Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A rainy day

Don't you just love a rainy day?

It is raining today. A welcome rain, bringing much needed moisture to a thirsty ground.

It began about midnight. I woke only slightly to notice the lightening and hear rain falling and blowing against the bedroom window. Even Catrina, the cat, stirred and poked her head up from where she was snoozing at the foot of the bed.

Then the rain gently lulled me, and Catrina, right back to sleep.

A rainy day gives me permission. Permission to slow down. Permission to stay in and skip all the day's errands. Permission to read. To stitch. Or knit. Watch Lifetime movies.

Even before retirement, when I was still working, I felt more content in the office on rainy days. Not the usual yearning to hurry up the day so I could be outside.

Rain can spoil an event planned outdoors, or for those who had planned an outdoor activity, or for those who do outdoor work and must continue on in the rain.

But as for me, I'm happy on a rainy day. And when the rain stops, I'll look for the rainbow.

Maybe I'll find that pot of gold.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Remembering today

Today I am remembering back just a few years (I won't say how many) when my first child was born.

I think mothers are blessed with a special kind of memory. I can remember details and exact moments of my child's birth that even bring back sounds and scents.

It was a relatively short labor of four hours, but a difficult delivery through a birth canal that was too small. I was given anesthesia and the baby arrived with the help of forceps.

As I slowly awoke in the recovery room, I had no knowledge of the outcome of the birth, only that it was over. I was shivering and the nurse put blankets on me from a warmer. It felt so good.

The nurse had a soothing voice, but she stuttered painfully. A sweet and competent nurse, it was interesting to observe that she didn't stutter at all around her co-workers with whom she must have felt more comfortable. But approaching a patient, the stuttering ensued.

She waited until she was sure I was aware enough to receive the news:

Y-y-y-y-ou ha-ha-ha-ha-ve a b-b-b-aby g-g-g-g-irl!"

And thus, I learned that I had a daughter.

My baby daughter had the most wonderful scent. How do you describe the unique scent of a baby? I loved to nuzzle her right by her tiny face. I was in total awe as I held her, listening to her breathing, sucking, making funny noises and looking all around, but not at me.

She couldn't yet return my look of pure wonder and love. But I like to think she somehow absorbed it. Like there was instantly a special kind of communication between mother and daughter.

She had jet-black hair, and it stuck straight up. Her father and I are fair-skinned with light hair, so her black hair was a surprise.

We named her Kristie Lynn.

The years that have passed since that day are many. But I look at her today with the same wonder and love. I'm not sure she sees it but maybe, somehow, it is communicated all the same in that same special way, between mother and daughter.

Now she is a grown-up daughter with two daughters of her own, and a granddaughter. I am proud of her for who she is.

As it was a marvel to look at her as a baby, it is a marvel to see her as a woman today.

Happy Birthday, Kristie!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The great Minnesota get-together

The end of summer brings the start of the Minnesota State Fair.

Though I confess I haven't been to many state fairs, I have heard Minnesota's beats them all.

My husband and I went today, the second day of the ten-day event. We have our routine: he goes to the horse barns and Machinery Hill. I go straight to the Creative Activities Building.

A minimum of two hours elapses before we meet up again to eat our way through the rest of the fair together. So much food, so little time. Pronto Pups, Sweet Martha's cookies, cheese curds, Tom Thumb donuts, roasted corn on the cob. Not the place to find foods of the healthy variety, I'm afraid. But, hey, it's only once a year.

The Creative Activities Building emcompasses creative arts of all kinds from all over the state. The talent represented in one building is overwhelming. Busy hands worked all year on fiber arts: exquisite quilts, knit pieces, crochet, Hardanger, counted cross stitch, fillet crochet, weaving.

Then there is bead work, porcelain painting, wood work, scrapbooking, post card collecting. And baked goods: cookies, cakes, pies, breads. Canned goods: pickles, preserves, jams.

The items displayed command respect and admiration for the skills represented in the beautiful displays from artists all over the state.

Almost every year, I enter a counted cross stitch piece in the competition, mainly to just see it displayed and inspire others, as the handwork I see there inspires me.

