Grief Over a Pet


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in My Cats, Willmar | Posted on 14-08-2013


Stella Bella:

Oh, how I love a cat named Stella.


I remember being nervous about taking home such a skittish kitten. Stella shared a cage with Skip at the Humane Society. Skip had me right from the start. But Stella was cautious with me. Without even looking, she could sense my hand coming near and she’d dart this way and that to avoid capture. I brought both cats home and hoped for the best.


I put my new feline friends in the bathroom when I got home so they could get used to a small space at first. It was hard to leave them alone while I went to work the next day. When I returned home, I eagerly ran up the 3 flights of stairs to get to my condo. I opened the bathroom door, and there they were, safe and sound and looking up at me with happy eyes. I stepped closer to Stella, and she didn’t dart away. She continued to look up at me, and she didn’t scramble while I reached down and pet her. She had accepted me. Sigh of relief.


The first night out of the bathroom, both cats slept on the bed with me. When I woke up in the morning, Skip was wrapped around the top of my head, and Stella was asleep in my hand. My heart melted.


Stella was such a funny little thing. When she was a kitten, she loved to fetch. And she loved to dig out makeup brushes from the bathroom drawer and wrestle them to the ground. And of course I would toss a makeup brush down the hallway for her to chase. She’d bring it back, drop it at my feet, and wait for the next toss.


She loved heights, and that included the tops of doors. She didn’t especially like being held, so if you were holding her and standing by a door, she would reach up and look for a grasp on the door or wall.  I’d give her a boost, and she’d pull herself up to the top of the door. So cute. She would stay there for a while, purring like crazy and squirming  around like it was the best place on earth. Once or twice, she used my back as a springboard on her way back down to the ground. We got in the habit of calling her “My favorite little black monkey kitty.”


Two years after getting Skip and Stella, Dane and I got married. Dane grew to love the kitties, and the affection was returned. Stella loved to push the envelope at her new home. One day, we watched in awe and horror as Stella jumped from the railing of the deck to the roof. But when her front paws reached the roof, it was the flimsy gutter that she grasped. Even with a tenuous hold, she used grace and athleticism to pull herself up.


We let the cats outside a lot. They seemed to know the boundaries of the yard and would usually stay within them. Stella was a small cat but she didn’t know that. She would chase neighborhood cats out of her territory. I even saw her stomp her paw on the ground in front of another cat as if to say “This is MY land.”


We were so blessed to have Stella. She showed love by rubbing up against us, rising up to meet a hand, and sleeping at the foot of the bed. When we watched movies, she would snuggle on my legs. And once in a while when I picked her up, she would press herself up against me and purr.


Stella isn’t around anymore. She was venturing out 2 weeks ago, expanding her territory, when she got hit by a car. It was a hit and run.  I found her in the front yard of our neighbor’s house. We buried her in our back yard, in a box, with a few blades of grass, a leaf, and a makeup brush.


Oh, how I grieve for a cat named Stella.

What Willmar Needs


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Restaurants, Shopping, Willmar | Posted on 20-01-2013

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Ever since we lost the Kmart at the mall, I’ve been casually compiling a list of things that Willmar “needs.” It’s primarily a retail wish list, so there’s nothing deep, philisophical, or political here. This is the perspective of a 43-year-old woman (me), so take it with a grain of salt/read at your own risk.  Anyway, my suggestions: 

  1. a free, public, and easily accessible  indoor playground (in the mall?)
  2. a Cracker Barrel restaurant – in the southernmost part of town or right off Hwy 12
  3. a bistro or cafe across the street from WEAC (to enable pre-performance dining with one-time parking)
  4. Great Harvest bakery
  5. Kohl’s
  6. Petco or Petsmart
  7. Old Navy
  8. DSW (shoe warehouse)
  9. more trees along 1st St
  10. maternity clothing store, or bigger maternity sections in the existing department stores

I normally like to tout the local, independent businesses, but sometimes you gotta hit the big-box stores, and that’s often where you get the biggest bargains.


