Monday, June 30, 2008

A Fun Weekend With Family

Curt and I hosted not just one but two of my sisters and their husbands this weekend. My sister Linda (in the green) and husband Jerry came up from LaCrosse, WI to go to the Twins game, even though they were cheering for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Twins lost, so they had a great time. We considered locking them out after the game, but let them come back anyway. The other sister in white is Janice. She and her husband Bob came up to hang out, see the house and gardens and talk about some options for a scrapbook for their oldest son who will be senior this year.
Saturday, Linda and Jerry and I went to the farmer's market near closing time and ate two for one brats. Cheap and tasty- the ideal combination. Curt was playing volleyball in a tournament. He got the call to play on Friday when a transvestite named Denise was unable to fly in to play on her team. I told everyone that Curt was being a stand-in for Denise the transvestite. He kindly suggested I find a different way of wording that.
When we got back from the farmer's market, Janice and Bob were making use of the chaise lounges in the back yard. We all hung out for a while until Linda and Jerry left for the Twins game. A little while later I switched into Becky Homecky mode and started dinner. The menu: pork chops on the grill (thanks, Dad!), a pasta salad with balsamic vinaigrette, green olives, tomatoes, onions & pumpkin seeds, and some fresh sweet corn made with heavy cream, butter, fresh rosemary, salt & pepper. Curt came home just as dinner was ready so we all ate out on the deck and enjoyed the beautiful evening. After dinner, we took the pooches for a walk, ate rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream and watched 'Juno.'
During the night there was a huge BOOM! This was quickly followed by the electricity going out. The whole neighborhood was quiet. Rationally, I knew that a transformer had gone out, but my mind started wandering to aliens taking over the earth. Fortunately, my strange half-asleep thoughts were put to rest when the electricity came back on about an hour later. Bob figured that a squirrel might have caused the a transformer to blow. Who hires squirrels to work on the power grid anyway?
Sunday morning, everyone but Jerry got up early and were out the door before 7:00 to head to the farmer's market. Both Linda and Janice left with some nice perennials. Curt got some gladiolas. I got some pickles. We then picked up Jerry and went to an all you can eat brunch. Janice and Jerry showed some restraint, but you could say the rest of us got our money's worth. Everyone was gone by about noon leaving the house feeling a little empty after all the activity. We tidied up a bit, read the paper and retired to the couch to watch the Twins stomp the Brewers 5-0. Sweet!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tough Week on the Dad Front

This was a tough week for dealing with the loss of my dad. I think I might be in the "denial" phase of grief since I feel compelled to look at my dad's on-line obituary at least 5 times a day, maybe just to confirm that it did happen. It was a little shocking that my dad's name fell off the obituary list in the Decorah paper. I guess it's been almost a month, but I'm still thinking that his name should be there. He's not the only one in town who died, I know, but it sure feels like it.

I'm also going through the same thing I did when my mom died- sort of expecting that people either instinctively know that my dad died recently or just wanting more people to acknowledge it or something. I can remember clearly when my mom died, standing in the Casey's convenience store with a crabby clerk and thinking to myself "Why are you being so awful? Can't you see what's happened?" And of course, she couldn't, but I wanted her to be a little kinder at least. I'm still getting questions from folks at work I don't know real well about how my "vacation" at the beginning of the month was. And, I'm irritated with one reasonably close co-worker who experienced a similar loss that hasn't acknowledged mine. It's so damn irrational and selfish because I'm guessing he didn't read the employee intranet to find out, so I'm not being pissy with him or anything.

Two co-workers were diagnosed with cancer this week- one with Hodgkins Lymphoma and the other with ovarian cancer. I'm pretty close with the one who has ovarian cancer, so the news hit me pretty hard. I think C, the benevolent, was also hit pretty hard since her husband died of Hodgkins Lymphoma at age 30. That was years ago, but of course, she was thrown. Rationally, I know that these two women are not dying, nor even close, but the whole shadow has appeared that needs fighting and, selfishly, it brings up my own grief and fears. I hate that they and their families are having to go through this.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Would you go to this musical?

