Sunday, May 30, 2010


I received an e-mail message from my sister, Christine, this morning. She was thinking of my Dad and his service in the Navy during World War II, brought to mind on this Memorial Day weekend.

She mentioned that she had heard there are only a small number of WWII veterans still alive, and that memory of this war, and its lessons, dim with the passing of so many.

We wonder about the sense any war makes. But many of the men and women who served in the past or are serving now, lay their lives on the line despite not being able to make personal sense of it all. Perhaps they were drafted, or perhaps they voluntarily enlisted. Either way, they answer the call to duty for the peace and betterment of this great country.

My Dad enlisted in the Navy in 1942, two days after his 23rd birthday. He knew he was about to be drafted but chose to enlist to serve in the US Navy. He was trained at Great Lakes (Illinois) and in Boston, Washington, DC and Brooklyn, attaining the rank of Special Artificer Optical-Machinist's Mate. His main job was in the optical shop aboard war ships where he cleaned ocean salt off the ship's binoculars.

He served in Bahia, Brazil, more than 5,000 miles from the safety of his White Lake, South Dakota farm. He told me once about being on the ship as it zigzagged its way over the ocean through enemy territory, hoping for the best.

After he was discharged in 1945, he lived his patriotism to his country, not by wearing it on his sleeve but by his actions. He joined the American Legion and served actively for 50-plus years. He visited vets at the Minneapolis Veteran's Hospital faithfully and donated gallons of blood to veterans until they told him he had reached the cut-off age. (He was indignant at this arbitrary ruling.)

He marched in every parade that involved Legionnaires and seeing him in his Legion cap was a most familar site to us.

He didn't talk of the war much to us, but his war experience consistently blended into his character. Loyal. Patriotic. Selfless. Devoted.

I hope we all never forget the spirit of giving demonstrated no better than serving in the Armed Forces. Thank you to all who continue to work for our freedom.

Oh yes, my Dad could always fit his Navy uniform, evidenced by this photo at age 79.

And from a love letter sent to my mother in 1944, he signed:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Right way, wrong way

If you look at my Storyteller cross stitch photo from yesterday, you'll notice I am working from the bottom up.

This, according to experts, is the wrong way to cross stitch.

Apparently, according to experts, you start in the middle and work down, then turn your piece around to stitch down again, which is the top of the piece. Something about not sharing holes or some such thing. I never did get it.

So if I were to teach you how to do counted cross stitch, it would have to be using the "Carol Method". This method, according to Carol - me - has you determining the middle of the piece, both vertically and horizontally. Then you would carefully count down to the bottom of the pattern and voile, that's where you start your first stitch. From there, you work your way up to the top. Logical, huh? Plus you can see the pattern unfold better.

Since two of my pieces have managed to win ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair through the years, I guess the method you use isn't all that important. My point is to use whatever method works for you and make your project a truly enjoyable and gratifying experience.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Storyteller, part 2

I thought you might like to see my progress at about the half-way point with the "Storyteller" stitching.

I did a little research on the Storyteller and learned that storyteller dolls were fashioned after the traditional clay figurines made by the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. These figures represent the honored tradition of story telling among Native Americans.

The first contemporary storyteller doll (1964) was made by Helen Cordero of the Cochiti Pueblo in honor of her grandfather Santiago Quintana, a storyteller. The clay figurine showed a man with five children on his lap and shoulders. This doll was patterned after an existing "singing mother" figurine.

So it's even more interesting working on my cross stitch piece and honoring the storytellers of old. Since I like to read and tell stories to my little granddaughters, I fancy myself a storyteller also. But perhaps I will tell more stories to them now instead of reading from a book.

Either way, storytelling is a good way to bond, don't you agree?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The iris are blooming

Of course, the iris are blooming. It's what iris do every spring.

Well, not my iris. But my iris comes with a story.

When my sister, Joan, lived in rural Ames, Iowa, there were several abandoned - and I mean abandoned, as in no one was ever coming back - farm houses: delapidated, decrepit, deformed and unfit for human habitation.

But oh, the treasures we found in those old places.

Carefully creeping through windows and negotiating wooden floors about to give way, we found old pots, teakettles (perfect planters), an old bed frame, a wonderful old hand lotion bottle, some great rusty utensils, some old clay pots, and other various items of nostalgia.

