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 | 1 Comment

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

Accidental tourists

So I want to write this post, but first I want to explain why it’s taken so long.

There once was a little girl. We’ll call her M. M was an only child and her parents loved her very much. Her mother had a blog that often featured photos and stories about M: the usual parent-y stuff. That was all fine and good, but M, of course, began to grow up. When she turned 8, her mother thought perhaps she should share a little less about her child. The girl, after all, was her own person. The mother remembered being in second grade very well, and thought perhaps she would not have liked HER mother to have such a platform to blither on about her 8 year old escapades. It is inherently very public, and really, M should get to decide what she shows the world. Don’t you think? But the mother still wanted to blog, and of course M is a major part of the life of the family. So the mother decided that pictures of M were okay, and family vacation photos, and what have you, but mostly, M’s thoughts and so forth would be left off the blog from now on, unless M said it was okay. So began a new chapter in the mother’s blog, but it felt like the right way to go.

Whew. Are you still with me? Yeah, anyway, so all of that applies to us, of course, but I still have one post to write about the girl, because when I told you about this, I  sort of left off the follow up story that it requires. So here we go.

The first few weeks after the accident, V was cautious anytime I was driving. If I so much as touched the median or shoulder strips, she would cry out in terror, and she watched the speed of the car obsessively. And we absolutely had to avoid the interstate, or “fast road” as she calls it, because that was where the accident was. Riding in the car didn’t bother her as much if $haun was driving, or Auntie Jess or Grandma. But I accepted this as normal. I was still shaking, too, frankly, and was happy to have an excuse to stay off the interstate.

But it didn’t get better in time. In fact, it got worse. Every tiny sound was cause for her to cry out “What’s that!?” A month after the accident, the ground was covered in snow and then sand, both of which made wildly different noises, and sometimes even a short drive would make her nearly hyperventilate.

This went on and on. And on. We talked about probability and the cause of the accident; we talked about trusting us to take care of her, and about enjoying our time together, in the car or anyplace. We did deep breathing, stretches, visualization. She had (and still has) three different therapists. All of this helped, some, but in the end she was still white-knuckled, full-out terrified every time we drove any where. It was painful. It was unhealthy.

She’s always been prone to anxiousness, our girl. Perhaps she gets it from her father, whose anxiety can be profound. Likely she gets it from both of us, because, though I don’t usually have anxiety, I have all kinds of depression. Shaun described V once as sort of constantly thrumming, just a vibration of perched anxiety, waiting for it to strike. She struggles with sensory issues, and full-on meltdown tantrums have always been common. But now they were daily. The accident shook something loose, and we could not put her back the way she was.

And so we decided to try medication.

Now, I am a big advocate of medication. I myself have taken Zoloft for over half my life, and have no doubt that it saved me more than once. Most everyone I love takes some sort of antidepressant or anti anxiety med, or has at some point in their life. But when it’s your own baby, this eight year old child for whom you are responsible, it’s a lot to consider. I mean, I don’t want her to use regular deodorant ever because it’s so full of chemicals. Tylenol leads to childhood asthma, so we avoid that. Why on earth would I allow her to be medicated?

Oh, right, because she can’t function. At all.

We started at 12.5 mg of sertraline, and she’s been on 25 mgs for about three months. The difference is astounding. We’re monitoring her closely, and I know it’s not a miracle answer, but she’s back to being a little girl again. More so than ever before, in some ways. About a month ago, she said to me from the backseat of the car, “Hey, Mom? I’m really happy,” and I realized with a jolt that she had only ever said such a thing during a party before. Just an everyday happiness? She just didn’t have that.

Is she always happy? No. She’s eight. One minute she’s happy and the next minute she’s “Mommmmm! Why is the dog eating Twilight Sparkle??” She still gets scared sometimes, and has tantrums. But it’s not everyday anymore, and overall she is just less of a tightly wound spring and more of a joyful child, like most eight year olds.

We’ve even been on the interstate a few times recently, and nobody ended up in tears.


Posted in Family, Love | 2 Comments

Parades and sensory integration disorder

Ah, parades. Everyone loves ‘em, amiright? Yeah, well, Miss V does not. We’ve taken her to four or five parades in her life, and every one of them ended with us getting right back in our car, if we were lucky, or, more often, in tears. Why do EMTs and firefighters think it’s so necessary to blast those sirens over and over? (Of course, they might ask why we keep bringing  a child with sensory integration issues to loud-ass parades).

The thing is, she wants to go. Other kids talk about going to or even being in parades. No one talks about wanting to throw up because of the noise. So we work on it.

First, we talk about it. A lot. Tell her she’ll get candy if she stays. Make sure she knows we can leave anytime, and she’s not in trouble if it’s too loud for her to take. We practice deep breathing, and try to guess if there will be clowns. Then we bring out the earplugs, preferably in pink to match her shirt.


We had a great time.

Summer 2013. Bonanza Valley Days. Brooten, Minnesota.

