Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bring it on

Happy New Year! And bring it on.

I am so ready to welcome a bright new year. Or better said, I am so ready to give 2014 the BOOT! Out with you! Out with you, full of C-words, hospitals, doctors, tests, you bad year, you. We've had enough.

Another C-word crept into our house during December and it was as unwelcome as the C-cancer word that visited my husband in July. Thankfully, after several rough months, he has recovered and is adjusting nicely to life without a bladder. He manages the urostomy remarkably well.

This time it was my turn to host another C word that I'd never heard of before: C-Diff (technically, Clostridium difficile), which causes infectious diarrhea due to a type of spore-forming bacteria. Symptoms of C diff often mimic flu-like symptoms and can also mimic disease flare in people with inflammatory bowel disease-associated colitis. C diff release toxins that can cause bloating and diarrhea, with abdominal pain, which may become severe (Wikipedia).

So it started with cramps, then chills, then put me in bed as I thought I had the flu. Thinking it would only last a day or two, we proceeded with our scheduled laminate floor installation, so as I lay in bed, workmen were tearing up carpeting, drilling, sawing and pounding, all in the next room.

When symptoms got worse and I became very weak, my husband brought me to the emergency room of the nearby hospital. Blood tests, x-rays and CT scans were done and the next thing I knew I was moved to a hospital room in isolation. The diagnosis was explained to me as IVs were started, heart monitors were put in place, a catheter was inserted, and I lay helpless.

Seven days of helpless, in the hospital, on my birthday, daughter flew from Minnesota to help, daughter addressing and mailing all my Christmas cards, and Christmas preparations going on around me. Without me.

Home now and recovering, slowly but surely, I am ready to ring in a new year, full of promise and optimism, like a precious gift waiting to be opened.

I read about somebody who last year set a goal of listing one thousand blessings during the year. In the process, her eyes were opened to all the everyday things taken for granted.

As I thought about this, I realized how even illness, disappointments, losses and changes can be blessings. You see and appreciate little moments, small pleasures and small progress. An epiphany of sorts.

And you recognize in people around you the gifts they freely share with you that you perhaps never noticed before. Smiles, small acts of kindness, offers of friendship, gestures of friendship, signs of caring for one another.

I wish for you a Happy New Year, full of God's richest blessings....and no C-words!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November musings

Here it is, the last day of November. And I've posted nothing since mid-October. Topics for new posts come and go in my head and yet I never quite make it to the computer to jot them down.

I only hope you won't give up on me. I promise to do better. I love to write and I love even more that you think it worthy of reading my rambles.

So today, I will simply ramble about this and that.



Update on The C Word: My husband has his surgery to remove the cancerous bladder in early September. I could fill a page with the six weeks that ensued but you might never read another post of mine if I did that. Suffice it to say, the following six weeks involved four hospitalizations, two transitional care stays and some major bumps in the road. We often wondered if we would ever get past another bump as one issue after another seemed to crop up.

Fast forward to today: We have arrived at our winter home in Arizona and hubby is doing well. Today he is putting up our outdoor Christmas lights, greens and decorations.

Without the help of dear and longtime friends, I'm not sure we would be in such great shape. Since they arrived earlier, they got our car ready by reconnecting the battery, removing the wheel covers, blowing up tires, washing it, and having it all ready to drive. They washed our carport, removed the deck covering, anchored in place by heavy blocks, cleaned the deck, washed the deck rails, made sure we had some groceries, then picked us up from the airport which involved transporting Catrina, the cat, along with us and our four heavy bags of luggage.

To top it off, they had dinner ready for us a couple of hours later. A warm, nourishing meal complete with Cherry Crisp for dessert. Are they friends to cherish or what? We're so glad they are ours!

My sister, Joan, gave up two days to care for us before we left while I was ill, tending to me, driving George to two doctor appointments (one in a blizzard), and making sure we were in good shape to leave. Then she drove us to the airport.

