Sunday, November 28, 2010
This blog was an important part of my journey from a productive member of the working class to a lay-about retired person. But it’s time to move on. There’s only so much a person can say about walking 2 to 4 miles a day. And I think I’ve said it all!
So thank you for reading for the past couple of years. Happy trails to us all!
Friday, November 19, 2010
My mother is the hands-down Queen of Euphemisms, adhering strictly to the unwritten 1950s Norwegian immigrant code of modesty: Never use an expression that may offend when you can substitute a less offensive expression in its place.
As I mentioned earlier, I have tackled the daunting project of transcribing my mother’s 52 years of diaries, from 1954 to 2006. These are not your tell-all soul-baring diaries. These are your “I baked six loaves of bread today and washed the bathroom rugs” kinds of diaries. But hidden amid the faithful recording of her daily tasks are bits and pieces of intriguing history and gossip.
But often this history and gossip is written in code. She doesn’t betray people. She doesn’t give judgmental color commentary on others’ behaviors. She doesn’t divulge any information that might be seen as critical or personal. She uses her euphemisms carefully.
It’s refreshing, it’s maddening, it’s curiosity piquing. “What does she mean by that?” I continually find myself asking, trying to decode her secret language.
Some of her euphemisms are obvious: Charlotte wrote with “news” . . . my aunt Ellen “beamed with news” . . . Edna “announced her news.” The “P” word is never used. (If my mother didn’t think it was right to use the “P” word, then I’m not going to either.)
Many relatives “went to the hospital” without ever having their maladies specifically named. Some medical problems were all right to discuss: “blood poisoning” seemed to be a popular diagnosis in the ‘50s. But other relatives might spend days or weeks bedridden, and my mother wouldn’t give a hint as to what their problems were. How much do you want to bet that they were “lady problems” and “men problems”? (See, she’s got me doing it, too.)
Mental illness existed in their families, but wasn't openly discussed. Occasionally someone might have a “nervousness” or a “collapse.” But diagnoses and outcomes were never mentioned.
A favorite dog is run over by the milk truck. Seemingly, we never mourned. We buried it and looked for another dog. A beloved aunt suddenly dies. A complete report is given on what was served at her funeral lunch. But for Pete’s sake, we don’t get into that touchy-feely stuff.
So the diary transcribing has also become an exercise in reading between the lines, reading into the euphemisms. I’m not critical—in fact, I might be nostalgic for a time when people used a little dignity when discussing the lives of others and themselves.
So if you grew up in our neck of the woods and are living in fear that your long-hidden family secrets will surface as I transcribe my mother’s diaries, you can rest easy. Your secrets are safe. It would take Samuel Morse himself to decode some of the allusions created by the Queen of Euphemisms, my diary-writing mother.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Like a ripple-less river.
Like a picture window freshly washed in ammonia and vinegar . . .
(It also seems to be a time of the day when I can’t stop writing similes.)
My brain is normally a sludgy, oatmeal-like mass of low-functioning gray matter. But for some mysterious reason, for about two hours after I get up in the morning, my medulla oblongata clicks in harmony with my pons. My left brain’s logical sequential function and my right brain’s intuitiveness get along like small-town-casserole-swapping neighbors, and my neuron synapses fire with the precision of a 21-gun salute.
Like a well-oiled engine.
(Oops, there go the similes again).
In the morning, an unfinished crossword puzzle from the day before suddenly seems head-slappingly obvious.
In the morning, a frustration miraculously forms a solution.
In the morning, the schedule for the day (after tossing and turning all night) suddenly unfolds like a Google map.
And in the morning, problems seem smaller; everything seems do-able.
Sometimes during my morning clarity, I feel envy. “Just think,” I marvel, “some people function with this level of brain power all the time. ALL THE TIME!”
They probably just take that 24/7 clarity for granted, assuming that everyone’s brain operates at non-stop peak performance. I fervently hope those people are sitting in places like the White House Oval Office or in the cockpit of any plane on which I’m a passenger.
Some people tell me that their most productive times are mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Others claim to be night owls whose energy and creativity kick in at 2 a.m.
Personally, I like having my clarity time early in the morning. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. Many mornings I get to see the sun rise and early birds catching worms. The hope for that clarity is my inspiration for rolling out of bed. If I accidently oversleep until, say, 7 o’clock, I feel disappointed. How could I waste the most valuable part of my day?
By 8 a.m., it's over. My superhero mental powers are already slipping away as my brain returns to its normal, pre-clarity level.
The cape goes back in the closet.
I am no longer able to think faster than a speeding bullet or leap tall problems in a single bound.
I no longer have the secret to saving the whales or the capability of finding the cure for Crohn’s disease.
I am once again 2to4aDay, mild-mannered retired school teacher in her knee brace and sweat pants, eating shredded wheat and making a grocery list.
But for those two early-morning hours, I am invincible.
Friday, November 12, 2010
This one said: “Look at the picture below close up. Then look at it from 15 feet away.” (Try it. It really works. Fifteen feet, no cheating.) From close up—Albert Einstein. From 15 feet away, Marilyn Monroe. It’s a miracle.
So I said to Tom, “From now on, I want you to look at me from 15 feet away. I have a feeling I’ll look better.”
So he stood 15 feet away.
“So who do I look like?” I asked hopefully.
“Albert Einstein,” he said.
“All righty then . . .,” I said, turning away. I guess it doesn’t always work.
