throwback thurs!

generally i want my throwback thursdays to be more of a reminisce thursday, but i think i need to take a moment and throwback just one year, when i was gearing up to head out to california

it doesn’t seem like it’s been almost a year since jane and i went to california. what a great time! 

the first day we were there, we went to universal studios and HARRY POTTER WORLD. 


i don’t know if i’ve been this happy since! what a great time. we had some butter beer, got wands, tried to go on a ride successfully (successfully in jane’s case and unsuccessfully in mine), ate at the three broomsticks, and immersed ourselves into potter culture. it was glorious. 

so i literally JUST got a text message from jane:Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 7.03.38 PM

(seriously, i was finishing up my above paragraph and my phone buzzed.)

the day after HP world, jane and i went to sequoia national park just north of LA. it was also election day, and the world seemed so bright and unsullied… but i digress. we headed to hertz and picked up our rental care – a convertible! and headed north. we spent the day driving, but that was ok. we got into the san joaquin valley, and it was almost otherworldly (think post-apocalyptic). sequoia was great. we saw some big trees, drove through the park and got some great pine-y smells, and saw general sherman, which is the largest tree by volume. 


the sunset that evening was great as we came down the mountain, with some mist in the foothills. on the way home we tried out in-n-out, which decided was not better than 5 guys.

the third day was my favorite day! we took out convertible car and drove up and down the coast on hwy 1. there was so much win with this day. the ocean was great, the breeze was great, the salt smell, the bright sun, the beach. the RVs on the side of the road lined up for miles and surfers out in the waves trying their best to surf, the palm trees, the waves splashing up rock outcroppings, the mountains sloping up on the east side of the road, the grand houses we saw as we drove into the LA area, the santa monica pier in the evening with the sun sinking into the ocean, and the drive back up over a mountain with the whole of LA spread out in the valley with lights as far as the eye could see, and the drive back to the hotel on ventura boulevard with specialty storefronts for miles and miles, and jane’s one navigational mistake of the day as she missed the turn into our hotel parking lot.


on day four, we had no idea what we were going to do, but ended up doing a bus tour of LA, which was more fun than i thought it would be. we stopped at the chinese theater and checked out the sidewalk of stars. we sat on top of the bus and saw beverly hills, fancy cars, and out-of-place christmas decorations. saw the hollywood sign and had a general good time. i think the best part of the day was when we were the only ones on the bus, and our driver had to pull over to tell us to put our seatbelts on while we were on the freeway. 


our last full day in california was kind of a rest day. highlights of the day included me biffing it on the pool deck in front of everyone, leaving the outdoor pool because i was chilly and finding out it was 80ΒΊ, eating at an authentic mexican restaurant where jane had the best burrito of her life, and me trying to pack everything back up (she died like she lived: packing her suitcase).


return day was depressing. the shuttle there was quicker and less angry than the shuttle when we flew in. we had an excellent beer at the airport bar, got on the plane, and flew back home. we WERE pleasantly surprised by the spacious freeway lanes when we got home. so much room!

i want to go back! but to visit.

because i’ll tell you what: as much as i loved being in california and the weather in november and the ocean, it doesn’t hold a candle to paddling on lake sagatagan on a windless june evening among the pines and oaks and aspen, feet in the water, with loons calling to each other across the water.


melancholy august

august was cool this year. and wet. 


my garden is 15 steps off my back patio, and i’ve been neglecting it this year. tomato plants sprawl across the dirt and weeds; green beans that are much to large to eat hang from the spindly plants still, rather than being picked weeks ago to go in the freezer. 

the four hills of gourds – two pie pumpkin and two squash – have taken over the space, their creeping vines crawling up the broccoli plants and hiding in the cucumbers. it’s been so wet that the vines are still producing blossoms and new gourds at the same time its leaves are dying, revealing the orange and yellow foodstuffs. 

at the beginning of august, a barely perceptible change in the light caused me to panic – summer was coming to a close. the leaves were still green, the grass still growing (and me still mowing), and the sun still shining, but we there was a change in the season. more canada geese started flying overhead, their calls heading southward. instead of lazily sifting through pliant, green leaves, the wind started rattling through stiffer, more brittle leaves. i have heard no loons lately. 

august moved much too quickly, and already we’re into early september. this morning i took my small cup of coffee in my favorite summertime mug out onto my patio with a book. the sun, which would have lit up my entire patio two months ago, was still working to light up a quarter of the patio.

