We have entered a new year. For more years than I can remember, the first day of the new year creates the need to clean out my house. Perhaps straighten up my surroundings while on hiatus from our busy summers and throw things away.
So, here I go. My studio contains a workspace for writing and designing documents. There’s a printer, computer, file cabinet, bookcase, and several trays for holding papers. From across the half wall separating the fiber design area from the office space, I can see bins of yarn, stacks of fabric, my sewing machines, cutting table and loom, among other things.
As I grew wiser in years, my mantra has become “simplify.” And, I try. When the ball drops, I become annually determined to clean out my studio and closets to reduce my possessions. I also would like to get rid of all the things I have been saving for projects I will never get to in my lifetime. Hello Pinterest. Just what the creative thinkers and makers of the world like me needed. It wasn’t enough to have ideas of my own trying to escape my brain; now, I also have everyone else’s up there.
Throughout my career as a “maker,” I collected ideas that stimulated other ideas, so I collected the things I needed to create those things at will—time being the biggest roadblock. I had to have a job to buy all those supplies, kits and yarn. I have been doing this for years, looking forward to retirement, which I recently put off for another three months.
When I was a young stay-at-home mom, I read a book about how we should always have a store of threads, fabrics, elastic zippers, etc. etc. on hand so, at a whim, we could walk into our sewing room and 1.5 hours later leave with a new shirt, skirt or stuffed animal in hand.
Thus began my shelf-stocking for all the projects I will never have time to complete. Therefore, every year, I say to myself, “let it go. You will never have enough time in your life to make all the dolls, stuffed animals, crocheted mittens, woven dishtowels, skirts and shirts you would like.”
Not surprisingly, I have loads of things an average person would consider junk, such as old tins, corks, blocks of bee’s wax, unique buttons, broken jewelry – you know, the components of some fabulous piece of artwork.
(Insert laughter here).
So, I begin each year with a notebook (a bullet journal deconstructed) and a nice pen (I collect those kinds of art supplies also) to clean out my house. To expedite finding something for a particular project, I inventory my collection of yarn and fabric and throw those things out, which I cannot even fathom getting to soon.
Well, that’s a problem. As I kneel on the floor sorting the brown kraft paper I save from all the boxes of stuff delivered by our great UPS, FedEx and mailmen and women, I’m muttering to myself, “well, I will need this for pattern drafting, winding warp or wrapping packages.” I smooth it out, sometimes iron it, and put it back on a different shelf.
That opens up a new shelf, and I rearrange my stacks of linen and cotton fabrics and take note of all the beautiful things I have yet to make from it. Currently, I have three looms with projects, one scarf to finish, a batch of soap to wrap, and an art doll to make out of old quilt squares from my grandmother. Like dominos, this continues, for I cannot find the strength to let go of any of my treasures.
The moral of this story – there is no cleaning out or throwing away; it’s just a re-newed year with a desire to create. Happy New Year.
A few weeks ago, I was going to share my reading list. My thoughts were interrupted by the passing of my aunt, followed shortly by the transfer of my father from his apartment in assisted living to the nursing home. It's like heartbreak after heartbreak – but we remember the circle of life and eventually accept it.
Our almost-blizzard was a blessing. The outdoor gardens were covered with snow protecting the soil from erosion and adding subsoil moisture for a spring jumpstart. And speaking of spring, I have visions of seeds and soil blocks dancing in my head as it's almost time to begin gardening again.
Somewhere along life's timeline, I decided to make time to read every day. What I would lose in sleep each night reading would not be missed. Sometimes, the only difficulty in this practice is finding good books to read.
And then finishing them.
I currently have about four books in the queue – half-finished at that. I'm debating if I should find a book less than interesting at my age should I toss it aside rather than spend precious moments finishing it? The jury's still out.
One of my goals is to read some classic old novels. After reading the invisible man, which is nothing like any movie of the same name, I downloaded Siddhartha. That classic was a fascinating read, but I was interrupted by the latest Stephen King novel, "Billy Summers." I feel it was the best book King wrote since his accident. It was a love story, and I almost couldn't put it down.
