Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring around the farm

It is a good thing that I love spring. We have had it at least four times this year, so far. One of these days it will stick. No, really, I am sure of it. Look at the signs! The nuthatches are trying to fatten up for nesting season.
The ice went off the ponds last week and there is life coming back to them. This guy was out for a swim.
There are still some reminders of what was just recently waiting for us outside. Here is snow in the woods and snow in a protected (from the sun) corner of a pasture.

Sadly, I found what we had called "the mother of all birches" fell over this winter. She had been clinging to life and giving shelter and life to so many for so long. She was about 12 feet in circumference, but not too tall, and she stubbornly clung to life. We watched that struggle for well over twenty years, but now it is time for her to nourish the next generation. Her broken stump is about 10 feet (three meters) tall.

 Recently we have had nearly summer-like temperatures, but a cold front swings in two days later and we wake up to this:
It's a sobering slap in the face. At least it melts within a few days. The buds on the trees are starting to swell up and the rest of the vegetation is showing some green and other signs of life after six months of dormancy.

Very soon I go off to language camp again where I can work on my Norwegian language skills and hang out with the other kids who range in age from about 18 to 85. If the ice is out on that lake I am hoping the loons will serenade me to sleep with their haunting song. There are miles of trails there so I can walk off all the delicious food we get to eat.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Smashing Pottery

It has been a quiet couple of weeks here in Lake Wobegon Grand Marais. The snow and ice are melting and the birds are trickling in from their wintering grounds. Everything is brown and gray except the evergreen trees and sometimes the sky, but mostly brown and gray and squishy.

I saw an ad on our local Facebook sell and swap page. It was put there by my pottery instructor from last fall and read

ISO Potters who want to get rid of some ugly pots. 4 p.m. Sat, at Betsy Bowen's pottery slam!!!
FREE - Grand Marais, MN

We're going to smash them outside Betsy's at the Poetry and Pottery Slam. Free! Fun!
ISO Potters who want to get rid of some ugly pots. 4 p.m. Sat, at Betsy Bowen's pottery slam!!!
I thought this might be fun so I went and found a few items that I couldn't give away and an unfinished item from the Art Colony.
I got there just before 4 and there were a few people gathering outside the residential gallery. Apparently, the poetry reading and hors d'oeuvres had already happened mostly, but I was just there to get rid of some junk. My instructor and another local potter had bought a fair amount of items and there were some odds and ends from that studio. About a dozen people were there for the fun.

There is a very large rock, about 5'x5' x10 exposed above ground and it looked like a fine target to hit. Before I go any farther, let me just say that I have never had a strong throwing arm. It's good for a lot of other things, but throwing was never a strong point. Well, I don't want to brag, but I looked like a Major League Baseball pitcher compared to everyone else. From about 15 feet away that isn't very difficult. Fortunately, one of the other potter's brought a small hammer to finish off pieces that were just wounded or had survived intact.

A good time was had by all and I hope the remains of the shards found there way to a new mosaic project. A five gallon bucket full was all that was left.

I stole this picture from Joan, my instructor.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Everyone Knows it's Windy

A week or two ago we had a bit of wind. Gale force wind, actually, with gusts up to 66mph (106kph) and sustained winds that put us at a full gale. I did not go out in the worst of it because I have responsibilities, but I still like a good show and minimal risk.

As I recall it started on an otherwise pretty nice day with temperatures slightly above freezing. The temperature dropped below freezing overnight and stayed there for over a week. There was a little ice buildup around the shore that stayed for most of that week.

It started off easy with the lake starting to get riled up.

Even the harbor couldn't hold back all of it and our downtown area got a little wet. That was on the way to work in the morning. Later, after work, I went to the Rec Park to see how things were progressing.

 A few more shots around the harbor.

  Aftermath. There was English 101. Sorry.

Around the harbor nearly a week later.

