Many years ago, and perhaps even a few more than many, I was a 1970’s teenager. Back in those days, the hair style for many of us was straight, parted in the middle, and freshly shampooed. Sometimes getting it straight involved rolling it up in repurposed frozen orange juice cans pinned with bobby pins. Quite a difference from my mother’s generation of rolled up tight pin curls and covered with a bandanna or the 1960’s bouffant and heavily sprayed beehives. Sometimes, I washed my hair twice a day so it would be just right. My shampoo was not my mother’s Prell concentrate that squirted like jelly out of a tube, but something that smelled of things other than just plain clean with names like Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific or Herbal Essence. With two teenage girls in the house, I’m sure we went through a lot of shampoo. I remember my sister and I taking turns choosing the latest scent or flavor. Speaking of flavors, some of the shampoos sounded good enough to eat or drink, with names such as Earth Born Apricot, Body on Tap, which was made with beer, and Lemon Up, which supposedly had the juice of a whole lemon in it. Even though I was a blonde, I heard that lemon juice would make my hair blonder, so one summer I squirted lemon juice in my hair every day and sat out in the sun. When that didn’t work, I surreptitiously (because my mother told me not to) sprayed Sun In or Lemon-Go-Lightly (I can’t remember which) in my hair and sat in the sun, bleaching it just a tiny shade lighter, thinking Mom wouldn’t notice. She did. There was a shampoo called Long and Silky, and another, probably from the same marketing genius, called Short and Sassy. The length of my hair was somewhere in between, so I bought both. I remember a brand called Agree that “stopped the greasies” and when my parents’ house sold, I found a bright pink flower-power bottle of Young ‘N Free in the back of a cabinet that was so 70’s kitsch that I had to laugh out loud. If we wanted something different, it was Bright Side or Protein 21, but if we wanted simple, it was plain old Johnson’s Baby Shampoo or Love’s Baby Soft Shampoo. Love’s Baby Soft had a body spray also, so when we weren’t smelling like a fruit salad, many of us walked around smelling like babies’ behinds. Charlie’s Angels, whose actresses were known for their lovely shiny hair, advertised Faberge shampoo, and the Angel with the hair we all wanted, Farrah Fawcett, even had a shampoo of her own, coincidently called Farrah Fawcett Shampoo. I’m pretty sure that with that gorgeous head of hair she sold plenty of the stuff, but that is one shampoo that I never bought, probably knowing that with my fine, thin Scandinavian hair it would be futile to even give it a try. Since I lived right across the street from the high school, I would get up at the very last minute, wash my hair in the kitchen sink, and run out the door with wet hair. During the winter months, my hair would freeze solid by the time I got there. It may have been frozen, but it was squeaky clean and gee, it did smell terrific!
We finally finished the last stage of our remodeling project, and the house is done…for now. If you own your own home, and/or if you have a wife, you know that house projects are never really ever finished. I hate to sound like one of those women on the house-hunting television shows who want to gut everything and start over, but from the minute we bought this house, I’ve hated the kitchen floor. It was white vinyl and showed every crumb and spot. To make matters worse, the week we moved in, we put a big glaring scratch right in the middle of the floor while moving the fridge. After seven years, it was time for it to go. Since we were replacing the laundry room flooring, I wanted the adjoining kitchen to match. My son-in-law did the installation while HE was outside finishing the trim in this seemingly never-ending project that we started early this summer. The final step in completing the floor, which took a couple of trips to Home Depot to find the right supplies, was the installation of matching strips of vinyl for a smooth transition between the new floor and the hardwood floor abutting it. I was the assistant, holding the strip so HE could apply the special adhesive to the back. Not too hard, right? It looked terrific, so I stood there and admired our handiwork for a few minutes. All was right with the world…until I tried to take a step and couldn’t move my foot. Apparently, a drop of adhesive had splashed and I stepped in it. Make that two