A year or so ago, I would have had more suggestions for downtown, but there seem to be changes/potential going on there. There are a couple of boutique-type shops, and a sports-bar is going in. I don’t normally care for sports bars, but it might be good for Willmar.


Cracker Barrel: Mmm, mm good. There is only one Cracker Barrel in Minnesota, and it’s in Lakeville, south of the Cities,  on I-35. What about travelers and truckers on Highways 71 or 12? Cracker Barrel in Willmar would make a killing. It’s down-home cooking, and there’s a cool country store attached.


Regarding more trees along 1st Street: That main thoroughfare could use some beautification in general, and more trees would be a great start. Look to ACMC, which did a great job in planting trees all around its building. A good time to plant a tree or 2: when new construction is going up and the concrete is all torn up anyway, like when they replaced the old Burger King with the new, or with the the new Goodwill.


Feed Your Soul


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Willmar | Posted on 16-01-2013


Wow, it’s been a very long time since my last post. I halfway expected to be unable to bring my blog up. I thought it might have disappeared. In any case, I certainly didn’t mean for so much time to lapse. And that’s part of what I’m going to write about today. Sometimes my life is very regimented, and that’s my choice, but sometimes that means that if a certain activity isn’t on my list of things to do, I don’t do it. Even enjoyable things, like writing in my blog. This isn’t a recent discovery of my self, for I have been aware of this for years. I think that my regimented ways have held me back from finding and using my true talents and hobbies. I also think that I have cared too much what other people think and say. If I had listened to my soul a little more and had filtered out or even ignored what others were saying, how far would I now be? WHO would I be?


I did turn over a new leaf when I turned 40. On that Big Day, I went on a long and serene drive by myself, and I made a distinct decision while behind the wheel: to follow my instincts more often. Two months later, I met the man who would later become my husband. My new outlook had led me to this great man.


For the last few months, a new message has been blinking like a neon sign in my brain: Feed Your Soul. I became newly aware that after completing my day’s list of thing to do, the only way I relaxed was to watch TV. Why wasn’t I doing things that fed my soul a little more? At the same time, it became blindingly obvious that there could be a link between NOT feeding your soul and overfeeding your body. If I don’t properly feed my soul, maybe I feed my body too much. That’s one of the reasons that it’s so healthy to find an outlet. I have exercise as an outlet, yes, but that is part of my regiment. What about other things? One thing I have not stifled: I have become somewhat obsessed with menu planning, or simply marking recipes that I want to try. It’s great fun. I currently have many cooking magazines by my bedside, as it has become my bedtime reading. Weird, yes? Cooking is an amazing thing, really. You take some ingredients, combine them together and create an interesting, healthy thing to eat. We must eat, so why not make it somewhat alluring? That truly feeds my soul, and my body.


Of course there are other ways to feed your soul: Reading, knitting, music, socializing with supportive people, volunteering,  building rockets. Simply do what you WANT to do. Imagine that.

Willmar Schools, Diversity, and my Experiences as a Substitute Teacher


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Race Relations, Willmar | Posted on 14-06-2012

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There was a recent article (OK, probably a month ago)  in the West Central Tribune about the status of Willmar’s elementary schools according to standardized tests. Our schools were among Minnesota’s lowest performing schools in student growth, student achievement, and achievement gap. This is very disheartening news for our town. But guess what? It seems that a lot of people are blaming the minorities for the bad scores. This makes me sad. I have heard some people say “Willmar has gone downhill in the past 20 years” which seems to allude to the growing minority population. Has crime increased in Willmar because of minorities? I doubt it. I pay special attention to the reporting of crimes in the newspaper just so I can say this: Most of the crimes in Willmar are committed by white people.  


I have been a substitute teacher for Willmar Public Schools, just for the last 2 months of this past school year. No, you don’t need a teacher’s license to be a substitute teacher in Minnesota or in most other states. You only need a 4-year degree, which I have. Some states only require a 2-year degree or less.


