Friday, August 27, 2010


Last weekend, a paper shopping bag full of apples made its way into my kitchen. My daughter had been visiting friends who live on a farm, and their apple trees are bearing early and bountifully this year.

‘Wow!’ I thought, a little weak in the knees, ‘will ya' look at all those apples!’ The apples stared back at me.

“They’re not eating apples,” my daughter warned me. “They’re cooking apples.”

All those years before I retired, it was a whole lot easier to buy my apple products ready-made at the grocery store than go through all the work of processing them myself.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to deal with a huge bagful of apples. My childhood is filled with memories of apples—we had about a million apple trees in our back yard (or maybe four). Anyway, I can remember helping my mother peel, slice, mush, can, pickle, and freeze apples for weeks at the end of summer and into the fall. I can still peel an entire apple without breaking the peel (hold your applause).

I looked balefully at that bagful of apples for several days. Tom looked balefully at me looking balefully at those apples. I don’t even know what “balefully” means, but I know that looking baleful didn’t get the apples taken care of.

Finally, yesterday, I dug into the back of the cupboard and found what I was looking for: my mother’s old cone-shaped stand sieve with the wooden pestle. The applesauce machine. I didn’t even have to look up the recipe—apples, water, cinnamon, and a little sugar.

Applesauce. Any idiot could do it. It was like riding a bike; you never forget how. First I cored and quartered half of the apples. Do expect a blister on your knife finger; this is not labor for the faint-hearted. Then I put the quartered apples into my biggest kettle with about a half-cup water per eight apples.

Add sugar or Splenda (optional) and cinnamon (also optional) to taste. Cook until the apples get mushy, dump them into the conical sieve, grind away with the pestle, and presto change-o! Applesauce.
Then I repeated the whole process for the second half of the apples. If I’d had a bigger kettle, I would have done them all at once.

And do you know what? I had fun. It was relaxing doing one of those no-brain childhood chores with my mother’s old apple sieve and pestle. And the blister from coring all those apples didn’t even hurt. It was more like a Girl Scout badge of domestic achievement.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The other day, while doing a crossword puzzle, I ran across this clue: portmanteau imbibement. I filled in all the adjacent boxes I could figure out around that word—above, below, left, and right. Finally, I conceded defeat—I knew that an imbibement was something to drink, but I needed to look up the word “portmanteau.”

What a cool word! I now plan to use it every single chance I get (pronounced port-man’-toe). It’s the term for blending two or more words and their meanings into one new word.

The crossword puzzle word term for “portmanteau imbibement” ended up being “alcopop,” a fruity alcoholic drink like a wine cooler which combines alcohol and a sweet-flavored beverage. (I also found out that these words could be called “centaur words” after the mythical combination of a man and a horse, but I like “portmanteau” better. I think “portmanteau” sounds classier than “centaur.” I’m a closet word snob. So sue me.)

Then I realized that the English language is jam-packed with portmanteaus, many that I am familiar with and more than a few that were new to me. There’s “frenemy” (an enemy who pretends to be a friend), “prooming” (pet grooming), “locavore” (eats only locally grown food), and “bromance” (guy friends who are extremely close and spend large amounts of time together).

There are “staycations” for people who are too broke to travel, “cremains” for people who don’t want to be embalmed and en-coffined, “beautility” for people who like their refrigerators to also be pretty, and “sporks” for people who want only one utensil for both soup and peas.

Food engineers have come up with “pluots” (plum/apricots), Clamato juice, and beefalo burgers. Whole countries have been combined to form new countries like “Tanzania” (Tanganyika and Zanzibar). Mexicans who move to Texas are called “Texicans.” And famous couples are re-labeled as “Brangelina, “Billary,” and “TomKat.” People are chocoholics, foodaholics, and workaholics.

Right now, you are reading my “blog,” which is just a portmanteau for “web log.”

Not content to leave well enough alone and say that there are enough portmanteaus in this world to last everyone a lifetime, I came up with a few of my own. It seems that the world of retirement is sadly lacking in portmanteaus. So here are my contributions:

RetirVee (retiree + RV) - a retired person who travels in an RV

Pensiontentiary (pension + penitentiary) - condition of people who planned to do fun things in retirement but invested in Tom Petters’ Ponzi scheme instead

Grammaholics (gramma + alcoholic) - older women who need a little alcopop with their cereal to get moving in the morning

Hypertirees – (hyperactive + retiree) - retirees who accomplish WAY too much every day and make all the other retirees look lazy by comparison

Hypochoneezers (hypochondriac + geezers) – old people who insist on telling you about all their illnesses, surgeries, and medications

Oldageezer (old + age + geezer) because we are sick to death of being called senior citizens

Portmanteau: see if you can work the word into a conversation today. After you see all the looks of admirect (admiration + respect) you get, you’ll be glad you did.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I reminded my 91-year-old mother today that it was the first day of classes for some school students. I asked her if she remembered her first day of teaching back in 1939 in the District 111 one-room schoolhouse. Not specifically, she said. But she sat and thought about it for a minute.

