Minnesota, the Mercy State

Something odd is going on. It started when I didn’t file my taxes in April. There was some kind of screw-up in the accountant’s office, the taxes didn’t get done, and I ended up filing both my state and federal returns three weeks late. Great. Pay the penalties. Get on with your life.

Then last Thursday I got a letter from the Minnesota Dept. of Revenue. You’ve seen that letter. You throw it on the kitchen counter and say you’ll open it when you’re more rested or maybe drunk. Because how likely is it that that envelope holds good news? Not very.

I opened the letter. It said: “Your Individual Income Tax account has come up for review because your payment was received late. Because this is the first time you have been late, we have abated (canceled) the penalty. If the penalty has already been paid, you will receive a credit or refund within 30 days.”

And my reaction was, since when? Since when does the government at any level show mercy? How is it that my tax penalty wasn’t automatically and mindlessly sucked into the vortex that is the state’s General Fund? What next? “Free Brats & Beer Night” at the Capitol?

It occurred to me that it would be nice to see this kind of altruism in other unlikely places. When I took a header off my bike last month and chipped my front tooth, did the dentist I’ve been going to for years (and his father before him) say, “Well, this is the first time you’ve come in with a broken tooth, so hey, this one’s on us”? He did not.

And when I brought my then-new car back to the Honda dealer with electrical problems, only to discover that a mouse had been chewing on the wiring, did they say, “This is your fourth Honda and your first service call due to a malicious rodent. Let’s just cover this under the warranty”? They did not.

So I say, Thank you, Minnesota. Thank you, land of 10,000 lakes, the loon and the lady slipper. Thank you, faceless bureaucrat with a human heart. I am proud to call myself a citizen of this fine state!

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The Fourth Star on the Left

LEE'S A STAR
LEE’S A STAR

I added a star to the tattoo on my ankle yesterday in honor of my sixth grandchild, Lee, now 9 months old and definitely star-worthy. It was a little hard finding exactly the right position for star #6 and then it ended up slightly bigger than I expected, which is the kind of thing that happens to me, but nevertheless I’ll be taking my six-star ankle to the grave, unless of course a seventh star comes along, but what the heck, let’s just put the whole damn galaxy on grandma’s foot.

Today five-year-old Cosette called several times saying we needed to go to Target right away so she could show me what to buy for her birthday, just around the corner next September. I felt guilty saying no until she said, okay then, she had to call Auntie Jessica, goodbye. Her brother Toddler Bret calls me regularly as well. For some reason he always seems agitated on the phone. He left me a happy birthday message recently that sounded like he was being attacked by pirates.

On Thursday I drove for an hour through snow and sleet to watch Christian’s wrestling match only to find it was cancelled due to the weather. (It’s almost May, for cripe’s sake.) Now eight, he just started wrestling and takes it very seriously. He came out of his first practice and told his mother, “I can’t show you any moves, Mom, because I might hurt you.”

A few Saturdays ago, 12-year-old Maria came over to get help building a model of the Eiffel Tower for a school project. I have never built the Eiffel Tower before, but apparently my expertise in this area is legendary. We made it out of shoeboxes, of which I have an ample supply. Well, not really out of the shoeboxes but from hundreds of little pieces cut out, glued together and sprayed heavily with black paint. I figured the Eiffel Tower was easier to build than some other famous structures I can think of. Her friend Madeleine chose the Colosseum in Rome, which her father helped her build out of a laundry basket and I’ll bet that was no picnic.

Which brings us to seven-year-old Grace. The last time she was at my house, she watched me applying face makeup with endless questions about what different products were designed to do. I explained, for example, that due to some unfortunate over-tweezing in my youth, I have to pretty much draw on eyebrows now, and that should be a lesson to her not to go around mindlessly plucking at things, and anyway her eyebrows are perfect so it shouldn’t even be an issue. Always take advantage of these little moments to teach, that’s what I say.

NEW STAR JUST SOUTH OF BIG TOE
NEW STAR JUST SOUTH OF BIG TOE

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Go East, They Said

JILL WITH LADY LIBERTY. THIS IS AS CLOSE AS WE GOT BECAUSE WE THOUGHT RIDING THE FERRY WOULD MAKE US SICK. THE BIRD ADDS A NICE TOUCH, I THINK.
JILL WITH LADY LIBERTY. THIS IS AS CLOSE AS WE GOT BECAUSE WE THOUGHT RIDING THE FERRY WOULD MAKE US SICK. THE BIRD ADDS A NICE TOUCH, I THINK.

I was in New York City last week with daughter Jill, where I made a profound discovery. I have lived my entire life in the wrong place. It never felt quite right living here among the tall blondes, and now I know why. My people hie to the East, in the land of small brunettes who know better than to expect anything from people and wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without makeup.

