Holy Laughter

Holy Laughter

There are many life tools I don’t possess. Like the left-brained aptitude to remember the quadratic formula. Or the wrist coordination to throw a dart in a straight line. But what I do have in my belt is a deep appreciation for silly humor and a big laugh.

In other words, it doesn’t take much to send me into a hearty cackle that sounds like a hen after it lays an egg.

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A Million Little Letting Go’s

A Million Little Letting Go’s

It’s a monumental month in my tiny corner of the world. Two reasons. First, I turn a milestone age with a big fat zero in it. I’m entirely grateful but not quite ready to see the full number in print here. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Secondly, this is also the month my first-born crosses the legal threshold into adulthood.

Adulthood.

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False Narratives

False Narratives

When I was in elementary school, my family hosted an exchange student from Japan. Her name was Yoshimi. We were already a family of eleven, so I suppose my parents figured what’s one more?

About a month before her arrival, I saw a scene in some movie while at a friend’s house that slithered into my young, impressionable brain like a snake. It involved a Japanese college girl viciously attacking a Caucasian girl from behind while she was jogging on campus.

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The Calm, Happy Leaf

The Calm, Happy Leaf

“Look at that leaf!” It’s the first one to change on our whole street!” my middle school daughter proclaimed proudly from the passenger seat.

Absorbed in my own thoughts, I pulled up into the driveway and shifted into park. She was stretching her neck to look out the window at the tall ash tree next to our garage.

We grabbed our bags and got out of the car. Then I looked up, too. Sure enough, way at the tippy top, tucked amid a mass of green, was a single scarlet gold leaf fluttering in the gentle Autumn breeze.

Feeling a little run down lately, it felt good to take pause and connect with nature. Glancing upward with the sun and blue sky warming my face, my first thought gazing at the leaf was: It looks so calm and happy.  

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The Heart of a Mom’s Summer Chore Charts

The Heart of a Mom’s Summer Chore Charts

Just now, I returned from floating on a silver raft.

Not far from a quaint wooden dock.

I was stretched out on my stomach in my skirted swimsuit with the side of my face pressed against the hot plastic.

The lake, clean enough to drink, was perfect as glass. I scooped up a few handfuls and watched it drip through my fingertips into widening ripples.

As the waves of a distant boat rocked gently beneath me and lapped against the shore, I dozed in and out of a peaceful bliss . . . alone with the big blue sky and happy birds.

But then the doggone clothes dryer buzzer went off.

Poof! Daydream over.

Sigh. Back to the task at hand—making summer chore charts for my two teens and a tween.

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The Blueprint for Motherhood

The Blueprint for Motherhood

Typically, a blueprint for any design or formation provides clear boundaries, dimensions, and timelines so we know exactly what to do to achieve the desired result.

However, the blueprint for motherhood—the most complex endeavor of any other on earth—does no such thing. It does, though, supply a tsunami of biochemical reactions and key mechanisms that keep us perpetually vigilant and help us discern what’s best.

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Reframing My Perspective

Reframing My Perspective

Those microscopic moments when my mind is suspended in a rare, unworried state are like those bubbles my kids used to blow through wands and chase around in the driveway. Iridescent orbs stretching into the sunshine—glimmering but fleeting.

Such a moment might occur when . . .

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Ice Cream and “I Do”

Ice Cream and “I Do”

I was hired by a local magazine recently to write a feature story about a new documentary called I Do?” and it got me thinking about my own I Do.

After making it through a rough patch in his 29-year marriage to Minnesota news legend Joan Steffend, Director Joe Brandmeier hit the road to talk to other couples about “this crazy concept of marriage.”

One question he explores is When we say “I do” . . .  what exactly do we say “yes” to?

I was pondering pretty much the same thing 22-and-a-half years ago as I pulled up in my red Toyota Tercel to a US postal box, located on a street corner near the tall fancy building I worked in at the time.

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Trying to Make SCENTS of It All

Trying to Make SCENTS of It All

Although our five senses are best when in sync, research shows smell has the leading edge on memory recollection.

