Monday, September 30, 2013

Evening star

The Danish American Center in Minneapolis recently held its annual meeting. Being relatively new to this organization, I attended for the first time.
Danes love to sing, so we opened the meeting with a folksy-type song and ended with another, each written by a Danish composer.

The first song talked about oats. Sung from the oat's perspective, the lyrics spoke of all the things the oats see (sun, wind, rain) and the many uses oats have. It was snappy and fun to sing.
The second called Evening Star (printed above) was written in 1861. It had an easy melody for me, a non-singer and reader of music, to follow.

But it was the words that really spoke to me. They stuck in my head and I had to borrow a songbook from the center so I could copy this particular song.

Danish people see the beauty and prose in all of nature. Thinking you might enjoy the lessons in this lovely song, I share the words with you here.

" Evening star up yonder, Teach me like you to wander 
Willing and obediently, The path that God ordained for me.
Evening star up yonder!
Teach me, gentle flowers, To wait for springtime showers
In this winter world to grow, Green and strong beneath the snow.
Teach me, gentle flowers!
Teach me, lonely heather, Where songbirds nest together,
Though my life should seem unblest, To keep a song within my breast.
Teach me, lonely heather.
Mighty ocean, teach me, To do the task that needs me,
And reflect as days depart, Heaven's peace within my heart.
Mighty ocean, teach me!
Shady lanes, refreshing, Teach me to be a blessing
To some weary soul each day, Friends or foes who pass my way.
Shady lanes, refreshing!
Evening sun, descending, Teach me, when life is ending,
Night shall pass and I, like you, Shall rise again where life is new.
Teach me, sun descending! "
As the seasons change, now from summer to autumn, and the days grow shorter, nature is a wonder and can teach us so much. Each season has its purpose and its beauty. We can learn, as the song tells us, from the ocean, the heather, the sun and the shady lane.

When I once commented that there wasn't anything I liked about winter, a friend very poetically told me it was such a beautiful season, with all the trees and flowers and earth enjoying a peaceful rest, quietly readying themselves to burst forth and be alive again.
I've never looked at it quite the same since.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Orange socks

Perhaps every family has a strange wedding tradition. Or perhaps not.

But ours, the Steffen family, has such a tradition.

The men in the wedding party wear orange socks. Yes, orange.

To understand it, you have to go way back to my 1965 wedding, the first wedding in our family. And you have to understand my Dad, who had the most wonderful sense of humor I have ever known in anyone. He lived to tease the six of us kids and went on to tease the heck out of his grandkids as well. To them, he was "Boppa" and they adored him.

So as I was dressing for my wedding in 1965, nervous and frantically telling everyone in my house to hurry up and get ready, I passed my parents' bedroom to see my beloved Dad dressed in his suit, pulling on orange work socks. I'm sure he was posed this way just waiting for me to pass by to see him.

Of course, I freaked. YOU ARE NOT WEARING THOSE SOCKS, I'm sure I screamed. To which he simply casually replied, "Why not?"

This, I am quite certain, put me right over the edge and I went running for Mom to plead with him to change his socks.

It was a joke all along. A word of advice: You do not joke with a bride an hour before her wedding.

Well, the rest of my younger sisters and my brother saw the humor in it. So much so, and possessing a much better sense of calm and humor than me, that for their weddings, they insisted Dad wear orange socks.

Thus, a tradition was born.

This is my daughter, Kristie, and husband Rich, proudly sporting his orange socks on their wedding day.

I have to give credit to the men who marry into this family of ours. Some of them knew Dad; some did not.

But they all have agreed to go along with this tradition to honor my Dad. And they have had a lot of fun doing it.

We celebrated another wedding in our family over the weekend, this time in Hawaii where my sister's youngest, Mac, married Ren Chang, an Oahu native.

I regret I could not attend. What a picture-book setting and what a perfectly lovely couple.

And, of course, the men in the wedding party wearing, what else?

Pictured are the groom, Mac, in the middle; nephew Josh on the left, whose groomsmen also wore orange socks when he married Heidi ten years ago; and my niece Madeline's husband, Eric, who followed this tradition for their own wedding three years ago.

The last wedding for Dad to sport his orange socks was my son, Steve's wedding to Julie in 2001. We continue to honor him; some would think in this strange way, but always he is at the center of the tradition and we remember how he would laugh and show off his socks.

He also always carried a small flask of spirits in an inner pocket of his jacket to every wedding, to "calm his nerves." So far, we've only followed the orange socks-rule.

When my then five-year-old granddaughter was in a dance recital recently and my son was participating in a father-daughter dance with her on stage, it was such a special occasion that he felt compelled to adopt his own orange-socks tradition.

The little dancer and her proud Daddy.

Dad is gone now, but the tradition lives on and he will always be remembered. Strange how these things start.

If you haven't adopted your own family wedding tradition, you might consider starting. However outlandish, however not understood by anyone outside your family, it will be yours and will warm your heart.

Just as the sight of orange socks warms ours.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Lost or well spent?

My last post, Laying Low, was about being off my foot following surgery.

Little did I know I would continue to lay low for the last three weeks. I will spare you the details of getting sick right after surgery with bronchitis and coughing my insides out ever since. Oh yes, at the same time, my husband got pneumonia so he was also down for the count.

Suffice it to say it has not been pleasant. I have heard the old people's joke: If we didn't go to the doctor, we wouldn't go anywhere.

So not funny. Doctor visits have been the total extent of our last three weeks' outings.

I'm not done whining. In the last three weeks, I have missed:
  • My fifty-year high school class reunion
  • An entire week of residential Danish Folk Camp
  • My granddaughter's annual back-to-school party
  • Three consecutive Sundays at church

The "Kolac" seller. A folk artist
makes these cute figures
with wooden shoes in South Bohemia.
While I was laying low, however, I got an email from a person seeking a recommendation for a tour to the Czech Republic through a tour group, Czech and Slovak Heritage Tours that they were considering. We had taken this very tour in 2004 and had agreed to be listed as a reference. Over the years, I have answered many such inquiries.

So I wrote some positive comments, highly recommending the tour and noting some highlights of our trip, and hit send. That is usually the end of it.

But not this time.

The inquirer wrote back saying she appreciated the recommendation and then told me a bit about herself and her husband and why they were considering this trip. They had to sign up quickly as the tour was only a couple weeks away.

Laying low, as you recall, I had plenty of time on my hands to respond to that email. She wrote back, commenting on my email, telling me more about herself, her family, twin grandchildren, their farm life in a small Iowa town, etc.

What a lovely person, I thought. So I wrote back again. She wrote back. I wrote back. She wrote back. I wrote back. We are not talking one-line emails here. We are talking pages.

You have no doubt heard about online dating. Often leading to successful relationships, often lifetime commitments. Well, if a lasting, online true friendship can be formed as well, I believe we have done that.

She and her husband are off to the Czech Republic now. How I miss our daily communication. But we are meeting when she returns. I can hardly wait.

So were three weeks of time and events all lost in laying low? Not hardly. I consider it time well spent. There is usually more than one way to look at most everything, and often unexpected blessings come if you're open to them.

And having found this new treasured friend, you'll be glad to know I am no longer whining.


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