In Grace Land



My granddaughter Grace turned ten last week. I think she’s happy about it. She isn’t one to call attention to herself by jumping up and down screaming, “Double digits! Double digits!” or anything. Actually, it’s hard to believe that Grace is descended from a long line of loud, opinionated women.

She spent the night at my house a few days ago. We were sitting on the sofa, Gracie watching a movie and playing a game on my Kindle while I read a book and felt guilty. Just as I was thinking we should be doing something more stimulating, she said, “This is nice.” Wait, what? Grace is good with this? Yes! Grace is having a good time!

She is still an avid shutterbug. I can’t tell you how many pictures I have on my smartphone of Grace’s eyeballs and the inside of her mouth, to say nothing of the random strangers she shoots out the car window while I’m driving. “Who the hell is this?” I wonder later, scrolling through shots of sweaty runners and dog-walkers and, oh look, here’s another picture of Grace’s feet. While I remain technologically impaired, she manipulates the bells and whistles on my phone with ease. I think this amuses her, although she is too polite to say so.

Gracie has started playing volleyball and softball, which she seems to like and have an aptitude for. Needless to say, she never complains about the officiating. She still likes to paint and draw. Here’s a picture of me bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mrs. Incredible.


In honor of Grace reaching the decade mark, I rummaged through some things I wrote several years ago but never posted. This is from Feb. 10, 2010, when she was four:

“I helped daughter Jill paint her bathroom on Saturday. It’s a small bathroom that should have taken about two hours to paint but ended up taking five, what with the unplanned trips to Home Depot and the three observers aged four, five and nine lined up outside the bathroom door on two kiddy chairs and one overturned bucket (Christian still in his pajamas and Grace in her tutu and flowered coronet), arguing that they were too old enough to paint. Not that they thought their mother would cave, but I might be co-opted to use my influence on their behalf.  I didn’t crack though. I was firm. I told them they could paint when they come to my house. I have a lot of leftover cans of paint in the basement, so I figure I can just let them have at the concrete blocks, and how bad could it be?”

Well, I never did let them loose in the basement. I’m indulgent, but I’m not a fool.

Ah, Gracie Girl. How did you get to be ten so soon? When did you stop wearing tutus and put on a baseball cap? And when another ten years have passed, will you still sit with me on the sofa and say, “This is nice, Grandma”?



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On Three



My youngest grandchild, Lee, turned three this week. He’s a funny little kid. He keeps his own counsel, although he is always clear about what he wants. This is him three years ago, the youngest of six grandkids and resigned to his fate, as it were…

lee in carseat


Nothing has changed much. He’s not overly demanding (for three), but he will not be deterred. At the moment he wants Juicy Fruit gum. That is my sole role and purpose in life, as far as he is concerned: purveyor of Juicy Fruit gum. It doesn’t matter if I say I don’t have any gum, I forgot the gum, sorry. Five minutes later he is back, wanting gum. It isn’t that I don’t want him to have gum, it’s that invariably he does one of two things. The first is to swallow it.

Lee: Grandma, can I have gum?
Me: I just gave you gum. What happened to it? Did you swallow it?
Lee: No.
Me: Where is it?
(He points to his tummy.)
Me: It’s in your tummy?
Lee: Yes.
Me: No, no, you have to spit it out when you’re finished! Just chew it and spit it out. Don’t swallow it, okay?
Lee: Okay.

I give him another stick of gum. He doesn’t swallow it. This is the second thing he does: after two minutes he spits it out. Then he wants more gum. It’s like playing Juicy Fruit Monopoly. Pass Go, Collect Gum. I can only hope that at some point I will be bankrupt.

He is a smart kid, but sometimes he still has trouble telling truth from not-truth…

Gina: Lee, wash your hands for supper.
Lee: Did.
Gina: No, I don’t think so. Go wash your hands for supper.
Lee: Did.
Gina: Lee, if you don’t wash your hands, no pudding cup for dessert.
Lee: Okay. (He leaves for the bathroom.)

This works because her children know Mom means what she says. She doesn’t raise her voice or repeat herself. You simply will not get a pudding cup, no way, no how. This is starkly different from their interactions with me. He doesn’t believe me when I say I have no gum, and there is precedent for that.

