Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holidazzle, Arizona style

Every year since 1992, over 300,000 spectators converge on downtown Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall to celebrate the Holidazzle Parade. It's an annual event that's not to be missed. Sponsored by local businesses, participants are all locals. It brings community together year after year, delighting young and old alike.
Adults, kiddies and tiny tots come bundled in jackets with furry hoods, warm knitted mittens and scarves, carrying blankets to sit on or wrap around themselves as they are delighted by one float after another.

Beautiful light displays slowly advance down the mall, marchers warming heart and soul with smiles, waves and laughter. It is a winter tradition bringing folks from miles around to enjoy the hour-long festive event.
Well, here in the Arizona desert, we have our own Holidazzle. Okay, a bit smaller in scale, but the lights, decorations, waves and laughter are all there, not to mention the holiday spirit.
That is white rock on the ground, not snow!

Yes, folks, it's a golf cart parade!

Sixteen golf carts joined in this year, weaving in and around every street in the resort park. Some had lighted Christmas trees on top, and all were decorated with lights, wreaths, jingle bells and garlands.

Christmas music played from a few of the carts and if you were lucky, one would pass by throwing Christmas candies. Why, even Santa himself was there, riding in a cart alongside Mrs. Claus.

No Parkas found here; no folks bundled in blankets, no frosty breaths. No snow, no rubbing hands together, no stomping feet. Arizona's answer to winter.

Although I miss the Holidazzle parades at home in Minnesota, this one warmed my heart all the same.

Hope you are enjoying the holiday season and taking time to participate in a few festive events.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Too much to endure

Boy, it's really an affront to humankind.

As we grow older, we are expected to endure the loss of parents, aunts and uncles, and even friends. We grieve their passing and realize there is nothing we can do to stop these inevitable losses that are as much a part of life as death.

We grieve things and places, too: St. Paul's own Dayton's Department Store, A&W root beer stands, IBM Selectric typewriters, the local paper boy.

We somehow seem to go on. We buck up. Keep a stiff upper lip.

But now we are told we will lose the 80-year old Hostess Bakeries.


No more Twinkies? Ding Dongs? Squiggle-topped chocolate cupcakes?

And what about Wonder bread? With its eight added nutrients, my childhood was made up of Wonder bread sandwiches: P-B-J, bologna-peanut butter-Miracle Whip; crushed potato chips; sliced radishes. You name it, if it fit between two slices, it was a Wonder bread sandwich.

The loss is almost too much to endure.

Have you ever  had the pure joy of shopping in a Hostess thrift shop? Nothing beats the satisfaction of getting your favorite snacks at a bargain price.

I bet there are a million stories of the memories people have of Hostess's assorted products. One of my favorites is from my second-cousin, Barbara. Her husband, Mort, brought dinner guests from work home for dinner; unexpectedly, of course.  A gourmet cook, she kept her cool and quickly put dinner together.

When it came time for dessert, she simply grabbed some Hostess Twinkies, opened a can of cherry pie filling, spooned it over the Twinkies, and topped it off with a squirt of Reddi-Whip. As I recall, she received great praise for her invention.

I unashamedly recall dashing into a gas station with an intense craving for a Hostess cupcake, salivating as I ripped open the cellophane and stuffed one in my mouth.  Then the second one. 

And that was just last year.

Nope, I really don't know how we'll do it. I certainly feel sorry for the generations to come, having to go through life without the simple pleasure of a Ding Dong.  Thank you, Hostess Bakeries.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Me day

I haven't had a Me Day for a long time. So yesterday I declared one for myself.

A Me Day is a day I set aside to have a little adventure and try something new, by myself and just for me. The glow I have at the end of a Me Day day is worth it and lasts quite some time. Well, until the itch comes again.

Starting with the Ojiketa Art Blitz (the second annual) in nearby Chisago City at 10:30 (yes, I even skipped church), I was one of the first hundred attendees and therefore received two wine glasses and a great burlap bag, which was the real reason for being there at 10:30 and skipping church. I have two glasses from last year's festival so it's, by default, the start of a collection.

My good friend, Barb, was there displaying and selling her exquisite gemstone art.

It was a cool, brisk morning for walking around the park, a former Camp Fire Girls summer camp, but a great place to greet familiar faces along the paths in the crunchy leaves to the various cabins where art was displayed. The hot cider took the chill off the body while the friendly atmosphere warmed the spirit.

The sun came out as I drove into the cities to the Mall of America. It's my annual visit to the MOA to the American Girl store for Christmas gifts for my two little girls, ages 5 and 6. As toddlers, I bought them Bitty Baby; so each year I buy them accessories. Since they both started kindergarden this fall, I bought them a Bitty Baby backpack and rolling suitcase, a fleece coat, mittens and pink beret for the coming season. Checked that off my list.

Strolled along the Mall with no other purpose, enjoying the store displays and stopping to watch the cake decorating contest. Picked up a few tips for frosting a cake and decided I must have a pedestal turntable and a cloth pastry bag for best results.

Mid-afternoon hunger set in, so off to Nordstrom to the top floor for lunch. My mother and I used to have lunch there when we were at the Mall together and it has fond memories. The bleu cheese, pear and candied walnut salad was wonderful, but I was conscious of the empty chair across from mine and held an imaginary conversation with Mom.

On the way out of the Mall, I was tempted by the cosmetics counter and all the beautiful fragrances. Years ago, I wore a fragrance by Estee Lauder called Aliage.  I hadn't thought of it in over twenty years, but asked if it was still available. The first salesperson said, no, sorry, it had been discontinued. Another salesperson said, oh, no it hadn't and she had some in a drawer behind the counter. Apparently, it's not in high demand.

As I sampled it on my wrist, a flood of memories came back of my first real job in my professional career, wearing Jones of New York suits and expensive shoes. Truth be told, I probably couldn't afford either, but Aliage brought it all back, reminding me that I was once 40 and somebody.

That did it. I had to have it. Wasn't this a Me Day, after all?

I left the MOA, smelling very good, I might add.  Now headed to the Danish American Center for my first visit to their Reading Circle. I had dutifully read Per Petterson's book, I Curse the River of Time, and was prepared for a good discussion.

