Saturday, November 29, 2008
In another month or so, usually during Christmas vacation, the Park Department will put up the official hockey boards and the official hockey nets—but who can wait until the ice is 100 percent safe and neatly chiseled smooth by the Park Department Zamboni? A few quick cell phone calls, a text message or two—the word is out to bring a couple of shovels, drag two nets out of somebody’s garage—and presto, change-o. Noonan Pond is a hockey rink. All it takes is the sound of one stick smacking on the ice, one puck sailing through the air, and the rink rats start gathering.
They’re dressed in a motley collection of hooded sweatshirts and stocking caps. Usually one hot-blooded showoff is out there in a t-shirt. Somebody parks an old blue Corolla in the street, leaves the door open with a CD blaring Disturb’s “Indestructible,” and the rink rats have heavy metal accompaniment.
Across town at the multi-million dollar indoor hockey facility, coaches hold tryouts. The organized teams in their matching jerseys play at pre-determined times against other teams brought in from neighboring towns in big diesel-burning buses. But at Noonan’s Pond, anybody who is old enough to hold a stick and bold enough to step over the snow ridge on the makeshift rink gets to play.
“The ice is thin!” the authorities warn. “Stay off the ice until the ice is at least four inches thick.” Of course, Noonan’s Pond is knee deep at its deepest; the biggest hazard of falling through is finding yourself up to your knees in goose poop and green algae. But the rink rats don’t mind; their sticks have been taped and their skates have been sharpened since October, just itching for somebody to start a game of pick-up hockey at Noonan’s.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Every fall, local Alexandria residents have generously brought in garden produce to share with the food shelf clients. They bring boxes of apples, sacks of potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, pumpkins—just about every kind of produce gardeners find themselves with too much of in the fall. The food shelf clients gratefully accept all the apples and potatoes and tomatoes—these are foods they know and understand. But they really have trouble taking home the squash.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Traffic has really fallen off on the trail as the weather has gotten colder. People are a little wary of any slick, snow-covered streets and paths. For the most part, they’re hunkered down in their winter mode—maybe just waiting for more snow so they can cross country ski or snowshoe. Or maybe they’ve got a treadmill in the basement or a membership at Any Time Fitness. Maybe they’re those faithful mall walkers, making their round-and-round circuits early in the morning before the mall stores open up at 10 a.m.
But this time of the year, it’s easy to be aware of the other die-hards out there on the trail. We all leave our marks—big feet, little feet, man feet, lady feet, kid feet, dog feet, maybe even a few squirrel feet.
Sunday feet on the Central Lakes Trail
We’re the brother/sisterhood of walkers, and we’ll keep walking the trail until the snowmobilers force us to dive for the bushes.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
On the north edge of the family farm was an old house, about a half mile from the home place, which my grandfather had rented out for 25 years to Martin and Agnes Ugstad. The house was in very bad shape, but Martin was still ‘madder than a hornet’ when he was told he would have to vacate the house and the land he had rented all those years so the newlyweds would have a place to live. He “went on a toot,” according to my parents, and would tell anyone who would listen that he didn’t think it was fair that he had to get out. It was his home, and there were lots of memories there.
It should have been an uneventful trip; but at the last minute, Martin decided he looked a little scruffy. He didn’t want to go to Fergus Falls to the hospital until he had shaved first. So while Harold and Agnes waited, Martin shaved. To make a long story short, a clean-shaven Martin had to deliver his son Olaf in the back seat of Harold’s car on the way to Fergus Falls.
Poor young Harold. In those days, it wasn’t even polite to say the word “pregnant” out loud. After witnessing Agnes’s childbirth and delivering the baby and parents to the hospital, an anguished Harold drove home to the farm. He was so embarrassed about what had happened that he went straight upstairs to his room, shut the door, and wouldn’t come out. And Martin had to pay to have the backseat of Harold’s car reupholstered. It was a costly shave.
So when my parents got married in 1941, Martin and Agnes were forced to make other living arrangements. They borrowed some money and bought a farm west of Carlisle. The owner was ill and needed to sell, so Martin got the farm cheap. The first summer on his new farm, Martin had a huge bumper crop and was able to pay off the farm in one year. It was the first time in his life that Martin had owned his own land instead of renting it. He later sheepishly admitted that my parents’ marriage might have been the best thing that ever happened to him.
Everyone was relieved because Martin had been so furious when he lost his rented house and land to the newlyweds. Ironically, that house that Martin was so mad about losing was in such disrepair that my parents immediately started building a new house (total cost: $4,000) a few hundred feet away. They only lived in Martin and Agnes’s rented house from June to October. In October, they carried their belongings “one dresser drawer at a time” up to their new house. And that’s how that happened 67 years ago.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
After each jerky, smoke-filled session, Tom and I would discuss having the machine repaired or even replacing it because of its high mileage. But then spring came, and the weather warmed up, and we would much rather walk outside anyway. All spring, summer, and fall, the treadmill sat idle in the basement. I think we were hoping it would repair itself, like salamanders that regenerate their tiny limbs when they’ve lost them battling in their little salamander wars.
