Saturday, January 30, 2010

TOO COLD TO DO ANYTHING?

On Friday night, I caught a little of Jeff Foxworthy on the Comedy Channel (you know, the “You might be a redneck if you’ve ever lost a tooth opening a beer bottle” guy). He had just been on tour and one of his engagements had been in northern Minnesota.

Ye gads, you would have thought he had a gig on an ice floe in the Arctic Circle. It was the same old stuff we always hear: You might be from Minnesota if . . . you see people wearing hunting clothes to church (your point being . . . ?), the Dairy Queen closes from September through June (don’t all Dairy Queens close from September through June??), you’re proud that International Falls is the coldest spot in the nation 196 out of 365 days (dern tootin’).

However, I think it’s important to point out that Minnesota is not just a state of camouflage-wearing, Dairy-Queen-closing, teeth-chattering nice guys who huddle inside their igloos for six months of the year. There is a mountain of things for people to do, even when it’s January 30 and the temperature is only ten degrees above zero. Hundreds of people were out and about today . . .

Skiing at Andes Tower Hills . . .
Skating with the rink rats at Noonan Pond . . .


Tubing . . .
Snowboarding . . .



Snowmobiling . . .

Sledding . . .
Listening to Jeff James sing James Taylor songs at the Carlos Creek Winery on a Saturday afternoon . . . Watching the Blizzard junior hockey team on a Saturday night . . .

And granted, Mr. Jeff Foxworthy, it's true. There are some people in Minnesota who “consider it a sport to get food by drilling through 18 inches of ice and sitting there for days hoping that the food will swim by.” Just drive by Lake LeHomme Dieu to see the ice roads heading out to the fish houses . . .


So, go ahead, Mr. Foxworthy. Make fun of Minnesotans because yes, as you say, we think ketchup is a little too spicy—and yes, every guy has a set of jumper cables in his car and his girlfriend knows how to use them. And yes, there are 17 empty cars in the Fleet Farm parking lot with their engines running—and yes, “down South” to us means Iowa. I will give you all that.

But nothing to do? No place to go? Not hardly. You betcha, eh?

Friday, January 29, 2010

NEW CHALLENGE

Okay, I’ve been retired for one whole year. My official anniversary is on Sunday, January 31.

To recap the past year: I’ve walked well over 1,000 miles, visited my 90-ish parents approximately 300 times, read 75 books, watched 50 movies (mostly on the treadmill), done hundreds of crossword puzzles, and spent 53 days playing with Colbie either in Arizona or Minnesota. In short, I did all the leisurely retired-lady activities I dreamed about while I was working.

Now it’s time for a new challenge. So here it is: I’m going to train to run in a 5K. Yes, you heard me right. I said ‘run.’

Artwork by Mary GrandPre' for the IT5K

I can easily walk 3.1 miles. But on May 15, my daughter Shannon, my 60-year-old friend Bonnie, her daughter Lyssa, and my 61-year-old self—the four of us—are going to run the Lake Harriet Autism 5K Run/Walk in Minneapolis.

So that’s my new goal. Very rarely do I set a goal that I know will likely end in death. But at age 61, I’ve learned that what doesn’t actually kill me will only make me feel like I’m dead. There’s a big difference.

I may need to rename my blog to “2 to 4 to 5k a Day.” Anybody else want to join us?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

PERSPECTIVE

I can usually whip through a book in a couple of days. Just don’t give me a test on the book; I’d probably flunk it. I’m a skimmer-speed-reader kind of person, superficially humming through the description of the snow-covered fir boughs to get back to the plot ASAP.

That’s why it was so unusual that it took me a week to read a small, 200+ page book entitled When Everything Changes, Change Everything by Neale Donald Walsch. A whole week. Sometimes I’d walk 20 feet out of my way and up a flight of stairs just to avoid reading it.

When Everything Changes, Change Everything indeed.

Don’t get me wrong. It was an excellent book. Intriguing. The reason I avoided reading it had nothing to do with the way it was written.

I avoided it because I knew it made sense. You see, the message of the book was:

• We create and choose our own thoughts.

• We create our own emotions—we absolutely, positively can choose the way we are feeling.

