Friday, December 24, 2010

New Year musings

Ding, Dong, Merrily on high,
Christmas bells are ringing.

And so we arrive at Christmas Eve Day.

Snow is ever so softly falling. It's bright and beautiful as we prepare to attend our afternoon worship service and then to our family Christmas Eve gathering. This year we have family from New York, Virginia, and Ohio with us. We are so blessed.

This will be my last post of the year.

Christmas Day finds us beginning our 1900-mile drive to Mesa, Arizona, where we will stay until mid-April. But, of course, there will be new posts and news when we arrive.

The year 2010 has been good to me, and I hope it closes on a satisfactory note for you. I have enjoyed my first year of retirement, have renewed some valuable friendships, and have had some new experiences. I joined a new church and made new friends.

Of course, I have a few New Year's resolutions. But why are they the same ones I made last year?

Don't we always have such hopes for a new, fresh year? I love its clean slate, its promise; the journey of it stretched before us, like an open road.

I wish you the best of health and happiness in 2011. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my stories and being a part of my 2010, making it the blessing it has been.

And I pray that 2011 will give you good health, enough strength for the day, and a joyful spirit.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Every family has its holiday traditions. Ours is Rysgryngröt.

What's that, you say?

Rysgryngröt is a traditional rice pudding. It's made like porridge and served warm and creamy, with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled generously on top. good.

It is a Scandinavian custom to serve it before Christmas dinner, passed down from my grandmother Ragnhild. Grandma was a Swedish immigrant to America, and kept this tradition, as well as many others, alive in her home.

The reason for serving it first, before the Christmas feast, is that it meets two criteria for those with little food and meager funds, as in our forebearer's time: it's cheap, and it's filling. So eating it first fills the stomach and you need less meat and other Christmas fare.

My mother also kept the tradition alive for us, and we have since carried on for our families. Rysgryngröt has been served at every Christmas Eve celebration in my memory. It's the very first course, usually ready for guests upon arrival.

When my then-husband and I moved to Ohio where we lived for several years when our children were small, and we couldn't be present for the large family gathering, we felt closer with our servings of rysgryngröt on Christmas Eve.

What is most special, besides the fact that it's delicious to eat, is that the custom calls for the Christmas Elf to hide a nut, usually an almond, in the pudding. If the almond lands in your serving, you receive a special gift, maybe a decorated gingerbread cookie, or a candy bar. And with it comes good luck for the coming year!

When we were growing up, the nut truly was hidden, and there was only one recipient. My mother sticks to her story that she never "planted" it, but since I recall a different one of the six of us children getting the nut each year, I have my suspicions. What do you think?

Nowadays, there are numerous nuts and gifts from the Christmas Elf. As new members join the family, or boyfriends or girlfriends attend our celebration, the Elf sees to it that a nut is found in their serving.

The cooking process has changed and the tradition has been altered a bit since Grandma's time. We now make a double and a half batch for our Christmas gathering, cooked in a large crock pot.

Here is the original recipe, which you can alter by doubling or cooking in a crockpot, if you prefer:

Traditional Rice Pudding (Rysgryngröt)
Put into top of double boiler:
6 cups milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup raw rice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cover and cook over simmering water for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. The rice should be entirely soft and the mixture thick. (Remove the cover the last 10 minutes if not thick enough.)

Serve with cream (half-and-half) and a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

My granddaughters say Rysgryngröt is their very favorite part of Christmas.

Whatever your holiday tradition, embrace and enjoy. Traditions are an honored part of our past and bind us together.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas tears

It is a joyous time of year. Decorations, sparkling lights, holiday music and concerts, gifts, and cookies.

But tears are shed at Christmastime, too.
We are not spared from them, even in this joyous season.

We lost our darling sister-in-law, Mavis,
very suddenly last week. Unplanned. Not our timing at all. And perhaps not hers.

There were things to do, and time was running out. Cards had been sent; we received ours a week ago. But Christmas gifts had not yet been given; some were still unwrapped, and dinner needed to be planned.

But in her typical style and in her mind, there was always plenty of time for enjoying, and not wasting, every moment of life.

Taking time out for a movie with a good friend, she laughed and enjoyed the evening with her usual flair. Her Christmas to-do list would wait.

She left a half-cup of coffee on the table as she rushed out the door. And there by the table, and the half-cup of coffee, lay her devotional book, speaking to her of knowing peace in what lay ahead, of good things to come, all waiting for her.

Her to-do list won't be checked off because God had another plan for her. She not only left it behind, she considered it undeserving of any attention at all when God called.

It was the most wonderful Christmas gift she could receive, to be invited to join Him in Heaven on that night. She willingly took His hand. I am sure she lit up the sky, and I can clearly hear that special laugh as she takes in every moment of the joy that is hers now.

Though she didn't write this, and the author is unknown, she could have. It sounds just like her.
Tis Christmas in Heaven, what a beautiful sight.
It's my first one here; everything is all right.
I've met all our dear ones who preceded us here.
The reunion was lovely, an event full of cheer.

I think of you all that I left behind,
And pray that your Christmas is as blessed as mine.
Please don't shed tears for my soul is at rest.
Just love one another, live life to the best!

Yes, it's Christmas in Heaven, so I've heard them say.
Yet, Christmas in Heaven happens every day.
We said good-bye to Mavis today with a beautiful service, perfectly fitting for her in its style and elegance. We celebrated the life she lived, and the gifts she left us by simply being such a special part of our lives.

We shed tears, and it's okay. It is still a joyous season. The birth of the Christ Child, and our rebirth in Heaven, is great cause for celebration.

A joyous Christmas is wished for you!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sitting by the fire

I have always longed for a fireplace.

