Thursday, July 28, 2011


My mother first learned the art of Hardanger embroidery when she was almost 50 years old. The daughter of immigrants from Scandinavia, she had long admired it and wanted to learn.

But until then, she was raising six children and sewing some of our clothes, leaving precious little time to pursue needleart.

She started by buying a book and following written instructions. Then she saw that a class was being offered at the International Institute in St. Paul. There she not only learned the art, but her teacher, Mona, became a best friend and "daughter" to her. Mona has since moved back to her home country of Norway, but is still a part of our family's lives.

So today I thought you might enjoy seeing a few pieces of my mother's exquisite stitching. If a piece is done correctly, you can scarcely tell the right side from the wrong side. As I was photographing these pieces, I had to be very careful to portray the correct side.

At almost 88, her days are filled with creating lovely pieces like these.

Her hands are shaky now, her stitches a bit slower and more deliberate, and she often needs to correct a mistake or two.

But she is happiest with the day ahead of her with her Hardanger embroidery on her lap.

Still putting her heart into making her works of intricate needleart. ©

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Then you let go

A few weeks ago, while visiting my mother who lives in a lovely room at a heath care center nearby, I was asked to help her mail a package to the White House.

The White House. On Pennsylvania Avenue. In Washington, D.C. Where the President lives. That White House.

Knowing my mother as I do, I wasn't at all surprised. She has long been an Obama supporter; indeed, an ardent admirer.

But although she agrees with President Obama's politics, it is not he who has won her admiration as much as our country's First Lady, Michelle Obama. And it was to Mrs. Obama that she wanted a package sent.

Upon the election of President Obama, my mother sent a hand-written note to Mrs. Obama, congratulating her family, wishing them well, and assuring her of her continued prayers for their family.

My mother knew hers would be among hundreds of other well wishes. So when she received a letter of appreciation from the White House, personally addressed and signed by Mrs. Obama, she was thrilled. It was unexpected.

The treasured letter has been framed, and now adorns her room at the care center.

The package she wanted me to mail for her contained a lovely piece of her exquisite Hardanger embroidery, stitched in white. She explained that one day, as she was stitching, it was "laid on her heart" to send this piece to Mrs. Obama, as a token of esteem.

Hardanger embroidery is my mother's passion. She does exquisite stitching, involving hours and hours of delicate work.  If you have a piece of Hardanger she has made, you have the highest gift she can give. It is a part of her, and her Scandinavian heritage.

Although I did not take a photo of the elegant piece sent to Mrs. Obama, it is similar to this one, stitched with white thread on white fabric, as is characteristic of Hardanger.

We enclosed a note to accompany the piece, explaining what it was, and that it was stitched and sent with my mother's very high regard for the First Lady.

Now we are wondering about the process the gift will undergo before ever arriving before Mrs. Obama's eyes. Scrutinized through layers of security: radar, perhaps sniffing dogs, chemical analysis of the fabric, verification of its authenticity as Hardanger, verification that Hardanger is Scandinavian needle art, as we have claimed, and on and on.

We get ridiculous as we wonder what stage it is at today, and if Mrs. Obama has yet actually received it.

But we both agree:  It was a gift sent with love, freely given, and my mother enjoyed the creating and the giving.

Then you let go.

And isn't that what true giving really is?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dog days

I learned from the weather news last night that the phrase, Dog Days, derives from the stars.

The brightest of the stars is Sirius, referred to as the "dog star." It happens to be the brightest star in the night sky, and the ancient Romans thought that the earth received heat from it.

In the summer, Sirius rises and sets with the sun, and it was believed that its heat, added to the heat of the sun, created a stretch of hot and sultry weather. And so, “dog days” was named after the dog star.

Okay, that's academic.

All I know is that it is unbearably hot and humid for so early in the summer. I thought we started "dog days" in mid-August.

So is this another effect of global warming? Some scoff at the idea of global warming, but I don't see how it can be denied. So many changes in the atmosphere lead me to be a believer.

Webster's secondary meaning of "dog days" is: a period of stagnation or inactivity.

So that explains it!

My husband and I are sitting around in a funk today. Now I know why. It is to be expected. That is reassuring.

I can proceed to do nothing today. Absolutely nothing. This is going to be a good day.

Except it's hot......

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summertime trouble

We heard the sounds of the fire engines, my neighborhood friend, Jill, and I, roaring through the neighborhood on a summer evening.

It was about 1956.

The sirens were louder than I’d ever heard them, and suddenly I realized it was because they were so close. In fact, careening down Howell Street towards our alley.

When I wondered aloud where they were going, Jill joked, “Maybe to your house!”

I felt numb as fear overtook me. It had been my evening chore to take out the trash and strike the wooden match against the barrel. One of the rules associated with this task was waiting to see that the fire started properly and watch it until the fire slowed down.