when i opened my patio door, a small flock of birds flitted out of the tomatoes in my garden, rising to the sky. a monarch fluttered around the browning squash leaves. i took the few steps out to pick the ripe tomatoes, peppers, and some dill. i checked the cucumbers, which are still putting out blossoms while the leaves are browning, getting ready to be done for the season. i will have pickles for years.

and while the leaves are still green, the grass still green and growing, cucumbers still mass producing, the light doesn’t lie. the earth is slowly tilting its north end away from the sun, seasons changing, time progressing. autumn is coming: the colors, the leaves, the smells, the harvests. 

i love fall, but i don’t like the season that follows it, and i don’t like the change in daylight. winter seems twice as long as all other seasons, but springtime will come again; it always does. 

a tour back

today i went to spicer to help out liz’s in-laws clean out their house (personal details not to follow – just know that the time has come to clear out a house). 

i drove down a county road from avon to richmond that i’d never been on before that was lovely, except for the snowy roads bumps that made me slow down from time to time. in richmond, i hooked up on good ol’ highway 23. 

oh, 23. for 15 years i traveled you back and forth from the st. cloud area to new london. good times. it’s changed, especially the section that no longer goes through paynesville, but that’s really another story for another time. 

what surprised me this time was rounding that dratted corner right before new london and seeing the water tower come into view. my gut wrenched up. what on earth – it’s been 23 years since i first got puke-worthy nervous over seeing that water tower show up around the bend. 

after my mom took her job in willmar, we lived in st. cloud with my grandparents for a bit, and every morning we drove from st cloud to new london to drop me off at high school and then my mom to willmar for work. those first couple months just wreaked havoc on my nerves as i had to navigate a new high school after 9 years of being with the same people in school. so, with good reason that the water tower brought on a bout of nervous butterflies.

but it waned, as it had to, since i drove into new london quite a bit from the east. this time, however, it was a surprised nervous flutter that quelled almost as soon as it started. but it was there. 

i’m not sure how many more times i’ll be heading that way, but i hope the nervous nellies take a hike.

we are all jacob

for every minnesotan ages 35-40: you know.

i was 10 years old when jacob wetterling went missing in october 1989. it was unreal: a boy just one year older than me disappeared from a small town in minnesota, riding his bike back from the local video store. it could’ve been any one of my classmates. it could’ve been me. 

posters went up around the school, his smiling face greeting me every time i climbed the stairs to reading class. the news was loud and insistent with its vigilant coverage, and we saw his parents on tv. it could’ve been my parents. 

i didn’t know him. but i did know him. he could’ve been my classmate, the cute boy who every girl had a mild crush on. it wasn’t my town. but it was my town. and it would be, eventually. st. joseph is smaller than austin, and if a boy my age couldn’t bike where he wanted in st. joe, how would it be possible in austin? i shouldn’t have felt a connection. but i did. everyone did. when jacob’s hope became widespread, we all grasped it; we wanted to have that hope, to leave the porchlight on for jacob. come home, come home. 

the media died down. patty wetterling became the face for child abductions and made great strides in legislation regarding that. a bridge built in sauk rapids was named “bridge of hope.” jacob wetterling was a household name, becoming the face for abducted children everywhere.

my family moved closer to st. joe, and i eventually went to college at st. ben’s, in st. joe. i remember seeing a feature with a few of his friends from the 2000 graduating CSB|SJU class. 

in 2008, i moved to st. joe, less than a mile from the tom thumb where he was abducted. my cats went to the vet that now occupies the building. i went running in the dark evenings along a bike path, hyper aware of my surroundings, even though i knew in my head that an abductor interested in an 11-year-old boy would have no interest in a grown woman. in 2011, a farm not far from my house was investigated, turning up nothing. but it was a hit in the heart – will they find something? 

then this morning, his remains were IDed after being located via information fron an annandale man who was a person of interest and had been in custody for child pornography charges. this turns my stomach, because it’s almost guaranteed that jacob was assaulted before he was killed (that is hard to write). 

it’s hard to describe, but in my 10-year-old mindset, his kidnapping was always an innocent one. he was snatched, maybe tied up, then taken to an obscure place. what happened after that? i’d always hoped that he was alive, living his life out in a weird small town on a coast. it was always a hope that someone would take a second look at him in that small town, bring him back to his parents. 

even after knowing what i know now about abductions and how they are usually violent and disgusting, i still held onto this very unlikely scenario as what happened to him. maybe because he could’ve been me, and that’s what i’d hope my abduction would be like (if it had to happen). 

