Growing up and growing old

First of all, so as to not leave you hangin,‘ we made it through the Boundary Waters 2017 without incident. I think there may have been more pain and agony in the back of Canoe #1, but that beast of burden shoulder of Scott’s thankfully chose not to rear it’s truly ugly head that week and trap us in the wilderness. The flu flew the coop just in time for departure, and the shoulder cooperated as much as could be expected. As always, it was a good trip.

And after a successful paddle it was time to prepare for the D-Day of the total shouder replacement, wrapping up a million husband projects that are much better done with two arms. Siding was scrubbed, sheds were cleaned, oil was changed, the lawn was given one final run of perfection before being turned over to the rest of the not-quite-so-appreciative-of-straight-lines-and-tight-corners mowers in the family.

And now we are proud to announce…

There’s a new addition to the family.

On Monday a brand spankin’ new, shiny like grandma’s best silver, titanium—or possibly heavy gauge steel—shoulder entered our household. The host for the new and improved joint, heretofore referred to as Mr. Roboto, is recovering nicely, and by nicely I mean that there is minimal daily swearing. He’s currently sporting a fashionable immobilizing brace and glad to have found the sweet spot in his cocktail hour, balancing pain and mental fog with skill akin to me on a slackline.

He’s doing pretty well, all things considered. I’m feeling a little more human as well, catching up on some sleep. Turns out bringing a total shoulder patient home from the hospital is in many ways similar to bringing home your firstborn, only without all the cooing and smiling. I won’t get into details, as most are better left to the imagination and none are particularly edifying for the newly magnitized.

We took the three days before the surgery (after crossing the last items off the pre-operative to-do list) for one last hurrah, visiting the latest coop-flyer in her digs at Seagull Outfitters: Staff Quarters: Eagle’s Nest bunkroom, situated just east of our favorite Trail’s End campsite, and just south of my latest moose sighting. It was the only opportunity the fam would have to visit the gooner during her sojourn up there, before dad was relegated to the recliner for his evening slumbers. We jumped.

And despite the horrendous bugs that inhabit the Gunflint Trail and surrounding Boundary Waters each summer—particularly summers where it never stops raining—we had a nice weekend out.

We paddled out to the Palisades of Seagull Lake—many say the crown jewel of Seagull—guided by our self-sufficient, successfully-adulting, proud-to-be-the-designated-driver-thank-you-very-much, daughter. Neither the Palisades nor the daughter disappointed. We got the tour of the area, made it to the crown jewel, took in the sights, and paddled back in the gorgeous sun of the first real week of summer they’d had, and jumped in the lake to wash the heat of that day down the drain. There is nothing like a BW lake for a day’s end dip.

We took in the local fish-fry flavor, fed the kid the Boundary Waters lunch she missed this year, being a working woman, and grilled a few brats for good measure. We wandered Artist’s Point along the mighty Gitchi Gummi, and were right back in our element, the five of us taking in Superior through our very pores. It was lovely.

And it was sweet and satisfying to visit the kiddo in her own space, to watch her live her life, seizing her moments, growing up, not for a moment throwing away her shot.

How on earth do we produce functional adults? I haven’t a clue, but we did something right.

An eighty-something-year-old friend pulled me aside today to tell me a secret. “You know, I’ve never thought much of homeschoolers.” She had me by the arm and had just tackled the fullness of my attention. She grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “These past twelve years watching you… you’ve changed my opinion.”

Life with Inspector Gadget is a not the most exciting right now, but there’s nothing like a little downtime to help you realize the blessings you have in all your uptime. We lead a pretty amazing life, and have raised some pretty amazing kids. There’s not much more that you can ask for beyond that.




The Feels Like temperature, or if you will, the Wind Chill, has broken 102.

I am hot.

I wouldn’t be quite so hot if the air conditioner was working, but it seems that the blower motor, or the control panel, or some integral part of the furnace, has succumbed to the lightning strike back in early June that took out the well pump control box, the power to the county, the modem, the phone lines to our zip code, the internet to my brother for a month (which is not funny at all), and the printer. The death toll grows.

The well pump controls were a little scary. Smelled like quite the blow. Singe marks and everything. Methinks we’re lucky to have come home to a standing house.

The power took some time, but once the fine folks at the cooperative remembered that we have our own dedicated fuse thingy, they fixed us right up. That danged pole is a veritable target for lightning.