I think not. As a fan of musical theater (genetic), I just have to comment on this photo that came from the Decorah Public Opinion on-line. This is a promotional piece for the New Minowa Players (think Waiting for Guffman) for their upcoming production of "Pippin." You know, the kids are cute and everything, but does this particular action shot make you want to run out and buy tickets? You've got two kids sleeping in the back row, one in the front row with a bandana who IS NOT committed to the little jazz hands that all the other kids have reluctantly put on and looks like he might try to sell me some weed and a cute little scene stealer on the right in the black dress, all leaning in and everything with only one little jazz hand going. And the costumes? Like they just crawled out of the third grade and on to the stage. I am outraged! Outraged!

(Fussy theatrical critique brought to you in honor of gay pride being celebrated this weekend in many parts. And by celebrated I mean political candidates setting up booths in the park to pander for votes, booths full of leaping women and fairies on sticks called 'art' and many booths of rainbow bandanas for your dogs and cats. At least that's how it goes here. zzzzz.)

Anniversary Update!

We didn't get take out. We ate out at D'Amico & Sons with coupons. My goodness. What a sick and deviant lifestyle.

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today is our 9th anniversary! We are going to celebrate by getting take out and cleaning the house. Aren't we exciting? Next year will be number 10 and we'll probably go out for dinner for that one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yummy Smells

Imagine my delight when I got home to find a package from L'Occitane. It contained the Freshen Up Summer Set, which includes my all time favorite scent Citrus Verbena Summer Fragrance, some Citrus Verbena Shower Gel and a trial size of the Citrus Verbena Sorbet Body Cream. I also got a full size of the body cream. As soon as I got it out of the box, I doused myself with the fragrance and now I smell like a garden of earthly frickin' delight. YUM!


Good news: I found out today that I was selected to be part of a team of volunteers to go to El Salvador in October to build a home for Habitat for Humanity. My company has donated $50,000 to the El Salvador Habitat project as part of our 5 year $105 million dollar partnership with Habitat. As a volunteer, I have to cover airfare and make a contribution to cover lodging costs, but that should be under $1100 total. How cool is that?? I've always been interested in doing a volunteer "vacation" and here it is! Fun!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Know Its Sunday but...

...let me start by telling you about Friday.

So, I have been sorely behind in my training for the Bike Northwoods tour that I am undertaking in July. Friday, I had the day off of work and decided that I should try to get in some biking before the weekend. So, I head off to the Elm Creek Park Reserve, unload my bike and off I go. Well, about 5 miles in, I'm playing around in the big gear and cruising at about 26 mph, shift down for an upcoming hill and suddenly, automatic transmission. Okay, not really automatic transmission, but basically every pedal rotation, I'm changing the back gear set up and down. FRICK! That was not the word I used, but close enough. So, I stop my bike, call up my bike shop and ask for some advice. They give me good advice, but it didn't work. So, I gingerly pedaled my bike back to the car. Grannies are passing me, which is embarrassing since I'm in my whole serious biker get-up, spandex and all. (I still believe that spandex is a privilege, not a right, but when it comes to prostate preservation, you just have to wear the biking shorts.) Anyway, so I empty my bike bag and put the cell phone and my wallet on top of the car, load the bike in back and head off to the bike shop.
About a mile down highway 169, I'm cruising along at about 60 mph and catch something in my rear view mirror. I look just in time to see my wallet explode on the highway behind me. Now, I carry a fat man wallet, full of receipts and punch cards to coffee and lunch places and membership cards and credit cards and all of this has exploded behind me on a busy highway. So, I pull over and go running up the side of the highway, occasionally darting between cars to grab a flying $20 or a credit card or a receipt. I look really cool in my spandex out there bending over for all the world to see my giant spandex ass picking up the contents of my wallet. FRICK!
Just as I'm about done, two cop cars pull over and ask what's going on. By the way, this was the only time that traffic even bothered to slow down. Anyway, I explain to them what happened, we have a good chuckle and I say, "Well at least it was only my wallet and I found everything." The female cop says, "Yeah, it could have been something really valuable like a laptop." To which I chime in, "Or a baby", proving once again that given the opportunity to leave well enough alone, I will usually say something completely stupid instead. There was a long pause broken by the male cop who said, "Yeah, I guess that could happen." Then they looked at each other until the male cop wished me a nice day and sent me on my way. He then proceeded to follow me to the bike shop about another mile down the road, just in case I should throw out an infant or something. Oh, and the cell phone was still on top of the car. Go figure.
The bike shop got me fixed up (a twisted chain link) and I was back in business for the 150 mile weekend we had planned and have since finished. We got rained on 6 times, cold rain mind you, but thanks to high performance clothing that wicks away moisture, we were dry in a short while. Well, almost dry. I assure you that as a man, there is little less comfortable than biking shorts with a cold wet chamois lodged between your legs. Saturday, we rode from Moose Lake to Duluth and back. Today, we rode from Moose Lake to Hinkley and back. My ass is sore and I suspect I may not be able to walk tomorrow, but we had a good time. Oh, and one of the party said a word I hadn't heard since college- queef. I don't even know that I spelled it right, but what a nasty word. It came up during a conversation about farting during oral sex. Just in case you're wondering, I was tucked in my bed at this point and not part of that conversation, but had a good laugh about it anyway.
Enough for now, but remind me, if I don't tell you later, about why I have a shiner on my left eye. No, not domestic abuse, something much less interesting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