for all those minnesotans of a certain age: it’s come to a close. not the one we want, because it’s not what we would’ve wanted for ourselves, our friends, our parents. but it’s the closure we need because we want to know and we want our parents and friends to know and have closure. the lights are on, and he has come home. we are all jacob. 

and he’s ok

yesterday was the party to celebrate the people who were there for my family while charlie was in a coma as well as to celebrate charlie being alive. we had scoped out a park in lake city early this spring and locked it in with two shelters, and good thing we did because when i drove in at 10 a.m., it started to rain and continued to do so for the next three hours. 

but it was a good party, a great time, and there were people there who were the right ones to be there. the rain cleared up, the sun came out, and the weather was, for once, not humid and gross. the evening was great, and after we cleaned out the shelters, i took off for home at 10 p.m. (i had too much stuff to do to break camp and drive to st charles before heading up to st. cloud in one day.)

it was pretty dark when i turned south out of the park and through lake city. the lake was on my left, and the waning gibbous moon was low on the horizon, climbing into the sky. the night was clear and calm, and the almost-full moon reflected off the lake, creating a shimmery column of water light across the lake toward me as i drove out of town, past the marina, past the overlook.

when i was small, maybe six years old, my aunts kathleen and colettie took me to a bed and breakfast in lake city. i don’t remember much about the b&b besides being uncomfortable with the strangers at breakfast, but i do remember taking a walk after dark to the overlook, where i climbed the steps and leaned over the rock wall to look at the moon reflecting a shimmery column of light across lake pepin.

charlie was always my aunt colettie’s favorite. i kept my eyes on the moon-colored lake last night for as long as i could, smiling and thinking of how well the party turned out, my aunt C, and letting this chapter of the story wane away into a shimmery sheath of light.

summertime in the FC


i like to say i grew up in the faux-country. we were only a hop skip and a jump from town, and there were many houses across the street that had their half acre or acre parcels, none of which compared to the 80 acres our house stood on. we had the old, broken down farmhouse. a big white barn, a white 2-story garage, a pumphouse, the field, the pasture, the acres of lawn to mow (for years, my dad had an old farmall that would cut mowing time drastically). 

we didn’t plant. we didn’t own animals. we barely kept a garden. but we did grow pine trees. we rented out the fields to farmers who would use it. family or renters pastured their sheep, horses, cows in the pasture. we weren’t sheltered from country life, but we weren’t immersed in it. for that, we would have to drive the mile and a half down the road to my aunt and uncle’s farm.

we grew pines, and we had a lot of space to run around during the summertime. giant oaks dotted the yard. every spring, the crabapple tree outside the kitchen window would burst into pink blooms. we wandered through the pasture to the creek, or out to the edge of the field, wondering if we really WOULD get lost in the cornfield. (what a crock; follow the rows and you’ll come out eventually.)

the end of the day during summertime was the worst. when bedtime rolled around, it was still a little light out. the crank-out windows were wide open in the bedroom, and we could hear the yells and screams of the neighbor kids – all of whom were older – filtering into the bedroom while we lay there, wondering why god is so cruel as to create bedtimes during the summer months.

of course i could never sleep right away and instead propped myself up at the window overlooking the driveway, pumphouse, and pasture. the fireflies lit up at the edge of the pasture while the semis rolled over the rumble strips on the freeway a quarter mile away, the bass line to the neighbors’ playful murmur and crickets’ evening song. 


Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 9.26.40 PMmy grandma died early monday morning, and after i got home from work that afternoon, i hauled out my planters. the weekend before, i’d gone to the amish greenhouse down the road and gotten some flowers to plant for curb appeal, and they had been sitting in their pots waiting for an opportune moment. what better opportunity than to celebrate the life of a woman who kept more flowers than i could even imagine. 

my grandma’s house in st cloud had tulips lining the house, so every spring when the snow melted, the season was greeted with red and yellow tulips. her moss roses spread all over the yard, and her rhubarb was getting to the point of unwieldy. The front door’s walk was small, but my uncles had spent some time to dig it up and create more garden space for more flowers. 

she was the plant whisperer. inside her house, there were african violets in pots all over the surfaces next to windows, and big planters with large ferns, lilies, and other greenery lined her living room. and in the pots were little ceramic animals or a small bird or last easter’s palms or maybe a bird’s nest with some eggs in it. a large philodendron sat on top of her hutch, with its green leaves hanging over the edges. she almost always had starter spider plants in glasses on the windowsill in her kitchen, waiting for homes. her thumb wasn’t just green – it was the vibrant green of springtime and tree buds.