Because we needed to feel connected to these places, we named them. One was "Margaret and Thomas's" house (I think we found some old junk mail in the house addressed to Margaret and Thomas), and the other was "Elizabeth's house." The former occupant really was named Elizabeth and my sister had heard she had long ago been moved to a nursing home.

It was at Elizabeth's where we found the iris. Sorely neglected but still standing proud and strong, they needed to live with us (we decided) where they would receive tender, loving care and continue to honor Elizabeth.

So we dug them up, divided them, planted some at Joan's and I took the rest home. We didn't even know what color the flowers were.

Sure enough, the following spring, they stood in my garden sturdy as can be and the most beautiful yellow blossoms came forth.

The next year - nothing. They just stood there, all green, no blossoms, no flowers. The year after, same thing. The third year, out they came again with beautiful yellow flowers.

So it appears that is their cycle. And this is the year of the bloom.

Aren't they lovely? Thank you, Elizabeth.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Job wanted

No, no, no. Not a job as in a real job...eight to five and all that. Of course, the paycheck (ah, yes, I remember those...) would be nice.

No, I'm looking for the right volunteer opportunity to do something meaningful. It's the next phase of my retirement. This phase does not come as any kind of surprise to me. Volunteering is something I had planned on when contemplating retirement.

So I think now is the time. The first phase has just started to grow a tad bit stale. After six months, my house is clean, my closets are organized, my files purged, knitting and stitching projects have been completed, new ones started, garden's been planted, our redwood planters and wishing well have been stained, and I even made a new address book with my new database on my new computer.

The days go by unbelievably fast. But I'm able to keep up nicely with household chores, cooking, baking and shopping, with time to spare. I am now, like Peggy Lee, asking, "Is that all there is?"

So I'm pondering what would add more meaning to my days. Mind you, I am not bored. Just feeling a wee bit guilty that I'm not "contributing to society." I am, after all, a remnant of the 60s.

I'm joining a new (to me) church in the community so there may be possibilities there. I'm not one to join committees and there always seem to be plenty of those in churches.

The library? Yeah, surrounded by books, that could be good.

The hospital? No, they already make lots of money and don't need my free labor. Besides, they have all those auxiliary ladies.

I'm looking for that special feeling that comes from giving of yourself and knowing you did a job that was necessary for someone to do in order that the world might be a better place. And you did it in your own special, unique way.

So it's part charitable and part selfish, you might say. You do something that needs to be done and, in turn, you're appreciated and you get that warm feeling in your heart.

My eyes and ears will be open. My heart already is.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Planting the garden

Yesterday we planted our garden.

I use the term "we" loosely. My job is to choose the flowers at the local nursery and it always takes longer to do that than all the other steps combined. So much to choose from.

Okay, that done, my husband steps in and proceeds to prepare the soil, dig the little holes, place the plants in the ground, according to my design, of course, lovingly pat the ground around them, fertilize and water. Oh yes, he also pulls the weeds throughout the summer and waters, waters, waters.

But - it's my garden.

Truth be told, I used to do all of the above. That was before arthritis in my knees crept in slowly but surely, altering my life to a great degree. But I'm not complaining. My husband grew up on a farm and is a great tiller of the soil. His tomato plants are prize-winning, if he would choose to compete. His competition is with our fellow gardners in our condo. They ooooh and aaaaah in praise of his tomatoes, comment on his being better than all the rest, and that's competition, and satisfaction, enough for my husband.

This year I'm experimenting with herbs in my flower garden. "We" planted sweet basil, thyme and mint between the flowers. I'm quite a cook these days, you know. Since I retired, I've attacked cooking with a passion, experimenting with new recipes and trying to prepare healthier foods. I am discovering herbs and can hardly wait to use them fresh from my garden. My favorite salad calls for fresh mint and isn't the same without it.

Any advice from you seasoned herb growers is most welcome.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ava

Today is my youngest granddaughter's third birthday.

I have two older granddaughters: Sarah is 24 and Jessica is 20.

Then a very long, dry spell with no babies. If you know me at all, you know I love my babies.

I was then blessed with a great-granddaughter, Alexis Lynn, born to Sarah. I know, I know. I am way too young to be a great-grandma. But oh, how I love it...

Then Ava came along, after a long wait for Steve and Julie. She is now, of course, the very center of their lives and together they form a beautiful family.