May I Bore You With More Garden Pictures?

Thanks. I think I will.

This is the inside of one of our favorite iris named 'Lorilee.' The flowers are huge and smell great.

This is an iris called 'BurntToffee.' Another personal favorite.

I love extreme close-ups of flowers. This is a pretty basic siberian iris, but the details on these flowers are astounding, at least to me.

Another extreme closeup of a siberian iris called 'Lavender Bounty.'

A great allium variety. This one blooms late and is lower to the ground than most, but is very showy.

This is a great bearded iris called "Thorn Birds." If you look just below the beard, you can see the purple thorn sticking out. Very unusual.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day Without Dad

Father's Day this year was hard without a dad to go visit or even just call. This sucks.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

When DDR happens to good people

Look, a dork! Look, another dork!
This, my friends, is what happens when adults try to play cool kids' games. At a barbecue a few weeks ago, we pulled out Dance Dance Revolution because Curt's niece was there and I've been challenging her to a match for years. I whooped her ass, thank you very much. Okay, it wasn't much of an ass whooping, but I did win. Then everyone else took a turn. The picture above is Curt and C, the benevolent. Curt is looking enthused while going for precision footwork, while C, the benevolent, is going for perky with a little extra effort for style points. My facial expressions while "dancing" alternates between mouth breather and tongue sticking out the side of my face. Very attractive. This is why it is best to enjoy DDR only in the privacy of my own home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

They need to breathe

Being at work this week has been a little tough. Fortunately, on Tuesday we had an employee appreciation event outside the office. I was giving C, the benevolent, a ride to the event and we got on the topic of men and their weird, nasty habits. I told C that I had seen a guy in the locker room the night before lift his leg, then spray antiperspirant on his genitals, then proceed to bend over, spread his cheeks with one hand and spray his bung hole with antiperspirant. It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen. Please, if anyone thinks this is normal, let me know and I'll stop freaking out about it. Anyway, C and I got to talking about how not sweating down there could cause problems with backed up sweat glands, leading to boils, etc. C stated emphatically, "Genitals need to breathe." I couldn't agree more, I guess. She then went on to describe a scenario in which a sexual partner might find the use of genital antiperspirant unappealing. I won't describe that for you though. C knows it already, but she's the best employee I've got. She's the only employee I've got right now, but the title of best still means something.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Half Here

Since coming home I've been alive for only half a day at a time. I'm pretty good until about 1:30 p.m. or so, then I just crash and spend the rest of the day a zombie. This past week has really beat the crap out of me. I know it is part of the grieving process, but damn.

In The Garden Today

It is truly remarkable how much can change in just one week in a garden. We've had ample rain this spring, but not a lot of heat. So things are about a week or two behind, but still coming along.

These are the poppies that I showed you last Saturday. Last week they were just buds. Look at them now! Holy cow!