• It is easy to look back and see the value of an event from a hindsight perspective. But we can also bring that perspective forward and view an event that way, even while it is happening.

• All change enhances life. There is no such thing as a “bad change” in our lives, even when it looks like something could not possibly be happening for the better.

• Life’s changes are neither arbitrary nor without rhyme or reason; they are part of a sophisticated pattern that sometimes takes a long time to understand.

If people are honest, they will admit that some of the worst things that ever happened to them were actually some of the best things that ever happened to them.

• Sometimes individuals or large groups of people (even nations) experience unthinkable suffering (the Holocaust Jews, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandella, Mother Theresa). However, in time, their suffering stirred the entire world. This can also happen to ordinary people—it’s may just not be happening on a global scale.

• If we understand that everything that happens to us does so for a higher good, we no longer have to fear the future.

• It’s all good. Changes—they’re all for the good. It’s our goal to recognize and embrace that good.

What made it worse is that I knew the author was right. Dead on. Bulls-eye.

So now you see why I was avoiding that book like the plague. It is so much easier to believe that my dark, self-centered thoughts are justified. It’s so soothing to plunge into a bad mood and blame it on those around me. It’s so wonderful to submerge myself in the murky, self-pitying waters of “why is event this happening to ME, poor me???”

Darn it. Now that I’ve read the book, I can’t plead ignorance any more. I’ve been reminded that every change is for the better and constantly moves me forward. I know that I should look forward to future changes, even the painful ones, because it’s all good. It’s ALL good.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CRACKS AND BOOMS

I woke up this morning to the sound of a gunshot. Crack! Somewhere in the neighborhood of the ceiling between my bedroom and the bathroom, a Glock 22 (different sound than a Smith and Wesson) shot off a round.

But I’ve lived in this house long enough to know that a murder was not being committed. The usual suspect (Tom) was safely sleeping right beside me.

“Temperature dropped,” I thought as I rolled over for five more minutes of sleep.

A little later, I was sitting in the living room, drinking my morning coffee and wrestling with the crossword puzzle when another shot rang out. This time it was a Remington 870 rifle shot—I could tell by the zing-ing echo—right over my head, somewhere near the chimney flu in the roof. I jumped a little, took another sip of my coffee, and tried to think of a nine-letter word for a Lake Erie city. (It was Ashtabula.)

Pow! Crack! Blam! I feel like I’m in a Batman movie. The Dark Knight, I believe.

My house has gone from being in the middle of a skating rink last Saturday . . . to a snow-covered winter wonderland on Sunday . . . to a wind-whipped blizzard-warning area on Monday . . . to a sub-zero shooting gallery on Tuesday.

The gunshot-type sounds are my house adjusting to the changes in the outside temperature. We’ve gone from Saturday's 30-degree weather (therefore, the ice) to minus 6 degrees this morning, and the house’s joints and beams are protesting loudly. The colder it gets outside, the more the wood and metal joints in our house snap, crackle, and pop as they shrink and lose moisture.

I don’t know if any homeowners' houses have ever fallen down over their heads during this freeze-drying phenomenon. It sometimes sounds like that’s what’s happening. But it certainly makes the morning a little more exciting as it gets the adrenalin pumping through our systems.

KA-BOOM! There went another one. Shotgun this time—double barrel, pump-action 12-gauge, from the sounds of it. Let's see--a six-letter word for care-less attitude? Got it! a-p-a-t-h-y.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

WEEKEND ON ICE

Sometimes being “On Ice” or “Iced” is a good thing: Disney on Ice, Holiday on Ice, iced tea, iced sugar cookies . . .

But this morning, with the world outside my door on ice, it means changing weekend plans.

No trip to the Cities.

No basketball game with Shannon.

No fish and chips at Cooper’s.

No visit to my sister.

I’ve been up for two hours and have only seen one vehicle drive past my house: a sanding truck that sprays a little swoosh of sand by all the stop signs so that cars have a fighting chance at coming to a halt instead of sliding through the intersections.

Even if I could safely exit my front door and step out onto my welcome mat . . .


And even if I could safely back my car out of the driveway . . .



There’s still this . . .

