Category Archives: Kids

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today’s post is by Steve Grooms.

February 20 is my dad’s birthday. Or, I think it is. I used to have documents about such things, but I have moved too often, and I’ve lost much of the paperwork I once had. I once asked my mother if Dad had been born on the 20th.  She said, “George was born on the day George Washington wasn’t.” Mom sometimes talked like Gracie Allen.

My sister recently wrote that my dad and I were exceptionally close. We probably were, although I regret some differences that divided us. My father was socially and politically conservative. He was distinctly uneasy in the presence of assertive women. He came from a family that uncritically endorsed military service. Dad served in WW2, although his experience left him troubled about his government and the military. My hatred of the Vietnam War became a real problem for my dad. All in all, I think we were closer than almost any father and son pair I’ve seen.

We were both divided and united by a love for hunting and fishing. Dad taught me how to fish, and he introduced me to pheasant hunting. In the end, I drifted away from fishing the way he did it, and my style of hunting pheasants was totally unlike his. I tried to disguise those differences, for I didn’t want to hurt him. He chose to emphasize our common interest, although I’m sure it sometimes bothered him that I went my own way.

My dad was a storyteller. I could fill several books with stories he told me on an astonishing array of topics. I keep and treasure so many stories from him that I sometimes wonder if I have forgotten anything he told me. My memory is actually porous and fallible in many areas. My memory for stories, however, is awesome, and my dad shared an amazing treasure trove of stories with me. My love for stories is the most obvious of his legacies to me.

Several years ago I decided to write a book about my parents’ lives. I spent six years researching, writing and editing book. I began the project believing I understood my parents, especially my father. But as I retrieved more and more memories and contemplated them, I realized that my original sense of my dad was shallow and often wrong.

One odd discovery was learning that my dad was so handsome that women sometimes had trouble keeping their composure around him. This just is not a way people think about their parents. As I worked on the book I encountered stories about his impact on women. One reason I missed this so long was my dad didn’t care what women thought of him. He was a one-woman man.

Another surprise: the better I got to know my dad, the more I respected him. I have never met a man with as much integrity. I know his many flaws and shortcomings. He had a terrible childhood that left marks. I’ve witnessed his worst moments of weakness. I know what terrified him and what gave him hope. In the end, he stands as one of the finest men I’ve personally known. That, believe me, was a surprise.

Why do I write this now? When I was dating after my divorce I was surprised to learn that many children don’t know much about their mothers and even less about their fathers. All the women I got to know well had adult children. Those kids, without exception were absolutely clueless about their parents’ lives. Young people are usually too busy with their own lives to think much about their parents. That is surely the norm, and it was probably foolish of me to expect anything else.

When I understood my parents better I was moved by the drama of their story. I continue to wonder if they were exceptional that way. Perhaps most couples that seem boring actually are boring. Or perhaps many people lead fascinating lives but nobody ever notices their moments of great courage and passion.

Do you believe you know your parents well?

MMR

There was a small blurb  in our local paper yesterday about an outbreak of mumps in our city’s middle school. The city Facebook page has a number of antivac and provac responses to this crisis, as crisis it is, as there are several immune compromised students who cannot go to school because they are at risk for terrible infection.

I remember having Rubella, Mumps, Roseaola, and Chicken Pox. Husband had all those and Scarlet Fever as well.  Both our children had the Chicken Pox.  There are many individuals receiving Developmental Disability services in our region because they had mumps or measles or some other childhood illness in the 1950’s that resulted in intellectual disabilities.   Our grandson is now recovering from RSV, and I am thankful his parents are confirmed vaccinators.

What memories do you have about childhood illnesses?  How do you feel about vaccinations?

Rituals

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

The debut broadcast of CBS Sunday Morning aired January 28, 1979. Because I was a fan of the host, Charles Kuralt, I made a point of watching that first show. I’ve seen many of the broadcasts that have aired in the 40 years since. While my life is mostly unstructured and variable, I try to catch that show. It pleases me to have something in the week that is fixed and predictable. Watching it has become a ritual for me.

