Tag Archives: Family


Life With Father

Today’s guest post comes from Renee.

“Renee! That damn dog is looking at me again!!”

I respond to my father’s plaintive cry and remove the dog from the dining room. The cat is allowed to stay. Dad forgives cats for everything. My father believes that our animals should enjoy the bounty of our table, and he shares bits of his meals with them. Dad also believes that the dog should know when he has finished sharing, and she should just leave the room. We explain that she doesn’t think that way, and that he has to stop feeding her from the table if he wants her to leave him alone. As you can see from the photo, she waits patiently nearby while he eats. That is still too much for dad. He says that when an animal looks at him while he eats and he doesn’t feed it, he feels like the people in the parable of the Good Samaritan who walked past the victim and didn’t help. So, I remove the dog.

It has been six weeks since my 93 year old, newly widowed, father moved in with me and my husband. Things have gone pretty well, aside from his strife with the guilt-inducing terrier. He personalized his new room with photos, furniture from home, and mementos, and made it a comfortable nook where he reads, writes letters, and listens to CD’s of his favorite radio preachers. He is appreciative and meticulously clean and tidy. He is frustrated by his diminishing physical strength and his inability to fix things. He is easily hurt by a sharp word, and we need to be very patient as he struggles to understand the complicated business and health issues we discuss. He is usually quite cheerful, though, and remains curious about the world and the people around him.

Living with my father is a balancing act of providing necessary care with as much autonomy as possible. I am thankful that he is independent with all his personal care. I help out by organizing his meds and taking him to appointments and handling his business. Things will change as his health deteriorates from his cancer and cardiac disease and age, but at this point we have a pretty good thing going. He has breakfast with us every morning. He loves French press coffee. We go to work and he potters around until lunch, when we come home to eat with him. We go back to work, and then one of us slips away at 3:45pm to take him to coffee with a group of retired teachers. One of the teachers brings him home, and we meet up with him around 6:00 for supper. He goes to bed pretty early. On weekends he watches us garden. He also planned and directed the transformation of our basement and garage into temples of Dutch order and cleanliness. We have a very Jake-centric household, but that is ok with us. I am thankful that my husband is supportive of our doing this. We are both very fatigued at the end of the day.

Every day when we leave for work we make sure Dad has a bowl of Lindt chocolate truffles on the counter, a beer or two in the fridge, lots of ice cream, and Radio Heartland streaming on the computer. He really likes listening to Jimmy Dale Gilmore and the Wronglers. He knows he is shamelessly spoiled, and repays us with stories. Here is a true one from home about people I know.

Old Johnny B was a farmer and horse trader from Magnolia, MN, born around the turn of the century. (His son Dallas is still alive and went skydiving two years ago on his 95th birthday.) Many years ago Johnny bought a horse from an old German farmer, and when he got the horse home, he put it in the corral and the horse proceeded to walk right into the barn wall. The horse was blind! Johnny confronted the farmer. “Why didn’t you tell me the horse was blind?” The farmer replied in his thick accent “I did! I told you he didn’t look so good!”

I think a story like that makes up for any amount of extra work we have. He has tons of stories, and we will keep the truffles and beer in good supply as long as he can enjoy them.

Share a joke a 93 year-old might enjoy. 

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Yawn Shop

A new study says dogs yawn more in response to yawns from their owners than they do to the yawns of strangers. I just tried to make this happen with my dog by yawning several times right in her face. She wouldn’t look at me, possibly out of embarrassment. Or maybe I need to brush my teeth.


But I did start to feel a little tired, so we took a twenty minute nap.

While sleeping I had a short dream that I was a frightened chipmunk running from a Rottweiler who had cornered me at the back of an open garage. With no easy escape, I cowered in a corner as the animal stood over me, drooling and trembling in the same way a movie villain pauses over a supposedly-vanquished superhero or secret agent to make a speech before delivering the final blow. It was a garage, so I considered grabbing a shovel from a hook on the wall and using it to force the dog to back away, but then I remembered, I’m a chipmunk – no hands. So I yawned. Amazingly, that caused the dog to pause for a moment, so I yawned again. The dog tipped its head to one side the way dogs do when they appear to be confused. I yawned a third time, and incredibly, the Rottweiler also opened its mouth wide.

Then I woke up.

I’m not sure this proves anything other than the potential fact that it is not very satisfying to fall asleep while reading science articles because it leads to complicated dreams about research. Maybe articles about yawning studies are bigger snoozers than comparable research papers. I should get a grant to study the phenomenon!