 That is a cropped shot of the one above it.
It was really difficult to attempt to walk on that ice and I'm not as graceful when falling down as I used to be. I used to be able to say, "I did that on purpose," and folks would believe me. Now when that happens I moan and groan as soon as I regain consciousness and folks ask if they should call an ambulance. It depends on the size of the pool of blood, I guess.

Stopping on the way home from work to look at the remnants of the wind and spray was worthwhile, too.

Just another week along the shores of Gitchigumi.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ada Marie

Ada Marie died on March 2nd, just a couple of weeks ago. She was 92. I never got to meet her. In fact this was the first time I had heard her name and was never sure of her existence. Frankly, I never thought about it much. If it ever came up in a conversation, it was only with my brother on rare occasions.

She was born on the 9th of November in 1925 to Hanna Maria Olsen, an unmarried 26 year old factory worker.  The father was listed as a married electrician named Adalsten who was my grandfather and already the father of two sons.  I have no idea how this was looked upon in Norway at that time or how it was looked on by Klara, his wife and my grandmother. Maybe it was a big deal and maybe it wasn’t and it doesn’t matter now. 

This means I had an aunt that I never got to know which makes me sad.  She apparently had some siblings, not by my grandfather, and three children who I now get to add as cousins. To me this is a very cool thing. I believe they live in the Trondheim area in Norway, a beautiful place that I have only been to on one occasion for a few days a long time ago. I found one on Facebook and sent her a message, but it doesn’t appear that she is very active on Facebook, so I won’t hold my breath. Her name is Elin. She has two brothers, Johnny and Øystein.

I will try to find them and try gently to get a hold of them. I don’t know how much they know about the past and it has only been a couple of weeks since the death of their mother, so I need to be sensitive I think. 

How did I find out about all this? A guy named Tom sent me a note through telling me of the passing of the daughter of his wife’s grandaunt, Hanna Maria. He apparently does some genealogy as a hobby and also gave me some links from farther back in the Norwegian archives which got me back at least another generation. 

I recognized Tom’s last name from something, but couldn’t remember what. I asked the mighty Google and realized that Tom’s granduncle mushed the final leg of the serum run to Nome back in 1925 which is the basis for the Iditarod sled dog race of today. One of my former neighbors is the Race Director/Race Marshall of the Iditarod. Tom also has some relatives that live about 90 miles farther down the coast of Lake Superior from me. Degrees of separation? Not many.

I need to figure out how to tell my Norwegian cousins, assuming they don’t know any of this, and attempt contact with my new cousins. Maybe this will make one bigger happy family or just fizzle out, I don’t know, but I will do my part and see what happens. Coincidentally (or was it?), I just renewed my passport last week and I just found out about all this two days ago, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. I still can’t figure out where my 11% Irish DNA comes from.

What do you think of that? 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ask The Bones

For a long time I wanted a crystal ball. When I started to research buying one I found that good quality, i.e. one that is large and really works, was going to cost a lot of money. Even on EBay. Of the many things I have, money is not one of them. I thought about Tarot Cards and even a Ouija Board, but they don’t connect me to the spirit world in a meaningful way. I needed a more effective way to contact the other side for assistance on occasion.

I finally got a chance to consult our local Oracle, who has third eye capabilities, about my dilemma.  She knew of my Viking background (I had never told her anything, she just knew!) and asked me if I understood the Runes. With great embarrassment I said that I did not. She explained to me that I am a man in touch with the earthly in a very good way and suggested that I look for something in the forest or on the ground that would put me in touch with the other realm.

A few weeks later, while out walking in my pastures to inspect the fences, I saw something on top of a knoll where the horses often grazed or slept in the sun. It was something kind of white and I got down looking closer at the small object. It was a bone. As I took a better look I found many small bones or bone remnants. I picked up a pocketful and went back to the barn where I laid them out on top of a box. They were fairly clean and distinct, but I didn’t know what type of animal they could have come from. They had been found hundreds of yards from any building or any old building site that I knew about in the neighborhood.  There isn’t much to know as the neighborhood has only been settled by white people for less than one hundred and fifty years and there is no evidence of permanent structures much before 1900.