The last trip I took was three years ago with daughter Jessica, when we went to the other coast, where people are mellow and we sat around a lot drinking wine. That was a nice, relaxing trip. This was a nice trip too, but not relaxing. You have to move fast if you want to see everything in New York. I distinctly remember spending three minutes in Grand Central Station, immersing ourselves in the ambience, before briskly moving on to see that big tree at Rockefeller Center. Check and check.

JILL AT ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL. I LIT TWO CANDLES FOR MY MOM AND DAD FOR A DONATION OF $4. ONE OF THE CHEAPER THINGS YOU CAN DO IN NEW YORK.
JILL AT ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL. I LIT TWO CANDLES FOR MY MOM AND DAD FOR A DONATION OF $4. ONE OF THE CHEAPER THINGS YOU CAN DO IN NEW YORK.

You might want to check your credit card limit if you’re planning a trip to New York. The restaurants, the shows, the shopping. By the end of the week, I had given up any shred of restraint and was whipping out my Visa card like I was Sarah Jessica Parker.

We bought subway passes, thinking to save a few bucks on cabs, but we got disgusted after a few days and gave up. It isn’t that the people are weird or the subways dangerous; it’s that you can’t figure out where the hell you are when you get off and have to walk a block in the wrong direction before you figure it out. I don’t think the New Yorkians really want strangers on their subways, as they have opted for obscure neighborhood names on the platform signs in lieu of universally recognized directionals (N, S, E, W).

So we took a lot of taxis, and got to know a lot of cab drivers. Some mute, some chatty, all maniacs. There are traffic lanes, but driving in them is completely optional. The cops don’t care. Who are they going to stop? Everyone?

Let us hurry up as fast as we can, ladies, driving within inches of the cars on either side of us and then slamming on the brakes, because there is no way we’re going to make it around that sanitation truck and through the yellow light without taking out the guy riding his skateboard BETWEEN THE MOVING CARS. But you can try, can’t you.

IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME, SO THERE ARE A LOT OF CHARACTERS WALKING AROUND. YOU CAN TAKE THEIR PICTURE IF YOU TIP THEM.
IT’S CHRISTMAS TIME, SO THERE ARE A LOT OF CHARACTERS WALKING AROUND. YOU CAN TAKE THEIR PICTURE IF YOU TIP THEM.

We saw three Broadway shows in New York, which you can do for roughly the cost of a small pony. Just my opinion, of course, but the best of the three was Newsies, the most overrated was The Book of Mormon and the most disappointing was Chicago, only because someone thought casting Billy Ray Cyrus as Billy Flynn for a holiday run was a good idea.

But that’s okay. The older I get the more I think I’d better start wasting my money on some fun stuff. Does anyone really want to go to their grave thinking, “Thank God. I was able to leave every penny I had to the kids.”

CENTRAL PARK, NOVEMBER 2012
CENTRAL PARK, NOVEMBER 2012

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Saturday With Grace

THE SKY OVER PARKER’S LAKE – BY GRACE, AGE 7

My granddaughter Grace, who just turned seven, came over last Saturday to visit and spend the night. Gracie is sort of quiet and reserved, so it isn’t entirely clear how she ended up in the family. Even when she’s feeling giggly, it’s a subdued kind of giggly. No need to make a spectacle of yourself. There are plenty of others around to do that.

Grace and I did several subdued, tasteful things together. She designed a number of lovely outfits on the computer and printed them out. We played Cootie and she beat me twice, fair and square. She’s a Cootie master. We went out to eat and she found every word in the Wordfind on her placemat. (She’s only going into first grade but already can read words like marshmallow.) We mowed the grass and watered the pots.

I showed Grace my blog and asked her if she would like to write something. She said she would. Here it is.

I LOVE MY GRAMMA BECAUSE SHE LOVES ME SO MUCH SHE WILL LOVE ME NO ,MATTER WHAT.
MY NAME IS GRACE. MY BEST FREIEND IS GRACE
H. WE PLAY GAMS, TO GETHER.
ME AND MY GRAMMA ARE GOING TO TAK PICTURES OF NATURE.

Oh yes, we also drove to a little nearby lake and walked around, and Grace took lots of pictures, 134 to be exact. Here are some pictures she took of clouds. Because why not.

At the end of the day, Gracie and I blew up the airbed in the living room and watched a movie. And when the movie was over we went to sleep, because we were already in our bed!

Life is hard a fair amount of the time. We get sad and tired and overworked. Sometimes it seems like things will never sort themselves out, and we will never have a happy or restful thought again. Then it is good to have a grandchild like Grace around.

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Let Freedom Ring…But Not Too Loud

I GOTTA GET ME ONE OF THESE.