It’s November now. When the weather took a turn for the worse last week, we reluctantly headed down to the basement to start the winter treadmill routine. But surprise, surprise, time had not healed all wounds. The treadmill would work fine for 20 minutes, then stop, then start in fits and jerks, and finally emit the burning plastic smell, just like it had done last winter.
So it was back to the outside walking. Today when I got home from work, the temperature was 19 degrees—which wouldn’t have been so bad except for the 29 mph NNW wind with gusts over 30 mph and a wind chill temperature of 4 below. I put on my long underwear, my thickest sweatpants, my leather walking shoes, a thick pair of socks, my turtleneck shirt, my fleece vest, my wind jacket, my stocking hat, a chin band, a scarf, my hood—and started out for my walk, whining as I went. It was dark, it was cold—but after I got going, honestly, it really wasn’t that bad.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Bananas on their way to becoming banana bread
I think the reason I fast forwarded “Ten Canoes” last night was because after I turned 60, I’ve started noticing the brown freckles on my own banana skin, and I suspect that some of my fruit inside is going to mush. So much to do, so little time. Ergo, the decision to fast forward through a movie that’s taking just a little too much of the precious time I have left—before I go to that big banana bread in the sky.
Note: Although everyone who turns 60 tends to philosophize more, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the philosophy will be wise and deep. It might just be looking at banana skin freckles in a new, slightly near-sighted way.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
“Oh, please,” I pray to Saint Ufdah, the Norwegian patron saint of broken dishware and other minor tragedies, “please don’t let me be the one to break Mrs. Skogen’s bowl and plate.”
When my parents moved from their home to a smaller apartment in 1999, my four sisters and brother and I divided up family treasures that my parents couldn’t fit into their much smaller space. I was fortunate enough to get a cut glass serving bowl and plate that were on the table at every family holiday I can ever remember when I was growing up.
Along with my new ownership of the cut glass bowl and plate came the enormous, self-imposed responsibility of keeping them safe. The dishes had been in our family since June 13, 1941, a wedding gift given to my parents by my mother’s family’s neighbors, the Skogens. The fact that the Skogens truly did not have two nickels to rub together and could not afford such a beautiful wedding gift made it all the more special.
Even in a rural Norwegian community like Carlisle, where everyone farmed and everyone belonged to Hedemarken Lutheran Church, prosperity did not come equally to all. Some of the farms around Carlisle were rich and fertile, but Skogen’s farm was small and filled with sloughs. Mr. Skogen struggled to make a living for his family. With three children already, Mrs. Skogen’s impending delivery just meant another mouth at his supper table and one less piece of potato lefse on his own plate.
When Mrs. Evjen, Carlisle’s official midwife, was summoned in the middle of the night, she could tell right away it would not be an ordinary birth. Mrs. Skogen was about to deliver twins and the Mrs. Evjen would need help. My grandmother Emma, who lived on the next farm, was quickly summoned. Emma was not a midwife—just a former one-room school teacher with six children of her own. But she had a knack for handling newborns—and with two new babies, Mrs. Evjen would need help.
When Emma arrived at the Skogens, half awake and out of breath, she was immediately aware that something unique was happening. In the tiny one-bedroom Skogen house, there was no private bedroom for the births to take place. Mrs. Skogen lay in labor in the same room where her three older children were sleeping.
Throughout the night, Mrs. Skogen bravely endured the labor and birth of her twins in absolute silence, concerned the entire time about not waking her other three children. The three women worked silently together as a team, and finally two healthy babies were delivered.
When Mrs. Evjen broke the news to the father about the twins, poor Mr. Skogen, without a Hollywood script to read, ensuring that his words would be compassionate and fatherly, sighed and uttered the words that were in his Norwegian-farmer heart: “I’d rather it would have been a bin of calves.”
In addition to the five Skogen children in this story, a sixth girl was born later. According to my mother, all the Skogen kids grew up and “made something of themselves.” Emma would probably tell you that the children’s success was due to their good, brave mother. She would have given very little credit to the father who would have rather had calves.
So in 1941, when my mother opened the wedding gift containing the beautiful cut glass bowl and plate from the Skogens, she assumed that somehow it was a ‘thank you’ to her mother, Emma. Mrs. Skogen was acknowledging that silent team of women who worked to bring two more babies into the world while not waking the children sleeping on the next bed.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Post-apocalyptic times are desperate times for meat-eaters. The stark, burned-out landscape isn’t conducive to raising cows and chickens, I guess. So in a scarred, crumbling neighborhood, the residents of one apartment building, with a delicatessen at the street level, have found an answer of sorts. They run a continual ad for a “handyman”—free room and board included—attracting a steady supply of applicants. However, after a few days, the handyman becomes the Meat D’Jour for the residents, courtesy of the delicatessen butcher.
