Thursday, February 25, 2010


We're taking off on a long-weekend road trip. I get to spend a total of 16 hours in the car with 14-month-old Colbie. This is the true test of our grandmother/granddaughter relationship. Will we love each other as much when we get back as when we started?

My guess is that this will bring our relationship to a whole new level. She will probably hear every song I've ever learned, including the lyrics to all Broadway musicals from the 1960s and 1970s. (Little known fact: I can recite all the lyrics to "Trouble in River City" from Music Man.)

My guess is that Colbie and I will get along fine, but everyone else in the car will want to drop me off at a truck stop somewhere near Timbuktu. I'll report back on Monday!

Monday, February 22, 2010


The house we’re staying in while we’re in Arizona belongs to a friend of our son’s. My son is officially the “house caretaker” while his friend is out of town for a few months, so that’s how the plan for us to stay here was hatched.

His friend is a single guy and has only lived in the house for eight months. Like many bachelors, interior decorating/home improvement is number eleventy-billion on his list of activities to spend his time on. So part of the deal while we are here is to do just that—home improvement projects—under the guidance of our son, the home improvement guru.

We love it. It’s a beautiful house that just needs some TLC, and we feel at home in it already.
So today, after I’d given the inside a thorough cleaning, I attacked the back yard. The weeds were as high as an elephant’s eye. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure if some of them were bushes or weeds. After awhile, I just shrugged, and my motto became “When in doubt, pull them out.” It made me feel kind of patriotic.

Before (yes, those are weeds):


After: Do you want to hire Tom and me as your gardeners? All offers will be entertained.

(For those of you who remember my primary reason to be here, I also got to take care of Colbie this afternoon while her parents were busy. She talks and talks and talks . . . we have actual conversations that make sense! Fourteen months old, and she’s already my very best friend. PLUS--PLUS--Tom and I took a four-mile walk OUTSIDE this afternoon. How terrific is that?)

Sunday, February 21, 2010


. . . as Dorothy said to Toto. Actually, we were only in Kansas for a portion of the time. The rest of the time we were driving (three days on the road) through Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Speaking of Arizona, here’s our new home for the next few weeks. You will be able to tell that we are not in our regular surroundings because of the following:

1) There is no snow.
2) There is no grass.
3) There is a palm tree in our front yard.

I’ve already hugged Colbie—and my pregnant daughter-in-law and my pregnant daughter. It was amazing to realize last night that I had three grandchildren all in the same room, even though two of them are a little hard to see at the moment. But I’ve felt them kick—little ninja boy and little soccer boy. They’re very good kickers.

I haven’t gone for a walk yet because it’s been raining since we got here—but it’s Arizona and it will quit raining very soon. After sitting in the car for three days, I’m afraid rigor mortis has set into my joints, but I’ll get my knees bending normally again sooner than you think.

We’ve been spreading our belongings around our very nice house, trying to make it look and feel a little like home. It’s in a regular neighborhood this year, not the maximum security gated community for incarcerated senior citizens (i.e., Perfectville) that we lived in last year.

In fact, Colbie lives across the street from me.

Dangerous, you might think: an across-the-street grandma. How soon will it be before Colbie’s mom and dad change their phone number and install extra locks on their doors? I have told myself I will not just sit on the curb and wait for her to come out and play. I cannot ring her doorbell before 5:30 a.m. I have my rules. There’s a fine line between a pesky grandmother and a helpful one. What an exercise in self control this will be. It’s like Colbie is a little magnet and I am a pile of metal shavings . . .

It’s good to be here. Out of the snow, out of the ice, across the street from my beautiful grandchild. It feels like I have died and gone to heaven. But it’s really Arizona, and I’m very much alive.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Saturday marked the beginning of Week No. 3 of my training for the 5K run in May. Three months from today, I will be running around Lake Harriet on my tanned, muscular legs (or my 61-year-old pasty-white, cottage-cheesy-cellulite legs, whichever show up that day).

Week No. 3 includes 3-minute sprints (up from the 60-second sprints in Week No. 1 and the 90-second sprints in Week No. 2).

The first minute of sprinting is comfortable—my legs are cooperative and oxygen flows freely into my lungs. I feel capable and positive. As Helen Reddy would say, “I am woman, hear me roar.”