The Technological Woes keep mounting, but all I care about at this moment is the ETA of my trusty HVAC man. And the patience of my imminent homeowners’ insurance adjuster-man. I’m sure they’re wondering, at this point, how they can surcharge anyone stupid enough to build a house on a hill.

I do care about a few other things.

Let me work backwards.

Thirty minutes ago, Nate the Great Mechanic was here loading our 15-passenger van onto his flatbed. It blew a brake line. In the driveway. Which is a great place to blow one, if you insist on doing so.

Just yesterday I picked that very Rolling Turd up from Nate. He had fixed a different brake line. Mercy did shine forth, it should be noted, in that I somehow made it all the way home, and all the way into the gas station and back before the line blew. It chose a stationary moment to let loose, and for that I am grateful.

When I called Nate, I had to tell him to bring the key he had, since I had, not surprisingly if you ask my family, locked mine into the van after dropping that baby into Park to bring her to a halt.

Why does Nate have my keys, you ask?

Nate has my keys, because Nate has my other van, the Montana, which needs a brake job. It’s all a bit much to comprehend, really. The vehicular sequence looked like this, to soothe any confusions:

  1. Last week: The Boundary Waters trip is coming right up. Time to get the Big Rolling Turd up and running, and insured, and ready for the trip. Time to fix that rusty brake line.
  2. But wait, the Toyota has a flat. Let’s take that in first.
  3. Time to exchange Turd for Toyota. But wait. Turd won’t start. Jump. Charge. Bang. Trickle. Swear. Give up.
  4. Toyota picked up with a new tire. Turd not delivered.
  5. Sunday: After much swearing, it’s time to tow the Turd with the trusty snap strap and the faithful truck.
  6. In towing, let’s rip the front bumper off. Because one is really enough.
  7. Turd is delivered, dead in the water, to Nate’s driveway (middle of), who future digital documentation archeologists might confuse with our investment banker.
  8. Turd gets a new brake line, and a new starter to boot.
  9. Yesterday: Off to exchange the Montana for the Turd, when I realize the squeaky noise has disappeared. Woot Woot! I grab my mother to pick up the Turd with me, instead of a nice even-up vehicular exchange. Finally, things are coming together.
  10. This morning: I take the middle kiddo to work. The Montana, it turns out is NOT better, but worse. It’s making a face at me. Like a two-year-old who fooled you into stepping in poo. I dial Nate again, because I almost miss him. Drop the prankster of a minivan off. (Thanks, Mom, again.)
  11. At home, time to drop the trailer onto the Turd to make sure the lights work, which of course, they don’t quite. Take it for a quick stroll around the block to wear down the rust on the ball and establish some happier contacts. 1/16 of a mile down the road I remember there is NO GAS in here. I meant to put a can in at home so I could even get it as far as the station, but memory isn’t my strong suit. 1/16 of a mile later, I drag the Turd through my brother’s field access to make a U-ey and grab that gas can. She dies at a perfect perpendicular to the road. We, the Turd, the Trailer and I, are blocking the entire road.
  12. I run home. A-hem. I jog home. OK, I jog for the first seventeen paces, then speed-walk the rest of the way. It is so hot. I grab gas, truck, wallet, and phone, and fly back.
  13. Miracle of miracles, the Turd roars to life on the first crank. We trundle into town to fill her thirsty tank. We make it. I fill the tank. And the empty gas can. And I head home. I test the lights (again). Brake line blows while standing still.
  14. Speed-dial to Nate. Wrecker en route.
  15. I run (walk, leisurely, with spite) back to my brother’s to retrieve the truck, which, against all odds, wasn’t stolen out of his field. It drives home without a single grumble or grunt.
  16. 30 minutes ago: Nate arrives, with my key, opens my door, and runs away with my Rolling Turd.

I’m just plain beat when I come in and feel that it is strikingly warmer in the house than it should be. And so I am here, sitting under the ceiling fan, the one appliance apparently impervious to lightning strike, ranting into my malfunctioning laptop.

But still, I am not done…

We’re supposed to leave for our annual BW journey early Saturday morning. My house looks like an outfitter exploded within it. The dehydrator is whirring away with the last batch of apples, trays so caked full of food and detritus that it will take a week-long soak to clean them. There are half-packed packs, barrels overflowing with food, empty bins and full bins and upturned bins everywhere. Drybags and batteries and stuff sacks littering the whole works. I should really include a picture or seven.