Because I admire and wish to support local writers, I opted to try Clay Jenkinson's book, "The Language of Cottonwoods." I agree with his love of North Dakota and its treasures worth preserving, but somehow, I couldn't get more than halfway through until it became about him. I will finish it someday when I wait for a few more books from my favorite authors, but I am sorry, for now.
Then, my friend Sarah Vogel wrote a book. She is talented and a great writer. I put that book on my hard pile (along with Jenkinson's) and opted for a book from the soft pile. It wasn't a difficult choice because Louise Erdrich had just published her latest work, "The Sentence." I love Louise. The terms hard and soft piles came from that read. Until then, my dresser and end table contained only piles of books.
I may very well have read everything that Ms. Erdrich has written. It all began with "Tales of Burning Love." Erdrich's stories are based on North Dakota places. She recently won a Pulitzer Prize for her book, "The Night Watchman," a story about her grandfather. Someday I would love to visit her independent bookstore in the Twin City's area or online at: https://birchbarkbooks.com. Until I read this book, I was unaware the staff did mail orders. I am remiss that I didn't order a signed copy of "The Sentence" directly. My apologies.
"The Sentance" is about a haunted bookstore, among other timely topics, but the very best part of Erdrich's latest book is a list of the main character's favorite books behind the final chapter. BONUS.
Let it blizzard all it wants, with this list in hand; I shall not run out of books (both hard pile and soft pile) for a long, long time. After my December Sun magazine, I will begin "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants" by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I can't wait
Read on, my friends.
Sixteen. First, there were 39; now, there are 16. I have 16 aunts and uncles left in this world. They are unsystematically moving from this world to the next in no particular order. Monday, it was my Aunt Luella’s turn. Her funeral was Monday. My aunts and uncles dying ushers in the end of a time that I thought would never end.
As my extra-large family would gather at the holidays and reunions and the aunts and uncles were everywhere, and I thought these times would last forever. But forever has come, and it signifies a couple of things.
First, my many cousins and I are becoming orphans. Secondly, we must assume the role of the oldest generation – no more calling “mom” or “dad” to solve problems, schedule visits or get cooking advice. Third, we see each other less and less each year as our own families grow larger and larger and spread themselves across the country.
I’m sad, and yet in a small way, I can picture the joy my mom and her family experience every time one of the flock joins those in heaven.
My Aunt Luella was one of my mom’s older sisters; she was 97 in August. I loved her. In my mind, I can still see her doing a jig at one of our annual picnics with her red shoes; she was in her 90s at that time. I told people I wanted to be just like her when I grew up – lively and good-humored.
As large as my family was, I knew them all. There was no questioning where we spent our Christmas and Easter holidays, always meeting at my grandparents’ house. That’s plural because once they moved to Wishek, they lived maybe eight blocks apart. My dad met my mom at his brother’s wedding to my mom’s sister, so I have three double cousins. I thought everyone’s family was fashioned, so we all had the same set of grandparents. I found out that wasn’t true. In college, I learned that not everyone in the state was German-Russian and not everyone was my relative.
The year I was born, Grandma Meidinger insisted on an annual picnic held for more than 50 years religiously on the third Sunday in July. First, the family met at the farm, then at the Wishek park. Let me tell you, the food was phenomenal. Even in the hottest weather, the potluck included fried chicken, homemade sausage, knephla and kraut and desserts of every make and model. One thing about my relatives – food meant love. And, they loved each other a bunch.
When my mom, her sisters and sisters-in-law got together, the visiting was endless. Like a flock of chickens clucking in the farmyard, they visited up a storm. Perhaps you guess why words spill from my mouth in the rapid-fire fashion they do. To this day, when I meet up with one of my many cousins – somewhere in the 40-50 range – I have to allow for minimally 30 minutes of catch up. It’s so sad that most of the time, we meet at funerals as the weddings have dwindled to nearly none.
Things change, we change and times change. Today, I remember those times, my aunts, my uncles, the food, the laughter, the music in a positive light. I’m very grateful for the Christmas holiday and the memories – the most beautiful memories of the generation that shaped me, nearly gone but never forgotten. Rest in peace, Aunt Luella and say hello to my mom until we meet in heaven.
