Saturday, July 31, 2010

Still "working"?

I'm considering writing a how-to manual for restaurant servers and hosts/hostesses. I consider myself somewhat of a restaurant critic, having visited many in my lifetime, and I have several pet peeves.

I am not speaking of fine dining establishments here, who either demand highly trained (and most likely higher paid) staff, or just adhere to stricter standards.

I'm speaking mostly of family restaurants, franchises, the ones you go to most often when in need of a meal, or want to meet a friend without spending an arm and a leg.

When you enter a restaurant, why does the host/hostess say" "Only one today?" Or "Just two?" Are they disappointed I am not a party of twelve? Is there something wrong with entering a restaurant with merely one other guest, or, God forbid, alone?

And then, why don't they ask you your choice of seating? I like to sit by a window, or in the light and warmth of the sun. So why am I always ushered to the table closest to the noisy kitchen? Double doors swinging open and closed; cooks hollering out orders. These tables should be used only as a last resort.

Recently, my husband and I met two friends at a restaurant. Our friends arrived first and were seated in a booth right next to a broken window, boarded up with wood. I bet you're guessing that was the only available seating.

Wrong. The restaurant was almost empty.

Why do the servers talk to each other while attending to you? It's as if you're invisible, or are disrupting their private conversation.

Why do they have either rock or country western music blaring away over the speakers? I think it energizes the staff, but it wears me out and makes it difficult to visit with my table mate. That's if I have a table mate.

And why on earth do they squirt the tables with cleaner or wash them just as you're being seated? Then they put the menu and napkin down and everything is wet.

Okay, here comes my all-time worst gripe:

You're finally enjoying your food and perhaps conversation with your table-mate. The server comes over, puts a hand on your plate and says: "Are you done, or are you still working on it?" Worse, "Are you still working?"


I thought I was eating.

Why not: "Are you enjoying your meal, or may I clear your plate for you?"

On the above-mentioned visit with my friends near the boarded-up window, the server busily cleared everyone's plate as we were visiting. Since I was talking at the moment, she let out an impatient sigh, held out her hand and all but snapped her fingers at me, and said, "Your plate!" - waiting for me to hand it to her since I was seated on the inside of the booth.

Since when do they need to clear a table while it's still occupied? Can't they wait until you leave?

Have restaurants been so lucrative, they've forgotten they need each customer they serve? Even if you're only one? That there are so many restaurants to choose from, one needn't frequent a bad one twice?

I know this sounds Andy Rooney-ish, but does anyone else know what I'm talking about?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Like father, like son

A while back, I wrote "Like mother, like daughter." It was a commentary on how much alike we are, my daughter and I.

But this is not about my son, even though he, too, is a lot like his father, in the best possible ways.

It's about my father and my one and only brother.

I am sure my Dad, upon learning he and Mom were expecting a baby, was thinking, Oh, boy...a son, a son...

He had a girl. Then another girl. Then twin girls. Then yet another girl. But he couldn't possibly have been happier, or loved us more.

Then he was surprised with Baby #6. A boy this time. Norman Elmer, his middle name my Dad's name.

High aspirations had he for this son of his. He'd teach him woodworking. Bowling. His son would join the US Navy, then the American Legion. Take over his printing business. Smoke a pipe. Cherry blend tobacco.

My brother never learned woodworking. Was against the Vietnam war and the military, in general; thus, never joined the US Navy. Never bowled. He grew his hair long, wore a ponytail, and later had long, curly hair. He joined a rock band.

He did, later in his working life, learn Dad's printing business and is now the sole owner. He also pursues his music career and is today a successful, and excellent, drummer.

Dad, however, was always very proud of his son. Though they appeared to be opposites, they are really very much alike. Identical in character. Identical in the ways that matter. They had a special bond.

I remember a time when Dad and Norm were wrestling on the floor. Dad had Norm pinned down on the carpet and Norm could barely breathe. But he looked up at Dad, laughing, and choked out the words: "D'ya give? D'ya give?"

We lost Dad to Alzheimer's disease in 2003, but Norm is the very image of him; so alike in so many ways. He resembles him not only in looks, but in heart and soul. In his love for his wife, Brenda, his own son, Alex, and his little granddaughter Lily.