Anyway, I have made some observations about the schools and about children today in general. Believe me, the teachers work hard. They have a schedule that they are expected to follow, such as language between 10 and 11 am and math between 1 and 2 pm (I don’t know the schedule exactly). The kids go to other classes for math, according to ability. The kids only have 1 recess for the day, tied to lunch, and the whole lunch-recess combination is only 30 or 35 minutes. There are all kinds of special, structured things that each classroom does at least once a week, such as time in the computer lab, music, physical education, art, and the library. The kids move around to these activities a lot. The children who are new to America go to ELL (English Language Learners) specialists every day, maybe twice a day. I saw NO disruption in classroom teaching or curriculum because of Somalis and Mexicans, so let’s not blame them on poor test scores. The teachers go on with their lesson plans. I think the purpose of the ELL teachers is to meet the new-to-America kids where they are with language skills and catch THEM up to the classroom. In other words, the class does not slow down to meet the needs of those who are just learning English. And from what I saw, most of the kids were getting along quite well with each other, despite race differences. They seem to accept diversity much more than adults do, as usual. Adults can learn so much from children.


As a substitute, I sure had to deal with some misbehaving kids, and I’m talking about all kids, of every race. I know that the perspective of a substitute teacher is a little skewed because of children’s innate tendencies to be a little naughty around a substitute. Nonetheless, I was taken aback by the behavior of some of the kids. Unfortunately, it is easy to let the bad behavior of a few kids take over my viewpoint of the kids in general. After a few days of substituting, I got comfortable with sending the disruptive children to the principal’s office, much to their horror. Classroom management was so much easier once those kids were out. I had to remind myself “Pay attention to the kids who are doing really well” and there are a lot of good-intentioned children who are so eager to learn and to help out the poor substitute. Bless their hearts. There are some fantastic children out there.


I can’t help but wonder what home life is like for misbehaving children. Are the parents watching them sufficiently, or do they expect the schools to do all of the work of raising their children properly? More than once, I overheard teachers say  “You might be able to get away with that at home, but not here.” I often hear about the fact that children run their households these days. Sometimes I wonder if parents are just so busy, with both Mom and Dad working full-time. 


 A lot of things about elementary school have changed since I was little. For instance, there are no blackboards. There are white boards, which are usually so covered up in posters that there is very little space for writing. Classrooms now have smartboards, which are big computers that teachers can control with the computer at their desk or by touching the icons right on the board. The smartboard and I are not the best of friends….Another change that struck me is the serving of breakfast and snacks at school. In my opinion, this is another example of parents pushing off some of their responsibilities onto the schools. Yes, kids do better in school if they’ve had breakfast, but shouldn’t that be up to the parents? Are these school breakfasts healthy? Well, I saw pop tarts, sugared cereals, and cookie packs. The snacks fare a little better: I saw sliced fruit, cucumber, and crackers.


I may continue with substitute teaching next school year. I have a temp job now, which may become permanent, but it’s part-time (yay!!!) so I can always do some subbing in the schools here and there. There are a lot of things I like about subbing. Like I said, many children are a joy. I think my favorite position was substituting in physical education with Kindergarteners. Surprise surprise. Who wouldn’t like that? I also liked working with students in small groups, helping them with their math and reading.


Of course I always get a kick out of the things that kids say. I overheard one 2nd grade boy ask another boy “Why were you so mean to me on the bus yesterday?” The other boy said “I don’t know… I didn’t know I was being mean…I didn’t mean it.” Awwwwwww.


To read more about race relations in Willmar, you can read a better blog at  


There’s a New Bakery in Town!