I kept these bones in a coffee mug and forgot about them for the most part. Once in a while, however, I would need to know the answer to a question. Remembering the advice of the Oracle I was told that I would have much better luck asking questions and seeking answers for others rather than myself. This was especially useful in finding lost objects. A few times a year I would try to do this. I would gently shake the bones and pour them out gently on a flat surface.

Flash forward about fifteen years. 

I kept the bones at work in order to answer customer’s questions. “When will my left-handed smoke shifter arrive?” I know about how long it takes, but when things travel by common carrier to an area that isn’t well-serviced it is a guess as to exactly when. I usually tell them, “I’ll ask the bones,” and they realize that there is no way within reason to find out and it is not usually necessary to know the exact date and time of arrival. 

A few weeks ago my friend Jim, along with his seven year old grandson, came in to the store with the intent of buying a few boards for a small project. We usually check with each other to see how things are going in our lives as well as taking care of the task at hand. It seems the grandson had lost a jacket the previous day and they had been out on Artist’s Point and a few other places looking for it. Apparently, it was a favorite piece of clothing so I told Jim and his grandson that I would ask the bones. I went into my office, got the bone cup and shook it gently. I carefully threw the contents to a spot on the floor and took a look at the pattern. The grandson was intrigued. I asked him, “Were you playing near a shed at your grandparent’s home yesterday?” He nodded yes and I said, “Hmmm… Is there and old well near there?” He nodded yes again and said, “Uh-huh.”  I said, “The bones are telling me that is where you left your jacket.” His eyes got big and he looked hopefully at his grandfather who then looked at me and said, “Susan (his wife) called, didn’t she?” I replied, “About fifteen minutes before you arrived and told me the story and where she found the jacket.” He chuckled, but the grandson was still looking at us in awe and amazement. He was still excited as they left to get their lumber and go home to retrieve the jacket. 

Isn’t it amazing how an old bearded guy with a cup of bones and working in a lumber yard can be a convincing wizard to a seven year old boy?    

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


We recently lost a fellow blogger and friend, Jacqueline of Cranky Bar, to a severe stroke earlier this month. She had great taste in music and often showed me food porn, which as you know, gets me pretty hot and drooly in a hurry. I can be ready to eat at a moment's notice.

My mother, whose name was also Jacqueline, died shortly after my third birthday, so I'm not a real fan of death especially when a Jacqueline is involved.

While Jacqueline and her family had health issues, as we all seem to at this age, she never seemed to let it really get her down. She would note it and often joke about it, but it didn't seem to effect her joy in the little things of daily life. Her wonderful words, thoughts, photos, and observations of the world around her were unique and entertaining and I will miss her.

My friend Robyn is better at celebrating a life than I am. It just takes me longer to get there, but I do get there after the initial sadness passes. Check out her blog for a more upbeat read and links to others who are  also celebrating the life of Jacqueline. Did I say I will miss her?  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Immigrant story

She was as dark as a coffee bean with skin as smooth as glass. Her parents named her Hani, meaning happy, as she almost always had a smile. She was tall and graceful and usually wore a guntiino that flowed with her movement and accentuated her elegance.

Hani would often be seen waiting for the bus to downtown as we all lived in the lake area in Minneapolis, although a generation later many newly-arrived Somali immigrants would tend to live more in the Cedar-Riverside area. The time I speak of was the late 1970s. The bus stop was where I met her as we both worked downtown, even though I drove several days of the week. I always admired her headscarves of which she seemed to have many, but I finally overcame my shyness in order to say more than good morning to her. She also seemed a bit shy, but also confident and self-assured. I tried not to ask too many questions so as not to intrude on her life too much, but my curiosity was piqued by this exotic woman.  It didn’t take much to be exotic in South Minneapolis as we all seemed to be fair complexioned Northern European types so Hani stood out in the neighborhood. I was surprised to find out that she was an attorney, fresh out of law school and specializing in immigrant law. This also brought up many questions from me as my parents had been immigrants to this country a few years after the Second World War. 

