It’s $haun’s birthday today, and all I got him was this lousy blogpost.

Actually, V and I got him lots of lovely gifts, but that’s not how those funny t-shirts from Vegas read. But to show that there’s more to my life than actively mourning and hating car dealerships, I’ve written a list of the top nine things I love about my husband on this, his 43rd birthday.

  1. He brought his brother along on our first date (He insists this wasn’t our first date, but I’m 93% sure it was), which was a hockey game. Mostly I spent the whole evening cold and being afraid of the puck.
  2. He can sing until I go weak in the knees. One of our first dates was with a group of our friends to karaoke night at the Nestor. He sang Copa Cabana, and I was his.
  3. He suggested we name our daughter a letter, after hearing a radio show about S. Epatha Merkerson.
  4. He claps at the end of movies in the theater. You know, like we all used to do when we were little. Usually people join in.
  5. His idea of exotic cuisine is the lamb roast I’m making in the crock pot.
  6. He loves to find the spot on dogs that make them move their back leg involuntarily.  He calls it “itchy,” as in “Oh, hey, I just found itchy on Devon.”  He is constantly disappointed by the fact that Seven doesn’t have itchy.
  7. Before we started dating, when I was just trying to get him to hold a conversation with me, I asked him for his five favorite movies. He listed The Little Mermaid, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rainman, Grease, and some other movie neither of us can recall. It was the most words he’d said to me in one day up to that point.
  8. His patience with our daughter is a least three times my own.
  9. One of the few times we were out together in Hendrum was karaoke night at the Last Chance Saloon. We’d only been married for a year or two, and when it was his turn he took the mic and spoke to my hometown. He said something to the effect of this: “I am just so happy to be here, in lovely Hendrum, where most all of you know my wife, Jen.” He gestured to me and I waved, regally. “She is the love of my life, and I want to dedicate this song to her.” Then he tenderly sang the KISS song “Love Gun.” It was hilarious and completely inappropriate.

Oh, $haunsie. I hope this birthday is the start of a marvelous year for you, and if not, may we all at least avoid hospitalization. I love you, sweet boy.

Posted in $haun | 2 Comments

Fall, literal and figurative…

For my usual autumn musings, see past posts here, or here. Or, strangely, here. I’m still grieving. It ebbs and flows, you know. One way that I’ve marked time since the 9th of July is to note each time I do something new without my mom. Even things that I never really did with her get counted. Here’s a partial list.

First shower without my mom. (weird, I know. It was just about “here is the rest of my life now, motherless from here on out” I think).

First time putting laundry away without my mom (oh, mercy. She had folded half that basket full).

First blog post without my mom (she remains the top commenter here).

First trip to the grocery store without my mom (oh, RyKrisp, why must you pain me so?)

First nightmare without my mom.

First doctor’s appointment without my mom (I bawled the whole time. My doctor cried, too).

First time mowing the lawn without my mom.

First time at Dairy Queen without my mom.

First hotdish without my mom (food was important in my family. Back off).

First episode of Little House on the Prairie without my mom.

First trip to the casino without my mom.

First early Elberta peaches without my mom (I didn’t get to eat any of these, because without Myra I didn’t know when they were coming. Next year I’m all over it).

First first day of school without my mom.

Shaun’s first play without my mom (I swear there was a woman there who coughed just like her).

V’s first parent-teacher conference without my mom.

First time whipping cream without my mom.

First pumpkin pie without my mom.

First cold without my mom (sniff).

V’s first strep infection without my mom.

The first MEA weekend without my mom.

First autumn without my mom.

I don’t know how to write about this without sounding melancholy and self-absorbed. But that’s about all my grief is right now.  Food-based, self-absorbed melancholy.  And so it goes.

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They won’t leave me alone, y’all.

Opened my e-mail today to find this gem (I’ve changed my last name for blog protection purposes):

Corwin Toyota Scion Fargo 888-605-9328
222 40th Street S., Fargo, ND 58103
Jennifer Languishing,It has been over one year now since we have seen your here at Corwin Toyota Scion Fargo.

Click here to schedule an appointment for a free multi point inspection.If there is anything else I can ever do to make your ownership experience better please feel free to contact me by replying to this email or by calling the dealership at 701-282-8425, anytime.

