30 years

10 January 1986 was a pretty typical winter’s day, as I recall. I was in seventh grade, and Jess was in fifth. The morning started earlier than usual for us, as Myra called us down from upstairs at 6:30am.

She and Dad were in the kitchen, drinking coffee and having toast. We joined them, half an hour early, eyebrows arched in question of the reason for our early wake-up call.

Mom had asked me, the night before, to “keep an eye on Dad.” She went to Bingo at the Legion hall, and was worried about Dewey, apparently, who was having some numbness in his right arm. “Okay…” I said, in the way any twelve year old would say when asked to look after her extremely strong father.

I watched him that night, and saw him fold his hands on our dining room table, and then take away his left hand, leaving his right static, unmoving. I saw him pace for the first time in my life. I was confused, but had no idea why he was nervous. I went to bed before Mom got home from Bingo.

At our 6:30 impromptu family meeting, Mom explained that Dad was having this weird numbness in his right arm, so they were going to drive in to St. Ansgar’s to see Doc Brown. Dr. Brown was our family doctor, located 6 miles away in Halstad, but two days a week he spent his mornings at St. Ansgar’s Hospital in Moorhead. My dad had called him at 6 that morning, and explained the numb arm he’d had for almost a week. “You’re young, Dewey,” the doctor had said. “It’s probably a pinched nerve. You farmers are always pinching nerves. But you better come in and let me check it out. Meet me at St. Ansgar’s at 7:30.”

So Jess and I would have to make our way to school on our own, and Uncle Harry and Aunt Junice would drive Mom and Dad to Moorhead.

Everyone was calm, though Dad was unusually quiet. When he got up to put his coffee cup in the sink, his right arm brushed against the jelly jar on the table, and he nearly knocked it over: it was clear that his arm was really, really numb.

Jess and I walked to the elementary school, three blocks from our house, where she stayed for fifth grade and I caught the bus to Halstad, where grades 7-12 were. After lunch, during Phy-Ed, Carol, our secretary, came to the door of the gym and called me over. “Your dad’s in ICU, and they’re taking good care of him,” she said. I returned to running laps, but I knew that no one went to ICU if they were not very, very sick. I tried to focus on the second half of what Carol said, the “they’re taking good care of him,” but I kept coming back to the “ICU” part. My blood ran cold.

When my bus arrived back in Hendrum, I went to Auntie Bev’s, as we’d planned, where Jess had already arrived. Around Bev’s dining room table, she explained that Dad had had a stroke, and that Mom would try to be home to put us to bed tonight, but nobody exactly knew what any of this meant. The grown-ups around us were terribly quiet, and Jess and I both knew this couldn’t be a good sign.

Mom came home before bedtime, somehow, and brought with her a lengthy pamphlet titled “Someone you love has had a Cerebrovascular Incident (CVI).” I remember Auntie Bev standing next to Mom in our little kitchen, while Jess and I sat at the table. Bev said “No matter what happens, this will make your family so much closer.” It was many years before I agreed with her, much less knew what she was talking about.

Dad never walked by himself again, and never spoke, really, beyond muddled “yeah” and “no.” My mother went from wife to caretaker in an instant, and Jess and I went from children to assistant caregivers at the ages of eleven and twelve.

Thirty years later, I can barely believe it’s been so long. Mom, Dad, and Auntie Bev are all dead now. Twelve year old me couldn’t even imagine living in a world without those three people. Frankly, 42 year old me can’t quite imagine it, either.

It seems odd to mark this anniversary now, with so many of the major players gone. But to Jess and me, it’s still an important day. A horrible, life-changing, childhood-ending day. I’m glad I still have her with me, at least.

Posted in Dad, Family, Hendrum, Mama, Nostalgia, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Adonis to Zeus

Tomorrow, we hope to add a second dog to our little family. Seven is still so dear to us, but when he’s with other dogs, he does like to play, and Shaun’s leaving was hard on all of us, but especially Seven, for whom reason was little comfort. I’m hoping a one year old Shih Tzu from the Humane Society cheers us all up a bit.

I’m hesitant to post this; we’ve been fully approved and are waiting until tomorrow, because he’ll be neutered in the morning and we’ll get to bring him home in the afternoon. Yet I’m a bit of a “glass half empty” girl these days, and I do hope we won’t jinx it. But the last week V and I have had the best conversations on how to agree on a name.