It was always a crap shoot as far as who my tablemates would be. Sometimes I ate fast to escape the carping of a fellow teacher who just wanted an audience for his or her bellyaching. Sometimes just the right combination of people were at the table so it seemed more like a party than a 20-minute cram-the-food-in-your-face-and-run lunch session.
But occasionally, when the moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars, I’d be lucky enough to be at the same table as Myron, an art teacher at the college. He was a quiet, soft-spoken man of incredible talent—an effective, respected teacher. And a wonderful lunch-table companion. I’d always feel like a more enlightened person after I ate lunch with him.
I remember one conversation in particular. It was years ago by now—years. But I still remember what he said. Somehow the conversation had turned to the subject of marriage.
“When I come home,” Myron said in his thoughtful, quiet voice, “I feel like I’ve entered a haven. My wife makes my home a haven.”
I don’t remember what I replied. Knowing me, it was probably something inappropriate like, “Well, my goal is to make my husband’s home a hell-hole.” Whatever I said in response is immaterial. All I know is that word ‘haven’ has stuck with me all these years.
Haven. A harbor, a place where ships may shelter from the weather. A sanctuary, a place of safety.
I think about that conversation every time Tom walks through the door and I shriek like a fishwife, “The dryer smells like burning wires!” instead of “Welcome home, my darling.” Or if I warn, “Don’t track on the floor—I just washed it,” instead of “I’m so glad you’re home, sweet love of my life.”
‘The dryer smells funny?!?’ ‘Don’t track on the floor?!?’ Ye gads, not something a Haven-Creator would say.
So Myron’s wife inadvertently set the marital bar high for me, even though I rarely measure up. And I'm not being modest; I rarely measure up. But I can’t think of any compliment greater for a spouse than to have a partner sit at a lunchroom table of co-workers and quietly use the word ‘haven’ when describing ‘home.’
Thursday, November 11, 2010
While I was looking up some family history information online about immigrant ships’ passenger lists, I stumbled upon an intriguing site:
“UFO-Roots” for “those whose ancestors arrived from outer space, to make connections with others sharing this problem, discuss their ancestry, and provide advice on possible avenues for further research.”
So while some people are bragging that their ancestors came to America on Erik the Red’s Viking ship or the Pinta or the Santa Maria or the Mayflower—and I’m checking passenger lists on the Norwegian immigrant ships Bark Nornen and Argonaut looking for my Norwegian ancestors, a few other earthlings may be looking elsewhere. Instead of trying to figure out if their ancestors came from the Romedal or the Stange municipality in Norway, they might be weighing the likelihood of coming from the Andromeda Galaxy as opposed to the more local Milky Way.
As Agent K said in Men in Black, “1500 years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you knew that people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.”
It was an "AHA!" moment, explaining a few people who have mystified me over the years. It made perfect sense that some of their ideas and behavior could be traced back to the landing of a dome-shaped UFO in Duncan, British Columbia, rather than a ship pulling into Ellis Island, New York. Or it might explain the "new neighbors" who, by eerie coincidence, showed up at the church pot luck with an odd-looking casserole the day after the crop circles appeared in the Bjornberg's barley field.
Or their residency on earth could be as simple as Captain Kirk on the Star Ship Enterprise reminding his crew after landing the Klingon bird of prey in Golden Gate Park, “Everybody remember where we parked!” If you forget where you parked your UFO, it’s tough to get home again, no matter where home may be.
"They" might be living among us, researching their roots on the Internet.
It would explain a lot.
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
I know that for a fact because I woke up that morning, looked out my hospital room window, and there it was. All over the ground—winter.
A nurse came in and encouraged me to get my lazy butt out of bed and clean up a little. Evidently, there was some arcane hospital rule about lying around in the same sweaty pigtails in which I had given birth the day before.
The nurse dug my maroon embroidered robe out of the bag I had packed for the hospital, trotted me down the hall to the shower room, and transformed me from a bedraggled-looking new mother into an ethereal creature with a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary.
He had been studying our new baby very carefully, very thoughtfully, while she slept in the hospital nursery.
“I think she’s gifted,” Tom told me, as seriously as I’d ever seen him.
“Wha—what?” I asked groggily. “Gifted? How can you tell?”
“Well,” he said solemnly, “to begin with, she’s much more alert than those other babies in the nursery.”
“Good,” I yawned, “she’s alert. Anything else?”
“Well, she got that perfect score . . .” Tom reminded me, trying to appear modest.
Score? Score? What score?
Then it dawned on me. The APGAR score—Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration—the APGAR test that they administer to newborns to make sure they aren’t experiencing post-delivery distress. Our new daughter had scored a perfect “10.”
Her first test, and she had aced it. She was gifted.
I smiled. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she is,” I agreed.
And 31 years later, we know it for a fact.
Tom with his “gifted” daughter
Saturday, November 06, 2010
Listen up, folks. This balmy, Minnesota Indian Summer weather will not last forever (see ten-day weather forecast below):
Today, Nov 06, Partly Cloudy 54°/37°
Sun., Nov 07, Partly Cloudy 58°/40°
Mon., Nov 08, Partly Cloudy 56°/41°
Tue., Nov 09, Few Showers 54°/37°
Wed., Nov 10, Few Showers 45°/32°
Thu., Nov 11, Partly Cloudy 41°/29°
Fri., Nov 12, Partly Cloudy 38°/25°
Sat., Nov. 13, Snow Shower 33°/25°
Sun., Nov 14, Partly Cloudy 36°/25°
Mon., Nov 15, Partly Cloudy 36°/26°
Do you see that temperature plummeting? After next Tuesday, it could be cloudy, rainy, 30- and 40-degree temperatures. By next Saturday, it might be snowing. If this 10-day weather forecast doesn’t convince you that winter is coming, then what will?