Lee: Grandma, do you have gum?
Me: Oh, I forgot to bring gum! I’m so sorry.
Lee: Grandma, can I have gum?
Me: No, no gum right now.
Lee: Can I have gum?
Me: After dinner you can have gum.
Lee: Can I have gum?
Me: Okay.

Sometimes he wants a Tootsie Roll Pop instead of gum. There is no point in describing what that conversation is like. You have already heard the gum story.

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Because He’s Five, That’s Why



My grandson Bret Jr. turned five yesterday. He marked the occasion by giving himself a Minion haircut (see photo), in preparation for his Minion-themed birthday party. And because, he says, it looks cool. Well, you can see the amazing resemblance…


Come to think of it, my own children were about five when they decided to try their hand at cosmetology, although I don’t recall that they started at the top of their heads, so maybe that’s a boy thing.

He got a fair share of Minion-related birthday presents, of course, and one friend gave him a book on raising chickens, along with a plastic chicken feeder and watering dish. He and his sister are desperate to raise chickens in their backyard. Well, mostly his sister, but he is one of her biggest supporters. You might think they live out on a country road somewhere, but they actually live in a heavily populated suburb of St. Paul. Nevertheless, their father is going to check with the city to see how many chickens they can have, while their mother, who suffers from severe ornithophobia, says she is willing to fry up the eggs. Because that’s how they are. This simply means that I will have to spend a portion of every visit outside looking at the chickens and exclaiming over the chickens and trying to avoid being pecked.

Anyway, Bret. A happy, smart, funny little boy who still assumes his seven-year-old sister knows more than I do about most things but doesn’t follow her around as blindly as he did two or three years ago. He is into action heroes, which is why I’ve had a little 5-inch man lying on the box next to my back door for a couple of months with instructions not to let anyone move him. I don’t.



Yes, birthday season is upon us. I have two more grandkid birthdays coming up in about a week. It wears me out some, but it is seldom boring.



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Fifteen and Counting



My oldest granddaughter, Maria, turned 15 today. I know. How is such a thing even possible? The very word, grandCHILD, proclaims the absurdity of it.

To mark this unprecedented event, the almost-a-woman had a slumber party at my house last night, as people that age are wont to do, simply because I have a big empty bedroom and almost limitless tolerance. Her brother had a sleepover here about a week ago. You might think five 10- and 11-year-od boys unparalleled in their ability to create mayhem, but I’d have to say, for sheer volume and exuberance, six teenage girls put five preteen boys to shame.





The girls played some crazy games they made up and listened to music I never heard before. About the time they started concocting things in the kitchen with giant marshmallows and Hershey bars, I went to bed. There are times when it’s a kind of blessing to be semi-deaf. I slept quite soundly until 7 am, unlike Maria’s mother, who needed a good nap today.

When I think of my own teenage slumber parties, I recall a rather controlled group of almost-women, although I realize now that can’t possibly have been the case. It seems to me there was a lot of hair-arranging and angst involved. Someone’s bra may have ended up in the freezer, but other than that, no 1960s mother would have let us near the family kitchen.



Anyway, it seems appropriate at this time to drag out one of my favorite Maria stories…

“One day when the family was over, I didn’t think much of it when I saw 8-year-old Maria cutting up a grapefruit in the kitchen. After everyone left, I sat down to read for awhile, then headed for bed. I went upstairs, turned on the bedroom light, and saw a chunk of pink grapefruit stuck on the wall with a hat pin. Which probably wouldn’t have been a big deal except that I had just been reading The Killing Floor by Lee Child, which is exactly what it sounds like, and at first glance the piece of grapefruit looked remarkably like a piece of human flesh to me and it took about ten minutes for the hysteria to subside. I ask you, what would possess a child to pin grapefruit to her grandmother’s bedroom wall? Truly, it is troubling to me.”

I love that story. And surprisingly, Maria has not turned into someone who can’t be trusted with sharp objects. She is in fact a sweet, soft-spoken, thoughtful young woman. This is a good thing, so now I will just shut up about it.


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My grandson Christian turned 11 today. It seems like only yesterday he was a toddler throwing the butter dish out the kitchen door. Ah, good times.

I never had any sons or brothers, so my grandsons are a continuing source of wonder and amusement for me: “Look at that! Boys do that. They’re just so different, aren’t they?” And as Christian is the oldest, I tend to scrutinize his behavior, sort of like a marine biologist observing a fascinating new species of plankton.

