Someone posted a photo (Pam Adrian) on Facebook last week of her mother's blooming Hoya. It had more than 50 blooms. What? I'm envious. I have had a Hoya for years and years, and it has not once bloomed.
My plant came from a cutting of my grandma’s original in her mud porch. Being young and dumb, I never gave it much thought, but I remember it crawled across the window on the west side of the house.
One year, my Aunt Alice gave everyone a rooted cutting at one of her famous gatherings. She and Uncle Ed took care of my grandparents towards the end of their lives, and she inherited the original Hoya. That plant loved my Aunt Alice so much that it grew across their sun porch and hung down from the ceiling with its green waxy leaves.
When they moved to a smaller house, I inherited that original plant and promptly killed it off. My bad. I rue that day for sure. However, there's only so much space in my house for more plants. You see, quite by accident, I discovered if you lay a succulent leaf on the soil in the same pot, it will root. I was delighted to discover this, and not being the kind of person who throws anything green in the garbage, well, use your imagination.
I share cuttings of this and other plants I care for with anyone who asks. Somehow their Hoyas always bloom but my "Grandma Plant" doesn't. I'm trying to justify in my mind why this is so. Here is one theory. Perhaps the grandmother of these cuttings doesn't bloom because she sends her love with the cuttings.
Maybe someday I will be rewarded with 50 blooms, but I doubt it.
I'm also not sure when houseplants went out of vogue. I think people do not like "dirt" in their new houses. I'm not too fond of plastic plants. In recent days, I have seen an interest in indoor gardening bloom. Personally, my house has never been without a jungle of green. I rescue plants from the store that appear dead only to have them pop into life and respond to a bit of love and water. Our house has a porch on the east side of the house. One year we added a roof and windows, and it has become my favorite place to write, and my plants love it.
Hoyas thrive on neglect. One year we had to move out of our home for 95 days because of the 2011 flood. The only thing I took to my temporary home was my spinning wheel. When we moved back into our house in August, I discovered part of my Hoya was caught in that wheel and survived for that time. I planted it to reward that plant's will to live without water, soil or sunlight. It survives today. But it has not bloomed.
Why do I want it to bloom? The blooms of a Hoya are waxy squares that open into beautiful five-point stars. They also smell great and weep a little. They are said to bring wealth and protection to the owners. That plant also carries a bit of my grandmother to everyone who has a cutting. It's just a small way to bring a tradition to my children and grandchildren in the form of a pink blessing. I guess I will keep sharing my grandmother, and maybe someday, she will reward my diligence with some blooms.
Mother's Day was lovely. I hope yours was also. I spent most of the day with my green children outdoors. There was no wind, many happy birds, and warm sunshine made me change my plans to take the day off. Sitting outdoors with a cup of coffee only lasts so long till the call of the earthworms has me on my knees in the newly turned soil.
I noticed the lawn is a funny color. It looks green. And, it hasn't been that color for a long, long time. Recent snows brought much-needed moisture to our area. We will be cutting excellent chemical-free mulch shortly from the fields adjacent to the gardens.
I love this time of year. I tucked potato eyes, planted broccoli under Agribond tents, and poked onions into rows in time to receive the beautiful rain on Monday.
If you love onions and need a reliable variety, there is none better than Prairie Road Organics Dakota Tears. They are my all-time favorite. We have a bin full of onions from last fall that should last us until the new crop is ready for green onion picking.
My husband was kind enough to get the pump into the irrigation ditch and hook up my water. No more carrying buckets to and fro, although it was in my plants' best interest that I save snow water for them. There's something about blessed moisture in rain and snow that makes those plants thrive.
No Mother's Day would be complete without a trip to Runnings for some parts, and of course, I had to treat myself to some store-bought plants. I chose a couple of small lavender transplants because I cannot seem to get my lavender to overwinter. I use the cuttings for homemade soap and smudge sticks.
I didn't see any grandchildren Sunday, but we have a get-together planned next week over pizza. I hope they filled out those "all about Grandma" forms again. It's a joy to learn how they view my world from theirs.
