Friday, April 30, 2010


More than ten years ago, four plastic under-the-bed storage boxes full of old pictures found their way to my basement. They were a “gift” from my parents when they downsized in 1999, moving from their house to an apartment.

You’ve seen some of the pictures in this blog—the old black and whites, some of them dating all the way back to the 1800s. Most of the photographs in the boxes were pictures my parents had taken, but many were passed down from their parents. My Aunt Clara’s pictures even ended up in the mix after she died in 1995.

Retired people are required by the laws of common decency to have projects to keep them occupied. So these four boxes of pictures have become my latest project. I’ve started scanning some of the pictures so that all of my siblings and their children will have access to this photographic family history--whether they want it or not. I don’t want to show up at a family reunion one day and see someone wearing a tee-shirt that reads, “You got all the historical family pictures and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt.”

All this week, I’ve been sorting, organizing, stacking, piling, (and even throwing) until the four plastic boxes were reduced down to two plastic boxes.

Yesterday I started scanning.

I found that my father has exactly 12 pictures that represent the first 24 years of his life from his birth in 1917 to 1941 when he got married. My mother has exactly 15 pictures that represent her life from her birth in 1918 to 1941. (Compare that to a baby born in 2010 who will have 800 digital photographs taken prior to leaving the maternity ward of the hospital two days after its birth.)

My goal is to reduce these piles into one neat electronic storage device that can be copied for any family member, whether child, grandchild, great grandchild—or all the great-greats that will follow:

Occasionally I’ve stumbled across treasures such as the two pictures below, taken of my three older siblings in about 1948 or so, before I was even born.

I’ve got 150 years of family history spread out all over my office, the priceless pictures that create a link between the great-great grandparents who came over from Norway in the 1860s to the current family in 2010. Treasures. I know I have possession of the real family jewels.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


After people retire, their telephones start ringing for an entirely new reason. Besides the usual family, friends, telemarketers, wrong numbers, etc., the newly retired start getting these calls:

“Would you be interested in volunteering to . . .” fill in the blank.

Last week alone, my retired husband Tom was asked if he would: 1) Help unload a truck at the food shelf? (yes) 2) Run for county commissioner? (no) 3) Read at mass next Sunday? (yes) 4) Check on a lake cabin for an out-of-town friend who is coming up for a fishing trip? (yes)

I am much less popular than Tom and only got two phone calls: Would I be interested in running for parish council? And—would I be interested in helping judge a poetry writing contest for grades 5-12 in the school district’s Student Showcase Celebration?

First of all, regarding the parish council offer, I haven’t checked lately, but is hell frozen over?? I distinctly remember saying after I retired from teaching that I would only voluntarily attend another meeting in my lifetime when hell was firmly frozen over. I detest meetings. I loved to teach but felt that every moment that I spent in meetings was the time equivalent of being stretched out on a rack in a castle dungeon. While having my fingernails ripped out. While having boiling oil poured on my skin. Did I mention that I hate meetings?

But the poetry writing contest intrigued me. I have a degree in English, but it’s a different kind of English. You know, the technical writing, business writing, practical writing, add a pie chart, put in a spreadsheet kind of English. I did take the mandatory poetry classes in college, but that was 8 bazillion years ago. That was back in the old days when onomatopoeia and alliteration and rhyming were really big. I wasn’t even sure if they were still big.
Still—occasionally it’s nice to have a reason to comb my hair and put on some of my dusty old teacher clothes for a day. Just a day, that’s enough.

And it was surprisingly fun to read those poems and talk about composition and execution of theme and creativity with three other judges who had also said “yes” to the telephone call. And it felt good to talk about sensory details and figurative language and vivid images, even if the poet we were discussing was a fifth grader.

It felt good to put on my slightly out-of-date teacher clothes and feel a little smart again. Just for old time’s sake. Just for a day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Back in 2003, when my dad was about to turn 86, he kept warning us not to plan a party. His own father had died at age 85—just one day before his 86th birthday. So using male logic, my father had it in his head that he, too, would pass away before he turned 86.