The second minute starts to get a little tough. My breathing is a little more ragged. I keep checking the clock. Hasn’t it been three minutes yet?

The next half-minute is painful. And the final half-minute is excruciating. It’s that final half minute that makes me wish I were 20 pounds lighter and 20 years younger.

While I’m at it, I also wish that my I.Q. was 20 points higher and that my bank account had 20 percent more money in it.

And as long as I’m wishing . . . I sure wish my eyesight was 20/20.

Final Report: Week No. 3—running 3-minute sprints. Not dead yet. I’ve stopped using my lavender-scented, lace-trimmed handkerchief to delicately dab at my upper lip, and I’m now using a full-sized beach towel to mop up the drip pools.

As soon as I can run ten 3-minute sprints in a row for a total of 30 minutes, I can run a 5K! Piece of cake! (Cake??!? Did someone say ‘cake’??!!)

Sunday, February 14, 2010


My friend Cathy works in social ministry at a parish in Fargo, North Dakota. She pestered me to read the book Half the Sky saying it was a profound book that would change my perspective on the world. Cathy is deep like that—she wants to nudge my social conscience. It’s her job.

I love Cathy—she’s one of those perpetually optimistic people who is a great traveling companion. But she can also be unrelenting when she wants to nudge a social conscience. ‘Gees, Cathy. All right, all right. I’ll read your book,’ I thought with a martyr-like sigh. ‘As if I don’t have a million other things to do in my incredibly busy life—like shovel the lawn or play dominoes.’

Don’t you hate it when people—especially people who pester you to stretch a little—are right?

Half the Sky was a profound book that changed my perspective on the world. Darn it anyway, Cathy.

If you read the book, you will find yourself thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading it. You won’t be thinking about yourself or your next-door neighbors or anyone you know. You’ll find yourself thinking hard and long about the plight of women in third world countries. You might even get a few new worry lines in your brow.

Darn Cathy. Making me socially aware AND more wrinkled than I already am.

The book deals with marginalization of women, gendercide (killing of women or allowing women to die without intervening), rape as a weapon of war, withholding education and economic opportunities for women, and other topics guaranteed to take you way out of your comfort zone.

Honestly, I’m a poor excuse for a feminist. I’m the first one to roll my eyes when an 18-year-old girl wants to major in “Women’s Studies” in college. “Check the want ads,” I think sarcastically. “See any ads for ‘Women Study-ers’?”

But this book was different.

Did you know that security experts have noted that most of the countries that nurture terrorists are those where women are marginalized?

Did you know that “rule by rape” is a common fighting tactic used in many third-world country’s civil wars?

Did you know that many women are not dying because their diseases are untreatable, but because their societies have yet to make the decision that female lives are worth saving?

Did you know that grassroots efforts by women in third-world countries usually achieve more than all the well-meaning UN conferences put together?

Did you know that nearly everyone who works in poor countries recognizes that women are a greatly underutilized resource, and that around the globe, these countries prosper when they educate women and allow them to use their talents?

Did you know that educating girls is the single best way to lower infant mortality, improve children’s health, and create a more just and dynamic society?

So, Cathy, I read your book. And now I have the weight of the world on my shoulders—or at least the part of the world under the Half the Sky held up by women.

By the way, Cathy also suggested that I might want to put my money where my mouth is and check out, which offers small loans to third-world women who need a bit of loan capital to work their way out of poverty. It’s one of those grassroots projects that is truly making a difference.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I’m on week no. 2 of my 5K training program: warmup walk 5 minutes, run 90 seconds, walk 2 minutes, run 90 seconds, walk 2 minutes . . .

It’s going fine except for one thing: I had no idea my body contained so much pourable sweat.

Nobody—and I mean nobody—wants to hear about senior-citizen sweat. It’s bad enough when old people talk about their bowel movements and their gall bladders. But even worse--ewwww . . . old-people sweat.

So the only thing I want to say about that condition is that I now understand perfectly why Paulie Bleeker in the movie Juno wears that gold sweatband. I understand perfectly.

Remember this?

Juno: Wow, your shorts are like especially gold today.

Paulie: My mom uses color safe bleach.