It was on our list of "must haves" for several houses we looked at over the years, and bought. I have still never had one.

So I settle for a DVD of a burning camp fire, complete with crackling and popping. It's actually pretty good.

We found it when we visited Minnesota's North Shore last summer. Some guy actually filmed a camp fire out in the woods and made a DVD. It was playing in a gift shop and, of course, having been inspired by being in the north woods, we had to buy it.

Since I am unlikely to ever have a real fireplace, it's the next best thing.

While sitting next to my "fireplace" (such as it is), I'm knitting ear warmers. Not wanting to start a large project before our journey to Arizona, they go quickly and will surely be appreciated by my little 3 and 4 year old granddaughters the rest of the cold Minnesota winter.

For the little ones, I cast on about 12 stitches, using a small, size 6 needle, and am using a double strand of yarn.

I knit this in a strip to about 14 to 16 inches, then bind off and stitch together end-to-end. You want it a bit snug for the head measurement. It can then be slipped on over the ears.

For adults, use a thicker yarn and a slightly larger needle, but make it nice and snug and tightly knit.

It is below zero in our neck of the woods, so we'll take anything we can get to keep warm. Ear warmers and DVD camp fires help.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

It's 5 below zero today. The wind blew all night and the snow drifts once again cancel-
ed our family Christmas dinner and gift exchange gathering.

Many church programs and holiday concerts have been canceled as freeway ramps are slippery, and driveways and parking lots have not yet been plowed.

I (regrettably) checked the weather for today in Mesa, Arizona. We'll be there in two weeks. 75 degrees and sunny.

I had to know that, didn't I?

Well, in the meantime, here we are. Bundled up, heat on, we've been snuggled in for the day. The sun was shining all day, deceiving us all. But I focused on its rays rather than the outdoor thermometer.

Even Catrina knows it's cold out there.
She prefers being on the inside looking out at the shivering, but most grateful, squirrel, digging for the seed buried deep under-
neath the snow on the patio.

We found all kinds of things to do to keep us warm inside. Those sugar cookies finally were baked and decorated, and we have a wonderful porketta roast slowly cooking in the oven now that the cookies are done.

I made a double recipe of cranberry-strawberry salad for our since-canceled family gathering. Combined with butternut squash, this will make a hearty dinner this evening.

The cranberry-strawberry salad is a very old recipe, and standard fare for all of our family's occasions. It is also perhaps the simplest recipe you'll ever have, but can be served both casually and elegantly.

Heat a can of Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce until hot. Slowly stir in a package of red (any flavor) Jell-O. Let cool just a bit and add a thawed package of frozen strawberries in syrup.

For an optional topping, stir fresh lime juice into a carton of sour cream and garnish with a slice of lime.

Whatever you did to stay warm and cozy today, I hope your day has been filled with the good things this holiday season, and winter, offers.

Happy Holidays!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Oh, it doesn't show signs of stoppin'
But we've got some corn for poppin'

It started at midnight last night. White, fluffy flakes swirling around, and now blowing in the wind. You can hear it howling away outside.

It is so very beautiful. A winter wonderland in Minnesnowta.

It is also canceling travel plans all over the state. Warnings have been issued to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary. Our own family plans were postponed until tomorrow as my children and grandchildren planned their annual gift opening celebration today.

But everything will keep and we'll be together then, presumably all safe and sound. And we will celebrate in our usual festive style.

So today is wide open.

Hmmmmm, what shall I do with myself? The options are many.

Bake cookies?
Read my new book? "Fall of Giants" ... a mere 985 pages.

Snow days can be so deliciously lazy. Permission to do anything not associated with real work. I love these snowy days, just as I love a good thunderstorm in summer. It's all about permission to lay low without feeling guilty.

I think I'll bake some sugar cookies, pop some Kettle Corn, and read the afternoon away.

In that order.

Without feeling a tinge of guilt.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cranberry tea

Now that you've made your cranberry tree, it's time to relax with a piping hot cup of cranberry tea.

One of my favorite holiday recipes was given
to me by a friend, and former librarian of our local library. What's so interesting about this cranberry tea recipe is that it actually contains no tea.

Maybe it should be called Christmas Tea. Even if it has no tea...

So, although it's anybody's guess how it got its name, cranberry tea is so delicious and soothing.

Here's how to make it:

In a large pan, boil together for five minutes over medium heat: 1 to 1-1/4 cups sugar, 2 cups water and a 6-inch cinnamon stick.

Add a gallon of cranberry juice cocktail, a 16-ounce can of orange juice concentrate, and a scant 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

Simmer and enjoy the aroma of the wonderful blend of spices.
After a busy day, when you're feeling overwhelmed and don't know how you will possibly get everything done, and life is just plain hectic, and you're almost wishing the holidays were over, kick off your shoes, heat up a cup of this holiday drink till it's very hot, sit back, slowly sip, and relax.

Ahhhhh.....that's better.

For entertaining, it's very pretty served in a clear glass cup. I have used it for serving with lingonberry cake or nut breads.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Making a cranberry tree

Many years ago, my mother and I enjoyed
a holiday tour of the Alexander Ramsey House in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Alexander Ramsey was Minnesota's first governor, originally governing the territory, and then the state of Minnesota when it joined the Union.

One of the nation's best preserved Victorian-era homes, the Ramsey House offers a glimpse into life in the 1870s. Anna Ramsey, wife of the governor, greets you in costume, as do the guides dressed as her servants.

As you pass through the home's kitchen, the smells of cinnamon and clove fill the air as fresh cookies, made from recipes of the 1800s, are offered.

But what caught our eye was the cran-
berry tree decoration on the dining room table.