My garden is primarily weed-free these days, and farmers markets do not officially begin until July 1. This leaves one week of "the calm before the storm." Summer gets busy with baking, canning, harvesting and spending one or two mornings a week at the market.
I am looking forward to seeing all my old friends and making a few new ones. So here I am, contemplating life in general.
As my years pile up beside the aches and pains in my joints, I think to myself, "Wow, life is so very different from when I was growing up," sometimes, I wish I could spend one day as a child. On that day, I would walk through the tall prairie grass inhaling the scent of wildflowers and enjoying the sun on my face. I would also ask my parents and grandparents some questions about their lives. They might not answer them, but I am hoping they would.
I ponder the change in our lives. We were free to roam the small towns of Fredonia and Gackle. Our parents wanted us out of their hair and only required our appearance at mealtime or for chores. We played with found objects and our imagination, climbed trees and inspected every living creature we encountered with curiosity and awe.
Life is so very different today. That got me thinking about whether my parents and grandparents found themselves thinking about that very same statement and frequently exclaiming how things were so different when they were growing up. As you know, if you are of my generation, we are starting to repeat ourselves in the course of a conversation.
My mom passed away five years ago in October, but my dad celebrated his 94th trip around the sun on June 23.
Being a journalist by trade, I decided to discover what transpired in his years on this planet. First off, he grew up on a farm around Wishek and never lived outside of North Dakota. He was born on Thursday, June 23, 1927. No doubt my grandmother did not take any maternity leave before attending to the daily chores of farm life. Probably that very same afternoon.
On June 13, 1927, Aviator Charles Lindbergh attended a ticker-tape parade down 5th Avenue in New York City after becoming the first person to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean in his monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis.
On June 26 of that year, the Cyclone roller coaster opens on Coney Island. And, on June 29, the '" Bird of Paradise" aircraft, a U.S. Army Air Corps Fokker tri-motor, completes the first transpacific flight from the mainland United States to Hawaii.
My dad was born one year before Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered mold on his bread and extracted penicillin to save the world from life-threatening infections.
Believe it or not, television was invented in 1927 by Philo Farnsworth. Before this time, the only modes of communication were letters or transistor radios. My dad regularly watches us on Facebook and carries a cell phone with text messaging. Can you imagine that? The change from party line telephones, or no telephone at all, to having one in a pocket?
I suppose that televisions were not very useful when he was a child because the farm had no electricity. In the 1930s, cooperatives applied for loans from the Rural Electronification Administration to bring electricity to rural areas. The cost to sign up was $5, and the monthly fee was $3.50. That must have been quite a decision to make following the Great Depression. It wasn't until sometime in the late 40s and 50s that many farm families in North Dakota were allowed to take advantage of this work-saving wonder.
These are only a few things that have changed the way we lived our lives since my father was born. When I marvel at how life has changed, I can only imagine how he feels living in a three-room apartment in an assisted living facility. And, being the second to the oldest sibling in his family, watching the others pass before him has got to be difficult. He lost a younger brother only about a week ago. If I counted correctly, the tables are tipping. If I counted correctly, I lost 15 aunts and uncles but have 16 remaining, plus my dad. Two in my favor the way I see it.
They all grew up on the farm and are all too aware of the cycle of life. Planting brings life; harvesting is the reward; seeds remain, and life goes on. You can't do anything about it except to choose to be happy.
LEt's end our contemplation on a positive note. You can reuse your 1927 calendar for the year 2022 as both calendars will be the same except the dates for Easter and other irregular holidays based on a lunisolar calendar.
Oh, wait, I forgot – one more important thing happened on the very day of my dad's birthday. My best friend from college, and to this day, thanks to technological advances, Karen Benson McMahon shares that very same birthday. That way, it's easy to remember to send her a card.
Yeah, you can wish Happy Birthday on Facebook, but there's no replacing that archaic method of communication, a card in the mail. Here's to another birthday for all of us.
More common than Big Foot sightings in North Dakota are Gardener sightings. Not gardeners, but Gardeners, with a capital G. There's a difference.
