Saturday, March 15, 2014

Grandpa rules

Whenever we have someone watch Grandpa, I have to write down a series of instructions so that the caregiver understands – and adheres – to Grandpa’s rules, which makes it easier on Grandpa and the caregiver. So here are the main ones.
  1. The most important rule is this, don’t mess with his cat. He loves his cat more than life itself, so you might just get backhanded if you try to even pet his cat.
  2. He doesn't remember the cat's name or even that Picasso is a cat, so don't laugh when Grandpa calls him a dog, a pig, a fish or mumbles something under his breath. The cat knows what he said, and that's who Grandpa was talking to. 
  3. If he resists getting into the barber chair at Mike’s barber shop, tell him that some pretty girls are going to come visit him later today. He’ll do almost anything if he thinks he needs to impress some pretty girls.
  4. Dad takes several pills with breakfast, lunch and dinner. If he forgets what his pills are for, simply grab a couple of aspirin from the medicine chest and swallow them. He’ll copy what you do. Also, don’t lay his pills on a white napkin as he won’t spot them. Lay them on top of the wooden table.
  5.  Dad likes to eat when he wakes up…about 7 a.m., at noon and at 6 p.m. If you don’t feed him at those appointed times, he will find cookies and candy to eat instead.
  6. For breakfast, he wants a big bowl of corn flakes with a banana cut up along with a glass of juice. He’ll eat anything you put in front of him but he won’t get full and then will start heading back to the kitchen for snacks.
  7. If you take him to a restaurant, make sure that they serve him as quickly as the order is taken. Don’t take him to Red Lobster where there’s a 15 minute pause between the soup and the main course or he will want to leave. Instead, take him to a Chinese place that will serve a cup of hot soup and then bring the rest of his meal before the soup is gone.
  8. Never, ever, eat in front of him if he’s not already eating. He will ask you where his is and you’ll feel sorry and split your meal with him.
  9. If you have no other choice and take him to Red Lobster and you are still eating and he is done…buy him a bowl of ice cream and then finish your meal before he has engulfed the ice cream.
  10. Don’t make him sleep in any bed but his own. He’s a nervous fellow and before he falls asleep, he will make several trips to the bathroom, so it’s best if he knows where it’s at.
  11. When he wakes up in the morning, he will also head straight to the bathroom so make sure you are out. If you are not out, he’s not above using a trash can as a porta-potty.
  12. His clothes are always the same: black shoes, black sox, blue denim jeans and a plaid shirt. In the summer – for about three months – he won’t wear his long johns and he will wear a short-sleeved polo shirt.
  13. When a meal is done, he wants to clear the table and wash the dishes. Let him do so, and then when he leaves the kitchen, you can put the dishes in the dishwasher.
  14. If you want to take a nap, make sure it’s when he’s already lying down. If you think you are going to initiate this activity (or non-activity) you are so wrong. He will stand outside your bedroom and whistle and sing until you get up and realize the error of your ways.
  15.  Dad goes to bed in the winter when the sun goes down. So if you want to keep him awake say until 7 p.m., you have to have every light in your house on.
  16. In the summer, he’ll stay awake until at least 8 p.m…but that’s as late as he’ll stay up, unless -- of course -- there are pretty girls visiting. Then he’ll stay up until midnight if he thinks that will impress them.
  17. Dad’s favorite place to sit is the chair or couch that you just got out of.
  18. He will check the mail box 20 times a day whether he’s already picked up the mail or not, so don’t fret if he keeps opening and closing the front door…no matter how cold it is.
  19. He’ll break your heart when he asks you where his wife is. Just tell him that she died in June 2006, point at one of the photos of her in his bedroom and move on.
  20. He doesn’t know the difference between brother, son or sister, so you are likely to be called anything on any given day. The only people who have names are “Scott” and “that woman in the kitchen.”
  21. With him, every day is a fresh beginning and also could be his last…so make it count. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Christmas letter

The Christmas letter is often disparaged because it's not particularly personal. What you write to a family member is the same stuff that's read by your college roommate whom you haven't seen in 30 years. However, I look forward to reading the letters that accompany the Christmas cards. In fact, I would rather read the letters than the cards...although I do like looking at the pretty pictures on the cards.

We've been exchanging letters and cards with friends and family for years. I write one for my dad and also one for Belinda every year.

When my parents lived in Roundup, MT, my mom would ask me to write their letter. To help me out, she would hand me their calendar that had various notations written on specific days. Some would say, "Dr. appt. - Billings". Others would say, "Susan visited". Or "hair appt."