Typical of the holiday decorations of the day, it was elegant in its simplicity.

Mom and I studied it carefully and then went home to make one!

Here's how:

You'll need about 2 pounds of fresh or thawed cranberries, whole cloves, round (not flat) toothpicks broken in half, and a green Styrofoam cone.

Beginning at the bottom of the cone, push the sharp end of the toothpick about half-way through the stem end of the cranberry. Then remove the toothpick and put the thicker end
of the toothpick into the hole you just made. Then push it into the Styrofoam cone.

Do this around the whole base; then continue to do the same on the next row up and so on until you reach the top. Use the larger cranberries for the bottom of the cone and smaller ones as you work your way up. Place a large cranberry at the top of the cone.

In between rows, where you see any blank spots, put the stem end of a whole clove into the cone. You get the added advantage of a most wonderful smell.

I found that when finished, the cranberry tree needs to be kept in a cool place. I put mine on our enclosed front porch until ready to use, then brought it out to decorate the table when entertaining. I displayed it on a clear, glass plate with small boughs of fresh greens around it.

Although I didn't try this, you can put a bit of egg wash (egg white beaten until frothy), using a pastry brush, over the tips of the cranberries, and sprinkle sugar on it while the egg wash is still wet.

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and will enjoy a bit of Christmas-past with this simple, homemade decoration.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 5, 2010


We welcomed the holiday season last night
by attending a musical, Hallelujah! at North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills,
a 45-minute drive from our house.

We went with three other couples who are
long-time good friends. We celebrate the season each year by attending a special holiday production. This is the one we selected for this year's tradition, and we were glad we did.

This is no ordinary musical. But then, it is no ordinary church.

I'm sure it is the largest church I have ever seen. Although it is really a huge auditorium,
it is warm and inviting all the same. It has wonderfully cozy seats with ample space between rows for walking through, and acoustics that are second to none. The sound was amazing.

There is no "stage." The production, with a cast of hundreds, including children, takes place all over: on balconies, in the aisles, on a real skating rink, even from the ceiling.

Hallelujah! features stunning holiday music
by very talented musicians, including an orchestra, several choirs and singers, creative dancing, graceful ice skating, and flying angels in flowing white to announce the birth of Jesus. The lighting and visual effects were spectacular.

It was fast-paced, joyful, uplifting and a simply delightful way to usher in the holidays with good friends.

Hallelujah! was not only inspiring, it really captured the true beauty of the season: the newborn Babe of Bethlehem.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas cards

I just put the last stamp on the last card for this holiday season, sending my friends and family a festive Christmas greeting.

Each year, I review my practice of sending Christmas cards. I hear more and more people have given up on this long-standing tradition. The day will surely come when it is another thing of the past.

It doesn't take me long to realize I am not yet ready to abandon this tradition. Something would be missing from Christmas without it.

To not connect with people who are important in my life, even if it means connecting in a tangible way only once a year, would be a significant loss to me.

And as I address each envelope and sign the card, I think fondly of the recipient and how thankful I am for the richness each has added to my life. Each in a unique way.

I wondered where the tradition of sending Christmas cards ever started. So I Googled.

I learned that Christmas cards began when school children in England drew Christmas greetings for their parents. And in 1843, the first director of London's Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned an artist to create the first professional Christmas card so that he could send greetings to his friends.

Christmas cards can serve as bridges to keep friendships alive. I think it is fitting at Christmas time, when we celebrate the joyous birth of the Christ child, to let loved ones know they are valued by us, as we are valued by the Baby Jesus.

I also love to receive Christmas cards. I go to my mailbox in anticipation, wondering who I will hear from today. Maybe you?

Not everyone has e-mail. Or is on Facebook. Those are perhaps efficient vehicles for communicating, but they don't express the same, gracious messages as a lovely card. Pen and ink have been forgotten in this era of keystrokes and send buttons.

So I'll continue this Christmas card tradition, hopefully for many years to come.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

'Tis December

So now that it's December,
I can talk about Christmas openly. And decorate my front door.

And turn up the volume on my Christmas CDs. And bake Christmas cookies.

Doing so in November brings odd, disapproving looks from people who think October is Halloween, November is Thanksgiving, and December is Christmas.

I got out my holiday recipes to see what I was in the mood to make today and decided on "Peanut Blossoms." They're the peanut butter cookies with the chocolate kiss (or star) on top. I have made them every year for many years.

Except now I cheat.

I use a package of Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix. It comes in a pouch. So easy that I'll never make them from "scratch" again. I might try the same for sugar cookies.

Then I'll make turtle candy. And cheat again. Here's an easy way:

You'll need a bag of miniature pretzels. During the holidays, you can often find them in star and tree shapes, as well as the traditional knot shape. You'll also need a package of Rolo candies, and pecan halves.

Place the pretzels on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Unwrap the Rolos and put one on top of each pretzel. Place in an oven pre-heated to 250 degrees for four minutes.

Remove from the oven and press a pecan half on top of the chocolate which will squish it down and cover the pretzel holes. Then put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for a short time. Waa-lah! Turtles!

Here is a tip that isn't really cheating. It's just getting the most for your effort. I make miniature cut-out gingerbread men with a small gingerbread man cookie cutter. Making them "bite-size" makes so many more out of a batch of gingerbread dough. I use those silver ball decorations for the eyes and add a couple for buttons.

So now that my oven is preheated, I'm ready to get started. And if anyone comes to the door, it's okay that I'm baking Christmas cookies.

After all, it is December.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Tis the Season

Christmas carols playing in the background.
Wrapping paper and bows spread out over the dining room table. The living room couch lined with gifts awaiting their wrappings.