For me, born and raised in Minnesota, some of the most powerful triggers are seasonal scents. Fishy lake water. The earthiness of dried leaves and bonfires. Crisp falling snow. Soil after a light rain.

Cedar is another sure trigger. On the rare occasion I get a whiff of it, I’m reminded of a walk-in closet in the basement of my childhood home.

There was a long white string hanging from the ceiling light fixture. When you pulled it, a plethora of boxes, shelves, and racks loaded with all kinds of old relics, including a few of my mom’s old purses, shoes, and dresses sparkled like a treasure trove.

Then there’s bus diesel! A quick pass by those toxic fumes, and I’m all over the map.

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When It Feels Like the Earth Is Falling

When It Feels Like the Earth Is Falling

There’s something about the middle of the night that can really rile up my thoughts.

It’s 3 a.m. My mind is working overtime. I can’t fall back to sleep.

When this happens, I’ll often grab my pillow, then go and sprawl out on the living room couch to see if a new location will help. When that doesn’t work, I come here to my little wooden desk, turn on the white lamp, and write.

Typically, I love this time of year. In a few weeks, I’ll be taking cranberry colored walks and family drives on tree-lined roads. Sampling apples and local honey. Wearing slippers and flannels. Smelling tailgate chili in the crock-pot.

But on this shadowy night, I’m feeling more gravity than release.

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Female Brains and Fireworks

Female Brains and Fireworks

For centuries, scientists have tried to map the female brain. While its exterior shape may be slightly smaller than its male counterpart, its inner circuitry is vast, complex, and spectacular.

It’s also wired for worry.

Take my midlife mom brain for example:

If you don’t know me well, you might think I’m quiet and reserved.

But if someone were to remove the lid to my egghead, with let’s say a can opener, you’d probably have to run for cover from the slew of to-dos, logistics, longings, concerns, and unresolved dilemmas that would surely burst out of my cortex and jello-y wrinkled lobes like a deafening pyrotechnic display.

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The Gift for Flight

The Gift for Flight

I’m so incredibly honored to have a story published on Grown and Flown today, a wonderful and wise resource where parenting never ends.

The title is “The Gift I Need To Give My Children So Their Wings Are Real.” It’s about the grueling endeavor of seeing our kids struggle or turn corners and the shiny parenting nugget I picked up while wondering in a pit of panic recently that is helping me pause before always rushing in.

Here’s a sneak preview:

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Back to Real Life

Back to Real Life

As my husband makes the final turn of our 20-minute drive home from the airport, our car’s headlights cast a sweep of yellow light across the darkened neighborhood. Until at last, the heavens open up, the choirs of angels sing, and our 1980s two-story at the end of the cul-de-sac is illuminated like a gold gilded vessel.

“Ok, everybody grab your stuff!” husband bellows back to Tween, Teen#1, and Teen#2—now tanned, peeling, and smooshed together in the middle row. Sounds of buckles unbuckling, luggage wheels racing on concrete, and siblings chattering about who gets the main bathroom first fill the late night air.

This morning we were 1600 miles away, basking in our last few hours of a week in tropical paradise including a couple of days in Disney’s magical land of make believe. Tonight, we’re back in Minnesota where people build houses on ice and eat tater-tot hot dish on a stick, and suddenly—there’s no place we’d rather be.

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Life is Like a Crate of Oranges

Life is Like a Crate of Oranges

Oranges are rich, succulent, and dripping with nutrients.

They’re also symbolic of the day Great Grandpa Conrad and his Chrysler Coupe crashed into a concrete wall.

According to my mom, Conrad was a tall, quiet man of thin frame and generous spirit who took his kids fishing and complimented his wife on her cooking on a regular basis. His family was his pride and joy. And so was his shiny blue car.

One day, feeling a little restless as a retired railroad agent in need of an adventure, Conrad packed a small suitcase.

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Hello Deer with the Broken Ear

Hello Deer with the Broken Ear

Empty water bottles and overdue library books roll backward, then forward on the floor of the passenger seat as I pull up to my parents’ eclectic, dated abode and shift into park.