This year, I entered three pieces: The Storyteller, a small Aztec design, and a Victorian tea room with "Welcome" stitched across it. Very simple pieces, none seeming worthy of a winning a ribbon.

Imagine my surprise to see a pink third premium ribbon hanging from the Welcome piece. I stitched this piece while spending a month in Tucson, Arizona, last winter. I have won two other third premium ribbons in past years, but for pieces much more difficult than this one.

In any case, it is exciting to be rewarded and recognized for your work.

As we were leaving, the daily parade was underway.

We're told the fair had a record-breaking crowd yesterday on opening day, and I believe, judging from the crowds, they had to come close today.

So another year passes for the Minnesota State Fair. The great Minnesota get-together.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A wilderness experience

My husband and I took a brief, two-day trip to the North Shore and Boundary Waters. What, for me, used to be a trip taken quite often, camping and hiking, it was one that George and I had not taken for several years.

What brought us there was a gift certificate to a Bed and Breakfast of our choice, given as a Christmas gift by daughter, Bonnie. We looked in the directory that accompanied the certificate for participating B&Bs. Since we had traveled to southern Minnesota the past few years, we decided to head north this time.

There, nestled deep in the woods on the Gunflint Trail, 30 miles from Grand Marais, was Poplar Creek, the B&B of our choice.

Furnished in north woods style, it was a wonderful overnight get-away from any hustle-bustle, and, indeed, civilization itself, it seemed. It was cool, and felt almost crisp. After our recent hot, humid days, this was a welcome change.

We awoke from a restful sleep to see bluejays at the bird feeder, and were greeted by the tantalizing aroma of coffee and bacon. Our innkeepers, Ted and Barbara, had prepared a wonderful breakfast for us.

We were joined by two other guests, a young couple originally from India and now residing in London. Aside from wonderful accommodations and scrumptious food, we love B&Bs for the people we meet and the interesting breakfast conversation.

On our way home, we stopped at Temperance River, one of my favorite spots. I love its ruggedness.

Although I have hiked these trails in the past, climbing up and over rocks and stone steps, this time my arthritic knees would permit no such thing.

My husband, however, sprinted up and back down as I patiently waited at the bottom.

Our next stop was Tettegouche State Park, where we walked a bit and enjoyed a picnic lunch: smoked fish, cheese, crackers, peanut butter and a cookie.

After being away for only two days, we commented that just to get in the car and drive away somewhere, if only for a brief time, can feel like a week's vacation. Relaxation, refreshment, fun and adventure come easily away from home.

Don't wait. Take advantage of the little retreats around you. Drive away for a bit, even for a day. Eat a picnic lunch. Walk a trail. Explore a new town or area, even one closeby.

I guarantee: you will return renewed and refreshed.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tidy Bowl

I consider myself a pretty good housekeeper. Neurotic and compulsive sometimes, even. Ask my husband (former and present).

It has earned me the nickname, Tidy-Bowl by my sisters. Always cleaning and polishing.

I clean the bathroom every day. I keep things picked up, neat and orderly. I wipe up spills from the floor immediately. I keep the laundry done, even ironing cotton shirts when today's generation doesn't know what an iron is, leave alone own one.

Why, then, when I opened my refrigerator this morning, was I greeted by an emerging Penicillin laboratory? Fuzz on a cucumber, a squishy lime, grated cheese that expired in March, bean soup from over a week ago and a pickle jar with only the juice remaining. I won't go on.

So I filled the kitchen sink with sudsy water, emptied all the shelves, filled the wastebasket and garbage disposal with the above mentioned items, and then some.

Washed and dried the shelves. Restocked the frig with the remaining products that escaped destruction.

Stood back and admired the clean shelves. A great feeling of relief came over me as I realized nobody else actually saw it before it was cleaned, so I wouldn't be found out. My reputation intact. Tidy Bowl.

So now I'm off to the grocery store to replenish my supply. I can start fresh with a clean frig.

Until next time....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lexie makes a day perfect

On Sunday, I experienced another perfect day.

I consider a day perfect when it's spent with one of my three beautiful granddaughters, or my lovely little great-granddaughter, Alexis.

Grandpa and I picked her up at her house late Sunday afternoon. Sporting a pink backpack and swinging her braids, she was all ready for an overnight adventure at our house.

