Archive - 2013

September 19th

Living longer

Google is starting a new project which aims to extend our lives. These efforts are always popular. So are efforts to study people who live 110 years, such as Dan Beuttner's book Blue Zones.

What is left out of the equation every time are the very old people who are only partially fixed, the people who have new joints and a pig's valve or two but who can't function due to Alzheimer's disease. Or people who are ready to die but can't because their heart just keeps on going. Again, quality of years is just as important as quantity. 

September 17th

Kiwi PSA

New Zealand is known for their brilliant Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Here is one which brings me back, some kids with a combined Kiwi-Maori lilt to their speech. Notice how they say the word "invented." Seldom in the US of A do we get to hear an unadulterated Kiwi accent. It is gentler than the Australian twang, and a perfect expression of the Kiwi character. 

September 14th

Electronic Bach

I have no problem with this version of the great Fugue in E minor by Bach. Whatever can get people curious about Bach--I am for it. And it is clear that he had a feel for rhythm that modern drums merely emphasize. 

Oh and try this one on for size! (Ignore the video, enjoy the audio.)


Assisted living opens

But with little fanfare. After visiting Olla at the Hilton, I walked a few feet to the assisted living where the first couple moved in today. They will stay tonight. Their children were there for the move. Shirley taught me piano forty years ago. She brought her grand piano into the assisted living, and it is in great shape. Beautiful. It will sit in the common area. Their apartment looks great. Jerome and Shirley have been needing assisted living for some time. It is a great feeling to have them stay in town where they belong. They are great people. 

This is a great victory. Head RN at the Hilton Peggy and new hire Kindi worked in the otherwise vacant building, trying to get things set up. Furniture has yet to arrive for the common areas. Nine of the 19 apartments are already rented. This is so much fun. Kindi and Peggy are nervous. And yes, there still are some construction issues to be worked out with the contractor. But the bottom line is: Several people who badly need care but who don't qualify for the nursing home are going to be taken care of by the end of next week. 

The opening of the assisted living is the fulfillment of a dream many of us had three years ago. I never imagined that it would be fulfilled in such a big way. I am especially thrilled that Kindi and others like her are there to take care of the people. They will be wonderful. 

My co-conspirator Gloria and I were involved early on in getting things moving. However, once the project was approved, others took over and I checked out. I don't give a rip what color the carpet is. But others must.

The building of the assisted living has made Hilton administrator Barry Robertson's life a lot more complicated than it would otherwise have been. Jen Derosier has had to learn a new field so she can manage the place. Same for city manager Lisa Liden, who has had to oversee the project in her first months on the job. Hats off to Fertile EDA committee member Reid Jensrud for his knowledge of construction issues, which he applied during hours of inspections, which yielded several needed improvements. 

Late city manager John Frohrip leant his approval to the project and got the bonding through with maximum efficiency. 

I think we as a community can be proud of the new building. We have ratcheted up the level of care we provide our seniors. We will keep about 20 people in the community who otherwise would have had to move away. And we have a few new jobs to boot. 

Even though there was no celebration, and the building was empty but for Jerome and Shirley's children, as well as Peggy and Kindi, I felt in a celebratory mood as I walked out the front door. 

"Tonight's meal is tater tot hot dish!" Peggy lamented. "It should have been lobster!" 

Breaking through

Visited the Hilton today. Aunt Olla was in some pain from her pinched nerve. Her leg barked. They had given her pain killer just before I got there, so it was taking ahold as I visited. 

Her hearing aid is on the blink. I worked with it, changed batteries, what not, but the nurse came in and informed me they had tried everything and that they were going to send it in for repair Monday. In order to get Aunt Olla to hear me at all, I called her phone from my cell phone and talked into her good ear through the phone. 

"You're different!" she said at one point. "Not sure what it is!"

"Are you not making enough money?" 

Okay, that hit close to home. 

Her memory is bad, and those stupid narcotics make the imagination wild. Aunt Olla is certain that she has an appointment Monday, but there is no such thing. The eye appointment she is worrying about happened last week, and she forgot. 

So, I wrote a paragraph out on a piece of paper: "Olive has no appointment Monday. Her hearing aid is going to be fixed." She read that over and that was fine, but two minutes later: "Where am I going Monday?"

I tried to get her not to worry about it, but to no avail. So finally, I wrote out in big letters on a piece of paper: "Doctor's orders: Do not worry!"

I handed it to her. She read it. 

"Oh, that Dr. Kanten," she said. "He is so good."

"I am glad you're working with him."

September 11th

The Unit

Played at the Villa in Crookston today. I usually do double duty there, playing once for the residents in the general area of the nursing home and another session, usually quite a bit shorter, for the people in the Alzheimer's unit, affectionately referred to as "The Unit." 

Today, in a reversal of the usual routine, I played in The Unit first. It was just after lunch. I thought people might be napping, but no, everybody was lined up and ready to go. I greeted them all and then off we went. For some reason, it clicked and we had loads of fun. They sang the hymns. People who don't otherwise talk are able to remember the hymns. We all got the giggles at the end. 

