Life is a Journey – a tribute to my father

After a long hiatus I am back to start a new chapter in the writing of my travel blog, Nomadic Narrator. On June 24th my father passed away after a long valiant battle with cancer. He brought new meaning to the words ‘fight for life.’ I have never in my 51-years witnessed a stronger will to live than what my father showed, especially in his final days. It is this passion for life and living that feeds a new inspiration in me to be more aware of my surroundings, take more pictures, ask more questions, journal my thoughts and ideas, and fully enjoy the journey that is life.

In February of this year (2015), my father was told his cancer was in remission. Words we had all been hoping to hear since he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in April of 2011. After countless rounds of chemo and radiation, the cancer (cells that flowed through his bloodstream and on occasion metastasized to bones and arteries and grew into tumors), was finally whipped into submission. For two glorious months my Dad was cancer-free.

Then, in April, he began to have leg and lower back pain. A new scan showed the cancer had returned – with a vengeance. There were 11 new tumors: a large one in his liver, several in his lungs and the rest in his bones. The doctors felt he could not weather any more rounds of chemo or radiation and recommended he try a newly approved treatment that boosts the bodies immune system to kill off the cancer cells. At the very least, the idea that his doctors were willing to try something, anything, gave my Dad encouragement to push for more days to continue his life journey. As he said, “I’m not going to come 98% of the way, and then throw in the towel.”

This time around, we knew his days were numbered, and my three brothers and I dedicated the next weeks to spending more concentrated time with Dad. Two of my brothers and I live in AZ, while my other brother lives in MN where my Dad resided. It was a logistical challenge to create time together with Dad. Luckily, we all have flexibility in our schedules and on the weekend of May 30th, my three brothers and I gathered in Minnesota to experience a weekend that brings happy tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

We loaded Dad up into my youngest brother’s car, which meant dealing with a wheel chair and enough oxygen tanks to get us through the day. With my brother driving, Dad playing co-pilot/navigator/story-teller, and my two brothers and I wedged into the back seat, we headed ‘up the avenue.’ Our first stop was in Farmington (MN), where my Dad was born and raised. Thus began the day of Dad regaling us with stories of his youth, some we’d heard, a lot we hadn’t.

Our first stop was at the cemetery to pay our respects to his Mom, Dad, and grandparents. Then we wound our way through town: past the creamery where his mom once worked; along the Vermillion River where he swam, fished, read books and kissed many girls; by the railroad station where his step-father started his days as a caboose engineer; to the spot where his mother and step-father lived and where we all shared in years and years of Sunday dinners of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy; this house backed up to the old Ford Motor shop where my Dad’s Dad (who died when my Dad was 14-years-old) worked as a mechanic; past the diner where his Mom worked a second job. Dad’s memories of setting pins at the bowling alley, working beside his Dad at the mechanic’s shop, shooting pool at the billiards hall, working the printing press for the local newspaper were all part of helping to create the man we grew to love and spend time with.

After a trip down memory lane of his youth in Farmington, it was off to Northfield, 15 minutes further to the south to relive memories of his next phase of life – marriage and the birth and upbringing of his four children. We routed the car past the multiple (6+) different homes he/we lived in over a 20 year span, from the first place in ‘hungry hollow’ near the river to the house on the hill on Wallstreet Road; past the golf course we spent our weekends playing golf together as a family of 6; to the high school he taught at and we all attended; the location where his one and only restaurant venture began; the office where he built a successful business career with NML; the Cannon River where we fished.

We ended the day by picking up broasted chicken at the locally infamous Quarterback Club, a favorite hang-out over the last 40+ years, and headed up the hill on the west side of town where St. Olaf College sits. Dad graduated from St. Olaf and was a proud Ole’ for life – so it was fitting we found a picnic bench on campus and enjoyed a summertime meal and recounted the amazing journey we had just embarked on. The tiredness in his body may have been real, but smile on his face was priceless.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

The only way to eclipse a weekend like this one, was to have a weekend where all of the family – kids, spouses, and grandkids gathered together. And how fitting it was that Father’s Day was right around the corner. Dad had some setbacks in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day weekend, and we were worried he may not make it until then, but he dug deep – “mind over matter” – and was so mentally strong and physically tough over Father’s Day weekend it was beyond inspiring to all of us.