Ava is the most delightful little girl and so very bright. She lights up my life, and her Grandpa's, with pure joy. She has the most charming smile, a bubbly personality, and always has a twinkle in her eyes.

Sure, you say. Everyone says that about their grandchildren.

Here. See for yourself.

Happy Birthday, Ava Marlene Ohmann.

Monday, May 17, 2010

An afternoon in the South Pacific

Yesterday, a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, my girls - Kristie, Julie, Sarah, Jessica - and I went to the ever-classy Ordway Theatre and were transported to the South Pacific with the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific.

Forget the previous two movie versions of the musical. This production was magnificent, the music so much better than the movie versions, and with a couple of surprises not seen in the movie.

We started a tradition about eight years ago. Once a year we all go to an Ordway musical production, then out to dinner. It is a most special day for all of us and we look forward to it all year long, choosing and talking about the next production.

Next year: Guys and Dolls. We can hardly wait!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


When I travel, I'm known to carry my obsessions with me and hit every bookstore, knitting and stitching shop the area has to offer.

It was no different when my husband and I stayed in Tucson for a month last winter. I fell in love with all forms of southwestern art: Navajo rugs, Mata Ortiz pottery, turquoise jewelry, Native American designs and colors - and the storyteller. We saw story teller dolls for sale at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, but they were way too expensive for my meager retirement funds.

So when I found this cross stitch pattern at The Busy Needle in Tucson, I was thrilled.

Now at least I could stitch the storyteller, and get many hours of enjoyment. Cool!

So I started it a couple days ago. Starting is always the hard part as you need to carefully measure and center and then I stitch it onto a frame to keep it taut. I never use hoops.

So here is what it looks like now. You know what I'll be doing in my spare between knitting and reading!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Honoring my mother...most of the time

Today is Mother's Day, a day in which we honor our mothers.

My mother and I are like oil and water...leave us in a room together for more than five minutes, and we'll be on each others nerves over something that never really matters.

I got to thinking about the possible reasons for this. Two came to mind.

First, perhaps I am so much like her that we see in each other those traits we don't like; or, two, perhaps because I am the oldest of six children and so much is expected of the oldest. In any case, I think of her today with so much love in my heart for the gracious woman that she is and for all she has taught me.

At 86, the only thing she does not tolerate in any of us is thinking ourselves better than the next person. Always rooting for the underdog. Always open to learning from others irregardless of their race, religion, station in life or anything else, for that matter.

After eight years attending a parochial grade school, my Dad wanted me to continue in a parachial high school. My mother put her foot down and said no. It was time I learned about people, places and things beyond what she saw as a limited experience. I attended a "melting pot" high school and am grateful I did. My eyes were opened.

She took me to Scandinavia, the first of many trips where I met my Danish family and saw where my grandmother was born and places she lived in Sweden. My eyes were opened.

I said I could never do the kind of needlework she did, and that putting stitches in an empty piece of cloth following a pattern of symbols was too baffling. She bought me a kit and patiently taught me how to start and see the pattern emerge on the cloth. My eyes were opened.

In fact, she has opened my eyes to so many things around me, and has always encouraged me to grow beyond what I thought I could.

So thank you, Mom, on your special day, and forgive me for all the times I get on your nerves. And Happy Birthday, Dad, who would have been 91 today. I love you both very deeply.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Everyday Life: The birth of a Blog

For a long time now, I've wanted to start a blog. I love to write and keep in touch with friends and family on different aspects of ordinary life. I believe it's the sum total of everyday life experiences that make a person unique. Things we think are "ho-hum" ordinary, accumulated and added layer by layer to our experiences, make for interesting stories - and make others richer for the telling.

Such was the case in a book I just read: The Fighter Pilot's Wife by Gilberta Guth. She wrote about her experiences married to a fighter pilot during the Korean War, the almost-daily fears of losing him on a mission, moving wherever he was assigned, constantly uprooting her family and leaving friends behind. I was inspired by her story over and over as I turned the pages - not because of any one incident that was outstanding but rather her loyalty and devotion to a life she chose.

I tried to do the same as I was writing Ragnhild's Story, a novel based on the life of my Swedish immigrant grandmother. She would never have thought herself a hero, and yet the total of her everyday experiences tell a story in which her life truly mattered, as all of ours do.

I hope you enjoy being connected in this way.