The cast of characters includes the butcher’s lonely cello-playing daughter; a family of five including a bickering couple, two mischievous boys, and a deaf old mother-in-law; a formerly wealthy man and his chronically suicidal wife; two brothers who make cow-moo noisemakers in their apartment; a diabolical postman; the snail-eater in the basement; and troglodytes in the sewers.
The hero of the movie is the down-on-his-luck, out-of-work, gentle-hearted clown who answers the ad for the handyman and becomes the latest potential victim—unless the butcher’s cello-playing daughter can figure out a plan to save him with the help of the grain-eating, sewer-dwelling troglodytes.
Delicatessen is an older film—1991—directed by the same man who directed Amelie that I wrote about back on May 23 because I loved the movie so much. I hope it doesn’t mean that I’m losing my mental faculties when I am suddenly attracted to odd, quirky French movies with English subtitles. I think it just means I’ve been married to the little Frenchman too long.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Yesterday morning, I decided to recreate our Mediterranean experience by making a batch of chilled blueberry soup. We had it for dinner last night, and here’s the recipe (yes, I realize it was a 28-degree November day in Alexandria, Minnesota, and all the ingredients were out of season).
Step 1: Change into a lavender-colored shirt.
Step 2: Mix a 16-ounce bag of frozen blueberries, 3 cups of water, ½ cup sugar or Splenda, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. salt, and 2 T. lemon juice into a one-quart saucepan.
Step 3: Bring this mixture to a gentle boil (NOTE: A vigorous boil will send the blueberries plopping and exploding all over the stove—and all over your lavender shirt). Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Step 5: After you have pureed the blueberry mixture, pour it carefully into a big bowl, cover, and chill for several hours. (NOTE: The pureed blueberry mixture has a tendency to have a backwash tidal wave reaction if poured too quickly. Blueberries will leave stains on your formica countertop, your porcelain sink, and your lavender shirt if not scoured immediately.)
Step 6: Before serving, blend in 2 cups of plain or blueberry yogurt. (NOTE: If you are a vigorous stirrer, you may want to continue wearing your lavender shirt during this step.)
Step 7: Ladle the soup into bowls and enjoy the fruits of your labor. (NOTE: You may want to continue wearing your lavender shirt during dinner in case you are prone to shirtfront dribbling when you eat soup.)
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
On the day of my little granddaughter’s birth in December, I will put on my brand new pink t-shirt that announces I am the “New Grandma.” And I will put on my brand new grandmother’s necklace sporting the very first of (I hope) many little baby rings, this one with a December birthstone.
It doesn’t matter what is happening the day the baby is born: wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, or an invitation to Barack Obama's inaugural ball. Whatever I’m doing and wherever I’m going, the “New Grandma” t-shirt and grandmother necklace are the dress of the day. I’ve got them all laid out, ready to go. Like I said: got my bling, got my threads. I’m ready to be a grandma.
Monday, November 03, 2008
It could be snowing (in fact, we did have a snow squall on Sunday, October 26, but it all melted again). It could be blowing 30 miles an hour out of the northwest, a good ol’ Alberta clipper—or straight out of the north from Hudson Bay, up near the Arctic Circle.
But it’s not. We’ve had four days in a row of balmy fall weather—and Tom and I have logged around 15 miles on the Central Lakes Trail in those four days. It’s true, the leaves are mostly gone. All that’s left are a few hanger-on-er leaves that are too stubborn to blow away and will probably last the winter.
Balmy November Saturday on the Central Lakes Trail west of Alexandria.
I feel nostalgic right now. If it were to snow a foot (which it could legitimately do any day), the countryside has prepared itself. The final colors of a beautiful October have faded and gone—the reds, oranges, yellows, and maroons have fallen into soggy brown piles under the trees. The trail still has a beauty of its own, but right now, it looks like it’s just waiting, bracing itself for winter. That’s when the snowmobilers take over the trail, revving their noisy engines as they fly down the trail, the scenery whizzing by at warp speed.
I think of the Central Lakes Trail as a live entity; and in my mind, I believe the trail much prefers its spring, summer, and fall users—the walkers and the runners and the bikers—to its noisy winter users.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
Or maybe the urgency isn’t because of the deceased parishioner. Maybe the bars are for the mourners as part of the grieving process—you know, the eight stages of grief: SHOCK & DENIAL; PAIN & GUILT; ANGER & BARGAINING;DEPRESSION and LONELINESS; UPWARD TURN; WORKING THROUGH; ACCEPTANCE & HOPE; and THE FINAL STAGE, HEALING THROUGH BARS.
So it’s a call to action when the phone rings and the chairperson of the funeral lunch committee urgently requests two dozen bars in a disposable container (no glass or aluminum 9 x 13 cake pans, please, as they just pile up in the church kitchen). What will it be this time? scotcheroos? turtle brownies? caramel dream bars? lemon delites? What recipe will help the family cope better?
That’s our Christian mission: Make those bars and get ‘em to the church on time. If we do, perhaps the mourners’ grief will be lessened as they munch on krispie marshmallow squares in the church basement following the graveside service.