When do mothers’ rules change?

The great comebacks

Rusty of St. Paul: “I was at a retirement party last week, talking to a fellow retired colleague, Norma. She was talking about taking care of her two grandkids recently.

“She had fed them a bunch of chocolate before lunch, and now they were spinning like tops. Her daughter arrived and caught wind of the chocolate feed: ‘Mom! You can’t feed chocolate to kids before lunch!’

“Norma jabbed her right index finger into the middle of the palm of her left hand several times and said to her daughter: ‘Look! Right here in the “Grandmother’s Handbook,” it says: “Yes to chocolate before lunch.”‘

“‘But when we were kids, you NEVER gave us chocolate before lunch,’ Norma’s daughter said.

“Again Norma jabbed her index finger into her palm and said: ‘Look! Right here in the “Mother’s Handbook,” it says: ‘No chocolate before lunch.'”

The Permanent Grandmotherly Record

The Gram With a Thousand Rules writes: “I was a lucky grandma. I had the opportunity to spend many days caring for my preschool grandchildren, and my photo albums are filled with precious memories of those days. This one of me, reading to Anna — our 17th grandchild — brings back the peace and serenity I felt when a small little body was cuddled up to me.


“I loved to read to my grandchildren, and they seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. However, when I tried to sing to them, they would either wince with pain, cover their ears or, most humiliating of all, clamp their darling little hands over my mouth.

“When Anna was 3 years old, she decided this was a situation that needed rectifying. She told me she was going to teach me how to sing. The following is a transcript of a note I found in my album of Grandchildren Memories, dated March 1998.

“‘Gram’s Singing Lessons

“‘Anna has given up on giving me singing lessons. Poor optimistic little kid kept trying, thinking if she kept at it I would eventually learn. She would sing a song and then tell me to try it. I would no more than sing three words and her little arm would shoot straight out in front of her and with a pained expression she would say, “Stop! Your sound is all wrong. Do it this way.”

“‘When I would do my best to imitate her she would give me a condescending smile and say “That’s better.” I would ask her if it was good and she would say “NO. It is NOT good. It is just better.”

“‘But finally, last week she threw in the towel, telling me “This just isn’t working, Gram. Your voice is funny and you sing too loud and you JUST DO IT ALL WRONG!”'”

Our gardens, ourselves
Or: Live and learn

DebK of Rosemount: “Before the rains moved into Rice County, I spent three grueling days on my hands and knees, grooming the farm gardens, preparing them to be blanketed in Taxman’s Custom Compost — a redolent mixture of sawdust (heavily laced with chicken droppings), straw (heavily laced with sheep droppings), lawn clippings, box elder leaves, egg shells and coffee grounds.

“Weeding is the kind of work that brings on deep thoughts — in this instance, lengthy reflection on the question ‘How did we end up like this?’ While our friends are enjoying the good things of life — or perhaps playing golf [Bulletin Board notes: one of the best things of life!] — Taxman and I exhaust ourselves in the futile effort to keep on top of our 13-acre pretend farm, too much of which has been dedicated to flower gardens.

“In the Iowa of my childhood, flower gardening was the province of rich people, with whom we Dunns had absolutely no acquaintance. Our people raised vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables. It was deadly serious business. Large plots of Clay County loam (and the lion’s share of the summer) were dedicated to producing (and putting up) the beets and beans, peas and carrots, sweet corn and spuds that would keep us fed through the winter, during those months when egg money dried up (along with egg production) and credit ran out at Dave’s Store.

“Oh, we had flowers: Violets thrived on the sunny side of the outhouse, wild roses flourished in the fence rows, sunflowers choked our soybean fields. Grandma and Grandpa Bobzien had wild phlox in the ditch by their mailbox and a sassy profusion of tiger lilies a few yards from their never-used front door. Our never-used front door was bracketed by a pair of sulky spireas that bloomed when they were of a mind to do so. Their poor attitude had infected the lilac clump that clung to life near the back gate, where we dumped kitchen slop water. (Permit me here to assert that nothing is so apt to instill lifelong habits of water conservation as a childhood spent toting water to and hauling water from one’s house.)

