You Learn Something New

Maybe it’s just me.  But there are some things I know, but I don’t know I know them.  Get what I mean?  For example, the other day I was sitting and thinking to myself about something my mom used to tell me (I swear she did). 

You know sometimes when you eat, or you even see something yummy, especially something sour, how you get a stinging sensation in the corners of your jaws?  Hmm, maybe this doesn’t happen to everyone.  Well when I am hungry, if I haven’t eaten in a while and someone offers me a juicy peach, glands that are about two inches below my ears get a sharpish stinging pain.  I asked my mom why it hurt and she told me it was my glands. 

Not just any glands, but specific glands that were right there.  I am 39 now, and I got to thinking the other day that I’ve never heard of these glands anywhere except from my  mother.   I was going to go look them up on the Googles.  Right before I typed the word in, I realized I was never going to find these glands, because there was no such thing. 

I had no new information, I just suddenly realized that if people did haveSpangular Glands, I’d have heard of them by now.  I called all my siblings.  None of them remembers being told this particular lie.  I still double checked on Google.  No dice.  We do have Salivary Glands, but not Spangular ones.   Too bad I’ve been telling my kids about theirs for years.


To Our Newest Guest


I should probably just have a disclaimer in the guest room of whatever person is staying with us. I love having them (most of them), don’t get me wrong. But in addition to making you the expert on everything de Minnesota, allowing you to be generous and kind, and allowing you to show off everything you’re proud of, it really shines a brutal beam on those things you’d just as soon not share. Or things you just never thought of as weird until you had to explain them to someone else.

I’d put something like this.

  • In general Americans don’t iron. Go ahead and do it if you want. Knock yourself out, but it sure ain’t part of the standard American host-mom laundry package.
  • There are lots of clothes here that can’t be washed. Serious. That great new warm jacket you got. The puffy one? Can’t wash it. Dry clean it if you really want to, but it can’t be washed.

This one was hard sell to the guy living here from Colombia. I’m not sure he even believes me now. The funny thing was that the hardest part of the story to get him to believe was that there were feathers inside the jacket. You should have seen his face while he tried to figure out the joke. He just kept holding the jacket out and saying, “FEATHERS? INside the jacket?”, like I was an insane person.

  • As far as laundry, because of a shortage of fresh water due to glaciation, we are very conservative with water. Only the homeowner can run the washing machine, and only then when there is a full load. A full load is almost always enough to cover the bottom of the machine.
  • We don’t dance in this part of the country. We want to. We’d love to, but we can’t. We’ve never been taught to dance. This is especially true for white people. We’ve had our ethnic self esteem battered by the Latinos and the Black Americans, who say we’ve got no rhythm. Now we’re afraid to dance unless we’ve been drinking. This leaves the society with only drunk white dancers, giving further credibility to the theory that white people can’t dance. We leave it to the professionals and the minority groups.
  • At the Morgan home, our laundry system is very sophisticated, involving phases of the moon and critical mass of clean socks, underwear and jeans and towels. Everything else flows from those items. Laundry is done at least once a week, usually 5 times or so. But the system can’t be imparted easily to a newcomer. Just leave your dirty clothes in the basket, they will reappear clean, dry and wrinkly.
  • Don’t touch someone else’s car radio. It isn’t done. I don’t know about your country, but here it is the law that only the driver may touch the radio. Unless the driver is a teenager, and the mom is in the passenger seat. Then mom is in charge.
  • We rarely sit around the table to eat dinner. This isn’t because we don’t find that valuable, it’s because we can’t always find the table. Please feel free to eat at the kitchen counter with the rest of us.
  • We don’t watch TV most days. At all. Occasionally we watch a show on PBS or put in a movie. As unfair as it may seem, this means you won’t watch TV most days. The problem is that in this house, if you turn on the TV, we all become immobilized until the power goes out or the phone or doorbell rings. This is not typical American behavior, just Morgan behavior at this house.
  • I’m truly embarrassed at the state of my garage. It is not typical American. It’s an issue. In Colombia I’m sure people don’t have issues. But here they are attached to your birth certificate.
  • Some phrases you almost certainly didn’t know, probably didn’t care about, but will have mastered by the time you leave here are as follows:
  1. “Did you flush and wash?”
  2. “Did you really?”
  3. “Go back and flush”
  4. “Did you wash with soap?”
  5. “Go back and wash with soap”
  6. “Hey, get back in here and flush!”
  7. “Do you have socks on?”
  8. “Do you know where my keys are?”
  9. “Lights out.”
  10. “Kitties don’t belong on the counter.”
  11. “Did you brush your teeth?”
  12. “You did not. Go back and brush your teeth.”
  13. “Did you use toothpaste?”
  14. “Did you brush your tongue?”
  15. “Did you really?.”
  16. “Go back and do it.”
  17. “Kitties don’t belong in the garage.”
  18. “You have to un-ball your socks before I wash them.”
  19. “Get off the computer and go outside.”
  20. “Can you chew with your mouth closed, please?”
  21. “Can you catch that phone?”
  22. “kitties don’t belong in the toilet.”
  23. “If you don’t like it, you can have a peanut butter sandwich.”
  • Typical American dinners range from pancakes to tacos to pizza to baked chicken and noodles. We try to eat vegetables with every meal. The evening meal is served anywhere from about 6pm to about 9pm. If you miss it, see number 23 above.
  • We make noises here. Especially the men and kids. They do things in meetings and say, “Excuse me.” and expect the meeting to continue. And it does! Things that would only occur as a prelude to a medical emergency in your country. It can be uncomfortable to be around, but honey, you should see what they do when they’re alone. Get down on your knees and thank god they’re on good behavior when you’re around.
  • We obey traffic laws. Even when there’s no one around, we stop at the stop signs. We’re not quite as obedient as the Germans, but way more than the South Americans.