The group didn't disappoint. Far exceeding my expectations, there were fifteen women and two men gathered for what turned out to be a most enlightening review of a good book and background of the author with his unique writing style. I was glad I came.

Again I thought of my mother, who I try to model by jumping in and trying something new, for better or worse, whether it be a successful venture or a total flop. This one was the former and I intend to return. A cup of good Danish coffee and a slice of American apple pie topped off the discussion, allowing me the opportunity of visiting with some of the people there.

As usual, a glow went home with me, the sun starting to set but still illuminating the reds, golds and oranges of this beautiful Minnesota autumn.

You've never had a Me Day?  What are you waiting for?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Belgian lace

This lovely piece of lace from Belgium was given to me as a wedding gift in 1965.

Its gracious giver was a long-time friend of my mothers, and was sent to me from New York City.

My mother and her friend, Leonia, had become the best of friends while both were working at National City Bank on Wall Street in New York City. From their training days to their various promotions, they, along with another co-worker, Margie, became a close threesome.

Many stories were recalled  by my mother of those happy days as a young woman in her first professional job. When my mother married and moved to Minnesota for a business opportunity for Dad, she and Lee, as Mom called her, remained in touch.

Never losing contact, they called each other often, right up until Mom's passing. They enjoyed sharing various clippings, bulletins, announcements, or snippets of news from their corners of the world. Mom especially loved getting articles or human interest stories from the New York Times that Lee would send from time to time.

And on any special occasion, be it Mother's Day, Easter, Mom's birthday and so on, I knew Mom would be telling me she had talked to Lee. They had a very special bond and both had sealed this wonderful friendship long ago.

I have tried to stay in contact with Lee since Mom's passing since I realize how difficult it must be to lose a dear friend. Lee also helps me to keep a piece of my mother's past.

I called her recently to ask about this piece of lace. I never knew its history.

Lee was happy to talk about it and was a bit surprised, but pleased, that I had kept it all these years. She told me my gift of long ago was among the pieces brought by Lee's mother and brothers when they came to America from Belgium in 1958.

Belgium is renowned as the leading maker of fine lace, still practiced to this day exclusively by hand. You won't find any lace factories in Belgium.

Belgian lace making, like many other needle arts, shares the story of European winters that were cold and dark. Days were long; folks were indoors. Working with bobbins and a pillow, hooks and needles, fabric and threads, they passed the time creating fine things. These were things that could adorn their homes but could never be bought.

Her brothers, Lee noted, also did lace making. I shouldn't have been surprised by this. The dexterity required to work with wooden bobbins might better fit a man's hand than perhaps stitching using a fine needle. And so my piece could have been made by any one of her family members.

Lee still has a collection of pieces with such cherished memories attached to each one.

Many fiber art forms have made a comeback. People are turning to simple things, perhaps with the changing economy. Yarns, fabrics and threads do not need to be expensive and beautiful creations result in people just sitting still and allowing their creative instincts to blossom.

Classes in knitting, stitching, weaving, bobbin lace making and other techniques are thriving, many offered through a community education program for a low cost. Knitting stores are happy to have you come and sit while you knit, and learn some new stitches.

The satisfaction gained from a finished piece is worth the time the effort. And who knows what piece you create today might be a cherished heirloom in years to come?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Autumn musings

I spent last week with my sister, Edie, at her lovely country home near Lima, Ohio. A perfect place for meditating and slowing the busy summer pace, it is surrounded by trees and a brook. It's quiet there in the country, and the autumn air was restful.

The road to my sister's house is never long.
On Thursday, I drove to the neighboring town of Kenton where my then-husband and I lived when our children were very small. We had moved there from Minnesota with the promise of a better job for my husband. I hadn't been back for many years.

It was a trip down memory lane for me. All of a sudden I was 25 again as I drove past the two houses we bought and called home during our time there. And I could picture vividly pushing our baby son in the stroller as his 3 year-old sister toddled beside us, walking to the neighborhood carry-out (their term for a small grocery store), or to the library or the park.

I spent the day there in Kenton with one of my dearest friends. It was a friendship born when we were neighbors on the small two-block stretch of Barron Street and she was expecting her first child. The bond of friendship was instant.

She and her husband had moved to Kenton only a short time after we did, so they were newcomers to the town as well. The friendship that followed between our husbands was a bonus, we thought.

We lived on a narrow cobblestone street. Amish residents from the area's farms used our street frequently when in town to cut across two busier streets on either side of us. I never tired of hearing the clip-clop of the horses and peering out the window at the bearded men and women in cloaks riding in the small, square black carriages.

My neighbor was a bit more accustomed to it than I, she and her husband having lived in the Amish-country of Ohio all their lives.

Baptism in Ada, Ohio, 1971
When their baby boy was born, my husband and I were asked to be Godparents. Since we had no family around us at the time, it was a comfort and blessing to be welcomed into theirs.

So on the beautiful autumn day that we shared together last week, my friend and I continued our tour through the town, driving past once-familiar sights including the hospital where I worked part-time.

But like everything else, it has grown and changed beyond my recognition.

The downtown area was built around a square with the county courthouse in the middle and retail stores all around. A wonderful department store called Ullman's, a delightful children's store called Miss and Master Haberdashery, and a very practical Rexall drugstore were ones I frequented. The drugstore more likely than not included Amish women shopping for necessities. There were no shopping centers or chain stores then.

Today the courthouse remains, but the stores around the square are all closed and vacant. The outlying area is built up with split-level houses, shopping malls and Wal-Mart. It's the story not only of Kenton but so many other small towns around the country. The landscape of Americana is, sadly, changing.

As my friend and I ended our tour and our memorable day together, and I drove the 26 miles back to my sister's house, I decided to leave my impressions of our small town just the way they were when we moved back to Minnesota. Committed to my memory, they are better left there.

The physical surroundings of the area may have changed, but the blessings of warm friendships and the memories of two friends sharing the joys of being 25, homemakers and new mothers still remain, protected for recalling at will.

I am blessed and thankful for rich, heartwarming memories, and for solid friendships that endure the test of time.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My last nerve

The major road construction project here in Lindstrom has landed on my last nerve. 