It's not that people are deliberately hunting for Gardeners with binoculars or digital cameras for scrapbooking. Still, you might just run across one in a crowd, and you need to be able to identify a true "Gardener." Here's how.
There are many ways to identify Gardeners versus gardeners. It's like observing the male species of songbirds, colorful and noticeable, instead of the more subdued color of females. Just saying that gardeners blend in a wee bit more with the landscape than Gardeners do.
If someone says, "I planted tomatoes, but my chickens scratched them out of the ground." Pass them by. If you hear someone say, "I can't grow radishes." Turn around and look elsewhere. Besides comments like these, if a gardener plants in the spring and harvests nothing in the fall because they were too busy boating or something, yeah – sorry.
Here's how to tell a Gardener, remembering you can't tell them much.
Real Gardeners do not have green thumbs. Most of us do have cracks in our hands that fill with soil. Over time those cracks deepen, and who knows what insects or nematodes live in there. On a side note, there are many beneficial minerals in the soil absorbed through our hardworking hands. Forget about manicures; Gardeners' nails are clipped short and unpolished not to attract too much attention.
Gardeners can often be seen at the crack of dawn in PJ's or robes with a hose in our hand watering flower beds or small gardens. If you notice a robe hanging on a hook with a visible watermark around the hem, you have found a Gardener.
Another sign are jeans with slightly darkened knees. That’s because we can’t wash all that soil out of those pants which are commonly worn when down on our hands and knees pulling weeds from rows of tiny plants. Far be it for us to hold off weeding cause we got our dress jeans on.
And speaking of dress clothes, have you ever observed someone in dress clothes weeding the flowerpots in front of a hotel? Your first thought might be the hotel hires the best-dressed groundskeeper in the whole country. NOPE, that's a Gardener. Somehow weeds, even those that do not belong to them, compels a Gardener to assist in pulling them out so the flowers can live.
Instead of sporting a sleeve tattoo, Gardener's arms are a lovely tan color. Well, tan until your reach the middle of the bicep – aka farmer tan. As we age, blemishes and scratches create the unusual roadmap of years pruning gooseberries or repair irrigation lines.
Only a true Gardener will pay $4 for a package of 25 tomato seed, start them indoors in March, plant outside in May, water, weed and fertilize for two months to taste that first red fruit; but won't pay a penny for a grocery store tomato in winter.
Gardeners have sheds of tools, an abundance of zombie-killing tools such as pitchforks, rakes, serrated trowels, hoes, etc.
Most of us make no plans for Memorial Day weekend because
a. either you didn't put your whole garden in yet and the danger of frost in North Dakota has finally passed (we hope) or,
b. you lost some stuff to that last sneaky May Freeze, and you happen to have some extra tomato plants and cucumber seeds and need to get them in the ground.
Gardeners are a competitive bunch. If you overhear someone talking about a better method to mulch at church on a Sunday morning or bragging about the size of their radishes harvested before Memorial Day weekend, that's a Gardener talking. Always looking for a better method of growing the largest first crops of the seasons, a Gardener is always happy to share their latest "discovery."
Finally, Gardeners are daredevils when it comes to selecting seeds. They will go to great lengths to find vintage seed packets, heirloom varieties and seeds from other continents to try. Then they plant in good faith and hope for the coming harvest. In the end, all Gardeners realize there will come a time in their life when they too will be scoured by winter's wind and buried in the soil with the hope their life-long work will sprout some new variety of "Gardener."
Gardeners of a particular era will remember pulling a carrot out of the ground, wiping it across their pant leg and enjoying the crunch of the first carrot harvest of the season. Carrots are easy to grow and are the very last crop we pull from our garden in the fall.
There are climates warm enough to store carrots in the ground all winter, but my spouse made me promise never to do that again. He said it wasn't effortless chopping them out of the frozen North Dakota soil.
When people tell me they have no luck with carrots, I can safely assume a few things they are doing incorrectly. First, germination of those tiny seeds takes a little doing, and second, you must thin them early, so they have more room to grow.
