Eight Short Stories | December 14, 2022

My sister and I recently surprised our dad with “the gift of our presence” by crashing our family chaos into his Austin birthday weekend getaway with my mom.  I love me a good Hallmark/-adjacent movie for the same reasons as everyone else – the snark, and the final kissing scene – and so I watched Apple TV’s The Eight Gifts of Hanukkah on the way to Texas.  As expected, it was a magnificent dumpster fire (at one point I laughed so loudly that my son, sitting three seats away across the aisle, shushed me); in part because the overall premise is that the main character falls passionately in love with a mystery man who sends her eight INCREDIBLY PERSONAL gifts, including “chocolate” and “a non-descript watch.”  In honor of Jewish girls everywhere aggressively vision boarding a scenario where a rich Jewish contractor (oh fer sure), a rich Jewish tech genius (more likely), a rich not-Jewish-but-supportive celebrity chef found on Tinder (a statistically improbable meeting but fine), and a rich Jewish partner in a law firm (I’m offended by this accurate stereotype) are vying for her affection, and in celebration of Hanukkah starting on Sunday, I would like to offer you eight of my own INCREDIBLY PERSONAL stories from the past few weeks.

One.

To keep ten people – including four boys ages 11, 7, 5, and 1 – occupied between meals, we sought the services of Pioneer Farms, a multi-acred living history museum in Austin.  At one point, I found myself at the 1886 Bell House with my own seven-year-old and my five-year-old nephew.  The Bell House was filled with volunteers in traditional Victorian garb, and one of said volunteers called the boys into the parlor.

“Hello, sirs,” she drawled.  “Would you like to hear a short story?”

“Sure,” Seven said, never one to turn down a good plop onto a vintage couch.  His cousin obediently joined him.

Once she was sure they were settled, the volunteer spread out her hoop skirt, positioned herself onto a wicker rocker, opened a time-worn version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” – and began to read the slowest version of that story ever told.  The boys sat there patiently and silently for approximately 186 years, after which the volunteer gently closed the book and asked the boys if they had any questions.  Five raised his hand.

“Yes?”  She said, patting the book.

“Do you have any graham crackers?”  He asked.

Two.

My eleven-year-old was recently given the chance to write his holiday wish on a paper ornament and place it on a Christmas tree. Nestled amongst the “A puppy” and “An Oculus” wishes was Seven’s request: “World Peace, Hockey, and Deez Nutz.”

Three.

We took my dad to the Austin Museum of Ice Cream on his birthday, which was appropriate since I’m still not totally sure my dad likes ice cream.  The Museum of Ice Cream plays fast and loose with the term “Museum,” as it’s really just a giant pink+pink box (Blush and Bashful, for Steel Magnolia fans) of rooms for eating ice cream and taking pictures for Instagram.  The ice cream is, obviously, the centerpiece, and when we walked into the second room (the first room was where we got to name ourselves something related to ice cream and so Kyle picked Vanilla and we almost got divorced right then and there because the #1 thing Kyle and I argue about is whether Vanilla is a flavor – his contention – or an ingredient – mine) the hostess (whose real or ice cream name was Sweetie) said while pointing to an ice cream counter,

“There are four ice cream stations throughout the Museum, and you can eat as much as you want!”

Seven, the foremost expert in the Titanic and ice cream (unrelated), was first in line to get his ice cream.  As noted, we were there with several children and adults, and so by the time everyone got settled with their own scoops (minus my dad, because I really don’t think he likes ice cream), I looked around and realized Seven was missing.  We found him back at the counter, tucked into his second dish.

“What are the chances he pukes before he gets out of here?”  I asked my sister.

Well, he didn’t puke IN the Museum, but my dad – who, as noted, may or may not like ice cream – got to spend twenty minutes of his birthday in the bathroom outside the Museum with a grandson who had filled himself up with too much happiness.

Four.

Seven has recently started playing goalie.  At one of his most recent games, he took a puck to the face mask that came in so hard that it took off some paint.  Seven was obviously upset; and so, after he calmed down, Kyle told Seven that if he needed him for any post-injury reason, to call him over.  About a minute later, Seven beckoned to Kyle, who rushed across the ice to see what was the matter.