So our November was filled with gratitude and thanksgiving, the likes of which we felt deep in our soul. Grateful for family, grateful for friends; above all, grateful to God who made His presence known and felt working through these dear ones.

Thanksgiving brought the coldest day in thirty years in Minnesota. Yet here in Arizona, we set a record high of 87 degrees. Such a contrast.

So as I muse, our November was a month of contrasts: sick versus well, independent versus dependent, giving versus receiving, cold versus hot. But always and constantly blessed.

I hope you will be patient with me as I regain momentum and and that you'll continue reading as I post into December and beyond.

Thank you to each of you for your loyal readership. I don't take you for granted.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I met Jenny

A week ago on a Sunday evening, after visiting my husband in the hospital in Minneapolis where he is being treated for some complications following his recent cancer surgery, I drove over to the Danish American Center for a much needed, relaxing evening of music in their beautiful atrium.

Jenny Lind, 1849
It was there I met Jenny.

The Swedish Nightengale, Jenny Lind, was visiting Minneapolis all the way from Sweden in the year 1849.

This was expertly done through the beautiful soprano voice of Carolyn Pratt, Oberlin Convervatory-trained opera singer and performing soloist. Ms. Pratt convincingly assumed the role, dressed in a gown replicated to match the one in Jenny Lind's portrait which was exhibited on an antique easel and served as a backdrop. Accompanying her on the piano was Mary Goetz, a performing pianist.

It was nothing short of magnificent. The atrium was filled to overflowing. The sun shone through the atrium windows as if to shine a spotlight on Ms. Pratt as she sang as beautifully as we all imagined Jenny Lind herself sang. Pieces from Mendelssohn, Taubert, Schumann and Chopin were sung in Swedish. Between selections, Ms. Pratt spoke as Jenny, telling of her life, her studies in music, her travels, the stages she sang on and the audiences around the world.

Along the way, she met Hans Christian Andersen, and became good friends with him.  Andersen, however, thought of her as much more of a friend and wanted to marry her. In her mid-twenties, Jenny knew she was experiencing only the beginning of a budding career and preferred to continue with her dream of singing and performing. There was nothing quite like it, she said.


Carolyn Pratt, soprano soloist and Mary Goetz, pianist
Andersen wrote several fairy tales about his friend and love, Jenny. Among them is the delightful story, The Nightengale.

One of my favorite selections was the Norwegian Echo Song. Much requested by audiences all around the world, Ms. Lind; rather, Miss Pratt, does an echo with her voice, cupping her hands to shout out, tilting her head to softly echo back. I'd really never heard anything quite like it.

Following the concert, a Danish supper was served which was equally as wonderful as the concert had been.

All in all, more than than evening of enjoyment with beautiful soothing music, good food, and seeing my Danish American friends again, it was nourishment for my soul.

After several weeks of worry about my husband and his surgery, his re-hospitalizations, taking care of him at home and not seeing him recover as we'd hoped, the evening was a welcome respite and blessing to me.

The musical evening comes back to me at just the moment I need it and helps me remember the beauty in the world. My husband will recover from what they're calling "just a bump in the road" and the music will go on.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The C word

The dreaded C-word, cancer, has come to our house.

And it came with no warning. No symptoms, no complaints, no suspicions. And completely uninvited, not to mention unwelcome.

My husband went to our local pharmacy to renew some scripts and was told he needed to see the doctor before one of them could be refilled. This was fairly routine and a good medical practice. He dutifully made his appointment and went in to the clinic for the required checkup.

While there, the doctor did some blood work, another good medical practice. Prescription refilled, all was well. So we thought.

Except the blood work revealed a very high creatinine, whatever that is, level and some other abnormalities. Our doctor said my husband was in kidney failure and needed to see a nephrologist, which we never knew existed nor did we know what it was, and an appointment was already scheduled for us that same week.