Jennifer Beltz
Service Director
Corwin Toyota Scion Fargo

I’m sure Ms. Beltz doesn’t mean it, but she asked me to contact her if she could help me in any way. So I had to write back. I’m so continually optimistic. I’ll let you know what sort of assistance/helpful response I get. Until then, enjoy my ire.
Dear Ms. Beltz:
I have repeatedly asked to be removed from automated e-mails (and this week I also received two phone calls!) because a year ago, I purchased a vehicle from you which required significant repair within 6 days of my purchase, and your Corwin team was completely negligent in assisting me. I detail that experience here:
A few weeks later, my daughter and I were in a horrifying, traumatizing accident in that same vehicle. I had purchased gap insurance through your Corwin sales team, and that insurance has still yet to be paid. I have received almost no assistance from Corwin. I reported this accident in person to both my salesman and the financial person in charge of my account. It is detailed here: I assumed they would have had the foresight to remove me from these mailing/calling lists. I was, obviously, wrong. Since then I have requested three times to be removed from mailing lists. I have clicked on the “unsubscribe” links. Tell me, please, how to make it stop.
Not once have I found the Corwin team to be helpful, responsive, or respectful since my initial purchase. Because of this, I tell every. single. person. I meet to never buy a car from you, nor utilize your service department, and to be suspicious of anyone who trusts your company. I don’t expect to get any sort of satisfaction or reasonable response from this e-mail, either. This is the fourth time I have sent links to my blog posts to someone at Corwin. I assume you don’t read them, or if you do you don’t care.
Please remove me from all contact lists, including mail, e-mail, and phone, for all reasons. If you continue to contact me, I will assume Corwin is actively harassing me, and will do all I can to make this even more widely known.
Jennifer Languishing
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Today, in thrifty crafty news…

I love to make things, and I love to save money. So I often combine the two, and buy craft supplies at thrift stores. I can get a gallon-sized Ziplock bag full of still-in-the-package zippers for $3.99 that way, instead of paying over $2 for each one. It just makes sense to me to buy 15 or 20 zippers for the cost of two, even if the colors aren’t all exactly what I was looking for or the materials of a few are less than ideal. 

Even better than the savings, though, can be the unforeseen excitement inside. Today, I was sorting through my zippers, preparing to make some back-to-school pencil bags or something, and I noticed this kelly green number. 008 I don’t often use the metal zippers, because, you know, in the cold of Minnesota winter, terrible things can happen. But for a simple pencil case, it should be fine.  But then I looked a little closer.



Someone had crossed out the word “METAL”. Why would they do that? And they’ve written….”Nylon”? What? On an unopened zipper? So I opened it up to get to the bottom of this fascinating mystery. 

011 Hm. What’s been written is true: it’s not a metal zipper at all. It is nylon indeed, and it’s slightly frayed on the end. It’s not unusual for me to find used zippers among my sack o’zippers, but they are never put back in their package. But wait. There’s more.

012On a bit of scratch paper, a note cut to fit inside the package says “This nylon zipper opened up when I bent over in green flowered dress. Easter Apr 14, 1974.”

Seriously, this note is worth more than $3.99 all by itself. Forty years ago, this poor woman’s dress opened up, probably along the side or back, and left her more, um, exposed than she would like, even for springtime. So she bought a metal zipper to replace it, because, seriously, she loved that green flowered dress. Who wouldn’t? Now, this next part I don’t quite understand: rather than throw away the offending zipper, or tossing it into the “use for a pencil case” pile, she carefully cut scratch paper to fit the replacement zipper’s packaging, explained what had happened, then folded the offending nylon one exactly, and slid them both back in the package. I don’t think she tried to return it to the store, because she wrote on the package, too, that this was nylon, not metal. Eventually, I imagine, she died, and somebody donated her sewing supplies, and I wandered upon her note. Nothing this cool ever happens to me when I buy stuff in non-thrift stores.

I kind of want to make myself a green flowered dress now. But maybe I should look for a metal zipper. 

