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My father’s parents were the children of immigrants.  Neither spoke with an accent, although they probably grew up in households where their ancestral tongues were used more often than not. Dad’s parents liked modern ways, and in fact, he told me that the old languages weren’t allowed to be spoken around their dinner table. They were proud to be American citizens, and felt that English should be used at all times. I am sorry for their decision, because  Dad never learned Finnish or Norwegian, and therefore, could not teach his own children the language of their ancestors.  He said an occasional Finnish swear word when things weren’t going well, but that’s about it. Little did he know that all the kids in our strongly Scandinavian town knew how to swear in Finn, so he wasn’t getting anything over on us. Among his belongings was a letter from Finland written in 1946 to his  isoaiti , or grandmother. Her name was Elizabeth, and she died before I was born, but for years I thought her name was Aiti, because that’s what my dad and his brothers called her, but  aiti actually means mother. I was lucky enough to find someone who can still read Finn, and although the dialect was a little different and the writing was faded, I was able to have most of it translated. Things were hard for the European people during the war years.  Finland had been at war with Russia, but the relations between the two countries were improving. Some Finns were Communists, and some were not. Strangly enough, it was the same on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, where my family lived. Nothing was ever said about their political beliefs, so I cannot say for certain that they were not Communists, but I doubt they were. Isoaiti had mailed a package to her relatives and they were sending “heartfelt thanks” for the gift of trousers and other items. Specfically mentioned was coffee, which was a very scarce commodity during those years. What a treat that must have been!  Her wish for the relatives in America was “strength and health and happiness”. Our family was not wealthy, and I’m sure the cost of even a simple gift like that made things harder, but not nearly as hard as those with the memories of war right at their doorstep. The world is a crazy place these days, too. We don’t know for certain that our own doorsteps are safe from harm. Times have changed, but maybe not so much. My own isoaiti was a modern woman, her aiti was a Farm Woman,  and I am a combination  of the two, perhaps with a little bit of the writing gene and propensity for swearing in Finnish (or any other language, for that matter)  from my isa , or father. I must have a little bit of that long-ago relative thrown in, too, because I dearly love coffee and I wish for all of you to have strength and health and happiness for the new year. 

“I have only one superstition. I touch all the bases when I make a home run.”   ~Babe Ruth

I will admit to having one…or maybe two…superstitions. No, I don’t throw spilled salt over my left shoulder, nor do I open all the doors and windows at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to let the old year out and the new year in. Truthfully, I haven’t seen a New Year’s Eve midnight in several years, and besides, it is usually too cold here in northern Minnesota for all that nonsense. I do hang on to a few old nursing superstitions: Never use or let anybody else use the “Q” word during your shift. My fellow nurses cringe at the sound of that word, but since I am not at work I feel comfortable in using the example of “Gee, it sure is QUIET around here!” That most certainly means that the shift will go to Helsinki in a handbasket, and in a hurry, too. Another nursing superstition is that death comes in threes. Sadly, I have seen that one come true more than once, especially in my old ICU days. There are plenty of New Year’s superstitions all over the world. Did you know that kissing your sweetheart as the clock strikes midnight means you will have a loving and happy year? My sweetheart was in warm and sunny Florida for the holiday, and since I was sound asleep here in the frozen tundra, I didn’t notice if Barney gave me any puppy dog kisses or not. In Italy, folks throw old things out the window to make room for the new. Here at home,  I cleaned out cupboards and came up with a big plastic tote filled with unused stuff and hauled it to the garage rather than throwing it out the window. Living in the south for many years, I learned that black-eyed peas cooked with a ham hock and served with greens would bring good luck and prosperity,  but I also learned that my Kentucky born and bred husband hated black-eyed peas and rarely ate greens, no matter how prosperous he could become. I guess we were prosperous in a way, because there were always plenty of leftovers for me to take to work and hopefully, I would get a lunch break unless someone used that nasty “Q” word. The Pennsylvania Dutch often ate pork with sauerkraut on New Year’s day. Why sauerkraut? Because cabbage leaves signify money and prosperity, and sauerkraut is made from cabbage, and also the because the Pennsylvania Dutch are not Dutch, but of German descent. That makes about as much sense as not allowing a cross-eyed person, someone with a unibrow, or someone with flat feet to be the first person to step across your threshold in the new year.  Even though it defies my sense of logic, I ate lots of bacon for breakfast and had leftover coleslaw for lunch. Hopefully, my right palm will begin to itch and that means that money will be coming my way. You never know. 

