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The Perfect Birthday

31 Dec

When it’s your birthday you shouldn’t have to do anything you don’t like…right? That, at least, is what I always thought when I was a kid. It was always a total rip off when I had to go to school on my birthday…especially if my birthday was the first day of school following Christmas break.

If I stuck with that philosophy now my day sure would be nice. See, I’m turning 44 this week so I’m thinking that I ought not to have to do any dishes on that day. Nor should I have to wash (or fold) any clothes. I won’t wear my heavy coat when I leave the house because I don’t like my heavy coat. Never mind that I’ll freeze to death. I won’t sneeze because I hate sneezing. I won’t throw up because I really, really hate throwing up. I won’t answer the phone because I don’t like telephones. I won’t sweep. I won’t dust. I won’t water my temperamental plant. I won’t eat anything I dislike. This includes coffee that gives me heartburn and anything that will add to my waist line. But I will drink weak but utterly delicious coffee and eat cake.

Magical cake that has no calories.
I won’t exercise. I won’t run the microwave and the toaster at the same time, thereby avoiding the deep, dark basement when I pop the breaker. I won’t do that. I won’t. I won’t clean hair out of the drain or wipe toothpaste out of the sink. Heck, I’ll avoid the bathroom as much as possible because, let’s face it, it’s not my favorite room. This means I won’t have to wash my face and my skin will be perfect. And my hair. That, too.

And birthdays are all about favorites.

I’ll talk to all of my dear friends I’ve lost track of over the past 44 years. I’ll go and visit all my favorite places. But I won’t suffer from jet lag. I’ll have all the time in the world to write and I’ll be focused, creative, and edit-proof. I’ll also spend hours on end with my family and my children will never squabble or argue with me, nor will they make messes. Or if they do, they’ll clean them up.

My husband will bring me breakfast in bed after I’ve slept in until I wake up on my own. My bedroom will be toasty warm from the fire my husband will light in my magical fireplace that only appears on my birthday and never leaves a mess behind itself.
I will luxuriate in a bubble-filled bath with water that never grows tepid because a magical fire-breathing dragon is keeping it heated from below. And he won’t poop or stink up the space beneath the house ‘cause I wouldn’t like that and my birthday is all about stuff I like.

I’ll eat chocolate and read a fabulous book and have soup and everything I cook will turn out perfectly and even prettier than the photo in the cookbook. I will find an agent and a publisher and be famous, all in one day. But with none of the obnoxious stuff about fame…’cause no one wants that.

And if I don’t want it, I won’t have to deal with it.

Because it’s my birthday.

And it’s supposed to be perfect.

Or, rather, it’s my birthday…and no matter what I do – or don’t do – it will be just fine. Because maybe our birthdays as adults aren’t quite as exciting as they were when we were kids…but still, it’s a birthday! And that, as they say, is far better than the alternative.

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My LGB Train of Happiness

24 Dec

What is it about toy trains that triggers our smiling muscles? Is it their disarming little chug, chug, chug as they circle around the track beneath the Christmas tree? Or is it their tiny whistle (or not so tiny in some cases) that echoes the steam engines of the past? Or is it just that humans like anything in miniature?

I lived in West Berlin, Germany, for my last two years of high school and I came home from school one day to discover that my dad had bought a wonderful “Lehmann Gross Bahn” toy train! The “Lehmann Large Train” is the largest gauge toy train that I’ve ever seen, though admittedly I am no expert on such things. During their four years in Germany, Dad added to the train each year until he had six cars and many other add-ons such as a Gandy Dancer, gates that rise and fall when the train approaches and passes by, street lights, a signal bridge, people, trees, and even a typical notice pillar (which I can’t remember the German name of) – a common sight around Berlin which lends a small-town atmosphere to the sprawling city.
In the 25 years since I graduated and moved back to the states, the train stayed with my parents for a few years and with my sister (who had young boys) for quite a few more. But now it has come home to me! In three large “Max Marotzke” boxes (and one smaller one holding nothing but track), the train arrived. Max Marotzke was the name of the moving company that moved Mom and Dad from Berlin to Connecticut…well, Pan Am shipped them – in their own sweet time – but that’s another story!


My sister sent the first box way back in March and my kids very much enjoyed discovering all the hidden treasures beneath all those Styrofoam peanuts! Then, this past summer, when we were out in Washington, my husband packed the rest of the train stuff and the day after we arrived home the US postal service delivered it to our door.