We began the weekend with all of the kids and grandkids (18 of us) taking in a Twins game, while Dad rested up for the weekends events. With Dad tiring so easily and being on oxygen 24/7 we decided to take advantage of the usage of the party room at his apartment complex for a place to gather. That way if he became tired, it was a mere matter of wheeling him upstairs for a nap. But he apparently was determined to not miss out on a minute of family time and he never even dosed off during the two 10-hour sessions of family bonding that took place over Father’s Day weekend.

Saturday began a lunch buffet with al lot of Dad’s favorite foods; followed by watching the men’s U.S. Open golf tourney while working on puzzles and playing board and dice games; great-grandpa reading a book to his one and only great-granddaughter; next came a collective toast from all the grandkids to their grandpa – where grandpa signed the lids of all the grandkids mason jars that were used to make the toast; topped off with a slide show presentation of Dad’s 81-years of living life to the fullest.

Dad's grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Dad’s grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Sunday was spent in similar fashion, 22 of us gathered back in the party room to pick up where we left off. Grandpa propped up in his chair, oxygen tank by his side, watching golf while being waited on hand and foot – being served his favorite foods and keeping his glass of Bushmills topped off.

Many years ago, my Dad wrote a monthly newsletter to his grandchildren telling the tales of the adventures he had on the north shore of Minnesota, specifically Tait Lake, with his ever faithful companion, a 100-lb. yellow lab he named Darby O’Doul. My Dad’s dream was to see these stories in print. Several years ago I took creative license and churned these adventures into a children’s novel, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. After several years of failed attempts at getting this published, I knew my days were numbered in getting my Dad’s stories into print. Thanks to the help of today’s technology and creativity of some very talented people, I was able to self-publish this book as soon as we understood my Dad’s days were numbered and have it in his hands in time for Father’s Day weekend.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

On Sunday, his final Father’s Day, my Dad personally signed a copy of the book for each one of us and had our picture taken with him and his book. A moment I know we will all cherish, because of his life long love of reading and writing and the special relationship he had with his human-like dog, Darby. Then we all settled in to watch a very exciting finish to the men’s U.S. Open golf championship – a premium way for a golf-crazed family to spend their final hours with the patriarch of all that was good and true of the family he nurtured and loved unconditionally all of his years. We could not have asked for or consciously created a more poignant weekend of activities to celebrate his life and give us closure to his passing.

Happy Father's Day, 2015 - from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

Happy Father’s Day, 2015 – from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

The next morning, Monday, found Dad exhausted and a little out of it. By noon, he was getting very sleepy so we propped him up on the couch for a nap that he would not wake from. Appropriately, at approximately 5:30 am, on Wednesday, June 24th, Dad/grandpa/great-grandpa took his final breath. For 81-years he had been trying to get everyone up at the crack of dawn to enjoy what he felt was the best time of day – his only taker in 81-years was his ever faithful companion Darby. But on this day we all arose as the sun rose and shed a tear for the man who touched so many lives in so many ways.

Dad’s legacy isn’t what he achieved career-wise or financially – his legacy is what he achieved at the family level. An unconditional bond so deep and so strong, the driving goal of our whole family surrounds the ideal of making sure our paths cross often. We love being together and can’t imagine a better way to spend time than with as many members of our ever-expanding family, whenever we can.

Cheers Dad! We love and miss you!

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40's.

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40’s.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

Travel is not something we do only when we are on vacation or holiday. Everyday we ‘travel’ through life. It is up to us whether we make these daily trips challenging or fulfilling.

Please check out for copies of Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. All proceeds will go to Dad’s favorite charities.

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture