When Norah Met Mr. Dan

By Tara Wood

The day before my daughter Norah’s fourth birthday, something she said foreshadowed a remarkable event.

I’d just picked her up from preschool when she cautioned me to mind the elderly person walking across the parking lot at a glacier’s pace.

She went on to explain that she has a soft spot for mature folks:” I like old people the best ’cause they walk slow like I walk slow and they has soft skin like I has soft skin. They all gonna die soon, so I’m gonna love’em all up before they is died.”

Sure, it got kinda dark at the end, but I liked where her heart was.

I was struck by her thoughtfulness and empathy and posted that quote as a status update on Facebook when we got home.  I had no idea how much she really meant it.

The following day-her birthday again on the way home from school, she asked if we could stop at the grocery store to buy cupcakes for her and her six siblings to enjoy after dinner.

How do you say no to a birthday girl?

I popped Norah and her younger sister into one of those car-shaped grocery carts and headed toward the bakery.  After we picked up the cupcakes, I stopped at a clearance shelf that caught my eye.  While I was distracted, Norah was busy standing up in the cart, excitedly waving and gleefully proclaiming, “Hi old person!  It’s my birfday today!”

The man was elderly, stone-faced, and furrow-browed.  However, before I could shush her for calling him an old person or ask the earth to swallow me whole, he stopped and turned to her.

If he was troubled by my no-filter child, he didn’t show it.  His expression softened as he replied,” Well, hello, little lady!  And how old are you today?”

They chatted for a few minutes, he wished her a happy birthday, and we went our separate ways.

A few minutes later, she turned to me and asked,” Can I take a picture with the old man for my birfday?”  It was the cutest thing every, and although I wasn’t sure if he’d oblige, I told her we’d certainly ask.

We found the man a couple of aisles over, and I approached him,” Excuse me, sir?  This is Norah, and she’d like to know if you’d take a photo with her for her birthday?”

His expression morphed from confused to stunned to delighted.

He took a step back, steadied himself on his shopping car, and placed his free hand on his chest.” A photo?  With me?” he asked.

“Yes, suh, for my birfday!” Norah pleaded.

And so he did.  I pulled out my iPhone, and they posed together.  She placed her soft hand on top of his soft hand.  He wordlessly stared at her with twinkling eyes as she kept his hand in hers and studied his skinny veins and weathered knuckles.  she kissed the top of his hand and then placed it on her cheek.  He beamed.  I asked his name, and he told us to call him Dan.

We were blocking other shoppers, but they didn’t care.  There was magic happening in the grocery store that day, and we could all feel it.  Norah and “Mr Dan” sure didn’t notice.  They were chatting away like long-lost friends.

After a few minutes, I thanked Mr. Dan for spending a bit of his day with us.  He teared up and said, “No, thank you.  this has been the best day I’ve had in a long time.”  He turned to my daughter.” You’ve made me so happy, Miss Norah.”

They hugged, and we walked away.  Norah watched him until he was out of view.

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a weepy mess after their encounter.

I was blown away by this meeting and thought maybe some of the readers of my Facebook page might enjoy hearing about it.  I posted the story and a photo of the two of them.

Later that night, I received a private message from a local reader who recognized Mr. Dan.

His wife, Mary, had passed away six months earlier, and he had been lonely since his beloved had gone.  The reader wanted to let me know she was certain his heart was touched by my little girl, that he needed that connection and likely would never forget it.

I asked for Mr. Dan’s phone number and called him a few days later.

We visited Mr Dan’s cozy and tidy house- reminders of Mary still proudly displayed everywhere.  He had gotten a haircut, shaved, and put on slacks and dress shoes.  He looked ten years younger.  He’d set out a child’s table, blank paper, and crayons for Norah.  He asked if she’d draw some pictures for him to display on his refrigerator.  He happily agreed and went right to work.

We ended up spending nearly three hours with Mr. Dan that day.  H was patient and kind with my talkative, constantly moving girl.  He wiped ketchup off her cheek and let her finish his chicken nuggets.

We walked with him to his front door after lunch.  He pulled out a pocketknife and cut the single red rose blooming by his porch.  He spent ten minutes cutting every thorn off the stem before  handing it to his new friend.  She keeps that rose, now dry as a bone, in a zip lock bag under her pillow.