Posted in Craft | 1 Comment

It’s a hard knock life

I had to write an obituary last month. It was a doozy; I’m just going to let it speak for itself, as right now it’s all I have to say on the subject (though of course I have three million more things to say, and I also have no words at all). Sweet Jesus, this grieving is hard work.

But first, a photo, not seen even on my (bleak and heartbroken) Facebook page.


Officially the last photo I took of my mama. She’s watching Jess and Will and Emmy on the other side of the fence. I took it of her because of all the women I’ve ever met, I still think my mama is the prettiest of them all. I wish I had told her that when I took this picture. This was at Summerhill, on the Fourth of July this year. She would be dead in five days.

Five days.

Myra Loy Johnson was born in Hendrum, Minnesota during a February snow storm to Art and Beulah (Putman) Johnson, the fifth of seven children. She graduated from high school in Hendrum, received her BS in elementary education from Moorhead State University, and taught in St. Cloud and Flint, Michigan before returning home to the Hendrum and Halstad school districts, where she taught kindergarten for over 25 years, and grades 3-6 for another several years. After retirement, she often worked as a substitute teacher, even into this past school year.

She fell in love with Dewey Johnson and they married on June 27, 1970. They had two daughters. After his stroke in 1986, Myra cared for Dewey at home until 1992, when he moved to the Halstad Lutheran Memorial Home, where he lived until his death in 2002.

As a farmer’s wife, Myra took up gardening with a passion, and for years planted a half-acre garden on the farm while maintaining two large in-town gardens, too. She loved to work in the dirt and the sunshine.

After her retirement, she founded a Red Hat Society in Hendrum, where ladies from around the area would come together, wear fancy clothes (if they liked), and socialize in many different ways. She also loved to travel with her dearest friends, and enjoyed trips to Oregon, Florida, New York, and the Caribbean, among many other places.

Myra was overjoyed at the birth of each of her three grandchildren, and cherished spending time with them, reading books, singing songs, making crafts, and planting gardens.

In her spare time, she was a voracious reader, and was instrumental in bringing the Lake Agassiz Regional Library LINK site to Hendrum. She was never far from a book or three. Her door was always open, the coffee pot was always on, and if anyone needed anything, Myra was there to help.

Myra was preceded in death by her parents and husband; two sisters, Sharon Arnold and Beverly Dyrendahl; and a brother, John Johnson. She is survived by her daughters, Jennifer (Shaun) Ganyo, Moorhead and Jessica (Brad) Karstens, Hendrum; her three grandchildren, V Ganyo, Moorhead, Will Karstens, and Emmy Karstens, Hendrum; two sisters, Linda (Ken) Weathers, Ortonville, MI and Barbara (Rick) Hest, Eagle Bend; one brother Dick (Marcia) Johnson, Marshall, and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

Posted in Family, Grief, Hendrum, Love | 2 Comments

Summertime….and the bloggin’ is easy….

I once sang the classic song “Summertime” to V as a lullaby. She was three, I think, maybe almost four. When I got to the part “You’re daddy’s rich/and your mama’s good lookin’,” she patted my cheek and said “well, at least the second part’s true.” I will always love that song more because of her.

Anyhoo, hello gentle readers. In this past week, V’s summer vacation has begun. Here she is on her very last day of second-graderhood:

ImageAnd I started summer school (two classes, three times a week, for seven and a half weeks. Well, one week down now, so six and a half weeks). I only have a total of 14 students (4 of them are in both classes), so I already know all their names, which is a new record for me.

On most Mondays and Fridays this summer, I’ll get to boss/hang out with Will and Emmy, my nephew and niece. This Friday, Grandma came along for the excitement, and we built gardens for fairies and dragons. It’s always fun to garden with my mama, and the kids really got excited about the process too, for the most part.


Mom and I saw some great garden tips on Pinterest, like here and here, for example, (and for my next birthday I want this party )and then saw a few in person at Baker’s Nursery on University. So we took the kids there first, where they each picked a plant or two.


Next time we do this, remind me not to have laundry on the line, as Will thought it hilarious to run from playing in the dirt to grabbing my clean linens.

Image Image  Image Image

Proud gardeners!