“Don’t plan a birthday party!” he kept insisting back in 2003. “I won’t be here.”

In the recent weeks leading up to April 25, 2010, my father kept saying, “Don’t plan a birthday party. I won’t be here.”

“Where are you going?” I would ask him, being a smart-mouthed daughter. “Are you taking the senior bus to the mall?”

He would give me “that look” that fathers can give their daughters to let them know they’re skating on mighty thin ice. Mighty thin.

So on Sunday, we celebrated the 93rd birthday that my father insisted he wasn’t going to have. He must have decided to bypass the mall trip and showed up at the party instead.
So much for male logic. What he chooses to forget is that his mother lived to the age of 101.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? It’s like the old saying, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."

Happy 93rd Birthday, Dad!

Friday, April 23, 2010


Tom is gone for three days. No, not fishing, although that would have been a logical guess. Actually, he is down near the Twin Cities attending a silent auction.

Aw, NUTS! I did it again. Tom is not in the Twin Cities attending a silent auction. He’s at a silent retreat.

Why do I keep doing that?

Yesterday, Tom and three other men from our church got into a car and drove to Demontreville near Lake Elmo where they are attending a silent retreat—not a silent auction.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past 24 hours I have flashed a mental picture of Tom walking around a table, adding his name to the bid list: ‘Oooooh! $25 for a Joe Mauer autographed bat,’ or ‘John, did you see these crocheted pot holders? They’re already up to $7.50. Do you think that’s too much? Should I put in a bid?’

‘No!’ I’ll tell myself sharply. ‘Silent retreat—not silent auction.’

Jesuits silently praying in a chapel. Men listening to inspirational speakers and learning how to practice the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.

Nobody is bidding on Joe Mauer bats and crocheted pot holders.

Gosh, I wish I could get that out of my head: silent retreat, silent retreat, silent retreat. Tom is at a silent retreat!

Although I could use some new potholders.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I usually stop to visit my 91- and 93-year-old parents for a while every day. Sometimes I leave uplifted because they’re bright and ‘with it.’ Other days I leave a little confused by their logic.

Grandma: They were training in a new girl [a certified nursing assistant] today.

Me: Really?

Grandma: I can tell she’s not going to be a good one.

Me: And how can you tell that when it’s just her first day?

Grandma: She stood with her arms crossed.

Me: Her arms crossed?

Grandma: She was supposed to be watching the other girl, and the new one just stood with her arms crossed.

Me: Well, I suppose she was told to just observe the first day.

Grandma: The good ones can’t help it. They just pitch right in and work. They don’t cross their arms.

Me: I hope you give the new girl a chance.

Grandma: Oh, sure. But she won’t be a good one. She crossed her arms.

Grandpa: Whose alarms?

Me: No, arms—not alarms. Arms. The new girl—Grandma said she just crossed her arms.

Grandpa: The new girl has arms?

Grandma: Remember at dinner? She just stood there and crossed her arms. And didn’t smile. She won’t be a good one.

Me: Maybe you could at least give her a chance? Maybe she was very nervous and serious her first day on the job.

Grandma: We had to work hard when we were kids. I can tell which girls had to work hard at home when they were growing up because they know how to work when they come here [to the assisted living].

Me (trying to change the subject): So what were you expected to do when you were kids?

Grandpa: Who has a kid?

Me: No, when you were a kid. What work were you expected to do when you were a kid?

Grandpa: I was tall and skinny—six feet tall when I was 13 years old.

Grandma (to Grandpa): I remember when you grew so fast at that age that they couldn’t keep up to you with pants. During Norwegian School one spring, your father told my mother that you grew out of a pair of pants every week.

Grandpa: I grew fast.

They both stopped to think about that awhile. Finally, my mother spoke.

: Do you remember when Irving jumped twenty feet off the side of the silo because he thought the silo was falling down?