Today's carrot is a relative of wild Queen's Anne lace, and that is apparent if you have ever forgotten to dig out a carrot and it goes to seed. Carrots are biennial vegetables and do not produce seeds the first year. However, if you leave that carrot in the ground and it does go to seed, lookout – you will have rogue carrots everywhere.
Before we plant those lovely carrots, we should choose a variety. And there are many varieties of carrots, each with its own set of healthy vitamins. Orange carrots are considered the most healthy because of alpha and beta carotene, which gives them the orange color. Before cultivated garden carrots were available, a wide array of colors grew in the wild – white, red, yellow and purple.
I love purple carrots, and two of my favorites are Purple Haze or Cosmic Purple, as they are purple through and through. Some carrots only have purple skin that turns orange when heated.
Carrots need well-worked light soil to grow correctly. If your carrots have "legs," your soil is too hard, impenetrable by the root, so it begins to grow in any direction it can. There's nothing wrong with these vegetables, but cleaning takes longer.
Carrots also don't mind a little cold weather and can be planted three weeks before the last frost and harvested after a fall freeze, or in our case, that October blizzard.
Now about planting those tiny seeds. First, wet your furrow well. The moisture will keep those seeds on the ground until you get them covered before our famous North Dakota wind carries them to South Dakota. If you are covering your rows with soil, make sure it is not too deep. Rather than bury my carrot seeds, I use some well-dried and chemical-free grass clippings to cover the rows. This keeps them moist until they germinate, and you can remove the grass when seedlings are an inch or taller.
Since I love to experiment, which is how gardening works – whatever works for you is the correct way. Someone posted a video on a Facebook group about gel-planting carrots. It sounded ingenious, and I thought I would try it myself.
Soak your carrot seed in water until you can see at least one seed germinate. This will not happen overnight, so plan. Using one tablespoon of cornstarch to one cup of water, cook until thick – you know, as in gravy. Allow to cool. Then drain the water off the carrot seed, mix with the gel in a heavy zip-lock bag and cut off the tip. Pipe the ingredients into the furrow. The seed flows out fairly evenly, and the gel will keep it moist until it settles in. Okay, so I didn't have much luck with the bag; I found a squeeze bottle for frosting, cut the tip a little bigger and like mustard on a hot dog bun, I spread those carrot seeds.
It was so much fun.
After those babies germinate and stabilize, they need room to grow. Thinning row crops was such a painful lesson to learn when I began gardening independently, but it is the key to good-sized beets, radishes and carrots. Using manicure scissors, I get down to their level and clip out every other plant. This accomplishes thinning without disturbing the soil and uprooting the ones you are expecting to produce. It also makes some people crazy, lying in the garden like that.
If you garden in a box, select a short fat carrot variety like Scarlet Nantes. Most of those boxes, the ones on the legs, are not too deep. And, go ahead and do it; it's not too late to plant carrots. My mother used to plant her entire garden at the end of May, and everything produced just fine.
Live a little and try planting a package of rainbow-colored carrots this year. Eat them along the way, but if you wait until after the first good frost to harvest the bulk of them, the flavor will be sweeter. In the fall, we will talk about recipes and storage for your colored carrot crop.
Rhubarb is a North Dakota thing. I've traveled across the country in my early years as an artist and met so many people that had no idea what rhubarb pie tasted like. I heard it was sometimes called "truckers pie," but how could you not know about this delightful vegetable?
That is correct; rhubarb is not a fruit but rather a vegetable. If you visit any old farmsteads in this state, you will most likely see that if nothing else survived abandonment, the rhubarb did.
As children, we played under the canopy of enormous rhubarb stalks. My mother was a master at making rhubarb everything in the spring to use its prolific green stalks. Since that time, I have learned that the red stalks, as in Canada Red Rhubarb, are sweeter. But I think it's the color that makes me gravitate towards that variety. When you make strawberry rhubarb jam, the color of the red rhubarb enhances the overall color of the jam. As you know, rhubarb sauce made from the green variety turns a dull color when cooked. But who's looking if it tastes good?
Varieties of rhubarb were discovered in ancient China. It was used for medicinal purposes during the plague and given as gifts to the king. Many historical events surrounding ancient Chinese rhubarb can be found at: http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/rhubarb-history.html.