I’m just so busy…

I wrote this weeks ago, before I left for England, before my mom’s house had sold, before before. Isn’t it nice when you can feel better about things? After they’re over? Isn’t it nice?

Now looking back just a little while later, I think it’s funny and not all that significant that the word Executor looks a job title that should involve a black hood and an implement of death. For a while there, every time I saw the word, I thought of it as a harbinger of doom.

Don’t you just hate it when people say they’re so busy. Of course we’re busy. That’s our job. We’re all busy. But right now I am the kind of busy that eats my brain. I can’t write, can’t clean, can’t sit and chat, can’t walk aimlessly around the neighborhood, can’t bake… It sucks.

I’m just sending a message out to all the people who love me, and those who don’t but watch my blog anyway. You know who you are, and I love you inspite of yourself.
I’m executor in my mother’s estate. Executor is a job you couldn’t pay me enough to do. Lots of paperwork, complex legal stuff, and inevitably hurt feelings. I heard about a book once, before anyone I loved was sick. It talked about how to deal with death and the minutia and maxnutia of what is left over afterwords (if you’re wondering if maxnutia is a word, I encourage you to look it up).

I didn’t pay close enough attention to that book or its author or title at the time. And when I started to look for it, I couldn’t find it. So I’ve been muddling through. I’m not good at it, I hate it and I can’t quit. It has taken me a really long time (two years in October). I’m still not done.

There has to be a better way, but I hope I never have to figure out what it is.

In most cases there is a capable surviving spouse who can handle the estate, but in my mom’s case that wasn’t so. Her husband’s limited English and financial mismanagement were serious enough that she decided I would be a better bet. Imagine that.

The worst part of estate management is hard for me to choose. It’s either the headache I get when I start to think about the hierarchy of repayment priority and how that order affects the total amount that will end up going to each divisee in the will, or else it’s the way that dealing with money and property brings out the weakness in people involved. The people who are financially retarded don’t pull their shit together and see the light. The people who drink too much don’t lay off the hooch until it’s all dealt with. The the agoraphobes don’t just set aside their need for their own personal kingdom for a couple months.

And most importantly, I don’t become systematic and organized. I don’t become a good project manager. I’m just me, with a mouth too quick and a brain too slow. With chaos that is almost certainly medicatable reigning in my head. Damn, Damnm Damn.