Contagious yawning has been observed and extensively documented between humans, chimpanzees and baboons, and there is reason to believe we have a stronger response to yawns from those we care about. Although the researchers in that study assumed the relationship between family members is automatically a more caring one than any relationship with others. That may not always be the case, since family members can be quite vicious towards one another (see Rottweiler, above).

There is also a theory out there that spontaneous yawning is a natural physical response intended to cool an overheated brain. I suppose you could observe this in any classroom where SAT tests are administered. Perhaps there is also a connection between test-induced yawning and spitwad formation in 16 year olds.

Back to my dog – she is definitely not responding to all the yawn cues I’m giving her, but she has started to obsessively lick a sore spot on her left rear leg. In this case, the theory of empathetic mimicry is not holding up. Although I am feeling a strong urge right now to bite my own ankles.

What makes you yawn?

The Holiday Pageant

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

Teenager and I attend a Universalist/Unitarian church in southwest Minneapolis. It’s a place with some rite and ritual, but not too much, which is just perfect for me. Like many institutions, there is a lot going on around the holidays, but my favorite, bar none, is the Holiday Pageant.

Like most pageants, we have Mary and Joseph and shepherds. But we also have wise folk, who bring frankincense, myrrh as well as diapers and other things babies need. We have the wind and also angels on wheels who delivery the baby to the manger. And because the idea is to include as many kids as possible, we have lots and lots of angels and a wide variety of manger animals. Over the years we’ve had dragons, kittens, and bees. One year a kid brought his Golden Retriever.

You have to be least five to be in the pageant and when Teenager was little, she could hardly wait to be part of the presentation. On the first Sunday of pageant sign-up I asked her what part she would like to play. She responded by asking what she could be, so I trotted out the litany of options for her. “You can be an angel, you can be Mary, you can be a wise one, you can be a shepherd….” I didn’t even get to finish the sentence before she said “I want to be a leopard.” Sure she had misheard me, I said “Did you mean shepherd?” Nope, she had said leopard and she meant leopard.


Leopard it was. I splotched golden brown paint onto a black sweatshirt and sweatpants and we borrowed a fuzzy tail and ears from a friend. I know I’m her parent, but even so, she was absolutely the cutest thing. As all the animals trooped through the sanctuary that morning, there she was, waltzing up the aisle, swishing her tail back and forth. She completely fit into the menagerie of the manger that day.


In following years, she played a wise one twice (she had me make her a Mulan costume for this), an angel and finally she was old enough to play an angel on wheels, for which she wore all black and rode her scooter. When she was 10 she decided she was old enough to retire from the pageant, so now I sit and watch other children play these parts every holiday season. But I always see her in my mind’s eye, in her leopard outfit, completely sure that she fits into the pageant as well as anyone else.

When have you been the one to add an unexpected twist?

Scandinavian Saudade

Today’s guest blog comes from Bill in Minneapolis.

I was standing in line yesterday at Ingebretsen’s, the 90-year-old Scandinavian market on Lake Street, as I have for at least 40 Christmas seasons. There were about 35 people in front of me in line and at least as many behind. Now, I hate standing in line. There is almost nothing I want badly enough to warrant standing in a long line. But, as I waited, I suddenly realized I was enjoying myself– enjoying the understated camaraderie and the people watching. I was having such a good time that, when my number was almost up, I considered trading with someone else further down the line.

I’ve thought about why I might have reacted so uncharacteristically, for me, and I think it’s because Ingebretsen’s at Christmas is one of the last outposts of a kind of Christmas I remember from my very early childhood and a kind of Christmas that has mostly vanished. I may be projecting here, but I suspect a lot of the others standing in line were feeling the same way. None of the other customers were under 50. We all came, presumably, from families where lutefisk, Swedish meatballs, Swedish sausage, pickled herring, sylte, and the like were de rigueur at the holidays and we find ourselves struggling to hold on to customs that have mostly fallen away. I noticed that, as I waited my turn, almost no one was buying lutefisk. Even 30 years ago, everyone there would have been buying at least a little.

Lutefisk is hardcore. When I was young, Christmas Eve dinner always included lutefisk and Swedish meatballs as well. There always seemed to be anxiety surrounding the preparation of the lutefisk– whether it would be overcooked or “just right”. The distinction always seemed moot to me.