At two, Oliver's answer to "Grandma likes to say" was, "It's time to eat." At four, Oliver's answer to "Grandma likes to say" was, "I love you." (Both are true.) But, he put me at 100 years old and said if we were to go anywhere in the world together, it would be to the market. (Farmers Market, that is.)
At eight years old, Lucy said Grandma likes to say, "Let's go outside." She got the age pretty close, whew, and said, "we like to plant vegetables together." According to Lucy, I'm good at baking bread. She also told her mom, "Grandma just wants us to come out to her house so we can work for her."
Sorry, grandchildren, but as my mom and grandmother (both are gone now, Mother's Day has changed for me) used to say, "work makes life sweet." And might I add, "But so do grandchildren."
This lamp is a very cherished piece of art. I was so delighted when the young artist from Fool Moon asked me to make a trade. I call it my Dr. Suess lamp.
It was Christmas, and I was home from college. My friend Larry had just moved into a small house a few blocks from my parents' home, and I had planned on visiting him. And, bring him a Christmas gift.
I have been crocheting since I was about eight years old. I mainly was crocheting, not making anything of note. It kept my hands busy, and for some reason, unbeknownst to me at the time, I believe the counting of stitches was relaxing to me. I still do many forms of counting today – weaving, knitting, crocheting and even baking bread.
It was a scarf in what must have been an unmemorable color because I somehow can't picture it. I'm sure Larry wasn't being unappreciative after opening the gift, but he did say, "Why do you spend the time to make a scarf that you could simply buy at the store?"
Why do we make things, work with our hands, and gift handmade items rather than purchase things made (today) overseas?
Handmade gifts are more expensive; why pay the extra cash?
Well. When volunteering to do art classes at my children's elementary school, I used to explain it like this.
When people visited me, they said, "Wow, your house has so many cool things. I love it."
I said, "Well if you shopped at art fairs, you too could have a house full of wonderful things."
I feel a connection if I am stirring kuchen pudding with a spoon that my friend Shuster made with his hands. A warmth. I take extra special care of the things made by friends as if I am taking care of them simultaneously.
I made new friends and acquired new art no matter where I went. One of my best friends from Bemidji, then New York Mills, made the most exquisite and funky jewelry. I always received compliments when I wore her earrings. My house in Mandan was full of original prints, paintings, photos, blown glass, ceramic and raku vases, mugs, rugs and mats – you name it, I traded for it. Everything reminded me of a face or a place in time.
I hope people who own my hand-loomed clothing or dishtowels feel the same. In purchasing something from me, they received a part of me.
After moving to the "farm, and a smaller house, my children received many of my art items. My walls are still full of photos and paintings, including several my mother did when she became an empty nester.
Whether Larry cherished that scarf or not is beside the point. It was given in the spirit of sharing. I hope the love I prayed into that scarf was a blessing to him. Sort of like I feel blessed that I have pieces of art from my friends who have since passed away. Hmmm, it's like a legacy, I guess. Not to mention, it's rare that someone would have the same piece in their house, and we all know how horrifying it is to walk into a gala with the same dress as the person across the room.
Sometimes people would say to me, "Oh, I wish I was talented." I replied, "Well, if everyone could do what I do, then there would be no one left to buy anything from me, and I would have to quit creating. So, we need you. I make it, you buy it, we are both happy."
Mother's Day is coming. Make your mom and your local artisans happy this year.
My mother hated the wind. As I sat in my morning chair listening to the wind constantly blowing (since around April 12), I could see why.
The moisture was very welcome, and we did not have any snow this past weekend, but we received an inch of precious water, served up with wind. I can relate to why my mom hated the wind after listening to the ominous sounds of our house attempting to stand against the gale force of the north winds. Not to mention our high tunnels.
As much as I love the stillness we experience each August, the wind never bothers me as much. I used to tell my two children to go outside and let the wind blow the stink off them when they were ornery. However, enough is enough already; I have spring work outdoors.
