Tag Archives: Life

Memories of my brother

Not a January 17th can pass without me thinking of my little brother.

Curt died 20 years ago today in a car accident during a blizzard. I suggested to my sister we should do something significant and showy to remember him on this milestone day, and she said, “I don’t want to memorialize his death. I would rather remember his life.”

She made a valid point, so I will not be doing a Facebook fundraiser or lighting a trail of luminaries or visiting his grave (it’s too blasted cold to be visiting graves in Minnesota this time of year anyway).

Instead, I will remember his sweetness and light.

I was six years his senior, and alas, I did not get to know my little brother very well as an adult. I had other priorities at the time. Those other interests now seem dim and self-important, but that pretty much summarizes me at that time in my life—dim and self-important. What can I say? I was 32, and I thought I knew it all. At least now I understand how uninformed I really am.

But other people with better perspective who knew him well offered beautiful eulogies at the time of his passing. There was a newspaper story about his death in the local paper, and one of his friends said, “He was kind.” The copyeditor ended up using that quote as the headline, and it seemed like—still seems like—the best thing anyone would ever want to have said about them once they’re gone: “He was kind.” We should have put it on his headstone. The whole world could use more kindness.

Several months before he died, I found out he spent his last dollar bailing a friend out of jail, and at the time I thought that was just stupid. But really, it was evidence of his kindness. And after he died, my parents found a movie ticket stub on his grave; we learned a friend with whom he shared a love of movies had left it there, and he was missing Curt profoundly. That’s the thing a kind friend does—he makes a bright spot in your week by going to the movies with you and debating their relative quality afterwards when no one else will.

My Beloved would have loved my brother, but he came along too late to have the pleasure. More importantly, my brother would have loved him and his “go big or go home” approach to life. But the truth is, my brother probably would have loved anyone I loved; he and my ex-husband got along famously, and if Curt had anything bad to say about the guy I ended up leaving, he kept it to himself. That’s how Curt was. He looked for the best in people and found it, even if it was a little hard for other people to see.

Curt was built that way, full of compassion for bugs and animals and people, from the very beginning. When he was 9, he made me, his mostly inattentive teenage sister who was only interested in cute boys her own age, a Valentine. I ran across it not long ago in my Judy Blume diary from the time, and it made me laugh because it showed his sweetness and his sense of humor. Who needs rhyme in a “roses are red” verse when you’re getting straight to the heart of the holiday?

curt valentine's card

Isn’t that sweet? (And in pretty good condition for being 40 years old; they don’t make construction paper like that anymore!).

That was Curt. Full of love and laughter and willing to share it. The world is a little bit emptier for not having him in it the past 20 years. I miss him.

Halloween 1978

Minnesota Transplant as an artist, her sister as Raggedy Ann and her brother as Superman at Halloween in 1978. Superman was kind, too.

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A drop in the bucket: Top 10 posts at Minnesota Transplant

a drop in the bucket

This post marks the 1,999th time I’ve posted a story, a rant, a review, a picture or an inspirational quote here on Minnesota Transplant, a drop in the bucket if I may. That’s 10+ years of writing about what’s on my native Minnesota mind.

I posted nearly daily back in 2009-2012, which isn’t all that hard when you have something to say. As my post frequency dropped, so did the hits on my blog, but in total, Minnesota Transplant has had 151,604 views. A lot of them have been views by my mother and other people who are related to me, but since I’m writing a “day in the life” blog designed first and foremost to keep my mother who lives two states away apprised about what’s going on in my life and on my mind, I’m OK with that.

I wrote only four posts here on Minnesota Transplant last year, which is not that astonishing if you know I posted 341 times over at Church Sweet Home, the blog I created about renovating a 126-year-old Methodist church into our home.

If you’re a blogger working on a resolution to blog daily or at least blog more, these may be impressive numbers. I’m pretty proud of it, even though I know I hit it out of the park only about once a week. I think writers improve by writing, so there’s going to be a lot of trash created along the way.

As I reflect on a decade of blogging, here’s a look at my most popular posts by year.