Grandpa (laughing): He was putting up pipe on the side of the silo during silo-filling. It was a windy day. He looked up and saw the clouds moving by the top of the silo and he thought the silo was tipping over—so he jumped.

Grandma: Uffdah, he didn’t realize it was the clouds moving instead of the silo.

They both laughed.

Me: Was he hurt?

Grandpa: I don’t remember that he was hurt.

Grandma: Just his pride. Everybody teased him about that—“The silo is falling, Irving!” (She laughed.)


Grandma: We worked when we were kids. I helped my aunt feed the men during threshing. We didn’t cross our arms. The new girl won’t be a good one because she crossed her arms.

I think that’s where I came in.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Without my usual 2 to 4 daily miles, I have (drum roll) an extra hour, give or take, every single day.

I know, I know. Extra-hour envy. Some of you are so busy that you would kill for that extra hour a day. In fact, I can remember other times in my life where a 25-hour day would have been welcome, especially back in the 1980s and 1990s when I was a working mom with a job, three kids, and only two hands. So if I could figure out a way to give that hour away to someone deserving—or even put that extra hour on Craig’s List and sell it—I would.

However, my time is my time, and there’s no way to hand it off like a relay baton to someone who needs it more than I do. It’s mine to use productively or waste as I choose.

So far in the past five days, I’ve spent that extra hour: eating, reading, lollygagging, moping, loitering, whining, diddling, hemming, hawing, and frittering. Oh, and I’ve also loafed and lounged a little.

Since the point of this self-imposed knee rest is to rest my knee, I have purposely not done things like clean the garage, plow the South 40, or rearrange the heavy furniture, all of which need to be done. I have also not done non-knee-straining activities like feeding the poor and visiting prisoners. To say that I have not used this extra time wisely would be humblingly accurate.

I last walked on Tuesday, April 13, so on Wednesday, April 21, come hell or high water, I am going to give it another try. It seems to me (with my vast personal knowledge of orthopaedic medicine) that my knee has improved somewhat. Three more days of self-imposed abstinence might help me turn the corner. Or at least it might allow me to walk around the corner.

Keep your fingers crossed that these days of frittering and squandering a perfectly good hour are almost over!

Friday, April 16, 2010


It’s time to admit that my blog title is currently a fraud. I can no longer walk 2 to 4 miles a day.

There. I said it. I’ve been avoiding admitting it as long as I could, hoping a miracle would happen. You know, like healing the sick and curing the lame and making the blind see. Just your everyday miracle.

After deciding to take on the new challenge of running a 5K (after ten years of walking 2 to 4 miles a day), I finally have to admit that my 61-year-old knee let me down. I thought I was training correctly. I thought I was progressing in stages. But since the middle of March, I haven’t even been able to walk on a regular basis, let alone run 3.1 miles.

Currently, I am on knee rest. I have promised Tom that I won’t even try taking walks for a week. I watch forlornly out the window when he leaves for his daily hike, my nose pressed against the glass, trying not to covet his knees. His nice, bendy, un-painful knees. His springy, cooperative, Arizona-tanned knees.

I had always suspected that my 2 to 4 miles a day were directly tied to my mental health. Now I know it for a fact. Walk—and I feel happy. Don’t walk—and I feel sluggish and gosh-darn snarly. Walk—and I sleep well. Don’t walk—and I toss and turn. Walk—and I eat normally. Don’t walk—and I feel like consuming candy-coated chocolate in 8-pound bags.

So, now I’ve admitted my failure—my sham of a blog title. I’ll wait a week—ice packing, elevating, ibuprofen-ing, praying for that miracle. And being patient, even though I’m feeling very impatient. Snarly, even.

I just hope it doesn’t mean I’ll have to change the name of this blog to “View from the Couch— Touch My M&Ms and You Die.” Like I said, snarly.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


My father, who will turn 93 in a few days, and my 91-year-old mother have been having a tough time lately. Instead of the “bad days” they usually experience, they have been having “bad weeks” stretching into “bad months.” I really thought that my parents' story-telling days were over.