First of all, have you ever tried to agree on the name of a dog or cat with a ten year old? I mean, this dog will likely live well into V’s college career. I don’t want to be calling a dog “Cinnamon Bun” in 2026. It’s not dignified.

Another name V loved was “Pixel,” which is cute and retro now, but would be like naming a dog “8 track” in a few years. Plus it sounds too close to “Pistol,” and I’m a pacifist. We can’t have the neighbors thinking I’m calling for weapons.

I wanted “Gus,” which one of my favorite names of all time for almost a dozen reasons, or “Bear,” which has all those sexy gay community connotations as well as being a hilarious name for a little dog. Then I got to thinking about how funny it is to name animals other animals, and I listed “Turtle,” “Wombat,” and “Panther.” Really only “Turtle” makes sense to me, but still.

To test the names out, V and I tried to use them in a likely sentence. “This is my dog Cinnamon Bun, and my other dog, Seven.” Or “Ah, here’s Doctor Nutbucket now.” Having another dog does up the ante, of course. We can’t very well name the new dog “Professor Higgensbottom Awesomesauce” without giving Seven a complex.

For a few days, V was committed to the name “Cream.” The new dog is, I’ll admit, partially cream colored, but he’s also black and brown (hence the Cinnamon Bun contender). I had to explain that when one already had a truly cream colored dog, and one gets another dog which wasn’t really fully cream colored but named that dog “Cream,” one was just messing with people’s heads. It’s like having a black lab and a yellow lab and naming the black lab “Yeller.” It’s just not done.

We do find the addition of titles or last names especially hilarious. “Nuttley McGee” was at the top of both of our lists, yesterday, and we were both quite fond of “Tim Burton” night before last. “Mr. Wiggles” is a hilarious name for a little dog, though I’d get the Wiggles’ hit song “Mashed Potatoes” stuck in my head too often, I fear.

There were many other iterations of this name game, too, including Banjo, Cory, and Ponyo (I still like Banjo, but I have a cousin named Cory and Ponyo rhymes exactly with our last name, which is even sillier than Mr. Wiggles, apparently.) So, for your reading pleasure, I present the short list, the list which took us five days to agree upon, and upon which are five names we both like, through some miracle. It  may or may not contain the final name, but I promise to announce here just as soon as we’ve agreed.

Drumroll, please…..





Reggie K.

Reggie K is a very long story, but to sum up, about 6 months ago, V and I watched an old episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Kenny G, the famous saxophonist, was a special guest. V had not heard of Kenny G before this, and we didn’t talk about him too much afterwards. But when it came time to think of a name for this new dog, she said, out of the clear blue, “I know. Reggie K. He’s like Kenny G’s less famous cousin. He plays the accordion.”

It took awhile, but Reggie K. is starting to grow on me. At any rate, we will let you know, gentle readers, as soon as we do, and we welcome, as always, your suggestions, just so long as they are not “Cream.”  And we’re probably in the market for a dog-sized accordion.





Posted in Daughter, Family, Seven | 2 Comments

Ye Olde Thanksgiving

You guys, I know the holidays are upon us. No more pretending we have plenty of time to dust windowsills or shop for those weird onion things we only use on the Green Bean Bake. We need to get ‘er done, now. But also Be Thankful! And think about Christmas! And don’t screw up the Pecan Pie!

I’ve been thinking about what I want to say about Thanksgiving. There is much to be afraid of, in our world today. There are politicians to rally behind or wish plagues upon. There are racist, homophobic, ignorant people (some of whom are likely to be with you at dinner tomorrow). There is murder and heartache and terrorism… And of course there is wonderfulness and lightness and happy bloggers and lovely vintage dishes to find at thrift stores if you just had an hour to your self. I know. It’s a lot.

I tell you what, though: when both your parents have died and your divorce is final, Thanksgiving is a lot more low-key.  So mostly lately I think about what I wish I had known, the last Thanksgiving with my mama, or Thanksgiving of 1985, less than 2 months before my dad’s stroke.

Just to be clear, I hope this is NOT your last Thanksgiving with your mama, and I hope your dad doesn’t go and have a massive stroke that leaves him with aphasia and hemiplegia and a seizure disorder for good measure. Lord, I hope that so much.