We stopped in Forest Lake to see my mother. We are a five generation family: my mother, me, daughter Kristie, granddaughter Sarah and great-granddaughter Alexis, who we call Lexie.

Lexie greeted her great-great grandma with a big hug and kiss. Then her eyes went to the kitchen cupboard. She knows there are usually M&Ms there in a plastic canister. And she wasn't disappointed. Hugs and kisses accompany the M&Ms as she says good-bye and we get back in the car to head to Lindstrom.

Arriving at our house, Lexie has her rituals. Heading straight to her toy drawer, she digs out the crayons, books, puzzles and Barbie dolls, all of which her mommy and her aunt played with at the same age. Still in the same drawer.

Discovering her safety scissors in her crayon box, she cuts a few things out of her coloring book. So proud to have finally mastered the use of the scissors.

This time, she discovered somethig new: several sets of beads from the local town festival in July.

After a bubble bath and jammies are on, she has another ritual: her favorite DVD, Springtime with Roo. She has watched it a hundred times.

She never seems to outgrow this movie. It was originally given to me by a co-worker whose children had outgrown it. It was old and started skipping scenes. So I had to buy a brand new one to replace it. Lexie would be heart-broken if it wasn't there anymore.

The playground was on Monday's agenda.

I was totally captivated watching her run from the swings, to the slide, to the clam digger, to the fire engine, to the climbing bars, to the lion water faucet, to the tire swing.

Where does she get all her energy? It seems to transfer to me, because I find I have the same boundless energy when I'm with her.

Such wonder. Such total abandonment in her play. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to think about but the moment at hand.

And for those moments, I joined her. Relaxed, refreshed, renewed.

A perfect day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pinching pennies

In today's shaky economy, pinching pennies is talked about a lot. Thriftiness is almost in vogue. New and used stores are popping up all over. There's even a publication called Cheapskate Gazette. Everyone is pinching pennies.

When I was a newlywed; then the mother of one; then two, pinching pennies meant survival.

Like many young people, my then-husband, Gary, and I, he twenty-one and me nineteen, were giddy with the freedom of being on our own for the first time. Credit came readily and we were easy prey.

And, after all, we were both working and it was fun to spend money on all the things we wanted to furnish our new apartment. Department and furniture store shopping was a regular activity for us.

When I became pregnant, I was told I would need to resign my job when the baby was born as my employer, a railroad company, didn't keep new mothers on the job. They claimed to experience "potential high absentee rates" among mothers. This wasn't acceptable.

Can you imagine any employer getting away with this practice now? But this was the mid-60s. Times were different.

So we found ourselves with little money and in debt. We owed much more than we made. We precariously juggled the bills each month, holding our breath as we sent in all the minimum payments. What was left was what we lived on. And there was a baby on the way.

Then we learned my pregnancy wasn't even covered by my former employer's hospitalization. Our newly-purchased insurance called it a "pre-existing condition" and denied coverage as well. Now we would also owe the hospital and doctor.

So we learned very quickly about pinching pennies.

We moved to Ohio where my husband was offered a job at a sandblasting company. There were promises of advancement there.

We loaded a U-Haul and away we went. Gary's boss co-signed a loan so we could buy our first house, a former carriage barn converted to a small home.

I went to work part-time at the local hospital, working evenings when Gary was home with our two little children.

We lived on next to nothing. But the lessons of economizing come back to me now:

Using a half-pound of ground beef in a recipe that called for a full pound. And a half-can of mandarin oranges in Jell-O, saving the other half can for another day.

Packing lunches of stewed tomatoes and peanut butter sandwiches for my working husband. Making and freezing homemade Spaghetti-Os for children's lunches. Seven cents to make vs. 17 cents to buy.

We had friends that gave us pears and cherries from their trees, if Gary would pick them. From his boss, we got free tomatoes for the picking. I canned everything I got my hands on. How rich I felt looking at my stocked cupboards of home-canned goods. How gratifying to know I was contributing to the well-being of my family, financially as well as nutritionally.