Most of us have rituals. They can be annual (like how we celebrate Christmas) or monthly, weekly, daily or something altogether different. If I can believe his songs, a ritual for folksinger Greg Brown is drinking coffee in the morning. My parents couldn’t go to sleep until they had told each other, “I’ll see you in the morning.” Some people meditate. Many folks couldn’t feel right about a week that does not include going to church.

For several decades our family had just one ritual. On Saturday nights we gathered to enjoy the Prairie Home Companion broadcast. We were heartbroken when Garrison quit—was it two times or three?—and thrilled when he came back. I used to walk dogs with a woman who was close to Garrison. She assured me that he needed to do the show as badly as I needed to hear it.

In 2000 I acquired a puppy, an exceptionally affectionate English setter. Katie and I both needed exercise, so we adopted the daily ritual of hiking the off-leash dog park that lies between Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling. We had many friends there, human and canine. Our route took about an hour to walk. I used my time in the park to reflect on my life. I couldn’t afford a therapist with an office and a couch, so I relied on the park walks to help me sort out my past and make plans for the future. Katie and I walked that park virtually every day of her life for eleven years.

Like many fans of Trail Baboon, listening to The Morning Show was once an essential ritual for me. I remember thinking I couldn’t bear starting the day without the help of Dale and Tom. Even so, I always knew that someday the show—wonderful as it was—would come to an end. Shows do not live forever, although The Simpsons carries on as ever. The LGMS remains one ritual I’ve never been able to replace.

What role does ritual have in your life?

Locked Door Mystery

Many of you know I have a complicated relationship with mystery writing. If I figure out the murderer too soon then I’m impatient with the other characters for not getting to it earlier.  If the author doesn’t give me all the clues so I can’t figure it out on my own, then I’m irritated beyond belief.  So it was interesting to me that I got hooked on a British series called Death in Paradise on Netflix a couple of weeks ago.

I realized after watching a few nights worth of episodes that the writers of the show rely very heavily on the locked-door mystery – in which the murder happens in a room or building locked from the inside. Locked-room mysteries almost always fall into the category of “author not giving you all the clues” so they are not my favorite.  But this week I have my own locked-room mystery.

On Tuesday night, I went into my studio with a box, which I put on my desk. Left after 5 seconds and shut the door behind me. Thursday morning, YA texted me “what happened in your studio?”  She then texted that it looked like one of my shelves had fallen down.  When I asked her to send me a photo, I got the above.  Yikes.

When I got home and saw the destruction in person it was clear that a lot more than a shelf falling down had happened in that room. Clearly one shelf, with the attached ribbon rod had come down and everything on it, but quite a bit of the items on the stable shelf had come down as well:  assorted mountains of paper, the box of orange ribbons, a large bin VERY full of individual beads, envelopes, paints, you name it.

But the mystery is how this happened. Normally when Nimue gets locked into a room, you remember letting her out because you’ve been looking for her. She doesn’t usually meow or make a noise to alert you, you just have to search.  She hasn’t been missing this week; neither YA nor I recall opening doors to look for her.  If we had been home, the noise of the shelf coming down would have been noticeable. It certainly seems like her kind of mess… maybe she jumped up on the one shelf and as it went down, she scrabbled onto the other shelf in a panic, knocking things down willy-nilly.  I thought maybe a squirrel loose in the room, but how would the squirrel have gotten in and then out?  Someone breaking into my house to mess up my studio doesn’t seem likely.  YA sleepwalking?  There’s no place for anyone to stand while making a mess like this and the mess is all things that fell, nothing else.  And since the studio is right across from my bedroom, I’m pretty sure that would have woken the dogs and me.

Like those mysteries in which the authors don’t give you all the clues, this one may be a mystery until the end of time!

What projects do YOU have scheduled this weekend?

Perfect

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

I recently posted about discovering several hundred scanned slides from trips my erstwife and I took in the United Kingdom in 1974 and 1975. Most of the original slides were good, but the company that converted them to digital files did poor work. After being scanned the images were badly underexposed and had harsh tones. I spent five weeks editing the slides, making each image look nice, or at least much nicer.

Last Friday night my daughter invited me to her home to deliver a marathon slide show. I presented about 500 edited slides and explained the circumstances of taking them. I talked so long I lost my voice. As my daughter drove me home I realized, with some surprise, that I had just experienced a “perfect” evening.

