What I Overheard the Gnomes Saying

Start of the Race.

Start of the Race.

Amazing Race, a reality television game show is the only television show that our family watches on a regular basis, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch when Crystel requested an Amazing Race scavenger hunt for her 12th birthday party.

A garden gnome was the children’s passport and the first clue stated how important their gnome was:

Before the Amazing Race is over Shin Bee and Antonio will forget their Gnome in a restaurant incurring a 1/2 hour time penalty.

Before the Amazing Race is over Shin Bee and Antonio will forget their Gnome in a restaurant incurring a 1/2 hour time penalty.

Find a gnome. The gnome must be with you today, always. One of you must hold it, carry it, and have it on your person at all times. Both of you are responsible to tenderly attend to your gnome until you are on the mat at the finish line. If you are ever without your gnome it is a ½ hour penalty. This penalty will be served before you can step on the finishing mat.

Crystel using Peachie the gnome for support. She is about to get her feathers plucked.

Crystel using Peachie the gnome for support. She is about to get her feathers plucked at Bella’s Salon.

A ruckus in the corner of the living room draws my attention. Two gnome brothers are about to go at it. One has a hoe he menacingly swings above his head.

“I had it worse than you,” he hollers.

“No, you didn’t,” the other argues. “Look at my hat. I’ve had this HAT ever since the19th-century.” The gnome starts to sob. “I remember … when the

Zipporah and Natty finishing a challenge. At this point, Gnomio, being held by Natty, still has his conical hat.

Zipporah and Natty finishing a challenge at Richfield Veterans Memorial Park. At this point, Gnomio, being held by Natty, still has his conical hat.

German children … called me Gartenzwerge (garden dwarf).”

He is overcome with grief and drops his water pitcher. The black jug lands at his feet spilling its contents. “What is it with children these days?” He sits down, not caring that his pants are getting wet. He rests his head in his arms, lets loose with his tears.

Crystel and Allie completing the 'take a selfie with a dog' challenge. Peachie safe in Allies left hand.

Crystel and Allie completing the ‘take a selfie with a dog’ challenge. Peachie safe in Allie’s left hand.

“Yeah, but, yeah but …” the gnome with the hoe says, “At least YOU were found. My children caretakers couldn’t even find me. I would have stayed in the crook of the tree aaaallllllll day if it wasn’t for their

mother. Darn electronics!” He peers down at the hole in his brother’s conical hat. “Maybe he’s right maybe he does have it worse. I can see right down to his feet. I knew he never had any guts.” He touches his head. “At least I still have my point.”

Gnomio overlooking the make a homemade pizza and drink challenge. He's shaking his head. "This isn't going to turn out," he says. 2 cups of flour for the drink was used instead of 2 tbs.

Gnomio overlooking the make a homemade pizza and drink challenge. He turns his back to whisper,  “This isn’t going to go well. 2 cups of flour for the drink was used instead of 2 tbs.”

The gnome lowers his hoe, sits next to his brother on the grass and places his arm gently around him. “Children have lost their ability to see.” He pauses, then goes on, “And, to read, for gosh sakes. The clue clearly showed where to look for me.” After a moment, he starts to chuckle, “Did you see those two girls running all over Donaldson Park? At the playground, in the soccer field?” He bowls over with laughter. “They weren’t even close to where I was.” The gnome finally realizes that he is the only one

Lighting fire with a flint. Crystel and Allie will do as there ancestors before them did ... steal fire from a competitor. Though they can't read a clue well they can think outside the box.

Lighting fire with a flint. Crystel and Allie will do as there ancestors before them did … steal fire from a competitor. Though they can’t read a clue very well they can think outside the box.

laughing but he can’t help himself. He raises his eyebrows. “Oh, my,” he exclaims. “That is quite a hole. Forget about going to the repair shop for that.” He grabs his tummy, shakes with glee.