In 2009, the first full year I blogged, I came up with something to say 301 times. The most popular piece was “A virus hangover,” in which I described how I felt after a computer virus took down my computer:

My computer has been scanned, anti-virused, malware-deleted, C cleaned, defragged, hard-disk fixed, In Box repaired and I don’t know what else. … Now, it seems everything is clean, empty, cleared and solid, i.e., working properly. But I’m still a little unsteady on my feet. What program, which file, what website, which download infected me? What should I have avoided, but didn’t? I’m pale and paranoid, looking at my computer screen like a deer in headlights.

In 2010, a bit of cultural consciousness drew hundreds of readers to “In a land where the river runs free, in a land to a shining sea … and you and me are free to … wear polyester.” Maybe because Target was using it in its advertising, searches for the 1972 album “Free To Be You and Me” brought people to my memories of a fourth-grade lyceum program:

I was instantly transported to spring 1977. I was in fourth grade, wearing a pink polyester high-necked dress that my mother had shortened after I was appointed to wear the floor-length version while lighting candles at my uncle and aunt’s wedding. The pink material was broken up by white puffy blossoms. Cut just above the knee, that dress perfectly showed off my white knee-highs with the pink and pastel blue elastic tops.

In 2011 and 2012, it was the now-defunct WordPress blog promotion device Freshly Pressed which propelled a couple of entries to the top of the reading order. “Quiet time on the running trail” was tops in 2011:

Unless you’re Cruella DeVille, telling people you’ve hired and mentored that their contributions are no longer necessary to the company’s continued success is difficult. Unable to sleep, I got up at 5 a.m. and just ran. It helped me cope with the pit in my stomach.

And “My life … in all its banality” was tops in 2012 and perhaps my most commented upon of all time. It included a snippet from one of my junior high diaries, which led to a commenter remarking on its humor, to which I replied, “My diaries are alternately embarrassing and interesting. Usually funny when they’re embarrassing.”

In 2013, 2014 and 2016, posts I wrote related to Creative Memories, where I worked for a decade, achieved tops in readership. “I read the news today, oh boy” (2013) was simply an original editorial cartoon. “The best job I’ve ever had” (2014) described why I once loved working for the company that had gone bankrupt: “Though it was more of a mess than a messiah at the end, the company was great once. It did great things. Things you don’t normally associate with corporations nowadays. Memories were saved. Friends were made. People had meaningful work and meaningful pay. I am a better person because I worked for Creative Memories during that magical time.” And “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” (2016) was about a court trial in which I was among four named plaintiffs who sued over the employee stock ownership plan: “There was blood (imagine the paper cuts inherent so many paper exhibits!), sweat and, yes, tears. Attorneys objected, condescended and sputtered. Indeed, American’s judicial system is adversarial, and I have a new appreciation for the system.” (Spoiler alert: we lost).

It was a review of Costco’s Non-slip Hangers that got the most views in 2015. I don’t think anyone cared all that much about the hangers, but they loved the before-and-after photos of my office. (People just LOVE before-and-after photos).

 

Before                                                 After

In 2017, I announced the creation of the blog about our church renovation, and that got the most interest. “A new project. And as far as projects go this one is a doozy” was mostly a tease but it worked to get readers over at Church Sweet Home:

“You’re wondering about the back story here. You’re trying to figure out how (and why) we decided to buy a church. Maybe you’re worried I’m about the pass a collection plate.”

And last year, when I posted only four times, the most popular post of the year was an obituary about the passing of my miniature schnauzer (“Bearded lady breathes her last”), which still gets me choked up:

“She packed a lot of spunk into her 8 pounds, and even as recently as last summer, strangers who saw us as we walked a neighborhood would ask me if she was a puppy.”

