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!