My Dad was known for the joy he gave to children, and Norm matches that trait perfectly. Chasing after Lily in a playful manner, it is like watching Dad all over again.

My brother is often overshadowed and overpowered by all of his strong-willed sisters. But he can stand his own over all of us in character. He is my Dad, through and through.
Dad in his Navy uniform, Norm and Alex (1998)

You can't get any finer than that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hot and steamy

No, I'm not talking about a Harlequin romance. I'm talking about today's weather.

Worse than hot and steamy. It's actually stifling, suffocating, oppressive, unbearable. High 90s with almost as high humidity.

I got the car out of the garage this afternoon, only to go as far as the local library. When I came out of the air-conditioned library, the heat and humidity seemed even worse.

I thought back to when I was growing up. How did we ever manage without air conditioning? There was no such thing in the 1950s, at least not at our house.

Instead, we ran washcloths under cold water and patted our faces, though our mother warned us not to do that. She believed one should use a warm cloth in hot weather instead. I don't know if she was right or not, but I remember the cold washcloth feeling so good.

Then we'd take turns putting our faces in front of the little black fan that sat on the kitchen counter. This little black fan was our only cooling device. Its blades whirred and blew on us as we walked by and felt the cool blast of air.

Even Susie, our cat, who we discovered was really a male long after we named her/him, just lay on the cool basement floor, unwilling to venture further, especially not outdoors.

(Right) All of us with our aunt and two cousins on a warm summer day.

We also made "popsicles" of sorts. Kool-Aid poured into ice cube trays with a toothpick worked slick.

Sometimes we'd all go to Lake McCarron's beach where we'd spread out a blanket, don our bathing suits, and run into that large body of water. Aaah, that was pure pleasure.

When it was still hot in the evenings after dinner, Dad would take us all out for a drive in the station wagon. We'd roll down all the windows and stick our heads out, feeling the wind. No car seats or seat belts got in our way.

On a rare occasion, we'd stop for a nickel Dairy Queen ice cream cone. What a treat. The ultimate reward for a hot day.

Later, when we went to bed, we'd turn every which way to try to get cool. Laying at the foot of the bed, across the bed, or however we could get some relief. We'd eventually drift off.

Now we suffer little, working in air-conditioned buildings, having central air at home, in the car, on the bus, and everywhere you go. You can easily escape the misery.

Still, we complain. Hot and steamy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

If I'm sitting

I stopped by my all-time favorite yarn shop, Mrs. I's Yarn Parlor, in Osceola, Wisconsin, one day last week.

The twenty-minute drive there, crossing the St. Croix River, is breathtaking. Besides, there is a homemade ice cream shop in the same building.

But as many times as I've been there, I've never noticed Mrs. I's business card.

I had to chuckle when I read her slogan: "If I'm sitting, I'm knitting."

I have now adopted it for my own.

I know I drive my mother crazy because when I am visiting her, I pull out my knitting from my purse (a small project is always kept there), and I knit while we're talking.

One day she asked me why I always had to be doing something. She said, "Can't you ever simply sit still?"

The answer is no.

I could say, "Idle hands are a devil's workshop." Or remark how precious time is and we shouldn't waste it.

Or feign a deadline for a project I need done in time for: a) my friend's birthday tomorrow, b) getting in the mail by Saturday, or c) entering in the county/state fair by next week.

The truth is, I am just too antsy to sit still and do nothing. I need to be productive. Call it hyper, call it ADD, or anything you like. I just prefer to be busy.

I never go to movies. Can't stitch or knit in the theater. At home, I can watch a DVD and be doing something.

Riding (not driving) in the car without anything to do is just plain miserable. Ask my husband. I just can't have it. Thus, the knitting project in my purse.

How does one change something that is so engrained in one's personality? I'm not sure I want to.

So, if I'm sitting.....

Friday, July 23, 2010

Never too late

Although tried-and-true best friends are nice (see BFF post), new ones are nice, too. It is never too late for a new friend.

I found this out recently with the development of a friendship, right here where I live.

Wanting to form a new habit of daily walking for exercise, I asked my neighbor, Lenore, who walks several times each day, if I could join her sometime. I was thinking she would not only provide inspiration but a little accountability as well.

We went for those walks together and a new friendship formed. Right here where I live.