Bit by bit, it has tested even the most patient residents. I don't believe you could find anyone for miles around with a shred of patience left.

Highway 8, for those who don't already know, is being divided into what's called "split pairs." It's not feasible, apparently, to widen the existing highway, so it is being split by first tearing up the highway entirely and creating two new highways: one going one-way eastbound, and another, formerly a city street one block over, going westbound, also one-way.

I guess we all knew it was inevitable. Highway 8 is notoriously dangerous with a record number of accidents and fatalities. The new project, when completed, should ease the flow of traffic through town and hopefully create new turn lanes which will be safer and more efficient.

That's assuming we live through it all.

Since my husband and I live only one block from the worst of the construction mess, there are days we don't even know how to get off our street or how to get back home again. A makeshift gravel road has been made through the bank parking lot to allow us to get over to another street in order to get anywhere. We tend to think twice before leaving the house.

On foot is not much better. Sidewalks are torn up and closed as well. I walked across the mess today to get to the local alterations shop, Threaded Needle. It was a challenge to walk through the mounds of dirt and dodge the rocks, all the while heavy equipment trucks are moving back and forth, their cranes moving up and down loading and unloading heavy rock.

Possibly the most annoying to us residents is the sudden and unannounced loss of power, or worse, loss of water pressure. We've gone hours without water, cable for television or Internet. Naturally, new pipes need to be laid.

But complain as I do, the hardest hit have been the local businesses. Our little woes are trite compared to theirs. Some have closed, others are near closing, holding their breaths. Still others who would like to open in our town are holding off. Our local grocery market has this sign in their front window, desperate for business from once-loyal customers.

We try to shop local but the construction is not making it easy; certainly more than inconvenient. It really takes an effort.

I've heard they are allowing for bike paths and pedestrian walks, something we've not had before. That will help local businesses, as well as the environment, as it will be easier to get around without starting up the car.

So it's progress and the day will come, although projected to be a year away, when it is finished. Businesses will hopefully prosper, the roads will be safer, and we'll all be very proud. Quiet and settled in at last.

That's assuming I have a nerve left when it's over.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Good news, bad news

Today is Minnesota's primary election. The Minnesota State Fair starts next week. School starts again a week later. And yesterday I happened to notice a few fallen leaves in our yard.

The bad news is that all of this points to the end of summer.

For many Minnesotans, this is a disappointment.  Summertimes here are especially cherished with lake activities, escapes to the cabin, fishing, softball games, picnics, camping, small town festivals, Fourth of July parades, swimming at the pool.

The advent of autumn, though particularly beautiful here with the fall leaf colors of orange and gold, signals what's ahead for us: the long months of winter.

But it's all good news for two little girls (my granddaughters) who can hardly wait to start Kindergarten. One is headed to a magnet school; the other to a Spanish immersion school.

On Sunday, we had a family day, shopping for new school clothes and shoes. In and out of crowded dressing rooms, waiting in long lines, it was obviously a prime shopping day for other back-to-schoolers as well.

School supplies were purchased some weeks back. In my day, one just knew what we were supposed to have: notebooks and pencils mostly. Something to carry them in. If per chance we needed anything special, like a protractor or compass in our later grades, we were just told at the time by the teacher.

But not now. The girls, for kindergarten, had a mile-long list. Not just a list, but a very particular list. Must have this, but not that. Certain color crayons only. Certain brands. Raincoat and rain boots. Two pair of tennis shoes. Kleenex and snacks. Seriously?

A  backpack. $50 bucks. Anything much less wouldn't last through the year. How in the world do parents do it?

After our clothes shopping spree, we went to the fairgrounds which happens to be close to the shopping mall. It was the first day one could bring their entries for judging and display in the Creative Activities building.

This is always a good news day for me as I look forward to entering my counted thread embroidery from the past year.  I have two entries this year. If you follow this blog, you will have seen these already in previous posts.

This is Southwestern Pots, stitched for our home in Arizona. It features the typical southwestern earth tones and turquoise. Most pots originate in Mexico and are clay.

Native American and Southwestern design elements are full of history and beauty. They are featured throughout the southwest. These patterns attempt to capture some of the traditional designs and colors.

Although I could have stitched it on one piece of fabric, I chose to do them separately so I could decide on the spacing in the frame later. These were done on 16-count Fiddler's cloth (which tends to be my favorite fabric if the design lends itself to an earthy textured cloth). 

The second entry is African Drummer. The pattern is actually called "Don" as it is designed after a real-life drummer and teacher named Don. I stitched this as a gift for my church in honor of our African ministry, a partnership with the Iringa Diocese in Tanzania. When I collect it at the close of the fair, it will hang in our church library.

The State Fair itself is something to look forward to, even though most folks know it as bittersweet, coming at the end of summer vacation.

So maybe it is our reward here in Minnesota. A special treat to enjoy, a kick-off to autumn and a wind-down from the summer months.

That's life in Minnesota: good news, bad news. I like to think it's mostly good!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Never too old

My mother was a shining example of the saying, You're never too old to learn.

She was actually a shining example of many good things and I miss her terribly. But since her passing earlier this year, I am trying to use the lessons she taught me and the examples that remain with me of a life so well lived.

One of those lessons was to keep learning and trying new things. She did this all her life. An avid reader and CNN viewer, even in the care center where she spent her last year, she was up to date on world affairs and learned through books, listening and watching.  She could converse intelligently on any topic.

In the middle of her life, she had a thirst for learning that took her back to college. She studied occupational therapy; and then because she wanted to travel abroad, she took language courses at the University of Minnesota, studying Norwegian.

She ended up speaking it fluently and could easily converse with her older cousins in Denmark who did not speak English. She also enjoyed speaking Norwegian with her aunt and her friends in Norway and also friends in Sweden, since the languages are similar. Not exactly the same, but similar enough.

Danish American Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
And so, I figure if my mother could learn another language in mid-life, I can do it, too.

Tonight is my very first Danish language class. Wish me luck.

I am told learning Danish is a bit more challenging than learning the other Scandinavian languages, but I am ready all the same.