Christmas cards stacked in boxes. Holiday stamps purchased from the post office last week. Annual letter written.

Yes, I know. It's only two days after Thanksgiving...

But I am in the mood for Christmas. And it's a good thing. Our schedule is a bit accelerated this year. My family will celebrate on December 11th to adjust to kids' working schedules, who's available when, and so on.

Our annual holiday outing for the girls in my family at the Ordway Center is December 19. (This year: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.)

And in between times, we will be packing for our trip to Mesa for the remainder of the winter.

So from now until then, I'll be sharing a bit of the season with you. There are a couple of craft projects I'll teach you, and a few family recipes and traditions.

So get ready!

Twenty-eight days until Christmas. A magical time, a time of wonder and joy, and my favorite time of year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where were you?

They say everyone old enough will remember exactly where they were when they learned of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

I remember it well, as many do.

A senior in high school, I had attended classes all morning at Central High. Then in the afternoon, I went to work, as usual, at my secretarial job in the Pioneer Building, downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Pioneer Building was uniquely designed with offices on sixteen floors. It had an open middle section with balconies all around on each floor. You could look down or around and see people walking on other floors.

Its elevators were glassed-in, so you could see as you passed each floor on your way up or down. This is common in upscale places now, but it was one of a kind back then. Of course, the elevators were operated by men, but not by pushing buttons. They had a lever they worked by hand. A good operator, like Charlie, my favorite, could get it to be level with the floor in one try.

I describe the building because when it was learned that JFK had been shot, someone on the sixteenth floor hollered out the news for all to hear and it echoed throughout the open space in the middle of the building. It was heard in the glassed-in elevators.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and came rushing out of their offices. Some said it must be some kind of cruel joke.

Then we learned that it was true and gathered in the hallways to talk about the news. The balconies were crowded with workers providing updates as they heard new details on their office radios. The mood was somber and surreal.

For the next few days, everyone was glued to their television sets for the unfolding of the drama: the swearing in of Vice President Lyndon Johnson, the funeral of JFK, John-John standing at attention, Jackie in black veil. A horse-drawn hearse. The arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the subsequent shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby. Jack Ruby in prison, reportedly dying of cancer.

Reality was slow to set in as it was all so very hard to believe. The world stood still.

Forty-eight years today and it still seems like yesterday. Three wars, bombings, 9/11 attacks, and terrorist threats have happened since, and the world has known fear.

But for us, in that day, losing our nation's youthful leader with the promise of Camelot was as large a disaster as it could possibly be. JFK, and all of us, had such hope for the future.

And we will never know how the world's course might have changed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sight unseen

During this past hot summer, many, according to a local news report, were longing for winter.

Evidently, their memories had grown dim in the heat, as they seemed to have forgotten about shoveling and plowing, navigating icy roads and sidewalks, not to mention scraping windshields. Wearing five layers of clothes. Boots, mittens, scarves and earmuffs. How could anybody long for that?

Well, here it is. "Snovember," the weatherman called it last night on the evening news. Yes, we have snow in Minnesota. Several inches of sticky, slushy snow.

And we won't be sticking around long in it. Soon, we will head south to Arizona, to our new mobile home we purchased late last spring. Sight unseen.

Last winter, when we spent a month in Tucson, we decided to spend the rest of our retirement winters in a warm, sunny environ. We debated about settling in one spot every year versus traveling around. We also debated about spending our retirement funds to purchase real estate versus having the ability to travel to far corners of the earth on a series of shorter vacations.

We opted to settle in one place for the winter.

So one day, while in Tucson, we took a two-hour drive to Mesa, where our good friends, the Minars, have a winter home. They are in a large mobile home park, called The Resort.

The Biseks and the Minars
We loved their mobile home, and as we toured the park with them and they explained the park's amenities, we thought we might check into the homes for sale while we were there for the day.

We looked at a few, but none seemed to be satisfactory. We had hoped to find a corner lot, and a home with two bedrooms. However, we did like the park and all it had to offer.

After returning home to Minnesota, we looked online for homes available in the park, either to rent or to buy.

Lo and behold. There was one available with a corner lot and two bedrooms. It was on the same street as the Minars, about five houses away.

We wasted no time. Mary Kay and Bob agreed to look at it for us and call us with a description and their valued opinion. Bob is a contractor, so he would evaluate from a structural perspective. Mary Kay and I share the same decorating taste, and expectations for a clean home, so she would tell me if she liked its appearance.

We could hardly wait for their phone call.

They both agreed: it was a nice home, structurally sound with good design, well kept, and clean. They assured us it was one they would buy themselves.

We called the owner, made an offer, it was accepted. We owned a home in Arizona!

Our new winter home
Mary Kay and Bob came home with photos they took of every room, and practically every nook and cranny of our new home. We were so excited to see the pictures, and we concluded the home exceeded our expectations.

So, off we'll go. The day after Christmas.

To the sun and warmth. To the wonder and beauty of Arizona and the peaceful desert.

To our new home. Which we bought.
Sight unseen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Arizona beauty

Last winter, shortly after I retired, my husband and I enjoyed a month-long stay in Tucson. This was a generous retirement gift from our friends, the Pipers, who spend winters there.
It was their way of introducing us to the beauty of Arizona.

We spent the month in the Piper's casita, an adobe guesthouse, situated in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains.

We explored the wonders of the desert and learned a bit about the many varieties of cacti growing there. We hiked at Catalina State Park, Saguaro National Park, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert museum and botanical garden. We marveled at the majesty of it all.

The sunsets were indescribable. Our granddaughter, Heidi, captured this photo outside our casita.