One corner of our garden explodes in blue early in the season. Soon we will have blue and pink when the nearby 'Flame' peony blooms and some pink-ish irises flower. You can see some of the irises in the distance.
Curt and I love this corner of the garden this time of year. What a cool combination. It was completely unintentional when we planted it, so even more fun to see how nice it turned out. The columbines are 'Blue Barlow'; the spiderwort is 'Sweet Kate' ; the irises are old fashioned german bearded iris from our friend Caronline's garden; and the Arctic Blue dwarf willow we picked up at Bachman's three years ago when it was about 18" tall. You can also see a 'Gold Regal' hosta in the background. Fun!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Back in Lovely Golden Valley

Thank you everyone for your kind words and thoughts. It helped so much to know that you were thinking of my family this week.

Going home for my dad's funeral was pretty horrible and pretty amazing. Horrible, of course, because we lost our dad. Amazing because of the outpouring of support. We were overwhelmed with cards and floral arrangements, garden plants and house plants, gifts and food. Cheesecake Maven even delivered a white chocolate chip raspberry cheesecake that my family had devoured completely by Thursday afternoon.

My dad's visitation (Lutheran version of a wake) went great. People started arriving over an hour early and it ran almost an hour late. It was so great to hear stories about my dad from people who have known him most his life. People laughed about his stubbornness, but talked more about his generosity. I was amazed by the number of folks who said that my dad's generosity changed their lives- help with home down-payments, helping to save struggling farms, helping when bad luck would strike or smaller gestures like buying meals or just giving people a break. He wouldn't spend a dime on himself, but would sure spend it on others. Very cool. It was really hard to see his good friends deal with the loss. Most are 80 or older and I think were looking at their own mortality as they contemplated my dad's. We were all glad to be there for them.

The funeral service was tough, of course. It was at our little country church 14 miles from town, off two gravel roads and surrounded on 4 sides by corn. This was where my dad was raised and where we went to church as kids. There were several remembrances from us kids, two grandkids, one of his caregivers and one of his former truck drivers. It was nice that no one tried to make dad out as a saint. He was as flawed as anyone, but we were able to laugh at the things that frustrated us most and reflect on the characteristics that made him great.

If you've never been to a Lutheran post-funeral lunch, you must find one to go to. Scalloped potatoes and ham, chicken and rice, macaroni salads, funeral burgers (hamburger bun sliced in half, buttered with ham, served open faced) and lots of homemade cakes. This is the best comfort food on earth and I highly recommend it.

Today, my family met to talk about what to do with the house and some of dad's belongings. Though some of the quieter members of the family got steam rolled in the conversations, I think we all came out of it okay. It was a tough conversation to have when emotions are running so high.

Curt and I took a leisurely trip back to Golden Valley, stopping at two nurseries along the way. The dogs were thrilled to see us. The gardens looked glorious, if not a little wind blown. All is good in the world, though just a bit emptier without my dad.

Dad's Family Remembrance

Below is what I ended up writing about my dad on behalf of me and all my siblings. It turned out okay under the circumstances.

"Our dad was a one of a kind guy and nearly defies description. There are lots of interesting individual characteristics that made up the man. However, when someone described him as a steel coated marshmallow- rock hard on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside- that seemed pretty fitting.

Dad was raised by a mother who was frequently described as a saint. Many of dad's finer qualities come directly from her. Over the years, we occasionally saw him get choked up when he talked of her, particularly of the final years of her life. He adored her as a son should adore his mother and always respected her memory.

He learned a lot from his father too- a strong work ethic and the understanding of the value of a dollar. But, he was also dealt some unfair lessons from his father. While dad could have easily taken what he saw and acted the same way, he didn't. Instead he became a business man who was unfailingly fair in his dealings. He also became a faithful friend. While he lived by the idea that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, he always helped his friends who needed his help. Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was just plain hard work, but our dad always helped. He was always looking out for the little guy and was ready to defend the honor of his friends.