Now, finally, after all that waiting, the boxes are open and we’re setting up the train! It is easy enough to put together the track and set the train on top of it – even I can do that – but woe betide my children if they didn’t have their dad to make it go, light up the lights and make the engine steam. I am no engineer, but he, thankfully, is. For real. (Yet another reason this English major married a mechanically-minded man.)

The train station needs a little model glue...

The train station needs a little model glue…

And so, thanks to my husband, my father, my sister, and Max Marotzke, the train circles our tree as well as the entire living room here in Southwest Minnesota – thousands of miles and 25 years after it first circled our tree in West Berlin.

(Talk about the passage of time and miles – what about the passage of political tyrannies? I returned to a united Berlin a few years ago – what a joy it was to see the unified city as it was meant to be!)

Yes, there are many reasons that this toy train makes me smile. But the best reason of all is the newest reason – my three kids, engrossed by the circling engine as it chugs into their lives as it once chug, chug, chugged into mine.


Anticipation? Or Instant Gratification?

10 Dec

When I was in 5th grade I was invited to a birthday party of a classmate who had newly moved to Orcas Island. This was all very well and good, but it meant one thing first and foremost: my parents did not know her parents.

But we did know one thing about them and her: She was named after an Indian Goddess and she lived at Polarity Institute.

Translation: she lived in a commune and was involved in a cult.

Or something close enough that it was very, very suspicious to my parents.

To this day I am amazed that my mother allowed me to go to the party. Not that Mom would have worried that I’d be sucked into some bizarre group, but it was all just so UNKNOWN…I mean, I never knew anyone else who ever visited the commune and I certainly never did so again – not because anything bad happened, the opportunity just never came up. As I recall, my friend had moved away by the 6th grade, anyway.

My visit there was less than spectacular. I remember we were only allowed into the common room. I don’t remember cake, games, or anything else. Pretty much we were just left alone to hang around. I vaguely remember seeing a tall tree-house kind of thing on top of a pole. Or maybe I just imagined that.

I do, however, remember this for sure: they owned a VCR.

This was amazing to me.

Never before had I known anyone with such a thing. I didn’t even know what it was, to be honest. I remember going home after the two allotted hours and telling my mom, “They have a machine and they can watch The Sound of Music ANY TIME THEY WANT!!!!!”

This was miracle indeed. To be able to watch such a splendid movie at any given moment!! To not have to wait until it came on television?!

Remember those days? The waiting? The anticipation? I remember waiting for the Charlie Brown Christmas Special to come on TV. I’d pray that we had nowhere to go that evening. I’d write it on my calendar. I’d practically camp out in front of our little black and white set – the screen was smaller than my laptop’s screen is now – and woe betide anyone, parent or sister, who wanted to change the channel. Not that we had many channels to choose from. We had three, in fact, and all were out of Canada.

Now, when ABC advertises that the Charlie Brown Christmas Special is coming on my kids could care less. Not because they don’t like the Charlie Brown Christmas Special – quite the contrary – but because we own it. On Blue Ray. Black and while TV? What’s that?!

I have to say, it’s a mixed blessing, being able to own things like the Charlie brown Christmas Special. The anticipation is completely gone. That excitement. That skip in my step as the hour approached when we’d be blessed with Linus’ wisdom. Yes, it’s lovely to be able to watch it at any time…but, somehow, it’s not the same.

Somehow the magic has gone.

I’ll always remember my trip to the commune with a smile if for no other reason than I cherish that magical moment, that awe, when I realized that the technology existed to watch a favorite movie at any moment I so desired.

Yes…magical…and yet I had no idea how magical anticipation could be as well.

PS – We own The Sound of Music, too. But I hardly ever watch it. Maybe I should set a time – like my birthday – could that add the magic back? We have a family tradition of watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy every New Year’s weekend…and yes, we look forward to that as part of the festivities, so I suppose one can kind of manufacture that magic…with the added pleasure of being able to watch it any other time we so choose. The best of both worlds? Kinda of. But not quite…not quite…

Squirrel Mafia

26 Nov

Me: “There’s a squirrel in the birch tree right there.”

My husband: “It better run for its life.”

Me: “I bet it doesn’t know.”

My husband: “It will find out soon enough.”

Me: (A little guiltily) “I noticed all those black walnuts on the ground beneath the trees the other day and got to worrying about the squirrels. If they’re drawn by the scent.”