I see one brave soul out walking, taking tiny little baby steps with arms outstretched, like a tight rope walker teetering precariously on a narrow wire. Where in the world does he need to go so desperately that he’s willing to risk a broken neck? A fractured hip? A concussion? He must be a neurosurgeon on the way to save someone's life or a trekker practicing for an excursion to the North Pole. It's a good day to stay home and keep the dent-free car in the garage. And it’s definitely an on-the-treadmill 2 to 4 miles today.

The weekend is officially “on ice,” literally and figuratively. Disappointing. But it's definitely a weekend to hunker down and hibernate.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

ME ‘N BENNY

Me ‘n Benny hung out last night—kind of a date. His mom and dad were busy with an activity for Benny’s older sister, and he needed a ride to basketball practice.

Amazingly, Benny always seems genuinely happy to hang out with me. He came charging in the door, full of ideas about what we could play before it was time to go to basketball.

Benny’s in kindergarten. I wasn’t sure if Benny’s mother wanted his picture pasted all over the Internet, so here’s Benny taken last Halloween, in disguise, with his sneering pirate look:

Arrrrrgh! Shiver me timbers, matey! I’ll make those bilge rats walk the plank!

Before we had to head out for basketball, we played a quick game of Jenga. Sometimes we cheated a little, but nobody cared. We grinned at each other when one of us pulled a wooden block out of a particularly teetery spot. ‘We are good,’ we told each other, fist pumping.

Then we headed over to the school for basketball practice. Here’s Benny and the guys warming up before practice.

He’s a trooper. I loved watching him warm up. He made four baskets—and he ran over and told me after each one of them.

After basketball, Benny came over to my house for a half hour and we played. All of my toys are kind of low-tech or old, but Benny doesn’t seem to care. We filled a 9 x 13 cake pan with wild rice (looks more like dirt than white or brown rice) and plowed it around with all the little Matchbox dump trucks. We built roads out of Jenga blocks. We just kind of made things up as we went along. Benny provided a running color commentary on our activities. He’s got such a good imagination that it made our dump-truck-rice-in-a-cake-pan scenario seem exciting and dangerous.

Me ‘n Benny. Hanging out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

SPEAKING OF BEING MARRIED FOR 36 YEARS . . .

Tom and I once got fired from teaching a marriage preparation class at our church.

It’s true. We got fired.

First we got audited—the coordinator of the marriage preparation class sat in the back of our classroom. Listening. Taking notes. Scribble . . . scribble. We thought he was so impressed with our teaching skills that he was writing down all our golden words.

At the time, I was Lutheran; Tom was Catholic.

We said to the engaged couples in the class, “Mixed-faith marriage? No problem! We’ve been married a few years and it works just fine. Listen to each other. Respect each other’s views on religion. Support each other. Encourage each other.” That’s what Tom and I were teaching in our class.

I don’t know what made me think of it again, right now, after all of these years.

They did an intervention on us. After we had taught the class, we received a visit in our home. First someone from the church office called, if I remember right, and said, “We would like to come and have a little chat with you.” The priest and the head of the marriage preparation class wanted to chat with us.

We were na├»ve. We thought maybe the evaluations on our sessions were really terrific. I think we thought we were going to receive an award—like a Nobel Peace Prize—for being such great marriage preparation teachers. So we said, “Sure!!” Come and visit.”

We had coffee and doughnuts because the visit was on a Saturday morning. I made sure the kitchen was clean. I think I even scoured the kitchen sink with Comet. I made sure there weren’t water spots on the coffee cups. I put folded napkins on the table. We didn’t know they were coming to fire us.

“Come in!” We welcomed them warmly, the priest and the head of the marriage preparation class. It was all polite chit chat and friendly conversation for the first few minutes. I poured coffee. We all sat around the kitchen table. We passed the doughnuts. We modestly waited for our praise.

Then the boom was lowered (as in ‘they lowered the boom’). We weren’t teaching church doctrine, they said. We weren’t in line with the “true church” message. We were radicals. We were teaching acceptance of mixed marriages. We were teaching support for each others’ religion. We were supposed to teach conversion. The non-Catholic needed to become Catholic.

So we were fired.

Well, actually, Tom threw them out. You should have seen him that day when he defended me and all my Lutheran relatives. He told that priest and that marriage preparation coordinator that he thought Lutherans were every bit as Christian as Catholics. And if they thought differently, they could just leave his house.