Dad worked hard. As kids, we didn't see a lot of him. He woke up early and was often gone long before we were up for school. He was home in time for dinner and the evening news, then fell hard asleep in his recliner, only to reset and start the same routine the next day. Most weeks, this went on seven days a week. The result was a successful trucking business and a working farm. We can't think of anyone who would try to balance that today. You might think he worked those long hard days to get away from us, although none of us would blame him for wanting to get out of that noisy house. He was working hard for us and we never wanted for much. He certainly could have helped our mother around the house more in those days. However, he was a product of his generation in which men worked outside the house and women worked inside the house; and despite the difficulties that produced, they survived.

Though we didn't see him much, don't think that we don't have great childhood memories of our dad. Dad loved kids. He lit up when kids were around. He was often playful with us and had a goofy sense of humor that always made us laugh. He also gave us opportunities to raise some farm animals up at the house. As we mentioned, dad was always looking out for the little guy. That carried over to animals too, which meant that dad frequently brought home runt pigs and lambs for us to bottle feed and raise until they were ready to go back to the farm. He even brought home five baby racoons whose mother had been killed on Locust Road. We raised them in a chicken pen until they were ready to go back into the wild. Once when many of our outdoor cats had died of distemper, he took one of the remaining kittens down to the vet to get a distemper vaccination. The cat went on to live for years and he often referred to it as the $6 million dollar cat, not because it survived a bad situation, but because he had paid a whole $6 for the distemper shot.

Dad knew what a dollar was worth, although he never really adjusted for inflation. He was the consummate tightwad. He was horrified when a cup of coffee went up over 50 cents and balked at using fresh insulin syringes every day because, by God, they cost a few cents a piece. He wore his clothes until they were truly worn and beyond. In his pickup truck he started coasting to stops signs at about a quarter mile because he didn't want to have to change the brake pads. It was a source of frustration for us kids and also much humor. Dad was cheap and darn proud of it. Dad often broke the Third Commandment (thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain), but never so much as when he talked about the cost of things. Particularly now, we're grateful that God is a forgiving God.

When our mom got sick with cancer, we got to see the love and devotion our dad had for her put in to action. Although he was so afraid of losing her, he faced his fears and took her to her appointments, helped her more around the house when she let him and was there for her always. We all gained a new sense of respect for dad during that time. Mom's illness also opened a new door for our stoic Norwegian-German household. We began to hug each other and say "I love you," something that never happened before that time. Dad was at first very awkward with the hugs, but accepted them and, we think, came to welcome them. If Dad ever replied to the "I love yous" it was always very quietly. While Dad had a hard time showing affection, he showed us in other ways, with generous gifts and more recently meat. It was a nice surprise when he would tell us to call the butcher to let him know how we wanted our pig cut up. Not quite an "I love you" but enough for us to know what he meant.

Dad was devastated after Mom passed away. He was lonely, but kept himself busy on the farm and with trips to Barb's or the Family Table for coffee with old friends. He suffered a stroke in 2004 that caused some major life changes. After recuperating in the Aase Haugen home for many months, Dad returned to live in the house that he and Mom had built. He was determined to be as independent as he once was, but the stroke and vision problems from diabetes limited his ability to resume the life he had before. He needed help around the house and to get around town. We hired several people to help him around the house and take him to appointments. Two caregivers, Britney and Courtney Bakken, virtually adopted Dad as another grandfather and included him in many of their family activities. And when he dished out crap to them, they could give it right back. They were angels for him these last few years and we are honored that they are sitting with us as family today. Dad also had good friends. Lee Naley and Howard Johnson were true and faithful friends to dad, often playing cards with him and taking him out and about. He will be missed by all the guys at the Family Table and McDonalds.

Dad left us suddenly on Sunday June 1st. The day probably started out just like any other day for Dad. He got dressed, put in his hearing aid and made a breakfast for himself. It was one of the first really nice days of spring and Dad decided to go outside to sit and enjoy the day. On the way out of the house, he likely stopped to say hello to the mother cat and her two kittens that had made a home in the broken down wheelbarrow on the porch. He situated himself in a lawn chair and looked out at the flowers on the rock wall that mom had planted years earlier. He could feel the sun and wind on his face and hear the birds calling. It was a lovely day. We won't know for sure what took him, but we are certain that on that lovely day, he was greeted by our mother, his mother, and those he loved that had gone before who came to take him home. Though we are so terribly sad that dad is gone, we know that his physical suffering is over, and, most of all, that the loneliness he felt since our mom's passing has been relieved and he is surrounded by love. And to that all we can say is "Well done, Dad! We love you and are proud to have had you for all these years."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Funeral Stuff