"Emotional contagion" is the phenomenon whereby one person's mood transmits to the next, and to the next, and so on. Alzheimer's sufferers are completely susceptible. Today, two ladies took the lead, made wise-cracks and jumped into the singing. We bounced around and soon the others joined in. A lady arrived in a wheelchair fussing over her baby doll, which she wrapped in a blanket. Eventually, she sang like almost everybody else. 

The time went quickly. I was late for the other performance. So, I went around to say goodbye. Several were back asleep, but I awoke them and said thank you for coming. Two of my favorites were nuns, both who were sound asleep in their chairs at the beginning. Sister Caroline was unresponsive when I greeted her when I came; when I left, she was giggling. The second nun, when I awakened her to say goodbye, awoke with a start and swung into a effusive ministerial blessing of me. It was such a surprise that I jumped back when she began. I thought she was out of it. Nope. 

As I got ready to leave the room, one of the ring leaders pointed to a younger man who has been there for several years. He had glowered over me as I played, which is usual and doesn't bother me unless he starts hitting the keys. But now, he was really upset. He glared at me with a true Hitlerian intensity, chin jutted out. It was almost scary. 

"You're getting all the attention," the peppy woman explained, as I didn't know what was going on to cause him to view me with such pure hatred. She knew, however. So, I tried to sneak out the door only to have to wait until the code was punched in to the lock. 

I then went to the regular part of the nursing home, for lack of a better term. Agnes has been there for years. She recently turned 100. She always has an old-time story ready for me. 

"Do you still have twine?" she asked. I said yes, knowing that she did not have dementia and the story was indeed going somewhere, as they have for the past 10 years. 

"When we were young and somebody was sent to prison in Stillwater, we would say 'they went to Stillwater to spin twine.'" I guess that is what they did at the prison back then. Today, they stamp license plates. 

She told how the twine arrived, eight large spools in a burlap sack, the bundle held together by some especially thick twine. 

Another lady told how she cultivated with horses as a girl. It went so slow that when she finished a field, her father told her to start back up again back at the beginning. 

"We didn't just wave at each other back then when we met on the road going to town," she said. "We stopped and talked to every car!" 

I asked the group if they noticed anything different about me. Last week in Twin Valley in response to the question, a woman popped up and said, "Your voice sounds better!" Which is true. What was different about me was I had my tonsils out. And my voice is clearer.

Today, when I asked the same question, the woman who cultivated with horses as a girl snapped, "You're wearing shorts!" 

True enough. 

"So we can see your knobby knees!" she added. 

She set herself up good because, although she was dressed in fancy dress, when she sat it came a little above her knees--and she had forgetten to roll her nylon stockings up over her knees, so if anybody had prominent knobby knees, it was her! 

"Well, we can see your knobby knees, too!" I said right back. She was a good sport, as they always are in the home, and threw her hem over her knees with disgust. Nursing home residents love to banter and no longer get embarrassed. You can push it a bit. If it doesn't work, they forgive and forget on the spot as a matter of maturity, not dementia.

"I am too old to be offended," Richard Nixon shrugged during a trip to Russia in the last year of his life when Russian President Boris Yeltsin refused to see him. 

The banter in a nursing home you can't get by with out in society. It is complete fun. And I came home utterly drained. Two hours of playing and singing feels like running four miles. I plopped in the recliner and slept for two hours. 

Now that I am awake, I am still running through the time in the Alzheimer's unit in my head. There is something special about Alzheimer's units. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more gratifying than to break through the fog and see some smiles. With the Alzheimer's patients, you get back what you put in and more. They respond to energy. They respond to mischief. They respond when people ham it up. Their garbled thanks at the end sometimes takes the form of poetry. 

None of them were a chocolate chip cookie today, either. 

September 9th

On tour

I haven't been speaking lately, but I have missed performing at nursing homes, so I took five on this week: Fertile and Twin Valley last week, Hawley today, Halstad tomorrow and Crookston Wednesday. 

Today in Hawley, I asked a woman in the front row how she was doing. 

"Well, I am not a chocolate chip cookie, I can tell you that much for sure!"

I said I wouldn't hold it against her.

Afterward in the coffee hall where we had some delicious fresh donuts, a man told me he had written a poem about himself, would I care to hear it?

I said sure.

"When I get drunk and take a walk

I pick up cigarettes butts off the sidewalk.

I have a whole box."

It is sure a heck of a lot better than this

Aunt Olla had an eye appointment today. I couldn't take her due to the Hawley engagement, so I leaned on brother Joe. It was a little ambiguous what the appointment was about as it was allegedly to fix some broken glasses, although the ones on her nose looked fine. 

Eventually, it came out: Olla was hoping to use a pair of broken old frames as an excuse to get new, more fashionable frames for when she's in the casket at her funeral. But since her eyes have not changed and she had glasses on the end of her nose at that very moment which were perfectly fine, her attempt to scam the system was found out and denied. 