He threw them out. “Begone, vessels of Satan!!” (He may not have said it exactly that way. He’s not exactly a vessels-of-Satan kind of guy.)



Wow. I hadn’t thought of that in a long time. I think this was nearly 30 years ago, give or take.

In August 2010, we will be celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary. Eventually, I did become Catholic, but not because Tom “converted” me. The guy that was the head of the marriage preparation class and his wife moved away. We heard later that they were divorced. The narrow-minded priest, Father What’s-His-Name, who sat at our kitchen table, was transferred to some parish in outer-Slobovia. Or Mars. Or maybe he runs the Vatican. I don’t know what happened to him.

Times have changed. The priest we have now is very cool. His favorite band of all time is Creedence Clearwater Revival. Once he managed to work CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising” into his sermon. He would never, ever fire us for teaching religious tolerance or respect for other religions. He would probably give us a standing ovation and invite us over for dinner.

I don’t know what made me think of that just now. It had to have been nearly 30 years ago. I just remembered it last night when Tom walked through the room. He’s just a short little guy; but sometimes he forgets he’s short and throws a priest out of his house, defending my honor. Then he’s ten feet tall.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I’VE GOT WHAT SHE WANTS

This morning I was reading an article written by a woman who, five years ago when she was in her 30s, was diagnosed with a particularly virile form of cancer. Her high-grade, rare form of leiomyosarcoma had the doctors giving her only a 30 percent chance of living. It was tough, but she fought like a samurai-warrior-on-steroids to beat it.

The good news is that now, five years later, she is cancer free. But she still goes in for regular CT scans to make sure that the cancer hasn’t recurred. And every time she goes in for a scan, she experiences anxiety: What if the cancer has returned? What will happen to her four children and her husband if she becomes sick again? Would she have the courage to go through the radiation and chemotherapy a second time?

As she goes in for her CT scan, she prays. She doesn’t waste a single prayer on having a fabulous career, a beautiful home, money in the bank, an album full of travel pictures, or a membership at the country club.

Here’s what she prays for: She prays that she will be able to live to see her children grown up. She prays that her husband and she will be able to retire together. She prays to be one of those little old couples she sees in the grocery store, married for forty or fifty or sixty years, tottering along behind their cart with their handful of cents-off coupons. She prays to see a day when she will have grandchildren playing at her feet.

The astonishing part? She is praying to live long enough to live the life I am currently living.

Imagine that . . . just imagine that.

Friday, January 15, 2010

“THE HOUSE IS A MESS” IS ALL RELATIVE

The next time you find yourself thinking, “My house is a mess,” pick up a copy of the book Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow. I guarantee, your mess is nothing compared to that.

I’ve always been morbidly fascinated by hoarders and their garbage houses, knowing that they suffer from a form of OCD. E. L. Doctorow’s book about the brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer, is a fictionalized first-person account dictated by Homer. However, the brothers were real, and their real-life story is probably even more bizarre than the novel. Theirs was the extreme garbage house.

Their true story begins at the end, in 1947, when the police in New York City received a phone message from an anonymous caller stating that there was a dead body at 2078 Fifth Avenue in a single-family, three-story brownstone building.

However, police attempts to enter the house were futile; all entrances to the house were completely blocked off with trash. Police could not get through the doors.

Finally, a day after the anonymous phone call, police used a ladder to enter the home through a second-story window. There, surrounded by stacks of trash, they found the body of Homer, the blind, partially paralyzed Collyer brother, who (autopsy showed) had died of a heart attack and starvation. But his caretaker brother Langley Collyer was nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t until three weeks later that authorities, sifting through the 136 tons of junk in the three-story home, found the rat-gnawed body of Langley. There was so much “stuff” in the house that the brothers had resorted to making tunnels to get from one room to another. The more reclusive the brothers got, the more paranoid they also became. Langley had rigged burglar/intruder traps around the house. While bringing food to Homer, who was eventually confined to his bedroom, Langley had tripped one of his own traps, and had suffocated under a huge pile of newspapers and other garbage.