Here’s my point:
1) We’re all not getting any younger.
2) The weather isn’t getting any better.
3) Get out and walk!
The next time Tom and I are walking on the trail, I’d better see you out there or you’re in BIG trouble. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
P.S. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that the 10-day forecast doesn't include words like "snow," and "30 degrees," please disregard the above paid political announcement.
Friday, November 05, 2010
As a result of that visit, I learned all kinds of family history that I would never have known if we hadn’t gone. Between memories that they had and information my aunt had tucked away in her desk, one of many things I found out was that:
My maternal great-grandfather (Ingebret Sletvold) was never an “Ellis Island” immigrant. Instead, his name shows up on the passenger list of a "bark" (sailing ship) named the Nornen which sailed from Christiana, Norway (renamed ‘Oslo’ in 1925) and landed in Quebec, Canada. We were that close to being Canadian!
Although he landed in Canada, Ingebret's plan always was to immigrate to the U.S. because the Norwegians had been promised that they could get 160 acres of homestead land in Minnesota at $1.25 an acre—a whole farm for $200! They took a ship that landed in Canada instead of New York’s Ellis Island because the shipping companies much preferred sailing into Quebec. At the time, the Canadians weren’t nearly as fussy about overloading ships with passengers—and it was more profitable for the shipping companies to cram as many Norwegians into steerage as they possibly could.
Ingebret’s brothers (unknown number, but ship’s passenger list definitely includes Evan Sletvold, age 20) had emigrated two years earlier on a sailing ship called the Argonaut. They had paid the adult fare of 15 speciedalar (the Norwegian dollar currency of the time, eventually replaced by the kroner). They had boarded the ship on April 25, 1866, and arrived in Quebec on June 5, 1866—a trip lasting about seven weeks.
Unfortunately, two years later, when our great-grandfather Ingebret’s group sailed on the Nornen, they ran into a becalmed Atlantic. Instead of seven weeks, they were at sea from April 19 to July 6, 1868—a total of eleven weeks. According to the ship’s log, the food provisions ran so low that at one point, the ship’s crew had to put down a mutiny by the hungry passengers. Judging by my own appetite four generations later, 20-year-old Ingebret was probably a mutiny leader. I come from a long line of eaters.
He staked his 160-acre claim in Oscar Township, enduring many hardships, and slowly built a farm that today is owned by my mother’s cousin. He married and raised seven children (one of them my grandmother Emma).
Ingebret and Marte Sletvold’s family in 1885 (our grandmother—my mother’s mother—Emma is on the far left).
One of the stories remembered by my mother’s cousin about Ingebret happened in 1910, when he was in his 60s. A man from Elizabeth, the neighboring town, had bought the first automobile in the area. Many of the men around the community were curious, so Ingebret and a couple of other neighbors asked the auto owner if they could have a ride to Fergus Falls in his new car. Back in those days, none of the roads were paved. The automobile driver was inexperienced, and the worst happened—the driver lost control of the car and had an accident.
Poor Ingebret was the one most badly hurt in the accident, and he spent three weeks mending in the hospital. That incident just about cured him of automobiles forever. In fact, the next time he rode in an automobile was three years later in 1913—in the undertaker’s hearse.
When I look at the shrinking ranks of my elderly aunts and uncles, I feel sad that so much of their history and experiences will be lost when they are gone. I need to have more tea parties with these precious people—and take the time to listen and learn.
Three of our uncles, ages 94, 90, and 83 (wonderful photo by my sister Marian)
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
And now that I have the luxury of having the time to read, I also have a time to appreciate (or maybe envy) the thought and skill that go into what other people write.
These are my three favorite quotes from the last three books I’ve read:
From Healthy Aging by Andrew Weil, M.D.:
“ . . . Aging and death give meaning to life. Without them, life would eventually be horrible, intolerable . . . to yearn for eternal youth and escape from death seems to me the height of foolishness.”
Think about that, would you . . . just think how different our lives would be if we knew that our physical time on earth was endless, that we would always be here, that there would never be an end or an escape or a conclusion to our physical existence. Put that in your pipe and smoke it for a minute . . . and gosh, I wish I’d been the one to write it first.
Another quote from Little Bee by Chris Cleave, which I loved because of its imagery in describing a situation that seemed hopeless:
“ . . . Handing out inflight meals in a plane crash.”
Don’t you just love it? Don’t you wish you had written that (or if you’re really unselfish, don’t you wish I had written that?)?
And a final quote from The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel in which two recently traumatized little sisters in Haddington, Indiana, rename themselves Immaculata and Epiphany after the Virgin Mary makes seemingly daily appearances to them by the mulberry tree in their yard. Their caretaker makes this observation when one of the little girls asks her if she believes them:
“ . . . If I could be an innocent in history, and were presented with two notions, Nazis or a visitation from Mary, I know which one would seem less likely.”
Ha! Again, wish I’d written that. Sometimes I read an entire book and yawn the whole way through until I get to one line—one nugget of truth—that makes the whole book worthwhile. And for five or ten minutes, I actually believe that knowing that nugget of truth will change me and make me a better person.
For five or ten whole minutes--after which I immediately slip back into being my old ordinary self. I can only hope that nugget of wisdom lodged itself deep into my subconscious to be pulled out later, at just the right moment.
