Friday, June 18, 2010


I woke up this morning with a group of Benedictine monks singing a Latin Gregorian chant in my brain: “Et exsultavit spiritus meus quattro miglia,” they intoned solemnly. Loosely translated, it means, “My spirit is exulting because today, I will walk four miles!”

Actually, I exaggerate. Despite two year of high school Latin, I can’t Gregorian-chant my way out of a paper bag, even in my dreams. But I did wake up this morning resolved to walk four miles.

In the middle of March, when I first developed the patellar tendinitis, I had to completely give up the “2 to 4 a day” walking routine I had done for years. Walking was just too painful. I iced, rested, elevated, braced, prayed, cursed . . . and occasionally I would hobble a mile or so, with shooting pains anywhere there was a tendon in my left knee. By mid-April, the shooting pains had subsided to aches, and I was able to limp a little farther. At the beginning of May, I got a knee brace that allowed me to walk with more confidence—and by mid-May, I was walking 2 to 3 miles regularly—no pain, minor aches, and some stiffness.

This morning was THE morning. Four miles. The Gregorians had spoken—er, chanted.

I hit the Central Lakes at 6:45 a.m. Although I didn’t break any speed records, I walked four pain-free miles. My blog title is legitimate again: 2 to 4 a day. Halleluiah!

Three months after my original injury, I have learned the following truths:

1)I am not a runner. I am a walker. If God had wanted me to be a runner, He would have given me four legs, a tail, and a mother with a partiality for the name “Bambi.”

2)My mental health is directly—and I am serious when I say “directly”—linked to lacing up my walking shoes. I am only one short walk away from Prozac. Some of my toughest days in the past three months were the days when I wasn’t able to do some walking, even if it was only hobbling a few blocks down the street and back.

3)I will never again take the privilege of walking for granted. Every step is a gift; every mile is a reward.

The dream was on hold for three months—you know, the “I dream of hiking into my old age” quote from Marlyn Doan that I optimistically keep in my blog banner. But the dream is back again. In fact, I was dreaming it this morning when the chanting Gregorians woke me up, telling me it was time to get my butt out of bed, lace up my walking shoes, and walk four miles again. And chanting Gregorians never steer you wrong.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


My life is actually quite good. I have the requisite food, clothing, and shelter. I have had the same faithful husband for nearly 37 years. My children are all grown, productive members of society, and not a single one of them asks me for money to support a drug habit. I do not have to visit anyone in jail on the weekend.

But every once in awhile, I give in to some strange, moody funk that goes against everything I was taught as a child. You know—Garrison Keillor’s observation that all Norwegian-Lutheran children are admonished to “Cheer up, make yourself useful, mind your manners, and above all, don’t feel sorry for yourself.”

Well, yesterday, I allowed myself to be un-cheery, un-useful, ill-mannered—and to top it all off, I kind of moped. Yes, moped.

It wasn’t that I wanted to listen to fifteen hours of books-on-tape while driving across the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It wasn’t that I wanted to stay in a Days Inn in Colorado Springs and eat the pop-up toaster waffles in their breakfast bar at 6 a.m. this morning. But when my husband Tom and daughter Shannon loaded up the car yesterday morning to leave for Arizona to see the new grandbabies, I felt a little mopey. I had already had my three weeks out there. Fair is fair. I had held the babies and chased Colbie and made a general nuisance of myself. Now it was their turn.

Tom and Shannon Deserting Me at 6 a.m.
So yesterday I visited my parents. I had lunch with a friend. And then, with rain coming down again for what seems like Noah’s fortieth day in a row, I had an afternoon movie marathon that stretched into the evening. I watched “Shirley Valentine” about a 42-year-old woman who runs away to Greece to feel alive again. I watched “Seraphine,” the true story about a mentally ill artist/cleaning woman. I watched “Walk to Beautiful,” a sobering Nova documentary about the Women’s Fistula Clinic in Ethiopia. They were all wonderful movies, but all just a bit on the Debbie-Downer side. They fit in perfectly to my self-imposed mopey mood.

I didn’t clean my house like I should have. I didn’t go for a walk. I didn’t cheer up, make myself useful, or mind my manners. I just allowed myself to shuffle around in sweatpants, sighing and feeling sorry for myself. In my head, scolding voices with suspiciously strong Norwegian accents berated my woe-is-me attitude. I secretly wondered if I was getting enough ketchup in my diet (another Norwegian belief, according to Garrison Keillor, is that ketchup will cure depression).

Today will be different, I know. I will rise up, meet the day, and move a mountain or two. I’ll throw a little ketchup on my Cheerios, if I need to. But yesterday, I just needed to let myself feel a little down in the dumps.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I usually call my 93-year-old father “Grandpa” or sometimes “Dad.” Mary gets to call him “honey.” Or “sweetheart.” Or "buddy."