E. L. Doctorow’s novel tries to help us understand what happened to the two brothers to lead to this scene in 1947. He takes the Collyers from their well-to-do childhood with their physician father and musician mother to their trash-filled existence at the end of their lives. What made Langley want to “collect” other people’s discards? Why the thousands upon thousands of bundled newspapers? What was the purpose of a disassembled Model T in the dining room? Ten pianos? The junk upon junk upon junk?

Langley collected and hoarded until the entire brownstone was completely filled, from top to bottom. He didn’t pay bills so eventually the two brothers lived without electricity, water, or heat. Langley left the house only at night—to buy groceries at a little neighborhood market and to sift through garbage and piles of discards, looking for ‘treasures’ to bring home.

Perhaps no one will ever know exactly what went on in the minds of these two brothers, but E. L. Doctorow makes an attempt to explain their mental journey in Homer and Langley.

If you want more information on these two reclusive brothers, there are some good web sites: Collyer Brothers Syndrome, Langley Collyer, and Squallor Survivors .

As for me, well . . . I suddenly have a strong urge to clean my house.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

IT’S A BOY! IT’S A BOY!

No, I’m not being redundant. It really is a boy and a boy!

The ultrasounds don’t lie.

Next spring, we will have two new little boys in the family—two cousins, two sons, two grandbabies, two nephews, depending upon who you are—less than a month apart.

I’ve already started fantasizing . . .

Let the fun begin!

Colbie will still be the princess. She will still rule the kingdom. Now she’ll just have a little company. Colbie doesn’t mind company. Company is good, just as long as they do whatever she tells them to do.

Bring on those lil’ cowpokes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

FLASHBACKS AND WALLY LAMB

I hope that someday, I will be able to have it completely slip my mind that today is the first day of the semester at the college where I used to teach. I’m hoping there will come a time when that first day will just pass me by and I won’t have that nagging feeling that I should be somewhere doing something.

Retired teacher flashbacks, I guess.

It’s January 11—the first day of Spring Semester 2010. All my former co-workers spent last week in diligent preparation for today while I enjoyed a fairly empty calendar. All of my former co-workers probably had a “spastic colon Sunday” night, anxious and anticipating the next morning, while I calmly watched a football game on t.v.

At 5 a.m. this morning, when normally my alarm would have gone off, I was still sleeping.

At 6 a.m., when I would have been putting on my coat and getting ready to leave for work, I was sitting in the living room with a cup of coffee, still in my bathrobe, reading Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. I was on page 582, and the narrator of the book was teaching an English class in a two-year community college. Ironic.

At 8 a.m., when I most likely would have been standing in front of my 8 a.m. class for the first time that semester, I was on page 671, where the narrator finally finds out the source of the mummified baby in a suitcase stashed in a crawl space of the attic.

At 9 a.m., when I would have already started teaching my second class of the day, I finally closed the Wally Lamb book—all 734 pages of very small print—and sighed a sigh of relief. As Wally Lamb says on page 685, “Life is messy, violent, confusing, and hopeful.”

While my former co-workers were scrambling to organize class materials and get to their 10 a.m. class on time, I was still trying to mentally digest Wally Lamb’s book.

It stretched credibility a bit that the narrator of Wally Lamb’s book, Caelum Quirk, had a life that was directly connected to the following events and people: the Civil War, Columbine High School shootings, Hurricane Katrina, Miss Rheingold Beer of 1950, the Korean War, the Iraq War, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, the Prison Reform Movement of 1840, Abolition, Women’s Suffrage, the 1942 Boston Cocoanut Grove fire that killed 480 people, the surrender of Geronimo, an Iraq veteran’s posttraumatic stress disorder shooting rampage, anger management, divorce, abortion, drug addiction, alcoholism, spousal imprisonment, mental illness, Louisa Mae Alcott, Mark Twain, poet Christina Rossetti, Dorothea Dix, Conan O’Brien, a weeping statue of the Virgin Mary . . .

It was like Lamb had material for about four books but decided to get it over with in one huge story.

It was a very good book. Long, but good . . . multigenerational . . . a man with so many problems, he made the biblical Job look like an amateur of suffering. I’m guessing Wally Lamb was absolutely exhausted when he got done writing it. I felt like I’d run a marathon just reading it.