When I come indoors and say, "It's so beautiful outside today." That comment has little to do with the temperature. I realized that the wind wasn't blowing on those "nice" days. And there's no such thing as a breeze in this state.
Mom grew up in the Depression. I did a little research and found this information, "The Great Depression of the 1930s coincided with a long, intense drought in the Great Plains. Most of North Dakota suffered serious drought during the 1930s. When a little rain came along, it was often not enough to make up for the many months of drought that came before the rain. Crops dried up, and hay would not grow. Some farmers made hay with thistle to feed their cattle even though cattle won't eat thistle unless they are very hungry. Because there was no rain to wash away the grasshopper eggs, many farm crops were completely destroyed by clouds of grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were so hungry that they ate brooms and clothes on the clothesline once they had finished with the crops." (SOURCE: The Great Depression - North Dakota Studies. https://www.ndstudies.gov/gr8)
I asked my mom about those days. She said, "I remember one dust storm. It was awful, it just . . . It was all black. Coming right at us. And then Alma (her sister) and I started crying because we were -- we must have been pretty little, so they made us sit underneath the window so we wouldn't see the dirt and dust storm. Then they went, and they stuck towels under the doors so it wouldn't bring too much dust in and on the windowsills. I don't know how long it lasted; that I can't tell you, and I don't know where the guys were, they must have been in the barn or something, but the younger ones were all at the house, they ran for the house when they saw that dirt coming. But that was horrible I can still see it. It's black."
That doggone wind also robs us of some of that God-given moisture as it dries it up when it sweeps across the prairie. Don't get me wrong; I'm so thankful for the snow and rain. I can see the grass coming to life in the front yard. The nighttime temperatures will be rising this upcoming week and hopefully we will be able to see the garden and move my transplants to the greenhouse without the danger of freezing my hard work of the past two months. We all know the North Dakota weather saying, "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes; it will change." Here's to change.
PS: Here is the original quote from Mark Twain: "If you don't like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes." And you thought we made that up.
I have fond memories of the Blizzard of ’66. No school for three days and afterwards so much snow and so little time. We hollowed out tunnels to slide from the top to the bottom. You can see the drifts in Fredonia were up to the roofs in many areas. The tiny figures at the peak are my sister and me.
I'm positive the topic of everyone's day is "blizzard." It's been on my mind. I admit, though, I love a good blizzard; however, it bothers me that it's so light out. You can't escape the light. The day begins at 6 a.m. and ends around 10 p.m. There's something unnatural about all the carefully sculpted snowdrifts and the light. At night, the beautiful full Pink Moon reflects brightly into our bedroom. There's too much light for snow. It should be spring.
My plants know it. They want out. But, my greenhouse is a bit leaky. It was built from found objects beginning with our old houseboat. We repurposed old windows from the Mandan Beanery, and added a free greenhouse furnace from my daughter's garage sale treks, a potting table, bin and tools from the Wheelers when they moved to a smaller house, and a compost bin from my friend Jess Toman. That's just naming a few of the folks who have assisted us in building up our farm.
My husband did the bulk of the work with the help of various volunteers, as covering a 96 by 120-foot-high tunnel cannot be accomplished with two old folks on ladders.
It's April, and like we always do, we filled the propane tank. The seedlings have developed strong roots and healthy leaves this time of year and beg to go outdoors. The recent snow would be fine, but between the wind and the cold, I cannot lose my livelihood to a window blowing out or the furnace pilot light blowing out.
There are drifts as high as the deer fence over my garlic. I can hear it screaming to be uncovered to take advantage of the sun and additional moisture. Alas, that's not going to happen for some time if the weather reports are accurate.
Since I'm not driving to town to work anymore, I thought I would get ahead of the game and plant some Chinese cabbage and my favorite "trout romaine" lettuce. It's in the high tunnel and has a row cover plus some plastic over the top, but I fear it had not enough time to establish a root system before the 0-degrees nighttime lows.
Sigh – "This is the way."