The nephrologist, which we now know is a kidney specialist, sent us to a urologist. Okay, we knew what that was. After an exam and a cystoscopy, which I insisted on watching, a mass was seen on top of the bladder. I saw it with my own non-medical eyes.

From there, we went to the University of Minnesota to yet another doctor, this time a specialist in urology surgery. It was the first time the C-word was mentioned as he said matter-of-factly that most of the time, these masses are cancerous. Surgery was scheduled to remove the mass but first a nephrostomy tube (another new concept) was inserted through his back into the kidney for drainage and to minimize further kidney damage which was already compromised.

Following surgery, tissue from the mass was sent for a pathology review, which we knew was normal and expected procedure. What wasn't expected was the results, showing it was a stage T-2, invasive cancer of the bladder, in medical-speak.

Thus the C-word came into our house, invading not only my husband's bladder but our sense of security and overall well-being; also disrupting our normal, hum-drum, bordering on boring, daily routine.

Many, if not most, of you have been touched by this dreaded word and dreadful disease. Up to now, we have been fortunate so for us this awakens new feelings and issues, and causes a slightly sinking feeling in our hearts.

However, since this diagnosis and the recommendation that my husband have his bladder removed and a stoma or pouch surgically placed for urine collection, we have heard countless stories of successful outcomes about people who have gone through this themselves, or their brother-in-law, niece,  other relative or friend had experienced the same thing. All resuming normal lives and activities.

We are grateful for the sharing of these stories and hope to add to them my husband's success as well.

We have a lot of hope; yet we know there are some for whom hope is not offered. We will now know the gripping feeling of just hearing the C-word spoken and will pray for all those on their own journey with cancer, or sharing the journey with a loved one. God bless and give you all strength.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hidden gems

Who knew that there's an old Danish settlement and active community only a half hour from my home in Lindstrom, Minnesota?

I discovered, well, not on my own but through a friend, the little community of West Denmark, Wisconsin. It is a hidden gem.

Tucked away on beautiful Little Butternut Lake, about a mile and a quarter from Luck, Wisconsin, this small unincorporated community still thrives in the Danish traditions, mostly centered around the Danish Lutheran Church, its historic schoolhouse and town meeting hall.

The church is beautiful and in most respects resembles those country churches I have seen in Denmark. It's actually much like the church my grandfather, Søren Roed, and his family belonged to near Lundby, Denmark.

Danish Lutheran Church, West Denmark, Wisconsin
Many of the parishioners at the West Denmark, Wisconsin church have a long line of history to Danish emigrants here. Many were born here and intend to be buried here. It is a quiet, quaint, close-knit but outgoing community that boasts more activities honoring their heritage than I could have imagined.
 
Their calendar offers an annual aebliskiver breakfast, for example, and monthly community dinners with Danish food served: medisterpølse  (Danish sausage), rødkal (red cabbage), parsley potatoes, herring, frugt suppe (fruit soup), delectable desserts. Their library contains many texts in Danish, along with Danish songbooks, storybooks and CDs. The parish hall has an extensive exhibit of historical photos from Denmark and the local area.
 
The upper level of the parish hall is the place for educational offerings and song gatherings. 
The lower level boasts a wonderful dining room leading to an outdoor patio, and a large kitchen.
Each year, the church community hosts a summer family camp. Of course, I registered and counted the days to its start.
 
I had heard of Danish folks camps in the tradition of N.S.F. Grundtvig, a Danish pastor, author, poet, philosopher, historian, teacher and politician. He was one of the most influential people in Danish history, and his emphasis on continuous learning later evolved into the folk school movement across Europe. In short, Grundtvig's philosophy was to promote a spirit of freedom, poetry and disciplined creativity within the education system. He promoted values such as wisdom, compassion and equality. He opposed all compulsion, including exams, as deadening to the human soul. Only willing hands make light work. Therefore a spirit of freedom, cooperation and discovery was to be kindled in individuals, in science, and in the civil society as a whole. (Source: Wikipedia)
 
The idea of the Danish folk school is to be residential, and for all ages so families are encouraged to attend together. Typically, the day includes morning singing, a coffee and gathering time, lectures, classes in all forms of art from fiber arts to wood carving to water color, papercutting, music and dance. A hearty Danish lunch is served while dinner is lighter fare. There is a lecture or demonstration in the evening, followed by dancing and singing.
 