The classes are offered at the wonderful Danish American Center, located in Minneapolis. Also referred to as Danebo, it is a center for Danish cultural exchange and is dedicated to the forwarding of anything Danish. It offers a wide variety of activities and events which focus on aspects of Danish living and culture, traditions, customs and history.

The Center sponsors a week-long resident folk camp at its Minneapolis campus where dancing and Danish crafts are taught. They also have a similar resident camp in a rural setting in Tyler, Minnesota called Danebod.

Danebod, Tyler, Minnesota

My mother attended the camp in Tyler for several years as a participant, and then from 1980 to 1983 as a Hardanger instructor, meeting some valuable lifelong friends and enjoying the traditional dancing and customs of her father's homeland.

I can hardly wait for tonight's class. Besides the thrill of just being immersed in an activity at the Danebo, my goal is to be able to understand all the Facebook posts from my Danish family. Although most of our generation and younger can speak English, it will be nice to be able to speak in their native tongue as well.

Well, I am a bit nervous about my own learning capabilities, but I'll keep you posted and let you know how it goes.

Maybe I'll start writing in Danish...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Green stamps

Remember these?

Yep. S&H Green Stamps. My cousin recently posted a comment about them on Facebook, asking if anyone was old enough to know what these were.

Most people answered yes, they did. Because their grandmother collected them. That made me feel really old, until I learned they were actually in use until the late 1980s.

Sperry & Hutchinson (thus, the S&H) began offering stamps to U.S. retailers in 1896. The retailers, such as grocery stores and gas stations, bought the stamps from S&H and gave them as bonuses to shoppers based on the dollar amount of a purchase.

The stamps were perforated and after collecting several pages, we then moistened them (usually by licking - ugh! They could have made them taste better) and mounted them in collectors books, which were provided free by merchants. The books contained 24 pages and to fill a page required 50 points, so each book contained 1200 points.

The books could then be exchanged for gifts from the local Green Stamps redemption store.

My mother once gave me the twenty cents for a round trip fare and sent me downtown St. Paul on the Grand-East 3rd Street bus line to redeem several books of stamps for a surprise birthday gift for my father. It was a black, goose-necked desk lamp for his home office.

I thought nothing of it at the time, but now I realize how important it often was for a housewife to collect green stamps.  This enabled my mother to get a gift for Dad, not only without him knowing about it, but because money was tight and the stamps were received with her grocery purchases.

There's nothing better than the feeling of getting something in the way of a bonus. Kind of a reward, a sense of satisfaction of sorts, a frugal feeling.

I definitely think they should bring them back.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Handkerchief shower

We have several weddings occurring this summer and fall.
Four, to be exact, from May to October.

All are exciting and joyous occasions for families and friends to be together to celebrate the beginning of a couple's life together. We are honored to be included.

Since many of the couples have been on their own for several years and have even already purchased their own homes, it is a puzzle sometimes to think of gift ideas.

But, of course, they have solved that problem for you by registering at various department stores. All you have to do is check a store computer, print out their list, and get one of the items they have already selected, which includes everything from dishes and towels to hammers and grill tools. I can't help but think it takes some of the surprise element away, even it it is practical.

I tend to ignore these lists and get the couple something I would want for myself, or wish for as a gift for my home. Something they may not even have thought of, or something special that they wouldn't buy themselves. A lovely piece of porcelain, perhaps, or a set of cordial glasses. Maybe a relish dish and fork, something along that order.

Along with weddings come the bridal showers that precede the big event. Again, you refer to the department store computer registers. Which, as I said, I tend to ignore.

I learned something about showers held in my grandmother's day. While going through her bundles of cards and letters, tied together neatly with string, or kept in organized fashion in variety store paper bags, I came across the following invitation:

A handkerchief shower?  Really?

But, of course, in Grandma's day, women were never without handkerchiefs. From formal, hand-embroidered designs to crocheted edges to everyday stamped patterns, they wore them in their apron and dress pockets, carried them in their purses, or clutched them in their hand.

Always, always, a handkerchief. Precisely pressed, creased corners, perhaps even starched. Lace borders for special occasions, dime-store variety for everyday.

And so I can see where a handkerchief shower would be most valuable. After all, a woman would go through many of them from one washday to the next.

To me, the special part about it would be using the handkerchiefs knowing who they came from, that it was selected with care just for me, and wondering just which handkerchief I would carry today.

I, for one, would love to see this custom come back. How quaint and how special.

Think about it. Haven't we really lost something going through a department store with a computer list to see what isn't checked off? I think so.

Or perhaps I was just born in the wrong time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Traveling to Denmark

I have been enjoying reading several of my mother's wonderful and well-written travel journals she kept from her trips to Scandinavia. The journals begin with her very first visit in 1973.

She was an excellent writer and included so many interesting details, noting what things were called, how they compared to things in the U.S., what was served at each meal, how it was presented, and so on. 

Many years of diligent research preceded her first trip. Knowing her father was from Denmark and her mother from Sweden, she had a few childhood photos of her Danish cousins and only knew they existed. She knew a few of their first names, and that's about it.  Her parents both died at early ages, before my mother herself could ask or even remember what she was told about her family.

She located a cousin, Anna Bunde-Pedersen, and they began corresponding. Anna made a list of family members for her, told her a bit about each one, and then invited her to visit.

So again, she researched, spreading out maps to pinpoint where they lived, enlisted the help of a travel agent, and with a mixture of excitement and a little trepidation, she set out to spend the month of August 1973 abroad, visiting Denmark, Norway and Sweden, meeting her family for the very first time. But first, she enrolled in a community college to learn the language, knowing all wouldn't speak English. My mother was 50 years old at the time.

My mother in the middle, cousin Anna on her right

She writes in her journals of meeting them all at a large and elegant dinner party held in her honor at a restaurant the first evening she was there. They were warm, welcoming and delightful people, telling her many stories of her father and their family there through the years. In the ensuing weeks, she spent several days with various cousins, in cities and on farms, gaining new perspectives of her heritage and family surroundings.

She then went on to Norway to see her young friend, Mona, who had taught her Hardanger embroidery here in the U.S. Mona had lived in Minnesota for a time, and had returned to Norway, her homeland. The two had become good friends.