Today, as I'm writing this, I'm making a double batch of spaghetti sauce to put in the freezer. Tomatoes from our garden. Onions from our garden. Garlic from a neighbor, swapped for some of my fresh basil. As the sauce simmers, I'm feeling thrifty.

Pinching pennies, once again. My lessons of economizing coming in handy. This time, more out of wisdom than necessity.

But either way, it feels good. And gratifying. Things money can't buy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Knitting for comfort

Knitting is one of those things that brings me comfort. And serenity.

Working with fiber, feeling the softness of yarn on my lap, listening to the faint clicking of my bamboo knitting needles.

But my recent project is not for my own comfort.

When I joined a new church recently, they learned of my interest in knitting. So one Sunday, following a service, a member approached me and told me of their prayer shawl program. She asked if I might be interested.

She explained the mission of the program: to knit shawls to give to people who need comfort. For any reason. Perhaps they are ill, perhaps grieving a recent loss. Lonely or depressed. Hurting in some way.

The idea is to pray for comfort for the receiver of the shawl, though you may never know who that is, or know their circumstances.

So I am knitting. I have three shawls started, in three different patterns.

When I visited my favorite yarn shop, Mrs. I's in Osceola, to purchase yarn for the shawls, I told the owner about the project. I showed her the suggested pattern that calls for casting on 57 stitches, knitting three, purling three, and continuing on.

It turns out she has done presentations on prayer shawls. I learned that the patterns are based on the Trinity, so everything is divisible by three. She showed me one she had done.

Now when I start a shawl using a different pattern than the suggested one, I cast on 57 stitches and make sure I'm using a set of three somehow in my rows.

It is gratifying and brings me joy. Knitting for comfort.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mardi Gras in Lindstrom

Let the good times roll!
Our Park Street neighborhood was transformed yesterday as we celebrated Mardi Gras right here in Lindstrom, Minnesota.

And I do believe you would think it was February in New Orleans.

It even started with a parade.

Masks and costumes were worn by all the guests.

Nawlins cuisine was served: shrimp, seafood stuffed shells and crab dip with crackers. Frozen strawberry Daquiris (for the adults, of course), jambalaya, gumbo with rice, King's cake for dessert.

There was lively dancing in the street, and games and prizes for all ages. We all played Bingo, and I never knew there were so many versions: 4-corners, postage-stamp, x's and cover-all.

Our hosts were our good
friends and neighbors
par excellence,
the Pahls.

At 9:00, when it grew dark, the yard lanterns were lit. Children waved laser wands that lit up in the dark.

Then came the fireworks. Ah, what a glorious fireworks display they were. They couldn't have been better in New Orleans.

What a grand finale to a fun August celebration.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Making 'affles

What could possibly be better than sitting down to a plate of hot, steaming waffles on a lazy Saturday morning?

Only one thing I can think of: making the waffles with your three-year old granddaughter.

Ava calls them "affles." And she is an expert 'affle maker.

On her kitchen stool, she lovingly adds the egg, milk and oil to the Bisquick mix and stirs until just right.

Then she listens for the beep of the waffle iron to tell her it's ready, and scoops out the perfect amount of batter into the hot iron.

She knows the next beep will tell her the waffle is done. Ava always gets the very first waffle, but doesn't sit down to eat it until she starts the second waffle.

That one is for Grandpa.

Then Grandma makes the next one and joins the breakfast table.

Mmmmm...I tell you, there's nothing better than Ava's homemade 'affles!

Well, unless it's the hug and kiss that comes with it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer concerts

Every Wednesday evening at 6:30, townsfolk (there's a word you don't hear anymore) gather in front of the bandshell at Lion's Park for a concert.

The summer series is called, Harmony in the Park. For a couple of hours, the day's cares and stresses are forgotten.

An evening breeze wafts through the park. Children don't need to be hushed. Young and old, physically or mentally-challenged, all belong. Community is connected.

The musical offerings are diverse. From Elvis himselvis, to the St. Croix Symphony Orchestra, to bluegrass, New Orleans jazz, Irish dancers, and clogging, there's something for everyone to enjoy.

Last night, a group of local artists were invited to display some of their work. The community could see and marvel at what was merely a smattering of the talent that abounds in our local community.

