All posts by reneeinnd

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. 

Me and “The Girls”

Today’s guest post comes from Renee.

I am a healthy 56 year old person. I rarely get ill. I am not on any medications. My family history is pretty devoid of chronic health problems other than cardiovascular disease, but even that hasn’t kept many of my family members living to very advanced ages. I don’t have a family history of cancer or dementia. I will admit, with some sheepishness, that I don’t have all the yearly checkups a person my age is supposed to have.

I had my last mammogram about two years ago, and the experience still leaves me giggling. Since I don’t go the doctor very often, I don’t have regular experience with cutting edge trends in patient care. I usually have my mammogram at the local hospital, where I have had the same radiology tech for 25 years. It happens in the same room with the same level of more than adequate care each time. I think Rosie, the radiology tech, has worn the same pink scrubs since I met her. We don’t talk much during the procedure, mainly small talk about our respective families and the state of the hospital administration. We sort of ignore the real business at hand, which is fine with me.

I just shut my eyes and think of England.

My most recent mammogram took place at a local clinic where I had gone for a Pap test. The doctor noticed I hadn’t had mammogram in a while, and said I could have one right away in the clinic’s new Mammography Department. I agreed, and was whisked back to the lab/x-ray area where I met the radiology tech. At least, that’s who she said she was. I wasn’t sure, since she was elegantly dressed in designer street clothes, and was perfectly coiffed, bejeweled, and made up. She looked like a highly successful Mary Kay consultant. She oozed friendly concern, doing her best to put me at ease, and led me to the mammogram room, a tastefully appointed space that looked like an upper middle-class living room that just happened to have this weird x-ray machine in it. The lighting was subdued and lovely. The furniture was lovely. The perfectly displayed magazines were lovely. The framed Impressionist reproductions and inspirational messages on the wall (Dream!; Love Like You have Never Been Hurt!) were lovely.

I am pretty modest regarding my person and its private parts. In my professional work I frequently have to educate abused children on the proper names for private body parts, and no matter how often I have to do it, I never find it easy. (I practice saying the words out loud at home when I vacuum). I find the euphemisms for those body parts even more embarrassing than the proper names. Well, the Mary Kay radiology tech really stunned me when she started talking about the parts in question as though they were people, “girls” to be exact. “Let’s get this girl up here!” “Oh, we need to move this girl over just a little so her picture can be really beautiful!” She talked non-stop about the “girls” and their beautiful pictures as though we were at a photo shoot for a fashion magazine. I am surprised she didn’t give them names. Finally, we were done, and the girls and I went home.

I suppose the whole set up was designed to help women feel more at ease during an embarrassing, sometimes painful, and possibly frightening procedure. It didn’t have that effect on me. I want my doctors to look wise and experienced. I want my radiology techs to wear scrubs and look like medical professionals. I want the walls lined with scholarly journals. I know I have little to complain about. I am healthy, and I have never faced to specter of breast cancer. It is about time for me and the girls to go for our next photo shoot. Rosie or Mary Kay? Hmm. I also understand that I am at the age for a colonoscopy.

Oh dear!

What do you expect from a visit to the clinic?

Heavy Legacy

Today’s guest post comes from Renee Boomgaarden.

We recently made a grocery run to Bismarck. I started singing “The Wells Fargo Wagon” as I usually do whenever we buy provisions like that, and husband asked two interesting questions. Why was Wells-Fargo hauling freight to Mason City, Iowa, when everything came by train in those days? Were there stage coaches in northern Iowa at that time? Those questions puzzled me and I had no good answer until 2:00 the next morning when it came to me. Trains hauled everything to the towns, and Well-Fargo hauled things in the towns. It was a dray service.

My maternal great grandfather was a drayman. He had a business in Hamburg, Germany hauling freight on the Hamburg wharves and delivering things all over the city, just like the Wells-Fargo wagon. I wish I could have seen those wharves at the turn of the century when my great grandfather worked there. Hamburg was, and is, a very important world port, and it must have been a wild and exciting place to work. He did pretty well, I gather, since my grandmother told me that they had their own carriage with horses that had shiny, polished hooves. 145

Her parents would leave gold-edged calling cards embossed with her father’s name when they went visiting. I still have one.