Mom spent the last week of her trip by taking a ship from Norway to Sweden to visit the birthplace of her mother, although there were no family members living there any longer.

My mother traveled back to Scandinavia five more times before she asked me to go along in 1994. By then, several aunts, uncles and two of her cousins were no longer living. She wanted me to experience the joy she had being there among them, and at 71, she didn't want to travel alone.

It was a trip that changed my life. It broadened my horizons, as they say. I met the family she so cherished, visited the birth homes of my grandparents, saw the graves and churches of my great- and even great-great  grandparents, experienced the beauty of the Scandinavian countries, and learned new customs.

In winter 1996, we went again, this time more as tourists, seeing the Royal Copenhagen porcelain factory, Isak Dinesen's home where she wrote Out of Africa, and so much more. My mother's cousin, Greta, even re-created a typical Danish Christmas Eve feast for us.

In 1998, we went again, this time with my daughter, Kristie. Now another generation has established relationships with a family so far across the sea that were so special to my mother and to me.

So, in my mind, one of the richest legacies my mother left me was her persistence in discovering and establishing the connection between our families, here in the U.S. and abroad. Any time I want to travel along with her again, all I need to do is open her journals and I'm right there.

Our Scandinavian heritage. I appreciate and value it more and more every day.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Keeper of lessons

Yesterday I spent some more time sorting through the boxes of my Grandmother's cards and letters. I am still in awe of all she saved and am convinced I am just discovering them now for a good reason.

You've heard the saying, When the student is ready, the teacher appears? I am devouring these old letters of Grandma's like a hungry child, so eager to open the next envelope, unfold the next letter, read the next news from one of her three sisters, or her brother, Pete, who signed his letters, Your lonesome brother, Pete. Now, why was he lonesome? Until recently, I may not have been curious. Now I am.

I know so very little about my Grandmother's own family, and yet they were alive when I was growing up. Sure, maybe I heard them referred to as Aunt Johanna or Aunt Katie sometimes. But I never realized they were real people. With lives. That were connected to my Grandma. That my Grandma was ever anything but my Grandma. As if she were born that way, born just to be there in that time to be my Grandma.

Now I am realizing she was more than a Grandma (to nineteen of us), more than my father's mother, more than a farm wife, more than a cook, a gardener, a mender of socks.

My Grandmother, lower middle.
Johanna standing in back.
Mary on left; Katie on right.

She was a sister. She was a daughter. Someone's child. A teenager, a young woman in love, a newlywed, a young mother.

Somewhere during her young womanhood, she came from Ida Grove, Iowa to live as a housekeeper in South Dakota and met my Grandfather. I don't know if she ever looked back, but she never returned to Iowa to live, though two of her sisters and her brother remained.

Through the years that followed, letters were sent back and forth: first 1-cent, then 2-cent, then 4-cent stamps affixed to the yellowed envelopes.

Usually they started with, My dear sister or Dear Stina or sometimes just, Dear sister.

They told of ordinary occurrences: the flu bug going around, a wind storm in town last week, the price of eggs, butter and dry goods, butchering cattle, plans for Thanksgiving, kids coming for Easter, how are your crops doing this year, and so on.

Everyday things in everyday lives.

What was extraordinary was that these letters were filed and saved. Tucked away in shoeboxes with little notes written on the envelopes as to the date received and the date answered. It's just what was done back then. One didn't just throw them away. And now, these letters saved, I am learning about my Grandma in a role different from who she was as just my Grandma.

But it got me to thinking: Who is the keeper of the lessons of today? And what are the lessons of today?

Letter writing? A thing of the past. Photos? Taken with a phone, shared on Facebook, stored on the computer, if at all.  Lacey Valentine cards? Bygone days, from the past. Christmas greetings? Now an e-mail sent with one keystroke to a distribution list, or a duplicated generic letter.

How, I wonder, will our great-grandchildren learn about our ordinary lives of today? I pride myself on keeping the clutter down and too easily toss Mother's Day cards, Easter greetings, birthday cards and the like. I tell myself my children don't want all this stuff and certainly won't treat it with any reverence. Of no importance, this stuff, of no value that I can see now.

But in the future, these things may be clues. What may not seem worth keeping today may be my grandchild's delight to discover some day.

From now on, I think I'll take the chance and tuck these things away. I'll definitely save the postmark and the stamp, or note the date.

I can be the keeper of today's lessons; still teach and talk to my grandchildren, here or not, through these treasures of the past.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hidden treasures

Little could my grandmother have known that the letters, news clippings, greeting cards and invitations she kept, neatly organized in bundles, would bring us so much joy a half-century or more later. And not only bring us joy but teach us of the past.

Following the death of Uncle Marvin last August, the century-old farmhouse in White Lake, South Dakota, of which he was the last occupant, had to be emptied. Its contents included boxes of memorabilia tucked away by Grandma: dried corsages, yellowed news clippings, a few recipes, calling cards, letters.

There was correspondence back and forth between Grandma and her sister, Johanna, telling of family news between Iowa and South Dakota, keeping in touch through the sadly-lost art of the written letter using linen paper and a fountain pen. I learned my Grandmother, whose given name was Christina (or Christena) was called Stina by her sisters and brother. I had never heard her referred to as Stina before.

What really struck me is how organized Grandma was. Each bundle was packaged in a recycled paper bag like the kind you got at the five-and-dime, and labeled: Pa's Birthday 1957, Mother's Day 1962, and one labeled:

There was a thick bundle of letters tied with string, and as I began to open them, I realized what this package was: every single letter written home from Uncle Marvin when he was in the Marines, stationed in California, from 1950 to 1952. The first letter told of his arrival and the last said he was leaving to come home as his discharge had been processed. Every single letter that warmed a mother's heart and assured her that her son was safe; every single letter bundled for safekeeping.

She had a similar bundle from my Dad when he served in the Navy ten years earlier, but she had given that bundle to my family already. My sister, Joan, has scanned each one for an album she entitled, Dear Folks, as all his letters began.

There were letters and cards sent to Grandma from her grandchildren through the years. They are priceless to us now. My favorite is one I wrote to tell her I was pregnant with my first child, and she would be a Great-Grandmother. That was 1966. Thank you notes from me for bridal shower, wedding and baby gifts were among the many other treasures.