This surprised me because I am not comfortable calling anything perfect. That is such an absolute word. My experience of life keeps showing me that everything we experience is good or bad in relative terms. I am skittish about absolute words and absolute judgements.

And yet the slideshow evening could not have been better. For a storyteller, an ideal moment involves telling stories to an adoring audience. For a photographer, sharing images with people who are thrilled to see them is total joy. For an old storyteller/photographer what could be better than an evening sharing old images and their stories with family members?

Actually, I learned that there is a way that such an evening could be even better. Something already “perfect” can become nicer.

On our first British Isles trip my erstwife and I spent three days in the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds are a region of England where the countryside and the villages are unimaginably charming. Visiting there feels like stepping into a Beatrix Potter storybook. Perhaps the most appealing Cotswold town is Bourton-on-the-water. Its homes and shops were built centuries ago with locally quarried rock. The architecture is consistent, dating to the same period, and perfectly charming. A little stream runs through the heart of town, with stone bridges arching over it. The honey-colored stone used for all buildings is offset by many by countless lush flower gardens.

Bourton has a famous model village. Local craftsmen created a perfect model of the town that includes all the homes, churches and shops just as they looked in the 1930s. Each building was recreated with meticulous detail at a one-to-nine scale. Topiary trees and shrubbery line the tiny stone buildings. The stream is there, of course, along with those cute bridges. While the model town is accurate in scale, a few buildings have been given big windows so visitors can peer inside to appreciate how perfectly the interiors have been duplicated.

Because the model village occupies a significant area, logic dictates that the model village has to include a miniature model of the model. And it does!

The cherry on top of my perfect evening was watching my grandson grasp the concept of an infinite regression of models within models. “Wait, Grampy,” Liam cried. “So the tiny town has a tiny model of the town in it? Whoa! That’s awesome! And does the tiny model of the model have its own tiny model?”

Yes! Of course it does! Liam’s smile improved an evening I thought could not be better.

What kind of day or event would be perfect for you?

Birthday Raclette

YA loves cheese more than almost anyone I know. When we came home from China, I was prepared for the possibility that she would be lactose-intolerant; Asians have a higher percentage of lactose-intolerance than Caucasians.  I never needed to worry about it; as soon as YA began to eat solid foods, cheese was one of her favorites.

Cheese sandwiches, cheese fondue (her godmother makes a wicked fondue), cheese sticks, lasagna, curds, nachos.. if it has cheese, count her in. After I experienced raclette (melted cheese poured on top of food) in Switzerland, I got a raclette machine for us.  Pretty soon YA had an opinion on the difference between Swiss raclette cheese and French raclette cheese (she prefer the Swiss as it has more “bite”).

Every year for our Family Day celebration, she chooses a fondue lunch at the Melting Pot in downtown Minneapolis. She likes the original Swiss fondue recipe followed by a dessert fondue.  So I shouldn’t have been surprised when she requested a raclette lunch for her birthday celebration – despite the fact that we almost never eat any meals together these days due to our conflicting schedules.

We had a nice salad of greens, pomegranate seeds, pears, walnuts and vinaigrette then the raclette! We like our melty cheese poured over cauliflower, little potatoes, baguette and also sweet gherkin pickles.  It was a wonderful lunch and I was happy to stay inside rather than go outside in the freezing temps.

Do you/did you have a favorite birthday meal request?

Gussied Up

Rhiannon got brushed and clipped this week for a visit to my office. Several years ago my company began to observe “Take Your Dog to Work Day” in June.  Well-behaved dogs are invited to the office and we have “Yappy Hour” on the front lawn.  Since then the program has expanded.  Throughout the summer, every Friday is dog-friendly and then there are random pop up days announced; today is one of those days.

Bringing both dogs is just too much for me (and my small cube) and YA’s dog isn’t as user-friendly as my old pup, so it will only be Rhiannon today.  Her cushion will come to the office as well as a water bowl and a Tupperware of treats.  It’s pretty exhausting for her, so she’ll only stay half a day and I’ll take her home at lunch time.  Even though it’s tiring, she seems to really enjoy it, especially the ride in the car!

You’re the boss. Budget isn’t an issue.  What perk would you like to offer your employees?