Only when it is quiet do the gnomes think to inquire where their older brother is. Maybe they are thankful he isn’t around. Lately he has insisted that they listen to his sermons from the mushroom platform that he has created. His daily pontificating drives the brothers crazy.

Zipporah choosing her route at the Ghostly Gangplank at MOA. This was a first for her. All a part of the Amazing Race.

Zipporah choosing her route at the Ghostly Gangplank at MOA. This was a first for her. All a part of the Amazing Race.

They found their brother sitting under the mushroom talking softly to his pet bluebird.

“They called me Gnomie,” he says unhappily to his pet.

“Cheer, cheer, cheerful, charmer,” the bird says in a melodious, gurgling whistle.

“That wasn’t the worst of it,” he was telling the bluebird. “They abandoned me in a restaurant. All they could think of was money, money, money, winning, winning, winning.”

Antonio and Shin Bee high fiving it when they learn that Crystel and Allie took the time penalty for not finishing their sushi at Masu Shushi & Robata at the MOA. However, they will forget Gnomie at the restaurant incurring their own time penalty.

Antonio and Shin Bee high fiving it when they learn that Crystel and Allie took the time penalty for not finishing their sushi at Masu Shushi & Robata at the MOA. However, they will forget Gnomie at the restaurant incurring their own time penalty.

The two brothers crawl under the gold chanterelle mushroom and join their brother. Apricot scent is in the air.

“My two girls called me Gnomio,” the one with the hole in his hat says shrugging his shoulders. He had a lot bigger problems to think about.

“I was Peachie,” says the one with a hoe. He reaches up to take a nibble out of the tender mushroom stem. “Mmmmm,” he says.

“Stop it,” says Gnomie. He bats at his brother. “The altar will fall.” He measures his brothers with his eyes. “I think we can all agree that it wasn’t a good day to be a gnome.”

All three solemnly nod their heads.

Children’s laughter is heard in the background, oblivious to the gnomes sorrow.

What surprised me the most about Crystel’s Amazing Race is how similar it was to the reality show. Clues misread or not read, shouts of unfairness, competitors talking their way to the front of the line, and a gnome (passport) forgotten in the heat of the race….. but most importantly the day was a whole loft of fun for competitors, drivers, video and camera crew.

Comfortable on Any Turf



More than a dozen years ago, Lisa Taylor Lake founded the writers group that eventually gave rise to WordSisters. Lisa’s original inspiration was that we could provide vital insight and feedback to each other. Over the years, the group grew to be so much more—mentors, cheerleaders, and true wordsisters. In spring 2012, Lisa died of cancer and this March, we are honoring her with two blogs—this one and one in a few weeks. Ellen & Elizabeth

I had belonged to Lisa’s creative nonfiction writers group for years before I learned she also wrote poetry. Inspired by classes she had recently taken, Lisa had created a chapbook of her poems and reserved a cozy room at her church for her first poetry reading.

When she invited our writers group to the reading, she had confessed to nerves, even though she regularly spoke in front of groups for her work in the state health department’s communications office. This was different, she said. This was her poetry. It was personal.

And it was beautiful. As she read, her audience of two dozen listened quietly—until several of us couldn’t suppress an ooh at a particularly lovely line. Silence broken now, as Lisa continued, more of us expressed mmms, oohs, and aahs, and shared appreciative nods and smiles. Our response emboldened Lisa to mention she had planned to end with the poem she had just read, but if we would like, she could read one or two more. When we applauded wildly and said yes, please, more, she stepped back, momentarily overwhelmed, and then she obliged us with pleasure.

Afterward, ever the good hostess, Lisa flitted among us, greeting people, directing us toward refreshments, accepting compliments, her eyes and feet virtually dancing.

Years later, my husband David and I sat at a lacquered pine table in a dark booth while I wondered what I had gotten myself into. An essay of mine had been accepted by a local online literary journal. A local church sponsored the journal and the editors celebrated each issue’s publication with an author reading at the Turf Club bar. Well, not in the bar itself—in the bar’s basement.