Juno: Go, Carol.

Maybe I’ll watch Juno on the treadmill today for a little running inspiration from Paulie Bleeker.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I might have Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder or Light Deprivation Syndrome or maybe even Northern Latitude Depression Cycle. I might have one of those conditions.

I don’t have a scientific diagnosis for my present state, but one of its symptoms (besides the usual lethargy, weeping, and weight gain) is a strange urge to shovel the lawn.

It’s true. Yesterday I shoveled the front lawn.

It was a tough weekend: 36 hours of snow, schools called off and businesses closed on Monday, a two-hour late start for the schools on Tuesday, sub-zero temperatures again this morning, and yardstick-deep snow drifts all over my front lawn.

I wrote earlier about my little neighbor boys who use my lawn as a shortcut to their bus stop. Tuesday morning I watched as they floundered their way across my yard, clumsily blazing a trail through the new snow drifts, up to their knees, just so they could catch the school bus. (Before you feel too sorry for them, remember I told you that they did have the option of walking on the plowed street.)

Something inside of me snapped. Some primordial urge to protect my young (or in this case, my neighbor’s young) from the cold clutches of winter.

An idea began to form.

During the day, my resolve deepened. Old Man Winter with his snow drifts and blustery squalls would not beat me down. As God is my witness, as God is my witness, it's not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again . . .

Good grief. This was worse than I thought. I was starting to quote Scarlett O’Hara.

I knew I couldn’t follow through with my plan when Tom was around. He doubts my sanity on a normal day when I’m doing ordinary things. So I waited until late afternoon when he was downstairs on the treadmill. Silently, I pulled on my coat, my hat, my mittens. Stealthily, I opened the door and crept out to the garage. I picked up the shovel and started scooping snow, making a path where my neighbors’ little footprints were sunk deep into the snowdrifts.

Five cars drove past while I was shoving. I could feel the drivers slowing down to gawk. ‘There was this old lady out there, shoveling her lawn,’ I could imagine them telling their families at the dinner table that night. But I didn't care. My mission was to move snow. I would save those boys—single-handedly—from a wintry demise.

After about 15 minutes, my sweaty shoveling had produced a crude path for the boys to walk on. I stomped it down with my boots to make firm footing for them. My job was done. I crept quietly back in the house.

This morning, I watched out the window as the boys discovered the path I had shoveled. Gleefully, they ran down the track. I stuck my head out the door. “Good morning!” I called. “I shoveled your path!”
The third grader cheerfully called back, “I know! I was going to thank you when I saw you!”

Ha! Haaaa!!

I felt so much better. Incredibly better. One small victory over winter. Winter is probably winning the war, but I had won that small battle and saved the children!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


No, not muggings. I was not accosted on the street by a desperate youth who stole my purse and ran. I said, “Muggins.”

Muggins is different from muggings because the accosting takes place at my kitchen table after lunch, not on a dark street at midnight. The accoster is not a drug-crazed youth, but a mild-mannered senior citizen. And the only thing stolen is my self-respect. After the Muggins is over, the afore-mentioned senior citizen calmly rises from his chair and walks, not runs, away in quiet triumph.

Here’s the story.

For over a year, my husband had an old gentleman named Les Simpson whom he visited at the nursing home every week. The visits started out innocently enough—Tom just started popping his head in the door for a quick visit. He had known Les for over five years because Les and his wife shared a table with my parents at mealtime when they lived at Nelson Gables assisted living. Les and his wife had moved to the nursing home in 2007, and Les’s wife had died of the complications of Parkinson’s Disease in 2008.

Those quick stick-your-head-in-the-door visits led to longer visits, and soon Les was teaching Tom his very favorite dominoes game—Muggins. Although Les was in a wheelchair, he was still a Muggins master. At first, Tom often found himself on the losing end of the score card. Eventually he learned a few tricks of his own, so he would win a Muggins game as often as he was on the losing end. Les looked forward to the weekly games, but so did Tom.

Last fall, Tom started noticing that Les wasn’t himself. He would make mistakes and miss plays. He lost his competitiveness. After awhile, it became apparent that Les’s health was failing, and the Muggins games were put aside. Tom’s visits became bedside visits, and Les died of heart disease and cancer at the age of 88 on November 4, 2009.