My dad was born in Robbinsdale and spent his whole life there. My father’s parents lived about 2 blocks away from where I grew up. His only brother was unmarried at the time and lived with them. My grandfather was born in Sweden and my grandmother was half Swedish and half Norwegian. All their friends were either Swedish or Norwegian. When I was very young, the universe was Scandinavian.

I remember that any social gathering with my grandparents also included a number of close friends and assorted unattached bachelors and maiden aunts, all of whom had last names that ended with -son or –sen. I think of those early social gatherings whenever I hear this:

I was the only child in our immediate family group. That meant that Christmas in our family was essentially adult centered. That, in turn, meant that it was primarily focused on the dinner, or on the run-up to the dinner. No presents were ever opened until the dinner was done and the plates cleared. It was excruciating to be the only kid. I had lots of time and opportunity to observe.

Most of the Christmas traditions I remember have fallen away. The lutefisk is gone for certain. My kids, who are adults themselves, know next to nothing about Christmas as I remember it. It has been assimilated into the general commercial culture. The tang and comfort of reenacting the rituals of a distinct tribe are largely vanished. I came along at the end of that chain of tradition and when I’m gone, it will be gone from our family completely.

Once again, I may be projecting my own sentiments, but that’s the undercurrent I felt as I stood waiting my turn at Ingebretsen’s. Beneath the festivity, beneath the joy at finding common ground, a kind of wistfulness that the Portuguese call saudade.

What tribal rituals will you be among the last to observe?

Cookie Grinch

Today’s guest post comes from Joanne in Big Lake.

Ah, the smell of Christmas cookies baking in the oven. Who doesn’t love Christmas cookies and all the other baked goodies the holidays have to offer? “Where’s the cookies, Mom?,” ask my boys when the sweet scent hits their noses. Oh, hmm … uh – sorry, that’s just my favorite candle burning.


For better or worse, you will never find homemade Christmas cookies or massive quantities of baked goods at my house. I realize most women feel obligated to fulfill their motherly duty of making dozens of delicate rosettes, rice krispie bars, Russian sandies, chocolate covered pretzels, frosted sugar cookies, etc. Slaving away in the kitchen for hours and hours on the weekend or week nights, spending precious grocery money on pounds of butter, humongous sacks of flour and sugar, mounds of chocolate chips and tons of nuts. It’s a badge of honor, and with a definite sense of smugness to say you did your Christmas baking already.

I listen as women moan that they have to stay up all night or spend the whole weekend baking because they HAVE to make their Christmas cookies and treats that their families expect. And for what? Once all the baking is done, they give away most cookies to everyone else! Or participate in a cookie exchange, or serve them at a family gathering or bring them to the office. It’s a never ending cycle of baking treats for someone else, so you end up with someone else’s cookies that you don’t even like, or even worse – inferior quality cookies.

Where’s the sense in this?

God forbid we actually eat all those darn cookies because we’ll gain 50 lbs, raise our cholesterol to the roof and bust a gut because we can’t help ourselves. Eating those wondrous sweets reminds us of the sweet moments of childhood when mom or grandma baked their specialties just for us out of pure motherly love.

Well, bah humbug, I say. I chose a long time ago to forgo the baking of fattening, unhealthy, high calorie, fat-laden Christmas treats. Because, well …. baking is stressful for me. Measuring, timing, greasing, stirring, sifting, dirtying 10 bowls, 20 utensils, burning the cookies and then ending up with a kitchen from hell because I’m famous for creating a mess with foodstuffs. And I hate cleaning even more than cooking!

In all honesty, I envy women (and men!) who enjoy the baking, do it patiently with their children, pass on a tradition and share their baking skills.

But it’s just not my scene.

What’s your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?


Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

My mom is visiting this week. She hails from St. Louis, where I grew up (mostly) and I get her for alternate holidays. One year I get her for Thanksgiving and the next year I get her for Solstice. My two sisters live in St. Louis as well; since I get her all to myself on my alternate holidays, I like to think that I’m getting more of her than they are, since they have to share.


Before she moved to a smaller place, Nonny’s hobbies included gardening and redecorating. We moved quite a bit when I was a kid, so every new house got the once over. When I was in high school, they stayed in the same house for several years so you would think that the redecorating would subside. Nope, there were a couple of rooms that got new looks every couple of years! I have a very clear memory of her scraping off old wallpaper and to this day, I have a horror of painting over wallpaper that I absorbed directly from her.