After grabbing my stuff from the back seat, I climb out of my SUV that has duct tape holding together the side view mirror. There on the other side of the car, as always, perched next to the big tree that shades their driveway, is the little ceramic deer with an old bandage wrapped around one of its shoddy ears.

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HERE IN THE MIDDLE Is Here!

HERE IN THE MIDDLE Is Here!

To know me, right here and now, is to know I’m smack dab in the middle.

In the middle of my predicted lifespan (according to one of those online longevity calculators).

In the middle of figuring out how to get everybody everywhere and what to make for dinner again and again.

In the middle of rebuilding a career.

And above all, smack dab in the middle of tending to (and treasuring!) two generations at once: my blossoming children in the throes of their adolescent years on one end; my wise, graciously weathered, white-haired parents in the throes of their sunset years on the other. Continue reading

The Force of Goodness

The Force of Goodness

(Posted on Sept. 2016)

In the thick of recent summer crazies, while schlepping kids around in my clunky, dilapidated Suburban Chevrolet with no working air-conditioner like a New York City Uber in broiling flannels, I fantasized a rap parody. It featured me busting a move in yoga pants out in the cul-de-sac, buzzed on espresso and cocoa nibs, after the kids left for school.

But, when school did finally start the day after Labor day, I didn’t feel much like busting a move.

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Widening Ripples

Widening Ripples

I have a scar on my left foot. It’s about an inch wide, two inches long, and looks like a fat minnow without fins.

The scar is a rippling reminder of a late summer day, nearly four decades ago, when I asked my big brother to give me a buck on the back of his bike to a friend’s house about a mile down our rural road.

He was happy to taxi me and my long pigtails flying in the wind to the desired destination. Somehow, though, as we were riding along, sun splashing in our faces, my foot got caught in the spokes of the back wheel causing the bike to jolt us off and twist my foot like a pretzel.

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The Story Before the Story

The Story Before the Story

My dad as a young boy would have climbed the tallest mountain for his mother if he could have. But all he had available to him that afternoon while standing outside her hospital room window was a telephone pole.

Since kids weren’t allowed in the Intensive Care Unit, Bobby, as they called him, then 7 or 8, decided to take matters into his own hands (which he still often does) in order to wave hello and goodbye to his mother before the cancer swooped her away.

Dressed in his late 1930s after-school garb, which I picture in my mind to be an old pair of knickers, a t-shirt and knee socks, he climbed the telephone pole located about fifty yards from her hospital room window, no doubt scraping his scrawny ankles on the way up.

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Generations of Mothers

Generations of Mothers

In my maternal great-grandmother Lillian’s dining room, next to the buffet that held her special-occasion silverware, was a lovely little writing desk with a feather quill, according to my mom.

To the right of the desk was a full-length closet door mirror. If you turned to look into the mirror while sitting at the desk, you’d almost think there were more and more rooms tunneling deeper inside it.

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When Pieces of Us Get Swooped Away by Motherhood

When Pieces of Us Get Swooped Away by Motherhood

Leaning up against our piano, across from my little white desk where I’m sitting right now, is an old steel-string guitar in a case that won’t snap shut anymore. I used to play it a little.

I bought it when I was in my early 20s on a whim at Homestead Pickin’ Parlor, a quirky little music shop next door to where I worked for an adult literacy program in the basement of a used furniture store. My first “real job” out of college.
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If I Were a Tree

If I Were a Tree

I’ll never be a tree, of course. But if I were one, I’ve been thinking lately I’d want to be a Poplar.

There’s such beauty and poise in her pointedness that directs our eyes to the sky and God’s miracles. But her true beauty is mostly unseen in her fortitude even in the most unforgiving conditions and in her roots that unfold and extend beneath the soil like a motherly octopus.

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Roll Call

Roll Call

I’ll never forget roll call on that first day of 9th grade English class.