However, another story emerged this week, brought on by finding out that one of the staff members at their assisted living facility had a great-great relative-or-other who lived in the Carlisle area where my parents grew up. Whenever my parents meet someone new, it’s always exciting for them to make a Carlisle connection, no matter how remote or how many generations removed.

I didn’t quite understand how the nursing assistant was related to this Carlisle family, but it brought out the story of the Weiby’s.

Mr. Weiby was the blacksmith in Carlisle when my parents were young. His blacksmith shop sat directly across the road from the schoolhouse in Carlisle. My dad attended grades 1-8 in that school while my mother attended a rural school closer to the farm where she grew up. However, both of my parents attended “Norwegian School” in June (after their regular school was dismissed for the summer) which was held in the Carlisle schoolhouse.

One of my parents’ memories was of the open schoolhouse windows on those warm June days that allowed the sounds from the blacksmith shop to float across the road. It was the first time my mother had ever heard what she called “strong language.” Whenever Mr. Weiby had difficulty calming a skittish horse for shoeing, he could be heard swearing loudly, an ear-startling phenomenon in the conservative little Norwegian-Lutheran community.

My father was close in age to the Weiby’s youngest son, Richard. Although Richard was a year older than my dad, they were in the same confirmation class at Hedemarken Lutheran Church.

Confirmation class, Hedemarken Lutheran Church (approximately 1930). My dad is in the back row, second from the right. Richard Weiby is in the middle row, second from the right.)

After Richard finished eighth grade at the Carlisle school, he did what many of the boys did who were not needed at home: he found a job as a hired man on a local farm.

The story of Richard Weiby ended early and sadly. My parents said that in their rural community, farming accidents involving horses and cattle were common. Richard had gone to work a couple of miles from Carlisle on a farm a belonging to my father’s cousin Ralph’s family.

At the age of 16 or 17 years old, Richard wasn’t a very big teenager, short and small. My mother speculated that Richard had been given the job of cleaning manure out of a calf pen. In those days, cleaning out the calf pen required using a wagon hitched to a team of horses and shoveling manure into the back of that wagon. While Richard was working, something spooked the horses, causing them to rear and try to break free from their load.

The wagon that Richard was working with probably looked something like this. (Source:

“He should have run the other direction,” my dad said. “But he stood in front of those horses and tried to stop them.” The center pole of the yoke struck Richard in the chest, and he died as a result of that injury.

Ironically, Richard’s father, the blacksmith, had been adamant about keeping children away from horses that local farmers brought in for shoeing. He had a firm rule rule: no playing around the horses. It was too dangerous, as his teenaged son Richard found out the hard way.

I’m still not quite sure how the young nursing assistant who helps my parents is related to the family in this story. All I know is that she triggered a memory of the early 1930s that caused my parents to think about an event that happened 80 years ago in their little community in West Central Minnesota.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I decided that I would roll my Wife Calculator back to zero in honor of Tom’s monumental achievement. While up at Rainy River over the weekend, he caught the biggest walleye he has ever caught in his life: 30 inches, nose to tail, and approximately 10 ½ pounds.

He caught it, proudly held it up for his fishing partner to photograph, and gently returned it to the river. Hopefully, that same fish will survive to make another fisherman’s dream come true, too.

So he gets this fishing trip for free—no hours will be recorded on the wife calculator. There's just something about a man holding a walleye that turns my knees to mush.

What a fisherman! What a walleye! What a thrill!

Saturday, April 10, 2010


We had barely walked in the door after driving back to Minnesota from Arizona when Tom started packing again.

He put away the shorts, tee-shirts, and sunscreen from Arizona and started neatly rolling his jeans, long underwear, and fleece into little bundles. It was time for the first fishing trip of the season.

Word from “Up North” was that the ice had gone off Rainy River (the river that empties into Lake of the Woods from the east, between Ontario and Minnesota), and enthusiastic reports of ginormous walleye were filtering in.