“Um,” Seven said.  “I think there is more land on Earth than water, since there is land UNDER the water.”

“Sounds right,” Kyle said, as Seven got himself back into position.

Five.

We flew home from Texas on the same plane as my parents.  My parents sat up in First Class – deemed a gift for the birthday boy by his adoring wife, who coincidentally loves so much to board and depart a plane as early as possible that we’re thinking she will become a jet bridge agent in her retirement.  Eleven was fascinated by the fact they were in First, and so my mother announced to him that she would let him sit in her seat for part of the trip so he could check it out.

With forty minutes left to go in the flight, the attendant came back and communicated that my mom was ready for the switch.  We had just gotten our snacks (we were basically sitting in the bathroom), and so Eleven felt the need to completely consume every last bite of cookies and every last drop of ginger ale before heading up to the front.  My mom came back with twenty-two minutes remaining.

“I’ll give him a bit to take in the whole experience, and then I’ll switch back because…” she searched for a reason that wasn’t ‘Because I want to get off first,’ “My suitcase is up there.”

“We’re going to be descending in thirty seconds,” I said.

“No,” she said, as the captain came over the speaker to announce our descent.

The seatbelt light came on.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, pushing past me.

She hustled up to the front of the plane.  Five minutes later, she was back.

“Dad’s going to bring my suitcase,” she said, and then, “He was having too good of a time.” 

“That’s nice,” I said.

Six.

Last month, as we were flying back from my grandpa’s funeral, I noticed Kyle was staring off into the distance, deep in thought.  I reached out and held his hand.

“You okay?”  I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“What are you thinking about?”

Kyle sighed.  “My rink,” he said, in reference to our backyard hockey rink, which was, at the time, a few ice pours away from being skate-ready.

Seven.

Every year, Kyle and I sponsor gifts for a family with the local domestic violence shelter.  I took Eleven with me to the Dollar Store to get a gift bag and some toiletries.  I told Eleven what we were doing there as we were walking in, and he was quiet as I loaded items up into the basket.  As I walked up to the checkout counter, he went sprinting off to one of the aisles – returning with two tiny packages of cocktail forks (like the kind you’d put into a tray of cocktail meatballs) and miniature dessert spoons.

“This family probably doesn’t have much,” he said to me.

“Probably,” I said.

“Well, they are going to need silverware,” he said, putting the forks and spoons in the basket.

“Yes, good point,” I said.  “Maybe we should get them regular-sized silverware, then?”

“But I thought you said they were kids?”  He said, deeply earnest.  “So they need little stuff.”

“Oh,” I said, putting the basket on the belt, imagining the next day when I’d deliver a bag of gift cards, shampoo, and cocktail forks to the center.  “Okay, sure.”

Eight.

In addition to historic structures, Austin’s Pioneer Farms was home to a number of barnyard animals, including several donkeys.  The boys were FASCINATED by the donkeys, and spent ten-plus minutes feeding grass to the donkeys (who were standing in six-inch grass in their pens).  As we were putting the boys to bed after returning to Grand Forks, Seven began to wimper.

“What’s the matter, buddy?”  I asked.

“I’m worried about Austin,” he said.

“Austin, Texas?”  I asked.  “What are you worried about?”

“Who is going to feed the donkeys?”  He cried.


The photo above is of my sister and me at the Museum of Ice Cream.  We are sitting in a pool of plastic sprinkles, naturally.