So how did it get to North Dakota?
According to the website for the "Rhubarb Capitol of the World" in Sumner, Wash., rhubarb was smuggled to Seattle in 1893 by Adam Knoblauch from Eastern Europe. There's a complete recounting of the growth of rhubarb production in Washington at the website: http://www.ci.sumner.wa.us/Rhubarb/History.htm.
Another theory is the German people tasted rhubarb while in China, and as they say, the rest is history. If the Germans loved rhubarb, they undoubtedly brought it with them to North Dakota when they settled in the state.
Rhubarb, and Germans, are cold hardy making it a perfect plant for our 3a and 3b northern part of the state and the more fortunate gardeners in 4a and 4b.
Rhubarb is usually the first edible perennial to appear in the spring and produces until temperatures reach 90 degrees in the summer before going dormant.
The large-leafed plants will thrive in well-drained soil of almost any type but prefer organic matter in slightly acid soil. Fertilize new growth in the spring with either a commercial mix or well-aged manure.
The best way to grow your own is to find someone to share their old rhubarb cuttings. If you cannot obtain cuttings from your friends or relatives, you can purchase plant roots. It takes too long to grow healthy rhubarb from seed, so it is not recommended for the home gardener.
Space the root cuttings two feet apart if you need more rhubarb than one plant can provide. Once established, it is a prolific producer and will continue to grow new stalks until it becomes too hot. Continually pulling the seed head that grows from the middle will keep your plant producing until it gets too hot.
Usually, one or two roots will provide enough rhubarb to eat fresh and freeze for winter. Do not pick the first year's crop; the roots need those leaves to become established. As your plant becomes larger and the roots more crowded, you can easily separate and share the cuttings or start new areas.
In addition to being easy to grow, studies show that rhubarb has anti-cancer properties and, when eaten fresh, is a good source of fiber. The acid in a cold piece of fresh rhubarb can counterbalance stomach acid. Some also believe that rhubarb extract can alleviate hot flashes.
This excellent plant also has anti-bacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties, which would explain why the Chinese valued this fruit for treating almost anything that ails
However, there is a toxic chemical in the leaves, so you do not want your animals or children to ingest them. They do, however, work very well for concrete birdbaths and other fun art projects.
Around here, we love rhubarb pie made in a fashion similar to apple with fresh fruit, sugar and cinnamon.
If you prefer a custard-type rhubarb pie, here is an alternate recipe from my mother. She used to make pies, juice, jellies and more from her rhubarb patch that may very well still be growing in the lot of our former family home in Fredonia.
Rhubarb Pie Filling
My mom, Lorraine Meidinger Kaseman's recipe
2 cups cubed rhubarb
1 ½ cups fine bread crumbs
4 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups sugar
Brown bread crumbs in butter, add beaten eggs and sugar, mix with rhubarb and pour into 9-inch pie crust. Bake at 425-degrees until firm.
Here’s my brother, Curt, a master woodworker, cook and now violinist. He taught himself how to play watching YouTube videos during the quarantine.
"There are 24 useful hours in a day to do things." My son said that at least twice on Sunday as we drove to Jamestown for an early Easter dinner.
It was amazing. Chicken and dumplings, gravy, mashed potatoes, green fluff and kuchen. Fit for a king, thanks to my brother and sister-in-law. It was the first time we could visit my father, who lives in the Heritage Centre, just one block north of my brother's house.
Naturally, there were no hugs, and face masks were only mandatory at the assisted living place. We were comfortable but a little guarded about the whole thing even though nearly everyone there had had two injections already.
So, back to the 24-hours-day.
Before we sat down to eat, I came out of the bathroom to see my brother playing a tune on an old violin. I was shocked.
First, the violin was left in the attic of our old house in Gackle by the former owners. We moved in sometime in the late 60s. The attic in the old Lehr house was almost larger than the second story, an apartment. You see, in the old times, those large two and three-story homes were meant to house the young family on the main floor and while aging parents eventually moved up a story and up another story to be close to relatives that took care of them.