Norah asks about Mr. Dan every day.  She worries about him.  She wonders if he’s lonely, or cold, or has cheese for his sandwiches.  She wants him to be OK.  She wants him to feel loved.

Mr. Dan thinks about Norah too.  After another recent visit, he relayed that he hadn’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since his wife died.  He told me that he had slept soundly every night since meeting my girl.

    “Norah has healed me,” he said.

That left me speechless and my cheeks wet with tears.

Seventy-eight years separate these two people in age….

Norah and I have made a promise to see Mr. Dan every week, even if it’s for only 15 minutes, even if only for a quick hug and to drop off a cheese Danish (his favorite!)

I invited him to spend Thanksgiving with us.  He’s part of our family now.  Whether he likes it or not, he has been absorbed into my family of nine, and just as Norah said, we’re gonna love him all up.

Taken liberally from the April 2017 edition of my Readers Digest written by Tara Wood

Norah and Mr. Dan 

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I (DM) read this tonight after work.   Just what the Dr ordered after a hard day in the trenches.  Wanted to share it with you. 🙂




An Old Buzzard

Tuesday afternoon I had to have a tooth pulled.

As Ann, the dental hygienist and I were waiting for the Doctor, we talked about parenting.  She has two kids, a 13 yr old daughter and an 10-year-old son.  She alluded to there being quite a bit of tension in their household between the daughter and them.

When I have these conversations, I feel  like an old buzzard on a tree limb watching  as a young family tries to navigate their way through those teen years… I can see the lay of the land in a way that they can not from my perch.

It doesn’t take much to tap into the confusion and anger I felt when I was the one trying to figure out my way through that wilderness.


I got a call yesterday from my eldest.  She is 36.  She called me in the middle of the morning, just to visit. Said it had been a while and she was thinking about me.  We talked for 10 minutes about grand kids, her part-time job, honey bees…

She (my eldest) has the most infectious laugh, and laughed several times while we talked.  I thought about that phone call several  times throughout the day. It gave me the warm fuzzies.

When I got home later, my wife mentioned within the past two days, she has had really good visits with all four of our now grown kids.

If you are a parent, and your kids are still in the home, (and even if they are not)  one of the long-term goals you probably  have, is that after they become adults, you and they stay in touch.

Just healthy peer to peer relationships…how does that sound for a parenting goal? 😉

I have that and I take absolutely no credit for it.

I struggled with knowing how to keep the balance when they were in the house between being their parent, and being their friend.  There is a difference.  Yes, the long-term goal is friendship, but that is second compared to being the parent.  Sometimes being the parent means taking a tough stand, when your feelings tell you otherwise.

It wasn’t until one of my “dear, sweet” children, ran away that I realized,  just because we birthed them, did not mean they automatically respected us.

They too were just trying to find their way.

That experience was a watershed moment in my life as a dad.

I gave that child two choices..and neither one of them involved coming home, (initially).

Every family, every, parent/ child relationship has its own dynamics.   There is not “one size fits all” when it comes to raising kids.

One relationship that helped keep me sane was another dad who was also dealing with an out of control older daughter.  He got it.

Our culture did a crappy job preparing me to parent in a healthy way. What I longed for was real advice from real parents, who were dealing with the same issues, just further along on the trail.

Beware of both extremes…being too heavy handed, or too nicey/ nicey.

Eventually, all four of our kids did reach adulthood (alive) and eventually, got the partying, out of their system.

The human brain does not really mature until about age 25, so give them some time, even after they move out.

Parenting is like baking cookies.

My first born batch (or three) felt like I was  flying by the seat of my pants… by number four, I  started to relax.


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I hesitate to write when I’m in the state of mind I am of late.  I am battling  a mixture of anger, shame and fear, springing from financial pressure which leaves me in a low grade funk.

But then I think to myself, many (not all)  of my long time readers initially stumbled across this blog  after reading a deeper/ darker entry.

So  if you’re looking for light, positive, and sanitized, you’ve come to the wrong place. 🙂


My mind has been on priorities and choices I made  twenty years ago when our kids were young and still in the house.

When our kids were little, my wife and I used to argue about  the use of my time, money, work, etc.  We knew better than to attack and cut each other apart with our words. but it never felt like anything got resolved.

Nothing changed….until that one day.

I heard her.