Then in a flash of unexplained brain synapses, she suddenly remembered one of her first graders, Charles Meyers.

In a one-room schoolhouse, the students—from first graders to eighth graders—all shared the same classroom. However, when it was time to work with the three first graders on reading or arithmetic, my mother would call them to the front of the room where they sat on little chairs made from apple crates in a semicircle around her teacher’s chair.

First-grader Charles Meyers was too husky to fit into a little apple-crate chair, so my mother pulled her “utility box” into the semicircle for Charles. The utility box had been made for her by her brother Elmer when she went to Moorhead State Teachers’ College and held all her teaching supplies and books.

Charles Meyers, third from the right, was a husky 1st grader, flanked in this picture by a 4th grader and a 6th grader.

Charles lived with an aunt and uncle a couple of miles from the school. His mother had been unmarried when Charles was born and had asked her sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Hard Olson, to raise Charles.

The brother-in-law, Hard, had been named after the difficult birth his own mother had experienced, but my mother said the name still fit him. When Charles started first grade, he had a tough time adjusting to the social aspects of school. My mother explained that he hadn’t been taught many manners at home, and he got attention by being mean to the other students. She often had to send a note home to his aunt that Charles had misbehaved in school. “I hope you don’t think I’m a bad mother,” the aunt had once said to my mother.

But Charles did like his teacher. One morning, he arrived at school smiling proudly. He carefully set his lunch pail on my mother’s desk and said, “Open it!” My mother lifted the lid off the lunch pail and found a pile of wilted dandelions. Charles’s round face fell and his lips quivered. The dandelions had been so beautiful in the sunshine when he picked them on his way to school. He had wanted to bring his teacher a present, but all that remained was a mass of drooping weeds.

Whatever happened to Charles, I asked? My mother didn’t know. She had only taught at District 111 for two years from 1939 to 1941. When she left in the spring of 1941 to get married, the families in the school gave a bridal shower for her. She remembers arriving at school one morning to find her desk all decorated and an invitation to the shower in the middle of the decorations. She was touched that even the children from the poorest family in the school excitedly brought gifts for their teacher’s new home. “A bedspread,” she remembers. “One of their gifts was a bedspread.”

My mother hopes Charles found a way past his tough childhood and made a good life for himself.


Today is Orientation Day at the two-year college where I taught from 1976 through 2009 B.R. (Before Retirement). Classes start tomorrow.

I had trouble sleeping last night, probably a leftover from those 32 years of tossing and turning the night before the students arrived. I did, however, skip the chronic dream where I am running from classroom to classroom in my pajamas, looking for the students I’m supposed to teach. Thank goodness for that.

I wonder if there will ever come a time when I am not very aware of school starting in the fall. Part of me is relieved that I no longer have that weighty responsibility. But part of me has a little nostalgic envy for my fellow teachers who are still in the trenches: meeting the new students, preparing for the new classes, challenged by new technology.

All I know is that I respect and admire all the teachers who do this very tough but rewarding job every day. Have a good school year!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Most of the time, I’m content with my wishy-washy, middle-of-the-road views. I never get too bent out of shape when people are discussing politics or religion or illegal immigrants or the national budget crisis. I like all kinds of music, all kinds of books, all kinds of movies. I’m not locked into eating any particular kinds of foods. I usually just muddle through life in a gray-colored fog of apathy and leave the rabble-rousing fervency to others.

That’s why I feel kind of excited when I have a “very favorite” anything.

So I’d like to make an official announcement: I absolutely love Audrey Tautou. I believe I can state unequivocally that she is my very favorite actress.

I like every movie I’ve ever seen her in. Even if the movie itself isn’t that terrific, Audrey Tautou always rises above a mediocre plot and shines. I think of her as a natural, understated comedienne—able to pull off quirky, off-the-wall humor in the most subtle way imaginable.

I first saw her in Amelie, which I wrote about in an earlier blog. Then I watched She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not. She was in The Da Vinci Code with Tom Hanks. Last night, I watched A Very Long Engagement. I loved Audrey Tautou so much after I watched that movie, I also went to Instant Play in Netflix and watched her in Happenstance, staying up waaaaaay past my bedtime to do so.