Needless to say, the calendar notations didn't give me much to go one. But since I talked to my parents at least once a week, I generally knew what they had been up to and could draft up a letter and then let mom look at it and add or change some specific details so that it sounded more like her writing the letter and less like me.

I tried to do this with dad also after he moved to Mandan, ND, in 2006, but this year I just wrote a letter for him and included it in his cards. He no longer can sign his name, so I didn't see any reason in pretending that he's better than he really is. I didn't think it came out too bad. I'm pretty sure that most people knew I was writing the letter for him anyway, so no use pretending.

Dad's mailing list has changed over the years also. Eight years ago, the people who received his cards were more his age -- relatives and friends in their 80s. So there was Florence Schwab, a cousin of mom's, and Sylvia Burch, the widow of a former pastor. They both are dead now along with several others. So they've been replaced on dad's Christmas letter list by more of his grandchildren. Once a grandchild leaves their parent's home, I try to add them to the list. This year I had more empty spaces to fill, so I added Krystal, my brother Gene's youngest daughter, and also Derek, our oldest son.

I keep Grandpa's list at exactly 30 people, which is as many labels as there are one page. So there's nothing magic about the number. This year, Grandpa's card consisted of a photo of him and a holiday greeting. I never know what it will be from year to year. Sometimes I send cards.

Now Belinda's Christmas card list has more than doubled over the nearly 30 years of marriage. In 1986, she sent about 40 cards. This year, it was about 90 cards...and she still dropped a couple of her friends who had stopped sending cards.

Writing Belinda's letter was easy this year. First of all, this was a really great year. I think as you get older, the years go by faster and they seem to be a lot more enjoyable.

Our trip to Brazil was definitely an unforgettable highlight, but we had several others as well. While we were in Mandan and Scott was in Colorado over the Memorial Day weekend, he proposed to Taylor. We felt like we were right there with them. First, we knew what was going to happen because we were in on the planning. I had even mailed the package to Scott's cousin Mary in Aurora that contained the T-shirts that were central to the marriage proposal.

And thanks to Facebook, we saw the photos of the proposal about as quickly as the event happened.

There were lots of other great things that happened as well. We were excited to go back to Roundup in August for a family reunion. To make it even more fun, we rented an airplane, which allowed Scott, Taylor and Derek to join Grandpa, Belinda and me on the trip. This was our first family reunion in Roundup in four years and it's fun to see how the little kids have changed. What's not so fun is when you see (or don't see) your older relatives because they are too sick to attend or perhaps they died in between reunions.

So, this year, read the Christmas letters. Soak up every last bit of them, whether you consider it bragging or just a bland, impersonal letter. There's so much that each of us can be proud of...and for some of us, we like to share the experience in a letter to our family and friends at Christmas.

Here's to a new year, and blessings to each of you.


Friday, August 9, 2013

How patient are you?

When I drive to work in the morning, I see a line of cars...sometimes six or more...waiting in line to go through the drive-up at a popular, Seattle-based coffee hut. Whenever I see that many cars, I wonder who would have the patience or be that addicted to caffeine to wait a half an hour in line for a $4 to $5 latte or some other coffee-based concoction?

Certainly not me. To this day, I have all the patience I was born with, because I certainly have never used any. 

A month ago I went to a chain bank in Mandan where Grandpa does his banking. Grandpa had a certificate of deposit due so we came to the bank to renew it. The interest rate is so low -- nearly non-existent -- that it really wouldn't matter if the money was in a simple savings account or a CD.

Anyway, I walked into the bank with Grandpa and we were greeted by a teller. I told the teller what we needed to do and the teller informed me that we would need to wait for the next available "personal banker." So we went and sat down, only to find an old woman and a young couple also waiting.

I asked the woman how long she had been waiting. She told me a half hour. She also said the young couple had been waiting longer than her. So I asked them how long they had been waiting. The answer was "nearly an hour."

I couldn't believe it. Since I inherited my patience from my dad, there was no way we were going to sit in the bank for an hour to see a  "personal banker" to renew a CD. So we got up and walked out.

The friendly teller noticed this activity and asked me if there was anything she could do. Since she was friendly, I was friendly. I told her that I thought the bank needed to do a better job at providing service to its customers and that there was no way that I would wait an hour for such a simple task.

She took our names and phone number and told me that a  "personal banker" would be calling me to set up an appointment for next week. I did get a call and I did show up and finished our banking activities...a week later than I had initially planned.

So then I got to thinking...what would I wait for the longest? Well, I've waited a long time to see a doctor. They have a little trick at the doctor's office. They call you out of the waiting room and take you to a little  room in the back somewhere. A nurse takes your temperature and checks your vital signs. And then you wait and wait and wait to see a doctor.