I recently joined a new church. After visiting several in the area, I was pleased that this one offered what I was most looking for: friendship and community. All the others offered what you would expect from a church, but not necessarily warm, welcoming friendship. This one treated me like visiting royalty. They made me feel special.

Isn't that one of the best things about friendship? You feel special.

It's really never, ever, too late for a new friendship to bloom. And you never know who is looking for you as a new friend.

Stay open to the possibility and you will be richly rewarded.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An ordinary day

Learn to appreciate an ordinary day.

When it is anything but ordinary, you find yourself wishing for one of those hum-drum days when nothing unusual happens, and your routine is safely intact and uninterrupted.

That was the case up to a few days ago when the phone rang and my sister, Joan, informed me Mom had been taken to the hospital with heart attack symptoms: shortness of breath, sweating, but no chest pain (which is typical for women).

I rushed out the door and met my sister at the local hospital emergency room. Mom was given an electrocardiogram, blood work and a chest x-ray. All looked good.

Then towards midnight, after a heart scan and even more blood work, one of the tests was repeated and came back positive. So she was admitted with a possible heart attack.

After a few hours of sleep, I was back at the hospital, only to find out she was being transferred to a larger hospital in St. Paul where more advanced cardiac care was available. So I drove to that hospital, following the ambulance that was transporting her. More blood work, more tests, this time an echocardiogram that showed some chest wall abnormality.

This morning my sister, Edie, came from Ohio, a real angel of mercy as she is a cardiac nurse. She also speaks Greek, which is what medical terminology is to me. So she was a great comfort to Mom, a good translator and a great advisor.

This afternoon Mom had an angiogram with great results! There is no blockage and only a minor weakness that can be easily treated with medication. It appears she can go home tomorrow.

So after one more trip to the hospital, I hope we can take her home.

And look forward to an ordinary day.

Monday, July 19, 2010


BFF: Best Friends Forever.

There is nothing like a really good, long time, tried-and-true friend.

I have one, and I am so blessed. Friends for over fifty years, we met in home economics class during our freshman year of high school. My, that was a long time ago.

Together, we went through all the drama of our high school years, passing notes back and forth between classes, seeking advice or consolation, and sharing both the high and low points of just being a teenager.

From babysitting, to our first jobs, to senior Prom, to high school graduation, and then our engagements and our weddings, we celebrated with each other.

Then we raised our families together, hosting baby showers for each other and sharing recipes and tips about everything from diapers, baby formula and teething to potty training. Our children started school and we shared those years as well. Parent-teacher conferences, skinned knees, my daughter's surgery.

When we could steal away time for ourselves, we met for coffee in the evening hours. Though we lived about forty miles apart, we met at a coffee shop half-way between.

With our families raised, we started celebrating our children's weddings, and then the births of our grandchildren.

We mourned a few losses in between: her sister, my marriage. Her sister-in-law and baby nephew, my father.

Now even our grandchildren are growing up, and we find we have time to just be together. With both of us retired, we can meet for coffee or lunch during the day. Even spend the entire day together. These are such valued and treasured times.

We confide in each other just as we always have. No judgments, no holds barred. Unconditional love and acceptance of each other.

Our husbands have become good friends, a real bonus. What more could we ask?

Everyone, everywhere, needs a friend, through thick or thin. My friend, Mary Kay, is that person for me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reading group

Some years ago, in August 2005, to be exact, I had a free Friday to wander around a bit in St. Paul. I stopped in at the Merriam Park library just to browse when a poster in the lobby caught my eye.

It was an invitation to join a book group for persons 55-plus and announced the book currently being reviewed: "The Emperor of Ocean Park." This was Friday and they were meeting the very next Tuesday evening.

I jotted down the information, proceeded directly to Barnes & Noble to purchase the book, went home and read all weekend. I felt like I was back in school, starting a homework assignment the last day of vacation. Three days to read 300-plus pages.

Tuesday night came and I timidly walked into the group. Any reservations I had were immediately disspelled. The group was delightful, its members diverse, and stimulating.

Five years later, here we are. The group's founder is a member in absentia, as she moved to Washington DC. Two of us original members remain. We've changed locations and added new members along the way. We're not a closed group: anyone is welcome. If we're not able to make a discussion in person, we e-mail our comments. We rotate choosing a book and leading the discussion. It all works.