We got to know each other better over a few months and I was invited to a party at her house a few blocks away.  I had no idea what to expect that Saturday afternoon knowing that she still lived with her parents. I had no idea what they would be like so I focused to be on my best behavior with my best respectful manners. I was greeted at the front door by Hani’s father, Maxamed, who met me with a big smile and warm handshake. He put me immediately at ease with his openness and introduced me to his wife, Ladan. I knew immediately where Hani’s exquisite beauty came from. I recognized the faint aroma of Frankincense from my old hippie days and felt amazingly relaxed in this home.
Hani’s parents had come to the U.S. in the mid 1960s a few years after Somali Independence from the Italians, French, and British. They wanted stability for their small family and chose to come to Minneapolis with their young children. Maxamed (one who is worthy), was a civil engineer and apparently quite good at designing infrastructural needs for future use. He had secured a teaching position at the university and was loved by his students for his insight and informality. He was often referred to as “Professor Max”.  

As more guests arrived and the party grew we gravitated to the backyard. While Max led me through their home we went by a slightly open door revealing Hani with her hair uncovered. I barely recognized her. We went out the back door and into the yard which was surrounded by a tall, solid fence. This had added mystery to these immigrants’ lives, but was in place when they bought the house and offered some privacy from nosy neighbors. 

Hani entered the backyard with her thick, black, wavy hair draped well past her shoulders. Her natural grace and beauty always turned heads, yet she was always humble and kind. She was very at ease and mixed easily with the guests, many of whom she seemed to already know.  
It was an interesting and eclectic bunch of guests at the party. Students and staff from the university, many from other parts of the world, as well as a few people I recognized from the neighborhood. There was no alcohol being served for those who might find it offensive, although the hosts seemed quite secular, but those of you who know me at all will know that I was there for the food. I was not disappointed.

Some of the appetizers were wonderful. I remember one called sambusa that was a spicy little triangular shaped snack, as well as kabaab, tropical fruits, and some hot dipping sauces. I was in taste bud heaven! There were chicken, rice, and pasta dishes that Hani and her mother had made that were spiced a little differently than what I was used to, but it was all delicious.  I did need a fair amount of liquid to cool it all down. 

These were regular parties, about one every other month and I managed to get to most of them. I got to know Hani and her family better and found out how supportive they were of the immigrant population of the Twin Cities. They were always there to help people adapt to the culture of their new country without forgetting the old and Hani taught English to non-native speakers once a week at the downtown YMCA.

I moved away from the neighborhood a year or two later to get on with the next part of my life, but never forgot my old neighbors and old neighborhood. Last I heard, Hani was working at the university supporting, counseling, and advising foreign students.


This was inspired by some Somali women I observed at a hospital near the University of Minnesota while my brother was having a procedure last year.  They were jaw-droppingly beautiful in appearance and I found myself wishing to talk to them. When my father, Otto, attended North Carolina State University for graduate studies he had an advisor, Professor Hank Rutherford, with whom he stayed in contact until the professor’s death. He told me stories about the foreign student parties and gatherings at the professor’s house and about his other foreign student friends. One of these friends was his roommate, Steve Yang, who taught my father some basic conversational Mandarin. I also have an old roommate who practices immigrant law in an advisory capacity at the University of Minnesota.

I have this daydream of visiting Twin City’s restaurants trying a different cuisine every day until I run out of places to eat. I know that I better start soon. My parents were immigrants and I love immigration stories as well as meeting people from all over the world. I don’t get enough of it, but do the best I can when I can. If you have the opportunity go eat an exotic or ethnic meal and think of me when you do. I’ll be there with you in spirit.