But even in the home stretch of packing, I fear that this trip is not going to actually happen, and it is really wreaking havoc with my packing/prepping mojo.

Magnetic melon kiddo was at camp last week and came home with concussion number six, a freak foosball accident to blame. Don’t even get me started. She lives under cover of hat and sunglasses, and the idea of jumping into the wilderness is a little sketchy at this point, but we’re not new to this rodeo. She’s improving daily, and we’re optimistic.

But Dad. Dad who has never been sick in his life, unless you count the emergency appendectomy. Dad who is so stubborn that he’ll get that total shoulder replacement AFTER we make the BW trip this year (It’s scheduled for the next week). Dad who has never missed a day of work.

DAD is down for day three of the flu. Days one and two, of course he went to work, because he is Dad. And doesn’t understand the ways of healing. For why would he? But things got so dire last night that he handed me the cell phone weakly (after taking a painful amount of time and dejected tapping to pull up his messaging app, ever helpful) to text the boss and inform him that he was near-death. This is not good.

This is not good.

This is not pretty.

And I am not convinced that God isn’t trying to tell us something.

But still I pack. Because that Turd, even after I ran it dry, roared to life without so much as a whinnie. And that is something.

Because the brake line blew in the driveway when it could have careened me into the river. And that is something.

And because the concussed child I just picked up from work doesn’t have a headache. And that is something even greater.

The canoes are tied down to the trailer. I’ll unload the dehydrator in a few hours. The packs will be cinched down, the bear-barrels will be lidded and locked. The vans will return from their captor, and with any luck, they will run, and the Turd will bear us faithfully into the Boundary Waters for the ninth year running. And we will all survive.

And it will be all the sweeter for the adversity that preceded it.

And when we come home, we will have air.

With great hopes and prayers and a healthy dose of against-all-odds optimism,

Book Review (A Bad One!): Perfect

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I loved Harold Fry. I loved Queenie Hennessey even more. Perfect is not Harold and it is not Queenie.

This Fourth of July weekend I was asked why I only write positive book reviews. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again; I’m not one to finish a book unless I love it. Or at least like it. I just don’t have that obligatory thing some do to finish what I start; it’s a book. Nor do I have it in me to flip over to the last pages and be done with it, like some people that share my last name and make me so angry I could puke. I just abandon them, and while the decision is not taken lightly, I also don’t lose any sleep once it’s made. There ain’t enough time in this little space I’m given to spend reading books that suck.

I’m quite aware this tendency of mine doesn’t necessarily help my image as a reliable literary analyst, but at the risk of sounding snarky, I just don’t care that much. You’ll get my honest opinion; it’s just that it is more likely only to happen with damn good books.

Ironically, when the question in question came up, I was stuck in the middle of this very book, and writhing uncomfortably with the decision to quit or persevere. Rachel Joyce did amazing things with Harold and Queenie, but Perfect is not Harold and it is not Queenie. I’d been struggling through for nearly a month, and just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it.

But yet, there was the tiniest tinge of obligation burbling forth for the author. I kept feeling it had to get better. Stuck with it for fear of missing something wonderful. Rachel Joyce! How could I give up?

It didn’t get better, and I wouldn’t have missed a thing. Joyce is a beautiful writer, and as wordcraft goes, she can put down a sentence. She can string together some serious paragraphs; beautiful description, heart-rending emotion, classical grammar. It’s not that she’s not a good writer. It’s that I really hated this story. Pretty much from start to finish it was lacking for me, and to boot it was dark and mostly not nice-feeling.

Dark is hard for me, I will admit. Depressing is really not my thing. So there is a bias you should consider. Maybe I’m not able to see through to the diamond in the sea of ick and blah, but there was very little redemption to be had here.

Throughout, I was hoping that there would be this magical twist that would spur me to tears and force me to realize that I am a poor judge until the end. Teach me a lesson or two. But there wasn’t. I couldn’t help but think that it was all a bit predictable, and wasn’t really going anywhere, and I was being strung along through the muck for no payoff. And I was.

I gave Perfect two stars, and not just one, because there are a million other books out there that are absolute crap, and this isn’t one of them. The writing is good, and that is something I cannot dismiss. But the story left me dry and grumpy.

I think I’m going back to my ‘ditch it’ policy, even for the authors I love. Life is too short for bad novels.

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Book Review: Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace
Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My first Anne Lamott.