In most of Audrey Tautou’s movies, viewers have to read English subtitles because she’s a French actress. But I’m willing to do that. Absolutely. Because so far, I haven’t met an Audrey Tautou film I didn’t like.

Note: Since French films are sometimes a little more casually open than many American films, you may not want to invite your Sunday School teacher over for “movie night.”

I’ve got Coco Before Chanel in my Netflix queue. On the next rainy or heavily humid day when I’m forced to do my daily two to four miles inside, Audrey Tautou and I will be downstairs on the treadmill working out together. I’ll be sweating, but Audrey will be as cool as a cucumber, brightening up the screen with her huge talent.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


My daughter Shannon and I just spent three days on the road, driving her car back to Minnesota after she spent the summer in Arizona. While Tom hopped on an airplane and flew back to Fargo in three breezy hours, we took three days to cover the same 1,700 miles in Shannon’s little Mazda.

“Do you realize,” I asked her at one point, “that you will have lived in two climates with a 150-degree temperature span this year?”

She thought about that a minute. It was true. Who spends the summer in Arizona and the winter in Minnesota? Who willingly endures two months of plus 100-degree days and then, of his or her own free will, goes back to a land where minus 30-degree days are distinct possibilities?

But Shannon had realized her goal of getting to know her new nephews and niece better. She was the godmother at both of her nephews’ baptisms. And she was able to give the new mothers lots of much-needed support. Mission accomplished. Summer well spent.

But then it was time for the road trip back. Since Tom made the trip out with Shannon in June, it was my turn to ride shotgun. And armed with my road atlas, my Mapquest printouts, and my nearly super-human sense of direction, it was my responsibility to provide navigation for the return trip. (My theory of getting home: take any highway going either east or north. Works every time.)

What we found out on the open road was your Federal Stimulus Dollars at work. I believe the total stimulus bill was $787 billion. After driving from Arizona to Minnesota, Shannon and I are convinced that fully $700 billion of those dollars were used to buy orange highway construction cones, orange detour signs, and orange fencing.

Oklahoma on I-40 may have taken the prize. Instead of counting the number of miles under construction, it was much simpler to count the number of miles that were unimpaired. That would be twelve. Twelve miles of straight, simple, clean, unhampered roadway. The rest of it was decorated with every type of orange signage and orange safety indicator known to man.

Even worse, every construction zone was labeled with reduced speed signs and the warning, “Fines double in work zones.” In Texas, the zealous Texas State Highway Patrol was supremely evident. Maybe Texas spent some of its share of Federal Stimulus Dollars hiring additional law enforcement. They were everywhere—lights flashing, pulling over offending vehicles, collecting double fines on behalf of the fine state of Texas.

Kansas must have done all its road construction last summer. All of its highways were bright, clean, smooth, and well maintained. However, in Kansas, we ran into turnpike tollways. Drop $1.15 at this toll booth—exact change in coins only, please—no bills or pennies. Drop another $1.15 at the next toll both; and finally, pay $1.90 to leave the great state. (Luckily, there was an actual person at that tollbooth who could make change for 2 one-dollar bills. By that time, all of our coinage was exhausted down to the last seat-cushion-crack dime.)

Iowa and South Dakota again made the summer of 2010 the Summer of Road Construction. Orange cones, detours, concrete barriers, creeping along at 45 miles per hour. We marveled at the large machines—one guy would be operating the machine while clusters of three, four, or five other men in orange vests and hard hats stood watching. ‘What exactly,’ we asked each other, ‘are they watching?’ Over and over, the scene replayed along I-40, I-35, I-80, I-29 . . . one guy operating the machine and several others leaning, sweating, scratching, watching.

So the road trip is finally over. It wasn’t like we were Thelma and Louise. Never once did I have to shout, “Driiive, Shannon! Drive! Drive the car! Go! Go! Go go go go go go!” We never hit an orange cone, we never led the Texas State Patrol on a high speed chase, and we never disobeyed a detour sign. We just drove those 1,700 orange-decorated miles until we finally made it home.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


As the plane approached the Mesa, Arizona, airport around 9 p.m. last Thursday, our pilot got on the intercom to make the usual pre-landing announcements. We were arriving on time, he said, and hoped we had enjoyed our flight.

“The temperature in the Phoenix area is approximately the same temperature as the surface of the sun,” he remarked. “It is currently 108 degrees.”

Nine o’clock at night and still 108 degrees.

I looked at all the people on the plane and wondered to myself, “Who are all these people, and why in the world are they going to Phoenix, Arizona, in August?!?”

A person would have to be crazy.

Of course, I was on the plane, but that was different. My little grandson was going to be baptized on Sunday.