She and husband, Chris, drove from their home in Las Vegas to spend a weekend with us. Heidi is an excellent photographer, evidenced by these photos:

Nearby was a wonderful Farmer's Market held every weekend at St. Philip's Plaza. We tried some interesting foods that were new to us: Jack in the Bean soup and Mill Creek Mexican lime olive oil.

We took a day trip to Tubac, about an hour south of Tucson. Tubac is an "artsy" community with many interesting shops and artisans at work. Lunch at the Old Tubac Inn is highly recommended if you visit. Their Center for the Arts was fabulous.

Being a former member of the U.S. Air Force, we had to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum with 80 acres of aviation history. George loved walking around the large field of old planes. (Me? I toured the gift shop, bought a book, The Fighter Pilot's Wife, sat on a wonderful stone bench outside in the sun and read.)

Our month went by too fast, and we were sad to be leaving the amazing beauty, and warmth of the sun, of Arizona.

But, while there, in our new retirement life, we vowed to return. Maybe even invest in a winter home there.

To be continued...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tutorial: Graham crackers

My friend, Barb (remember her from "Making potato soup?") made homemade graham crackers.

That fascinated me. I thought they came
in a box and never even guessed at how
they might be made.

The same was true for English muffins.
But long ago, my sister, Christine, made them and gave me the recipe. Naturally, I had to try them. They are very easy.

As are graham crackers.

So let's get started and I'll teach you how to make them. You'll never buy another box in the grocery store.

You will need:

2 cups white flour
1/2 cup graham flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp. baking soda
A sprinkle of salt

Stir all ingredients together. I used my stand mixer, but you can just use a spoon or wooden paddle.

Roll out on a cookie sheet. You can make them as thin or thick as you like and can press to reach the edges of the cookie sheet.

With a sharp knife, mark squares and prick with a fork. Bake 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

After removing from the oven, make your lines again.

Let cool in pan. You did it!

Now get a fresh cup of coffee or a glass of ice cold milk.

And enjoy!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We four

We've been friends for a very long time.
Me, Mary Kay, Rosie and Janie.

Rose and Jane and I go way back to grade school at Central Lutheran. We shared some of the same classes and teachers: Mr. Rosenwinkel, Mrs. Carlson, Mr. Dreyer. Sat together at lunchtime. Central Lutheran sloppy joe's, our favorite, along with hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes. Good, nourishing Lutheran food.

But then in high school, we met Mary Kay and became a foursome. Double-dating on occasion, sharing classes, meeting before and after school, and passing notes back and forth in between. Confiding our teenage crushes, heartaches, and imparting wise counsel on the matter du jour.

Mary Kay met Bob as a sophomore, became engaged in our senior year, and married the September after graduation. They have four daughters and live not far from me.
Rose met Bob in her sophomore year. Became engaged after graduation, married the following February. They have a son and two daughters. They live in Florida, having moved there for a job transfer.

Jane met Wayne on a blind date, with me playing matchmaker. They became engaged a short time later, and married in October. They have two sons and a daughter and live in Wisconsin.
Bridal showers were given and weddings were shared with great joy. Housekeeping tips and recipes were exchanged. And then the baby showers began.

Our children were born in sequential years, one each year from 1964 to 1969. We, of course, advised each other on baby care and child-rearing.

Somehow the years flew by before our very eyes. Our children started school, graduated and married. Grandchildren followed. And, in my case, the distinction of the first great-grandchild.

When Rose comes home to Minnesota, about once a year, we get together. This happened last month when we all met for lunch.

(L-R) Rose, Me, Jane, Mary Kay

There is nothing quite the same as long-time, tried and true friends.

Together through joys and sorrows, achievements and challenges. Celebrations and disappointments. Loss of parents. Health crises. A bond that cannot be broken.

We four. Friends forever. The real treasures of life.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Elva Kaffe

If you drive down a quiet country road, not far from where I live, you'll come to a small area known as Kost. Many around here know Kost for its dam, great for fishing and a pictur-
esque hike. A road sign indicates there is a pottery shop nearby.

Drive just a bit further and you'll come to a quaint, white country church. You have now arrived at Kost Evangelical Free Church.

When Kost was settled in the 1880s by a large migration of Scandinavians to America, they formed clusters which met in homes for the purpose of worship. From there, the Kost church was established in 1886.

The church continues to honor its heritage and share it with the community. Once every three years, they host a festive Scandinavian event called, Elva Kaffe, inviting the people of the area to come for coffee and cookies as they begin their preparations for the holidays.

My friend, Mary Kay, and I attended last Saturday. What an elegant, charming and absolutely enjoyable event this is. What a delightful way to spend a crisp, sunny Saturday morning.

We were greeted at the door by a man in Swedish costume. Then we noticed all the hosts and hostesses were also dressed in clothing representative of the various provinces of their homelands.

Scandinavian decorations were everywhere. Hearts are traditionally used, as the symbol of love, reminding us all to be generous to one another during the Christmas season, as well as all year long. Pines, the symbol of eternal life, and pine trees are also commonly used.

All four Scandinavian countries were represented in various craft displays in a large room: Hardanger, wood carving, Julgranskorg (woven hearts), Huvudia (woven head wreaths), rug braiding, birch and vine crafts, rosemaling, spinning, basket weaving, and more.

Flags from all four countries: Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

Around the craft display room, there were demonstrations of Scandinavian foods, with samples being offered. All demonstrators were in costume, and you could hear Swedish being spoken. We tasted most all of the wonderful foods: abelskiver, krumkake, smørrebrød, krem, pepparkaka, köttbollar, fruit soppa, plättar and lefse.