And I hope that maybe, someday before I die, I can write one thought, one little line, that will cause someone else to exclaim, “I wish I had written that!”
Monday, November 01, 2010
Every Monday, she washed clothes for her family of eight—pumping water from a cistern in the basement, heating the water on a wash stove, and pouring it into her wringer washing machine. In fair weather, she hauled the wet clothes (for a family of eight, including one in cloth diapers) up the basement stairs and hung them on the clothes line outside. In cold or rainy weather, she hung the clothes on lines strung across the basement or over wooden clothes racks next to the oil stove.
Nothing was wrinkle-free; everything had to be ironed. Sheets, pillowcases, dish towels, men’s t-shirts, blue chambray workshirts, overalls, children’s clothing, men’s dress shirts—it was classified either as dry ironing or sprinkled ironing. It often took a full day on Tuesday to finish the ironing.
She baked bread twice a week, six loaves at a time. She grew vegetables in her garden, and either canned or froze endless pints or quarts of vegetables for later use. She bought crates of fruit (pears, peaches, apricots, cherries) and made them into sauce, jam, preserves, canning until the basement shelves were filled with mason jars. She picked apples from the apple trees in the back yard and made pies and sauce enough for a family of eight—and the endless parade of family, friends, and workers that came to her table.
During the summer, she made meat-and-potatoes meals every day from the pork and beef that her husband had raised and butchered. She fed whoever was helping on the farm that day—her own six children plus two, three, four men with hearty appetites: her father-in-law, brothers-in-law, hired men.
She rendered lard, she fried doughnuts, she made cinnamon rolls, she baked endless batches of cookies and bars, lefse and flat bread. She planned lunches for PTA, Farmer’s Club, Ladies Aid, and Home Management meetings. She made turkey dinners, lutefisk dinners, ham dinners—depending on the holiday. She donated her baking to bake sales at the school and at the church. If surprise company stopped by on a Sunday afternoon, they would always be invited for supper and there would always be enough food. If someone in the family had a birthday, 20 or 30 of her and her husband’s closest relatives would show up for a meal and birthday cake.
Our mother in the spring of 1954 with the youngest of her six children, my sister Laurie.
Every Saturday, she cleaned the house from top to bottom. She waxed and varnished the wood floors. She sewed house dresses for herself and play clothes for her children. She sewed “twin” feedsack dresses for the two youngest. That year, she taught her oldest daughter to sew her own clothes, too. For a special treat, she went to town and bought a dress and hat for herself so she would have something new to wear on Easter Sunday. And when she got home, she baked her husband a cherry pie as a “thank you” for her new clothing.
In a spare moment, to relax, she would crochet doilies or knit mittens and scarves for her children. She would read books she borrowed from the Ladies’ Aid lending library at church—books about missionaries or inspirational stories about people who lived their lives in the shadow of God. She sometimes had to study and prepare the Bible Study for Ladies’ Aid. She taught the high school aged kids in Sunday School on Sunday morning. She read books to her own children.
Her children were sometimes sick, and she gathered soggy sheets in the middle of the night. She dealt with one feverish, measle-y child after another (so much simpler if they had all gotten the measles at one time). Sometimes she helped out a sick or busy relative or neighbor, babysitting for their three or four children in addition to her own six.
When a neighbor or friend had a death in the family, she would make a hotdish, a pie, or a cake and bring it to their house.
Sometimes her husband would take the children with him—to town, to a social gathering—and leave her home alone so she would get a little break. But that didn’t happen very often. In July of that year, all eight of them piled into the car and went on a road trip: to Itasca State Park, to Bemidji, to the Duluth Zoo, to the open pit iron mines in Crosby-Ironton, to Brainerd. They stayed in a motel one night and went swimming in Lake Bemidji.
She wasn’t a saint. She didn’t always feel cheerful. Sometimes she felt overwhelmed. But when she looked around, it was the way all the other women in her community were living their lives, too.
I told you I was transcribing my mother’s diaries. This was her life from 1954 to 1955.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
“ . . . and I am certfectly papable of handling my own . . .” he continued a conversation we were having before he bent to look into the refrigerator.
“You’re . . .” I interrupted, puzzled. “You’re certfectly papable? Certfectly papable? Did you just say ‘certfectly papable’?”
“I said I was ‘perfectly capable,’” he corrected.
“No, you didn’t!!” I crowed. “You said you were ‘certfectly papable’! I heard you. You said ‘certfectly papable’!”
“Certfectly papable,” he repeated, suddenly liking the sound of it. He seemed to be pleased he had said it, like he had uttered something witty and quotable. “Yes,” he agreed proudly, “I am certfectly papable.”
And that’s why it’s good that we have each other. He needs someone to point out his ‘witty and quotable’ sayings, and maybe even write them down. And me? Well, I am very happy to oblige.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
At the time, Tater Tot Hotdish met my three main culinary criteria: 1) quick, 2) easy, 3) cheap). The fact that Tom would eat it was just frosting on the cake.
But as a couple, our culinary tastes have moved far beyond our early years of cheap casseroles. We have traveled the world; we have tasted food from other cultures. Our palates have evolved, and we are no longer tied to the comfort food of our Midwest youth.
The only problem is that everything I make ends up tasting like Tater Tot Hotdish. Even when I try a brand new recipe, trying to add variety and international cuisine to our dinners, the new recipes still have that old familiar look.