More or Less

I’ve been thinking all week about the inspirational story I was going to write to end a year of wins or losses (or a combination of the two) for many of us. Politics, disaster, and rock ‘n’ roll heaven are a few of the topics that came to my mind.  I should have known better. Any time I have a plan on what to write, it never quite works out that way. So as usual, it is what it is.  I have had few, if any, resolutions in the last couple of years, so I am going to make a couple of pathetic attempts to inspire others while at the same time improving myself:  I hereby resolve to put away the dishes every morning before I leave for work. This will be perhaps an inspiration or more like a hint for HIM to wash more dishes or to install a dishwasher in our tiny kitchen. I would certainly break this resolution by January 2 if I were to resolve to put them away every evening, because I tend to get distracted by the computer and TV and  then doze off like an old woman. Admittedly,  I AM an old woman, but it doesn’t help that  Barney the Chihuahua wakes me up every morning at four bells. I would like to work less, spend less, and save more. Maybe I will inspire the members of our Congress with that resolution, since they already have the first part down pat. I think that they are probably too busy counting their followers on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with the adventures of a Farm Woman from Minnesota, however.  I resolve to drink more water and less coffee. That one will hurt. I will spend more time on yoga and less time lying around with a Chihuahua in my lap. That one will hurt even more, and Barney agrees. I will spend more time gardening in less space. With HIM doing 99.9% of the work, my gigantic garden was dismantled in the fall and will be reborn in the spring as a small area of raised beds, allowing me to pull more weeds with less effort.  With all the work HE did, I should probably keep my mouth shut about the dishes. I will write more and watch less television, perhaps even changing the genre of my column and blog to one of political commentary and government affairs. Did you just snort? I was kidding. Really, I was. I like politics even less than I like cleaning out the chicken coop during a heat wave in August.  I hope that 2017 brings all of us many more smiles and a lot less tension. I resolve to do my best to help with that once my caffeine headache goes away and I figure out how to do yoga without looking like a twisted up sourdough pretzel. Happy New Year!

I finally decorated the house for Christmas a few days ago, something that I have been putting off since the first of the month. I decided to keep things easy and simple this year, since we are not hosting either of the two family get-togethers, nor are we expecting a lot of company. I thought about  just using the smallish pre-lit artificial tree rather than getting a fresh tree and not using more than a few of the 1,043 ornaments we must have by now. As I pulled the tree out of the rather smooshed-up box, I realized that the stand was missing. It is a stand specific to that tree, and after looking aroud the basement with no luck, I decided that it might work with our regular tree stand. I searched high and low in the basement and garage and even behind the woodpile outside to no avail. Both stands were missing. No worries, though. On to Plan B:  I would just use the small tabletop tree, which would  look great on the antique fern stand that came from my parents’ house. I brought that up from the basement as well as a plastic tote full of decorations. I had just replaced the small string of lights on the little tree last year, so it should be good to go, except….they didn’t work. Luckily, they came with a bag of replacement lights and fuses. Unluckily, I couldn’t remove even the first bulb from the string, so I replaced the miniscule fuses after first  searching for my bifocals and a tweezers to do so. They still didn’t work, so I threw the whole lot in the trash. Luckily, I remembered that I had purchased a small strand of lights last month to use in decorating a sweater for the Ugly Sweater Contest at work, but just  never got around to. Unluckily, they needed three AA batteries and the battery drawer only contained AAA batteries. By now, I  was starting to lose a little bit of my Christmas spirit. Back to Plan A. I figured that the stand was perhaps packed into one of the three large totes which are stored in the basement 11 months out of the year. I checked the tote that I hauled up earlier, and found that it contained a few cookie plates, old candles, and a gigantic mass of tangled lights in all shapes and sizes. The ghosts of Christmases past.  These totes are heavy, and I usually have HIM haul them up for me, but he was nowhere to be found. I hauled the second, and then the third up the stairs. By now I was beginning to sweat, and had not even  the smallest iota of holly jolly Christmas left in this tired old body. I finally found the tree stand at the bottom of the last tote I checked. I put the tree up in record time, fluffed the branches, threw on a few ornaments, and plugged it in. The way things had been going, I fully expected the lights not to work, but they were perfect, every single one of them. With a warm crackling fire and a simple little tree, the holly and even a little bit of the jolly were starting to creep back in. Until HE came home. Looking at all the totes and Christmas mess spread  around the living room, he said, “You didn’t have to haul EVERYTHING up. Since nobody’s coming over for Christmas, we can keep things a lot more simple this year!”  Sigh. Pass the eggnog. 