drops of adhesive, because both of my feet were firmly glued to the floor. Thank goodness for chilly Minnesota weather, because I was wearing my socks, because without them, I would have probably needed a skin graft. Try as I might, I couldn’t get loose, so I had to step out of my socks and cut them off the floor. If you ever come for coffee, look for two little circles of black cloth on my new floor, right by the pantry door. We tried ice, soap, alcohol, and vinegar, but could not get it off. I would not let HIM apply adhesive remover to the floor, lest it cause even more damage. I figure it will wear off eventually. It is a small reminder that we can work together on a big project and complete it without even one argument and only a minimal amount of eye-rolling. Besides, it is really nice to finally be done with everything. Maybe. With that beautiful laundry room and shiny new kitchen floor, the cupboards are looking a little shabby, and the guest bathroom could use a little bit of an update…
If I were to tell you that I ate a dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, creamed corn, and apple pie with ice cream, you would most likely applaud my delicious choices, except for the creamed corn part, of course. Yet if I were to tell you that I gave up sugar, all grains, and most fruits, your eyes would bulge out of your head and you would incredulously say “WHAT?? You don’t eat SUGAR?” No, I don’t eat sugar. “You don’t eat FRUIT?? You don’t drink MILK?? That’s not healthy!” I do eat fruit in small amounts, and it is usually berries. I don’t eat potatoes, either, **GASP** and I survived. Potatoes used to be my favorite food. In fact, I’m very healthy, but thank you for worrying about me. I gave up sugar and most carbohydrates (foods that convert to sugar in our bodies) one year ago, to fight an autoimmune disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis. I won’t go into the gory details, but let me just say that RA is NOT your grandmother’s arthritis. At first, I thought I would try this way of eating for three months to see if it helped, and here I am a year later, not feeling perfect, but feeling better. Was it easy? Oh, heck no. It was every bit as hard as when I gave up smoking 13 years ago. Maybe even harder, as nicotine is not found in almost everything we eat, but sugar is. Sugar is very addicting and tastes good, which is why the food manufacturers add it to their products. They’re tricky with those additives, too. They don’t usually call it sugar. They call it dextrose, maltose, glucose, fructose, or any of those big -ose words. They may call it dehydrated cane juice, maltodextrin, corn syrup, turbinado, or sorghum. Even something that sounds healthy, such as fruit juice concentrate or organic honey is just another sugar. I always read food labels, mainly for the fat, sodium, and calorie content, but used to pay little attention to anything else. I was surprised, to say the least, at what I saw. I now mainly shop the perimeters of the grocery store, getting fresh meats, cheese, and lower carb veggies. I try to get local foods, but that can be difficult in northern Minnesota in the winter. I eat out of my garden and enjoy the eggs from my chickens. I learned that fats are not the evil things we once thought they were, and I now have a splash of cream in my coffee and eat bacon and eggs for breakfast a couple of times a week without guilt. The FDA hasn’t quite caught up with this, but I’ve learned not to pay attention to the FDA any more. They’re the ones who told me to eat less fat and more carbs. I’ve been able to cut back on medications and have lost weight. I’m not hungry and best of all, I lost my cravings for sweets. If you happen to see me in the grocery store, (and I know you are looking in my cart and see those chips), please be aware that HE and I make different food choices without judgement toward each other. Don’t ask me what shake or diet pill I’m selling, because I’m not selling or taking either one. I’m not telling this story because I am the Pied Piper of Farm Women and expect to have you follow everything I do. Follow your health practitioner’s suggestions. Make the food choices that are right for you. Eat all the sugar you want, but before you speak out loud about what someone else is eating, be aware that everyone has their own battles to fight and their own choices to make. Keep your eyes on your own plate. I won’t judge you for eating creamed corn if you don’t judge me for my divorce from sugar and my new true love: Bacon.