“I tried something new,” I’ll announce to Tom as we sit down to dinner.
“Great!” he’ll smile, always up for a new adventure. He’ll poke at the new dish, lift a bite to his mouth, and ask cautiously, “What is it?”
“Beef Bourguignon,” I’ll announce proudly, although I’m never exactly confident in my ability to pronounce ‘Bourguignon.’
“Reminds me a little of Tater Tot Hotdish,” he’ll reply good-naturedly and eat it anyway.
Part of the problem is that I’m an ingredient substituter. It really annoys me to try a new recipe and have to buy an ingredient that I don’t already have. If a new recipe calls for ¼ teaspoon of turmeric—well, gosh, how important can turmeric be if the recipe only calls for a ¼ teaspoon of it? Seems to me it’s kind of a gingery/mustardy/curry-ish colored spice . . . so I’ll throw in a little of something I have on hand that looks like it might be in the same spice family and hope for the best.
I’m beginning to suspect that my ingredient substitution might be part of the problem.
The day I tried cooking the Beef Bourguignon (a lovely French dish made from cubed beef chuck, carrots, beef broth, red wine, and mushrooms), I didn’t have exactly the right ingredients. So I just did a little substituting: cubed beef chuck (substituted hamburger), fresh cremini mushrooms (substituted a can of Green Giant mushroom stems and pieces), beef broth & red wine (substituted a can of cream of chicken soup), pearl onions (substituted Ore-Ida Tater Tots).
Last night, I tried a new recipe called “Prosciutto, Pear, and Blue Cheese Sandwich.” ‘Be daring,’ I challenged myself. ‘Break away from the same old/same old menus.’ The recipe called for: 100% multigrain artisan bread, arugula, shallots, extra-virgin olive oil, Pompeian red wine vinegar, freshly ground black pepper, prosciutto ham, a pear, and blue cheese. Really . . . who actually keeps that stuff on hand?
No 100% multigrain artisan bread? No problem (substituted Ore-Ida Tater Tots). No prosciutto ham? (ham? ham-burger? It’s like they were meant to be interchanged!) No arugula or shallots or pears? Easy (substituted a can of Green Giant sliced mushroom stems and pieces). No Pompeian red wine vinegar or extra-virgin olive oil or blue cheese? Not a problem (a can of cream of chicken soup should lubricate the dish).
So, you’re invited to my house for Thanksgiving—turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, yams, pumpkin pie. The works. But don’t be disappointed if it turns out looking a little like Tater Tot Hotdish. It’s a mystery.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I didn’t know that we were in big trouble yesterday until I turned on the Weather Channel and—oh, my gosh, Jim Cantore was in Minnesota.
You know, Jim Cantore. The top weather visual editor from the Weather Channel.
He’s so important that the Weather Channel only sends him on location if the weather is big. I mean, really HUGE—like hurricanes, floods, monsoons, or tidal waves. And here he was in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was in our very own state.
To make it even worse, Jim Cantore was using his big weather voice. “Monster of a storm,” he was booming. “Fall Fury” screamed a headline as they panned away from Jim. Oh, my heavens. They had named our wind.
“Winter weather advisory,” “massive squall line,” “potential to be the strongest storm in Midwest history!!!” Jim’s big weather voice is easily an octave above his normal speaking voice. And, oh my stars, he was standing in my very own state.
“Strong, strong jet stream,” he screamed at us, trying to make himself heard over the wind whistling by his microphone. “Super Storm,” I thought I heard him say, “even bigger than ’98!”
I couldn’t remember the Super Storm of ’98, so I had to take his word for it.
“What sets this storm apart is its intensity,” Jim said worriedly. I hate it when Jim looks worried. It makes me worry. “It’s already snowing in Bismarck, North Dakota,” he warned, “and the snow is sticking to the ground!” Wow, sticking to the ground! Um . . . er . . . wait a minute. Doesn’t snow generally stick to the ground? As opposed to sticking where?
I left the TV long enough to go look out the window again. Sure enough, it was windy all right. And since Jim Cantore was in Minneapolis, I knew we must be right in the middle of something big. Really big. After all, Jim Cantore doesn’t hop a plane for an on-site visit unless entire villages are in peril or animal populations are fleeing.
I was half expecting to be blown away in the night. But when I woke up this morning, my house is still standing, my power is still on, there’s a little snow on the ground, traffic is moving, and we all still seem to be alive.
But thanks, anyway, Jim. If it hadn’t been for your broadcast, I might have mistakenly thought it was just a typical late October day in Minnesota.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Here is the Latin phrase: delectatio morosa. Translated, it means “delighting in others’ misfortunes.”
I also know that Buddhists have a term that means the 180-degree opposite: mudita, the concept of experiencing happiness at another’s good fortune.
Example 1: The richest, most arrogant athlete on the planet is caught in an affair—no, let's make that several affairs—that eventually cost him millions of dollars and his marriage. Ah-ha!! We feel smug. Our simple, modest lives seem validated; we may not be the richest, most arrogant athlete on the planet, but by George, at least we’re not scumbags. (delectatio morosa).
Example 2: The richest, most arrogant athlete on the planet signs another four-year, $100 million contract. And even though we have recently been laid off from our own pauper-wage jobs, we feel extremely happy for the good fortune of the athlete. (mudita).
Here’s the hard part. I’m supposed to be aiming for the mudita instead of the delectatio morosa. What?!? I don’t know about you, but that’s not my natural inclination.