Here is what we have so far:

headstone front

headstone back

It’s hard to imagine in granite, and in three dimensions. The letters look a little funky to me, but they only have two fonts and one is arial-ish and this is the other one. It looks classic in real life. Even if it looks like college football team lettering in the sketch.

I guess it’s hard to go wrong with tombstones. It will feel good to have it done. AS soon as I get the OK from all my siblings, it’s a go.


Yes ladies and gentleman, today I went out into the wild world to garner material, and also to do some errands that were overdue. Here are the highlights:


I went to the Monument Store. You know the one (yup). I was helped by the same very knowledgable, matter of fat fact woman. She is still quite helpful and quite enormous. I still wondered where she finds shirts that fit her.


I ordered up a grave marker for my mom. You may be wondering, “But lisa, didn’t your mom die in 2005?” And you would be right. She did die in October of 2005. Need I remind you that, first of all, it was late in 2005. Secondly (a nod to my mom who hated me to say ‘second of all’) I left this task to one of my sisters who shall remain nameless but whose name rhymes with Erin,and who was unable to complete it. Thirdly, I’m just barely getting by managing my own life, so get off my case. Lastly, I was busy managing her estate and her unimaginably complex and weird survivors.

But when my grandpa called inquiring if we needed help with paying for a marker because he had been to the plot and there was no marker, well, things got more urgent and done adequately was better than stunningly un-done. Nothing like a little shame to light a fire under my butt.

It’s going to have my mom’s name (her born name, maiden name), Susan Elizabeth Dunn, her birth year and the year of her death. It will have a celtic tree of life inscribed into it on the front face, and the names of all 4 kids and 11 grandkids on the back.


I’m seeking advice on a couple of things, because the final text is changeable for the next week or so:

First, is the maiden name thing OK? She never changed her name back from her second husband’s name, and never took her third husband’s name, so it seems weird to put either of those. Am I breaking any big taboo by reverting to her maiden name?

Second, we planned to put “Mom and Grandma to” …. And all the names, but she was Daughter, Sister, Wife, Friend, Mom and Grandma, so is it too busy to put all those things? I went with just mom and grandma because that was typical, but the other things were just as important. Any opinions from those who know us or those who don’t? This is where comments would be really appropriate.

So there is the Monumental Errand. Done mostly.

Next, I had to try to find a sunscreen that won’t give me zits. Another part of aging that sneaked up on me is the fact that my face doesn’t tan any more. It splotches. As if someone smacked me with a henna teabag on the forehead. So I’ve taken to wearing a hat with a wide brim almost everywhere. And I’m no longer young enough to make it a statement. I’m just another middle aged woman in a hat. I might even qualify as officially eccentric.

The guy who cut my hair said shell out the dough and go to the department store cosmetics counter (something I am loathe to do) and ask for a good sunscreen that won’t give you zits. He was right, of course, because at Herbergers they will take back your sunscreen if you don’t like it, unlike Walgreens. I got some stuff, and I’ll get back to you about if it is zitless, but let me tell you about the woman who helped me. My God! The real world is interesting.

Young woman, in her late 20s, lots of make-up. Dressed all in black, capri leggings and fishnets stockings, over high heels, with a black lab-coat thing over it all. This is all pretty standard. But when Iasked her about a good sunscreen that won’t give me zits on my face, she looked at me and started to talk about what might work for my skin type. Every time I looked up, she was looking at my neck, which I took to be some sort of make-up counter trick she had been taught about calculating skin type. It made me a little worried about how my neck looked, but that was fleeting.

She had me follow behind her wobbly heeled-fishneted self to a different counter, and then she leaned over the counter and said, “Do you think it ‘s the titanium zinc oxide that is making your skin react?” I’ve forgotten the actual substance she said, because this time when I looked at her, I realized with a very disturbed sensation that she was (get this) Still Looking At My Neck! Or maybe it was my shoulder, but it was never, in fact, my face.