I know.

But it is. I loved most of it. I love her brokenness shining forth unapologetically, unabashed vulnerability, and snarky humor. Thus, Anne Lamott is a hit. But I do have to say that I wasn’t sold from the beginning. This particular level of brash and unabashed is a notch above my comfort level, or at least it was, to start. I don’t know how anyone can just throw it all out there quite that unapologetically, with quite that level of vulnerability. With humor. Lots and lots of humor.

The humor, of course, I appreciate with reckless abandon, even if a little dark at times.

After an essay or two, I adapted, and grew to love her honesty: truth, no matter how ugly, right there amidst the navigations of life. She flays open her every thought, throws the switch and trains the floodlights on the darkest parts of her life, her mind, her past, her present. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but I admire the strength. I hope to heaven that she changes the names of the folks she mentions, to protect the innocent and even the loathesome, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she didn’t. Makes me a little glad we don’t know eachother personally.

I can see why you would either love Lamott or hate her, from her writing style, yes, but especially from her political angst. She pulls no punches, and in this polarized world, you will either be on board, or you won’t. I say this even as I realize that I am neither. I am so very on the fence politically, that I could fist pump her angsty pages and punch them with a more sinister fist, both in the same breath. I was a little uncomfortable with her looseness here, but who am I to ask her, a woman who is painfully more honest in her writing than I am, to bottle up this one aspect of herself? Stupid, that’s who.

GW, you might not want to read this one.

After all is said and done, I love that even in her raw state, even when I want to be judgmental towards her, or patronizing, or generally shiny-happy and terrible, she somehow still manages to put me in my place. She turns to God while I look down my nose. And there it is. My judgment turns to humility, without much of my own input, and for that, one of the blessings that flow between her words, I am grateful. That is a skill that God must appreciate.

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Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I could go four-and-a-half. But until Goodreads brings in a 100-point rating system, I’ll never really be able to drop the stars I’m looking for. (Except maybe My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. That one would still get the full monte.)

So. Bernadette.

Not the emotional thunderhead I’ve grown accustomed to these days, but still quite a good read. It was an epistolary novel, which was nice to get back to. But rather than deep truths revealed in deeper ways, Bernadette was more of a rabble-rousing whodunnit, or howdunnit. Maybe whydunnit. There was that essential element of life not ever being what it seems, and a respectable dose of compassion-tossing storyline, but mostly it was just a nice plot.

Just. I should stay away from that word. It was a nice plotline. And it was well-written. There were twists and childhood frustrations aplenty, lots of human grit to feed the crop, and healthy levels of snort-laughter. I don’t think I shed a tear, but that’s not a prerequisite for a good novel, is it? Maria Semple had a great idea, and executed it between the pages. Her voice was clear, and her characters wrought in the perfect mix of reality and disbelief suspended by ‘I would so love to do that.’ It wasn’t ‘just’ anything. It was a good book.

I just couldn’t go for the coveted five stars. Chalk it up to the outstanding run I’ve been on. It’s just hard to measure up when you’re standing next to Shaq and his posse of giants.

For sure, it was a quick read. Kept me coming back, wanting to know what was going to blow up next. Semple had no problem keeping my attention. And that’s something.

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Angry Birds

I had a face-off with a crane this morning. Mama or Papa I wasn’t sure, but I’m going with PaPa, for this was a form of road rage I was vaguely familiar with.

On the way home from town, my road was blocked by a startlingly beautiful young family of Sandhills. High-stepping in circles on the pavement. Clearly confused. I dropped the minivan into a halt long before I got too close. Thought I might get the best show if I gave them some space.

All three moved towards the shoulder,  but quickly returned to the middle of the road, as if they missed something important the first time they crossed over. They just looked at me, strutting this way and that, in no hurry to get anywhere. I inched forward in an effort to give them the nudge they needed to continue on down to the pond. The forward movement of the van thirty yards away was immediately interpreted by the largest crane as an act of aggression. He dropped his head in my general direction and hunkered down. His wife (?) and baby shuffled around the shoulder.

I stopped. Slightly wide-eyed.

At this point, the neighbor burned ‘er out of his driveway and started coming towards us. Surely he could see the giant prancing bird in front of my stalled vehicle. The guy rarely breaks 20 on the country roads, yet he was hell-bent for somewhere this morning. He glared at the offending bird as he buzzed past.