My friend, Lenore, does beautiful watercolors. She brought a sample for last night's display. She converts some of her paintings into greeting cards which are always popular, and an affordable purchase.

There's always an ice cream wagon selling treats. Last night, the Lions Club sponsored a "corn feed."

I was born and raised in the city. I never heard of a "corn feed" before. After twenty years living in lake country, 45 miles from the city, I still chuckle at small town life. But I have adopted it for my own. And so I participate in all it has to offer.

Last night's concert featured a group performing songs from the Beatles. The park was packed. You bring your own folding chair, or there are benches to sit on as well. If the spirit moves you, you get up and dance to the music. From folks in their 90s to little tots, everyone is enjoying the spirit of community.

Life's simple pleasures. What a treasure.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sunset on the lake

These past few weeks have been hot, not only in Lindstrom, Minnesota, but all over the nation.

The past few days have been almost unbearable with high temps and extremely high dew points. There is no breeze whatsoever today, and even if one occurred, it would be a hot breeze.

But oh, the sunsets we have experienced.

My husband loves to take pictures of sunsets. We have a box full of them. He thinks each and every sunset is unique.

I agree. I just don't need to have a photo of each one.

Your mind's eye is taking and collecting pictures all the time. Sunsets, a butterfly hovering over a daisy, a bee collecting nectar, a hummingbird at the feeder. Autumn leaves turning color, frost on the trees, a pristine snow covered field. An ice-covered lake. A glassy blue lake.

They are all there anytime we want to recollect them.

There is beauty all around us in God's miraculous creation. We are constantly taking our own pictures of them.

Sometimes in our everyday busy-ness, we don't notice them.
But they are always there.

I hope you see some beauty as you go about your day. Take a picture of it in your mind.

Maybe you will see a glorious sunset tonight.

Monday, August 2, 2010


The setting: a white chrome table in a 1950s kitchen with black linoleum flooring in a square tile design.

A defined seating pattern that never changed: Mom at one end of the oblong table and me at the other end. A bench that Dad made and three younger sisters on it. Dad seated on the opposite side in the middle with my youngest sister on a stool on one side of him, and my little brother on a stool on the other side.

Dinner was always served very late. Dad finally arrived home from the print shop and his customer deliveries around 6:30.

We hated starting our supper when all the neighborhood kids were done with theirs and ready to gather again in the evening for games: Pom Pom Pull-away or Starlight, Starbright. We could hear them in our yard, laughing and squealing with delight as they played, occasionally peeking through the back screen door to check on our progress.

To make it even more agonizing, Mom insisted we sit through a dinner eaten slowly, reminding us that the French took three hours to eat.

Cooking for eight couldn’t have been easy or pleasurable, but Mom always made a good, balanced meal. Some of our favorites were leftover roast beef sliced in leftover gravy and served over white bread, and Marge's hot dish. This was a wonderful rice and ground beef dish held together with cream of mushroom soup. My sister, Christine, and I topped this with Miracle Whip. Strange, I know.

Creamed chipped beef with hard cooked eggs over toast, and tomato soup with marshmallows on top that melted to make the soup creamy were other favorites. Mom didn’t eat vegetables of any kind but cooked them for us anyway. Our favorite was spinach with vinegar poured on top. There was usually dessert, perhaps chocolate pudding with bananas, or spice cake with peanut butter frosting.

My mother thought dinnertime should be a quaint ritual, all of us gathered around the table together. So she added story-reading to our quality family time and tortured us by reading from “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” which, as it happens, was her favorite childhood story.

To listen to us squabble, whine and complain, watch as we squirmed and kicked each other under the table, jabbed elbows and otherwise picked fights, one would have thought it was enough to try her patience and she’d gladly release us. But nothing deterred her and so we sat…and sat…and sat.

Nobody was excused until we said our prayer of thanks: We thank Thee, Lord, for meat and drink, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Then we had our kitchen chores that had to be done before we could bolt out the back door: setting the table, clearing the table, washing dishes, drying dishes and sweeping the floor. That adds up to five chores and there were five of us to do them. Somehow, my little brother, Norm, remained exempt.

Such a routine. Such an ordinary occurrence, dinner time.

Such warm and nourishing memories.