So while my former co-workers met their new students for the first time, reviewed class syllabi and textbooks, stumbled through pronouncing lists of unfamiliar student names, I was home reading (and reading and reading) Wally Lamb. While his characters were having flashbacks, I was having flashbacks of my own.

I guess I just wanted to prove that even though I am retired, I am still trying to do something challenging and productive with my time, still expanding my brain.

But I continue to feel like I should be somewhere today, doing something . . . should be teaching . . . like an amputated limb that still itches and tingles a little, even though it’s not really there.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

WINTER TRACKS

The most positive thing about being in a place where the temperature is -19 degrees with about 20+ inches of snow on the ground is that nothing, and I mean nothing, happens around your house without your knowing about it.

Unless the event involves tooth fairies, Santa Claus, UFOs, or other invisible, flying objects, there are bound to be tracks in the snow chronicling the event.

Here is where my niece tried out my daughter’s snowshoes to see if she really wanted to invest in a pair. (One trip around the house and I think she’s cured for life.)

Here is where Poppy, the foster cat who was visiting over the holidays, re-established her hunting/stalking route, ending in the window well.


Here is where the meter reader came around the corner of the house to read the meter by our deck. I hope it was the meter reader. I really hope it was the meter reader. Otherwise, this is where the slasher/murder/window peeper crept around the corner of our house to stalk and ogle on the night Tom was gone and I heard cat noises made by a cat that really wasn’t there.

And here are my favorite tracks. Every school morning, our two little neighbor boys, ages 9 and 7, bounce out their front door, cut across the snow between our two houses . . .


walk across our driveway and down our sidewalk . . .


and then wade right through 20+ inches of snow to their bus stop on Rosewood Lane.

I love their floundering little tracks. It would be so much easier for them if they walked down their shoveled driveway and along the plowed street to the bus stop. So much easier.

But when you’re 9- and 7-year-old boys, you like a challenge. You take the same path that you started taking in the green-grass days of September, and through force of habit, continue to take it, even when you have to plow through snow up to your knees.

To their teachers, it’s probably a mystery why the boys come to school every morning with wet jeans and socks and snow-caked boots.

But I know the truth. I'm a tracker, the Natty Bumpo of Nissen Street. It’s winter in Minnesota, and the tracks in the snow tell all.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

TEN-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

January 2010 marks the ten-year anniversary of Tom’s and my decision to turn things around.

Enough was enough. We were a mess.

Tom’s problems were internal: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, borderline diabetes. My problems were more musculoskeletal: inflamed nerves in my neck, back pain, knee pain.

In the summer of 1999, we took a trip to Washington State with another couple. For some reason, we regularly handed them our camera and cheerfully said, “Take a picture of us . . . “

. . . standing on this mountaintop,

. . . in front of this sign with our Hot Tamales,

. . . along this ridge.

When the pictures were developed after the trip was over, we were sobered by what we saw. Who were those two dumpy people and what were they doing in our pictures?

It took a few months for us to work up the courage and resolve to do something about it. Like every other year, we would start “after New Years.”

But this time we did. In January 2000, at the ripe old ages of 51 and 55, Tom and I decided to live differently. Mind you, this was a decision by two non-spontaneous people who break out into a cold sweat when they decide to switch laundry detergents. Two people whose ruts were so deep, whose bad habits were so deeply ingrained, that it would take major earth-moving equipment to dig them out. People for whom change was painful . . .

The first time we went for a walk in 1999, we walked to an intersection about four blocks from our house. “I can’t go any farther,” I whined to Tom, “because I don’t think I’ll be able to walk back home again if I do.” So my first walk was eight blocks long.

We started cooking and eating differently. We became “those people” who split a meal at a restaurant. And we started walking . . . one mile, two miles, three miles, four . . . five, eight, ten.

So in the summer of 2000, we felt better about handing someone a camera and saying, “Take a picture of us in front of this marina . . . "

Over the next ten years, we looked for ways to incorporate walking into everything we did. We planned vacations around hikes that we would take along the way or when we arrived at our destination. We started to seek out activities that we wouldn’t have been able to do that summer of 1999—snorkeling and walking on volcanic rock in Hawaii, hiking through Sitka National Park in Alaska, exploring state parks, biking on the trails. We took three cruises and each time, we knew exactly how many laps around the promenade deck on the ship equaled one mile.