“My introduction to flower gardening came early in the Reagan administration, shortly after I did something to incite the gratitude of Garden Goddess of Apple Valley. The specific nature of my good deed is long-forgotten, but it was sufficient to inspire Garden Goddess to design a ‘perennial border’ for our property and to pledge contributions of plants from her own splendid gardens. Taxman was opposed to the effort from the first, objecting on the grounds that future expenditures were likely to be involved. I objected, too. I was, after all, rearing small children and working full-time while Taxman launched his business. And I was raising vegetables! Garden Goddess would have none of it. She bludgeoned me into that first flower garden, pistol-whipping me with the example of our mutual friend who kept magnificent flower gardens, nine children, and a happy husband — all while campaigning for re-election to the Minnesota House.

“More than three decades have passed since Garden Goddess introduced me to the joys of recreational gardening. She and other members of the flower-growing community have generously offered guidance (and culled plants). But, truth to tell, I’ve learned most of what I know from my mistakes, some of which have been humdingers. I chose, for instance, to ignore a warning issued in one of Bonnie Blodgett’s early Pioneer Press columns to resist the charms of Grandpa Ott’s morning glory, the first of many instances in which I’ve ‘duked it out’ (Blodgett’s memorable phraseology) with a plant whose pretty face masked megalomaniacal tendencies. I’ve learned the hard way that free-range hens and mulch will never peacefully co-exist and that heavy rain can be expected as soon as one’s peonies open.

“One gardening lesson, however, came quickly and easily, and its truth has been demonstrated repeatedly: ‘Future expenditures’ will be involved.”

Our goats, ourselves

Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “Capistrano may have its swallows, but St. Paul — or, more specifically, Indian Mounds Park in Dayton’s Bluff — has its goats. Sure, the goats are brought in by truck rather than arriving under their own power, and this is only their second visit, but they have returned again this year. They eat buckthorn and other invasive plants and put on a good show for kids (and adults). After all, we can see eagles and hawks and deer in the park anytime, but these are genuine farm animals, not normally seen in the wilds of St. Paul. So without any further ado, here are some goats.”






See world

Another close encounter of the natural kind, reported by Mad Dog of Sand Lake: “Subject: I wish I had my camera.

“This morning I turned on the sprinkler for some newly seeded grass. A few minutes later, I saw a hummingbird taking a shower under it. It was so cute! It would spread its wings and hop around in a circle, making sure it got both front and back, then flutter its wings. The shower did not take long — less than a minute, I am sure. Then it flew off into the sunlight.

“What a great way to start the day!”

Our theater of seasons

Mounds View Swede makes a habit of having his camera handy: “One of my neighbors gave up on grass in the front yard and has all flowers now. I don’t know what many of these blossoms are, but enjoyed looking at them.



“He has several different dianthus plants.





“I don’t know if this is a dianthus, too, or something else. It was very different, and I liked it. The blossom is about the same size as the dianthus blossoms.


“The variety of blossoms around here are fun to see!”

Now & Then

Full Heart and Hands Full: “Oldest daughter is home from her first year away at college and has successfully secured gainful summer employment.

“After explaining to the hiring manager that she is taking a class twice a week and volunteering twice a week during daytime hours, she expected that she would be working primarily evenings. On her first day of orientation, however, she was quite dismayed — nay, distraught — to learn her new schedule comprises 6 a.m. to noon shifts, rather than 6 p.m. to midnight shifts, which would have been so much more conducive to her night-owl college lifestyle.

“Fearful that the anemic alarm on her cellphone would be insufficient to rouse her at such an early hour the next day, she asked to borrow my clock, which we fondly refer to as the ‘cardiac arrest’ alarm clock due to its obnoxiously loud volume. I showed her how to set the alarm and then handed her the clock. She stared at it thoughtfully for a moment, then asked: ‘How do you know if it’s a.m. or p.m.?’