In Minot, members of 17 law enforcement agencies took 128 “awesome” (quotation marks not needed) kids shopping for Christmas. (Minot Daily News)

And in Dickinson, 17 law enforcement agencies shopped with 51 more cool kids. (Dickinson Press)

Bismarck’s Emersyn Decker is now the proud owner of a camper (plus s’mores supplies, pillows, and sheets), thanks to Make-A-Wish. (KFYR TV)

The University of Jamestown Jimmies are the 2022 NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Champions! (Facebook)

There’s one day left to “Stuff the Bus” in Bismarck in support of Aid Inc. (KFYR TV)

Sydney Menne, a student at the University of North Dakota, is one of only 40 students to receive the prestigious Marshall Scholarship for study at the university of her choice in the United Kingdom. (Grand Forks Herald)

Watford City’s Saiorse the dog is being celebrated for saving her family from a house fire. (McKenzie Counter Farmer)

Hot diggity dog – the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile is coming to Minot! (KX Net)

An anonymous donor in Stanley paid all of the student lunch debt right before Thanksgiving – and, as you can see from this article, there is still time to help in other districts. (Williston Herald)


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Goalie Mom, or a brief lesson in unclenching | December 7, 2022

When my eleven-year-old was around seven, he came home from hockey practice and announced he wanted to be a goalie.

“Great!”  My husband said.

“Erm,” I said.

Here was my concern: hockey is a team sport, but the goalie’s mistakes stand alone.  In fact, sometimes, the goalie shoulders the burden of the entire team’s mistakes; for example, we were recently at a University of North Dakota hockey game and UND scored on the opposing team’s net. 

“Sieve, sieve, sieve, sieve!” the crowd shouted at the goalie while the goal replayed on the screen.

“See that,” Kyle (as a reminder, a hockey agent) said, pointing at one of the opposing defensemen.  “He lost his man.”

“Oh, yes,” I said, even though I didn’t see because my knowledge of the intricacies of hockey stops at whether they serve hot dogs or brats at the concession stand, and also because it’s hard to keep your eye on everyone when there are ten people quickly chasing a small black disk on a big sheet of ice (and you’re busy eating a brat).

Anyways, I didn’t want my sweet, doe-eyed seven-year-old to face that negative attention, warranted or unwarranted.

“How about this,” I said.  “You can play goalie for your Tuesday practices, and play out for your Thursday practices.”

“I want to play goalie all the time,” he said.

“Let’s start with Tuesdays,” I said.

That plan lasted exactly one week.  On the second Thursday, I popped by the rink after work to pick up our toddler from Kyle and wave to the big boy.  Shore ‘nough, I found him out on the ice in his borrowed goalie equipment.

“I thought we agreed on Tuesdays,” I said to Kyle.

“He wouldn’t get dressed otherwise,” Kyle said.

That first year, he let in approximately nine billion goals.  I sat in the stands scrunched like an old dried-up sponge, searching his face behind his mask for an anticipated torrent of tears.  They never came; instead, he’d dance along to the music that would play during the whistle.

He was still wearing borrowed equipment by his second season – “I don’t want to spend the money if he’s not going to stick with it,” The Killer of Joy told Kyle – although I had willingly agreed to pay for goalie lessons because I needed another thing to obsess over.  Before every practice, lesson, or game I’d say to our son, “Have fun and do your best,” and then spend the next hours and days fretting over why he wasn’t paying enough attention, or getting his stick down fast enough, or saving every shot, or whether the other goalies were better and if they were and he was cut from the team would he have any friends anymore and should we just pack up and move right this second to a town in the middle of the desert that had never seen ice?  WELL SHOULD WE?

Of course, I didn’t want to share these neuroses with an eight-year-old, so instead I’d tamp down every emotion into a tight ball and ask with the eyes of a psychopath, “Do you still like being a goalie, buddy?”  And our son would always answer, “Yes!”

Once, I decided to mention a few of these anxieties to my best friend, who has neither children nor any interest in youth sports.  After a loooooooong pause, she said, “I don’t think he needs goalie camp, I think you need Valium.”

Fast-forward another year, to when my parents met us for one of the final games of the season.  I was sitting in the stands next to my mother, who was talking away about something when she stopped and asked, “Are you holding your breath?”

“Yes, I guess I am,” I said, exhaling quickly.

“Why?”

“I’m nervous,” I said.

“About this game?” 

“About everything,” I said.

“Well, what is the point of THAT?”  She asked, as if I had told her I owned more than one can opener.  “It’s a game, Amanda.  Games are meant to be fun.  Is he having fun?”