My mother attended a Danish folk camp in Tyler, Minnesota, for many years and was an instructor there in Hardanger embroidery for the last several years she attended. I have a scrapbook of her wonderful memories from the folk camp days.
 
Although for the camp I attended, I opted to drive home at the end of each day, I enjoyed the best of the day. Those who attended came from far and wide, but many were very local. All were welcoming, easy to get to know, encouragining in learning new things, and many new friends were made.
 
This year's slogan printed on my T-shirt
Some days later, my husband and I drove to West Denmark to take some photos and learn more about the area. The school house, shown below, had been used for many years as a single room with no bathroom and no basement. It has since been remodeled to include a bathroom, a lower level living quarters, and two upper level rooms for eventual sleeping quarters for guests. During camp, the upper level was used for the wood carvers.
 
There is a path to the left of the schoolhouse leading to Little Butternut Lake.
(During camp, there was also log rolling and swimming there.)
 
We learned the area next to the meeting hall was the site of a Lutheran seminary.
We also discovered on our little excursion through the town of Luck, right there on Main Street, a wonderful meat market, Van Meter's Meats. There we found medisterpølse sausage, fresh ground that very day right there at the market. 
 
Medisterpølse is an almost sweet-tasting Danish sausage made of finely-ground pork, seasoned with clove, allspice, onion, salt and pepper, and packed into casings and formed into round links. I followed the butcher's suggestion to gently boil it in water for a few minutes (about ten), then discard the water and brown it up a bit. They had served it at camp but my husband had not tasted it yet so the next Sunday I served it to him, my son and daughter-in-law, all of whom gave it a hearty thumbs-up.
 
Continuing on our little day trip, right on Wisconsin State Highway 35, before making the turn to West Denmark, there is a historical marker commemorating the West Denmark creamery and the first buttermaker, a Danish woman, employed there in the late 1800s.
 
Historical sign on highway
The cooperative was another movement from Denmark that originated as early as the 1300s whereby farmers would join together and share their crops and the proceeds from its harvest using shares. Today in America we see cooperatives used not only in farming, but the dairy industry as well as the gas and electric industry where cooperatives pay dividends from the surplus unused fees charged the user.
 
It always excites me to uncover hidden gems such as West Denmark, and this one so close to home.  I have another excursion in mind, this time to Ida Grove, Iowa, where my paternal grandmother was raised. That will be a later story.
 
Until then, let me know what hidden gems you have discovered right in or close to your own back yard!
 
 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Danish Day

The long-awaited day, June 1, came with the threat of thunderstorms. It was the annual event of Minnesota's Danish American Center's, Danish Day.

Located on West Mississippi River
Boulevard since 2006, the DAC grew
out of a local Danish fellowship.
But it takes much more than the threat of a thunderstorm to stop a Dane from celebrating their heritage. It ended up merely sprinkling and didn't dampen the enthusiasm or enjoyment of the 350 people of all ages who attended the day's activities.

Danish Day of the modern variety goes back to 1959, although similar previous events date to  the 19th century. A year in the planning, Danish Day is one of the highlights of the year at the DAC.

Spread out on the Center's lush, green grounds were tents for gathering, enjoying kransekagge, aebliskiver, almond pastries and good, stout Danish coffee; milling around to see the works of nine vendors: Scandinavian yarns, wood carving, gifts, clothing and various crafts; and enjoying a typical Smorrebrod luncheon.