“The rest of the family went silent and then erupted in peals of laughter.

“Oldest daughter, with a deer-in-the-headlights look, asked innocently: ‘What . . . ?’

“Realizing that a long day of work and a still-lingering sleep debt from finals week were perhaps clouding her thinking, I gently explained that it was an ANALOG clock. The information sunk in slowly, but finally the light bulb went off and she opined: ‘Oh, then it would actually alarm twice in a day.’

“Yes, my future computer-engineer daughter, that is how old-fashioned alarm clocks work.”

God (not to mention the devil) is in the details

Zoo Lou of St. Paul: “Subject: Was the hand quicker than the eye, or was it movie magic?

“At the beginning of a Western I watched the other day, a group of unseen swarthy desperadoes gunned down an old prospector in an attempt to grab his claim. Before dying, the man hastily scribbled something on a piece of wood from a broken box, his hand shaking uncontrollably.

“When the unfortunate sourdough was found, it was discovered what he had written on the board: a detailed last will and testament — in perfect penmanship, no less. Now just hold on, pilgrim! My aging eyes aren’t what they used to be, and I know they say the hand is quicker than the eye. But to believe this old man could write all that in just a few seconds with a shaky hand is a leap of faith that goes beyond movie magic and right into ‘The Twilight Zone.’

“If sportscaster Al Michaels ever watched this oater, I just know what he would say: ‘Do you believe in miracles?!'”

What is wrong with people? (responsorial)

Fudge Brownie: “I have to agree with Vertically Challenged about the rudeness of people at graduation ceremonies.

“We also missed hearing our son’s name called, because of the screamers.

“We were instructed at the beginning of the ceremony to wait until all the graduates had received their diplomas before reacting. This rule didn’t apply to some people in the audience, apparently.

“It’s not just graduations where you encounter this rudeness. We have attended many of our granddaughter’s dance recitals where family members feel compelled to shout out their dancer’s name as she comes on the stage.

“You just have to rein in your anger, when all you want to do is stand up and shout ‘Would all you people just SHUT UP!'”

Life as we know it

Tim Torkildson: “Elbow grease was in great demand when I was a child. There was very little of it going around, according to my mother. The want of elbow grease explained why our lawn looked so shaggy and weedy. It was why my dad’s car never gleamed in the sun. It was the reason for soggy leaves clogging up our roof gutters, causing huge icicles to form on sunny winter days — dangerous stalactites that could impale the unwary child while he made snow angels.

“My mother was determined to end this crying lack of elbow grease, at least in our own home. And since I seemed to be the most deficient, my mother loaded me down with more chores than you could shake a dust mop at. That I ever survived such a household Gulag is a wonder I never cease remembering in my bedside devotions. Especially since mom was never more than 10 feet away while I toiled, micromanaging with a sharp eye and a blunt tongue.

“Since I got paid a quarter every week for my allowance, which was enough back in those mingy times for me to buy a Coke and a Superman comic book at the corner drugstore, I knew I had to mow the lawn once a week. And I did. But we had a push mower, which was propelled by yours truly and continually came to a sudden, chest-crushing halt whenever it encountered a twig or even a particularly tough dandelion. The blades were as rusty and dull as an old knock-knock joke.

“So I was compelled to mow the cursed grass not once, but twice. Once up and down and then again back and forth. And pluck up the dandelions as I did so. Mom kept a beady eye on me from inside the house, and if I came across a rough patch of crabgrass that refused to surrender to the push mower and tried flipping the mower over, so the blades still made the same cutting noise but didn’t touch anything, a window sash would fly open, and I would be commanded to go back over that particular patch, and to use some elbow grease. To paraphrase Patrick O’Brian in his Aubrey/Maturin sea novels: ‘Simon Legree ain’t in it!’