Gosh, I hate to sweat. Golly, I hate to swelter. Gee whiz, it’s hotter than blazes in Arizona in August.

As we drove on I-10 across Phoenix on Friday afternoon, I watched in fascination as the dashboard thermometer on our rented VW Jetta climbed higher than I had ever seen a car thermometer climb before.

We started out on the west side of Phoenix at an eye-popping 119 degrees.

The closer we got to downtown Phoenix with its eight lanes of traffic, the more that thermometer climbed.
After passing through the Papago Freeway tunnel in downtown Phoenix, the thermometer hit its high point:
We drove past a motorist, stranded beside the freeway with his car’s hood raised. A mile further down the highway, a car was pulled over for speeding, the flashing lights of a patrol car cutting through the shimmering heat. A two-car fender-bender at an exit ramp made me wonder if the heat might turn a minor traffic accident into a homicide in the 120-degree temper-flaring heat.

Who in his or her right mind visits Phoenix in August?

Determined grandmothers who want to see their grandsons baptized, that’s who.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Thirty-seven years and 24 hours ago, it was 90 degrees in the shade with 90 percent humidity. My hair, which had been optimistically washed and curled earlier in the day, had wilted into a sticky, lanky mop. I stood at the altar in my simple white dress, a steady stream of sweat rolling down between my shoulder blades and pooling at my waistband. My hair stuck damply to the veil I had borrowed from my sister-in-law.

Churches back then were not air conditioned. A couple would have to be absolutely deluded to plan a wedding at 2 p.m. on a hot and humid August 4th afternoon. But we were young and in love and thought the weather gods would smile fondly on us. That was the last time we ever really counted on the weather gods.

In 1973, it was all about the hair. (Remember the musical, Hair? –“Hair, flow it, show it, long as God can grow, my hair!”)

Our wedding in 1973 was back in the hippie days when people got married barefoot and made up their own wedding vows. Tom and I did wear shoes, but the vows were original. Prior to the wedding, I had written out my vows on a yellow legal pad and carefully memorized them. When the appropriate time came, I recited my vows word for word.

Tom, on the other hand, had jotted down some ideas for his vows on a paper napkin the day before and had a general idea what he was going to say. However, once he was at the altar and it was his turn to speak, he forgot everything he planned and just kind of gave a political-type extemporaneous list of compliments and promises . Neither one of us remembers a word of what he promised, but later one of my roommates told me that she was in tears listening to his earnest declarations. The big fake. (Tom, I mean, not the roommate.)

The reception was downstairs in the church basement where the women from my mother’s Ladies' Aid church circle served cake and ham buns. It was so humid in the church basement that the floor had puddles. I had never been so hot in my life.

I like to think that the more realistic and gritty the wedding, the greater the chance for a successful marriage. We had no illusions during our wedding—no Cinderella, fairy tale, happily ever after, I-want-to-be-a-princess illusions. It was hot, we were sweaty, we ate cake, and the marriage has lasted 37 years and 24 hours.

Celebrating our anniversary in 2010, 37 years later, when it’s not so much about the hair.

The secret is not in the dress or the music or the flowers or the $50 a plate reception. The secret is in the person you marry. Thank goodness we both got that right.

Monday, August 02, 2010


It’s been a busy summer, and it seems like every square on the calendar has had some obligation or event written on it. But occasionally, among all the appointments and command performances, are pleasant surprises.

One of those pleasant surprises took place a week or so ago with a visit to the “Blooming Butterfly” exhibit at the Como Zoo in St. Paul.

The exhibit itself looks like a caterpillar-shaped greenhouse, and we first had to stand in a line because the exhibit doorkeepers only allowed in about thirty people in at a time. While most of the visitors’ reactions were ooohs and aahhhs, a few people couldn’t get out of the butterfly exhibit fast enough. They were unable to get away from the fact that these were insects and they were everywhere and they were crawling on their clothes.

Oh, well. More room for the rest of us.

But here was our reward:

Tom’s gold Scheels’ Hardware cap attracted a couple of beautiful specimens.
A little girl standing next to me was wearing the perfect cap to lure a beauty.

I was certain that a butterfly would land on me. After all, I am usually an insect magnet. If there’s one mosquito in a roomful of a thousand of people, invariably I’ll be the one to be bit.

But minutes passed and I was forlornly butterfly-less. Just when I was convinced that my plain blue shirt wasn’t the type of clothing to attract the very fastidious butterflies, a smiling man standing next to me pointed to my shirt. There, like a perfect, delicate brooch, a butterfly sat poised near my collar bone, fluttering its wings. I quietly handed the camera to Tom, and he got this picture:

I didn’t move a muscle for thirty seconds while the butterfly rested. “It likes me!” I thought to myself in a shrill Sally-Field-like voice. “It really likes me!” (Is there something pathetic about a grown woman who needs the affirmation of a butterfly to believe in her own self worth?)