I grew up with Scandinavian food and customs. But if you don't know what any or all of those are, let me just say that all are delicious. We were given a recipe book with directions for making these wonderful treats ourselves. Instructions were also provided for making some of the holiday crafts at home.

The Swedes say: Var sa god. Be so kind as to come to the table for a cup of coffee.

Across the hall from the demonstration room was their Kaffe Stuga. Tables were set for us to enjoy coffee. An elegant serving table, complete with silver service and crystal cake plates, was prepared with Scandinavian cookies, Jul kage (Christmas bread) and Kranse Kaka.

A tower of individual, graduated pastry rings is used to make Kranse Kaka, traditionally served at weddings.

Decorated with the country's flag, it is served from the top ring down and is broken into pieces and eaten as a cookie. It has a wonderful almond flavor, and uses only three ingredients: almond paste, granulated sugar, and egg whites.

It will be another three years before we can enjoy such a festive celebration again. You can believe that Mary Kay and I already have our calendars marked for 2013.

Tusen tak (thank you) to the Kost Church for hosting this wonderful event.

We are in the holiday spirit already. God Jul!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The shops on Grand

We had the typical shops of the 50s and 60s in our quiet Mac-Groveland neighborhood in St. Paul. I wrote about Dory's corner grocery store in the "Boxcar Children" post.

Our weekly allowance was most often spent at Dory's, on the corner of Grand and Prior. There we'd find shelves of penny candy or two-cent Tootsie Roll pops; or Popsicles and Dreamsicles in the freezer.

Dory was a fat, grumpy old guy. He was always clearing his throat. We could almost hear him groan as we approached the store. Not a friendly shopkeeper at all.

So we would request candy from the very bottom shelf where the penny candy was kept: Double Bubble or Bazooka gum, root beer barrels, or candy buttons on a paper roll. Then Dory would lean over with his fat body, hold his back with one hand, and grunt as he retrieved the candy.

But then, when he straightened up, we’d change our minds and select something else instead: candy lipstick, Lik’M’Aid, a wax pop bottle, or a marshmallow cone.

Then he’d have to lean over, groaning, again.

This sounds so cruel now. But I can’t help but wonder: Why didn’t he just put the penny candy on the upper shelf in the first place?

Besides Dory’s, we liked to go to the dime store further down on Grand Avenue. There, the rotund owner, Mrs. Stetson (we named her Stella), and her mouse-like clerk, Mrs. McBride (we named her Minnie), watched as we perused the selections of construction paper, scrapbooks, black photo mount corners, rubber cement, wedge-shaped erasers, colored index cards, finger paint sets and protractors and compasses.

The wooden floors creaked and there was a large black heater vent in the middle of the store that we liked to walk over. If we were lucky, the heater fan would kick in, sending a blast of hot air to blow on our bare legs.

Next to Stetson's store was the Grandview Theater. The local neighborhood theaters (indeed, all theaters then) had only one screen and one feature movie that played for weeks.

My mother took my sister, Christine, and I to see “The King and I” and also “Rear Window,” though I can’t for the life of me imagine why she’d take us to an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

I already mentioned Lacher Drugs in the "Corner drugstore" post, on the corner of Grand and Fairview where you could sit at the fountain and drink phosphates or cherry, vanilla or lime Cokes, and buy magazines and comic books.

Across the street on Fairview was Strandy’s Bakery. Mom would send me and Christine there to buy bread. It was so fresh, yeasty and warm, and we’d always eat the crusts on the way home.

Next to Strandy’s on Grand Avenue was a supermarket under various ownerships. Originally a Klein’s, it became Krogers, then Piggly Wiggly. You could get Klein bars for three cents, and small jars of pickles or maraschino cherries for a dime. Yes, we would buy dime jars of pickles with our allowance and eat them on the way home.

Next to Strandy’s on Fairview was the Dairy Queen. On occasion, Dad would take us all for five cent ice cream cones. Of course, the Dairy Queen was only open in the summertime and only had one outdoor window, unlike the fast-food restaurants they are today. And though it was only a block away from home, it was a rare summertime treat to go there.

Today, Grand Avenue remains dotted with small shops and, for the most part, except for a Subway where Lacher's was, has escaped the chain-store invasion. I believe that a concerted effort on the part of the neighborhood association of residents and business owners has been responsible for this. They have been outspoken in their protection of the quaintness of Grand Avenue and, to their credit, have thus far been successful.

If you visit Grand Avenue now, you'll find a neighborhood that has remained pretty much as it was when I was growing up there. Yes, Dory's is gone (a small bicycle repair shop took its place), Stella Stetson and Minnie McBride are no longer there, Lacher's has closed, Strandy's is now a cafe, and the Dairy Queen has been razed.

But Grand Avenue has been well cared for by its inhabitants and shopkeepers. And the heart of Grand Avenue is the same.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Boxcar children

When my childhood friend, Kathy Jones, came to my house to visit, we often chose to play Boxcar Children.
~ Kathy and I, 1956

Boxcar Children, one of our favorite books,
is the delightful story of four children who run away from home. Their parents have died, and they don’t want to be sent away to live with their grandfather.

They don't actually know their grandfather, but they conclude he must be mean, and he certainly doesn’t love them, since he's never come to see them.

Kathy and I became the poor, needy, but brave, orphans in the book, venturing into the woods and making beds of pine needles.

When we discover a boxcar to hide in, we scavenge a nearby dump for dishes and furnishings. Finding some old utensils and some metal bowls, we clean and polish them with sand.

This game appealed to Kathy’s innate sense of adventure, and my "nesting" instinct, preferring to pretend things that were homey, safe and comforting.