But Nonny’s favorite hobby is tennis. She and my dad learned to play tennis when I was in 1st grade and it quickly became a passion. I have many memories of sitting around the tennis courts waiting for my folks to finish; it wasn’t until they were done that my folks would hit a few balls with us kids. When Nonny was pregnant with my baby sister, she played tennis up until the day before Karen was born and tennis was behind both of her knee replacements. If you get in the way of tennis, you are history. She plays in three leagues these days – one senior women’s league and she is the alternate on TWO senior men’s leagues.

I look a lot like my dad but I always wanted to look like my mom, as she is very beautiful. But I like to think that I get much of my personality from her. She doesn’t like to dwell on things; once something has happened, you have to accept it and move on. She is quite stubborn (as was my dad, so I got a double dose) and she likes things the way she likes them. Nonny is also a very kind person and still works at helping others and volunteering. This is the area that I strive to be the most like her.

For years I have tried to get her to move up here, but she won’t budge. “It’s too cold up there.” I tell her we have this great invention; it’s called the furnace. “You can’t stay inside all the time.” I tell her that we have another great invention; it’s called the coat. Nothing works. She has lived her whole life in St. Louis and is still good friends with a kindergarten buddy. I know in my heart she won’t ever move up here, but I’m looking forward to this week of trying to convince her anyway.

What would you say to convince Nonny to move to Minnesota?

Will You Marry Me?

Today’s guest post comes from Beth-Ann.

When my son was young we were at Como Park and as happens on many sunny Saturdays there was a wedding party posing for photographs. It was a large Filipino family wearing flouncy dresses and elegant tuxes. The bride’s dress was layers and layers of white lace with a long train.

My son turned to me and said, “Now I know why you never got married. “

I was interested in his analysis and asked him why.

His preschooler answer was, “That dress looks awfully itchy. You wouldn’t want to wear it.”

I think my unmarried state is related to more complex social interactions, and because Prince Charming never showed with ring in hand to propose.  But my son was right, that dress did look itchy.  With all the talk surrounding the marriage amendment I’ve recently been revisiting the question of why people get married and why at a time when the divorce rate is reported to be 50% do same sex couples in this country want so desperately to follow suit?

I think we’re past the time when women married for economic security. Similarly, all sorts of statistics and observations confirm that few people wait until marriage to have sex. Many couples don’t even wait until marriage to have kids. So if the sociological and natural law descriptions that marriage is for breeding and money/survival no longer apply, what’s the allure?

Some of the most heartfelt words about marriage these days seem to come from members of the gay community who in most states are denied the chance to marry. Two young Minnesotan men wrote the following:

On May 22nd we were married in the chapel. Surrounded by nearly 200 friends and family, in the presence of God, we made sacred vows to love and honor one another in sickness and in health, when times are good and when things get tough. We made a public promise of responsibility for each other and asked our loved ones to support us and hold us accountable. We married for the same reasons heterosexuals couples marry: To make a lifetime commitment to the one we love in the presence of our friends and family; to share the joys and sorrows that life brings; to be a family, and to be able to protect that family.

This ideal is reflected in a video posted by the local duo Neal and Leandra.

For those who have the legal right to do it, getting married is the easy part (itchy dress notwithstanding). Staying together appears to be the bigger challenge.

How and why do people stay married?

Womb With Review

You know we live in unusual times when the big sex news continues to be topless photos of a hot princess, instead of this – two women in Sweden have received uterus transplants. From their mothers.

Let that sink in.

If the new organs remain healthy and intact, these women will be walking around carrying the wombs that they themselves were carried in. And if they’re able to get pregnant, their children will spring from the
very same fertile ground that mom did. That’s got to be a little eerie.

And how would it feel to the two older mothers? They’re each giving a wonderful gift to their 30+ year old daughters – one young woman lost her uterus to cancer and the other was born without one – but how would you process the thought that your daughter is growing your grandchild in your womb?

I don’t know what manual the 10 Swedish doctors used to perform this operation, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the illustrations were by M.C. Escher.

Are you an organ donor?

Three Generations of Inspiring Women

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde.

Generation One: Edith, The Bootleg Baker

Edith was widowed in about 1924 with four young children when her husband dropped dead at the age of 36 of a heart attack. Fortunately his life insurance covered the cost of the house, but only that. She survived with the magic she could do with the stove. She cooked for many rich families and made it through the Depression mostly by running a bootleg bakery, “bootleg” in the sense of unlicensed. And, oh, how she could bake.