Oddly, the most popular post ever here on Minnesota Transplant is a book review of In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George Simon Jr. Apparently, my post “To disarm a covertly aggressive manipulator, begin by reading this book” struck a chord with people who are have to deal with psychos in their lives. Just in case you’re interested, here’s how Simon differentiates passive-aggression from covert-aggression:

Passive-aggression is, as the term implies, aggressing through passivity. Examples of passive-aggression are playing the game of emotional “get-back” with someone by resisting cooperation with them, giving them the “silent treatment,” pouting or whining, not so accidentally “forgetting” something they want you to do because you’re angry and didn’t really feel like obliging them, etc. In contrast, covert aggression is very active, albeit veiled, aggression. When someone is being covertly aggressive, they’re using calculating, underhanded means to get what they want or manipulate the response of others while keeping their aggressive intentions under cover.

My Top 10 + 1 is a pretty good indicator of the stuff you might find here at Minnesota Transplant. Like the Farmers’ Almanac, this blog contains “bits of logic, formulas for good cookery, weather prognostications, humor, poetry and odds and ends designed for your enjoyment and edification.”

Here’s to another year of interesting ephemera. Thanks for reading.

Transplant is back, growing in a new garden

Does one still qualify as a transplant if she moves only one state away?

Looks like I’ve found my footing after two years as a vagabond, but in the way life works, I didn’t move far. I’m now living in a 127-year-old former Methodist church my Beloved and I renovated into our home. It’s only about an hour north of our former home in Illinois, just over the border in Wisconsin.

Most people outside the Midwest can’t remember the difference between Minnesota and Wisconsin anyway. Both are far-north States, suffer from long winters and filled with people who like to fish.

Now if you’re from Minnesota or Wisconsin, you know very well the differences between Packers fans and Vikings fans, but the rest of the world, not so much.

I’ve changed the name of this blog back to Minnesota Transplant, and I guess I’ll spend the rest of my life marveling about the differences and similarities. I’ll try to check in more regularly than I have during the past year (let’s be fair, I was busy sawing logs, filling the eaves with insulation and choosing home furnishings for Church Sweet Home, but life is not an episode on HGTV.

You betcha.

Bearded lady breathes her last

Minnesota Transplant hasn’t been hanging around here recently. She’s been busy with another project. But she’s popping in with a sad report.

Poopie Girl died this afternoon.

chloe with stuffed toy

Chloe: 2007 – 2018

Poopie Girl is my little nickname for Chloe, the bearded lady, the cutest little miniature schnauzer you ever would meet. She packed a lot of spunk into her 8 pounds, and even as recently as last summer, strangers who saw us as we walked a neighborhood would ask me if she was a puppy.

Regular readers may recall occasional pictures of her cuteness and health reports (click on “miniature schnauzer” in the word cloud on the right to reread the stories in which she starred). Chloe was tough customer who persevered through a dog attack and several years of epilepsy.

She came into my life 10 years ago when my Beloved and I gave her to my stepson for Christmas. No one else in the house had the follow-through to house train her, so I did. My stepson grew up and moved away, but the little dog stayed with us. I became responsible for most of her care and feeding, and her daily walks forced me to take much needed breaks. My Beloved and various guests she could bully into it became responsible for playing fetch with her. She never met a stuffed platypus she didn’t like.

Last August, she came down with what we believed at the time was pneumonia. After months of treatment and tests, including a lung biopsy, the veterinarian determined in December she had lung cancer.

We’ve been keeping her comfortable for two months, knowing the end was coming soon. Today, we decided her breathing was so labored and desperate, we needed to take action to let her go. I visited the vet, and an hour later, my sweet girl was gone.

I am a writer, and I process things by writing about them. I am aware Chloe was no more special than any special dog, but I appreciate you reading about my girl. If you have a pet, I know you will give him or her an affectionate scratch behind the ears, and I will wish for you the mindfulness to be grateful for the opportunity to hold your beloved one close.

Throwback Thursday: An ode to the roof

Regular subscribers have noticed, I imagine, that Minnesota Wonderer hasn’t been posting very often. Hey, it’s busy around Wonderer’s house. But it’s probably busy around your house, too, so we can do without all the excuses.

As I peruse my Facebook Newsfeed every morning (everybody’s got time for that), it’s replete with “memories on this day” that remind me, among other things, of all the blog posts I logged over the years. It occurred to me that I have hundreds of entries in the back list that I could resurrect in a Throwback Thursday sort of way. Sometimes those old posts pop up, and even I’m surprised by my depth of thought.