Posted in Daughter, Love | 1 Comment

Is your wagon dragon?

The jester’s face from yesterday’s post got me to thinking that I had more photos from last summer’s county fair extravaganza, and since my essays continue to refuse to grade themselves, I’m back to blogging. My loss, your gain, gentle readers.

ImageMr. Creepy Jester Face comes to us from the Dragon Wagon ride. I think this was the fair in DL, though I’m not sure (they all do look alike, you know). It’s a simple, round the track mini-coaster, made for kids who want to ride with their parents. V loved it, and I rode along, too. Mostly I just thought the dragon was so pretty I couldn’t look away.



I think I love fair rides like this for the same reason I love tattoos: they are so bright and unexpected that I can hardly look away.

Image Look at it! So fancy! I kind of wish it was in my backyard right now! And it was quite fun to ride, even, because it got up to a good speed and though the track may look little, it had a lot of good swoops and swings in it.


This, though? This dang near killed me with love. At seven, V rides alone with her hands in the air. There is nothing she can’t do.

Posted in Daughter, Photography | 1 Comment

Now, on with our story…

I don’t know about you guys but I am sick to death of looking at the Corwin post. Gross. So here we go. Let’s open with a photo from last summer, when we went to at least 4 different county fairs in two weeks.



For those of you just tuning in, this is the time in the semester when suddenly blogging seems like a wonderful idea, because I have 45 essays to grade, two exams to write, and 3811 student emails to which I ought to be responding. This is how I prioritize my life.

In related news, I only dust the ceiling fans right before a funeral.

V an I just got back from the lake this afternoon, and it was a lovely, lakey time. Last time we were out, two weeks ago or so, Belle Taine was still iced over. Though it wasn’t warm by most measures this weekend, the ice is long gone now, and the ducks and loons have arrived, and summer just seems so…possible…when you have a lovely body of water lapping nearby. Add to that my in-laws, whom I love dearly, and you’ve got a good weekend.

Here’s a picture I took there last fall. I didn’t take many pictures this weekend, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, why I love this photo of V:

  • It’s the lake in the afternoon October light. Ah.
  • V is genuinely laughing so hard her face hurts.
  • It’s before she got braces and we took all the distinctive wonkiness out of her pretty smile.


So, here’s the thing. V’s a pretty lucky girl: she still has 3 of her 4 grandparents, and they’re all in fairly good health. When I was her age, my last remaining grandfather had been dead almost 3 years already. And her grandparents are younger than mine were when my parents finally got around to having me, and they have waaaay fewer grandchildren than my grandparents did, which all adds up to lots of wonderful, doting, goofy, grandmotherly and grandfatherly energy to love her. I’m a little tiny bit jealous, frankly, because V was the first grandchild on both sides, and I was the 10th. On both sides.

(You know how excited you are when you get the first car of your very own? Just like walking on sunshine excited? Like, this is the best car anyone has EVER driven and oh, the adventures we’ll have together and WOW I love driving! Yeah. Well, when you get your tenth car, it’s nice and all, and good to have reliable transportation, but your back still hurts and you’ve gotta call that guy about the thing so whatever. This is how it is to be the 10th grandchild. On both sides. [which, weird, right?])

But this post is not about me! I swear I know it’s not! So V is extra lucky to have two awesome grandmothers. Myra and V do crafty things like coloring and gluing stuff together, and they frequent different playgrounds and read a lot of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mary and V enjoy ice cream bars and Mad Libs, and they make each other laugh like crazy. All this love warms my heart, and makes me miss Beulah and Minnie.

But this year? 2014? V’s grandmothers have gone off and gotten themselves cancer. In fact, cancers, since Myra’s got two and Mary’s got one. And it’s early, people. We’re only 5/12 of the way through this year, and we’ve got 3 different cancers to reckon with. Not cool, grandmas.

At least from where we all stand right now, it looks like they will all be treatable with surgeries, perhaps needing radiation in a couple of the cases. I know that this means we’re lucky: when your family gets 3 cancers in five months and no one needs chemo (knock on wood), this is lucky. Two major surgeries and one minor one may not seem that lucky, but seriously, V is really fortunate that she has two grandmothers, because between the two of them, they are running out of spare parts. Mary had breast cancer already in 2010 (so the grandmas are technically tied at 2 apiece), and Myra’s thyroid was removed just this past February due to cancer. Myra’s Cancer Strikes Back is a small mouth cancer, and Mary’s Cancer Rides Again is endometrial. Also, Mary’s had both knees replaced, so it’s starting to be obvious that we should’ve been collecting all their removed parts, because we could build a third grandmother out of them pretty soon.

A loving, hilarious, bad-knee having, tumor-ridden grandmother.

Here’s hoping the rest of 2014 plays nice, and cancer attacks the squirrel population, who so obviously deserve it.

Posted in Belle Taine, Daughter, Family, Love, Universe | 4 Comments