We had a strange carving in our house that my great grandfather was said to have been given by an Italian sea captain. I have it in my house now. It has always been an object of fascination for me, and you can see the weird animals and fantastical landscapes carved in it. It weighs 4 lbs. It is multicolored, with streaks of black, pale green, white, and scarlet. There are ravens, a bat, a stag, and what I think may be a bear, along with a bowl-shaped recess carved in the middle.

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My mother didn’t know what sort of stone it was made from. I took it to a chemistry class in high school and the teacher helped me with a variety of chemical tests that ruled out granite, quartz, and marble. In 1995 I was in San Francisco, walking through China Town, and I saw similar carvings out of identical stone, and was told they were jade incense burners.

In 1913 my great grandfather left Hamburg, slipped into Holland, and boarded a ship in Rotterdam that sailed to New York City. He loved to gamble and lost everything playing cards. He ran away to avoid his creditors. My grandmother, age 14, her sister, age 12, and their mother followed in April of 1914. They brought the carving with them. Why? It is heavy. It must have taken up precious space in their luggage that they could have packed with more useful things. Not only did they haul it to New York City, they hauled it to Foley, MN two years later, and then to Pipestone County a few years after that. I wonder what it meant to them. It is more weird than beautiful. It is hard to dust. Why have I hauled it from Rock County to Winnipeg to Indiana to North Dakota? I have no idea.

My great grandfather died alone in an apartment in Pipestone in 1947. He lived with my grandmother for a few years after his wife died in 1937, and my grandmother eventually kicked him out of her house because he still played cards for money. I guess she never forgave him for what he lost in Germany. I don’t know what my children will do with the carving when I am gone, but I hope one of them will keep it and ponder its mystery and keep hauling it around.

What object are you hauling around as a relic of past generations?

Dr. Bossy Pants

Today’s guest post is from Renee Boomgaarden.

I have an image problem in my family that I am at a loss to change. I am by nature bossy and controlling. My children learned early on that they ignored my advice and expectations at their peril, not only because they would be in trouble, but because I was usually right.

After my son left for college, I knew that he had to make his own decisions, and that I had to back off, only giving advice when he asked. It wasn’t a hard transition for me. He is a sensible guy. He married a sensible wife, and together they do well. It recently became apparent, however, that Son hasn’t caught on to my changed expectations in our relationship. I guess I was supposed to make a formal announcement that he could disagree with me without fear. This misunderstanding came to light last month in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, on a tour of the house that Lucy Maud Montgomery used as model for Green Gables, home of Marilla Cuthbert, the ultimate old bossy pants.

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The author of Anne of Green Gables grew up in Cavendish within walking distance of a lovely farm house with green trim. Relatives owned the house, and young Lucy played in the forest glades around the house, turning them in the Haunted Wood and Lover’s Lane in her books. The house has been lovingly maintained. We planned to spend a day in Cavendish exploring the Green Gables site and then hitting the beautiful pink beaches just north of town. I had heard a weather report that rain and clouds were going to move in to the area in the early afternoon. My son had his heart set on the beach. His wife and I were excited about both beach and Green Gables. Husband was happy with whatever we did.

After we had toured the house and the Haunted Wood, I innocently suggested to Son that perhaps we could go to the beach in case rain set in, and then walk the Lover’s Lane trail afterward. He agreed. No one else objected. We piled into the rental car, and then the trouble began. Son caught on that his wife was worried that we wouldn’t make it back to do the Lover’s Lane trail. He got upset at me because of my “insistence” that we go to the beach immediately, and husband started muttering about my “control” issues. Son angrily turned the car around and we went back to walk the trail. I kept saying that it really didn’t matter to me, I just didn’t want people to be disappointed in the beach if it rained. I realized, then, that Son still interpreted suggestions and ideas from me as direct orders, and he felt caught between obeying me and keeping his wife happy. I got really steamed that neither Son nor Husband would believe me, so I walked by myself on the trail while they walked on ahead.

That probably didn’t help the situation.

We managed the rest of the trip through PEI and Cape Breton Island with far less drama. We really did have a great trip, but I am still thinking my way through this image problem. At least now I have a handle on the source of the trouble.

What are some key differences between the way you see yourself, and the way others see you?

News of the World

Today’s guest post comes from Renee Boomgaarden.