For the rest of my distracted description of what I wanted in a sunscreen (sun blockage and no zits), I kept trying to catch her eye. She never waivered from looking at my neckish-shoulder area. She smiled and furrowed her brow at all the right places in the conversation. Her posture was attentive. She just never looked me in the eye. Never.


In case you don’t know. When you talk to people there is a standard polite way to make eye-contact. Babies know it. Children know it. Make-up counter women are almost always good at it. No one has to tell you to make better eye-contact, for the most part. Too much, and it makes people nervous and intimidated, too little they get nervous and suspicious. Although I recently read that men love lots of eye contact from women.

We’ll set aside Native American cultures and the Orient for the sake of this discussion. No let’s not. Even in those cultures, you either look down, averting your gaze, or you make fleeting eye contact. There is no culture in the world where the right thing is to look at the other person’s neck. None. Shoulders? No. Chest? Only in the bar scene.

And let me tell you, there are only three possibilities here. Either I had something horrible on my neck (believe me, I checked), she had some sort of brain disorder, or she was doing a college research project on how people react when you stare at their neck. I bought my 30 dollar sunscreen, which was tinted, even though I said I wanted un-tinted, and got the hell out of there. She came over, cocked her head and smiled at my neck and said, “do you wear lipgloss?” offering me a free sample. I didn’t look at the color,didn’t blink, “Yes. Yes I do. Thanks.” Damn it was disturbing.

I do feel a little tricked, because now I have tinted sunscreen with an SPF of 15, when I wanted a clear one with an spf of 30, but what the hell. I’m not sure I’m willing to go back. When I asked if I could return the stuff she was suggesting, she said, “Oh yeah, I’m the manager of this counter, just ask for me.” Brutal.

Zachary Jophes Morgan

Zach Smile

My oldest son graduated tonight. This is important for a number of reasons, and I think it deserves a small testament. It seems like the closest thing we have to a rite of passage. I’m proud enough to make this an open letter.

Dear Little Friend Zach,

From the moment I knew I was pregnant, from the time I suspected I was pregnant, I loved you. I imagined you. I apologized for dragging you out of the ether into the now, and for not feeling joy at your existence. I was terrified and amazed at what we had done.

Your dad and I were firmly convinced that we weren’t ready for making a family. We decided we wanted to give you up for adoption. It was the option that seemed to make the most sense. It seemed mature and generous; reasoned and sane. But oh, my god, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensued when we broke the news to our families.

It wasn’t like I had imagined. They were gnashing and wailing and beating their chests at the thought of giving you away. You were theirs as much as ours, it seemed. And reason didn’t factor in quite so much. What a hard couple weeks those were while we discussed what to do. Your grandmas begging. Grandpas offering unconditional assistance but behind the scenes encouraging the grandmas.

They won. We agreed. But decided we didn’t think we could handle trying to raise a baby while I lived at home. I moved into an apartment at 2216 Harriet with your dad. I was 8 months pregnant. You were growing, wiggling and healthy in my belly. I gained almost 40 pounds. I was19 when you were born. You created a family. If there was no you, there almost certainly would have been no Holly Avenue Morgans.


You were the dream baby. Easygoing and happy. Alert and active. You’d sleep anywhere. All you needed to be comfy was a diaper service diaper to hold, and a pacifier. You were everybody’s baby. While I finished school, Grandparents provided daycare, aunties and uncles doted, and Dad went to work.

Now you’re big. Bigger than me, bigger than Dad. And strong.

I’ve been thinking. I was always worried about spoiling my kids, so I think sometimes I overcompensated by being critical and tough. This happens to me with people I love. I saw you through a filter of love, love, love, but I worried that other people wouldn’t know. That they’d see you do something stupid, arrogant, mean or lazy and judge you based on only that. So character flaws and mistakes jumped out at me and I may have spent more time correcting than cooing.

I also tend to be emotive. I think I overcompensated by not heaping praise and affection on you. You didn’t help the cause by pushing away from almost the first day you were born, so you could see the world. Now that you’re taller than me and covered with unsightly man-hair, I have to steal hugs. I hope you don’t mind, and that you hug me back some day.
So now it’s time for me to say some of those lovey dovey things you probably don’t care to hear. But later you might, so save this letter.