My husband: “But not enough to pick them up.”

Me: “What?”

My husband: “You didn’t worry enough to pick them up.”

Me: “Oh. No. Too much work.”

Black walnuts, anyone?

Black walnuts, anyone?

My husband: “You’d think that they’d spread the word. Avoid the place.”

Me: “They can’t spread the word. They’re all dead.”

My husband: “Don’t blame me.”

Me: “No. It’s the squirrel mafia.”

My husband: “Totally.”

Me: (Still watching the doomed squirrel.) “Poor guy.”

My husband: “I’m not too bothered by it, actually.”


My husband: “He won’t.”

Me: “I know. I know.”

My husband: “Dead as a door nail.”

Me: “Deader. Doornails never were alive.”

My husband: “Remember the little paw?”

Me: “Lying on top of the dumpster. Like a mute warning.”

My husband: “Squirrels beware.”

Me: “It really was gross.”

My husband: “That’s the mafia for you. Probably a few of their victims are swimming with the fishes at the bottom of the stream.”

Me: “Swimming with the beavers, you mean. We don’t have any fishes in our stream.”

My husband: “Cement boots.”

Me: “Electrocuted, actually.”

My husband: “True. Brutally shocked at the top of the light pole.”

Me: “Fallen to the ground below. All stiff…”

My husband: “Next time the power goes out mysteriously in the middle of the day – no storm, no warning – you’ll know why.”

Me: “Yes. The squirrel mafia will have struck again.”

My husband: (Joining me at the window) “How many times has it happened?”

Me: “Twice. But there was that other squirrel – the one that did a weird dance in the middle of the road and was found dead in the yard the next day.”

My husband: “Yeah. Forgot about that one. I thought you thought it was rabies that time.”

Me: “Mafia-induced rabies, probably.”

We stood there, watching the innocent squirrel run down the tree trunk and head south.

My husband: “Looks like he’s heading into Iowa.”

Me: “Good thing. The mafia is less powerful there.”

My husband: “He’ll be back. All those nuts…just calling to him…”

Me: (Shouting and banging on the glass) “GOOD LUCK LITTLE SQUIRREL! AND DON’T COME BACK!!! Never, ever come back…”

My husband: “Squirrels aren’t known for their wisdom.”

Me: “Maybe I should put up warning signs.”

My husband: “Maybe you should just pick up the walnuts.”

The End

PS – Though the conversation may not have gone exactly like this, the details of the squirrel mafia are entirely true. It’s a bizarre fact that squirrels who come to our property die. And we don’t have anything to do with it. Any relation to actual events was completely on purpose. No animals were injured in the making of this post.

Bare walnut trees.

Bare walnut trees.

Mrs. Frankenstein at Your Service

19 Nov

I never wanted to be the bride of Frankenstein. But apparently the hair gods decreed that I should be.


I am going gray at both of my temples and if I just put a little effort into it, together with my curly locks, I could easily be Mrs. Frankenstein on Halloween…if I wanted to be. Which I don’t.

I tried having my hair dyed. I got it done professionally by a great guy who is really good at what he does. I was satisfied. I went back six weeks later to get it touched up. I honestly could not complain about the results.

But my daughter did. She thought I looked weird. “It isn’t you, Mom.”

My husband could not be forced to take a side – he claims he didn’t even notice when it grew out and returned to the natural grayness I’d tried to hide.

Hiding the gray just isn't cutting it.  Nor is hiding behind a cupboard door.

Hiding the gray just isn’t cutting it. Nor is hiding behind a cupboard door.

The thing is – I liked it fine when it was colored. But I’m not sure I liked it enough to keep on doing it.

Hair – what a bother. I don’t mean to be glib, but I have always thought that if I ever have to lose my hair in some terrible manner – like through illness – I’d be okay with that. Yes, yes, I know that the reality of the moment might make me feel differently – and like I say, I don’t mean to be thoughtless of those who have lost their hair in some terrible way – but I just get so sick and tired of this hair thing sometimes and today is one of those times.

I have other hair issues too. You see, my youngest daughter, Boo, has been blessed – at least for now, who knows how long it will last? – with curly hair. As a result, since the day she was born – okay, well, a few months later when her hair starting growing in – people have stopped her in the grocery store, at the park, in the hallway at school, and said, “What beautiful curly hair you have.”

She smiles and says thank you.

And her older sister – who lights up the room with her smile – is left feeling like regular, straightish hair is less than wonderful. Less than ideal. Less than beautiful.

But she has hope for the future, for she, like I at her age, is getting curlier by the month. So now she thinks she’s pretty.

But she’s always been gorgeous.

It’s really rather frustrating.

I guess basically I have one request: please, please, please, don’t be the person in the aisle of the grocery store who compliments the curly-headed girls and ignores the sisters. It’s not fair and it’s damaging.

And also, please, please, please, don’t ever call me Mrs. Frankenstein.

Unless it’s Halloween and I’m dressed like her. ‘Cause then I’m asking for it.

But I’m never going to do that. I prefer The Sailboat King to Frankenstein. He talks a lot more fluently and his face isn’t green.

The Toothfairy is Going Broke

5 Nov


This is it this week, folks. Unless I surprise you with a post later in the week. I suppose I could title this, “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” – but the fact of the matter is, the toothfairy is going broke.

And she’s okay with that.

An Afternoon On the Farm!

15 Oct

It wasn’t hard to say, “Of course!” when my husband’s cousin asked if I’d be able to arrange a visit to some animals when she and her husband and two boys were coming to town the next weekend.

“Cows or pigs or chickens,” she said. “The boys would love to see any of them.”

The farm girl with her kitty...and the city boy plugging his nose at the smell.  By the time we were done he had long since ceased to notice the smell - which, I must add, was NOT AT ALL bad!

The farm girl with her kitty…and the city boy plugging his nose at the smell. By the time we were done he had long since ceased to notice the smell – which, I must add, was NOT AT ALL bad!

Well, when visiting in Southwest Minnesota, any of those are pretty easy to arrange. Without a moment’s hesitation, the first person I thought of was my friend, Rita.

Rita did not grow up in SW MN, but her husband, Joe, did and, in fact, I taught his younger sister way back when she was in high school. I didn’t teach him – I’m not THAT old. :-)

I got to know Rita when I joined the local MOPS group – Mothers of Preschoolers. Sadly, I don’t have a preschooler any longer, but thankfully I’m still in touch with Rita. My life would definitely be a lonelier place without her in it.

I love the tongue!

I love the tongue!

Rita began blogging in February of this past year. Her blog, So She Married a Farmer, is a great picture of rural farming life in this day and age. Rita knew what she was getting into when she married her farmer – she grew up on a farm and majored in something cow-related at the University of Minnesota – in fact, that’s how she met Joe.

Rita loves the heifers that they keep on their farm. And when I say “loves them”, I mean really, really cares about them. She cares about them as animals, and she cares about their product – both their babies and their milk. She is a great advocate for the dairy industry.

The neighbor's sheep.

The neighbor’s sheep.

Rita and Joe get the heifers when they’re first-time pregnant moms. They keep them at their farm until they’re almost ready to give birth. (They receive them just shortly after they are identified as pregnant.) Then when they’re ready to give birth they go elsewhere and then when they’re ready to be regular dairy cows they go over to Joe and his dad’s dairy farm. It’s a complicated business, but Rita and Joe know it inside and out.

We spent a wonderful couple of hours at Rita and Joe’s farm, accompanied by their smiley daughter. THANK YOU, Rita, for our lovely afternoon on the farm!!

I asked Rita if I could include this photo - this is Joe on the farm visiting the cows in the rain.  It's too wet to combine today, so the cows get a little more attention.

I asked Rita if I could include this photo – this is Joe on the farm visiting the cows in the rain. It’s too wet to combine today, so the cows get a little more attention.

The pink stripes indicate that she's newly pregnant.  Glad I didn't have to go through that when I was expecting!

The pink stripes indicate that she’s newly pregnant. Glad I didn’t have to go through that when I was expecting!

These chickens actually reside at the farm across the road.  We visited over there, too!

These chickens actually reside at the farm across the road. We visited over there, too!

He so badly wanted to gather the eggs.

He so badly wanted to gather the eggs.

I had forgotten that a stump can be so much fun.

I had forgotten that a stump can be so much fun.

As a youngest child, I can relate to wanting to do what my older sibling is doing!

As a youngest child, I can relate to wanting to do what my older sibling is doing!




We ended our day out at a local pumpkin patch.

We ended our day out at a local pumpkin patch.


"The Swan."

“The Swan.”


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