Rupert Murdoch’s recent spot of bother made me think about a newpaper I read for the first time on my trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation – The Lakota Country Times. I found it to be a welcome change from our local paper and the online news services I usually read. Our local paper is published six days a week and contains day-old news and lots of typos and bad grammar. The articles are dull. We occasionally buy a Sunday New York Times in Bismarck, a real treat for our daughter who loves to read to wedding write ups.

I grew up with a weekly paper, The Rock County Star Herald, a paper mentioned quite often, along with its publisher Al McIntosh, in Ken Burns’ documentary “The War”. Al still published the paper and wrote a weekly column when I was a kid. He lived at the end of our street in a grey brick house. Wednesday was always an exciting day, since that was when the paper came out and we could see what had happened in town over the past week. It was a finely written paper and, well, personal in its tone.

The Lakota Country Times is also a weekly paper and seems to be a true community publication that prints news, goings on, and cultural information important for its readers. It describes itself as “The official legal newspaper for the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservation”. Its motto is “Truth, Integrity, and Lakota Spirit”.

My initial impression of the paper was that it was colorful and thick. All the pictures were in color, and there were lots of them. It had many op/ed pieces, health and public service announcements, government notices, regular and guest columnists who were all local people, ads for Indian businesses, book reviews, and pages of letters to the editor.

Some were from tribal members who were incarcerated in the SD State Penitentiary asking for prayers. Some were from Europeans who had visited the reservation in the past and were asking for the addresses of long lost friends. Others were from tribal members living in other parts of the US. One of these was from California alerting the tribe to the public sale of personal possession and artifacts of Chief Red Cloud, a very important figure for the tribe. The letter outlined how the objects had been stolen by army and government officials in the late 1800’s. I was amazed at the details that had been handed down to the letter writer from ancestors about the people who had been involved in the removal of those objects from the reservation and how the artifacts had ended up in California.

The paper dripped with wry and sarcastic humor and had a whole page of Indian cartoons I had never seen before. Any positive happening was reported with photos and extensive copy, such as the graduation of three people from an alternative high school. Obituaries were plentiful and published at no cost in a section called “The Holy Road”. There were far too many death notices for young people, a sad fact of life on the Rez. I doubt that the reporters were so disrespectful and insensitive as to hack into the phone messages of the deceased.

I think Mr. Murdock has lost touch with his readers and what is important to them. Perhaps he needs a refresher course at Pine Ridge and Rosebud to figure out what a good paper can do for a community. The Lakota Country Times has a website that gives a nice sense of what the printed edition is like. Check it out.

What newspapers have you liked and disliked over the years?

N.A.T.S.

Today’s guest post is from Renee Boomgaarden.

Our town has a wonderful vocal teacher. “Kathy” (not her real name) is a conservatory trained soprano who found true love with a local backhoe operator and successfully blended marriage and motherhood with the work of a vocal performance major. She teaches on occasion at the local college, performs with regional operas and civic choruses, and has a private vocal studio.

Kathy is really gifted at nurturing young voices and picking just the right material to challenge and inspire her students. This April, three of her oldest high school students (my daughter, daughter’s best friend, and another local girl) participated in a juried competition sponsored by the state chapter of NATS, the National Association of Teachers of Singing. The event was held at NDSU in Fargo while the Red River was cresting. Kathy is a member of NATS and participated as one of the nine judges. I drove the three girls to Fargo, along with best friend’s mother who also was the girls’ accompanist.

The singers were divided into competitive categories based on gender and year in school. Our girls were lumped in the one high school category. Most of the singers were college undergraduates, with a few singers in the graduate student and adult categories. There were separate categories for those singing Broadway musical numbers. Most of the participants sang opera arias and oratorio solos, with a few art songs thrown in. All singers started performing at 8:00 am.

It’s quite something to hear and see about 60 anxious singers preparing to compete that early in the morning. Practice rooms were at a premium. Most of the women wore rather daring and flamboyant cocktail dresses and very high heeled shoes. (By the end of the day, most of the women were walking around in bare feet). The men wore somber suits and ties. Once the 8:00 round was completed, the judges decided who would go on to the 10:30 round in which more singers would be eliminated, and so on through the 2:30 round, until the 4:00 final round in which the three best singers in each category would perform and be evaluated by all nine judges.