Anyway, who would have guessed that one of the high points of my summer would be that I became the butterfly landing pad for what I believe was the rare, endangered species, Lycaeides melissa samuelis blue butterfly.

(And please, any butterfly experts out there, don’t tell me it was the Commonus wooleating mothus. Let me live in my fantasy world.)

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Everybody has a story to tell. But Tom’s oldest sister, Phyllis, has a million stories. A million.

Last night, we were at a family wedding reception, and Phil told her vacuum cleaner story. I had heard it once before, but a couple of her sisters hadn’t. Besides, I don’t mind hearing her stories twice because every time Phil re-tells a story, a few details get added. Embellishment, I think you call it. Every re-telling gets a little more interesting.

So here’s Phil’s cautionary tale about vacuum cleaners—whom to trust and whom not to trust.

About three or four years ago, Phil (who is in her early 80s) was talking to a friend of hers about her vacuum cleaner. It’s important to understand that Phil loved her vacuum cleaner. It was a reliable Sears Kenmore that she had been using for years. It was old, but why get a new vacuum cleaner when you already own the world’s best vacuum cleaner?

Her friend, however, had just taken her own vacuum cleaner in to be refurbished with a new carpet-roller brush. “Those brushes get worn out over time,” she had cautioned Phil. So she gave Phil the name of the local vacuum cleaner shop where she had brought her own machine to be refurbished.

Phil, being a conscientious home appliance owner, promptly called the shop and arranged to bring her beloved vacuum cleaner in to be serviced. When she brought it in to the shop, she talked to a young man at the counter who tagged the vacuum cleaner with her name and the date, and told her it should be ready in a couple of days.

So a couple of days later, Phil called the vacuum cleaner shop to check on her machine. The owner of the shop answered the phone. Phil told him who she was and asked if her vacuum cleaner was ready to be picked up.

“Um, just a minute . . . “ he said and put her on hold. What seemed like an awfully long time later, he returned to the phone and said, “Um, ma’am? I can’t seem to find your vacuum cleaner.”

“You can’t find my vacuum cleaner??” Phil asked, her voice rising an octave or two. Remember now, Phil loved her vacuum cleaner. “What do you mean, you can’t find my vacuum cleaner?”

“Actually, it doesn’t seem to be here,” he said, a little defensively.

“And where exactly does a vacuum cleaner disappear to when you can’t find it?” she asked, trying to keep her voice even.

“W-e-ll,” he hesitated, “I’m guessing somebody sold it.”

“Sold my vacuum cleaner??” Phil shouted into the phone. “I love my vacuum cleaner!”

“Things like this happen,” he said. “We sell used vacuum cleaners here, too, you know. And if people don’t come back to claim their vacuum cleaners within a reasonable period of time, we assume they can’t afford to pay for the repairs or don’t want them and just sell them.”

“But I only left it there two days ago!” Phil said, shouting into the receiver.

“Well, I don’t know,” he said matter-of-factly. “Things like that just happen.”

“So you need to buy me a new vacuum cleaner,” Phil said firmly.

“Umm . . . uh, I suppose we could give you store credit and you could pick out a different used vacuum cleaner here,” he said reluctantly.

“But you don’t sell Sears Kenmores,” she wailed. “I loved my Sears Kenmore vacuum cleaner.”

Finally, the man grudgingly agreed to reimburse her the monetary value of her old vacuum cleaner, and she went to Sears and bought a new one. Unfortunately, in addition to costing more than the reimbursement, the new model wasn’t anything like the old trusty vacuum cleaner that she had loved.

“It’s too heavy,” she sighed, shaking her head. “It’s hard to push. It doesn’t pick up the dirt like my old one. I loved my old vacuum cleaner.”

Moral of the story: Don’t get too attached to your vacuum cleaner because it really sucks when something happens to it (old joke, couldn’t help it—sorry).

Note: No one ever found out for sure what happened to Phil’s vacuum. I have visions of it in a vacuum cleaner chop shop somewhere, being dismantled for black market parts.

However, I did mention to Phil that she should find out where the vacuum cleaner shop owner brings his car for an oil change. I suggested that she slip the oil change guy 20 bucks to lose (temporarily, of course) the vacuum cleaner guy’s car after the oil change. Well, you can probably figure out the rest. But here is the important part: Phil needs to convince the garage guy to shrug his shoulders and say, “Things like that just happen.”

I like to start trouble.