Lisa was the first of my friends to arrive, her eyes twinkling as she took in the wood-paneled walls sporting mounted fish and game. She and David ordered beers and discussed the typography of the beer signs and the design of the amateur northwoods landscape paintings that filled gaps among the taxidermy.

As I read, I remember the sensation of all eyes—those of the patrons, the bartender, and the mounted deer—fixed on me as people listened. Afterward, I felt the adrenaline rush of finishing without tripping over words or a microphone cord. Now I understood why Lisa was aflutter after her poetry reading—the lightness of heart that comes from risking and successfully entering new territory.

The last time we heard Lisa read her poetry, she looked artistic and angelic in a full-length turquoise dress that she couldn’t get over buying for herself for the occasion. The skirt flowed around her ankles so that she appeared to float rather than walk. We entered her church again. This time, many more of us filled a larger room that featured a wood-beamed vaulted ceiling and arched stained-glass windows.

Lisa’s writing group, our writing group—Ellen, Elizabeth, Rose, Jill, Brenda, and I—sat together, WordSisters well before Ellen and Elizabeth began this blog. We oohed and aahed over the dress, but moreso over the depth of meaning in her poems and her greater confidence in sharing them with us. We were not the only ones to surreptitiously wipe away tears, and not only as a reaction to her beautiful words.

Lisa could be comfortable in a vaulted spiritual space or in a basement bar decorated with dead animals. Lisa was game. (And as I write that sentence, I can hear her politely questioning whether I’m perhaps overreaching in my attempt at word play.) But she herself wrote in her essay, “Meeting with Royalty” about spending Christmas in England, “I was game for any adventure.”

Lisa took her good manners and tactfulness, her keen observation and sense of story, and her openness to new experiences with her wherever she went. Hiking and writing poetry along her beloved North Shore. Dressed like a tsarina in long underwear, a long wool coat, and a Russian-styled hat to see Britain’s royal family go to church. Tired and angry at a car and a relationship stuck in the mud. Driving with her sister to a family reunion—she wrote that they were “two gals pushing sixty in a rented red convertible that was pushing seventy.”

I hope Lisa pardons my paraphrase of that essay’s opening sentence, but it’s one of my favorite images from her stories: red-headed Lisa holding onto a broad-brimmed hat to protect her fair complexion, ever practical, yet speeding along joyfully with someone she loves, whether she was traveling on well-trod or unfamiliar turf.

What Makes For A Strong Family?

Richfield Dual Language School fiesta. Playing games on McGruff.

Richfield Dual Language School fiesta. Playing games on McGruff.

I think about this a lot since my children will be starting middle school next year. Middle school means 900 students in three grades compared to 400 students in five grades at Richfield Dual Language School.

Middle school means dances, parties, old and new friends.

Middle school means more access to social media.

Middle school means I’m just outside of my parent’s reach.



Or, does it?

A strong family is in my mind because I want my children in my circle of influence. I don’t want them to make choices that have no do-over.

So, how to keep them close?

A lot of people believe that eating dinner together every evening or even several times a week is vital. That isn’t going to happen in our family. Jody and I often don’t eat dinner in the evening, although we make sure our children and their friends are well fed.

One constant in our life is putting the kids to bed. We take turns with them, as we have since they were infants. This of course, will become less practical as they get older.

I don’t want Antonio and Crystel to be lost in middle and high school like I was. I want them to be able to ask me for help without rebuke and even to bring their friends’ concerns to me if need be. I want to be accessible.

Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters

To this end, I’ve done a good job, even though at every school conference this year Jody and I’ve been surprised. The children take turns with who is having ‘issues.’I tell my kids that they couldn’t ever do anything worse than I did in school and that is the truth. The difference is the world is a much more dangerous place and a lot less forgiving than it was 44 years ago.

Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do

Having a strong family means having strong relationships within the family. It’s very important to me that Antonio and Crystel are friends. Sometimes, I still remind them that we adopted them together so they would always have each other.

Mondays have become our family Tae Kwon Do day. It is our sit down dinner. Antonio, Crystel, Jody and I are black belts. We have had many meals together the last several years. Our testing day is a banquet.

Once in a while we have game night, and when Amazing Race is on television, we all gather around imagining Mama Beth and Mama Jody as contenders.

Loft Mentor Series

Loft Mentor Series

Out of all that we do, I think it is our adventures that keep us strong. Doing new and different activities or eating meals in new restaurants. Since I won the Loft Mentor Series, we’ve been attending the readings as a family and eating out at a new restaurant prior to the reading.

And then there are our more adventurous trips which go a long ways toward bonding us as a family—camping in the Boundary Waters, visiting Guatemala, taking a train to Chicago, Mexico, driving to Arkansas, Florida, and cross country skiing in Wisconsin.



Sharing the above with family and friends also tightens the bond.

A strong family can mean many things. Tonight a strong family means no electronics and no friends over until all MIS (missing homework) on a fifth grader’s conference report are replaced with a grade.

Why Run A Half Marathon?

Half Marathon start wearing a trash bag

Half Marathon start. Wearing our trash bags.

What am I doing? I asked myself at 4 a.m. Saturday morning.

Often I find myself asking this question—whether it’s getting bitten by a police dog, jumping off a cliff, or sparring a 20-something man.

Why do we do what we do?

I would have 13.1 miles to ponder this question, if I followed through on running Grandma’s Half Marathon.

It wasn’t that I haven’t run a half marathon before. I have, many of them. I’ve also run many full marathons—the entire 26.2 miles—Twin Cities, Grandma’s, Chicago, Big Sur, Whistlestop, etc… Some of them, I’ve run more than twice.

Most likely, I asked myself, What am I doing? then too.

Starting Line

Gun has gone off. Moving towards the start.

Saturday morning, it was drizzling. If it was a downpour, I wouldn’t have left our tent trailer where Antonio, Crystel and the dogs were sleeping—warm and dry.

There were times that I haven’t made it to the start line. On one occasion, I had a broken toe. Others, maybe I wasn’t prepared for the venture.

Today my only reason would be that it was a little wet. That wasn’t enough to keep JODY out of the half marathon so I didn’t even bring it up. I knew that I would feel bad if the weather cleared and the sunrise took care of the haze and most importantly, JODY would be out there running the race and not Beth.

Why We Do What We Do, Reason #1: We are partnered with a person who follows through when we might quit if left on our own.

I’ll admit right now that Jody is a better person than me and a much better athlete. With that thought, I just got into the van for the ride from the KOA in Cloquet to the Duluth Convention Center where we would board a bus and be taken to the start of the half marathon.

Discarded clothing and trash bags. I kept mine for the first mile.

Discarded clothing and trash bags. I kept mine for the first mile.

Generally, if I am able to get myself to a race, I can finish it. Even if I fall down in the first few miles like I did during a rollerblading marathon. I picked myself up, swatted at the road rash and kept going. I still have the scars.

There are events when wearing a trash bag is perfectly good attire, even envied. Saturday morning was one of those times. It didn’t appear that the drizzly weather was going to quit.

I had a strategy for the half marathon. I was going to run walk it. So the fact that I hadn’t run walked more than 7 miles to get ready for the half didn’t bother me.

Reason #2: To see if we can actually do something that we aren’t prepared to do.

I thought that I could run 10 minutes, walk five minutes and in that manner I would stay in front of the bus that would pick you up if you were too slow. It clearly stated the time requirement in the rules: A policy regarding time requirements will be implemented for the half marathon. The policy requires participants to maintain a 14-minute-per-mile pace (finish in 3:03:40). Those unable to maintain this pace along the course will be bused back to the DECC parking lot. Failure to comply with this time policy will result in immediate disqualification.