I also came across something from a
bygone era I had never seen before: a formal engagement announcement. It was engraved on a little card such as you would get for a high school graduation. I hadn't realized that was done.

As I had offered to take on the task of going through all these boxes, uncovering their precious contents made me realize what an awesome assignment and honor this really was. I spent many happy hours just marveling at what had been kept by my Grandmother. She must have treasured these cards and letters as she was a practical farm wife who didn't place importance on frivolous things. I just think the messages and words spoke to her heart and she couldn't bear to part with them.

The packages have now been sorted and divided, pertinent papers shared with other family members. They, too, are enjoying reliving words and greetings of the past, recalling memories as told in the assorted messages.

And so, almost fifty years following her passing, Grandma is giving us gifts. Memories she kept for us, safely wrapped in bundles in recycled dime-store bags. Tucked away in back of her linen closet.

Waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Up early

If you know me even a little, you know I am not an early riser. You may also know that it takes me a long time to be fully awake in the morning.

I may appear to be awake. I am out of bed, moving, sipping my coffee, walking and talking (well, if you call "mmmm," or grunting, talking). But that doesn't mean I am actually awake. I used to be able to be fully functional at work without being totally awake. Is it any wonder I truly adore retirement?

So now I will really confuse you: I actually love early mornings.

There is nothing better than arising and feeling ahead of the game. I almost feel like I'm cheating: up before I have to be, watching the dark become light, night become day.

When my children were small, the wee hours of the morning were my only precious, alone-moments. Preparing my coffee pot the night before, it would quietly perk as I donned a bathrobe and brushed my teeth. Then I would tiptoe into the living room for a bit of time to read or stitch in perfect quiet.

Sometimes I would sit at the kitchen table, careful not to let my chair make any noise as I scooted it up to the table. There I would write a letter, pay some bills, look through a photo album, or, more likely, make my list of things to do for the day. I could hear my children's quiet breathing in their nearby bedroom.

Today was one of those rare days when I was up and fully awake before daylight. I almost get a high from it.

This morning it was just Catrina, the cat, and me. I watched her stretch and look at me oddly as if I were infringing on her peaceful sleep. I opened my devotional meditation book, taking the time to not only read it but absorb its calming message of the wonders of nature.

I don't know how one changes their body clock. But if I could change it so an early rise was a daily occurrence, I surely would.

No matter what the day holds, I feel so much better prepared. It really makes for a great day.

Ah, sweet serenity.


Saturday, May 12, 2012


This is a difficult Mother's Day for me.

It is the first time I don't have a mother to shop for. A special greeting card, flowers, a fragrant lotion, or other such special treasure would be hers if only she were here to receive it.

I have been avoiding the card aisle at the stores recently. They all shout Mother's Day, as they do with all holidays and special occasions, so that you can't claim ignorance if you've frequented Target, Wal-Mart, a grocery or drug store in recent weeks.

I have received beautiful cards from those who mean the most to me, and it gladdens my heart to know I am honored by them.  But I can only honor my own mother's memory this year. 

Some time ago, I came across a poem she wrote in an old scrapbook and I scanned it for safe keeping. She wrote it for her own mother in 1938 at the age of fifteen.

Mother's Day is a day of pride,
For mothers round the countryside.
The time to be happy, the time to be gay,
The time to cast all your cares away.

When children show their love for Mother,
You tell her that you love no other.
Then mother's heart is happy and gay,
On this, the nicest day in May.

And when I am sad, I remember that my mother lost her own mother much earlier than I did. I had my mother with me for 66 years.

She, however, lost her mother at 21 when she was a new wife and mother. She did not have the benefit of her mother's wisdom as she was starting a home and raising children, as I did. Or just sharing everyday joys and sorrows.

I have been so blessed. And I am so grateful to the wonderful and gracious woman I had the privilege of calling mother.

I believe all women should celebrate Mother's Day. I believe women are born nurturers and all should share the honor.

Have a very blessed and Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bucket lists

I think everyone has a "Bucket List."

If not consciously, then unconsciously. Things you want to do, places you want to see, in your lifetime. You know, before time runs out. Before you "kick the bucket."

I used to have a mental list of things to do when I retired. On this list were practical and very attainable things like learning new crafts, taking some bus tours, particularly to New England in autumn, and so on.

The list has now been expanded, enhanced, and moved to what I am now calling my bucket list.

High on my list is a visit to England. But not just a visit. No, I want to spend at least a month, perhaps three months, living in a cottage in Cornwall. Maybe a quaint little place like this, for instance.

Can you picture me in a room here? Taking morning
strolls down the quiet country road?

Two things inspired me to put this on my list: The wonderful film, Ladies in Lavender (set in Cornwall), and another film, probably my all-time favorite (right up there with Out of Africa): Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.

Mrs. Palfrey, a gracious, elegant widow, moves from Scotland to London where she resides at the Claremont Hotel. I watch it over and over again. Pretending I'm Mrs. Palfrey. A book of William Blake poems on my nightstand.

A friend of mine, a beautiful and talented watercolor artist, toured Cornwall some years ago with a group of fellow artists. And as she showed me her photo album of the trip, I fell more and more in love with Cornwall as she turned the pages.

Of course, there are other things on my bucket list as well. Bucket lists are important.

Bucket lists are dreams. Dreams, not fairy-tales. Dreams that really can come true.

And without dreams of the future, of future endeavors and happenings, of goals to stretch beyond yourself, life would be a mundane series of days passing by, putting one foot in front of another.

So I'll keep my bucket list, and I'll keep dreaming of how I might achieve the things I put on it. And discovering new things to add to it.

And who knows?

Someday I may be sitting on a bench, gazing at the beautiful, salty, Celtic Sea, writing to you.

From Cornwall.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hot, hot, hot

We are getting a taste of what it's like to live in Arizona year-round with hot temps in the summertime.

But it's only mid-April! And already the temps have been in the 90s (mid- to high 90s) and this weekend and through early next week - 100 and 102 degrees.