It’s not a fair comparison to put up a picture of us now in the year 2010, ten years after we turned over a new leaf. We’re ten years older, 61 and 65, and we look it. We have wrinkles and sags in places we never knew could wrinkle and sag. Our new lifestyle isn’t magic and certainly didn’t improve our looks or stop the ravages of time.

But inside, we’re different people than the couple who traveled to Washington State in 1999, fueled by Hot Tamales and McDonald's cheeseburgers.

It is absolutely, positively the best gift we ever gave ourselves.

Which reminds me—I have to (need to, want to) go and walk my 2-to-4 miles for today. (After looking at those pictures from 1999, I have a sudden urge to go four.)

Happy New Year! And happy ten-year anniversary to us!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

GRANDMA’S BIRTHDAY GOOSE

It was December 26, 2009, and we had gathered to celebrate my mother’s 91st birthday.

The traditional "Grandma-With-the-Cake" portrait was taken. Smile, Grandma! No, smile bigger! Like you mean it! Like you’re having fun!


The traditional "Grandma-With-the-Cake-and-Two-Granddaughters" portrait was taken. Now, smile, Grandma! Not like you’re on your way to have a colonoscopy. Give us a big, cheerful smile. See how your granddaughters are smiling? Come on! You can do it, too! Let’s see some teeth!



C’mon, Grandma!! Smile, for Pete’s sake. It’s your birthday!!

Okay, you asked for it. Time to bring out the big guns: The Birthday Goose!

Gotcha, Grandma!! No, honestly, Grandma really did get a birthday goose! My sister has no respect. In my family, a woman isn’t safe, even on her 91st birthday.

If we ever invite you to a birthday party at which you are the guest of honor--seriously--watch your backside.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

BACK ON TRACK

I stopped short of eating lard out of a can with a spoon over the holidays, but it wasn’t far short.

I believe that for a week, I ate everything anyone put in front of me: butter, sugar, decorative sprinkles, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, almond bark, pecans, cashews, almonds, potatoes with cheese, potatoes with butter, potatoes with sour cream, and cheese in every form known to mankind: soft, hard, spreadable, shredded, cubed, sliced, and melted.

I ate food that had been deep-fried, French fried, oven fried, batter fried, and Kentucky fried. I ate beef loin wrapped in Prosciutto ham and puff pastry, smothered in onion gravy. I ate lutefisk drowning in a lake of melted butter. I ate chicken livers and chicken wings and other mysterious parts of chicken protected under the ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ laws.

I ate anything people laid out on Christmas-themed plates next to Christmas-print napkins.

I tried my darnedest to keep walking between company and a trip to the Cities. But my usual 2-to-4-a-day barely made a dent in the new-for-the-holidays 9,000-calorie-per-day food program I was on.

My body protested by demanding Tums at 2 a.m. Even my three-way-stretch clothing protested by refusing to stretch any further.

But it’s finally over. Whew.

Yesterday, for the first time in forever, our refrigerator was back to looking normal. The shelves even had some empty spaces in them. The bowls held apples and oranges instead of gravy and whipped cream. The vegetable drawers actually had vegetables in them instead of spare bags of chocolate chips and chip dip. The cupboards no longer groaned in pain under their burden of crackers and peanuts. And the never-empty plate of Christmas cookies was no longer standing on the kitchen counter, replaced by a bunch of bananas.

It’s a relief. After a few days of sugar and fat DT’s and some psychological tough love, I’m glad to be back on track.

I wish us all luck as we plow through our holiday withdrawal syndrome. During these dog days of winter, I will gratefully go back to living well instead of living large!

P.S. Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous blog. I'm good for another 10,000 miles now, 2 to 4 at a time!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

HUMBLE APPEAL FOR COMMENTS

If you have ever read one of my blog entries and a little voice in your head says, “Well, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever read,” or “When is this woman going to get a life?”—would you please do me a favor?

Click the dark pink “comments” or "post a comment" w-a-a-y at the bottom of the blog entry. Any comments other people have already made will appear, along with a text box at the bottom labeled, “Leave your comment.”