My new goal. To keep her in my sights.

My new goal. To keep her in my sights.

I’ve been threatened before with a mandatory bus pickup, but it hadn’t happened … yet. Now is the moment to tell you that I did run a marathon with my adult niece who was in the portapotty when they were coming to clear the course. I had to stop them from loading her and the potty onto the semi bed. She should be forever grateful to me.

When the race crowd surged forward, Jody and I knew the run had started. We moved with the wave and soon Jody was saying her goodbyes.

I altered my running strategy to run the first 3 miles and not walk any of it, because I knew that I could run that far without stopping and in that way gain minutes on the bus. You might think I am jesting here, but my goal was to finish the half marathon in 3:00:00 hours. That only gave me a 3 minute and 40 second leeway or I’d be forcefully placed on the bus. Being in front of busses, trash haulers, and portapoppy picker uppers has been a lifelong goal of mine.

The crowd I was with wasn’t moving too fast. That is the funny thing about these races. You wear a chip on your shoe and it tells you everything. For instance, I know that after the race started (gun time) that it took me 5 minutes and 52 seconds to cross the starting line.

Lemon Drop Hill

Lemon Drop Hill

This posed a problem for me. I only had a 3 minute and 40 second leeway before I would be picked up by the bus.  Does a bus pickup go by the gun start or the chip start? Most runners don’t think of these things, but I pondered that question for the first few miles.

Fortunately, about the 4th mile, when I started slowing down I saw a woman runner holding a placard that said 2:45. Whoa. If I could hang with her and her group, then I would do better than I thought.

 Reason #3: Sometimes we surpass our own expectations.

I was pleased to find like-minded people to run near. They ran and walked. So now, my new goal was to stay right with them and not lose sight of that woman with the sign.

Music urging us onward.

Music urging us onward.

I was around the 10-mile mark when Jody finished the half marathon. I know this because she finished at 1:54 minutes and at the 10-mile mark my chip time said 2:03:21. I had 3 more miles to run.

It is one of those things about our relationship that I have accepted. I had just started feeling my groove and was in the zone, but she was toweling off, wearing the finisher’s jersey, and fiddling with her medal.

It was there at the 10-mile mark that I left those 2:45ers behind and started running my own race.

Reason #4: We constantly push ourselves to make living worth living, to feel alive.

The last three miles of the race were my fastest times with the last mile of the half marathon being the quickest at 11:03 minute a mile.

In the zone you feel like you are flying and your feet have wings. I gave it everything I had and passed 220 runners in the next 34 minutes (this stat provided by your chip).



Reason #5: It makes us feel good, young, and healthy.

After the race, Jody said that she thought her full marathon running days were over.

“Oh, no,” I said. “When we’re really, really old there won’t be that many people in our age group.”

In our 50 – 54 age group, there were only 217 females running the half marathon out of 6,627 people. Just think how that number will drop when we are 65 years old. Now that’s the time to run a marathon.

Reason #6: Against all odds, against all stats, against all reason, we might win. Never give up.

Beth’s Stats:                                              Jody’s Stats:

Average Pace 12:04  per mile                    Average Pace 8:46  per mile

Overall Place 5881 out of 6627                  Overall Place 1927 out of 6627

Sex Place 3336 out of 3904 Females        Sex Place 725 out of 3904 Females

179 out of 217 Females                              22 out of 217 Females

Going to the Dogs: On being a Decoy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve done some crazy stuff before but volunteering as a decoy for police dogs ranks close to the top. At first, as with most new adventures the idea of being a decoy was thrilling. I was very aware of the nearing day, checking my calendar, reading the email over and over, making sure that I had the right time and the proper clothing. Long sleeve shirt, pants, boots.

My impetus for being a decoy was simply that I had never done it before and it sounded exciting. How often are you given the opportunity to be dog bait? Exactly. Within a minute of seeing the text asking for volunteers I responded with a firm, “Yes”. Apparently, no one else had this strong feeling because I was the only volunteer from our police reserve unit.