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Sweets, Willmar | Posted on 31-05-2012


When I was running errands on Tuesday, my sweet tooth was kicking in. I was driving down 1st Street and wondering what gas station to stop in for a treat when, lo and behold, what did I see? A sign for a bakery, saying “Timeless Traditions Cakes & Confections.” Could it be? A new bakery in town? Are they open yet? Of course I had to investigate, being a blogger about living in Willmar. I have to do my duty, right? Heh heh heh. So I pulled in and saw the “open” sign, parked, and went in.  This bakery has a nice selection of goodies. It took me a minute to take it all in and decide what to get. The man who boxed up my items and rang me up said they’d been open since the previous Thursday. So they’ve been open a week now. Well, I got a bacon and cheese scone or biscuit. And a big, colorful sugar cookie on a stick – I think they called it a popsicle cookie or something like that. There were other fabulous-looking cookies too, like a gluten-free almond lemon cookie, and a rocky road cookie. There were also some flaky pastries like croissants. Well, the savory scone was delicious, moist and flaky. The cookie on a stick was also very good. I nuked it for a few seconds at home, and its warmth brought out the subtle sweetness. I will have to return to the bakery for more goodies. The shop is located at 1108 S 1st Street, in the same building as Prescription Center, across the street from El Tapatio, a restaurant I have yet to sample.


Speaking of new places in Willmar to enjoy sweet things, did you catch the article in the West Central Tribune the other day about Harbert’s, the ice cream shop set to open tomorrow? It seems that Willmar finally has some places to buy treats, other than grocery stores and gas stations.


My older sister is a graduate of the pastry chef program at Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis, and she treats us to awesome desserts at family gatherings. I guess I won’t have to recruit her to Willmar to start her own bakery just yet.

Black Bears


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Outdoor Adventures | Posted on 29-05-2012

This weekend, there was something on TV about what to do and what not to do when you run into black bears. It reminded me of my run-in with two black bears while hiking the Appalachian Trail about 8 years ago. I was visiting my Saudi Arabian friend in Washington D.C., where he runs a small anti-terrorist organization. I kid you not, he runs an anti-terrorist company, which made it somewhat exciting to hang out with him, as I wondered if my safety was in slight peril. “Who is watching us?” I thought to myself as we were running around town.


Anyway, I had told him that one thing I wanted to do while in the area was hike part of the Appalachian Trail. I love hiking, as long as my old runner’s knee isn’t acting up, and here was this legendary hiking opportunity within a 2 hour drive. So we drove up to Shenandoah National Park, which contains 101 miles of the trail, and commenced hiking. My friend gave me a hard time about my “frantic” hiking, wondering what my hurry was. That’s how I roll, man. Whether hiking or canoeing, I don’t mess around. I don’t want to lolly-gag. Besides, I really wasn’t going that fast, but I certainly wasn’t out for a stroll.


We had only hiked maybe a mile when I heard some leaves rustling to the side of the trail. I looked in that direction, and just 10 feet away were these 2 black bears, both looking at us. Oh my gosh. I grapsed my friend’s arm and whispered “What should we do?” My friend was speechless. We both just stood there looking at the 2 bears. I actually remember trying to convince myself  “They’re just black bears. It’s not like they’re Grizzlies.” And they were only about my height or slightly taller, so they weren’t very big. But I also thought to myself “What if they have babies nearby? They might attack us then.” I was scared, but I was also in awe, as here were these impressive creatures, right in front of us in the wild. After maybe 10 seconds, one of the bears turned around and ran away. A few seconds later, the other one did the same. Phew!!!!! We weren’t attacked!! My friend and I turned to each other and said a bunch of stuff that you’d expect, like “Oh my gosh, I was so scared, what should we do now?” We might have given each other a “Thank God we made it” hug, but I really don’t remember. We decided to continue hiking, but I was certainly worried for the rest of our hike. My friend picked up a palm-sized rock and carried it, in case he needed a weapon later. I remember after a little while, I had to urinate, and of course there was nowhere to go but the bushes. “Oh great, now the bears can track me down by the smell of my urine” I thought to myself. But when you gotta go, you gotta go… We only hiked a total of 3 miles or so, which was the plan anyway. Towards the end of the hike, we saw a deer. “Now THAT is what we like to see while hiking” we joked.