Why, if I gave up my delectatio morosa , I’d have to stop slowing down and gawking at traffic accidents. I’d have to stop reading movie magazine covers at the checkout counter at Kmart to find out if Ashton is really cheating on Demi. I’d have to stop scanning the “Foreclosures” and “Court News” sections of the local newspaper, looking for familiar names. I'd have to hope that government figures from the opposition political party (gasp!) can solve our national financial crisis.
But I think I want to try it.
From now on, if you have good news to share, you can count on me to support your joy and celebrate your victory. And if you experience tragedy, I will try not to be one of the circling vultures feeding off your vulnerability and pain. That’s the plan anyway.
This sounds like quite a challenge for a Monday morning—the Latin phrase speakers and the Buddhists, locked in battle for my soul.
Picture Source: www.deadspin.com
Saturday, October 23, 2010
On Thursday, I had walked my 2-to-4 miles alone, bringing along two empty Fleet Farm plastic shopping bags to do a garbage pick-up on a three-mile route around our neighborhood. But on Friday, Tom and I arranged our extremely busy retired-folks schedule to walk together on the Central Lakes Trail.
I hadn’t brought along bags for garbage pick-up because, in my own mind, this walk was kind of like a date. Still, it bothered me to walk past an empty pack of Camels, a Coors Beer can, a newspaper flier—without picking them up. Which reminded me . . .
Me (to Tom): Yesterday when I was picking up garbage on—let’s see, it would be Roosevelt Street? No, one block off Nokomis would be Oak Street—well, you know that street where there’s a transmission shop and the back side of the milling place—
Tom: What happened?
Me: Oh, you know, that street where the people didn’t mow their lawn for three weeks because their mower was broken?
Tom: Yea, yea—Oak Street.
Me: Yes! Oak Street! That’s it—one block off Nokomis, alphabetical order, Oak Street.
Tom: What happened on Oak Street?
Me: I had just bent down to pick up an empty Diet Coke can out of the gutter when I heard a vehicle coming up behind me.
Tom: And . . . ?
Me: The guy driving—it was a truck. But not a pickup truck, a bigger truck, like a grain truck.
Tom: What about the guy?
Me: The guy in the grain truck—or whatever kind of a truck it was—rolled down his window and said “thank you” to me.
Tom: Thank you?
Me: You know, for picking up garbage. He was turning into the milling company so maybe he worked there. So he thanked me for picking up garbage.
Tom: Did you give him your number?
Me: Yes, my social security number and my bank account number.
Tom: Did you give him your cell phone number?
Me (snorting): Of course not. I’m not stupid. Even though I could tell he wanted it.
Tom: All right then. What did you say?
Me: I said, “You’re welcome.”
Tom: Is that the end of your story?
Me: I think so . . . (pant, pant—we were walking up hill.)
Me (after a moment): Yes, that’s the end.
I’m sure he meant that it was a good story.
Like I said, 37 years of marriage and the conversations get deep. Really deep.
Friday, October 22, 2010
You see, this is the year I turn 62 and am eligible for early-claim Social Security. After watching F.I.C.A. taxes being taken out of my paycheck for over 45 years (including the jobs I had during high school and college), my only goal is to live long enough to recoup those deductions. (In other words, I want my money back.)
According to the Charles Schwab website, I will need to live until I’m 76.4 years old to get back all I paid in to Social Security. After that, if I had a shred of decency, in January of 2027, I’d lie down and die so that there would be something left in the Social Security coffers for the next generation.
I’ll do my best to kick off at 76.4 years. But I had a grandmother who lived to 101, a father who lived until he was 93, and my mother is still ticking along at 91. It looks like chances are excellent that—against my own personal moral sense of right and wrong—I’ll end up being a burden to the Social Security system.
So even though I will likely still be alive in 2027, I will feel tremendous guilt about it as I steal from my children’s generation and drain the Social Security coffers dry.
Having a 62nd birthday is also an impetus to re-check my Lifetime Bucket List and see how I am coming along.
I started out with 38 items on the list; I have accomplished 6 of those goals. One item had to be crossed off because it’s too late (“Go to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver”) . . . oops, sorry, Bucket List. But another one is already scheduled for September of 2011 (“Go on a New England/Canadian trip up the east coast past Maine, New Foundland, down the St. Lawrence River, and end up in Quebec City where we will wander out in the countryside and find Tom’s roots.”).
After that, only 30 Bucket List items to go. I promise I won’t use a dime of my ill-gotten, grandchildren-robbing, anti-American Social Security checks beyond the age of 76.4 to accomplish any of those tasks. Cross my heart and hope to die (figuratively, that is).
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
What makes my mother’s diaries so unique is that she kept them for 52 years, from 1954 to 2005. That's a long time, even for a persistent Norwegian. She only stopped writing on a regular basis in 2005 because she suffered a stroke that short-circuited her ability to write and concentrate.
As I’ve mentioned before, self-respecting retired people have a project going at all times. (Remember when I did Tom’s family tree and the family picture-scanning projects?) Here’s my latest project: transcribe my mother’s diaries, scanning in the seventy bazillion newspaper clippings, recipes, obituaries, and miscellaneous scraps of paper tucked within the pages, so that everyone in the family can have access to the historical record.
It makes me a little tired to think about all that transcribing. (And I’m sure it makes my family weary to think about reading any of it once it’s transcribed.)
