A Thanksgiving story | November 23, 2022

By the time you read this it will be Thanksgiving Eve and I will be pretending like I’m so overwhelmed with preparations while my mother “gives me a hand” by doing it all.  I am very grateful for my parents (my dad will participate by staying out of the way), and my husband and father-in-law (Kyle decided to deep-fry the turkey, which…has been a whole thing), and my children (who will spend the day fighting, as per Thanksgiving tradition), and all of you.  Thank you for being with me these past two years.

Also, thank you for the kind messages related to my grandfather’s passing.  My grandpa lived a very long (he would have been 96 in December), happy, love-filled, comfortable life, and died peacefully with all his wits about him – which, as his rabbi said, is something we should all hope to do.  Still, losing someone who adores you unconditionally feels pretty lonely, and so I appreciate the attention.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a story about my grandparents because 1) they were awesome, and 2) this particular event coincidentally occurred at Thanksgiving.

Like I said, my Grandpa Mel and Grandma Mar (her name was Marion, but we called her Grandma Mar because grandmother in French is grand-mere, which sort of sounds like Grand Mar; and if my grandmother had to be old enough to be a grandma she would at least be a glamorous French one) were fantastic.  They were on a first-name basis with half of the maître d’s in New York and New Jersey.  They vacationed with (and had a bonkers story about) Dick Cavett – and since I’m name-dropping, Judy Blume was at my engagement party because she was writer-friends with my grandma.  My grandpa performed magic tricks at all of my childhood birthday parties; and for my eighteenth birthday, they took my sister and me to Paris and London.  I lived with them for a college summer, during which we’d celebrate the end of each workday with a martini.  They were fun, and cool, and had amazing taste, and sought out unique and interesting experiences.

They were also totally normal grandparents, and that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.

It was the year 1999, and I was getting ready to take the Amtrak train from Boston to New Jersey for some quality Thanksgiving/Grandma and Grandpa time.  I called my grandparents from our apartment landline (because it was 1999) to let them know I was headed to the station and expected to get on the 2:00 pm (or whatever, it was 22 years ago) train.

“What time will you arrive?”  Grandma asked.

“I think around 5,” I told her.  “I can call you from a payphone (re: 1999) when I get there to confirm?”

“No need,” Grandma said.  “Grandpa’s already at the station.”  We both laughed, although I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not because my grandfather was always VERY EARLY to EVERYTHING.

(Here’s a side story to that: The Grand Forks International Airport is actually one of the busiest in the country for take-offs and landings because we have an aviation school in town; however, the city only has 50,000 people so the airport itself is just two gates.  Today those two gates are in a fancy airport building; but, in the 1980’s, it was one big room separated by a metal detector with a restaurant tacked onto the end.  My grandparents were flying back to New Jersey on the 7:00 am flight, and so my grandfather got to the airport at 3:00 am…and then sat in the car for two hours, because the airport itself didn’t open until 5:00.  Finally, a worker arrived; and so my grandparents went in, the worker checked their bags, took them through the metal detector, and then ripped their boarding pass on the other side.  When they sat down in the waiting room, my grandma checked her watch: 5:08.)

“I hope you do get in at 5 so we can go to the house before dinner,” Grandma said.  “We need you to help us with something very important.”

“What’s that?”  I asked.

Earlier that year, my grandparents had bought their first compact disc player; in celebration, my uncle had gifted them several CDs of their favorite jazz musicians.

“The player is broken,” Grandma said.  “We need you to fix it.”

“Well, I don’t know much about CD players,” I told her, “But I’ll do what I can.”

“You are a technology wiz,” she said (Note: I was not).  “I’ve been telling everyone about that award you won.”

“Which award?”  I asked.

“You know, the very prestigious award from BU,” she said.

I thought for a moment.  “The Dean’s List?  That’s not an award, it’s just a semester grade thing.  Lots of people are on it.”

“Maybe,” she said, brushing me off.  “But you’re the very best.”

“Obviously,” I said.

I arrived in New Jersey, and, of course, Grandpa was there waiting for me.  He gave me a big kiss and a hug and said,

“We are going to the house before dinner because we need you to help us with something very important.”

“Grandma told me,” I said.  “I’ll do what I can.”

“You are a champion of academia and science,” he said (Note: Nope).  “I have been telling everyone about how you got a job with an international company your first month at school.”

I thought for a moment.  “The Gap?  I’m not even allowed to use the cash register.”

“You’ll be running the place by the end of the year,” he said, brushing me off.  “They are going to make you the CEO.”

“Naturally,” I said.

At the house, they presented me with a little round boombox.

“We put the CD in,” Grandpa said.  “And we pressed play, but nothing happens.”

