thea, took care of Emma until she went to the hospital to give birth to my mother.

Back then, they kept the mothers in the hospital for an entire week until they recuperated enough to go home. So when my mother was a week old, Edward took the train in to Fergus Falls to accompany his wife and new baby home. Emma bundled up my mother and climbed onto the train.

“I was only a week old, and it was my second train ride,” my mother proudly told the doctor. He nodded, seemingly impressed.

Edward had arranged for his brother Ted to meet Emma, the new baby, and him at the train depot in Carlisle and bring them home. Because the roads were plugged with snow, Ted had hitched his horses to a sleigh and sat waiting as the train pulled into the depot in Carlisle. His wife Alice had sent along warmed blankets in the sleigh to wrap around the new mother and baby.

But Ted was a tease, and he couldn’t help saying with a twinkle in his eye as he helped his brother’s family into the sleigh, “A person would have to be crazy to have a baby in the winter.”
My mother’s only baby picture, age one

My mother, telling the story to the doctor today, leaned back and laughed. “And do you know, my uncle Ted and aunt Alice had a baby of their own a year—to the day—later. My cousin Norman was born exactly a year after I was, December 26, 1919! Oh, my father gave Ted a hard time about that!”

The doctor laughed with my mom. Her blood pressure was fine. All her blood tests were fine. She is 91, and there's nothing he can do about that. His work was done.

As he left the room, he wished her a happy birthday and gave her a great big hug. A both-arms-around-her hug. He left the exam room smiling.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a doctor hug me. I guess I’ll have to start telling stories.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Ever since we got back from Arizona on December 9, the weather has been bone-numbingly cold and the streets have been treacherous with ice. So I’m forced to do my 2-to-4-a-day down in the cellar with the DVD player and the treadmill.

I’ve walked through The Secret Life of Bees and Is Anybody There? I’ve marched along to Joyeux Noel and The Power of One.

When Netflix can’t ship movies to me fast enough, I go to the library and check out their scratched, skipping, public-abused old DVDs: Serendipity, A Fish Called Wanda.

I’ve pulled old videos and DVDs off the shelf of my meager personal library and re-watched Muriel’s Wedding and Office Space.

Marching, marching, marching . . . 3 or 4 or 5 miles a day, treadmill humming, reading subtitles.


I need a break in this Minnesota weather.

I need the ice to melt off the streets.

I need to get semi-lost in the woods at Carlos State Park.

I need my Central Lakes Trail fix, but the snowmobilers have taken it over until spring. Polaris, Arctic Cat, Ski Doo, Yamaha—they’ve kidnapped my trail.

I need fresh air. I (gasp!) need to breathe oxygen that hasn’t been inserted into my house through a forced-air furnace! I need to walk on a surface that allows me to move forward in space rather than walking nowhere on a conveyor belt!! I need scenery and birds and lakes and trees!!!

Help! I’m being held prisoner by a treadmill in the basement!

(Pant, pant, pant . . .) Would someone please slap me? I seem to be a little hysterical.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I think it was The Artist Formerly Known as Prince who mistakenly sang, “So tonight we gonna, we gonna--Tonight we gonna party like it's 1999.” Or maybe it was 50 Cents singing “We gonna party like it’s yo' birthday.” Or the Shop Boyz singing, “Party like a rock star.”

This only shows how little Prince and 50 Cent and the Shop Boyz know about really good partying. Their parties ain’t no thang but a chicken wang.

If those gentlemen really wanted to party down, they needed to party like it’s Carlisle in 1954. Or 1957. Those were the party years in the party place.

Like my grandma’s 75th birthday party in 1954. Open your eyes, Grandma! You’re havin’ fun!

Or Paul’s birthday party in 1954, complete with chocolate angelfood cake and good-looking women outnumbering the men 6 to 4.

Or Yvonne’s party in 1957 complete with farm animals. We invented animal-themed parties back in Carlisle.

Or Annette’s party in March 1957 where every single party goer got a balloon of her very own. To keep forever. (The only downside was that Annette’s mom made her include her pesky little sister on the guest list, too.)

So don’t talk to me about partying like it’s 1999. And don’t tell me about partyin’ like it’s yo' birthday. Or partying like a rock star. If you want to have a really good time, party like you’re in Carlisle in the 1950s!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I found an absolutely incredible website that allows me to waste time in a brand new way!

Sometimes I get tired of the same-old-same-old time wasters. It’s good to find a new one. It proves I have a diverse and eclectic mind.

This incredible website allows the user to upload photographs of two people. Then through the magic of modern computer technology, the program comes up with a composite picture of what their child will look like.

Honestly. How cool is that?

It’s like getting a sneak preview of the future. It’s like being able to get into a little time machine and travel forward into another dimension. Like Star Trek.

Since I have two grandbabies on the way, I am naturally curious about what they will look like. Cute—of course, that goes without saying. But what about the specifics: dark? fair? blue-eyed? brown-eyed? pug nose? French nose? gap toothed? freckled? dimpled?

So I carefully uploaded a picture of my son and his wife. Presto chango: here is what their baby would look like if it is a little boy, according to the highly sophisticated, complex, and reliable computer technology on this impeccably reputable website.

Very cute. I could certainly love a little boy who looked like this. Don’t you just want to ruffle his silky brown hair and tweak his rosy little cheeks?

Then I carefully uploaded pictures of my daughter and her husband into this magical computer website. I chose pictures where they were smiling and relaxed because I didn’t want one of those worried-looking little babies. After much whirring and grinding of complex computer innards, my monitor finally unveiled this little tyke:

Um, wait a minute . . . isn’t this the same kid, just a more sober version? Sure, he’s cute, but—same hair, same shirt? These kids are supposed to be cousins, not identical twins.