It was really a fun time (good idea, Grandma!), and I think they will play in them again. It’s kind of like playing in a sandbox, but with less sand in their shoes, and less random dumping.

Hope your summer is starting well, meine liebchens. And may you have plenty of room in your gardens for fairies.


Posted in Family, Hendrum, Play | 2 Comments

“Good job, tenors.”

Our high school begins in seventh grade. I had all the attendant anxiety of moving from 6th grade to 7th, and still remember my late summer nightmares of that year. One thing that stayed the same, though, was my tenor saxophone. And 7th grade brought us to Mr. Vandermeer: a burly, sometimes bearded guy with a love of music and a true gift for teaching.

Unlike elementary school, I actually tried to practice some for high school band. Mr. V was not a cheerleader so much as a taskmaster, and I wanted to do well. The tenor sax department generally consisted of me and one other guy, who really didn’t care about band much (I mean no disrespect, but he didn’t), so I had a somewhat elevated sense of importance.

Halfway through seventh grade, my dad had a stroke, and holy crapbarf. My only memory of school the Monday afterwards is going into the band room to get our instruments. Chad Smart’s trumpet was on the shelf above my tenor, and he told me how sorry he was to hear about my dad. I blinked back tears, and thanked him. It was the first of many times that the band room became a sanctuary, a place to feel connected and heard on all kinds of levels. Much of that was because of Mr. Vandermeer.

Because our school was so small (my class was the smallest at the time, with all of 23 students by the time we graduated), we didn’t always have enough people for all the activities, and when I was in 8th grade, our boys’ basketball team went to (and won!) the state basketball championship. This was fantastically exciting, but it made filling all the seats of the high school pep band a  bit of a challenge. So I was invited, as an 8th grader, to come along on the pep band bus. Do you understand what that meant? I was the youngest player! None of my classmates would be coming on the bus, and I’d have to room with older girls! (I mentioned that adventure here, for those of you keeping score at home). It didn’t occur to me until right now that perhaps Mr. V didn’t really need my tenor playing, but instead thought I could use a trip to Minneapolis. Either way, I felt hugely honored that he’d asked, and I likely wouldn’t’ve been able to go otherwise. I felt like an important part of something bigger than myself, and that was a tremendous gift for thirteen-year-old me.

As I mentioned, Mr. V was more of a taskmaster than a cheerleader, and that held true throughout my time with him (and beyond, I’m told). He could get angry when we weren’t paying attention, and helped us hear and listen and feel music together. For years I came to Jazz Band practice at  7am so we could rehearse before school. Do you know how hard it is to get a bunch of high school students to come to school an hour early? He even taught our choir for a few years, as well as the band, and though his heart belonged with the instruments, his direction in vocal music was inspiring, too. I don’t know how he managed both, and he must’ve been exhausted after our concerts, but he didn’t complain.

And he didn’t praise too effusively, either. I was a fairly good saxophonist, and went on to play all through college. I spent six years under Mr. Vandermeer’s direction, and he told me twice, TWICE in SIX YEARS, that I was doing well. He didn’t even make it that personal. What he said, each time, once in pep band rehearsal and once in jazz band, was “Good job, tenors.” Three little words, said twice in six years. Really a word per year. But I remember them clearly, nearly 25 years later.

As a teacher myself, I know how hard it is to balance connection to students without crossing into friendship, and still get students to rise to their potential. So much of how I try to motivate students, and help them feel like important parts of our classroom, but not coddling anyone, and how I relate to kids very different from myself is modeled after what I saw Mr. V do all through my high school years. His energy, sense of humor, and inherent belief in his students continues to inspire me. If even one of my students remembers me 25 years out, Mr. Vandermeer is partially to thank for that.

I’m telling you all this because Kurt Vandermeer is retiring this year. There’s a big party tonight, and though I can’t be there, my heart is, and I very much look forward to hearing his own band play as he enjoys his retirement in musical ways, too. I can’t imagine my hometown high school without him, and I was so lucky to have him lead the bands I was in for six years.

Thank you, Mr. Vandermeer. And good job.

20140530-192651-70011919.jpg23 May 1991. Photo by Carol W, in the high school office. Go Panthers!


Posted in Music, Nostalgia, Teach | Leave a comment