The traits of a farmer most certainly include being an optimist with outstanding patience and plenty of faith. Mostly it's like gambling. You place your bets on specific crops and play the odds against Mother Nature every year. Usually, the rewards are not where you thought they would be.
Snow rewards, although, were the much-needed moisture and grandma time. The children made it out for Easter dinner despite the white-out conditions at 5 a.m. Sunday. After dinner and Easter candy, we dressed in our snow pants and mittens and headed outdoors. It was only my son and three grandchildren. After a bit, my son went back indoors and there I was with the three youngsters. With only one sled to share, there was time to make snow angels, build a snow tower and throw snowballs at the hole where a beaver had decided to make his home in our irrigation ditch.
That's a story for another time.
It was the best Easter encouraging my grandchildren to live a little in the great outdoors by venturing a bit too close to the not-frozen ice to retrieve the sled whipped by the wind into the ditch. Oliver decided I needed help and ran to the house searching for a rescue team because grandma was in the water. If it had been one of them, I would have been banned from grandma-hood forever, sometimes too adventurous for today's parents. Grandma was rescued, the sled was saved, and so was the day. The "Best Easter Day" ever.
My cousin Marion asked me to help with kuchen for her daughter's wedding more than a few years ago. Most German-Russian weddings serve kuchen. Somehow, I remember kuchen being a spring dessert prepared especially for Easter; and one year, my birthday.
It's spring. Here's hoping everyone is home safe and baking for Easter dinner. Of course, if we are in the middle of a blizzard this week – oh well, we need the moisture. So let's talk about the ultimate spring dessert – kuchen.
Kuchen seems to be a famous mystery to most folks. They love it and want to learn how to make it or, better yet, have someone make it for them. It's not that difficult. Of course, the folks on The Great British Baking show do talk about the difficulties of Crème Pat. I experimented with puff pastry during Covid lockdown and realized that I have been making Crème Pat since birth (almost). Kuchen custard is the same recipe except for vanilla. Oh, and, so we are on the same page, my kuchen recipe is Protestant, the raised kind. If you are German, you know what I mean.
Kuchen is for spring. I imagine that after a long winter, the cows freshen, the chickens begin laying with the longer daylight hours, and everyone is ready for Easter. I was born on a Good Friday, so my birthday was close to Easter for many years. And, I loved kuchen.
One year my mother asked me what I would like for my birthday. I must have been around six or 7-years old. "I want my very own prune kuchen," I said; and received my wish.
Prune? That's correct. If you are a true German-Russian lover of kuchen, you know that prune kuchen is the original flavor. Most people wrinkle their noses at prunes and associate them with, well, you know what. However, prunes are merely dried plums, sweet and delicious and the perfect non-juicy topping for kuchen.
Every year about this time, I make kuchen. It freezes well, but I genuinely love it right out of the oven. My recipe makes 12 kuchen. If we are not hosting Easter dinner, I drive around and drop them off at all the children's houses and this year, I donated some to the church bake sale, so I wouldn't have to eat it all myself.
I saved one prune for Sunday dinner. My kuchen has always been a source of pride, and I have heard some comments from German ladies such as, "this is the best kuchen I have ever eaten." My grandfather even told my mom that my kuchen was good. Coming from German-Russians, those are quite the compliments. Mainly because it is my Mom's Mom's recipe. When I teach kuchen classes, I include my grandmother's name, Gramma Emma, in the title.
It used to be that I would not share my grandmother's recipe with anyone. One day, I realized that she might be disappointed in my selfishness. So to honor her, I submitted it to the Ewiger Saatz and Gutes Essen cookbooks, which wasn't hard since I wrote the copy and edited both. And, yes, I would share it here, but I am out of room for this week. If you ask, I will email it to you. Now, it's off to the kitchen to make my traditional "kase knephla" in preparation for Easter dinner. I'm so happy to be hosting this year for the first time in years. So, in addition to the kuchen, we must have traditional German-Russian foods.
I do hope you have a blessed Easter with your family.