But, of course, I was in a terrible hurry that evening. In a rush to resume playing with my neighborhood friends, I dumped the trash into the barrel, struck the match, quickly threw it in, and rode off on my bike.

How could such a sweet little thing get into so much trouble?
(By the way, this was my favorite sundress. It was pink and blue.)

Turning up my street and approaching the fire truck parked in the alley, I knew I was in very big trouble. My first thought was to stay on my bike and ride away, but knowing I’d have to face the music sooner or later, I opted to face it sooner and get it over with.

My mother gave me a stern and rather frantic look as I approached. If I recall correctly, Jill rode away. The fireman on the scene gave me a lecture, explaining some of the trash fell over onto the brush along the alley fence, and could have quickly spread and been much worse.

Then my mother pretty much repeated everything he said, but in a much less friendly tone.

I am quite sure; in fact, I'd bank on it, that I had consequences that have somehow been blocked from my recollection.

But the worst consequence of all was seeing my younger sisters and brother all looking at me, as only siblings will, fully realizing the drama of the whole episode.

And very glad it wasn’t them in trouble this time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

On a summer evening

Last summer, I wrote about our town's Harmony in the Park concert series, held on Wednesday evenings under the bandshell in Lion's Park during June, July and August.

And this summer, they have resumed and are better than ever.  Attendance has soared and the series has gathered quite a following. Organizers are volunteers from the community, and the series is sponsored by the Park Commission who garners funding support from community businesses.

Last night's concert, attended by some 600 people, was absolutely delightful. A picture-book summer evening with a gentle breeze, it started with a local (and award-winning) group of folk dancers, The River City Cloggers. Clogging is the official state dance of Kentucky and the perfect segue into the feature performance by a Minnesota group, Monroe Crossing.

This amazing group is widely sought-after. Since they tour internationally, recruiting them to our little Swedish town year after year is a real coup.  This coming week, they are touring in Ontario, and from there, the east coast for an international folk festival. Their schedule is full, and here they were, just like they belonged, in our little corner of the world.

They entertained with selections from their newest CD album, songs written and recorded by Bluegrass pioneer, Bill Monroe (1911-1996), from Kentucky, "the father of Bluegrass."  Monroe Crossing named itself after the famous artist.

They also performed songs they have written themselves, like In the Fire, and many others. Their own version of Purple Rain would surely make Prince (also from Minnesota) proud. It was Bluegrass at its finest, for two solid hours.

There wasn't a foot in the crowd that wasn't tapping the grass, or hands that weren't keeping time on their knees, or just plain clapping aloud. A few brave souls got up to dance, but most of us were too mesmerized by the fiddling to actually get out of our chairs.

Warm and personable, Monroe Crossing visited with folks between sets and invited requests.

Our Harmony in the Park concert series is such a treat for our small town. Fifty miles from cultural events offered in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the series offers a variety of entertainment, from Rock 'n' Roll (yes, Elvis even appears), to orchestra, to Dixie, for families and folks of all ages.

And, in this shaky economy, there are no ticket sales, thanks to local merchants and businesses.

Oh yes, there are vendors offering popcorn, root beer floats and frozen novelties. Or you can bring your own treats from home.

Now, who can beat that for a perfect summer evening?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Living our own lives

I recently learned, or should I say, re-learned, a most valuable lesson.

After spending several days brooding over a hurtful remark, I was gently reminded to live my own life and leave others to theirs.  Their misery does not need to be ours.

This is a basic premise of Al-Anon. This group wisely teaches that we are powerless over another person. We cannot shape them into something of our own design, but rather our focus needs to be on ourselves, our own behavior and our own thoughts.

This is not to excuse bad behavior on the part of another person; it just means allowing the offending person to take responsibility for themselves, and deciding for ourselves our own course of action.

I tend to need to learn this over and over again. A slow learner, perhaps.

But it is never too late. My young nephew very indirectly set me back on course and reminded me to stay to stay positive. He is a wonderful living example of this with his helpful and cheerful demeanor.

I heard once that resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

I often suffer much more than anyone who offends me because of my tendency to withdraw and "suffer in silence," rather than confront or address the problem directly.

The particular issue for this instance is behind me and well on its way to being forgotten. But the "teacher appeared" to remind me of a valuable lesson. And so I share it with you....I pass it on and leave it to your pondering.

It is a beautiful day today in Lindstrom, Minnesota. Baby sparrows nest in the birdhouse as their mother flits about overhead to watch over them.  A light breeze, sunshine and a variety of birds sweetly chirping their contentment all lend to a positive spirit.

If you have any burdens today, I hope your day is made lighter by choosing a positive path.