We had the perfect spot for Boxcar Children: a little clearing in a vacant lot off the alley on Prior, between Lincoln and Grand Avenues, in back of Dory’s corner grocery store.

Kathy and I would hide out in our little clearing off the alley, hoping we wouldn't be discovered. We were, after all, surviving, on our own, escaping being sent to our wicked grandfather.

Only, in the story, Grandfather turns out to be a loving man, playful, generous and very kind and gentle. When the children are finally discovered and he sees how much the boxcar has meant to them, he has it moved to his farm as a playhouse for them.

But Kathy and I never got to the end of the story. It was too much fun to hide, fear being found, and remain brave while trying to stay sheltered, warm and fed.

Of course, after awhile, we Boxcar Children would head for home.

Exhausted from our adventure. And most likely in time for supper.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Making potato soup

Today I am making Barb's potato soup.

I haven't seen Barb since we worked together twenty years ago. But I often make her soup, and each time I think of her.

More than working together, we became friends. She was also, at that stage of my life, a good advisor to me. Barb loved to cook and I was the fortunate beneficiary as she shared her "leftovers" at lunch time.

I also make Barb's graham crackers, Linzer bars, and, with my granddaughters, a tradition started with my two older ones, homemade applesauce in the fall. Ava and I made some last weekend.

Isn't it funny with recipes? You collect them and forever after refer to them by the name of the person who passed it on. For instance, I make Mary Kay's beans, Christine's spaghetti sauce, Judy's caramel rolls, and Lorraine's grainery pickles.

But then there's Teddie's apple cake. I have no idea who Teddie is. The recipe was given to me many years ago by a friend. And her name isn't Teddie.

In our family, we have made "Clare's beans" for decades. They are known as Clare's beans. But nobody knows who Clare is, or was. The recipe was given to my mother by someone named Daisy.

Go figure.

But anyway, as I make Barb's potato soup, I do think of Barb. It's a good day for soup.

And maybe I'll even give Barb a call.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Remembering Chuck

A year ago, we lost our son-in-law, Chuck Holsworth, at the early age of 57.

He was a most special person. To us and to many, many others.

Fishing at their summer cabin, and football, were Chuck's life's passions, second only to his family.

Chuck was a caring, thoughtful, and devoted husband to my husband's daughter, Bonnie. High school sweethearts, Bonnie and Chuck settled in North Branch, Minnesota, where Chuck taught high school and was their football coach.

His football career began in high school and continued on through college at Gustavus Adolphus college in St. Peter, Minnesota, where he played defensive tackle and helped the Gusties win two M.I.A.C. Championships.

After graduating, he accepted an invitation to try out for the Dallas Cowboys. Not reaching the NFL, Chuck returned home and became the linebackers coach at Gustavus before becoming the head High School Football Coach at Gibbon, Minnesota.

He later accepted the Head Football Coach position at North Branch High School, where he coached until the early 1980's. In the mid-1990's, Chuck returned to coach the offensive line at North Branch, coaching while his sons, Matt and Chris, played on the team.

Chris followed in his Dad's footsteps, attending Gustavus and earning a starting spot on the offensive line his Junior year. His Senior year, he earned All-Conference honors while being named a Captain by his teammates.

Chris Holsworth and his very proud Grandpa

Bonnie went on to become an elementary teacher and teaches first grade in North Branch, earning her Master's degree last year.

Daughter, Heidi, also teaches in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she lives with her husband, Chris Tertipes. Son, Matt, is in the Army reserves and works for UPS in Texas.

A few weeks ago, Gustavus honored Chuck's accomplishments by designating funds given in memory of Chuck for a special football recruiting room.

Both Chuck and Chris are featured on this "wall of fame."

The room and a plaque were dedicated in a special ceremony held at Gustavus before their Homecoming game was played. My husband and his family were there, along wth Bonnie, Chris, and girlfriend Kristin.

We are all so proud of this wonderful and gentle man we lost way too soon. Our family is less without him.

Chris and Heidi Tertipes, Bonnie, Matt, and Chris Holsworth

But we're always remembering Chuck. We all miss him. And we'll never forget him.

Special thanks to Chris Holsworth for writing assistance and photos.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Catching the big one

During these waning days of warm weather, my husband is trying to get in all the fishing he possibly can.

Besides, the water is cold now, says he. And the fish are at their best for eating.

So most of these autumn afternoons, especially late in the afternoon, you can find him down on the dock, wetting a line. Sometimes the neighbors, also avid fishermen, join him.

It is fun for me to just watch them. I try to imagine their conversation. That is, if there is any...
The pros and cons of live bait. Wax worms versus leeches. Sucker minnows. Lindy rigs and bobbers. Tales of past fish caught. How much the big one fought the line. The struggle to reel him in.
At any rate, it's nice to see them enjoy each other's company and their mutual passion. To see them relaxing together and bonding; if, indeed, men do that.

A few days ago, George caught "the big one." A 12-plus-pound Northern.
And, wouldn't you know, there was nobody around to see it. I had gone to do some errands, and it didn't seem anyone nearby was home.
So he brought the fish up to at least snap a photo of it before he released it back into the lake.

He had to walk around the condo and to the end of the hall to finally find a neighbor, Bea Nelson, at home. She readily agreed to come take a picture. He could hardly wait to tell me about it when I returned home. I really wished I had been here to share in his excitement. And, of course, to see this big fish.

Yup, these days are coming to an end. Soon it will be too chilly and the remaining portion of the dock will be pulled ashore. The lake will begin to freeze. The fishing equipment will reluctantly be stored with a sigh.

And my husband will dream his sweet dreams of next year's fishing. Can he top an 11-pound Northern?

In his dreams, I bet he can!