Sunday, March 20, was a day of celebration as I was released from my job at the church. But rather than retire, I am on my way to refire.
In fact, retirement was so far from my mind, I almost missed the send-off cake that day. I was setting up my loom for new dishtowels when the secretary texted me, then called and said, “Did anyone remind you about having a cake for you between services.” I ran into the bathroom and said, “Are you almost done in the shower? I have to get to church, it’s my retirement cake today and I forgot.”
Wow. Well, here we go. It's taken me a year to trust that I can maintain my lifestyle without committing to a "job." I have more than 50 years on my work record and still recall the first five-dollar bill I earned. I babysat for three children for.25 an hour; one was an infant. If you can do the math, that's 20 hours of sitting, and because I could, I washed dishes and picked up the house.
From there, I moved on to the Gackle Café with LaVonne Deutscher. She became a second mother and mentor "foodie" for a mere .75 an hour. (If memory serves me, and I think it does.) but at that time, you could order a hamburger steak, potato, salad (Your choice of lettuce with dressing or cottage cheese and canned fruit.), dessert, bun and coffee for $1.75.
I went to school and worked in Moorhead, then Garrison, then Mandan. When I hit $6 an hour, I thought, "I'm rich." I'm laughing out loud right now.
Over this past year, I have been evaluating what I want to be doing. I'm thinking I want out of everything so I can focus on my weaving and growing a great garden for the market. So, slowly I have been learning to say no. I'm not quite there yet.
I have so many ideas, including a book that's half done, some sewing, and, more importantly, becoming a better grandmother. My husband and I also want to do some traveling during the winter. As the summer progresses and the garden requires more attention, it should be easier. I hope.
I'm going to be honest here. I heard the Independent and all the last of the BHG enterprises have been sold. Mike and Jill have always been good to me, so I thought, "Well, this is my opportunity to let go of one more Monday morning commitment." But then – while I was out of town last week staying with my daughter in Huron, S.D., I received an envelope from the Hazen Star. I thought to myself, okay, they are either asking me to stop writing or maybe sending me a check for my fine work.
Instead, it was a note from Bernice Weigum. She asked Sharon to send me a recipe for Sun Pickles and a small hand-written note of appreciation for my articles. There are three area folks, Bernice, Judy and Sharon, and North Dakota's Secretary of State Al Jaeger, that appreciate me. I love it.
I got many more words, and now as I reFIRE my intentions in life, I will have a bit more time to write and hopefully publish another book. I'm just saying a little encouragement goes a long way in this business, and I LOVE to hear from you all. So please keep it coming.
Thank you, loyal readers, whoever you are. I'm here for another day.
It is no surprise to anyone that computers have changed the way we do our jobs. I remember the first time my husband said to me, “we are getting email at work.” It must have been sometime in the late 80s early 90s. I was not impressed.
First of all, “what was email?” Secondly, I love paper, pens, pencils, crayons, paints, etc. How could we possibly live without those items?
Some years later, when my children were in middle school, I was a single mom, and I had to quit being a fiber artist to take a “real job” that I became a newspaper editor. It was something on my bucket list, and I loved the job after I learned how to fill a 16-page paper each week by myself.
Each week, my email (yes, we all succumbed to a new form of correspondence) was full of press releases from various organizations vying for an opportunity to be placed on one of my pages. It was a sure bet if the press release contained a local name.
One day, the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) communications person called to reprimand me about using North Dakota State School of Science (NDSSS) in my paragraphs about student honor rolls and such.
“I’m not sure how that could have happened,” I said. “I went to that school in the 70s.” Our conversation continued as I explained to him half-jokingly that I didn’t file my paperwork to get my diploma after returning from work-study in Washington State.
“Oh, that would make a great human-interest story,” he said because as communicators, we are always seeking that next great human-interest story.
We continued talking, and I explained the years I attended and what I did for work-study, and he said, “I’ll get back to you.”
It was the same week, and this is what he told me, “Ummmm. I am sorry, but I checked with the administration, and we don’t offer that program anymore. So, I guess you cannot graduate from a program that doesn’t exist anymore.”