At the funeral, Les’s son gave a eulogy in which he mentioned how much his father had looked forward to playing dominoes with Tom every week.

A tin box of Double Six Color Dot Dominoes sat in Tom’s office for a couple of months, gathering dust. Every time I saw that box, I thought about Les. Then about two weeks ago, right after lunch one cold January day, I asked Tom if he wanted to play a game of Muggins.

The dominoes box came out, he beat me, and it’s been a battle ever since. Every day after lunch, we empty the dominoes on the kitchen table, mix them up, draw our seven tiles, and off we go. Tom always keeps score (he always did with Les, too)—a funny method that involves x’s instead of points. We usually talk about Les a little bit as we play our game of Muggins.

Right now (not that I’m keeping track), Tom is ahead of me by two games. Some of it is strategy, and some of it is the luck of the draw. But I do win occasionally.

I don’t know if we’ll keep doing this forever, Tom and I, but it has been a good way to get through some of the blustery, snowy days of the past two weeks. And in a way, when Tom and I dump out the dominoes after lunch, I feel like we’re having a daily tribute to the memory of Les, who was always up for a friendly game of Muggins.

Friday, February 05, 2010


When I visit my 90+ year-old parents day after day, the conversations sometimes meander strangely.

Take today, for example:

ME: I am training for a 5K race in May, so today I ran some 90-second sprints on the treadmill. I thought I would die.

GRANDMA: Don’t say “die” in front of people our age. (She laughed.)

My father was sitting in his chair with his finger up his nose. My mother looked at him, then at me, and arched her eyebrows critically.

ME: Is he digging for gold?

GRANDPA: (quickly putting his hand down) Mom is always going after something in her nose, too.

GRANDMA: At least I use a kleenex. I have crusts.

ME: I suppose Dad’s afraid you’ll have another nosebleed. [She’s had some serious nosebleeds because of her blood thinners.]

GRANDMA: The air is dry in here. I never had nosebleeds when I was young. I had earaches. Once when I was little, I had the measles and my ear hurt, so my father blew cigar smoke in my ear.

ME: He blew cigar smoke in your ear? What was that supposed to do?

GRANDMA: I don’t know, but it did feel better. I had woken up in the middle of the night with an earache, so my father got up, lit a cigar, put me on his lap, and blew smoke in my ear. It helped.

ME: Maybe it just made you feel better to sit in his lap.

GRANDMA: That was the only time I remember sitting on his lap. We children didn’t ever sit in my father’s lap. He was kind of distant.

GRANDPA: Well, at our house, we had red liniment. Sometimes we would drink it, and other times we would rub it on our joints if our knees or hands hurt.

ME: You drank and rubbed the same stuff? Really??

GRANDPA: Yes, it was out of the same bottle. Red liniment.

ME: How did it taste?

GRANDPA: Awful. We got it from the peddler who came around and sold things. He had a horse and a cart. And he talked rough.

GRANDMA: We had that red liniment, too, but our peddler drove a car.

GRANDPA: No, I remember he had a horse and a cart.

GRANDMA: Well, I’m a lot younger than you so our peddlers had cars. The Watkins peddler and the Rawleigh peddler.

ME: What did they sell?

GRANDMA: (shrugging) Everything. Medicine. Spices. Kitchen things. Things for the house.

ME: Did your peddler talk rough, too?

GRANDMA: Not that I remember.

GRANDPA: Not like Bob Dietz. Our hired man. I had to talk to him about his language. I hired him to work for us, but he used such rough language. I had to tell him that he couldn’t be around my family if he used rough language. I never heard him swear again after that. He stopped just like that.

ME: You must have scared him.

GRANDPA: He needed work. He wanted to work for me. I picked him up along the road in Carlisle—he was from Wisconsin, I think.

GRANDMA: It was during the War. Men needed work.

ME: Well, it was good of you to protect us kids from bad language.

GRANDPA: We got a letter from him a few years later. He met a nice girl and he said she changed his life. He became a minister.

GRANDMA: Yes, that girl changed his life. He became a teacher.

ME: I’m confused. Did he become a teacher or a minister?