Tonight we arrived at a solution. They sell very fashionable reading glasses for next to nothing at drugs stores and at Wal-mart. Since she won't need to see through them in her casket, the prescription won't matter. 

It is important to have fashionable glasses, whether age 16 or three weeks from 102. 

September 5th

A disappointment

I played and sang at the Fertile Hilton yesterday. I went in an hour early to visit Aunt Olla. She was in good form, although a pinched nerve is making it painful for her to stand and walk. I rolled her outside a while and we visited in the gazebo.

However, she had expected the entire family to show up to play and sing and it instead it was just me. I thought she might get over that, but it stuck. She kept mentioning it. "So the others aren't coming?" Over and over. I was in a bit of hot water. I was eager to start the program so she would forget. 

Aunt Olla listened politely to my hour of music. We then went to the dining room for coffee her friend Virginia before I pushed her back to her room. It took us a long time to get down the hall, and I think she forgot that I was the one pushing her chair.

"How did it go?" asked one of the staff back on Olla's wing.

"Well!" she huffed. "The music was a complete disappointment!" 

September 3rd


Here is a good recording of the great organ at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Louis Vierne, the composer of the piece, was organist there for many years. 

Read how Vierne fulfilled a life-long dream and died on the E-flat. 

Just listen to the first few seconds to get a feel for the anger and frustration that he poured out in some of his works. For more of the same, troll ahead to 4:45. This is a great example of a piece that was written for a particular instrument (this Cavaille-Coll organ) and falls flat on anything less. 

It was quite a day when I went into Notre Dame cathedral eleven years ago. First, I looked up at the massive rose window, a moment that caused me to gasp. One of those Grand Canyon moments. Unforgettable. Then, the organ sounded. I could have died happy right then. 

While you have the volume up, try out this recent spine-tingling version of the Welsh national anthem sung at a rugby match--a much better recording than I have posted previously. 

Oh, I found more! Here are the national anthems sung before a rugby match between England and South Africa. Stick around for the beautiful South African anthem. 

September 2nd

The Perfect Day

Let's just get it over with and declare today the winner. It could get no better. 

Cool in the morning. Forty-six degrees. Nice fall touch. But it warmed quickly. Mowed a little grass, as the lawns perked up with last week's rain. The gardens are in good color. 

Went grazing. Ate snow peas first, then raspberries, red and yellow, then a green pepper and about six cherry tomatoes. Tried a Honeycrisp, which looked perfect, but it wasn't ripe. A pity. I threw it as far as I could into the swamp eliminate evidence of my unwisdom. But the grapes were perfect. Ate two clusters. 

Afternoon nap. Then went for a run on the railbed. The dust is still settled from the rain. Birds fluttered along ahead of me as I approached. Crickets on either side chirped in stereo. Still warm enough to run without a shirt on. Wanted to run with less, but I haven't yet dared go four miles in such a state, although eighty-five percent of the time you could get by with it. It's that other fifteen percent that will get you in trouble. And the Amish use the trail some. Hate to scare the kids. 

Drove back to the place in the old Ranger. Picked six cobs of corn, two big tomatoes, a bunch of Goodland apples, some snow peas, and my new favorite vegetable, the incredible, edible, nutritious purslane. Please read the article. You all have it in your garden. It is time to eat it. Tonight, I stir fried it with lemon basil, snow peas and left-over lamb roast. It was scrumptious. 

Then I juiced the apples with carrots and celery, boiled the corn, and I think Lance and I had a great little supper. 

Went up to Joe and Kae's on the bike as the sun started to set. Turns out Kae had been foraging as well. Her dish was better than mine, but I had no room left for any more than a bite. 

Then on the bike for one of my favorite rituals on a perfectly still evening in the summer: Biking as slowly as possible on the tar and watching the sun set. One car went by in 40 minutes. One jet flew elegantly over head, quite low. No sound until it passed. No wind. 

More natural sounds: The swans honking in their new home (my swamp got too low on water) 3/4 mile north. Sandhill cranes on the stubble field 1/2 mile away sounding their rubbery croak. A hoot owl across the lake on the DNR land, his hoot lingering across the water. Mourning doves. Dozens of kinds of crickets. Two mallards quacked out of the reeds when I came near, then fifteen more rose up and startled me good. 

Smells: The cool air smelled like a glass of cold water. Spicy clovers. Heavy swamp smell. Grass. Cedar mulch in the garden. Corn field along my drive. 

This fun would not have happened when the road was not paved. With pavement, one can glide silently with the bike and hear everything. With gravel all you hear is crunching.

The back gear could use some WD-40. 

Overhead, some elegant cirrus clouds high up scissored back and forth. When I looked at them for a long while, they popped into 3-D, just like those optical illusion things. 

No use for a camera, on the 3-D clouds or anything else. Best just to soak it in, store it up for winter. I almost longed for a tape recorder so that in the silence of winter, I could play an hour of evening summer noises. 

With the sun down for good, the air got real cool quick, cool to the point where it felt warm when I finally stepped in the house. 

There could be no more perfect day in northern Minnesota. 

Here are some purslane recipe ideas.