She pointed to my son, who was zipping around in his net.

“Yes,” I said.

“If he doesn’t do well, are you going to go out there and play for him?”  She asked.

“No,” I said.

“Then you can either have fun or not have fun, or be nervous or not be nervous, but none of those things are going to change the outcome of this game.”  Then she went back to whatever she was talking about before, probably can openers.

I thought about what she said all summer, through baseball and road trips and goalie equipment shopping trips (because I’m not a total monster).  I thought about it while we were packing up for his first fall hockey tournament, and while we were walking into the rink for the first game.

“Have fun, buddy,” I said, with a depth of emotion that can only come with total enlightenment – because that was what I was going to do: enjoy myself, and my son’s time in the sport.

“Okay,” my son said, not giving a crap about my spiritual growth at all.

Today, fifteen zillion games later, my younger son has also decided to become a goalie.  At one his first games, he got tired of playing, leaned his arm up on the back of his net, and just…let in goals for a while.  Kyle and I were standing together and we burst out laughing (and then knocked on the glass to get him to pay attention).  I may not have yet achieved total Zen, but at least I was having a good time.

“Man, I don’t know how you can stand to be a goalie parent,” one of the moms said to me after the game.  “It would be too stressful for me.”

“I’ve had a lot of practice,” I told her.


The photo above was taken by photographer Jeff Wegge.  My older son (then eight years old) got to play with the Little Chippers during the first intermission of the UND game.  As you can see by his face, he had a REALLY good time.


Caitlynn Towe, Myah Johnson, and MacKenzie Olson of Rugby, Hazen, and Watford City, respectively, are on their way to New York to sing at Carnegie Hall. (KFYR TV)

A Bismarck non-profit called Badlands Search and Rescue now has a pup named Copper. (KFYR TV)

In North Dakota-adjacent news, Breckenridge’s Jared Hoechst was recently honored for saving an elderly couple from a burning vehicle. (KFYR TV)

In celebration of her birthday, West Fargo’s Gowri Pillai has donated 5,000 pounds of food – her 10th year of gathering food donations. (KVRR)

This is a sweet little read about memories. (Minot Daily News)

Bismarck’s Christian and Wilfried Tanefeu had Thanksgiving dinner with their new friend, Kelly Ripa. (KFYR TV)

Minot’s Josh Duhamel – you may have heard of him – is the voice of the main character of a new video game. (Fargo Forum)


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Seven and the Grasshopper Egg | October 26, 2022

This past Saturday, Kyle took our eleven-year-old deer hunting (or, rather, he took him stand-sitting because the only thing they bagged was some magical father-son bonding time).  Kyle also wanted to bring along our seven-year-old, which I nixed because Seven is not a fan of quiet, or sitting, and especially not quiet sitting.  For example, Seven and I went to see the Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile in the theater a couple of weeks ago and mere seconds after he finished his popcorn he leaned over and said in what I suppose could be considered a whispered tone but was more of a shouted volume, “Let’s go home.”

ME, in a for-real whisper: We’re going to stay and watch this movie.

SEVEN, whisp-yelling: But I don’t feel good.  I need to go home.

ME: Why don’t you feel good?

SEVEN, shoveling in a fistful of fruit snacks: My stomach hurts.

ME: If your stomach hurts, you need to stop eating fruit snacks.

SEVEN: The fruit snacks are making it feel better.

ME: Have some water and watch the movie.

SEVEN: I’m allergic to water.

[Thirty seconds pass.]

SEVEN, holding his general calf area: Ow!  I think I broke my leg.  I need to go home.

ME: You broke your leg sitting in that chair?

SEVEN: I broke it earlier, but it hurts now.

ME: You’ll need to rest it.  Good thing we’re at the movies.

[Thirty seconds pass.]

SEVEN: I need to go to the bathroom.  Don’t come with me. [Runs out of theater on broken leg]

Seven went to the bathroom eight times during Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.  He watched exactly five straight minutes, which happened to be the final five minutes – after which he announced it was “his favorite movie in the world” and spent the next forty-eight hours singing all of the songs, which he somehow miraculously heard and retained.

As a consolation for being withheld from deer hunting, I offered Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile’s Biggest Fan a variety of some of his favorite non-quiet/sitting activities, including the pumpkin patch, laser tag, and the trampoline park.

Here’s another thing about Seven: he marches very much to the beat of his own drum.  As another example, Seven has announced every single day this school year that it was the BEST DAY because he learned about the Titanic and how chicken nuggets are made.  At his Q1 conference, his teacher told us no, they hadn’t yet learned about the Titanic or chicken nugget production – but speaking of learning, she’d really like to see Seven finish his own non-Titanic/nugget-related assignments before moving on to assist his classmates’ with their work.  When we brought up her comments to Seven later that evening, he said, “Did you know a cockroach can hold its breath for 40 minutes?”

Anyway, when provided with a list of non-deer hunting fun options (funptions), Seven went predictably off-script and selected a walk from our house to the nearby gas station for ice cream.

It was an absolutely glorious day, and so we took our sweet time meandering to the ‘station – checking out Halloween decorations, pointing out birds, and, of course, crunching through blocks and blocks of fallen leaves.  Midway from Point A to Point I(ce Cream), Seven took to gathering a bouquet of the reddest leaves, which I, his loyal assistant, was allowed to carry for him.  Suddenly, he stopped.

“LOOK AT THIS,” he said, holding up a brown leaf with a teeny-tiny fuzzy ball on it.  “This is a grasshopper egg.”

“Are you sure?”  I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“Should we Google it?”  I said, surreptitiously Googling what the Internet quickly identified as not a grasshopper egg (inconclusive otherwise).

“No,” he said.

We continued, me with a handful of now-less-good leaves, him cradling this all-important proof of life.

“When this hatches,” he told me, “I will put the grasshoppers in my bug cage.”

“Wouldn’t it make sense to put it in the bug cage before it hatches?”  I asked.

“No,” he said.  “It will be too lonely.”

There were three other people – two shoppers, one employee – at the gas station.  Like any good dad would, Seven loudly announced to all in attendance, “Shh, these grasshopper babies are sleeping.”  Like any terrible mother would, I tried to gently undo his shushing by saying, “Oh, haha, no, everyone is fine.”  No one (including the grasshopper egg) seemed affected one way or the other.

I was put in charge of the leaf when we walked home because “I know about these things,” according to Seven (also, he was holding ice cream).  At the house, Seven put the leaf in the my car.

“What about the bug cage?”  I asked, skeptical that the answer was because the car was in the front yard (where we were) and the bug catcher was all the way in the back.

“That won’t work,” Seven said.

“Why not?”  I asked.

“Because,” Seven said.  “Did you know the first wedding cake was made out of bread?”

“What about the grasshoppers?”  I asked.

“Grasshoppers eat grass, not wedding cake, silly,” Seven said, marching into the house, humming the first bars of a Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile song.

The photo above was taken at the pumpkin patch the day after our gas station walk.  Seven, Eleven, and their friends spent two hours playing their faces off.  After it was over, we asked Seven his favorite part and he said, “The car ride.”

This week’s news has a grand marshal and a doughnut walk. Read on.


Watford City’s Olga Hovet led the high school homecoming parade honor of her 103rd birthday (and 86th post-graduation year). As a side note, I’d like her to put out a beauty guide because if that lady is 103 then I’m a fairy princess. (KFYR TV)

There are so many fun (and free) Halloween events going on across the state – like at Bonanzaville, where kids can participate in old-timey games like a doughnut walk. (News Dakota)

Garrison’s Mike Matteson is the recipient of the AARP’s most prestigious volunteer award, given to one North Dakotan annually. (Minot Daily News)

Happy 100th to the largest mill in the country! (Facebook)

An update to a previous news item: the Meyhuber Family won their episode of Family Feud. (KVRR)

Dickinson’s Tessa Johnson is the only nurse to be inducted into the North Dakota Nurse Hall of Fame in the past 35 years. (KFYR TV)


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