We will return to Minnesota the end of April and might think about leaving early except they just had snow in Minnesota. Snow!  Schools were closed in Chisholm, north of where we live, due to blowing snow and ice.

It's a crazy weather year, for sure.

Our little tabletop cactus is blooming, proving nothing stops a cactus from forging ahead on schedule.

Most of the ground cacti have finished blossoming now. But the trees have flowered and are full of pink and red blooms. So beautiful lining the roads as you drive down the street.

Snowbirds have returned to their summer homes now, and it appears we are among the last holdouts to leave. It's awfully quiet on our street.

So another week or so and we'll pack the Jeep, load Catrina, the cat, into the back seat and start our 2,000-mile journey home, saying goodbye to Arizona and its heat, and eagerly await the sight of our children and grandchildren's smiling faces.

That's the thought that keeps us going mile after mile to our home destination.

Monday, March 26, 2012

When life gives you lemons

Yesterday my friend Anita brought me a bag of lemons from her tree here in Mesa. I have never seen such monstrous lemons in all my life.

You can't imagine, even from this picture, how huge they are. The one on the left is more the size of a grapefruit.

I have seen oversized grapefruit in Mesa this year also. They look like bowling balls.

So what is going on?

Native Arizonians say it's because it has been such a terribly dry year. The skins of the citrus fruits are all very thick, but once you peel the skins away, the meat of the fruit is more normal.

We were going to plant some citrus trees along the side of our house but we learned they need year-round maintenance with watering, or installing watering systems to operate during our six-month absence. We changed our minds after learning how willing people are to share their oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes.

Okay, so what do you do with a big bag of lemons? Of course, you make lemonade. Or you squeeze the lemons and pour into ice cube trays for adding to drinks, or making an individual glass of lemonade. You can make a lemon cake, lemon poppy seed bread, lemon meringue pie, and so on. There are many possibilities.

They all involve too much work for me.

I simply cut them into eighths, or even in chunks, and plop them into a Ziploc bag, then freeze. We brought a bagful of whole lemons back to Minnesota last year and I did this after we arrived back. I used them right up until we left for Mesa again in the fall. I add a frozen chunk of lemon to ice water or lemon-lime soda.

So refreshing. A taste of Arizona all summer long.


I thought you might want to see the progress of our yellow Prickly Pear blooms before signing off and wishing you a good week ahead.

 Luscious yellow lemons. Lovely yellow blossoms.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

First blooms

It is spring in Mesa and the cactus are in bloom. Nothing out of the ordinary. It happens every year.

But this year our very own Prickly Pear cactus burst open with blooms and I felt like I had given birth.

When we moved in last year, our little yard was bereft of any landscaping at all. No plants, flowers, bushes or trees of any kind.

So we got busy and planted an agave plant, a Prickly Pear cactus, a barrel cactus, and a fourth plant whose species escapes me.  Prickly Pears bare beautiful flower blossoms of varying colors, but you usually see shades of pink or rose.

These are the first blossoms from my neighbor's Prickly Pear.
When we arrived back to our winter home this year, we noticed our baby Prickly Pear had doubled in size. We were excited to see our new plantings had survived and looked healthy, despite being totally ignored by our six-month absence.

What a remarkable plant these cacti are. If they can flourish in the desert with blistering sun and no rain, I guess we shouldn't have been so surprised that they made it through the summer in our front yard.

Then recently we started to notice buds. Closed up tight, but definitely buds. We wondered if this year our little Prickly Pear would actually blossom. And, if so, what color? We assumed pink but we didn't see the pinkish tinge at the tip of the bud, as in our neighbor's plant.

Then one day, I peeked out the window in the early morning and had to go running outside in my pajamas to double check.

Two blossoms!

I could hardly contain myself. And they were YELLOW

Though certainly not rare, we have not seen another Prickly Pear with yellow flowers anywhere in our park.

Passers-by have stopped to look so we think they agree that our little Prickly Pear is beautiful. And we're like proud new parents watching people admire our little baby plant.

Aren't life's little treasures just the best?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dust if you must

I don't know Mrs. Rose Milligan. I don't know where she's from and I don't know how old she is. But she wrote the following poem. I wish I had read it, and memorized it, years ago.
Dust if you must.
But wouldn’t it be better,
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed?
Ponder the difference between want and need.

Dust if you must.
But there is not much time
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb!
Music to hear, and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.
Dust if you must.
But the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes,the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come round again.
Dust if you must.
But bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go, and go you must,
You, yourself, will make more dust!
Okay, I'm not sure it would have actually changed anything.

But I would have blown it up to poster size and mounted it with permanent glue somewhere prominent in my house. Maybe even if a tiny bit rubbed off on me, it would be a good thing.

I was (am?) a compulsive house cleaner. I drove my little family of four c-r-a-z-y, wiping little finger smudges off every surface, re-making the beds when we were teaching our two little ones responsibility. You get the picture.

My house was spotless; perfect, actually. But I was always exhausted. I wish I had taken more time with my children, with my neighbors, family. I sometimes thought they were an interruption. They were anything but; they were treasures.

And did I permanently damage my children? I guess you would have to ask them.

Life is so short. I've been espeically aware of that recently.

I hope this inspires you today to do something wild, creative, contemplative, or even foolish. You won't be sorry.
Me? I need to go empty the dishwasher...
Just kidding!  I'm going out for a brisk walk. The dishwasher will still be there, and if I don't empty it, nobody will notice. Sure wish someone had told me that long ago. Or maybe they did, and I wasn't listening.

So here's to you, Mrs. Milligan.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Napkin tutorial

Our women's craft group had a luncheon tea today as many snowbirds begin planning their journeys home from Arizona for the season. Other groups in our park are having banquets, potlucks, and parties.

The luncheon table was so beautifully set for us.  At each place was the prettiest cloth napkin with a small paper box (also homemade)  filled with M&Ms and peanuts. It was so cleverly done and I'm going to attempt to describe how to make the napkins.

Start with two 14x14 pieces of cotton fabric in contrasting patterns and stitch them together. In this example, red gingham contrasted a teapot design.

Fold each corner into the middle, as illustrated.

Then gently flip it over so the folded corners are on the underside and you're looking at the smooth side.