Through tears she said:  ” I need more of you and your energy helping me  raise our  kids.”  We had three under seven and a newborn at the time…how in the heck she made it that long I will never know.  I wasn’t intentionally trying to be negligent.  I just didn’t know any better.

family photo


I have only so much energy.

You have only so much energy.

We all get to choose how to spend it. I can spend it on my job. I can spend it on myself. (blogging, hobbies, etc)  I can spend it on being a do-gooder and attempt to change the world.  I can spend it keeping other people happy. etc.   The list is long.

Energy = life.

I decided, I needed to  have more energy  life left over at the end of the day, even if that meant less income.

This is how I view all relationships:

Relationships are  like  plants.  Tend them.  Water them.  Weed them.

Or watch them die.

I have a new screen saver on the computer…

It gives me joy every time I look at it.


immediate family - Copy

“Behold, children are a gift …
The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed, (happy, fortunate, to be envied)  is the man whose quiver is full of them.”

3000 year old proverb


I am a rich man.

Even if that hasn’t  translated into more dollars in the bank. 🙂


Until We Had One

I mentioned in my last post, I started replacing the siding on a home that I’ve worked at before.  The family has the gift of hospitality with a capital H. When lunch time rolls around, it is expected I join them.   Well today, the youngest girl informed me, she wanted to sit next to me because (and I’m quoting) “I wanted to sit by you, because I like you!”   (Her name is Corine, she’s two years old.)  As we sat there waiting for everyone to get a seat, she told me, she couldn’t wait to get back outside and play with her bubble toys.

For a two year old, I was struck by her vocabulary.     I asked  two of the older siblings later in the day who were helping me side, who she was most like compared to their other brothers and sisters.  They weren’t quite sure, said Corine could get “sassy” sometimes.

As a dad myself of four, I thought I spotted a strong willed temperament the first two minutes of meeting Corine, and their comments about their baby sister Corine, all but confirmed it for me. 🙂

Hang on mom and dad.  You may be in for a ride.  The next sixteen (to twenty) years might test your metal…..

I’d never heard of a “strong willed child” until we had one.

Well, it’s 1:44 AM where I am.  Mostly wanted to write about my new lunch buddy Corine.

She is a sweetie!

Any of you out there in parenting land have any strong willed children within your ranks currently or in the past?  Any tips you’d care to share for the tired mom or dad that might stumble across this muse at a later date? DM


Had some snuggle time with three grand babies yesterday..Owen, Alcina, and Kasen.   (Our extended family got together for a Thanksgiving meal.)

I am a rich man.

Kasen, who turned one this past June,  was born with an extra chromosome.

When Kasen arrived at my sisters house, he was all  smiles,  doing some  sign language,  army crawling,  playing catch with a tiny brown, soft rubber football, etc.   One of the characteristics of Downs Syndrome children is they tend to be happy and good-natured.   This is not a hard and fast rule but Kasen definitely falls into that camp.

As our Thanksgiving family time began to wind down, I got down to play with Kasen one more time before it was time  to go.  His eyes teared up, and his smile vanished.

At first I thought, maybe I’d startled him, so I passed him over to Uncle Steve..I didn’t want to be the bad guy . 😉

Daughter Kathy informed us, it was way past Kasen’s nap time, and he was getting fussy.

I was relieved to know I hadn’t brought it on, it was simply time for him to take a break.

As upbeat and positive as Kasen  normally is…there is a limit.

Read a true story yesterday about a family who lost their only son because of a freak accident in a high school football game.  The dad recounted how afterwards, he was so beside himself with grief, that for days he could not even get out of bed..and there were several weeks he could not even go back to work.  (that is not the first time I’ve read about someone unable to get out of bed as they were broadsided by a loss)…  (I take notes on stuff like this, because it helps me to understand the wide range of what are normal human reactions to life experiences.)

Not sure where you are at as you’re reading this..but if you’re not you’re normal upbeat self,  I am pretty sure Kasen would tell you (if he could) that maybe it’s nap time?

Or, maybe because of what you have had on your plate, you’ll need to take a whole day, or week, or longer  to recover….

There is no shame in getting grumpy.  It means you are alive.


Picture of Kasen when he’s on his game.


Mary’s Question

There is a fine line between  a healthy sense  of my personal strengths and abilities and bragging…

That is the territory I am venturing into tonight,  so wish me luck. 😉


I saw her sitting by herself, waiting for her parents to say their good by’s.