She had a son shot down over Germany in WWII and another son came home deaf. When her daughter ended up in a bad marriage and badly crippled from arthritis, she took them into her home, now doing all her magic in a tiny kitchen she had built upstairs. She shared her upstairs bedroom with her two grand daughters, one of whom is my wife.

She was described as always upbeat, giggly, and girlish. In her early fifties she seemed to have developed a sort of mild senility, which made her delightfully, charmingly dingy. I could tell thousands of stories about this, such as the fact she long carried around a piece of paper with my name on it because otherwise she called me Claude. Here are a few stories, in which you will notice forty years of widowhood had made her confused about sex.

My wife, the world’s most beloved human being, was packing for our honeymoon, including all the negligees she had received in her 13 bridal showers. Gramma Edith kept pulling them out of the suitcase and telling her to save them for something special.

She once told my wife not to undress in front of me because one day we may get divorced and then my wife would be walking down the street and see me and say, “Oh, no, I undressed in front of him.” After that she called several times in tears insisting she did not think we would get divorced, including more than once in the middle of the night.

In our poor but fun college years we would go over to the house to wash our clothes and take my mother-in-law for an outing. Edith would fold our clothes and take out and hide all the negligees. So I called up Edith and told her that Sandy was sleeping naked. She demanded that we come right over and get them. She would also hide food for us in the laundry, and once hid butter in my wife’s purse, which fell out of the purse when my wife was paying for groceries on our way home. My wife did not even try to explain. The clerk carefully ignored it, perhaps because my wife was purchasing such a modest amount of basic stuff.
Edith once ran short of apples for her famous apple pie, so she substituted watermelon pickles. She did not think we would notice. She made a famous torte, the recipe for which she stubbornly took to her grave.

Generation Two: Mugs, the Crip

Marguerite became pregnant at age 19 and rushed into a bad marriage, giving birth in March of 1940 to my wife Sandy. Four years later after giving birth to a second daughter, she developed severe rheumatoid arthritis, which over the next 42 years dissolved the bones in her hands and feet and gave her terrible pain. But she refused to let it limit her and not once in anyone’s memory ever complained. She went to everything she could at the Courage Center, where she hung out with the other “crips,” as they liked to call themselves.


She once took an assertiveness class, from which she was excused for her assertiveness. In my college years she spent many months at the U of M having her knees and hips replaced, among the first to have the operations. She and I had lunch together every day while she was there and became close friends. She spent the rest of her time there seeking out those who needed an encouraging friend.

It was my—is “pleasure” the word—to do her funeral, at which I told many of other inspiring stories about her I am not telling here.

Generation Three: Sandy, the Most Beloved Being on the Planet

In my wife’s yearbook,despite a very difficult childhood, it said by her picture “Everyone wants to be like Sandy.” Everyone loves my wife. Everyone. Loves her.


Our friend Lori recently went to one of my wife’s many doctors and told the doctor that she knew Sandy. The doctor acknowledged that she should not talk about another patient but told Lori how Sandy inspires everyone in the office, that after Sandy had been there no one complains about anything for the next few days. My wife goes there with her progressing lupus and five other illnesses and greets everyone by name in her perky manner. Sandy asks about their joys and problems, about which she has learned over her many visits. The doctor has to argue with my wife to tell her symptoms because then she would be complaining.

Who inspires you and how?

Sudden Drop

The Curiosity mission continues to amaze. Not only is it technically sophisticated, it is well documented. Just as with a dad at Disney World, the video camera is constantly running on so we can always remember how much fun the kids had when we went on that long, long trip! Here’s dad’s note in his vacation journal:

By far the highlight was that huge, huge drop off of Space Mountain. I got some great HD footage from the moment our darling little Curio dropped his heat shield. I told him not to dangle it underneath us, but some kids just won’t listen! In the footage, you can watch it fall all the way down, just like last year when my right sandal dropped into the kids’ barnyard from the State Fair Sky Glider. Good thing we noticed which corn stalk it landed next to so we could go back and get it! On this Space Drop, though, there was no doubt the whole point of the ride was to shake you loose. And it worked. Curio has assured me he’s not going to go on a roller coaster ride like that ever again. From now on, it’s 50 feet at a time, and then only if we go very, very slowly!

Too bad there was no camera positioned to get our shocked expressions. It felt like we were going to crash right into the Mars! As it was, we got covered in red dust. Yuk! But if anyone saw us coming in, I’ll bet we made an impressive (and funny) sight!

When have you made a remarkable entrance?