“You have to turn it on first,” I said, flipping the On/Off switch.  The CD player fired up, and a trumpet blared.

“Ahhhhh!”  Grandma sighed.  “You did it!  Such a smart girl.”

“Smart and good-looking,” Grandpa said.  “She gets both from her grandmother.”

He offered his hand to Grandma, and the two of them danced around the living room for the rest of the song.  We left for dinner a few minutes later, where we toasted the coming Thanksgiving, as well as my exceptional genius and beauty.

My parents, while very supportive, are fully aware of my intellectual abilities – and so I don’t think we’ll be celebrating my brilliance this year.  I’m sure, however, we’ll raise a glass to my (and my sister’s) children – whom my parents know, without a doubt, to be the brightest stars in the entire universe.

The photo above is of my grandma and grandpa and was taken by my Uncle Dean when they were 45 years old (and he was 19). It was the first photo Dean had taken with an SLR camera – a used Nikkormat for $175. Related/unrelated, my uncle – Dean Landew – is a rock musician with a bunch of songs on the Radio Indie Alliance Top 10. You check out his music here.

This week’s news has makeover artists, football players, and monks. Read on.

Country House and Angel 37 paired up to offer a no-catch free Thanksgiving dinner on Monday. (KX Net)

Patrons of the Heavens Helper’s Soup Café in Bismarck were treated to a limo ride and makeovers, courtesy of Glance Salon. (KFYR TV)

The North Dakota State College of Science football team – including their 49-year-old defensive lineman, Ray Ruschel – are playing for the NJCAA DIII National Championship next week. (Not The Bee)

The entire town of Hankinson is celebrating Cody Mauch as he heads to the NFL. (Fargo Forum)

Elementary, middle, and high school students in Fargo filled the Fargodome with food donations for the Great Plains Food Bank. (Valley News Live)

In “holy crap” news, a Colgate farmhand survived being trapped in a bin for an hour. (Grand Forks Herald)

Did you watch the Artemis One launch last week?  If so, you marveled at the efforts of the UND and NDSU students who helped make it happen. (KFYR TV)

El Belfour – a former UND player and one of the five winningest goaltenders in NHL history – suited up for a rec game in Grand Forks last week. (Grand Forks Herald)

Here’s a cool photo of some early ice pillars near Tioga. (Facebook)

The monks of Assumption Abbey in Richardton pulled out the sleds for a little snowy fun. (KFYR TV)

Let’s Be (Official) Pals!

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The write stuff | April 15, 2021

My son lost his confidence for a moment last weekend.  Unfortunately, confidence isn’t something that you can find by shining your phone light under the bed or replace with a quick run to the store; and so it took Kyle and me a while to figure out that his lack of confidence was directly tied to a complete and utter lack of having fun.  Once we filled up his fun, he found his confidence.

If you know me in real life you know that I have an overflowing abundance of confidence.  (I also have an equal amount of anxiety and other crazypants issues, but that’s another thing.)  I have so much confidence that it often gets in the way of life – like when I took my coworker on an unnecessary hour-long midnight joyride through the country because “we don’t need a GPS, I know where I live.”  Or like the series of events leading up to the first story I wrote for North Dakota Nice.

You know how some families have a surprising number of doctors or athletes or undersea miners?  My tree is filled with writers.  My mother, for instance, is working on her seventh book.  Her mother taught memoir and anecdote writing at New York University for thirty years; and, starting when I was three years old, would call me on Sundays so that we could craft a story together.  I was given a typewriter when I was around nine, and after that our Sunday calls were used so that my biggest fan could heap praise on my many short stories (100% of which starred me as a fairy princess).

When I was twelve, I wrote a novel, entitled Kidnapped!   In Kidnapped!, a class of sixth-graders was forcibly taken to a luxurious mountaintop island mansion, where their opportunity for freedom was placed in the hands of a plucky classmate tasked to teach them all manners and dialect.  I described it as “My Fair Lady meets Sweet Valley High, an instant bestseller!” in the five query letters I sent to actual real-life publishers.  Bless their hearts, all five responded with “Great job, keep writing, no thanks.”

I took their advice to heart and, for the next six years, kept writing.  While Kidnapped! was more of a thriller/romance – the most detailed scene was one in which the protagonist gets to kiss a boy with an uncanny number of similarities to my real-life crush – my favorite topic was silliness, either in content or in voice.  A cow that goes “Oom.”  A supernatural teen with hands of fire who accidentally burns her boyfriend in the butt during a slow jam at a school dance.  A fairy (probably princess) whose wings keep falling off.  And hundreds of anecdotes about getting braces and forgetting my bloomers for my dance team uniform and accidentally burning my boyfriend in the butt with my fire hands while dancing to “Lady in Red.”