At 8:00, our girls were judged by two men who wrote furiously while the girls sang. They were finished by about 8:30 and they fell asleep in the van in the parking lot for two hours. Tension runs high at these events and those few minutes of singing wore the girls out. Best friend’s mom and I spent nap time listening to other singers and watching the weeping of those who were eliminated and the excitement of those who were sent on to the other rounds.

Our girls were the only high school students at the competition. Best friend has a phenomenal voice and she was the only one we expected to make it to any of the other rounds. Much to our surprise and delight, the judges decided that since there were only three high school students, all of our girls were automatically forwarded to the final round held in a lovely and intimate recital hall.

The Steinway grand took up most of the stage. The voices in the final round were truly beautiful and I don’t know how the judges decided between them. My daughter was the youngest singer in the competition. She is an alto, aka mezzo soprano at these events. Her voice is just developing strength and range. It was so interesting to hear how the voices matured as the singers got older, even among the college-age singers.

The last singer was a graduate student, a huge, barrel-chested man who closely resembled Pavarotti and looked like he was quite ill. He struggled to the stage, got himself in role, and and filled the room with an enormous, powerful baritone. He then struggled back to his seat and looked like he was going to collapse.

Daughter was awarded $10 for making it to the final round. The judges’ comments were all encouraging and kind. I am informed that she wants to do this again next year and she insists she has to have a new cocktail dress for the event. She feels she is too tall and her ankles too wobbly to wear high heels.

What have been your experiences being judged?

The Magnolia Steakhouse

Guest Blog from Renee Boomgaarden

I was quite dismayed recently to read about the potential decline in the quality in US beef. Beef producers are concerned they won’t be able to maintain beef quality in the face of low prices and skullduggery on the part of the big meat packing companies. I have a fond place in my heart for beef producers-my grandfathers and several of my uncles raised cattle, and my best friend grew up on a pretty big cow-calf operation. It was always a grand day on her farm when they moved the cattle from the pasture to the home place for their final feeding before going to market. I remember watching those steers jiggle with all the marbling and fat they had put on.

I also have very fond memories of the many steak houses I was taken to as a child. A good steak house, when I was growing up, meant a place that served the biggest, most tender steak at the lowest price. We went out to eat about once every other month and it was a big treat to go to these dim, beery places and be grown up and order my medium ribeye and baked potato (butter, no sour cream please), with an iceberg lettuce salad with French dressing. My parents would seek out the steak house that had the best reputation for that month, and I remember going to Ihlen, Adrian, and Tea, SD, but the queen of the steak houses was always the Magnolia Bar and Steak House in Magnolia, MN.

Magnolia MN is a small town on Highway 16 between Luverne and Adrian. My dad grew up on a farm nearby, and graduated from high school there (Go Bulldogs!) A sign on the outskirts proudly proclaimed it as the home town of Cedric Adams, a popular radio broadcaster for WCCO who died in 1961 and who at one time had seven secretaries to open his fan mail. The town folk were proud of their little community and seemed united in their pride of place and in their disdain for anything having to do with the bigger towns around them, particularly Luverne. Magnolia had a grain elevator, a pool hall, and the Magnolia Steak House and Bar, once touted as the finest steak house in the region.

The bar was founded in 1938 by A C (Claire) Dispanet, a pretty colorful character who began life in Estherville, IA, and who once drove a beer truck in the North Shore for the Capone organization. He left that job to start his own bootlegging business after somebody stole the beer truck and he had to phone Chicago to report what had happened. Like many bootleggers he was caught, convicted, stripped of his citizenship, and imprisoned briefly in Leavenworth Penitentiary. Due to his lack of citizenship he had to put the bar in his mother’s name, and he didn’t get his citizenship restored until the 1950’s with the help of Hubert Humphrey. The bar was on the east side of Magnolia’s main commercial street in an unassuming white clapboard building. The actual bar was long and made of shiny dark wood. Whenever we went there it was always crowded and noisy. Claire had a special temperature and humidity controlled room to age his beef. The steaks were huge and tender.