For us, the Christmas season used to start the day after Thanksgiving. It was long before everyone started calling  it “Black Friday”. It was back when I had a lot of energy and was able to get up at 4 a.m., put on a tacky Christmas sweatshirt, and be on the road with a carload of giggling girls after a traditional breakfast of leftover pumpkin pie with whipped cream eaten out of my hand and washed down with hot coffee. The next day, I would send daughter and husband to get a Christmas tree, always giving specific directons and using hand motions to describe a tall slender tree, not too big around, yet big enough to house all of our special ornaments from the last umpteen years. They  insisted on a “real” Christmas tree, “not one of those artificial things”. They would always return home with the biggest fattest tree on the lot, big enough that we would have to shove the dining room table up against the piano and move the bookshelf into the guest room.  I ate many a Christmas dinner with my back smooshed against the tree, so close that I had to shake the pine needles out of my shirt before serving dessert and would still find some in June as they worked their way up and out of the carpet. My daughter would bemoan the fact that we didn’t have a yard full of blinking lights, waving snowman, and an automated Santa who “ho-ho-hoed” every time a car pulled up in the driveway. “EVERYBODY ELSE has Christmas decorations in their yard,” she would whine. “It looks like we don’t have any Christmas spirit!” I guess she wasn’t counting the spirit of the piles of gifts, dozens of cookies , pans of fudge, and mugs of hot chocolate complete with candy cane stirrers that we made every year,  but wanting all of her Christmas wishes to come true I begrudgingly added a few outside lights one year and a small lighted reindeer the next. Call me a Scrooge if you must, but I would rather enjoy the decorations in your yard rather than mine. That was enough decorating for me, and I reminded her that when she had her own home, she could do it exactly the way she wanted.  This seems like just yesterday, but somehow the years have flown past. HE and I are now the grandparents of the family, and our daughter and husband just bought their first home and have even volunteered to host Christmas dinner. Instead of a huge fresh “real” tree taking up half their living room, there is a lovely tall and slender artificial tree in a corner of the living room.  Funny, but it is about the same size that I used to ask for every year. By now, there is probably a simple wreath adorning their front door for outside decoraton. That’s all. Although I TRY to keep my nose out of their business, I have to admit that I had to tease her about this.  I am very tempted to sneak over one day while they are at work and fill their yard with dancing snowmen, strobe light santas, and blinking red-nosed reindeer. Oh, and if you want peace on earth, you might want to stay away from their neighborhood. I’ve got plans to have the sound system blast out “Jingle Bell Rock” when you push the doorbell.  Never let it be said that I didn’t make ALL of her Christmas wishes come true. 