Apparently, the world of television is looking for Norwegian-Americans to take part in a reality TV show. Contestants on “The Great Norway Adventure” will travel to Norway, meet their relatives, and compete in different challenges. One of the rules is that you must have Norwegian blood coursing through your veins, even if it is just a tiny bit. I have heard through my own family grapevine that our ancestors didn’t want to thin the Norse blood, so to speak, by marrying anyone that wasn’t Norwegian. My great-grandfather must have been quite the rebel, because he married someone that was Norwegian and Danish. Their son, my grandfather, married a Finn, so my blood has thinned to a little less than 25%, but my maiden name of Quaal is about as Norwegian as Norwegian names can get. I don’t plan on travelling to Minneapolis next week for the tryouts, however. It’s not that I am afraid of becoming the next Kardashian and I would love to meet my Norwegian relatives, but I’m just a little afraid at what reality TV considers a “challenge”. I grew up with plenty of Scandinavian traditional foods such as sursild (pickled herring), viili (stringy Finnish yogurt) and hardtack, so I am not afraid of ethnic foods, even if they are a little strange. You are probably thinking that I would turn up my nose at Norway’s beloved lutefisk, since I have written before about my dislike for this traditional seafood dish. I am telling you truthfully that I would happily eat a whole plate of baked lutefisk with boiled potatoes, butter, and cream sauce and even ask for seconds as long as I didn’t have to eat rakefisk, which sounds like lutefisk’s evil stepmother. Rakefisk is a salted raw fish, fermented in its own aromatic juices for at least three months and up to a year. It is then served as is, without cooking, probably to nobody but unsuspecting reality TV contestants vying for a $50,000 prize. I would think the smell alone would send me running in the opposite direction. I could probably be persuaded to nibble on a few reindeer ribs or eat a bowl of mutton stew, but absolutely, positively would not be interested in smalahov, which is a smoked lamb’s head. At least it is cooked and hopefully, less than a year old. I could hold my own with the Norwegian relatives when it came to lefse. Before I gave up eating carbs, it was one of my favorite foods. Since my mother was Swedish, (apparently, my father was a rebel like his father and grandfather before him) she didn’t make this delicious Norwegian flatbread from scratch, so I took lefse lessons a few years ago and even have my own griddle. How many reality TV stars would know what to do with a lefse stick? As I was looking up interesting facts about the land of my ancestors, I learned that even though they are stoic, hard-working churchgoers, Norwegians are also known to dress very casually and even wear their bathing suits while they are out shopping during the summer months. That’s when I knew I was out of the running for the TV show. No way, no how, no matter what. I would rather eat the rakefisk than be seen in public wearing a bathing suit. Pass the fermented fish, please. While you’re at it, pass the bottle of akevitt (aquavit) liquor. I don’t think I could have one without the other.
If you are interested in becoming the next reality TV star, the casting call will be at the Executive Center of the Mall of America on Sunday, November 8 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Questions? O’Connor Casting Co. email@example.com Good luck!
Now about those ghosts. I’m sure they’re here and I’m not half so alarmed at meeting up with any of them as I am at having to meet the live nuts I have to see every day. ~Bess Truman
There must be ghosts around this house. I’m not talking about Barney the Chihuahua’s midnight barking at noises only he can hear or hiding his bones under my pillow so they will be safe from bone stealers. I’m talking about the things that get moved around and perhaps even disappear off the face of the earth. Whenever I put socks in the washer and dryer, I almost always end up with an odd sock, only to have it turn up the next laundry day. Explain that, would you please? Two weeks ago, I bought a small jar of pumpkin pie spice at the grocery store. That stuff isn’t cheap, either. I remember unpacking it, but it was nowhere to be found an hour later. I looked high and low for several days and finally gave up and bought another jar. Guess what? Now there are TWO jars of pumpkin pie spice in my cupboard. I could start baking, but there’s not enough sugar even though I SWEAR I had a bag. At least I think I did. These ghosts are making me doubt my sanity. The pumpkin pie spice is probably with the missing mayonnaise. Both of us looked through the pantry more than once because we were certain that there was a jar of mayonnaise in there somewhere. I always keep an extra jar of mayonnaise, but for some reason, it was nowhere to be found. There is now a new key holder near the back door because my car keys were mysteriously being moved. They were never where I left them. Never. Ever. HE wasn’t much help. When I asked him if he had seen my keys he always said, “They’re probably right where you left them.” Thanks, Honey. Thanks a bunch. The ghosts are moving my phone, too. Sometimes I have to dial my own phone number just to be able to find it. That, too, is never where I remember leaving it last. If there were any doubts at all that there are spirits around here I have the absolute proof, and it is something that is happening more and more frequently the older I get. With apologies to the person who said it first and I wish I would have thought of it: Sometimes, when I open my mouth, my mother comes out. At sixteen, I would have been horrified. At thirty, I would have cringed. The spookiest, strangest part of all is that now I don’t mind it one bit. In fact, every time it happens it makes me smile. I’m turning into my mother, and I don’t even need a costume.