But maybe, just thinking about it being possible, even just a little bit, will help you overlook some of the more grating parts of family gatherings. Maybe instead you can talk about your favorite Thanksgiving memories, or take time tomorrow to get your favorite recipes: your dad’s chocolate cake, for example, or in my case, Myra’s vegetable beef-dumpling soup.

My first fall without my mama, I suddenly realized I never got her recipe for  soup.  I’d gotten the banana bread recipe, and Grandma Beulah’s frosting, and the potato dumpling recipe. But somehow I never thought to get the soup. I was devastated: for me, there was nothing better when I was sick than Mom bringing fresh soup with fluffy white egg dumplings. She made some for me after V was born that seriously boosted my milk production and made me strong again. It was magic soup.

I called my sister, half-panicked. “Do you know how to make Mom’s soup?”

“Sure,” she said. “A knuckle bone, some vegetables…it’s not that hard.”

“Yeah, but did she WRITE IT DOWN FOR YOU?”

“Well, no.”

I almost hyperventilated.

A few days later, through a happy, coincidental exchange on Facebook, out of the blue one of Myra’s good friends said “Say, girls, I have a couple of knuckle bones in my freezer that your mom liked to use for soup. Do you want them?”

I thought, Want them?? WANT THEM?? You just saved my life! Instead I said, “Yes, please. Do you know how to make the soup?”

“No,” she said. “Didn’t she tell you?”

You could hear my heart break from 27 miles away.

Then, through some crazy twist of fate, my Aunt Barbie, who only seems to be on Facebook about once every three months, joined in. “The vegetable soup with the egg dumplings? I know how to make that. Grandma Beulah taught us all.”

Relief flooded me. I sat and cried. It’s a year later, and I still haven’t made the soup, but knowing now that I actually can do it, from an authentic recipe, brought me so much peace. I am so grateful it’s not lost.

Tenessa had a dear friend a few months ago whose mother was given just a few weeks to live. It was devastating news, and my only suggestion was “Get the soup recipe. Right now.” It seems crazy, but trust me. In the midst of all the heartache and awfulness, it will seem like it doesn’t matter. But it does. The food we give each other is magical.

You don’t have to tell your family it’s because you’re afraid they’ll die soon, if you don’t want to. But instead of the usual fighting over the last piece of lefse, consider what it is from tomorrow, or from years past, that you want to remember always.

NPR is on board, and has a project going for just this purpose (well, not so much the soup purpose, but you know what I mean). There’s literally an App for that! Check out NPR’s Listening Project here.  Download the app, look at their suggestions, and please, whatever you do, get the soup recipe if you can.

When the time comes for grieving, hopefully many years from now, you’ll have one less loss to ache over.


Posted in Dad, Family, Grief, Hendrum, Love, Mama, Nostalgia | 4 Comments

Xtreme Terrariums

Oh, Pinterest. You are a wicked temptress, bringing me into even more hobbies I lack the time to master. One day, I stumbled across the idea of a terrarium party, like this, and I knew I needed to make this happen in my life.

Where to begin? Well, first, I needed to know how to put a terrarium together. My mother was a damn master gardener, and had lovely houseplants when she died, most of which I’ve managed to destroy since I inherited them. Without her to guide me, I’m not sure I can make anything grow. But I read this and this and this, and took a deep breath, and started collecting the pieces necessary for a successful terrarium party. So many pieces.

My thrift store shopping really paid off in this respect. So many glass containers, from cups to vases to glass bowls, can be had for just pennies. I ordered a few, too, primarily from Zulily (affiliate link. Sign up, order something, and I get a little store credit. Which I desperately need, because I spent all my money on my terrarium obsession). They have some terrarium kits right now, like this one. And if you’re wondering what I’d most like for Christmas, may I suggest this lovely piece, because apparently I have a terrarium problem.

Oh, but what a glorious problem! Since July, I’ve been gathering glass containers, pouring over Pinterest, perusing publications on plants…I even interviewed my friend Randy, who knows all sorts of stuff about plants. Eventually, I bought five plants at IKEA and ordered a pile of succulents from Zulily.

But terrariums are not only glass containers plus plants! No! Let me tell you, they can be so much more. This websites shows how to make tiny terrariums in magnet form, and this Etsy seller offers a Hobbit-based terrarium that is so cute I could throw up. Remember summer before last when we planted fairy gardens with Myra? Terrariums can be like indoor fairy gardens, if’n you want.