So, with 1,982 entries from which to choose (this post makes 1,983—you betcha we’ll be celebrating 2,000 in a big way!), I’m going to share some oldies by goodies in this space on Thursdays.

Today, as the sun finally shines in Houston after days of drenching rain, I’m offering this ode to a roof, first published June 25, 2015. Because it beats living without one over one’s head.

The sky’s the limit if you have a roof over your head

Of all life’s blessings, the roof over my head is one for which I rarely give thanks.

Roofs, after all, are so commonplace they are to be expected. And they’re dull. Very dull. Usually gray or brown, maybe black. Made with shingles — the ultimately hum-drum material, or maybe cedar or tile. Installed by competent, height-defying, tight-lipped pros who appear like flies and disappear a week later, leaving a few stray nails in the yard.

But mundane or no, without a roof, every day is a bad-hair day. Or a bad day in general.

I woke at 3 a.m. last night, thankful, so thankful for the roof over my head.

It was pouring down rain. Literally pouring, like God had a bucket he couldn’t wait to empty. Lightning. Thunder. A storm for the ages. But unlike many nighttime storms observed from the comfort of the bed in my sturdy house, this storm came to the campground where I slept in a sturdy, yes, but relatively insubstantial camper.

One never goes camping but it rains. Or at least that’s how it is with me. Most camping rainstorms are day-long drizzly affairs that make everything damp and never stop until everything is packed up and you’re headed home.

This storm, however, was more hard-nosed, like a pissed off cop with a gun at a pool party (kidding! all right, already! I know all cops are not angry and overbearing! It’s a joke!).

In any case, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill storm. And we were camping next to a river.

My Beloved’s cell phone awakened us before the drenching rain did. It warned of flash flooding.

All I could think about was a flash flood filling the valley, and us, bobbing down the river in the camper until we were splintered against a bridge pier (thank you, Voice of Doom, but our flash flooding came in the form of big mud puddles, not a jökulhlaup).

That’s when the roof started leaking. Drip, drip, drip. A persistent sort of leak. Drip, drip, drip. Reconnaissance revealed the drops were coming from a light fixture (uh-oh). Drip, drip, drip.

Sounds restful, huh?

But actually, I said a little prayer of thanks for the roof.

Because 30 yards away, a family went to bed last night.

In a tent.

I didn’t care how fiberglassy our roof was. It wasn’t canvas!

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal is free this week and tomorrow’s the last day to snag a copy. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling”; a friend downloaded it this week and read it one day! So “it reads like a thriller!” isn’t an exaggeration. See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight tomorrow.

A before-and-after moment at 4:15 a.m.

I’ve been reminded recently how life changes in a moment. One minute, life is one way. The next, it’s turned upside down.

We had such a moment at 4:15 this morning. This moment didn’t change my life so much as it changed someone else’s but it’s illustrative of my point.

We’re camping this week in my cousin-in-law’s yard. It’s idyllic. Nice level lot, protected from the wind, a well-manicured yard. The cousin-in-law offered to let me use her brand new washer and dryer and her husband shared the fresh produce from his garden–ah, the comforts of home one misses when one is living in an RV.

idyllic corn

The idyllic scene that greets me when I emerge from my camper in the mornings.

The cousin-in-law’s yard out is in the middle of a corn field. The front yard is a stretch of county road between Hither and Yon, but the other three sides are bordered by seven feet of corn. I swear, it grew a foot this week. The corn even muffles all sound except the birds and the bees. Literally, the chirping of the birds and the chittering of insects is the only thing you hear out here, punctuated occasionally by the engine noise of a car speeding by.

This story is about that placid corn and speeding cars.

At 4:15 a.m., my Beloved awakens me with an urgent question, “What was that?!”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I murmured.

He jumps out of bed, throwing on his clothes. I’m becoming more alert now.

“Honey, you’re dreaming,” I said. “You’re putting your underwear on backwards.”