I don’t know if he is representative of all 11-year-old boys, but I suspect he isn’t far off the mark. I know it isn’t cool to wear a superhero T-shirt when you’re 11. I know it’s possible to put a 1,000-pc. Lego set together in under a day – don’t ask me how, but it is. And I know black is the preferred color for backpacks. He likes to play baseball and basketball because he’s good at it. I hope he never wants to play football because then I’d have to pretend to be happy.

Our conversation at his birthday party yesterday went like this:

“Christian, what’s it like turning eleven?”
“It’s okay.”
“How was camp?” (Because he was away at camp last week.)
“How’s baseball going?”

We can go on like this for hours.

The butter dish episode is buried in the archives here somewhere. Long story short, while their parents were in the process of moving one day, I babysat 11-month-old Grace and little Christian, who had just turned two and was pretty much fed up with the whole relocation thing and basically just wanted his mother and got mad and threw the butter and the plastic butter dish out the kitchen door, although it landed right-side up, so no harm done. Come to think of it, that may have been the same year he broke my nose in a bizarre swing set incident. Oh, I don’t know, the good times all blend together after a while.

But mostly I want to say that he has grown into an amazingly kindhearted and thoughtful kid. He will let his two little boy cousins beat on him endlessly and never tell them to knock it off. He knows right from wrong and puts up with all sorts of adult craziness. He tolerates it when I kiss him (on the forehead). However, he stubbornly refuses to stop being allergic to half the food groups on the FDA pyramid. Maybe when he hits high school.


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Home Again, Home Again

Home. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when I turned onto the road to my house, I wept, I really did. “Home,” I said, “home,” and blew my nose. Who knew?

I came back with an aching back and bronchitis, but I’m not sorry I went. I’m glad I got to see Santa Fe and Taos and Manitou Springs. America is vast and beautiful. You have to drive across it and see it at ground level to realize that.

So what have we learned? It is good to get away by yourself sometimes. I would travel alone again but I’d fly next time. I am simply too old and achy now to drive across country without someone to spot me on the driving. And navigate.

Living out of your car and hotel rooms gets old rather quickly. It isn’t normal. It’s discombobulating.

You don’t need fifteen books for a two-week trip. Thirty bottles of water is about right though.

There is road construction going on in every state in this country. For sheer number of projects and inconvenience though, Minnesota gets a big gold star. Why, I wonder, do they close the freeway down to one lane for five miles in either direction of the small area where they are actually working. Perhaps I will write Amy Klobuchar, and she can get to the bottom of it.

But did I find enlightenment? Yes, I think I had a couple of enlightening moments. I’m not going to go into the details, but I will say that enlightenment lies somewhere between your idea of what it should be and what you get. And I remembered things I know very well but tend to forget.

What I have is immeasurable. I have three daughters who are loving, compassionate and fun to be with. I have three sons-in-law who are kind, honest men. I have six grandchildren who are a joy in more ways than I can name. I have amazing friends, good people who persevere in life and keep trying to do what’s right. And all these people put up with me – my laziness, forgetfulness, impatience and weird sense of humor. I have done nothing to deserve all this, but there you are. It is good to go alone into the desert once in a while. It wakes you right up.


grandsons at wedding

Buca pic

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Friday in the Rock Garden



Day 10: Manitou Springs, Colorado, is a little resort town with plenty of souvenir shops and not much else. It is, however, just minutes from the Garden of the Gods, and that is everything. I did a little hiking through the amazing sandstone rock formations, but mostly just drove the loopy roads through the park, pulling off now and then to take photos that can never do justice to the real thing. It was busy in the garden – I can’t imagine what it’s like mid-summer – and how is it that all the tourists except you are so annoying?

Well, I am just hobbling around now. Pulled the heating pad out of the trunk last night for my back. Also, no one told me that the mountain air can cause severe nasal congestion. I was going to take the train up to the top of Pikes Peak today, but I’m afraid my head will explode at 14,000 feet. So instead, I think I will start moving in the direction of home. I am looking forward to kissing the grandkids and sitting on the porch with a good book, thinking about all the yard work I should be doing. Travel is good – it grows your knowledge and broadens your horizons. Home is good too.

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