Words and melodies…

When the autumn weather
Turns leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time
For the waiting game

Oh, the days dwindle down
To a precious few
September, November

And these few precious days
I’ll spend with you
These precious days
I’ll spend with you

“September Song”

Do you believe in ghosts?

I’m pretty sure the one in the car with me last week between the Walker short-cut and Park Rapids had snow-white hair that stuck straight up and a big red nose.  He was sporting a plaid Pendleton shirt and smoking a pipe as he rode next to me in the passenger seat. I’m certain of it.  He seems to show up whenever I have the radio tuned to the Oldies station on Sunday afternoons as I make my weekly trip west to teach a class on Monday.

I first suspected he was with me in early August when the song “Spanish Eyes” came on the radio.  Then, another Sunday, it was “Bill Bailey” that got me wondering who was riding shotgun next to me as I wound around the corner coming into Nevis.  Finally, last Sunday, I was finally certain he was there when the instrumental version of “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” came on and I couldn’t remember the second line of the song no matter how hard I tried.  Not that knowing the words to any old song really matters.  Unless it is a song your grandfather sang to you, that is.

The thing about losing someone, anyone,  is this.  You never really ever stop missing them. Not really.  You just resign yourself to the fact that you do.  But then, something like a car ride and a silly old song on the radio that you’ve lost the words to happens and you start searching like crazy in the hard drive of your brain for the silly old song file, which leads you to searching for other files like the one that holds the way your grandfather laughed with his thrown back or sang an Irish lullaby or smelled of Old Spice and cigar smoke.  Some days you find the files, and some days you don’t.

Until late September, when a song  comes on the radio as  you’re driving along, alone, and you realize that you’re not really alone after all.  He’s there, all around you…in the lakes and rivers and trees… in your head full of memories, and in the faces (and voices) of people you love who showed up a long time after he was gone. You find him there, more than anywhere else, actually. But sometimes he’s there in the words to a song about red roses and a blue lady.  And suddenly, when you know this for sure, you’re not so blue anymore. No longer quite so alone.

He loved autumn even more than his oldest granddaughter does.

Maybe that’s the reason he still shows up in her heart when the music plays and the leaves begin to change.


I have found that there’s nothing like visiting rental storage units of other people to reinforce why most of us shouldn’t have rental storage units in the first place.  I visited a few of them last weekend during the traveling rummage sale held along Highway 38 and have several observations about our love affair with junk.

First, there are only about six actual categories of rummage sale stuff.

1. Toys without their original boxes.  This is because the kids who received the toys wore out the boxes playing with them.

2. Tupperware. Without lids.  Proof that there really is a direct correlation between the original price of a plastic bowl and the likelihood that there will still  be a matching lid to it once it makes to the “free stuff” box in the driveway.

3. The vases that floral arrangements came in.  All. of. them.

4. Kid clothes. Pre-stained.  Which takes a lot of pressure off, I know.

5. Blue jeans.  Piles and piles of them.  Piles.  In every size.

6. Ripped recliners.  I have been to a lot of rummage sales.  I have yet to see anyone try to wrestle a recliner into a vehicle. Ever.

We decided to test this theory by starting up north and working our way south this year instead of starting in the ‘Rapids, as we’ve done in the past.  In case you ran out of juice somewhere around Wabana and are still wondering what you missed farther north, I’m here to reassure you that you didn’t miss a thing.  Because you’d already seen the same stuff down at Gunn Park.  I promise.  Refer to the list of six categories above.

I’m seriously beginning to wonder if there’s some sort of rummage sale franchise.

Even so, I admit that I love the yearly trek up (or down) the Scenic Highway in search of bargains galore and Church Lady doughnuts as much as the next gal.  This year, the sky was bluer than blue and some of the trees were already at peak color.  All in all, it was a day worth spending with old lady friends who like the hunt for a bargain as much as I do.  And until next year, whenever I have the urge to bring some new bauble or doodad into my house, I’m going to remember the boxes of empty baby food jars and 70’s magazines paying rent to live along 38 for yet, another year….

And toss something out instead!

With a great big hug…..

I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.


I became a mom back in the 1990’s, the purple dinosaur decade of  “time outs” and “naughty chairs”.  So did most of my friends. One of my children will tell you that the only time she remembers getting spanked was when she went down by the lake without an adult. The other one will tell you that his little bottom was at the receiving end of his frustrated, inexperienced mother’s hand more than once, often for doing less than scaring that mom half to death.   Today, they are both happy, successful grown ups despite my mistakes.   Looking back,  ever spanking either one them was still the biggest one.

The previous generations of children, the one I was raised in,  grew up knowing that there was always a chance that poor choices on their part could result in even worse choices by their parents or caregivers.  Depending upon the child, this form of punishment might have been the only one used by a frustrated adult lacking the tools or discipline to find better ways to teach a child right from wrong.

We all know better now. We’ve known better for a while. At least, I thought so until a week ago when the “experts” on social media began babbling and justifying the behavior of an NFL player who was indicted for abusing his four-year old son. I’ve been particularly disheartened by the number of supporters who’ve used the tired “I was whupped and I turned out fine” argument.  We still hear this a lot, don’t we?  Most often, when it comes to the physical discipline of little boys.