“No, I heard a car go into the ditch,” he says. “I heard the tires squeal and a crash.”

“I left the flashlight where it belongs,” I said, rolling over.

I wasn’t interested in investigating a dream.

But a car did indeed go into the ditch and crash.

My Beloved called 911, and within minutes, 10 emergency vehicles were on the scene.

license plate

The “scene” was only 50 feet from my cousin-in-law’s house, between two light poles. Mr. E754145 left the pavement, entered the corn field and was launched airborne. This is where he went in, losing his license plate.

corn inside

And this is where he landed, roughly 30 feet further on.

crash scene

The bare patches in the foreground indicate where the car went off the road; the string of corn stalks trailing from the field to the road show where the car was towed out of the field.

I think Mr. E754145 is alive to tell the story. My Beloved heard him try the ignition as he was calling 911, so he was at least conscious after crash landing. He didn’t hit a pole. The corn softened his landing. But in any case, his car was intact and operational and so was he at 4:14 a.m. At 4:16, he had to be stretchered away, and the car was towed.

Before and after.

Life can change in a minute.

Where the women are strong and the living is easy (and never the twain shall meet)

Land of 10,000 lakes.

State of only two seasons: Winter and road construction.

Where all the children are above average.

Minnesota is home to a few hyperbolic descriptions, and most recently WalletHub named it the country’s least stressed state, making it most relaxed, I suppose.

Who is WalletHub to make such declarations? WalletHub monitors credit scores, and its analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 33 key indicators of stress ranging from average hours worked per week to personal bankruptcy rate to share of adults getting adequate sleep.

And Minnesota ranked as No. 51 on the most stressed list.

Are Minnesotans the least stressed people I’ve met in my travels around the country?

I don’t know. If giving a friendly wave or acknowledging the presence of a sojourner with a nod as one’s paths cross is manifestation of lack of stress, then yes, Minnesotans have the corner on a relaxed demeanor. (Frequently outside of Minnesota, I will acknowledge someone with a “good morning” or a “hello”—a fellow jogger going the opposite direction, a guy walking his dog, a woman washing her hands at a neighboring sink in the restroom—and it’s as if I’ve surprised them by having a voice. Or a smile. Some residents of the coasts go out of their way to avoid making eye contact.)

The Minnesota compulsion to greet strangers, some would attribute to the phenomenon of Minnesota Nice. Perhaps. I have heard residents of the state—both natives and short-termers—describe Minnesota Nice as passive-aggressive. I’m skeptical. Minnesota Nice may be passive—”After you.” “No, after you.” “No, please be my guest, go ahead,” ad infinitum—but it’s not veiled aggression. So maybe it is the result of being trusting and assuming the best and getting a good night’s sleep.

One of the factors in WalletHub’s stress index is health and safety related stress factors. Apparently, Minnesotans have among the highest number of psychologists per capita and get the most hours of sleep a night. I come from a family with a long history of cherishing naps and believing nothing good happens after midnight. And that’s to say nothing of the 16 hours of darkness in the long, long winter months. What else you gonna do but sleep? Well, there is something else, I suppose, which might contribute to one of the lowest divorce rates in the country (another stress indicator).

Minnesota also ranks No. 50 in money-related stress factors (only Wyoming is lower), certainly due in  part to the frugal nature of born-and-bred natives. Author Garrison Keillor slyly notes this in his book Lake Wobegon Days: “So the Council changed [the town’s name] one more time, from Lake Wobegone to Lake Wobegon. Businessmen didn’t order new stationery right away, however, not even those who favored the change, but used all their New Albion stock until it ran out.”

In any case, I can take some of my good habits like eating right and maintaining a good credit score with me wherever I choose to settle someday, and the index may offer some insight on where not to settle (let’s just say Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky aren’t exactly calm and soothing places to reside).

If Minnesota is true to form, it’s not taking pride in its least-stressed status.

“Seldom has a town made such a sacrifice in remaining unrecognized so long,” he said, though other speakers were quick to assure him that it had been no sacrifice, really, but a true pleasure.

~ Garrison Keillor in Lake Wobegon Days