Let me try again . . . let’s see. Insert picture A into the magical website; insert picture B. Push the “GO” button to get the composite picture. Ta-da!


Okay, we seem to be going in the wrong direction. This kid’s a tad scary. He’s looking at me like he’s Bernie Madoff trying to sell me a Ponzi scheme.

Perhaps I should just quietly leave this highly unreliable, unsophisticated, rip-off web site and patiently wait four or five months to see what those babies really look like.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Colbie! Hap-p-p-p-y Birthday to YOU!! What joy you have brought to all of our lives!

Monday, December 14, 2009


Okay, it’s time to shed the fa├žade of “everything’s all right” in my life and admit that I have a mental health issue. A serious mental health issue.

I suffer from chronic Holiday Paralysis.

Pottery Barn’s “Tree Trimming Party” can be done for under $800!!

For years, I had rationalized that my “Holiday Paralysis” issues evolved because of being busy and overwhelmed—i.e., a teaching job that involved an end-of-fall-semester rush that directly coincided with Christmas. I was generally grading huge projects and final tests at the very moment I was supposed to be decking my halls with boughs of holly at home. I always entered the Christmas season feeling overwhelmed, guilty, and behind.

This year, no excuse, right?

Retirement equals mountains of spare time in which to leisurely bedeck, bake, shop, carol, roast, and fa la la—all those activities that the Christmas songs and glossy women’s magazines tell you to do in order to achieve maximum Christmas jolliness.

“Country Woman” magazine suggests, “Have a Cookie Swap Party!!” (Show your love to your family with cut-out sugar cookies that take a mere half hour per cookie to cut, bake, frost, and decorate.)

Let me preface this by admitting that I beat myself up because I am not thinking of the true meaning of Christmas 100 percent of the time. I know what it’s all about. I understand how I’m supposed to be feeling. I realize whose birthday it is.

That being said, here’s the truth:

As of today, I haven’t baked a cookie, constructed a gingerbread house, or rolled a single piece of my mother’s bedsheet-thin lefse.

I still have shopping to do. I don’t even have a written list—just some vague notions swirling around in my head.

“Woman’s Day” giant holiday issue with festive centerpiece and stocking stuffer ideas!! (I feel faint.)

I haven’t written a Christmas letter, and I don’t have an order for 200 photo Christmas cards with matching envelopes ready to pick up at Walgreens.

I feel more empathy for Ebeneezer Scrooge than for that wretched little Tiny Tim creature. I even looked up the pronunciation of the word “Bah” on so I could say it properly (is it “bay”? “baa”? “baw”?)

Christmas manages to bring out my most inadequate personality traits: aversion to shopping (I hate to shop), a pathological weakness for chocolate and sweet baked goods (keep it out of my house or I’ll eat it all in two days), that empathetic thoughtfulness so necessary to selecting the right gift for someone (my insight/thoughtful gene is missing), and a strong sense of entertaining inferiority complex (everybody else’s party is always tons more fun than mine).

How My Kitchen Table Should Look During Christmas, according to “Homemade Gifts for Under $10.” (This is NOT how my kitchen table looks.)

So there it is. The ugly truth, right out in the open for everyone to see. Christmas Paralysis.

If you personally do not suffer from it, I hope you do not judge me. I’ve tried treating it with drugs (well, Tylenol P.M.). I’ve tried reasoning with myself. I’ve tried putting guilt money in the Salvation Army bell ringers’ red buckets. I’ve tried playing Christmas CDs at top volume. I’ve tried lighting red scented candles in the kitchen. I’ve tried reading the Christmas story five times a day.

But I’ll still be relieved when Christmas is over and I can go back to my life where there’s no pressure to produce glorious, perfect holiday memories for friends and family to enjoy.

So p-l-e-a-s-e don’t think less of me. I’ll be back to normal in a few weeks. In the meantime, Bah! (or Bay! Or Baa! Or Baw!), humbug.

There—whew! I feel relieved now that the truth is out there. I think I may even be able to do a little shopping this afternoon if I bring along a small paper bag I can breathe into when I’m feeling dizzy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


We're home again. Sigh.

Just about the time a woman thinks her work is done, she becomes a grandmother.-- Edward H. Dreschnack
I'm the twinkle in my Grandpa's eye...-- Author Unknown

Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.-- Lois Wyse

Grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for growing old.-- Mary H. Waldrip

It is as grandmothers that our mothers come into the fullness of their grace.-- Christopher Morley

My grandfather was a wonderful role model. Through him I got to know the gentle side of men.-- Sarah Long

Our grandchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends - and hardly ever our own grown children.-- Ruth Goode

The idea that no one is perfect is a view most commonly held by people with no grandchildren.-- Doug Larson
What a bargain grandchildren are! I give them my loose change, and they give me a million dollars' worth of pleasure.-- Gene Perret

When a child is born, so are grandmothers.-- Judith Levy

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


We're heading out to Arizona tomorrow for a much-needed Colbie fix. Grandparents can only stand looking at pictures and videos and Skyping for so long, and then we need the real thing! So while we're gone, I'm putting the 1950s t.v. test pattern back up.

Just imagine us in the 70-degree weather, romping in the park with Colbie. It's her birthday this month. Doesn't it seem like just yesterday that they brought her home from the hospital? And now she's this close to walking, jabbers away a mile a minute, reads books, eats real people food, and has the most amazing smile ever smiled.

We've been fortunate to be able to see Colbie every couple of months for the first year of her life, even though we're 2,000 miles away. I was so afraid she would forget who we were between visits, but I think the weekly Skyping really helps.

Quote for the Day: "If I had known how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, I'd have had them first." ~Lois Wyse