He sounded disappointed.
I laughed. It was true. When I began the graphic arts program at the NDSSS, our education began with platen presses, lead pigs and hand-set type. From there, we moved to paste-up with paper and wax, hand-drawn lines, photo-sensitive paper headlines created one letter at a time and large drawers of layout sheets. Then came the darkroom with chemicals and large negatives. Photos were shot into halftones with screens and plenty of expertise.
We also learned how to strip negatives, use rubylith (look it up) and burn plates – also using chemicals.
Printing was a tactile career and one I fell in love with immediately. I became the editor of the NDSSS yearbook for the two years I attended. And, now – here we are.
There were perhaps many such careers that computers have commandeered. Being a painter, lithographer, typographer or graphic artist was a specialized trade. It used to be to make a copy of a recipe, you would have to go to the library and pay a dime. Now, we can all print, design, and publish at the stroke of a key.
Not to complain about computers, I use one every day, but somehow, I feel like my career choice has been watered down, and specialization is a thing of the past. I’m still finding typos in PowerPoint presentations and brochures, sometimes cringing at the layouts that forgo all the formal training of an educational program that no longer exists. I guess we all be “obsolete” after a while, but it is something to think about because apparently, it happens to everything.
Even though my dad is still with us, I noticed some of the letters in my mother's heart-shaped Valentine's Day box did not have that familiar blue and red airmail border, so I peeked.
Yea, I said I wasn't going to, but I love old stuff. The envelope had a printed return address and a three-cent stamp – purple, canceled and dated June 7, 1944. Inside was a ledger-sized typed letter written two days earlier. The periods poked through the paper from the backside, so I think these letters were typed individually by Mr. Ed. Doerr's secretary.
Who, might you ask, is Mr. Ed Doerr? Well, Mr. Doerr was the county superintendent of schools in Ashley. My mother's letter was addressed in the care of her father, Albert C. Meidinger, Zeeland, N.D., congratulating her on graduating the eighth grade.
A copy of a certificate of completion torn from a book that I can only imagine looks like a cashier's duplicate sales book with three subjects:
The transcript continues, but the grades end there. The letter begins with congratulations and a diploma for the eighth-grade students (I went back and looked, but I couldn't find it). The second paragraph included this, "Because of the war conditions; tire and gas shortages, we will not hold rural graduation exercises this year. With the European invasion started now, we hope that this terrible war will be over by next year so that all of us can again live normal lives once more."
You know what I am thinking. What is a normal life? Even my parents didn't have the privilege of "normal" lives when they were young. Let's not bring war into this story yet.
Mr. Doerr encouraged the seventh graders not to become discouraged about their grades and return to complete their education in the fall. He suggested the eighth-grade graduates find a high school to attend. My mother, however, must have moved on.
After marrying and having five children, my mother never underestimated the importance of education. My oldest brother graduated from Kulm High School, joined ROTC at NDSU, and served in the air force until he retired. The rest of us were told we HAD to attend one year of college before making decisions on careers, marriage, etc.
I wanted so badly to be an artist like my mom. It's all I ever thought about. It wasn't an option at that time as there was no good to come from a "job" that didn't produce food or children. I tried. I loved photography and did most of the photos for the high school books. It would have changed my life to have had the means and courage to attend the Brooks School of Photography in Ventura, Calif. Like that school and the program I did attend at NDSSS (now NDSCS), it's no longer available. That's maybe a story for next week.
Even after I graduated and left home, my mother never gave up on her education and completed her high school GED somewhere between work and raising my twin brothers, who were eight years younger than me.
Some years back, I wrote a column about my mom and said she only had an eighth-grade education. Well, I got reprimanded heartily for that faux pax. Following in her footsteps, if I don't learn something new each day, I feel I have not accomplished much. Currently, I am working on learning tapestry weaving techniques. Think of that what you may. It's still learning. I suggest you find something to learn until winter melts in spring when we can learn to garden together.
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.