I was in the same boat….waiting for my wife to say her good by’s to the seventy  aunts and uncles, cousins, spouses, siblings,  children, and children’s children…

We were at my wife’s family reunion this past weekend in Nebraska.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this group of people I have been grafted into.

The “good byes” can take quite a while,   so I  grabbed myself another cup of coffee and sat down on a couch.

Her name was Mary.

I told her she’d done an awesome job in the talent show the night before.

Takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of seventy people, you barely know and sing a solo.

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Mary singing  in the talent show.

“Thanks.” she said.  “What’s your talent?”

Took me totally off guard.

She looked at me with the most intense, matter of fact expression.

 “Did you perform  in the talent show?” 


“Why not?”

I mumbled something lame about being good in the audience.

Thirty six hours later, I am still mulling over her question.

What is my talent?

Although I have a musical bent, my first impulse is not to take the stage.

But I do have talents.

So do you.

Most of my talents don’t seem to lend themselves to being shared on the stage…at least not without a little more planning.

I am a wood worker.

If I took the time to prepare, maybe I could take some of my harvest table project pictures and put them on a power point.

I could talk about the process of acquiring reclaimed barn boards, the process of debugging it and the various styles of tables I’ve been asked to build.


I am a teacher.

I love to teach.

Friend of mine with a degree in teaching told me once she wished she had my ability to teach.

Quoting now….“I have spent tens of thousands of dollars to become a teacher….I wish I had what you have.”    (That comment totally took me off guard, but to this day, it still gives me the warm fuzzies..)

I am a local historian.

I love local history.

I am passionate about it.

I am a walking story book when it comes to local history.  Just got the rough draft of my next book back from my editors.

Maybe by the time the next reunion comes around, the book will be done and I could read an excerpt.????

I can sing.

Come to think about it, a couple of years ago, I surprised myself at a friend’s birthday party.

I got up on a dare and sang My Maria to Karaoke..and I nailed it…

So Mary….thank you for your question.

At the next Family reunion I will share a talent.

I promise.

I’ll probably start by talking about you.


New Potatoes

new potatoes

New Potatoes

” Douggie,  Do you supposed you could get me just a few new potatoes?  I’ll steam them with some fresh green beans, onions, maybe a little bacon and top them with butter. ”    Grandma Marie  in her thick German accent every June.


Grandma M immigrated to America on the Bismark when she was 19 years young.  My aunt told me later, she never saw her father alive again.  She came by railroad to Chicago where she found a job.  Her aunt and uncle, a farmer from Iowa were her sponsors.  At some point she came for visit them..   While here , she met a 2nd generation  German farm boy named John. His parents and her aunt and uncle used to get together to play cards….and the rest shall we say is history…my history 🙂

Marie and John married, scratched out a living on the farm. She was a city girl, who grew up near the North Sea.  Grandpa used to tell me, some people would make fun of him for marrying a “city girl”

 “What’s it to you?” he told them.

Grandma didn’t  realize it until it was too late, that grandpa had a fondness for  alcohol. They had a little boy. (my father)  Grandma said later, if she could have found the money, she would have went back to Germany with her little baby , but by this time American was in the midst of the Great Depression..

Then  came World War 2.

John and Marie canned chickens and beef, then boxed it up, sent it back to Germany after the war.

Their sacrificial kindness kept several families from starving to death.

Then in the early 1960’s  Marie, found a lump in her breast.

It was cancer.

Cancer treatments in those days were not what they are today.

Doctor didn’t give her much of a chance.

Grandpa, said “The hell with him,” and found another doctor.

Grandma had her breast removed, and lived  another 40 years.

I was in my early 20’s,  newly married with two babies of my own when I had a spot for a garden.

I think of Grandma every June when the new potatoes are ready..

“The skins come off when you scrub them.” she would tell me, and they do 🙂

grandma early20s

Grandma right before she left Germany.

fred and hannah otten and grandma

Grandma visiting her aunt and uncle on the farm in Iowa.

Annie,Grandma  Mieka 1984

1984 Visit from  Aunt Annie, and Mika from Germany

. (Grandma is in the middle)

Grandma, the new potatoes are ready. Was thinking about you this morning.  Love, Doug