But here’s the deal.  Little boys grow up to be bigger boys.  And bigger boys grow up to be men.  And then, these men become fathers.  And the scary thing about this is that whether they look “fine” on the outside or not, whether they can hold a job, or catch a pass, or pass for whatever “normal” is in 2014, there are those darn scars that nobody sees. I think that wise men remember the feelings of fear and rage that resulted from physical discipline. They vow never to make another little person feel that way, and then don’t. Ever.   But there are other men who forget those little boy
feelings.  Maybe they’ve convinced themselves that might will create right and not rage.

I’d like to believe that it isn’t done out of habit, or helplessness, or fear of inadequacy, or rage. Or because they just aren’t evolved or educated enough or man enough to find a healthy, safer, more effective alternative.  I’d really like to believe that it’s done out of a sense of responsibility.  That it’s done out of love.

But then I remember that I spanked my boy, too. More than I’m proud to admit, even now.

And then I remember why.

Plagues of minuscule proportions….

May your troubles be less,
And your blessing be more.
And nothing but happiness,
Come through your door.

-Irish Blessing


First, it was an army of tree frogs hopping through the family room.  Seriously. This  really happened.  In 2009.

Then, in 2012, it was hordes of angry black hornets that spent the summer dive-bombing me as I sat minding my own business, an Epi Pen in one hand and a flyswatter in the other.  This summer, it has been ants.  Tiny red ones, middle sized gray ones, and large, shiny black ones, meandering aimlessly across the carpeting morning, noon, and night. Three different plagues upon my house.  I am beginning to wonder what sorts of terrible things I did in a previous life.

Before the Ant Plague of 2014,  I was one of those Weirdos who apologized to ants right before I stepped on ’em because when it came to ants, I figured it wasn’t an ant’s fault that he was smaller than me.  It’s just how things turned out for both of us.  That was before I found eight of them on a sugar high in my canister in July when I opened it. Since then, I have tried every home made concoction and store bought poison short of napalm to get rid of the rest of the crawly little colony.  

As I watch a bigger ant carry a smaller ant corpse back to who-knows-where under the sofa, I tell myself that things can always be worse and even have a grudging admiration for an ant’s ability to stay focused and get stuff done. Even so, I wish they’d leave once and for all so that I can stop vacuuming the house daily. I’ve also been praying for either a miracle or a good, hard, frost.

And so, as the seasons change, with the exception of the ants, my house is cleaner than it usually is.  And I’m trying to count my blessings….

I’m thankful that ants aren’t the size of hornets. Or tree frogs. Or chipmunks. 

I’m thankful I own a vacuum cleaner that works.

And this year, I’m really, really thankful for September.




The driving lesson….

I regretted not stopping to take a picture of the sea of sunflowers less than a mile after I passed it between Pelican Rapids and Erhard.

In late August in Minnesota, the prairie is an artist’s canvas. I see that clearly now.  When I actually lived there, however, the absence of any serious trees and the months of blistering wind chills made me biased and ornery and blind to the beauty.  I longed for the way the pine trees hugged the highway once I got near Park Rapids every trip “up north” and spent a dozen years wondering why anyone would choose (actually choose) to live lives without trees around.  I scoffed at the sloughs that other people referred to as “lakes” in that  annoyingly cocky way that people who grow up near real lakes often do.

This is because I am a child of the woods.  But I do love a field full of sunflowers in late summer.

I love the way they stand at attention in fine, even, rows and how they tilt their heads to face the direction of the sun from morning until night.   I love that if  I look far off to the horizon and squint just a little that there’s an optical illusion of sunflowers marching in formation up hill.  I love the predictability and orderliness of a field of sunflowers. I even love them in autumn once their heads begin to droop, which is what the crop I happened to notice was doing by the following Sunday when I drove past in the north-bound lane, heading home. 

Here at home, the puffy bright yellow flowers and wiry stems of wild Tansy are beginning to turn brown.  Tansy is random and clump-y –  she is the wild sorority sister of the moon faced Sunflower. The one who parties too much and ends up on someone’s futon across campus on Friday nights.  Sunflowers go to church on Sunday and call their moms and sleep in neat rows where they’re supposed to.  Tansy doesn’t care.  She grows tall and spindly and then turns brown as the days get shorter. Sunflowers comply. Tansy refuses to be bossed around.

Every so often, in a fallow field there will be a solitary corn plant that takes root and grows, but I’ve yet to see a sunflower do that. And despite wild Tansy’s wandering ways here in the woods, I’ve never seen her volunteer in a field full of prairie sunflowers.  As I drive, I wonder if it is an aversion to boundaries, in general, that keep the Tansy out of the sunflower patch. And then I wonder what it is about those boundaries that keep a flower as tall, straight and lovely as a sunflower in her place throughout her short, short life.

A farmer friend told me once that sunflowers bow their heads once the seeds ripen.

I wonder if that’s the only reason they seem so sad in late summer…..