I think each member of our group hungers to learn more about the world, past and present. It's what keeps us together. In our reading, we've traveled through many centuries to many different countries.

Yesterday we reviewed the book, "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver. Our leader asked us to rank the book on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the strongest. Though we don't often all agree, which is what makes our group even more interesting, this book achieved an almost unanimous 10. It is extremely well written and a very unique book. I highly recommend it to you.

I love to read. That's probably obvious. Historical novels are always my choice. Contemporary novels are okay if they are set in another culture.

No matter your preferred genre, reading expands your mind and experience like no other media. Celebrate

Friday, July 16, 2010

Up early

Today I woke up very early.

Not that I ever sleep the morning away. It's just that most often, at whatever hour I wake up, I look at the clock, roll over, and go right back to sleep. I am slow to fully awaken. Kinda like a zombie for the first hour.

But this morning I was fully awake, and very early. It was barely dawn when I turned on the coffee pot.

Catrina was stretching, forward and back, and looked at me as if to say, "What's up with this?" The world used to belong to only her at this hour of the day.

I love the feeling. Kind of like having something nobody else has. At least not all the other sleepy-heads.

I used to do this regularly when my children were small. With my husband still alseep, I'd quietly slip out of bed, peek in on the kids (such angels, asleep), and down the stairs to start the coffee in the almost-eery, for our household, quiet.

I'd sit at the kitchen table, my headquarters for the next hour, and make a list of things to do, write a letter, or just relish my own thoughts. Anything I could do very quietly. I wanted to be selfish for awhile, hold on to the hour or so that belonged only to me.

This feeling comes back to me this morning. My very own time, quite all right not to share with anyone else. I hold on to it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Snail mail

Communicating quickly and easily is nice.

E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, voicemail. All have made this possible and we have instant communication. From official notices, to electronic bills, to one-line messages from someone we haven't heard from in years: all come to us with a mouse-click or pressing a "send" button.

Does anyone besides me miss snail mail?

Not the "occupant" variety. Heaven knows, I get plenty of those. They fill my recycle bin to overflowing.

I'm talking about opening your mailbox and delighting in finding a hand-written envelope with your name written on it, bearing news from a loved one, inside a card or letter.

My cousin, Hanne, from Denmark, and I still correspond in this way.

Sure, we both use e-mail. We're both on Facebook.

But once in awhile, we sit down and compose, using pen and paper, a real letter. Writing is different somehow with a pen and paper than with a keyboard. It's a more thoughtful and personal process.

We take our letter to the post office, have it weighed and affix the proper postage for international mail delivery, and lovingly send it on its way. We send each other post cards from our travels.

Today, being a calmer day than earlier in the week, I'm writing to Hanne.

I could say the same thing in an email. Post it on Facebook. But it is not the same.

Try it sometime. Sending and receiving. Pure delight.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Like mother, like daughter

In case my daughter ever vowed she wouldn't grow up to be just like me, the joke's on her.

She's exactly like me.

When her husband, Rich, was doing the plumbing for our new bathroom, he noticed that I was doing the laundry and asked if I "snapped" the clothes when they came out of the washer and dryer. Not just shake them out, but snap them.

Well, of course, I said. To get the wrinkles out.

He laughed and said Kristie does that, too. I told him, well, I guess she's a lot like me. And he said, with great emphasis, "Oh, in every way!"

I took that as a compliment. I'm sure that's how he meant it.

Well, in case there is any doubt...last week she was over, and I served her a Woody's bran muffin. (You thought you had heard the end of Woody's bran muffins, didn't you?)

On Sunday, she called and said she had made Woody's bran muffins. But, get this:

She went to the store to buy a large container (like mine) to store the batter, a covered pedestal cake stand (like mine, for the baked muffins), paper doilies for the cake stand (like mine) and a label maker (like mine) so she could label the batter container (like I did).

She wanted to know exactly how I labeled the container so she could do the same.

How do I tell my darling daughter she is just like me?

No big deal

Okay, it shouldn't be a big deal.

But yesterday, after several days of a sensitive tooth, a dull ache in the back of my mouth and a headache, I went to the dentist.

Yes, indeed, the x-ray showed a bad tooth. A lower right molar.

We discussed and weighed the options of a root canal versus an extraction. It sounded as if taking a chance that the root canal would save the tooth was "iffy."