So I found some wee deer on Etsy, and made some gnomes from air-dry clay (which I have no idea if it will withstand terrarium conditions. I’ll let you know), and found a few small animal figures at my local JoAnn Fabrics. Because Myra took us there to shop for fairy garden plants, I went back to Baker’s Nursery for the correct soil and for charcoal, which is so important in keeping terrariums fresh and healthy.

I do want to have a full-on terrarium party, but my luck with plants is spotty, at best. So instead of a full-blown deal right out of the gate, I recruited my dear friend Crystal. We met at her house this morning to make the magic happen. She added in some sweet figures from around her house, and her husbo Todd joined in on the fun, too.


This is the one Todd made.


And here is one of Crystal’s. She found the lovely, wide glass bowls at a local shop, on clearance. She is my people. And a gnome found a home there, along with an owl!


Look closely here, and you’ll see another owl, cleverly hidden. What a hoot.


A stoic Easter Island statue alongside both a plant from IKEA and one of the Zulily succulents. The statue seems happy, don’t you think?


And this little gnome lady, snuggled in beside some Hypoestes. She’s wearing new lipstick and hopes you like her hat.

We had so much fun! Suddenly everything we look at becomes possible terrarium fodder: wee Kewpie ™ dolls, a marble we found on the street…and couldn’t we take a cutting or two from that plant in the dentist’s office? No one would miss it, right? Must. Find. More. Window space.

Now, we just planted these today. I am as always an optimist, but I know they could all be dead by next week. But if that happens, we will figure out what went wrong, fix it, and resume terrariuming. It’s gardening plus playtime plus arts and crafts. What’s not to like?

PS:  there’s this guy, who sealed his terrarium in 1953 and has watered it only once since then. Personally, I would not have the self-control to not open up that bottle and look inside every five or ten minutes, which is probably why I don’t have a 62 year old terrarium yet. But just you wait. That gnome is going to see to it that good things happen up in there.

Posted in Craft, Grow, Love | 1 Comment

W is for Tammy Wynette

Shaun and I honeymooned in Wisconsin Dells, officially, but before the official honeymoon, we went to Winnipeg for a weekend. At our hotel, we found karaoke night in the bar, as was our way, and I sang first, as was also our way. Unless you’ve heard Shaun sing, trust me. You don’t want to follow him.

We took pride in surprising each other with songs, and refused to share our selections before we got on stage. While I appreciate folks who have “their” karaoke song, Shaun’s so spectacular at karaoke, I don’t know that I heard him sing more than two songs more than once in our fifteen years together. I am not so spectacular, but I tried to find my wheelhouse every time. (Mostly my wheelhouse is Loretta Lynn and Dusty Springfield)

So we’re in Winnepeg, karaoke-ing for the first time since getting hitched, and I think “Hm. Romantic song? Nah. Let’s go the other way. It’ll be funny.” We both submitted our slips at the same time, but I made clear that I got to sing first. Soon after, I belted out the lovely Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” This was a song that haunted me as a child, though my parents remained happily married until my dad died in 2002. As a blushing new bride? I found it hilarious. So I sang it, and sang it well.

And Shaun got up and sang some Billy Joel love song. I can’t remember if it was “She’s Got a Way,” but I do know it was absolutely the most romantic thing anyone has ever sung to me in the history of time.  I felt weak in the knees, but also like a shrew and an idiot, for my song choice. Good job, wife.

I tell you this not because I really think my song choice led to the end of my marriage thirteen years later, but because I needed a topic for my W entry, and I’ve been thinking about our D-I-V-O-R-C-E lately, as it will become final in the next few weeks.

Here’s the thing. Our divorce is consensual, and necessary, and good. We’ll all be better off for it, in the end (though V may never see it this way). But the worst part? You wanna know the worst part of getting divorced? (Not counting the whole shattering of our hopes and dreams and eternal resentment toward the concept of happily ever after and also we’re breaking our sweet daughter’s heart? Not counting that…) The worst part is, I have no one to help me hide the bodies.

Yeah, you read that right.

Of course, I don’t mean HUMAN bodies. But I was mowing the lawn today, which I do once a month whether it needs it or not, and found a dead robin in our front yard. I have always been a sucker for robins, and dead ones make me cry. I can’t explain it. They just do. So I mowed around it and later went back and moved the body, gingerly, into the trash can. This used to be one of Shaun’s (frankly few) jobs: there’s something dead? He’ll take care of it.