When dad lived in Roundup, he actually got up and walked out of the little room at the doctor's office because he got tired of waiting. I haven't done that yet, but I'm tempted.

I also hate waiting to get a haircut. However, I always have to wait because I take dad with me and he always gets his hair cut first. Luckily, though, I generally don't have to wait too long. But if I walked into the barber shop and saw six guys ahead of me, I would turn tail and run.

Do my stories sound familiar or are you a more patient person than me? How long would you wait for a cappuccino?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Some thoughts about our living Lord

Generally, the only time I discuss my faith is when I'm in our Sunday School class or I've been asked to fill in for the preacher. I'm a guy who believes that the best "testimony" we can give is by how we lead our lives as individuals.

But this past week, the Lord has been speaking to me and I wanted to share some thoughts.

Sarah Fredricks preaching 
First, last Sunday, I went to the Bismarck Nazarene Church to hear the message from Sarah Fredricks, a young lady from Mandan who is attending college in Kansas with the hope of becoming a Christian missionary.

Her message was a simple one, "God can use anyone to advance the good news." For Biblical text, she referred to Moses who was trying to wiggle out of God's request for his life. "Pick my brother, Aaron," Moses said. "He speaks better than me." But God picked Moses...and the rest is history.

Her message spoke to me on so many levels. She talked about how we are not the ones who provide the living water. That is Christ, but our lives are to be conduits of the living water to others. Yet, we manage to clog up our pipes with all kinds of messy things that don't allow the love that God has for us to flow through us. For me, a couple of the clogs are "busyness" and "lazyness." There is probably also self-centeredness...but who wants to talk about that...we might go from preaching to meddling.

Then last week I saw the following on Facebook, " If we don't teach our children to follow Christ, the world will teach them not to."

That statement struck me because our church was in the midst of Vacation Bible School when little children attending our church or little children in the neighborhood or community come to our church to learn about Christ's love for them.

Lots of young children participate in VBS
Today in our worship service we saw those little children sing, dance and clap their hands as they celebrated not only Vacation Bible School, but also that they are the Lord's children.

I'm only guessing, but there may have been some adults sitting in the pews today who thought, "Why are these little kids taking up our church service...where's our sermon?"

My answer would be, "those kids are your sermon." That's how we should feel in the presence of the Lord, like those uninhibited children whom the Holy Spirit has filled with love for God.

And then I was reminded that "God can use anybody." Even the little children.

On my drive home from church, I was thinking about the two wonderful young ladies that our sons have picked for their wives. Both of them are God-centered. Then I thought about my wife and my own mom and Belinda's mom. All led faith-centered lives. God can use all of us to further his kingdom.

God is good. And God is alive. Amen.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Memories of the Medora Musical


I arrived in Beach, North Dakota, as a cub reporter for the Golden Valley News and the Billings County Pioneer in June 1980. My first story assignment was a feature about the nearby musical in Medora, a restored town that had its hey-day in the 1880s. To this day, I can remember some of the jokes (Why do cowboys turn up the brims of their hats? So they can fit three to a pickup.) and some of the songs (I'm just a girl who can't say 'No.' and Marty Robbin's 'El Paso') that floated on the summer wind that night. The newspaper hired a young college kid to be a photographer. I don’t remember his name anymore, but I remember that he was from Park River, ND, and we traveled together in a little red pickup. At the Musical, I sat beside a family from Lemmon, SD. The mom was married to a pastor and she tried her best to “save” this Montana transplant right before the musical started.

Anyway, that was my introduction to the Medora Musical. Between the photos and my narrative, the weekly paper had a great spread about the Musical.

The Musical always ends with a patriotic number. 
By the next year, I had moved from Beach to Baker, MT. Whenever I needed to get out of town or entertain someone in Baker, I always made sure we went to Medora. The Musical just got better with the passing years. At the time, the stage wasn’t as nice as it is today and we didn’t have chairs, just benches to sit on.

A couple of years later I had moved from Baker to Glendive. When I took my future wife to the Musical, we picked one of those very busy nights and we ended up sitting on the hillside, on a blanket.

My mom and dad had the “enjoyment” of going to the musical with me several times when I was in my early 20s. Now they have an elevator to get you up and down the outdoor amphitheater in style, but in the early days, you had only a never ending flight of stairs that wound down the hill, which my mom despised.