This I know because I rented the third story of a large blue house in Fargo, just off Broadway Avenue. I loved it. The sun is shinier way up above the treetops.
The attic of the old two-story in Gackle wrapped around the outside of the house; it was stocked with curiosities and things we were not supposed to touch. But we snooped anyway.
The old violin rested on a dusty shelf protected by a very worn velvet-lined case for all the years I lived there. When my parents moved to a smaller place in Jamestown closer to doctors and grocery stores, they could only take a select number of items with them.
The rest of their lifetime collection of "stuff" disappeared as most of our things eventually. It makes me wonder why we keep so many things?
Then, my younger brother, a twin, never played an instrument in his life. At least not that I am aware of.
Not that we don't come from a musical family. My grandfather could play nearly any available instrument you put in his hand. There was an old pump organ in the farmhouse's back room, which one of my cousins currently houses and maybe even plays. My uncle, Ellon, was the go-to accordion player for most of his life in Wishek. I have a whole family of cousins that live near Medina that sing and play guitars and pianos. One of my cousin's sons, Mark, sang at his step-father's funeral. It was beautiful.
So, it's not that we don't have some musical talent in the family, but this…
It was so unexpected.
"Is that the old violin from the house?"
"Yes, it is."
"Did you have someone refinish it?"
"No, I did it myself."
"Did you take lessons from someone."
"No, I watched some You-Tube videos."
Well, that explains it. My son, my brother, our mother, all display the same need to create 24-hours-a-day. Our family DNA has provided us with the unique talent to pick something up easily by watching YouTube videos.
Okay, back in my early years (and my mother's later years), we read books to learn how to do things.
We continue to learn, or instead teach ourselves, how to do things. And we do new things all the time.
Case in point. When we arrived back in Bismarck, after we dropped off our son and his son, he went to work recreating a window cling for a friend and me. When he sent me the photo of his latest creation, the accompanying text read: "Like I said. There's 24 useful hours in a day. Made two, as per your request."
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
What did you learn how to do over the COVID quarantine?
March in the rearview mirror means I just made another trip around the sun. According to Facebook, this marked day was a milestone in my life’s journey. But, like Mae West said, “It’s mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Remember the poem “When I am an Old Woman?” If not, as in if you are too young, you can find both the poem and the backstory https://laterbloomer.com/jenny-joseph/.
At one time, that poem made the rounds at the art fair circuit, around the late 80's and early 90's. After that, the Red Hat Society was formed and well, the rest is history. Now that I think about it, I don’t see too many purple dresses and red hats at lunches anymore.
However, NOW, that I am an old woman I am finally giving up wearing purple. The color doesn't suit me as well as red and orange. You may have deduced that as I am an Aries – a fire sign.
But soon I will not care about what color to wear. My uniform will be baggy work trousers without a matching shirt. There will be stains on the bottom of that tee shirt from carrying unwashed vegetables from the garden to the house. The hem on my pants will be worn and thready, but if need be, I can roll them up to my knees, but not past, since I might have to garden on my knees and need the protection. Shoes are optional.
I will rarely comb my hair and allow the wind to style it in waves and tangles. Someday you may find a ladybug, or two, sunning themselves on the twigs that wind their way through the curls. The curls, of course, becoming curlier from the sweat on hot summer days or on the rare occasion when it's going to rain. I wish it would rain. I will love the rain and will stand in it with welcoming arms and with prayers of thanks for thunder and lightning and precious water to nourish my tomatoes.
Oh yes, now that I am an old woman, my desire is to drive less, and walk more. Stay out of closed rooms and work outdoors. Eat all the fresh bread and butter and vegetables that I can. Order my toilet paper online and hand the UPS driver a fresh-baked cookie when he or she delivers my box.
My grandchildren will come out to visit me as often as they can and lift heavy bags for me because both Grandpa JC and Grandma Sue BB have to start thinking about avoiding lifting. You know you have to watch your back when you are an old woman, never letting that stop you from pulling those weeds or thinning those carrots. There’s no shame in getting down on your knees in the fresh moist soil and communing with the precious earthworms and insects that keep that soil alive.