In case you’re wondering, this friendship with the Saudi was totally platonic. I hate it when people are skeptical about that. In any case, this was before I met my husband.


Still wondering what the TV show said about the do’s and don’ts when confronted by a black bear? They don’t suggest running away, as that will make the black bear want to chase you. They also advise against climbing a tree, as black bears are fast and avid tree climbers. They say to make yourself bigger by raising your arms and just keeping your eye on the bear. I think my friend and I handled the situation pretty well.

Water Fun on Hot Days


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Childhood Memories, Weather | Posted on 20-05-2012

It was hot on Thursday, a little too hot for my taste. Thinking back to my childhood days in California, I remember some stifling hot days in the summer, with temperatures getting into the 100’s. We had an in-ground  swimming pool that provided immediate relief from the heat, and hours of fun.  I remember being in the pool by 10am some days.


Of course, sometimes you want a different kind of water playground, and that’s when you go to the beach. If we went to the beach on a hot day during a weekend, we were among thousands of people with the same idea. The water was the obvious draw, but also, it was always cooler at the beach. As we drove our Volkswagen bus the 10 or 15 minutes it took to get to the beach, traffic got heavier as we got closer to the ocean. I remember excitedly sitting at the edge of my seat as we advanced, eager for that first glimpse of cool blue water that stretched to infinity. And when I saw it, I got a sense of “Ahhhhhhh”….immediately followed by impatience to get off the highway, find a parking spot and unpack the car so that I could get into the water ASAP. 

Living in Minnesota, we have a LOT of lakes. You don’t have to drive far at all to get to one. As the “More the Explore in Minnesota” jingle says, Minnesota has “more shoreline than California.” I think the lakes are a bigger deal to Minnesotans than the California beaches are to Californians, if that makes sense. People here really value their lakes.

As an adult, I find that one of the most relaxing things ever is to float on an inter-tube or floating chair, in the water, especially with beer in hand. I have experienced the Apple River a couple times. It is mostly enjoyed by the young, college-age crowd, but I was in my 30’s both times I went down the river. Thankfully, there wasn’t as much bawdy behavior as I heard there could be. You make of it what you want, and we wanted to be mellow, so that’s what we were. I was in a really small group of friends, and we tied our inter-tubes together and enjoyed being gently buoyed by the water. Complete relaxation.

I like water parks. I hope to experience Willmar’s Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center this summer. I would take my niece and nephews. I have been to the water park at Valleyfair a few times. One particular time, I totally  humiliated myself. It was probably 15 years ago. I was standing in line to buy tickets for the water park. As I approached the front of the line and had time to observe things, I noticed that the cashier had really damaged skin on her face, like she had been in the sun way too much. When it was my turn to make a purchase, instead of saying “two tickets, please” I accidentally said “Skin cancer.” Oh my gosh. I think I apologized, but I was mostly so mortified that I had said this, and I’m sure she was too. Me and my big mouth.

Reminder of Newcomer Get-together


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Willmar | Posted on 08-05-2012

For those of you who missed it, or if you haven’t gotten around to reserving your spot yet, there will be a Willmar Newcomer get-together at Cafe Persepolis this Friday, the 11th, at 6:00 pm. So far, there are 8 or 9 of us. We will be eating, so bring your appetite! Although the group is for newcomers, you are welcome to join us even if you have lived here for 20 years but still feel new. You are also welcome to join us if you have lived here all of your life but would like to meet people who are new to the area. You may bring a friend if you would like to.

If you are planning on joining us and haven’t reserved your spot yet, you may do so by writing in the comment section below, and remember to click “Submit.” Please do this by the end of the day tomorrow, Wednesday the 9th of May.

Thank you, and I look forward to meeting other newcomers!




Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Willmar | Posted on 06-05-2012

In the past week, I have had my first sightings of the season’s goslings. I have seen four families of geese, all along Radio Station Road, on the stretch of road that bisects Foot Lake. The geese families seem impervious to cars driving by. That’s not usually the case when you are walking, biking, or canoeing close to a geese family. The parents will come after you, honking and squawking, protecting their babies. Canada geese are very family-oriented birds. Goslings stay with their parents for a full year after they hatch. Both parents raise them.

I remember seeing a lot of geese at the dental office of my last dental hygiene job. The dental practice was located in a renovated ranch-style house on a lake. Unfortunately, the big windows faced the parking lot, not the lake. We did have a nice lawn between us and the parking lot, and there was a bird feeder which kept birds fed and kept us entertained. Anyway, the geese were all over the place outside at certain times of the year. They would walk right past our windows and eat the birdseed that had fallen on the ground. It was a wonderful distraction from the tedious job of cleaning teeth, especially when the birds were accompanied by their new babies. We would occasionally raise the seat of our patients’ chairs if there was something we thought they should see. 

One day, it must have been late summer or early fall, when the goslings were  a few months old. Throughout this one particular day, we had observed 3 juvenile gosslings searching for the rest of their family, so they were orphaned for the time being. They looked a little lost. In their efforts to find their clan, they would approach a goose family, either thinking it might be their own family, or hoping to be adopted. But they were angrily chased away by the family, with much honking and general clamor. This happened several times. We felt so bad for the trio. At the end of the day, the patients had all left, and an assistant, another hygienist, and I were cleaning our rooms and talking to each other. We again caught sight of the 3 orphaned goslings. We watched. We saw the three goslings run toward yet another family of geese, but this time, they were running fast. It was a match! The three goslings and their family ran toward each other with such speed and such joy. We three coworkers dropped what we were doing, ran to the nearest window, and cheered. It was an amazing family reunion and a wonderful thing to witness.

Eating my Words


Posted by womanabouttown | Posted in Willmar | Posted on 30-04-2012

Do you ever find yourself eating your words, doing the very things that you have criticized in the past? I do. For one thing, there’s my condo, which I purchased when I was 27 and single, and where my sister currently lives and pays me rent. It looks just like an apartment, but the building’s occupents are mostly owners of their own units, so it’s called a condominium. Anyway, when I was in my early twenties, I would see condominiums here and there as I drove about, and I would think “Why do they call these condos when they look like apartments? Any why don’t these people just buy houses?” Well, condos are cheaper than houses, so you are buying something much more affordable than a house, while still building equity and making (what used to be) a good investment. And condos are usually in good areas, so you’ve got a great location. (I have a Mexican friend who sometimes uses the wrong English words, and she often refers to my condo as a condom. I didn’t correct her at first! I used to work at the same company that she still works at, and one day she told me “I told everyone at work that you bought a condom.” Oh boy, I might have some ‘splaining to do, I thought to myself.)


Another way that I have eaten my words: buying bottled water. I used to think it was silly to buy bottled water. I thought tap water was just fine. I thought it was ludicrous that people who wouldn’t dream of drinking tap water had no problems downing a bag of Cheetos, gesturing wildy about the poisons of tap water with their bright orange hands. Now I drink bottled water all the time. What changed? Well, I joined my husband on the farm, where the well water had been tested and was unsafe to drink. We went through 2-3 cases of water a week, mostly because of me. I am a thirsty woman. (Sometimes my weird imagination causes me to think “What if I was kidnapped, and the kidnapper only gave me one bottle of water every day?” The agony.) Then we bought our current house, which had sit empty and abondoned for a few years. So I was suspicious of that which might be lurking in the pipes. Thus the rabid water-buying continued, even after I had the water tested and proven fit for drink. Plus, Willmar water tastes kinda funny. Finally, I got sick and tired of lugging cases of water home, so I am buying gallons of water now. The gallons are easier to carry than a case, and are much cheaper. I still buy a case of water about once a week, and then reuse the bottles. The portability of a water bottle can’t be beat. I know there are still better ways of bringing purified/good water into the home, and maybe I’ll get around to it one of these days.