When my father reminded Mary that she missed a spot while she was shaving him yesterday morning, Mary just laughed and punched him gently in the shoulder. “You like to give orders, don’t you, buddy?” she teased as she re-shaved the offending spot in a gentle, rotating motion.

My father’s voice is barely above a raspy whisper these days. But when my father gives me orders, I still bristle a little, even though he is 93 and I am 61. ‘Why,’ I think in annoyance as I jump to follow his directive, ‘is it so gosh-darn imperative that the Kleenex box is at a 90-degree angle to the telephone book?’

Mary squeezes her considerable bulk past my father’s chair as she is working to tape a half-moon-shaped sponge underneath the silver-dollar-sized melanoma that weeps and drips on his left cheek. “You keep getting more handsome every day,” she teases him. My dad, who started getting Hospice services a couple of weeks ago, actually smiled for the first time since I had come into my parents’ room at the assisted living facility that morning.

“Cutie,” she grins at him. He grins back. His eyes even twinkle a little, just like they used when he felt well.

I envy Mary and her easy way with my father. I wouldn’t dream of calling him ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’ or ‘cutie.’ I just couldn’t punch him teasingly on the shoulder or tweak him under the chin or rub his head like he’s six years old. I just couldn’t. He’s my father.

But sometimes when I see Mary do it and catch a weak smile and faint twinkle reminiscent of old times, I wish I could do it.

Mary once told me that she works a lot of double shifts and holidays because her husband has a bi-polar disorder that prevents him from holding a full-time job. Mary is the sole support of her family. That’s why she’s on duty on Christmas Day—and Mother’s Day—and most other holidays. She didn’t tell me so that I would feel sorry for her. She told me in exactly the same tone of voice that she would use to tell me she needed to go grocery shopping. Matter of fact, no self-pity.

My dad loves Mary. God bless the people like Mary who are willing to mop up drool and clean weepy melanomas and help old people in the bathroom. Cheerfully. Like it’s fun. Like she has nothing she would rather be doing. Like she loves the people she’s doing it for.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


He’s named after his two grandfathers, Thomas James. We call him Tommy. He came the hard way—after 25 hours of labor. But he was worth every minute of it (easy for me to say since my daughter was the one going through the labor).

His grandfather, the one he’s named after, couldn’t be more proud. His grandmother, who has met him and held him and rocked him and fed him, couldn’t be more in love.

Meet Tommy!


When my plane flew over the Red River Valley south of the Fargo airport last Sunday evening, what struck me was how green everything was. Green fields, green windbreaks around the farms, green ditches between the lanes of I-29—miles and miles of green.

After three weeks of Arizona brown, the green looked almost surreal.

And I felt surreal. My trip to Arizona was really over. No more chasing the sandy-curled Colbie. No more cuddling my two new grandsons, Luke and Tommy, born on May 6 and May 30. I really had gotten on a plane and left them 1,700 miles away.

I felt flat and empty as I grabbed my carry-on bag from the overhead bin and pulled it down the aisle, exiting the airplane. Three women ahead of me, stretched three-abreast across the passenger jet bridge, moved at a snail's pace, completely blocking a speedy exit from the plane. They were old; I should have been patient, but I didn’t feel patient. What I really wanted to do was go back to Arizona.

I hadn’t checked luggage. I had just worn the same clothes over and over (and over and over) again during my three-week stay in Arizona. They have washing machines in Arizona, I had told myself as I had packed just a carry-on suitcase three weeks earlier. Now I was so weary of my clothes I would have liked to set a match to them.

Why hadn’t I stayed another week? I looked down at the sleeve of my shirt and saw that there was a little spit-up near the cuff. It made me lonesome for Tommy and Luke. I searched in my purse for my cell phone to call Tom to tell him that my plane had landed. Instead, I found a small plastic bag containing some crushed Goldfish crackers, a souvenir from an outing I had taken with Colbie. That made me lonesome for Colbie. Tucked down next to my wallet, I found a little envelope—“Grandma,” it read on the outside. It was a note written by my daughter-in-law, thanking me for helping out. It made my nose sting.

I wasn’t really watching where I was going; I was just fumbling for Tom’s cell phone number in my contacts list. Then I heard my name being called. I looked up and there he stood, grinning from ear to ear. He held up a tablet on which he had written my name in magic marker—in case we didn’t recognize each other after three weeks apart. “You are so weird,” I laughed. Tom looked pleased—happy, excited, even grateful—to see me.

And suddenly, it wasn’t so bad to be home again. I had missed the little Frenchman. But at the same time, I wouldn’t have given up those three weeks in Arizona for all the tea in China. What a gift!

What a special gift.

Grandma with Colbie (17 months) and her new brother Luke (born May 6)
Grandma with Tommy (born May 30)