The offending bird, as disbelieving as me, turned his retaliation on my van. He threw out his gigantic wings in a curved dome the size of my trampoline, dropped his head to the pavement, and began his threatening strut directly towards me.

Honestly I was considering rolling up my windows.

The rest of the fam had found their way through the hedge and into the fallow field, but this guy was not to be deterred. I let my foot off the brake and rolled towards him, hoping he might give up his valiant and misdirected protection scheme, but he only marched in the wrong direction, trying to lure me away from his offspring.

So now I’m between them.

Still he maintained his illusion of macho and grand proportions, threatening me from behind the shrubbery. It was almost comical. I continued to sneak past, determined that I would not be the one who killed the baby crane that only wanted to get to his beloved PaPa, and the guardian bird finally launched into flight to join his safe and sound wife and child.

It was sketchy for a few minutes there, but I’m OK.

Dang, I love Wisconsin,


Book Review: Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I was subjected to Artemis Fowl second hand, through closed bedroom doors and across tents with no doors whatsoever. I caught chunks and snippets here and there without really listening long before I finally decided to dive in for myself. My oldest (18) chose Artemis as her last read-aloud to her younger sisters (13 and 15) before she left home. They would steal away at wild times of the day and night and the Irish accent would be brilliantly deployed. Giggles and snorts were a given. There was a lot of yelling. Which is actually a great deal funnier in an Irish accent.

The tiny bits and pieces I had garnered over the last year of their journey into the Lower Elements were enough to tip me off that Eoin Colfer was a pretty good writer, and had a ridiculously prolific imagination, but it wasn’t until I was stuck in the tent with these goons in the midst of their Fowl-fest that I realized just how good he was. Admittedly, the eldest’s professional-grade Irish may have tipped the scales, but I could imagine that even without a creative escort, the story was worth the effort.

I must also state upfront, that my delving into the abandoned bedroom’s bookshelves may possibly have been a way for me to keep the fledgeling child close, even as she made her way out there in the big, bad, world, but it wasn’t long before Colfer took over, and any attachments of sentimentality were washed away. I think I can review Artemis without any mushy biases clouding my sight.

Book One (of 7?) was excellent. I’m not a big fantasy fan, but there was enough rooting in the real world here to keep me anchored and happy, and maybe even enough to make me long for a few more tastes of fantasy world, just to make sure I’m not missing something. The child prodigy/villain/protagonist/antagonist/snotnosed kid was endearing, in his own horrible way, and Colfer’s world building is indeed nothing short of brilliant. The action was fast-paced and the plot was believable (as believable as leprechauns and centaurs can be). It sucked me in and drug me along, firmly invested in each and every one of Colfer’s articulately-drawn characters. The clincher is most definitely his comedic vein, though. He’s brought every character into sharp relief from the others by imbuing them with their very own hilarious quirks and personal versions of humor and humanity. Quite the cast; I love them all. And the guy really does have an astonishing imagination. Wowza.

This is no emotional barnstormer, but it is a good story well-told, and for that I greatly appreciate it. The art of telling a story for the sake of telling a story–and doing it well–is endangered, but Colfer keeps it alive magnificently.
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Review: Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another homerun from Fredrik Backman. Wow.

Britt-Marie Was Here follows Britt-Marie of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry fame through the next stage of her life, and it does so with deep compassion and beauty. If you’ve read about Elsa and her Grandmother, you know that Britt-Marie is hard to love. Britt-Marie is impossible to love. Britt-Marie is a nag-bag and a generally awful person. So, of course, Backman had to dive into her full-tilt to help us see her from the inside out.

I am, for the third time, blown away by this guy’s ability to get under the skin and animate the least lovable people and circumstances to the point of complete empathy. He takes the loathsome, the downright deplorable, and spins them inside out until we’re rooting for them like the underdog in a catfight (Maybe Ove’s cat). I love it.

As far as how much I loved this book… It was on par with Ove, a full five stars without an ounce of hesitation. I can’t say it was quite as perfect as Elsa and Granny, who I would gladly have given 6 or 7 stars, but they can’t all be that remarkable. I am a card-carrying Fredrik Backman fan.

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Book Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one was so good I couldn’t wait until I was done. I wrote a little preview a few days ago. If you haven’t read that, go here first:

Book PREview: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry


And now? After completion?

I have nothing else to add.
I’m so sad it’s over. 😦
Backman is a master. 🙂

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