Danish smorrebrod
(open faced sandwiches)
A special exhibit honoring the work of Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, was displayed in the Center, and a brief ceremony was held to officially open the Caroline Olsen Danish American Archive. According to long time members, there would be no archive without the extensive work of the late Caroline Olsen, who left us with history monographs, artwork, an authentic regional costume collection and transcribed interviews with older Danes in the community. She was among the founders of the Danish American Fellowship, from which the DAC grew.

Danish Day is also the time to name the "Dane of the Year." The award for 2014 actually went to two well-deserving Danes, instrumental in establishing and maintaining the library and the archives: Helen Stub and Ann Bundgaard.

Danes of the Year:
Helen Stub and Ann Bundgaard
Children were kept busy with arts and crafts activities, making Danish flags and jeweled crowns. That is, when they weren't busy bouncing and climbing!




Fun times for children (of all ages!)



Folk singer, "Spider" John Koerner entertained
the crowd with his harmonica and guitar.
The Carlsberg beer and acquavit only added to the merriment of the day.
 Don't miss next Danish Day if you're in the Twin Cities or Minnesota area. Mark your calendar for June 7, 2015.
 
Hilsen fra the Minnesota Danes!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday mercies

I was headed out the door to get to church on time (for once) when my neighbor, Thelma, came rushing across the street hollering for my husband for help.

She was hearing baby kitty squeals under her deck which is closed off with storage drawers. They are very heavy drawers, Thelma is 90 and her weight about matches her age. You couldn't ask for a better neighbor, and she is a bundle of energy and fun.

Well, church notwithstanding, I needed to see those baby kitties myself. So we went across the street, hubby pulled open the drawers, and sure enough...there were four very tiny, very frightened, very abandoned baby kittens, all rolled up into one furry ball. No Mama in sight.

Having had a windy day recently, Thelma discovered a loose panel on her park model (like a mobile home), put it back into place and thought nothing more about it. How was she to know a very pregnant Mama crawled into the perfect spot for giving birth? So we figured Mama was out perhaps looking for food at the moment.

We got our cat, Catrina's carrier and transferred the wee ones into it, leaving them in the carrier on the driveway for awhile to see if Mama would come looking for them. That was a week ago today, and Mama hasn't been seen or heard from since. Bad Mama.

Thelma was beside herself. She isn't fond of cats and didn't know what to do with them.

Well, of course, I wanted to keep them. All of them. That idea was very quickly vetoed by you-know-who. But who wouldn't melt at the sight of them?


We offered to take them to the animal shelter, not realizing at the time that the nearest shelter is 35 miles away. But we figured a nice day for a drive, plus we couldn't think of any other creative option, so we stuck to our offer.

The Arizona Humane Society is located in Phoenix, I might add out in the boonies of Phoenix, giving us a small sightseeing excursion to discover other mountains and roads.

In we trot with the kittens in carrier, thinking that was the end to our selfless act of mercy. But noooooo. The "intake center" was another 25 miles, through yet another freeway and all through Phoenix.

There, they were very cordial. They immediately took the kittens and put them in their own carrier and examined them one by one.


Three girls and one boy. About two weeks old, they guessed, as their eyes open by ten days. They had been under that deck for two weeks?

I was falling more in love with them by the minute.

Their chances for survival were slim without the mother, they explained. But they would see if they could place them in foster care with someone who was willing to take them. They need to be fed formula by dropper every three hours around the clock.

Yep, like infants. Awwww.......

Well, you know the end of the story. We left them there. But since then, I have thought of them, always making up my own happy ending. Of course, they found foster care. Of course, a foster mama dutifully tended to them and fed them. And of course, someone fell in love with them and took each one, loving them forever.

The car felt empty on the drive home without the frail meows and little squeals. But we arrived home to a grateful neighbor, who insisted on taking us out for dinner.

I never made it to church that day. But I did experience that feel good feeling and know we did the right thing.