By 1985, I had moved to Bismarck to work for MDU Resources, but my love for the Musical continued. John Stewart, who retired as the MDU vice president of communications in about 1987, joined the Theodore Roosevelt Foundation and helped raise money for improvements to the amphitheater. When it was completed, the Medora Musical had more than a facelift, it was a complete makeover. The fore-mentioned elevator and ample plastic seats made watching the Musical a true night of enjoyment.

Lots of people from Bismarck would come to Medora every night, so it didn’t matter when you went, there were always people you knew at the Cowboy Café or Ye Olde Ice Cream Parlor. When my boys were born, we made it a point to take them with us. One time, when Scott was a little baby, the hostess -- Chuck Wagon Charlie -- came out into the crowd and took Scott back with her to show him off to the audience. At the time, Scott was in love with his little hand and he admired his hand all the time. That was the case this particular night. He held out his arm and started admiring his hand. However, the audience was sure that the little baby was waving to them and they started cheering and applauding as Scott continued to admire his little hand.

Later that night as the musical continued, Scott fell asleep. When we were leaving the amphitheater and riding the elevator, the crowd was still whispering about the little boy who had waved to them from the stage.

As the editor of the employee magazine for MDU, I somehow got my name on a list of North Dakota media…mostly weekly newspapers. Anyway, the Foundation would send me an invitation every year to take my family for an all-expense paid vacation to see the Musical, stay at a Medora motel and take in any of the sites in town that we wanted to. We also got to eat at the various cafes and the pitchfork fondue all free of charge. Well, you can bet that we went to Medora every summer when the boys were growing up…and it was all free.

Over the past 33 years that I’ve lived in or near North Dakota, I’ve been to the Musical more than 30 times. Heck, there were some summers when I went to the Musical a half dozen times, especially when I lived in Baker, Beach and Glendive. I often had all the songs memorized by the time the summer was over.

I don’t know if I’ll get to Medora this summer or not, but if I don’t, I’ll still remember all the memories of the Musical when I drive by the exit to Historic Medora on the Interstate. Over the years, I’ve taken several nephews and both of my sisters to the Musical and I have promoted the Musical to all of my relatives. It’s one of the truly great events in the Flickertail State. If you have the opportunity to go, I would encourage you to attend. It will become one of your favorite memories. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ross, Austin and Fur-ball


I could look it up, but I’m guessing the boys were about nine and 11 when we went to a summer church camp. At the time, attendance at summer camps was being promoted quite heavily in our church. Derek, Scott and I decided to attend a United Methodist camp at Lake Poinsett, near Watertown, South Dakota, because our pastor’s wife was going to be a counselor at the camp.

We left Mandan and drove to Aberdeen where we would spend the night. Upon arriving, we noticed that there was a park on the north end of town that had a bunch of Wizard of Oz statues. At the time, we didn’t know the park was in honor of Frank Baum…who had been a doctor in Aberdeen 40 years earlier. Baum wrote the novel, which the 1939 movie was based on.

Anyway, we reached Aberdeen, found our motel, ate at a Chinese restaurant and then went to the Wizard of Oz park before heading to the motel to swim and spend the night.

The next morning we drove to Lake Poinsett. On the way, we were passed by some people in a station wagon. When they passed us, they drove over a turtle on the highway. The turtle went flying as the car picked it and sent it airborne. We continued to follow the car all the way to the church camp. We paid particular attention to the driver…only to find out later that she was the “nurse” for the camp. Needless to say, we didn’t want to get sick there.

Another thing we noticed was this family with a little boy. After the family had checked the little boy into camp, we couldn’t help but notice the change in the parent’s attitudes. Suddenly, they were happy as a lark and nearly skipped back to their car where they drove off…free of the child…at least for a couple of days.

The little boy’s name was Austin. And we learned a lot about Austin over the next couple of days while we were at camp. Austin was a one-boy wrecking ball. He didn’t want to do anything that you were supposed to…it was if he was allergic to a schedule. Instead, he liked to break things. We made it a point to stay away from Austin and the camp nurse.

There was another boy that caught our eye. His name was Ross. I might be wrong, but it seemed like Ross’s mom had sent him to camp with his dad so they could get to know each other. Ross was a tiny, fragile boy with a pale complexion. His dad was a tall, overweight man. The two were different in nearly every way.

The defining moment, however, was at dinner. We were eating chicken and each of us was given one piece of chicken to start with. The promise was made that we could have more if we wanted it. Anyway, Ross not only devoured his chicken, he was licking any remaining shred of meat off the bones. When a young kitchen helper came by with a plate of full of extra chicken, he asked Ross if he would like another piece.

“Why, of course, he would,” I thought.