I’d like to say thanks, I’m sorry, I’m proud, I love you, you’re beautiful and I wish you well.

I’m sorry for the times I lost my temper. I’m sorry I put your grandparents through the thought of you being shipped off (open adoptions were not de rigueur). I’m sorry for the day that the you got stuck on the wrong bus and your tummy felt like mashed potatoes. I’m sorry the squirrel you brought home in your arms had a broken back and had to die. I’m sorry the squirrel we watched fall out of the tree at Gramma’s house, and land on my car had to die, but proud that you were willing to help him along gently.

I’m sorry I couldn’t stop girls from breaking your heart, bullies from breaking your spirit and depression from breaking your stride. Sorry Ezra isn’t your friend anymore. Sorry that while you were a young teenager you forgot how to laugh and smile for a while and dad and I couldn’t remind you. Sorry your kindergarten teacher didn’t like kids.

I’m sorry your gramma had to die on you. She loved you best, because she always felt like you were actually hers. You weren’t. But until there was Bailey, there was you. I’m sorry you loved her, but not sorry. I’m proud that when she was dying, you were old enough to understand, young enough to cry. Man enough for the crying to break you and whole enough to recover. Call me crazy, but one of my proudest and saddest moments was watching you sit by what was left of my mom and your gramma, fold your tall self over and lean your head on her arm and cry.

Thanks for coming up to my room or searching me out to tell me about your day. Thanks for noticing the neighbor boys, for liking them even though they were little and you were big, and reporting their cutitudes to me. Thanks for having me cut your hair. Thanks for laughing until you cried at my puns and stories.

Thanks for choosing The Land Before Time as your favorite movie and wanting to watch it every day while I made dinner (“many things do not fly” being a quote from that very movie). Thanks for being nice to the retarded guy in the neighborhood. Thanks for bringing baby animals home and for dumpster diving.

I always worried that I’d never be able to have fun with my kids. Enjoy their company and have them enjoy mine. So much of parenting is drudgery and every-dayness. Whining, commands, reminders and bickering. Thanks for the times when we both laughed so hard we cried and our sides got stitches. You can’t imagine the relief that washed over me the first time that happened.

I love you and wish you well. I’m glad you’ll be close. I hope you feel comfortable visiting unannounced, unbidden as you were when you showed up 18 years ago. Know you can always come back (but the chore list will get progressively longer if you seem to be getting too comfy). I love you.


Zach says he’s going to move out in July. I wish him well, and I will miss him. Really.

Isn’t it great?

Isn’t it fabulously exciting that we can know things? We can learn things? Aren’t we privileged? What a wonderful thing! I’m in school, so is my dad. I forgot how much I like school. How fun it is to learn stuff and talk to people about stuff they know. I feel so very lucky to be able to go back to school.

I’m not poor, I’m not in a war-torn country, my children and husband are healthy. I’ve been going to bed lately feeling very, very grateful to be me, to be here and to be now. Not proud to be me, American and modern. Because I think of proud as something you earn. I’m blessed.

Isn’t it great we can know joy and ease after traipsing through tension and unhappiness? that we can be content and untroubled after surviving terrible things? What a comfort to know we can feel alive after being knocked to the ground by sadness and badness.

I have a good friend who lost his brother recently. He was too, too young to die. The guy had just sobered up and was really being a human. A new and more whole human. I don’t know that much about this case, but I know some things. They are as follows:

What a rare gift to see someone you love really change for the better. It doesn’t happen to everyone. Too, too many people die without knowing much contentment. Die before they figure things out. Die still slogging, carrying burdens or being chased by demons. It’s a huge thing to love someone and see them get what they need.

I’m in no position to tell someone else to be grateful in the face of such a loss. But I have seen people I love make changes for the better, and people I love slog through their own morass. The latter is so much more common than the former. And the former is such a sweet gift.

Isn’t it strange what a huge gift it is when people you love are whole and happy? Not perfect and totally fulfilled by every moment. Just able to laugh really, and not be broken or fraying or hungry all the time. What a wonderful thing.