As I entered the grandmother stage of my life, I was expecting the hot flashes. I also expected the forgetfulness, mood swings, night sweats, and even the middle-of-the-day sweats. What I did not expect was the facial hair. I first noticed it a few years ago as I sat in church, listening to the sermon. Yes, I do listen, Pastor. I may not always remember it (see above), but I do listen, just not at that particular moment. I was contemplative, worshipful, and  absentmindedly stroking my chin when I felt it. THE HAIR. I pulled it, and it stretched. It stretched out longer than a Sunday morning sermon, and when I lost my grip, it bounced back with a “boing” like the curly tail of a piglet. I was horrified, and got up in front of God and everybody and headed for the ladies’ room, where I managed to pull the thing out with my bare hands, since I didn’t  carry a pair of tweezers in my purse. Desperate times call for desparate measures.  In the weeks that followed, I found a few more hairs which seemed to sprout overnight, every night. Worse than the curly chin hairs are the dark hairs on my upper lip. I’ve always been attracted to beards and mustaches, just not on myself. These lip hairs can be pulled out  with my handy-dandy tweezers, but pulling them out can bring tears to the eyes of even the most stoic Farm Woman. Another alternative I have tried  is to have my upper lip waxed by a professional. Warm sticky wax is painted on, special torture paper is applied, and while they try to distract me with talk of the weather, it is RIPPED off quickly, pulling the offending hairs out with it. This, too, brings tears to my eyes, but at least it is a quick torture.  I have researched more natural ways to rid myself of my mustache. One involves mixing turmeric to a paste and applying it daily, leaving it on for 15 minutes before wiping it off “along with the unwanted hair.” Right.  Turmeric is an orange-yellow spice which is used in pickles, Middle-Eastern, and Indian cooking. It is also used as a natural fabric or food dye. With my luck,  I would probably end up with not only a mustache, but a brightly colored orange-yellow mustache which would probably resemble a caterpillar on my upper lip.  I think I’ll pass on the turmeric, even though it is right there in the spice cupboard. However…if any of you brave grandmothers  are thinking about adding a little turmeric to your turkey broth to make the Thanksgiving gravy a nice golden yellow color, put a bit on your upper lip and let me know how it works. 

Halloween is just around the corner, and I am kind of a wimp when it comes to scary stuff. That is why I stopped watching my favorite TV channel a couple of weeks before staying at our daughter’s house. You know the show:  Machete-wielding neighbors, swamp murderers, and deranged lunatics.  I am dogsitting her two giant lovable yellow labs who think they are lap dogs and have overactive salivary glands. They are lovable unless you are a stranger, so I wasn’t really worried about staying alone,  but stopped the scary TV just in case. When staying in somebody else’s home, there are things to be learned as you settle in, and this is no exception. The light switches are the worst. It is dark every morning when I leave, and I stumble my way through the house,  turning off lights as I go and locking “the boys” in the breezeway with plenty of water and food. The first afternoon I arrived back to my temporary home, I discovered that I had inadvertantly left the hall and stairway lights on. Shaking my head and muttering to myself about getting forgetful, I turned them off. The next day, I couldn’t find the bottle of very expensive hazelnut liquid stevia drops, which are a must for my morning coffee. Looking high and low, in drawers and cupboards, and even in my suitcase, they were nowhere to be found. I gave up looking and purchased another  bottle, and it hadn’t gotten any cheaper.  Unlocking the door and letting the dogs out for a run in the back yard,  I noticed that the light for the hallway and basement was on again. This time it was creepy, as I was certain that I had shut it off before I left. I took the dogs with me as I searched every nook and cranny of that house, looking for machete-wielding neighbors, swamp murderers, and/or deranged lunatics. I made sure all the windows were in the locked position. I wasn’t really afraid, as I was certain my charges would tear an intruder limb from limb, or at least slobber him to death. I slept well, despite the loud snoring from one of the dogs…or perhaps it was the machete-wielding neighbor sleeping on the couch. I left the house again the next morning in the dark, closing the door and feeling along the wall for the light switch and noting that one of the switches in the breezeway needed to be fixed, as nothing happened with I flipped it on and off. When I returned that afternoon,  the lights were on once again. What the heck, was the house haunted? Were the lights on a timer that they didn’t think to mention? As I reached for the light switch to turn the breezeway light off, I accidently flipped the one that wasn’t working, and this time, the kitchen door was open, and I noticed that the “nonworking” switch actually turned on the hall and stairway lights. It wasn’t a swamp murderer after all. Besides, the house is nowhere near a swamp. In fact, I doubt that the neighbors carry machetes, but from the looks of all the Halloween decorations up and down the street, there will be plenty of ghosts and goblins running around in a few days. Oh, do you remember the bottle of  very expensive hazelnut liquid stevia drops? I found it in the refrigerator. Probably right where the deranged lunatic put it.