But to my astonishment, Ross’s dad said, “No, Ross doesn’t really like chicken.”

Boy, I didn’t see that coming. Like I said, I think they were trying to get to know each other better.

Our time at Lake Poinsett including swimming and canoeing in the lake, lots of activities and even a few sermons. One thing I remember was this young pastor trying to explain the word “abide” to a bunch of children. He finally said that “abide” meant to “hang out.” I thought it the writer of the hymn “Abide with me” might have turned over in his grave if he had been at Lake Poinsett that day.

There was another character at the camp. His name was Monte, and he put me in mind of my mild-mannered brother-in-law Rich Graves. Monte, however, had one really distinguishing characteristic. He was the hairiest man we had ever seen. You could have braided the hair on his legs and arms.

Somebody before us decided to call him “Fur-ball.” So we called him Fur-ball, also. Anyway, Monte had a beautiful voice and would serenade his side of the cabin to sleep every night with a song.

We didn’t really want to go to that side of the cabin because Austin bunked over there, but the thought of hearing Monte sing was too enticing. On our last night at camp, we went to hear Monte sing.

First, however, Monte had to calm Austin down and get him into bed…no easy task. Finally, though, Monte threatened him. He said that if Austin didn’t climb into bed, Monte wasn’t going to sing. It must have been peer pressure that finally got Austin between the sheets. And then Monte started singing a most beautiful song. When it was over, we went back to our side of the cabin knowing we had truly heard the voice of an angel.

The next day, we drove back to Mandan and I never went to another church camp. Heck, I didn’t feel I needed to…I had plenty of stories to tell about Austin, Ross and Fur-ball.  And the stories continue to this day. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Thoughts about a couple of great women

There's a lot of reasons why a boy should love his mom and a husband should love his wife...but the older I get, the more my mind seems to center on one thing...food. Both my mom and my wife are great cooks.

I guess I started thinking about this last Sunday when Belinda was gone and I was in charge of making lunch for dad and me. I used to fancy myself as quite a cook. I remember when the boys were in grade school and they used to write papers about their dad cooking breakfast for them on the weekend. The publicity must have gone to my head because I really did think I was a good cook, the master of both the kitchen and the barbecue grill. Last Sunday, the fame came crashing down on me as I looked at my plate and decided that I can't cook. I have no talent for cooking and if I was left to my own devices, I probably would have starved to death long ago.

That's why I'm so happy to have a mom and a wife. There's something to be said for people who can cook. It's really not so much about having the most expensive cuts of meats or anything else. It's really about preparing a meal so that people want to eat it.

If you gave me the same ingredients as Belinda, whatever I made wouldn't taste as good. I'm sure of it. I'm also not much of a BBQer as my family will attest. A lot of what I cook ends up in the microwave as my family doesn't like eating beef that's still mooing. (I have a Type A personality and I don't seem to have the patience to grill meat until it's done.)

Now, my diet requires very little salt. So something has to take the place of the salt shaker to make food taste good. My mom required the same diet. What I should have done was pay a little more attention and watched how she cooked. But I didn't.

So now when I cook without salt, the food is fairly tasteless. This is in addition to generally not being done or overdone. I'm a fairly tough critic of my cooking, but the real critic is dad. When you put something on his plate and he doesn't like it, you know it. He's not above putting a paper napkin on it and scraping it off into the garbage can. Of course, before that, he'll ask me if I would like to eat it. This really galls me because I'm having a hard time eating as it is...and then he wants to give me his, too? What kind of madman is he? No, I don't want to eat his food. I don't want to eat mine.

So, I go back to my original premise. Thank goodness for the women in my life. I know there are men that can cook and some of the best chefs are men. But not me.

Food is important to me. Some might say it's too important. But let's face it. You need food to be healthy and you need food for energy.

When I was growing up, my mom was my favorite cook. And when you get married, you want your wife to cook just like your mom....but you can't tell her that...so you give her little subtle hints, like, "Boy, I sure like my mom's scalloped potatoes and ham...which you could cook like that."

No, I'm kidding. No matter how bad you want to say that, you never do. Luckily, I married a gal who can cook. And while I'm not in love with her German dishes (although my boys are), I love most everything else that she cooks.

On Wednesdays, she cooks dinner at our church. Now I could cook for dad and me...and hate what I make. Or we could eat out and consume way too much salt. Instead, dad and I make it a point to go up to the church and eat with our church family because we know the food is going to be good and good for us.

So, yes, I loved my mom's cooking and I love Belinda's. So if a way to a man's heart is through his stomach, I'll be sticking pretty close to my wife for a long, long time.