Arrangements for my dad have been made. We're having the visitation on Wednesday night and the funeral on Thursday morning. Our funeral director is the same woman who handled my mom's funeral. She's pretty amazing. We asked her what she thought the cause of my dad's death might have been. Based on some physical signs, she was thinking a very quick, very massive heart attack. We'll never know for sure, but everyone who was involved, paramedics, etc. said that it appeared he died quickly without a struggle as he was still seated in the chair. Thank god for that.
Today, I was alone up at my dad's house and went into a cleaning frenzy, which turned into a raking and weeding frenzy. I had to stay in a frenzy because every time I stopped for a moment, I completely lost my mind with grief. When I couldn't clean, weed or rake any more, I sat in the glider on the back patio. It didn't take me long to realize that I was looking at the last view that my dad had of this world. The bridal wreath spirea is an explosion of white, the poppies are blooming in profusion, the spiderworts are starting to bloom. There was a very gentle wind moving the poppies around. In just a few minutes, I saw a robin, a crow and an eastern goldfinch and heard the songs of a few other birds. It was lovely. I am so sad that he is gone, but I'm happy that it happened in the home he and my mom built, surrounded by a beautiful day and beautiful sights and sounds.
I went back to the funeral home today by myself to spend some time with my dad alone. I really, really needed that. It helped calm me down a bit. I've been rushing around, working, talking to people and needed to just get grounded in the reality of this. My dad looked great for a dead guy, for which I was glad. I held his hand and said some things I've been meaning to say and found some peace.
One of the things I have to work on is a family eulogy of sorts. I wrote one when my mom died and volunteered to do one for my dad. This one is going to be harder. For a guy who worked hard and lived simply, my dad was a complex character. He got the best qualities from his mother and learned to do the opposite of much of the bad behavior his father modeled for him. (Sometime, I'll have to tell you about my grandfather, who was not the kindest person. He used to frequently tell my aunt that he wished he had drown her at birth. A real charmer.) He could be hard, stubborn and impossible and in the next moment you could see his softness through his humor and jovial nature. *sigh* Shit. I could be describing myself here. Better stop while I'm ahead.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My Dad

My dad passed away today. We don't know how for sure, but he was found by my oldest brother sitting in his lawn chair in the back yard. I'm guessing it was a stroke or a diabetic coma or something else diabetes related. Whatever the case, I hope he passed peacefully without confusion or pain. I am certain that he was greeted by my mother, who died eight years ago in April. I don't know what happened, but for now, I choose to imagine that he was sitting out enjoying one of the first real warm days of spring, enjoying the black cat stirring around at his feet, looking at the rock wall garden that my mother had worked on for 40 years. Then, I choose to imagine that he caught a glimpse of my mom out of the corner of his eye, probably fussing over some weeds. He called out "Dorothy!" in amazement and longing, and she turned to him and said "Well come on, Kenneth, let's go!"
Though he never really talked about his emotions, my dad was never the same after my mom died. He missed her so and was lonely without her. After 45 years of marriage, that will happen. Today, they're together again and for that I am so grateful.
I'm driving to Decorah tomorrow to start the funeral arrangements with my siblings. I'll keep you updated. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and prayers.

Weather and Gardening Just Don't Mix

Last night at about 6:00 p.m., we had a hail storm. Boy, did that suck. The lovely astilboides tabularis pictured below is now full of holes. @#$@##$@! The rest of the garden has a few holes in it but did okay. It could have been much, much worse. After the hail had passed, we took off to a movie. Just a few miles south, the highway looked like we had just gotten six inches of snow- huge piles of hail, so much so that the storm drain at the exit ramp had about a foot of hail blocking it, creating a giant lake. Cool. The medians in the movie theater parking lot had about 3-4 inches of hail. That could have been us, but wasn't. Whew!