I am a feminist, and a proud one at that. Spiders, mice, bugs of any sort don’t bother me. But dead birds make my heart hurt for some reason. So I called in back up, when I could. Now that I’m the sole grown up, though, it’s my job, and I don’t like it.

But wait, there’s more.

After the unpleasantness that was the front yard, I went to the back, and mowed in a big square, smaller and smaller, until I was about halfway done, when suddenly I noticed, in nearly the center of my yard, a dead squirrel.

You may recall from earlier posts that squirrels are not now, nor have they ever been, my favorite. I rather despise them, and wish I could build a squirrel-proof dome over my backyard so as to keep them all at bay. I once ran over a squirrel on a rural road, and honestly felt no remorse whatsoever.

But this? A dead squirrel in the (ahem) dead center of my backyard? I did not rejoice. I might have, had Shaun been in the house to come and move it. But instead I had to get the snow shovel, and scoop up a mid-sized rodent, and dispose of it in the trash. This meant I had to look, really look, at the squirrel. She was sort of lovely, with a tail tipped in white, all around. Some poor, middle-aged squirrel, ending her life unceremoniously in the backyard of a known squirrel enemy. I was, dare I say it, sad. I don’t know what she died from, but I was sorry she’d met such a mediocre end in my overgrown grass. Having to move the body meant I had to acknowledge her life in a way in which I had grown unaccustomed, when I had Shaun to help wield the shovel.

I still don’t care for squirrels. And I don’t care for being the sole grown-up at this house. But I suppose it was good for me, to have to face the apparently untimely death of an enemy. And to take care of all the things, all on my own.

Tammy Wynette should’ve written a song about that, if you ask me.

Posted in $haun, Family, Grief | Leave a comment

V, revisited

I wrote Saturday’s post with V’s permission but it rings hollow, because what I really want to say, what I most want to tell her is more like this.

Holy fuck, child, this is not the life I had planned for us when I was a little girl dreaming of a daughter of my own. This is not where I thought we’d be on your tenth birthday, the two of us rattling around in a cluttered 4 bedroom house except every other weekend when you’re with your dad. I never imagined any of this, including your brilliance or passion or terror. You bring light and hilarity every day, and humble me with it.

And I am so sorry. I loved your dad with everything I had and he loved me too and it still wasn’t enough. I don’t want to say this to you because you are ten and I want you to believe in magic and true love and hard work because all of those are real and good but sweet Jesus even with all of them together sometimes it’s not enough.

So many times I’m impatient with you or too tired or busy grading to play. I want to show you how to unlock and discover all the good in this world (within and without of yourself) and I am trying my hardest to be healthy and brave alongside you so we can see it all, taste it all, be it all.

I’m sorry for the broken spots and the mighty rough patches.

I am grateful for your life. I love you so.

Posted in Daughter | 2 Comments


Tomorrow, V turns ten. Ten! The day after tomorrow, she starts fourth grade. While I try to get my brain around how time works, I thought I’d write her a letter in honor of her first decade. But it all seemed either too explainy–nothing like what I’d really say to her–or too inside-joke-laden, because that’s most of life these days. So I’ll just talk about her, and see if it makes a post.

In the last month, she’s come to love Gilligan’s Island. I wanted her to see some of the shows I grew up watching, and this was the one that stuck. Two weeks ago I went to tuck her in to bed (and take away the iPad) and she said “Just a minute, Mom. I’m watching Family Feud with Gilligan’s Island vs. Batman.” I confess to creating this monster, and proudly. She’s developing an animated reboot of the series, but this time she wants to be on the island, too. “It has to be animated, Mom, ’cause most of the actors are dead.” Okay, darlin’. Whatever you like. To balance the tale of a fateful trip, we’ve also got healthy doses of Steven Universe and Gravity Falls, in mostly equal measure. And the movie of our summer was clearly Inside Out, which, if you haven’t seen it yet, we’d both prefer you get on that.

She loves many Japanese things. There’re several anime that she’s found and loves (including Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, and Fairy Tail). She’s been teaching herself Japanese words and phrases, and we have fallen in love with our local Asian market, with all the coconut flavored things. We share a love of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and speaking of films, she wants to audit my World Cinema course this spring semester. I would be honored to be her teacher.

Here’s hoping ten ushers in new adventures, and we enjoy some calm, in English or Japanese. This first decade has been a fantastic ride, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Posted in Family | 1 Comment