Type in the words, “Well, that’s the most idiotic thing I’ve ever read,” or whatever else pops into your mind. If you want to sign your name or your initials or use a coded nickname that only I will understand, that would be great. If you prefer just making your anonymous comment and running away, that’s okay, too.

The most non-threatening way to publish a comment is to scroll down and click the circle next to the word “Anonymous.”

Then click on the orange rectangle that says PUBLISH YOUR COMMENT. Give it a minute to process, and then your comment will pop up so you can see what it looks like. (You will have to refresh your web page to see what it looks like on the actual blog page.)

You have no idea how excited I get when someone comments on my blog. Pathetically, sadly, pitifully excited.

I get excited even if the comment only says, “Get a life” or “Your blog really sucks,” or “Stop wasting your time and go do something for the good of mankind.”

If you are feeling especially generous, you could just write “Happy New Year!”

Just this one time, if everyone who reads this entry would write a comment, I promise I’ll never ask again.

Promise. Scout's honor. Cross my heart and hope to die.

I am so needy.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

ANGEL IN THE CORNER

In her old age, my mother sometimes has trouble discerning dreams from reality. A few days ago, she was napping in her chair, dreaming that she was at a bridal shower for one of our old neighbor girls, Beth, even though Beth is now a 63-year-old retired elementary school teacher.

The dream was as real as could be, and when my mother woke up, she mistook one of the CNAs that helps take care of my dad for the bride-to-be. The CNA kindly talked to my mom until she remembered who and where she was, and then my mother laughed at how foolish it had been. There’s a fine line between a dream that seems real and reality.

However, another time, in October of 1948, my mother had an experience that she firmly believes was not a dream. And I believe it wasn’t a dream because I would really like it to be true.

In April of 1948, my mother’s father Edward was standing in the bedroom of his home, looking out the window, watching the weather. It must have been storming, my mother thought. By this time, he was 74 years old and had retired from farming. His sons had taken over the farm operations and he was mostly, my mother laughed, the “errand boy.” He ran errands into town for his sons and did some of the less strenuous work around the farm.

As he stood in the window watching the weather, Edward suddenly fell to the floor. He had suffered a massive stroke. He was taken to the hospital in Fergus Falls where he lay all through that spring, summer, and fall.

Several months later, in October 1948, while her father lay in a bed in another part of the hospital, my mother was admitted to the maternity ward at the same hospital and delivered a baby—me—on October 24.

On the morning of October 26, two days after I was born, I was asleep in a bassinette in the hospital nursery and my mother was alone in her room. Suddenly, she was not alone. She looked up, and there in the corner of her hospital room hovered an angel.

“Did the angel say anything?” I wanted to know when I asked her about the story again today.

“No, the angel was quiet,” my mother said, looking thoughtful.

“But you knew why she was there?” I asked.

“Yes, she came so I would know that my father had died.”

“What did the angel look like?” I asked. I had heard her tell the story dozens of times, but I wanted the details.

“Long, flowing cloths—she was dressed in long, flowing cloths, and she was bright and very quiet,” my mother replied.

“But I wasn’t in the room,” I said, disappointed as I always was when I heard the story, that I had missed the action. “I was in the nursery.”

My mother nodded, continuing the story: A short time later, after the silent angel had disappeared, a nurse stopped by her room to break the news that her father had passed away. However, before the nurse had a chance to get any further than, “I need to tell you . . .,” my mother had interrupted her.

“I know, my father died,” she calmly told the nurse. The nurse had been surprised. ‘Who had told her?’ the nurse wanted to know.

The angel, of course. What could have been an upsetting experience, the death of her father, was one filled with reassurance and peace.

We should all be lucky enough to have an angel deliver the bad news in our lives.


It’s been over 60 years, and my mother has never seen another angel. However, she does not believe, not even for one minute, that she dreamed the angel. The angel was real.

I know that sometimes my mother dreams really hard. But deep in my heart, I believe that angel in the corner of the hospital room was really there. And I think the angel really did want to reassure the new mother that all was well, that her father, Edward, was peacefully in heaven—not to worry.

And I want to believe that the angel floated through the nursery and smiled at me on her way out.