So far, I’ve read through the entire year of 1954 and transcribed the first half of January. During 1954, my mother baked over 600 loaves of bread (six loaves twice a week), taught my youngest sister to walk, entertained relatives by the '54-Packard-load, survived blizzards, moved a family of eight from one farm to another, canned every type of fruit and vegetable known to man, knitted, sewed, patched, washed clothes, ironed those same clothes . . . and had two Toni permanent waves.
It’s not the stuff of epic movies.
But it gives a picture of what life was like in rual West Central Minnesota in the 1950s. And it might solve arguments like “What year did Great Aunt Christie have her foot amputated due to diabetes?” You know, the type of questions that mushroom into those heated, knock-down-drag-out, shoot-your-cousin arguments on family holidays.
So that’s what I’ll be working on in my spare time between now and . . . I don’t know . . . how do you say “eternity” in Norwegian? “Eeuwigheid?” No, wait a minute. That’s Dutch. Anyway, there are 12 five-year diaries, and my mother has tiny handwriting.
At the very least, it will keep me off the streets and out of the bars.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
True, I like to be at the airport very early (often to the point of ridicule by other less conscientious travelers).
True, I position my quart-size plastic Ziploc bag with 3.4 oz. liquids in a side-zip pocket that is quickly accessible within 3.4 seconds or less.
True, my carry-on bag is exactly the right measurements to easily fit into the little 9” x 14” x 22-inch “Does Your Bag Fit Here?” container by the check-in counter. And I never, ever, ever try to pass off a 50-pound tote bag as my ‘purse.’
True, I carefully pre-position my driver’s license in the card holder of my wallet so I can whip it out at a moment’s notice. I do not wear earrings, watches, bracelets, underwire undergarments, or other metal objects that can set off the metal detector. And true, I try to pre-eliminate anything that might hold up the any check-in lines and annoy other travelers.
No, I’m not a nervous traveler. I’m a serious traveler. I mean business when I walk into an airport. Game face, tunnel vision, all business.
That’s why my Allegiant Airline flight back to Minnesota yesterday was a little surreal.
Me: Okay, carry-on luggage secured in overhead compartment. Check. Purse tucked neatly under the seat in front of me, leaving ample room for emergency exits. Check. Seatbelt fastened. Check. Stare straight ahead and try not to look like an airline hijacker. Check.
Flight Attendant (on cabin intercom): Good morning! Thank you for flying Allegiant Airlines! It is currently 81 degrees in our departure city of Mesa, Arizona, and 40 degrees in our destination city, Fargo, North Dakota. Those of you wearing shorts may wish to wait until next June to disembark this plane in Fargo.
Me: What?!? Next June to disembark . . . oh, got it. She’s joking; the flight attendant made a joke . . . shirt tucked under the seatbelt so the flight attendant can see that my seat belt is fastened. Check. Seat in an upright position. Check. Try not to look like a terrorist. Check.
Flight Attendant: On this flight, it is strictly forbidden that passengers have in their possession all sugar-related food products. In a few moments, a flight attendant will be making her way down the aisle to confiscate all candy, cookies, and other treats that passengers may have brought on board. (gasps from passengers) . . . Just kidding!!! Had you going, didn’t I?
Me: Okay, she was just kidding, even though laughter on an in-cabin P.A. system sounds slightly evil. Adjust the air flow valve above my head. Check. Adjust the shades (window seat). Check. Fold my hands carefully in my lap. Check. Try not to look like an airline hijacker. Check.
Flight Attendant: In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask will drop from your overhead compartment. Put the elastic band around your head and secure the mask to your face, stretching the plastic tubing to start the flow of oxygen. If you are seated next to a small child—or someone acting like a small child (ba-da-boom, pause for laughter)—be sure you secure your own mask before attempting to help that person.
Me: Oh, my gosh. She keeps making jokes . . . are flight attendants allowed to make jokes??? (Mental head shake. Game face back on.) Elbow definitely on my own arm rest and not on the armrest of the person next to me. Check. The wings are on the plane. Check. Try not to look like an airline hijacker. Check.
Flight Attendant: Our captain for this flight is Dante and the co-pilot is Jeff. My name is Tiffany, and the flight attendant in the forward cabin is Lori. It’s Lori’s birthday today. Everybody join me in wishing Lori a happy birthday!!
Entire Cabinful of Passengers (dutifully, in semi-unison): Happy Birthday, Lori!
Me: Don’t these people have last names? Dante? Tiffany? Why can’t our pilot’s name be ‘Captain Manly Courageous’ instead of ‘Dante’? Why do I wish our flight attendant’s name was something sensible like ‘Florence’ or ‘Edith’ instead of ‘Tiffany’?? Why do I wish that it wasn’t Lori’s birthday so I knew for sure she wasn’t tippling champagne in the galley to celebrate? Deep breaths . . . focus. Check. Game face. Check. Try not to look like an airline hijacker. Check.
Flight Attendant: It’s your lucky day today! We are having a fire sale of all our Allegiant souvenir gift items! Get your stocking stuffers early! We have key chains, picture frames, bracelets, earrings, golf balls—all with the Allegiant logo—at fire sale prices. The souvenir cart will be making its way down the aisle later in our flight. Cash only, please.
Me: Fire sale? Fire sale???? Was there a fire? On this airplane? Is this airplane on fire now??? How do flight attendants have time to sell stocking-stuffer key chains? Aren’t they supposed to be checking airlocks and emergency exits and oxygen levels and whether or not Dante, the pilot, is sober and qualified to fly this plane?????????????