GRANDMA: A teacher.

GRANDPA: (silence)

ME: Well, Dad, you probably turned his life around when you told him to stop swearing.

GRANDPA: No, I think it was that girl he married. (Straining to look out his window to see the parking lot.) The snow plow was through here this morning . . .

Sometimes we talk about what happened today. Sometimes we talk about what happened yesterday. Sometimes we talk about what happened 85 years ago. There’s always some conversational road to ramble down.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


It’s a disease. It’s an addiction. When we are thinking rationally, we know we should walk away from our laptop computers and live a normal life. But then inexplicably, unaccountably, we are drawn back into the sucking vortex of blogging.

We know it’s unnatural. Like the movie, Groundhog Day, we’re stuck on December 1, destined to write an on-line Christmas letter to friends and relatives over and over and over again. We know we can’t write those long Christmas letters and put them in the mail every three days all year long. That would be irrational—mentally unstable. Certifiably cuckoo.

So instead, we blog. Worldwide, there are over 200 million of us, blogging about our lives and thoughts. Statistically, there are 1.5 billion internet users across the world, so each blogger averages about 7 readers. Since Pioneer Woman has 2 million visits a month and Paris Hilton’s blog garners about 300,000 hits a day, that makes the average audience for the rest of us to be closer to 2.7 readers.

Almost every blogger wants to stop blogging. We write a blog, read it later, cringe in embarassment, and vow to give up blogging forever. For many bloggers, it takes two or three days before the urge strikes anew. Some can hold out even longer—maybe a week or two.
Photo: www.bestweekever

But like an alcoholic or a drug addict or a two-pack-a-day smoker, bloggers need a fix; so it’s back to the laptop. Our fingers shake, sweat collects on our upper lip, and our eyes furtively seek something to blog about: an orange shag carpet, a dust bunny under the bed, moldy cheese in the refrigerator, belly button lint. We know it’s only a matter of time before we’re homeless, unwashed, slouched on a park bench, with our only worldly possession—our laptops—concealed in a crumpled brown paper bag on our laps.

I understand there’s a Bloggers’ Anonymous support group out there somewhere. I even Googled it to try to find out when the next group meets or if there’s a support group in a town near me. I feel the shakes coming on again, that armpit sweat collecting, that light-headed, aura-like feeling that comes over me when I know I’m going to weaken and blog.

Would my 2.7 readers please get together and organize an intervention? Hopefully, that will succeed and I’ll be able to stop this madness. At the very least, a blogging intervention would provide a new subject to blog about the next time I get the shakes and need a fix.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


It snowed again yesterday and the streets are slick and slippery. That means that I’m stuck on the treadmill for my 2-to-4 miles today. Sigh.

Here’s the truth: I get so tired of the treadmill this time of the year that I could scream. Here’s another truth: Sometimes I feel like skipping a day. Sometimes it takes every ounce of mustered-up willpower in my whole body to force myself to tie my shoes and head down the basement to the treadmill.

After all, who would know if I skipped a session? And who really cares?

Answer: my faithful training partner would know. Good old what’s-his-name. The old guy I live with. The guy that every cold winter day, puts on his 10-year-old black mesh shorts and t-shirt and heads down those same basement stairs. Every day. He climbs on the treadmill, pushes the “Start” button, and takes off.
If the old guy can do it, so can I. Me, his much younger wife.

My husband is 65-going-on-66 years old. On Christmas day 2009, his 67-year-old brother had a stroke. Last month, another older brother had a heart attack. He had a third brother who died at the age of 68 of the complications of heart disease and diabetes. It’s a scary family medical history.

So my ‘conscience,’ my good-old faithful training partner, puts on his running shoes and goes down the basement on these cold winter days, clocking the miles. One foot in front of the other . . . getting that aging heart pumping and that smelly old sweat rolling.

I like to believe that some days it’s me who tweaks his conscience—just like other days it’s he who prods mine. But together, as my blog title optimistically says, we “dream of hiking into [our] old age.” Day after day, mile after mile, challenging each other to do everything we can to stay alive. In our old age, we want our house to smell like sweaty gym socks instead of Pine Sol and mothballs.

After all, we’ve got some grandbabies to help raise!