Sometimes when you really want something and you also don’t really want the same thing it doesn’t happen. I half expected this training event to be cancelled.

It wasn’t.

And sometimes you try to imagine what this new adventure will look like.

Visions of running across a field of flowers with a dog, maybe a Labrador, bounding after me and then taking a gentle leap pulling me to the ground was my image.

Ignorance is bliss fits right in here.

Reality was a vacant building, darkness, and me lying on a floor in the corner of an empty room with a sheet of black plastic covering me.

There would be numerous police dogs with a K-9 police officer attempting to locate me, one by one. When does numerous become many? Let’s say when the count is over five. There would be many police dogs, each with their own K-9 police officer taking turns locating me one by one.

Aloneness is being in a dark vacant building waiting for a dog to attack. You know it’s coming. You’re warned, “Come out or I’ll send my dog in after you. You WILL get bit.” In case you didn’t hear it the first time you’re warned again. “You WILL get bit. Come out NOW.”

But and this is a big BUT, the role of a decoy is not to come out. The role of a decoy is to be still in the dark, under the tarp, until the dog latches onto you.

This leaves you time to think. And, you think, I know I’m going to get bit. Some place on my body. Maybe it will be my arm or my leg, could be my back or my shoulder.

I wasn’t too worried. I was suited up in a bite suit with a helmet on.

The advertisement for the Ultra Kimono Training Bite Suit says that high back and chest bites can be taken with confidence.

I can’t say that I was confident but I wasn’t too scared. I was squished in the corner like the Michelen man facing the wall. I felt as protected as one can feel when a police dog is on the prowl and you are the target.

Lying under the tarp, breathing shallow, I didn’t stir.

I heard the dog entering the room. It wasn’t the tap, tap of his nails that I heard first but his heavy, rapid breathing. He came closer. The dog barked a “He’s here boss!” which sounds like 2 or 3 loud snaps. The animal began moving the plastic around with his paws trying to find me with the K-9 police officer urging him on. “Get him! Get a piece of him! Find him!”

I didn’t move.

The dog latched onto my helmet and started pulling me out of the plastic. I played the next part perfectly, “Get your dog off me! Get your dog off me!” I screamed. “Get em off!”

With every dog attack my fear increased exponentially. Each police dog didn’t just want a piece of me they wanted my head. “He’s got my helmet! He’s got my helmet! He’s pulling it off! Get your dog off me!”

After one attack I took my helmet off. “Is that blood?” I asked looking down at the droplets on the floor. I felt the top of my head which felt tender but didn’t come away bloody. “Oh, that’s from the dog,” I said. It was the dog’s saliva I was seeing on the floor.

By this time, I was scared like one should be when being attacked by a police dog. Almost all the dogs went for my head no matter how they tried to position me on the floor. The bite suit was so thick and big that I couldn’t get my sleeve up to hold my helmet on and I was sure that the dogs were going to pop me like a cork. A K-9 police officer even tried to expose my back side so the dogs would go for it. Nada. They wanted Beth’s head.

I acted as a decoy in two other scenarios with multiple police dogs – standing in a corner down a long, long corridor and standing in a corner with a tarp over me. This time the dogs went for my leg. I learned that you shake your leg rapidly after the dog latches on so it doesn’t re-bite you. This is important to know if you’re a bad guy.

Having become aware of my vulnerability as a human being I started to question my soundness of mind. In-between dogs I had plenty of time to think about that. I thought maybe I wouldn’t need to do this activity again. Perhaps being a decoy one time was enough.

And, when I had the opportunity to call it a night, I sat down as quick as I could to get that bite suit off and hustled out of the building.

But, a day has gone by. And I think I just might do it again. You don’t often get the opportunity to feel that afraid and test your mettle. I have learned from this experience. Don’t go prone. Volunteer for the standing position.