I’m a serious traveler. I arrive early. I am prepared, cooperative, compliant, and obedient. I don’t make jokes about shoe bombs. I try not to annoy passengers around me or make unreasonable demands of flight attendants. I try to keep my personal possessions to a minimum and use only the space I am allotted . . .
My luck that I ended up with Tiffany on the Allegiant Airline Open Mic Comedy Flight.
Source of photo: www.bluewaveted.com
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
So could I ask a favor of you? In my absence, would you please read one of my old blogs every day? I will be back on October 18 and I need all of you to be back then, too. Every single one of you. No dropouts. No excuses.
Here are my suggestions for old blogs to read. They're just kind of a cross section of blogs over the past three years, and I kind of liked them for one reason or another.
DAY 1, October 7: Mayo Clinic
Day 2, October 8: Advice with Strawberries and Whipped Cream
Day 3, October 9: Signs of Danger
Day 4, October 10: Winter Tracks
Day 5, October 11: Fluffy's Master Plan
Day 6, October 12: As Brave as Mrs. Skogen
Day 7, October 13: Monday Morning Walk
Day 8, October 14: Six Decisions That Change Your Life
Day 9, October 15: Taking My Mother to the Doctor
Day 10, October 16: First Two Men in My Life
Day 11, October 17: 90-Year-Old Logic
So goodbye. Don't forget to come back on October 18.
Mentally, I just think of him as the Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude of Seventh Avenue. I wish his own mother would worry about him, but somehow she foisted it off on me.
About a year ago, I mentioned that I had made myself the designated neighborhood garbage picker-upper. As long as I was out walking my 2-to-4 miles in my neighborhood anyway, I might as well make myself useful and pick up the trash along the streets. So twice a week, I make sure I bring along a bag or two and I clean up my neighborhood. I net about four bags of garbage a week. (We are evidently a very trashy 'hood.)
About a year ago, I started noticing the Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude. Every day, like clockwork, he throws out an empty Marlboro pack in almost exactly the same spot on Seventh Avenue. He crumples up that cellophane-wrapped pack and tosses it out his car window right into the curb—slam, dunk, two points. So if I pick up garbage on a Saturday, for instance, and then go out again on Tuesday, I can be sure that there will be three crumpled Marlboro packs in the gutter. Bing, bing, bing. He’s my man. Dependable as the sunrise.
So this morning, I was worried. It had been three days since I had last picked up garbage. My bag was already half full by the time I got to Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude’s little stretch of road.
Whoa. What was this?!? No crumpled Marlboro packs.
I scratched my head. Was something wrong? Did Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude move? Was he sick? Give up smoking? Take a different route to work? Did he die of Marlboro-induced lung cancer?
I worried the whole way down Seventh Avenue. Was he okay? Sure he was a littering slob, but he was my littering slob.
Before I headed home, I decided to search Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude’s gutter one more time. Fallen autumn leaves made my search more difficult. I took another swipe through, kicking aside leaves as I went.
He wasn’t dead after all. There, nestled among the brown leaves, was his signature crumpled Marlboro pack. Thank goodness. I thought I was going to have to call the police with a missing person report. Granted, it was only one pack instead of the three I was expecting. But at least I knew he was alive and coughing—er, kicking.
Monday, October 04, 2010
The yards around my town are full of campaign signs: “Larson for County Attorney,” “Olson for County Commissioner,” “Westrom for State Representative,” “Wyatt Earp for Sheriff” . . .
As the Five Man Electric Band sang back in 1971, “Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs. Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind . . .”
The political signs make me nervous because I know that in November, I’ll have to go vote again. And to tell you the truth, every single candidate on the ballot, regardless of political affiliation, usually makes me as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.
When people ask me whom I support or whom I am going to vote for, I usually truthfully reply, “Whichever candidate that I believe will do the least amount of damage.” And I mean it—I really don't have a lot of faith in any of them.
Recently I was directed to a website called The Political Compass . By taking an opinion poll, you can compare your own political views to current or past politicians, national or global. The test doesn’t neatly slot you in as a Republican or a Democrat, a Conservative or a Liberal, a Socialist or a Communist. Instead it plots your views on a graph to give you a general idea of where you fit in the political spectrum.
After I took the test, I had a personal epiphany.
No wonder I can’t find anybody to vote for on the ballots in November. No wonder I walk away from most political discussions with my hands over my ears. No wonder I don’t particularly trust Obama or Palin or McCain or Biden or Clinton or Huckabee or anybody else on the ballot.
No wonder I’m equally skeptical of Chris Matthews with his Hardball show and Michael Moore with his Roger and Me or Sicko. Because according to the test I took, the political figures my views most closely align with are . . . get this (drum roll, please) . . .
The Dalai Lama
You could have knocked me over with an organic feather from a vegan dove.
I just answered the questions according to my heart-felt opinions, and that’s what came up. I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I’m not even an Independent. I’m a member of the Party of Universal Responsibility, Love, Compassion, Kindness, Human Rights, Equality of All People, and Nonviolence.
I wonder what I did with my old tie-dyed t-shirt and love beads. They’ve got to be around somewhere. Probably in a closet, right under my Bob Dylan albums. I think I’ll wear them to the poll on Election Day in November when I write in Mother Theresa’s successor, Sister Nirmala, for attorney general.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
What I didn't realize when I got in my car and drove down there was that I would have the entire town to myself.
There was nobody at the beach where I parked my car . . .
A few stray geese down by the shore didn't even fluff a feather when I walked by. I guess they figured there were more of them than there were of me, so they had no fear.