But then came college.

In pursuit of a degree in Communications, writing went from “fun pastime” to “egomaniacal lifestyle.”  I lived on the Writer’s Corridor, took creative writing courses, and worked on an English minor.  All of my dormmates, classmates, and library mates were very serious about making their names in very serious hard-hitting journalism and very serious dramatic debut novels, which they expected would literally and physically and metaphorically change humanity (very seriously) forever.

Naturally, I, too, immersed myself in very serious writing.  Forty-one-year-old me will tell you my best college piece was a Patton-esque speech on the why pineapple belongs on pizza (“Men, a tomato is also a fruit.”), which I wrote as a joke while studying for an exam.   My twenty-one-year-old self, however, was absolutely 100% confident that my Pulitzer Prize-worthy retelling of the Flood of ’97 (if you’re looking to roll your eyes out of your head do I have the story for you) was the direction my prose needed to go.  Nevermind that I, the girl who also typed up a tale about a king who goes on a quest to fix his broken-down hot tub, was absolutely terrible at literary (serious) writing.

After graduation, I was so confident that I needed to be a serious novelist that I wrote the first paragraph of what would be my premiere novella and decided I would not pen a single additional letter for any other piece until it was complete. 

For the next sixteen years, I labored under that stupid story.  I say it was stupid because 1) it was stupid, and 2) I had absolutely no interest in writing it.  The premise was this: A man refuses to finish his highly-anticipated first novel until he comes up with the perfect final line of dialogue for his protagonist.  He ultimately dies having never completed it; and when his friends go to publish it, they do a quick read-through and realize it’s complete garbage.

Did I recognize any hint of coincidence between my own life and this story?  No.  Instead, I dragged myself, like a traveler lost in the desert, through every word.

My grandmother would see me banging my head against the keyboard and would suggest a quick writing exercise to get my creative juices flowing.  Always, I would knock out something silly, like an elderly woman who breaks up her church group after someone suggests she make her hot dish with sodium-free cream of mushroom soup instead of regular.

“Maybe you should write more of what you enjoy,” my grandma said after one such occasion.

“George Orwell said that writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle,” I said.

“He was also a wacko.”

“A PUBLISHED wacko,” I reminded her.

Anyways, one night in late 2018, I had finished reading all of the local newspapers for North Dakota Nice and pulled out the notebook for my stupid story in order to bleed a little bit onto the pages before bed.  Nothing was coming to me, so I set the notebook aside and decided to do a quick writing exercise about two of my favorite subjects: North Dakota, and me.  I wrote for three hours – time flies when you’re having fun – and after I finished I posted the completed writing exercise on the website and threw my stupid story in the trash.  I’d never been so confident about a decision in my life.

The photo above is of some of my many notebooks filled with writing exercises that I did – but didn’t count as “doing” – over the past decade instead of writing my stupid story.  Also, Carmex.

The opposite of stupid are all of the wonderfully nice things that happened in the news this week, including a big deal of a small town, a leftover lunch program, and a glamorous prom.  Read on.

Mayville is about to get its 15 minutes of fame thanks to the TV show “Small Town Big Deal.” (Hillsboro Banner)

Sisters Jackie Pfeiffer McGregor and Janine Pfeiffer Knop have written a book on life in rural Menoken in the 1950s. (Devils Lake Journal)

The West Fargo School District recently created a pilot program which repacked leftover lunches in containers donated by Power Plate Meals and gave them to students in need.  Over 86% of the lunches were picked up by families, and so the program is going to continue – not just in West Fargo, but now in Fargo and Moorhead, too. (KVRR)

It was a sticky Saturday afternoon last week in Fort Stevenson State Park, as the staff put on a series of demonstrations on how to tap and make maple syrup. (Devils Lake Journal)

Bismarck’s The Banquet is expanding its meal services – and its space – to help families in need. (KX Net)

Law enforcement officers provided a chilly reception to the annual Special Olympics Polar Plunge fundraiser. (KVRR)

The staff at Legacy High School has helped senior Abby Johnsrud get glammed up for prom. (KFYR TV)

Congratulations to Mayville sixth-grader Wyatt Perkins, winner of the national VFW Patriot Pen essay! (Hillsboro Banner)

Carson Wentz’s charity softball game is on the calendar for June 26. (KVRR)

The Great Plains Food Bank had so many people show up to their first free haircut event that they had to turn a few away; and so they are going bigger and better for their second event. (KX Net)

(Like Amanda Silverman Kosior and/or North Dakota Nice?  Check out this other story about bothering people.)