tulipsi dragged out my planters, some of which i’d gotten from her, and filled a bucket with dirt from my vegetable beds to set my flowers in their home. my tulips i’d planted last fall were up and blooming, heralding springtime, and i had moss roses waiting to plant down by my mailbox. of the many traits that my grandma passed to her off-off-spring, including a baking itch and the ability to enjoy shopping, i think the need for dirt under the fingernails in the appropriate months is my favorite. seeing opportunity in a seed, hope in a bulb. 

leg day

last winter i took part in no-shave winter. my legs were nice and furry by the time march 1 rolled around (meteorological spring), and it was very satisfying to finally shave them (so smooth!!).

this year, i went from september to mid-january (shaved for work reasons, haha). once again, nice and smooth.

i was in the tub shaving tonight when i suddenly remembered a very awkward shaving incident i had. 

i was a first year at st. ben’s, and i shared a dorm room with angie englebart. it was near the end of the year, and her family had come to visit. it was warm out, so i decided to shave my legs to wear shorts. it was kind of annoying to have to go to the showers to shave your legs, so i decided to shave in the sink in our room. 

i was just finishing up on the second leg, when i cut myself right down by the ankle on the outside hard-to-reach spot between the bone and achilles tendon. of course, angie and her family chose that moment to come in the room and take a look at me with my leg in the sink, razor in hand, and ankle bleeding out. 

i quickly grabbed my towel and covered up my bleeding ankle, hoping they didn’t think i was some weirdo who did this all the time (seriously, that was the first and only time i did that). 

end my awkward shaving story. and maybe i’ll go another two months before shaving again. we’ll see what spring brings. 

determined (adjective). see also: stubborn.


stubbornness is quite the thing in the derry family. if you haven’t experienced german stubbornness, then pray you never do, because there is no greater piece of stubbornness than a german stubborn person. 

grandma derry, despite the very irish last name, is 100% german. her house is spotless, she likes everything in its place, and man is she stubborn. 

except she doesn’t think so.

one time maybe 10 years ago she was visiting the wallace household (which, though very scottish in sound, was a very german household as well), and the topic of stubbornness came up. grandma sure didn’t see it as stubborn; she was determined. so a debate ensued as to whether or not determined was just a nicer way of saying stubborn. 

if you know the wallaces, you know we’re word people. of course there’s a giant dictionary just hanging out in the living room on a podium. (of course.) so i sauntered over to the dictionary and looked up the word determined and read the definition out loud.

one of the first words to describe determined? stubborn. then some more discussion about stubborn versus determined happened (it’s quite the meeting of the minds with a bunch of stubborn germans in the room), and so i looked up stubborn.

“why grandma!” i exclaimed. “your picture’s right here in next to stubborn in the dictionary!” 

then of course she did her little scrunchy frownie face, waved her hand, and said “oh you,” like she does when she’s been had. 

nothing like alleviating a little stubbornness with a little humor.

baked goods

one of the best things about going to grandma’s house is that there is always baked goods and better food than at your own house. 

growing up, my parents bought boring breakfast cereal, grape nuts flakes. maybe rice krispies if it was a real exciting week. so when we visited grandma and breakfast time rolled around, oh boy! she kept her cupboard stocked with coco krispies, coco puffs, froot loops, and other fun cereals; there was also always a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread. breakfast at grandma’s house was always a treat.

in later years, when i was living in st cloud and grandma was still living at home, every time i’d stop over, without fail there was a square tupperware full of caramel swirl brownies. pour yourself a glass of crystal lite iced tea from the pitcher in the fridge, and you were good to go. granted, the brownies came from a box, but big deal! it was more than what was at my house.

main4grandma and i drove up to a few family reunions together, and every time we’d pack her bag and boxes of prizes for games, and three ice cream pails of donuts. she’d fry donuts in batches and freeze them so when it was time to get together with family, there’d be donuts.

the past few years, grandma hasn’t been at reunions, and ergo no donuts. it’s also been a little weird visiting her in assisted living and not having brownies or other goodies. but the good news is that she has many descendants who are baking inclined, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see some donuts this summer at the derry reunion; it would be a fitting tribute.

the quiet oaks hospice grandma is at right now is stacked to the gills with baked goodies and sugary cereals for breakfast. there is a candy dish on every flat surface, which is something that grandma always had at her house. stars aligned, and we have come full circle on baked goods.