My dad knew Claire pretty well and worked for him for a while as a bar tender when he was between jobs. I think I had my first drink in that bar when I was 13 or so. I always liked the taste of my dad’s Tom Collins and he used to order two for himself, both of us knowing that I would drink one of them with my dinner when no one else was looking. I was never allowed to drink anywhere else, not even at home, and it made going out to eat in Magnolia even more special.

Claire died of a heart attack in 1972. His wife buried him in Luverne in the Catholic cemetery as close as possible to the grave of a beloved priest, maybe hoping that proximity to holiness would help Claire at judgment time. By the time Claire died the building was getting pretty run down. I remember looking up and seeing a wiggling mouse leg poking through a hole in the ceiling as the mouse struggled to get out of the hole and back up into the attic. The waitress just put a piece of tape over the hole. Not long after that the bar relocated across the street to a newer building.

While the only thing that changed was the location, it just seemed that the steaks never tasted quite as good as they did in the old building. In 1983 my husband and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner there, and in 1989, that building burned down and the family relocated the bar to Luverne. Magnolia soon lost its school, and now I don’t think there’s much there except for the 200 residents who do most of their shopping and eating out in Worthington and Sioux Falls. I-90 bypasses Magnolia by about two miles, so the amount of traffic through town was starting to decline even in the 1970’s.

Although the bar is only a minute ride from their house, my parents don’t go there very often saying it’s just too expensive. I don’t think they like to see the changes and yearn for it to be back the way it was in the old days. I rarely go out to eat steak as I am married to a compulsive griller and he does a nice ribeye. I don’t think I’ve had a Tom Collins in 25 years. I never even briefly considered buying my underage children drinks. Looking back I can scarcely believe my dad actually did that. I guess things were different then. I just hope I can still buy good beef.

How would you like your steak done?

Puggi Lives!

A Guest Blog from Renee Boomgaarden

Recently we discussed our feeling about news stories, and I noted that there was very little in the news that I could tolerate, with the exception, I now must confess, of stories about animal rescue. I don’t mean shows about animal welfare officers rescuing pets from abuse and neglect-those shows just make me angry and upset. I mean stories about helping animals out of predicaments of their own making. You know the kind-goats stranded on bridges or with their heads stuck in fencing, bears who wander into town, get treed and tranquilized, and fall sleepily into the waiting nets of patient rescuers who transport them back to the woods, ducklings retrieved from storm sewers as their mother quacks anxiously nearby.

I think my favorite stories are those told friends and family. The story about the dog who decided it would be a good idea to roll vigorously back and forth over a decomposing porcupine (both smelly and painful) stands out, as does the tale of the poor, bored, Lakeland Terrier who spent hours independently chasing a ball back and forth over a paved parking lot until it had worn the pads off its paws.

My dad and my best friend tell the most memorable rescue stories. My friend grew up on a farm, and one day after checking the cattle she came upon a Great Grey Owl sitting on the ground under a telephone pole. She was able to walk quite close to it and saw that one pupil was quite dilated. It looked kind of stunned and she surmised it had had a head injury. She somehow managed to get it into a tall box in the back of her car and drove three hours to get it to a raptor center at the University of Minnesota. She never heard what happened to it after that.

My father loves dogs and has had his share of trauma with them over the years. He still speaks with sorrow over a favorite dog he had as a boy-a Rat Terrier named Diamond-who went down a badger hole and never came back up. It still bothers him. His all-time favorite dog, however, was Puggi the Pug, a dog he had after he retired. One day in early Spring, Dad and Puggi went to the city park in Luverne, right along the Rock River, to see if the ice had broken up. The river was still frozen over, but barely, and before he could stop her, Puggi ran out on the ice to get to some birds on the other bank.
A portion of the ice gave way and she went through and was pulled under the remaining ice by the strong Spring current. She was gone. Dad said he walked down stream about 100 feet and just stared, thinking to himself that he had lost his dog for good. His eye was caught by an old ice fishing hole in the middle of the river, and to his joy, up popped Puggi. She couldn’t scramble out of the hole on her own, so Dad laid out flat and advanced across the ice on his stomach. He grabbed Puggi and slithered back to shore. He figured she saw light coming through the hole as the current took her down stream and she swam toward it. He took her home and put her in a hot shower to warm her up. My mother was appalled at the risk he took, I don’t think he thought twice about going out on that ice.

What are your tales of animal foolishness?