“I thought fishing season didn’t open until May 15,” I noted politely—or maybe I whined.

“This is Rainy River,” he explained patiently. “There are different rules for different bodies of water.”

“Well, excuse me for my ignorance,” I sniffed. “But do you really want to get in a pickup truck pulling a boat and drive five hours to the Canadian border to go fishing when you’ve just spent three days in the car driving back from Arizona?” I tried not to sound judgmental.

He looked a little impatient. “But the ice is off the river,” he said firmly, as if that explained it.

While the rest of Minnesota doesn’t open its lake-fishing walleye season until May 15, fishermen can fish for walleye from March 1 until April 14 in the 70-mile-long Rainy River that empties into Lake of the Woods, the huge island-filled body of water that stretches between Ontario, Manitoba, and Minnesota.

I kept thinking Tom would change his mind. After all, his legs were still tan from Arizona. His thick Minnesota blood had thinned down to a watery consistency in the 70- and 80-degree Arizona sun. And it’s still cold up there in northern Minnesota. Even if the ice is off the Rainy River, Lake of the Woods itself is still mostly frozen. It takes a long time to thaw a 1,700 square mile cube of ice.

However, by last night, I knew Tom was serious. He went out to the local bait shop and bought a fishing license. He asked me set the alarm clock for 4:30 a.m. Two fishing rods leaned against the doorframe in the kitchen, ready to be loaded into his friend’s truck at 5 o’clock in the morning. His bag was packed. He had ‘the look’ in his eye.

He was going. Come hell or high water—or in this case, frozen water—he was headed to Rainy River to go fishing. He will come home with a bag of dirty laundry, a runny nose, cold feet—and maybe a couple of fish, if he’s lucky.

I’d invite you all for a walleye dinner, but just because Tom’s going fishing doesn’t automatically mean there will be fish.

So I will reset the old Wife Calculator to log in the first hours of the 2010 fishing season, and off we go again.

Friday, April 09, 2010


After sitting in the car for three days and logging somewhere between 1,700 and 1,800 miles, we are home! We drove 11 hours a day for the first two days and then yesterday, we drove 8 hours—listening to books on CD and singing along (badly off-key) to every oldies radio station we could tune in along the way.

Our house was still standing, exactly where we left it in February. The only thing missing was the snow—the piles and piles of snow. The air was Minnesota crisp—a sunny 50 degrees—but the trees have budded out and the grass is starting to turn green. We even had time for a walk on the Central Lakes Trail before it got dark.

Our front yard when we left in February . . .

Our front yard on April 9 . . .

Now the clock is ticking:

It’s only 21 days until Grandbaby No. 2 is due to be born.

It’s 7 ½ weeks until Grandbaby No. 3 is due to be born.

And . . . I have only 36 training days until the 5K race on May 15. Thirty-six days. Five weeks . . . 864 hours. Sheesh--what have I gotten myself into?

The tendonitis is still causing problems. But at least it’s not any worse. And maybe it’s getting better, at the speed of tiny snails being towed through sludge by reluctant old tortoises. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly. I am hoping that my brand new running shoes will magically cure whatever ails me. Or at least, they will make me look hot. At my age, the goal is always to look hot.

Brand new hot running shoes

So the exciting countdowns begin: 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . .

Monday, April 05, 2010


I didn’t want to think about it, let alone write about it. Going home.

It’s not the sorting and the throwing and the culling of all that we’ve accumulated in the past six weeks—although just thinking about it makes my head ache.

It’s not the packing—although just thinking about it makes my back ache.

It’s not the three-day drive—although just thinking about it makes my butt ache.

It’s leaving behind my family that lives in Arizona—and just thinking about it makes my heart ache.

The past six weeks have been family . . .

Family . . . Family . . . Family . . . Family . . . Family . . . Family . . . Family . . . And did I mention ‘family’?
I can take a Tylenol for my backache and my headache and my buttache. But what can I take for my heart?