One of the Halloween highlights when I was growing up in the 1970’s was a visit to The Witch’s house. Helen Olson lived in a very spooky house on the south end of town. We lived on the north side of town, but since the town parents rarely drove their kids around our community in those days, we walked the mile or two, hitting up every house along the way for treats. We weren’t too much for tricks, at least none that I will admit to. My friends and I carried pillowcases to hold our goodies, and were often stopped by friends along the way to compare the amount of candy we had and to steer each other in the direction of the houses giving the best or the most treats. Although we mostly got candy, I do remember getting an occasional apple or homemade popcorn ball. In northern Minnesota, we might have decent weather the last day of October, but more likely there would be cold or snow. Young girls in more southern states could perhaps be an angel or a fairy princess, but I was more likely to be dressed up in my dad’s old World War II army jacket, one time even carrying a BB gun along as a prop. Rain, sleet, or snow, Helen was dressed to the hilt, looking and talking just like a witch, complete with a giant cauldron. She was delightfully ghastly. Even as teenagers, we half believed that she was a real witch. My daughter grew up in the 1990’s, and unlike me, could be a fairy princess if she wanted because we lived in Florida. We parents drove or walked with our kids everywhere for safety reasons, and always made a trip to the local witch’s house, a gingerbread Victorian in an older neighborhood. Kitty’s house came complete with a real skeleton in the dining room when it WASN’T Halloween. She would spend all week decorating her yard and all afternoon on her clothes and makeup. She looked frightening even to me, and I knew her. She would have various friends and family helping her scare the hundreds of children who came to visit, each one getting a treat and a stern warning never to use drugs. The only mishap was when her adult daughter painted herself with red paint to simulate blood and didn’t realize until much later that she used an oil-based lacquer that didn’t wash off with water. Oops. Both of these ladies spent hours of their time and certainly much of their own money scaring and at the same time delighting generations of children. Helen passed away several years ago, and I’m not sure if Kitty is still up to her tricks and treats, but I know that if you were to call either one of them a witch at any time of the year, they would take it as a compliment and thank you for remembering. We do, Witches, we certainly do. We remember, and we thank you.
But they’re not. Ladybugs, I mean. They’re some type of Asian beetle that is the evil twin of the sweet garden-friendly ladybug, and these doppelgänger dive bomb anything that moves and sometimes even bite. Yesterday morning, I saw just a few. Last evening, there were many more. Today there are hundreds of the little buggers flying around and covering the house, with some of them managing to find their way inside. How, I don’t know. I feel creepy and crawly just thinking about them. I could wish for a hard freeze to kill them off, except that our October weather is much too beautiful to wish for anything other that exactly what the good Lord blessed us with. It is so warm that I got overheated this afternoon while working out in the garden. It was either that or I just got over excited by finding a cucumber, some basil and a handful of cherry tomatoes that were cocooned by the weeds and untouched by our frosty nights. The pumpkin vines were touched by the frost, however, and died an unfortunate death before most of them ripened. If memory serves me right, Ma Ingalls made some sort of delicious faux apple pie out of the green pumpkins left over in her homestead garden. Although HE would probably like a pie, this Farm Woman doesn’t let things go to waste around here, either. I have my front porch decorated with corn stalks and lots of green pumpkins. Right now, they are covered with crawling orange and black Asian beetles. If you stand back and squint your eyes, you might think I grew some of those warty bumpy specialty pumpkins they sell in the Farmer’s Markets in bigger cities. After Halloween, if they’re not frozen solid, I’ll chop them up and feed them to the chickens. Pumpkins are said to ward off chicken diseases, and besides that, my chickens will eat anything. Almost anything, that is. Although they love all types of bugs and worms, they don’t like Asian beetles.