“The same held true for putting up and taking down the storm windows each year. Back in those dark ages, each window had two sets of frames — the inner frame, which did not come out, and the outer frame, which had to be changed from a screen frame to a heavy glass frame in the fall before the blizzards came roaring down from Canada. Those damn glass frames must have weighed nearly 10 pounds each; they were wood, not aluminum. As I took each one out, I had to wash it before putting it in the garage, too. I was never too enthused about rubbing the Windex in very hard — so once again my mother’s cry reverberated around my poor head: Elbow grease! More elbow grease! Leave no smudge behind!

“The Minnesota winter snows smothered our sidewalk in a fiendishly regular fashion, and guess what? Yep, I had to use plenty of elbow grease to ensure that the sidewalks were scraped clean, so no leftover snow could melt and form treacherous icy patches on which the mailman or, heaven forbid, Aunt Ruby might slip when she came for a visit.

“When at last I escaped from the tyranny of elbow grease and joined the circus, I wallowed in the dust and smudgeness of my roomette on the Ringling train. These were nearly antique train cars, to begin with; our train car, nicknamed the Iron Lung, had been built in 1922, and by the time I moved into my little roomette in 1972, with the horsehair couch that turned down into a Murphy bed, it had acquired a dignified patina of grime that I did nothing to disturb. My own personal hygiene was unimpeachable, you understand, but it gave me a great deal of satisfaction to sit amidst my cobwebs and dust bunnies on the train, reveling in my complete freedom from elbow grease.

“But sadly enough, when I became a parent myself, I couldn’t resist dinning that evil old phrase into the ears of my own innocent little children.

“‘Put some elbow grease into it!’ I yelled at them when they raked the autumn leaves.

“‘Try some elbow grease!’ I advised, when their energy flagged while doing the dishes.

“And now . . . well, and now I’m in a Senior Living apartment, all by myself. I have a vacuum, and I have a mop, and plenty of rags and Windex and Mr. Clean. And by rights I should be cleaning the toilet to get rid of that stubborn hard-water ring inside the bowl instead of writing this insubstantial fluff. But I seem to be all out of elbow grease at the moment. I wonder if you can order it online at Amazon.com.”

There & Here

The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: The path forward.

“One big thing I’ve already taken away from the North Korean summit is that Singapore has WAY cooler lane arrows than the U.S.



The simple pleasures

“A simple summer moment” from Cheesehead By Proxy, “back in Northern Minnesota”: “A nearby camp had a free community games day with free ice cream, and our grandson seemed to enjoy it!


“The green caterpillar on his forehead was a face painting.”

CAUTION! Words at Play!

First, Friendly Bob of Fridley: “I was watching some of the PGA tournament (FedEx St. Jude Classic) on Saturday. After the third round, Dustin Johnson and Andrew Putnam were tied for the lead, five shots clear of the rest of the field. Anyone who follows the PGA Tour knows that Johnson is one of the big hitters on tour, though he has a pretty well-rounded game. Putnam is not as well known, and seems to be more of the ‘get it in the fairway, get on the green, and make some putts’ type.

“Apparently on Saturday, Andrew was doing just that, sinking most of his medium-range putts. One of the commentators remarked: ‘Yep, he’s really Putnam [puttin’ ’em] today.’ That elicited an appropriate groan from the other commentator working with him.

“This brought to mind another awful pun, from many years ago, also perpetrated by a sportscaster. Must have been the early 1970s, when I was serving in the U.S. Navy in Guantanamo Bay. We did get sports events on the local AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service) station in GTMO, though they were delayed broadcasts several days or even a week old. The Chicago White Sox had a third baseman named Bill Melton at the time. No idea who they were playing at the time, or what city they were in, but it was a very warm summer day, and one of the Sox commentators told us: ‘It’s so hot out there that the third baseman is Melton.’ Yep, another groan.”

Dragonslayer of Oakdale writes: “Subject: Thought for the day.

“Pirates never shower before they walk the plank.

“They just wash up on shore.”

Band Name of the Day: Chocolate Before Lunch

Website of the Day: The 118th U.S. Open Championship


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