Friday, October 15, 2010

A me day

Everyone once in awhile, I take what I call a "me" day.

If you've never done this before, you do not know what you're missing. I urge you to try it.

It is a day where I do something special.
Just for me.

Either a little adventure by myself, or a day of pampering. A pedicure, shopping for nothing in particular, or just allowing myself the luxury of a quiet day at home.

Last week, on a beautiful warm autumn day,
I decided it was time for a me day. A little adventure this time.

So I left the house mid-morning, steering my car along Interstate 35 and I-494, past the airport, past the Mall of America, and proceeding on to Highway 7 West. This took me along a beautiful drive leading to Minnetonka, and my favorite stitching shop, Stitchville USA.

Alas, it is the only stitching shop for miles around.

If another shop like it even exists in a two-hundred mile radius, I don't know about it. Stitchville is worth the 100-mile round trip drive from Lindstrom to Minnetonka.

So I arrived there and was treated like a queen by owner, Debbie Clarke. I'm guessing she knew it was a me day, because she gave me her undivided attention, selecting fabric,
a heart charm, and framing for my granddaughter, Ava's, French country heart piece. She even sewed on the charm for me.

See? She did know. Such service. Such a beautiful shop. So inspiring.

From there, I went next door to Old Chicago restaurant, to get my favorite sandwich, their Italian melt. Mmmmm, so good. Because it was a me day, I ate slowly while reading a bit of my book. Then I splurged on their warm apple tart for dessert. Yum....

No worry about calories because it is, after all, a me day.

Then down the road on Highway 7 to the Minnetonka General Store.

You haven't seen a gift shop until you've seen this place.

It is loaded with gifts: kitchen, bath, seasonal, children's, Minnesota items, Christmas, candles, books, frames, and more, more, more. Hours are whiled away there and you have no idea where the time went.

But again, it's a me day so I don't care.
At this point, I called my husband and told him what leftovers were available in the frig for dinner. Then I got a praline ice cream cone at the country store. And continued shopping. Even splurging on their new cookbook. For who else? Me.

The day was beautiful: friendly people everywhere, the weather perfect, the fall colors and scenery along the way absolutely gorgeous.

I arrived home so relaxed and feeling so special. What a great day. A perfect me day.

And, best of all, a day spent with my best friend. Me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Traveling the world over

Last week, I was a world traveler.

I went to Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. I traveled via a book I read, Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan.

It wasn't a particularly pleasant journey.

In Kenya, I met a family living together in a makeshift shanty. It is Christmas time, and the family was scrambling to find any scraps they could give as gifts. Prostitution was their teenage daughter's means of supporting them all.

In Rwanda, a young girl's family attempted to maintain a facade of normality amid unspeakable acts. A brother and sister were dealing with their uncle's attempt to sell them into slavery, for a shiny motorcycle and a false promise of riches. The brother escapes; the sister does not.

I met a busload of refugees fleeing from the religious persecution of Christians in the north of Nigeria, learning during the treacherous ride that the south was no better, and so they were enduring the horrible trip for nothing.

The most poignant story was that of childhood friends in Ethiopia and the Christian-Muslim conflict that forces them apart, though they don't understand why. Forbidden by their parents to see each other because of their differing religions, they develop a secret language that requires no words. They merely stand at their apartment windows which face each other, give themselves a squeeze with both arms and mouth the words, hugzee, hugzee: in this way, giving each other a hug.

Our Book Group discussed this book at last week's session. We all agreed that while it was a depressing book, it was worth reading for the eye-opening experience that it was. We talked about child slavery amidst the cocoa bean fields, and how rampant this and other crimes against children are, yet they are seldom talked about.

They are also most often cloaked in religion. Religious differences are at the core of the hatred in these countries, and they justify their heinous acts through religion.

Then on Sunday at church, I traveled, at least for an hour, to Tanzania, Africa. What a relief!

It was Tanzanian Sunday : a day set aside to honor and celebrate our mission partnership with Mtera Church in Iringa, Tanzania. How wonderful, after reading of the region's poverty and religious conflicts, to travel to Iringa during that hour and feel at one with them. They are a delightful, gracious and spiritual people from whom we can learn much.

During the service, the Mtera congregation sent their greetings to us. A Swahili Bible was presented to us from them, along with a beautiful wrap-around robe for our own Pastor Mona from Pastor Lufygila at Mtera; and a "talking stick" (the person holding it is allowed to talk; it is then passed to the next person who wishes to speak). Music was played all through our service from a concert recorded by the Iringa choir when they toured here a few years ago.

We closed the service with the Lord's Prayer in Swahili and English:
Baba Yetu, uliye mbinguni
Our Father, who art in heaven.
Jina lako litukuzwe
Hallowed be thy name.
Ulfalme wako uje, mapenzi yatimizwe
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done,
Hapa duniani kama mbinguni
On earth as it is in heaven.
Utupe leo riziki yetu
Give us this day our daily bread.
Utusamehe makosa yetu, kama sisi tunavyowasamehe waliotukosea
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Usitutie majaribuni, lakini utuokoe nayule mwovu
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Kwa kuwa ufalme ni wako, na nguvu, na utukufu hata milele. Amen.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

On many occasions during a service in Mtera, offerings of food, baking or garden produce are given. These are auctioned at the end of the service.

So we followed this custom and bid for jars of homemade jam, butternut squash, cookies, an African basket, a beaded purse, and so on. I had so much fun with this, I would like to see it repeated on a regular basis. The proceeds, of course, went to our Mtera ministry.

There are bad things in the world. There is ongoing religious persecution. But there is much more good.

People joined together in love and spirit.

It does make the world go 'round.