Immediately after my balding, bearded, charismatic teacher in rounded spectacles—whom I’ll refer to as Mr. G—read my name from the roster, and I meekly said, “here,” he looked up at me, walked toward my desk located five rows back along the wall, and announced, “Class, I’d like you all to meet the younger sister of one of my favorite students.”

Yep, that was my debut into English class that first year of high school.

Mr. G was one of those teachers you wanted to please. His big, Carpe Diem personality towered over his petite physical stature. If he saw something special in you, a kernel of greatness—well, that was really something.

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After the Snowflakes Settle

After the Snowflakes Settle

Some of our children’s memories will sparkle and glisten while others fade. I like to imagine the sparkling ones as scenes in a snow globe that come into clear view after it’s shaken and the snowflakes settle.

This morning, a scene of me as a young girl in long pigtails sitting on the front doorstep of a red brick house playing jacks appeared. As long as I had my little cloth pouch with ten six-pronged jacks and a rubber bouncy ball in my pocket, I never had reason to be bored.

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The Magical Mirror

The Magical Mirror

When I look in the mirror today, I see a woman’s face crossing over into midlife. The changes in the delicate skin around and within the arcs beneath her eyes are a little unnerving.

In my mind, I’m not quite there yet. I want to tilt the mirror to a different angle, modify the light, or wipe away the years with my sleeve like fog from a steamy shower.

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“Stay True” Little Chalky, Corn-syrupy Affirmations

“Stay True” Little Chalky, Corn-syrupy Affirmations

A lot of us are feeling the winter doldrums in full force right now.

Part of it is the cold weather and lack of sun.

Part of it, since I’m updating this post for 2017, is post-election anxiety.

And another part, for me anyway, a girl who made her debut into this crazy world during the stark of a Minnesota winter, is the realization I’m a year older again. If I stand on my tippy toes, I can peer into the other side of the half-century mark.

For the past few years, between my late January birthday and Valentine’s Day, my moods swing back and forth as though I’m in the front seat of Steel Venom, that U-shaped inverted roller coaster at Valleyfair my kids coaxed me into riding on a couple years ago.

All I can say when I feel this way is . . . thank goodness for conversation hearts.

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Hmmmmmm (a silly, little grammar lesson)

Hmmmmmm (a silly, little grammar lesson)

“Mommy, look, the sky is all blue and white,” my first-born says a decade ago while buckled in her booster seat in the back of the car on the way to preschool.

I glance in the rear-view mirror and see her stretching her neck to see more sky, the sun splashing on her little brunette bob haircut that frames her face like Dora the Explorer, her favorite back then.

“Yeah, those clouds sure are fluffy aren’t they? I wish I could have one as my pillow,” I say.

“Me, too,” she says.

“How do you think we might get one?” I ask.

“Hmmmmmm. I think I might need my stool,” she says.

“Hmmmmmm. I think so, too. I say.

Apparently the latest New Year’s trend is to choose a word of the year instead of resolutions that set us up for failure. So I’ve decided—in  honor of that inquisitive little moment of infinite possibilities lodged in my memories and recorded in my journal—that my word of the year is going to be Hmmmmmm.

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I Only Knew Her Peanut-Butter-Lovin’ Son from Fliers Taped on Storefronts

I Only Knew Her Peanut-Butter-Lovin’ Son from Fliers Taped on Storefronts

Author’s Notes: I published this essay on the 26th anniversary of Jacob’s disappearance. As we approach the 27th anniversary, it has recently been announced his remains have been found and his killer, Danny Heinrich, has confessed. A link to the news report is located at the end of this essay. My heart goes out to the Wetterling family. I am deeply grateful to them for all they’ve done to empower the rest of us in our efforts to keep our children safe. 


As I look out my kitchen window and watch leaves fall from trees, I sometimes wonder what her quiet moments are like, still grieving the son who used to dive onto her bed like Superman.

Jacob Erwin Wetterling. Snatched into oblivion at the age of 11 on Oct. 22, 1989, by a masked gunman quarter-mile from his home and down the country road from my college campus in rural St. Joseph, Minnesota.

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