Then repeat the process of folding toward the center as you did before. You'll now have a smaller piece.

Reach under and pull up one corner at a time to form a "petal." Pull each corner up only partway.

In this illustration, three petals have been pulled up
from underneath and one is still flat.

And then...VOILE!

You now have a fancy napkin that you can place on each plate,
or in our case, at each place.
Ours had a homemade little box in the middle filled with candy. You could use any kind of decoration, a fancy piece of chocolate, or even a teacup in the middle.  I bet you could imagine many different things to decorate the middle.

We were each given our napkin and candy box to keep as a gift.

I thought these napkins would be nice for a bridal or baby shower, or any kind of luncheon. There are so many bright and beautiful ginghams and cotton fabrics available, it would be fun to match them to the occasion.    ~~~ 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Memory lane

Today I'm baking oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. So I set my iPod to play songs of the 50s and 60s as I'm stirring the dough and putting cookie sheets in the oven.

I usually forget about this genre, so today I thought I'd listen to something I haven't played for awhile.

Oh, boy. A flood of memories with each song.

Isn't it funny how you can listen to a song from your teen days and be transported back in time with very specific memories? I think during that time your emotions are felt so acutely and they attach themselves to a song, either for the melody or the lyrics, and it stays with you. So hearing it again, you experience the same feelings - or at least, you remember the feelings.

Remember "Devil or Angel?"  Well, that was Mike's and my song.  Don't ask me why. I really don't remember. But my first date was with Mike. We went to the St. Paul Winter Carnival's torchlight parade and I had to be home by ten. I had just turned fourteen.

The St. Thomas Academy boys hung out at the local Strandy's bakery and restaurant, so we'd meet there after school. Mike was so handsome in his crisp St. Thomas uniform.

But I lost interest after awhile, and dated others. All the Everly Brothers songs spoke to me. "All I Have to Do is Dream" came along when a boy I had a crush on failed to so much as notice I existed. His name was John and I probably stalked him through my whole sophomore year.

Then when I was a junior, I met my first real love.  He was a year older and set to graduate; had enlisted in the US Army and was scheduled to leave for basic training shortly after graduation.  He had baby blue eyes, a curl in the middle of his forehead, and a sweet, irresistible face. He made my heart skip a beat. Make that several beats.

So when he was set to leave for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, we adopted the song, "Sealed With A Kiss."  The words were perfect, written just for us.

Though we gotta say goodbye for the summer,
Darling, I promise you this,
I'll send you all my love
Every day in a letter,
Sealed with a kiss.

Not all golden oldies were about boys. Songs like I'm Sorry, Tears On My Pillow, Silhouettes, Lonesome Town, all elicited emotions. But there were fun ones, too, like How Much Is that Doggie in the Window? and Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight? and Who Put the Bop in the Bop-Shoo-Bob-Shoo-Bop (Who Put the Ram in the Rama Dama Ding-Dong)?

Then there were the dance tunes. The Twist, The Stroll, Bristol Stomp. We learned the dance moves from American Bandstand. Bob and Justine, Carmen Jiminez and her sister, Yvette. They taught us how.

Graduation, 1963
They were songs of innocent times.  Times when drugs were something you took if you were sick. Smoking a cigarette could get you expelled from school. Getting into trouble meant consequences. Hot-rodding through Tangletown, TP'ing a neighbor's tree or soaping Strandy's bakery window was about as much trouble as we dared do.

Most girls were Elvis fans.  I preferred Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson, or the Platters. Perhaps that tells you how wild and crazy I really was(n't)... I did get into my share of trouble, though, but we won't go into that.

Burgers at Sandy's, malts at Porky's, after school at Scotstop, dancing with Doug at Kathy's party...

There goes my timer. My cookies are done and the iPod has stopped playing.  I guess it's time to tuck away my old memories for today.

But the best thing about memories? They'll still be there another day. Thanks for reminiscing with me.

And, please... help yourself to a cookie.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Honorary Red Hat

My  neighbor, Thelma, is one of those wonderful people you love to know.

She is one of those rare women who doesn't let one single moment of life pass her by. As I get to know her better here in Mesa, our winter home, she becomes more dear to me.

She is involved in anything and everything fun. From the park's Kitchen Band, to morning exercises in the pool, to card games, to participating in melodramas, to going to McDonald's in a clown costume after riding her golf cart in the Mardi Gras parade....  If there is fun involved, Thelma is in the middle of it.

Watching her makes me smile.  She balances out the introverted, reflective side of me. I always take life a bit too seriously for my own good.

Yesterday, I was her guest for lunch at a Red Hat Ladies' get-together.  She invited me a week ago as she thought it would be nice for me to get to know other women in our park. 

And so, for a day, I was an honorary member of the local Red Hats!

A global society, Red Hats International was founded in 1998 and is open to women who are age 50 and beyond. Its mission is to support and encourage women in their pursuit of fun, friendship, freedom, fulfillment, and fitness. It strives to reshape the way women are viewed in today's culture.

Well, if there is fun involved, I can see why Thelma is part of this group.

A nicer group of women you would never meet. Warm and welcoming, it was an honor to be in their company. All wore stylish outfits of purple and elegant red hats.  While at lunch, a waiter came to our table and asked "Why are you all wearing red hats?"

Thelma replied, "Because we can do anything we want!"  He said, simply, "Oh."  But we could tell he didn't get it. He walked away looking rather perplexed. 

Too bad he wasn't the one to take our order. In true Red Hat style, one woman ordered breakfast of eggs and pancakes, and a glass of Chardonnay. Half of the group ordered wine, because a real Red Hatter pays no attention to the time of day for drinking wine.

The group bases its philosophy on Jenny Joseph's wonderful poem, Warning. The opening lines of the poem read:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
I do believe this particular group's main purpose is just getting together once a month as friends and enjoying each other's company. Going to lunch is their main activity. They do it well, and I was proud to join them.

The leader of the Red Hat group is referred to as the Queen.  Well, in this case, guess who is the Queen? 

       ....Yes, that would be Thelma.

Thelma made sure I had a red hat.

Every woman should have a Thelma in her life. I'm sure glad I do!