Time again to celebrate America’s #1 national holiday and favorite excuse to let loose. While we proudly wave our flags and grill our brats (a German invention, I believe), let us not forget what the day is all about, i.e., our independence from those damn Brits, who wanted to tax us for things like tea and sugar. We’ve built a nice little country here, with an income tax rate of 10 to 35 percent admittedly, but at least we have our own flag and national bird.

In the meantime, be careful with those fireworks, which we used to have to buy across the border in Wisconsin but which are now available at fine retailers everywhere. Well, not the big stuff that’s capable of launching a small rowboat into outer space – this is still the state settled by serious Germans and Scandinavians after all – but nonexplosive, nonaerial things like sparklers and party poppers, which should be more than enough fun for anybody.

And while we’re on the subject, don’t forget to… Drive safely. Swim with a buddy. Use sunblock (SPF 30 or more). Don’t leave the potato salad out in the sun. Watch out for poison ivy (three serrated leaves per stem). Check the kids for ticks. Wear a life jacket in the boat (it’s the law). And if you haven’t had a tetanus shot within the last ten years, you might want to stop at the clinic before heading up North. The 4th of July – what fun!

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Photo: Google Images, micsmarket.com
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Again With the Weather

CURIOUS MINNESOTANS WANT TO KNOW–WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?

Remember 2011 and the spring that’s wasn’t? Winter in its perversity went on and on. And on. People had about resigned themselves to never wearing flip-flops again, when out of nowhere came summer. Not a great summer – backyard gardens were fairly shot, refusing to provide adequate salad fixings – but summer nonetheless.

Now here we are, March again, a complete turnaround from last year weather-wise, but it looks like it might very well be another year without a spring. Last year on this date the temperature was 18˚F with a windchill of 10˚F. This past week temps were in the 70s, almost 80˚ last Sunday. At last, you say, payback for Not-Spring 2011. We should be thrilled… yet somehow it’s just unsettling. We fall into bed early and still can’t seem to get enough sleep. We don’t know what clothes to put on in the morning. (What did I do with those pink capris? Is it safe to put away the down vest?) Allergy and sinus sufferers curse the pollen and the air pressure.

It’s Minnesota, it’s March, and as usual, we are out of sorts.

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Photo: Google Images, margekatherine.com
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New Year’s with The Caramels – Chewy!

So I was idly surfing Google Images recently (and who doesn’t do that?) when I ran across this picture, which started me wondering what it might be like if the Daughters and I had taken up lounge singing. This is the kind of thing that happens when you don’t have a date for New Year’s Eve.


MOI, JESSIE IN HER BLONDE WIG PHASE, JILLY AND BABY GINA

It’s true! The Caramels are back, out of rehab and performing live on stage this New Year’s Eve at the beautiful Weewahatchee VFW in beautiful Weewahatchee, Minnesota. Let us sweeten your night with all-new arrangements of our biggest hits, including “I’m Itching for You, Calomine,” “Walter on My Mind,” “I’m Just A Package Marked Fragile” and, of course, “You Don’t Know the Meaning of Auld Lang Syne.”

But hurry – tickets are going fast. Just $5 gets you a rollicking good time and all the champagne punch you can drink!

Tout Sweet!

“There will be a rain dance Friday night, weather permitting.” –George Carlin

So the weather. There’s just no predicting it. It’s only December 7. and we’ve already had two snowstorms, both with horrible timing. Minnesota winters aren’t nearly as cold as some people think, but they make up for it in perversity.

I lost two trees in that first heavy snowstorm on November 12. I didn’t know it till the thirteenth, when I came home from the hospital, all medicated up and miserable, and found them blocking the driveway. It was a shock. My daughter Jessica, who was driving me home after spending the night in one of those plastic-covered bed-chairs the hospital provides as a deterrent, was driving a little fast, because the street hadn’t been plowed yet (big surprise) and when that happens you have to take a good run at the driveway lest you miss it and end up stuck down in the cul-de-sac. So when she came around the curve and saw the downed trees, she decided to take a quick left past the mailbox and into the front yard instead, where she did indeed get stuck. (To be fair, I may have been screaming instructions at her.)

So there we were. Jessica was wondering, “How am I going to get my bootless, drugged-up mother into the house?” and I was thinking, “For the love of God, will I always be at the mercy of the fates and Minnesota weather?” Then I just opened the car door and, weaving a little, stomped into the house.

Last Friday’s snowstorm wasn’t as wet or heavy, but it lasted all day, and by the time I set out for Maria and Grace’s dance recital that night, every car on the freeway had given up trying to find a lane and simply stopped, as cars on the freeway will do for no apparent reason. I mushed on for 45 minutes before I turned around and mushed back home.

We live in Minnesota. We endure. The trees were cleared out of the driveway, the car was dug out, and there was a matinee performance of the dance recital on Saturday. Big cold snap coming next week.