So the tooth came out. Quite easily, actually.

Looking at the tooth confirmed the right decision was made. It could not have been saved.

So then why do I feel so sad? It's just a tooth, right? No big deal. Not like an arm or a leg, or your eyesight or hearing.

But a tooth is a part of your anatomy. I got to thinking how long that molar has been there and how it has served me and contributed to my overall health and well-being.

Last night on the local news was a report of a 333-year old oak tree in Minneapolis that had to come down as it had been slowly dying and failing to produce new leaves for the past several spring seasons. People are coming from all over, beyond the local neighborhood, to pay tribute to it for providing shade and beauty, and for surviving the elements for over three hundred years.

I think all of life, and all parts of living things, are a wonder. And a big deal.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Country mouse

My daughter-in-law, Julie, just redecorated my granddaughter's bedroom.

Out with the barnyard animals that has been the theme of the room since Ava's birth three years ago.

So now we have a "French country mouse" theme. Julie asked me if I could stitch something for the new decor.

A French country mouse...hmmmm...finding a pattern was going to be an interesting challenge.

And indeed it was. Actually, it was impossible. I searched the Internet and looked at several stitching shops, including the cookie-cutter Michael's and JoAnn Fabrics variety. Lots of mice, per se, but they were either the Christmas or the Mickey Mouse variety.

It became clear I would need to find an alternate design to match the room. I went back to Ava's room to take a look and there it was, all over the curtains, the rug and the country mouse lampshade...HEARTS!

Well, now we're talking. There are heart patterns galore.

The one I chose is called French Country Love.

So I started it over the weekend. I'm making the top one in the white frame.

I figured she'll outgrow the country mouse someday anyway. But hearts? For a little girl? Are you kidding?

Anyway, this Grandma's heart is going into every stitch.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

We got the kinks out

Last week we celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary.

We thought of different ways to celebrate. We don't usually buy gifts for each other, but we always do something special on our anniversary. This year, neither of us could come up with anything original.

So I thought back to when we were dating.

We did pretty simple things even back then, one of which was just taking a drive around our local area. We both came from the city, so living in a rural area was still new and novel to us.

We'd make some great discoveries during our driving outings: bakeries, markets, county fairs, and cafes. We live in a Swedish town so a lot of places specialize in Swedish goods, food and gifts. We even have "Sven's Clogs" where clogs are made and shipped worldwide.

So we celebrated the day by taking a drive to Harris, Minnesota. 19.9 square miles and 320 households.

And Kaffe Stuga - the best little cafe with great burgers, crisp salads with their own French dressing, and awesome homemade pies.

When we returned home, we sat on the patio and reminisced for awhile. Remembering our first couple of years, and the adjustments we had vastly underestimated going into marriage mid-life and for the second time, my husband said: "Sixteen years is good. Now we have the kinks out."

Yeah, so we do....and life is good.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Slogans help me sometimes. Recalling a favorite saying (some I even make up myself) helps me on days or times when I need a little extra boost.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has some great slogans. A few of my favorites are:

Act as if.
Fake it till you make it.
Stinkin' thinkin'.

Another one is Easy Does It. This one is my favorite, and the hardest for me to follow.

I tend to get easily overwhelmed. I tend to focus really hard on what I'm doing. I tend to take on too much sometimes. I tend to be impatient. I tend to be a perfectionist. I tend to be constantly on the move; on the go; on to the next thing to do.

So Easy Does It comes to mind and has served me well since I first heard it. It tells me to s-l-o-w down, take a deep breath, clear my head before going on. Aaahhh, it feels good to do that.

A slogan of sorts that I made up years ago (I've never told anyone this) goes like this, but I actually have a little tune to go with it. Since I can't share the tune in this blog, you'll have to make one up that works. The words are simple:

One foot in front of the other -
And we'll make it yet.

Except I repeat it four times to finish the song.

I use this on many occasions: when I am perhaps carrying something heavy and I feel I can barely reach my destination; walking in a bitter cold air with a raw wind and my destination seems so far away; going through almost any kind of ordeal.

In other words, it serves as a distraction until I find I reached my goal or survived the ordeal (the ordeal could be the dentist).

Okay, I shared some of my tricks to get through things, turn a bad day around, survive a bit better. Maybe you have some others you have found help you.