I will daily say my prayers and listen for the sound of God the Father, Son and especially the Holy Ghost, in the wind and every living thing that crosses my path. In the morning I will stretch like Walter, our cat, and give thanks for the sun. In the evening I will watch the moon rise and give thanks again.
If I have time, I will continue to write my memoirs and tell a story that can only be told by me. If you are my friend, expect a card or letter in the mail someday because hand written notes are still the best.
So, now that I am an old woman and can say whatever I want, I will begin by thanking you for all the birthday wishes and cards.
You may have heard about the 100-mile diet craze of about 10 years ago. Maybe it was 15. Anyhow, that's about the time I got involved in the local foods movement through the ND Department of Ag. Before that time, I was doing what my mom always did – feeding my family the way food was meant to be enjoyed, locally.
I learned in the 1970s, my high school years, a typical roast beef dinner with mashed potatoes and carrots were produced no farther than 70 miles from the plate.
Things changed considerably, and I had no idea until I began my local food systems work. Former Ag Commissioner Roger Johnson said to my supervisor Chuck Fleming after my very first formal presentation, "She doesn't think people are really going to start canning again? Does she?"
Well, we were both wrong. People are interested in canning, and I did not ever expect to have to work so hard to find canning jars, bands and lids as I did last summer.
Gardening, canning and cooking my meals was my life. When I found out there were people out there that did not know that potatoes grew underground, much less that you could quickly boil them and make mashed potatoes, I was shocked.
If I had known that the information stored in my head about food preparation and growing your own was so sought after, I would have been writing it down and published a book.
I did publish a book or two. The very first one was a divine vision of how my many aunts and uncles survived without roads to big box stores. How did they preserve meat without electricity? Or eat any vegetables in the winter. It might be why I grew up eating food prepared from flour and water and the many variations thereof. Today, I still enjoy those dishes and have taught many a class in bread, kneophla, dumplings, and strudels. Just so you know, we tried to use only one spelling of the word "knoephla," in the book. It was impossible with all the ladies sending in their recipes with individual spellings. It added a flavor of its own to the recipes.
There has been the occasion that a student misinterprets what a strudel in our part of the country is compared to the sweet, apple ones from – well, I guess I don't know where.
I read a lot. Therefore, I write. The first book was called "Ewiger Saatz." I will address that a bit more next week.
In the meantime, I found this stew recipe and had a light bulb moment. I can make this dish from everything local. It's that easy. And boy, paired with a slice of spelt sourdough bread straight from the oven, a little salad (no, I didn't grow that, YET), we had a "meal from heaven," according to my husband.
Here are the recipe and the attribution to the grower.
EASY PEASY STEW
Stew Meat – I used grass-fed sirloin from Joshua and Tara Dukart's Seek First Ranch. They live near Hazen, and we have our meat processed at Hazen Meats.
Onion – Diane's Home Creations, Mandan, ND. Diane and I are partners in the farmers market. The seed for these storage onions called Dakota Tears came from Prairie Road Organic Seed near Fullerton.
Potatoes – Christy Werre, another one of my partners from the farmers market.
Carrots – I grew those myself. We keep two-gallon bags in the spare fridge, so they are fresh until about Easter when it's time to plant again.
Spicy Tomato Juice – Another one of my favorites. We had an excessive harvest of tomatoes this year, so I was able to make everything tomato for winter. I really used my tomato soup with roasted peppers for this batch and saved the spicy tomato juice for beer. All the ingredients, minus the lemon juice, were grown in my backyard.
DIRECTIONS: Prepare beef by cutting into one-inch cubes and placing in the bottom of your favorite Lodge cast iron Dutch oven. Peel, or not, your potatoes and carrots and cube them, layering on top of the meat. Add onion to taste, salt and pepper and pour the quart of tomato juice, or soup, over the top.
Bake at 250-degrees for four hours or until the vegetables are soft. If you have a slow-cooker, I imagine you could prepare this in there. I prefer the taste of cast iron and the oven myself.
So, two takeaways from this experience.
Here's hoping by the time you read this, warm air will sweep away this cold and the memory of it. Next week we talk German.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.