Archive for October, 2011

When I was a young teenager, my family moved to my mother’s dream house. This was a house that was uninhabited for  years, and for the kids of the neighborhood, it was known as “the ghost house”. We would watch the attic window carefully, certain that the curtains moved every once in a while. If we stared at it long enough, it would seem that they would.  We shivered with the feeling that someone was watching us. The house was built by George and Agnes Herreid sometime around 1918, if my memory serves me right. George was a Minnesota state representative and businessman. He died in the 1950’s, and Agnes lived in the house until the early 1960’s. The house was then empty until 1971 when we moved in.  Moving to the ghost house took some degree of bravery on my part. Not wanting to share a room with my sister, I chose to put my bed in the attic, and although there were no ghosts peering out the windows, there were occasionally a few bats in the attic. They didn’t bother me too much, as they weren’t there all the time, but I do remember one scary fall evening when one got loose in the house when my parents had gone out to dinner. My sister and I, believing that the bats would entangle themselves in our hair, wrapped towels around our heads and ran screaming to Mr. Kozisek’s house for help. She was wielding a mop and I had a broom, and we waved them above our heads as we ran down the street. I’m sure we were quite a sight to see.  The house may have had no ghosts,  but there were a few spirits there, for sure. Shortly after we moved in, my dad was checking out the wiring in the basement and discovered a stash of whiskey bottles in the rafters. They were located in the room where coal had once been stored for heating. Since George was a pillar of society and some of the bottles dated to prohibition times, I’m sure he kept the house toasty warm by putting coal in the furnace several times a day. Minnesota can be quite chilly, after all.  When Dad died and we were all home for the funeral, my daughter, who was sleeping on a mattress on the floor came to breakfast one morning and said that during the night birds were flying around her room. My sister and I looked at each other in horror, remembering the bats of our childhood. Mr. Kozisek no longer lived in the neighborhood to rescue us, but thank goodness we had husbands to take care of the problem.

Another family now lives in the house. The attic has been fixed so bats can no longer get in. The whiskey bottles have been collected, and I display one to this day in my own home. For some strange reason, though, every time I pass by the house I become ten years old again, and look up at the attic window to see if the curtains move. If I stare at it long enough, it seems that they do.

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There are several shows on TV with chefs who want to become rich and/or famous by quickly concocting recipes using unusual ingredients. Last night I watched one that used cuttlefish, peppers and bittersweet chocolate. Why bother? I think they have nothing on the wife of a hunter, who is still working on last year’s supply of venison when her husband calls home from his hunting trip out west :  “Make room in the freezer, Honey, ’cause I’m bringing home 300 pounds of elk!”  How about the wife of a gardener, who must  come up with delicious and family-friendly recipes when the green beans froze and the fall harvest was 27 acorn squash and 8 zucchini the size of submarines? Sometimes I wish my husband hunted. Most times, I am happy he does not.  Growing up as the daughter of a fairly well-known wild foods expert, I was used to eating just about anything. Occasionally, I get game from family and friends, and I am happy to get it. One more memorable gift was from a friend who returned from a goose hunting trip to Canada. I somewhat reluctantly agreed to take a couple of geese even before I knew that the geese were whole and frozen. By whole, I mean whole.  With heads, feet and feathers.  Ick. I had asked the guy to put the geese in the back of my car while I was at work. It was fall, and the air was cold and crisp, so I wasn’t too worried about the geese spoiling before I got home. Thinking that I would get my non-hunting husband to clean them for me was another one of my Farm Woman fantasies. Nope. No way. My goose was cooked. Almost.  Grimly, I hauled the dead geese to the fish cleaning table right next to the garden, and of course near the road so the whole neighborhood can again wonder just what I was up to. I had been told that since the geese were whole and partially frozen, it would be easier to take the breasts only.  The day suddenly turned from cold and crisp to damp and freezing, with a drizzle that was dripping down my neck. Just my usual luck, of course,  and here I was, holding a bloody knife with my hands inside a partially frozen dead goose. I was shivering, and somewhat reluctantly admitting here, muttering to myself.  I did manage, though, and  cooked them in the crock pot German-style with sauerkraut from a recipe that said that cooking wild goose with sauerkraut decreases the “gamey” flavor that geese sometimes have. They were delicious, or at least I thought so. HE wouldn’t touch them. He took a bite or two and proclaimed them “gamey”.  This is a man who will eat liver and onions or fried chicken gizzards, but he would not eat wild goose with sauerkraut. Needless to say, that was the last goose dinner I ever cooked.  I always learn some really good lessons, though, in this metamorphic journey from City Girl to Farm Woman: What’s good for the goose is NOT always what’s good for the gander. I think I’ll stick to chicken. Not my own chicken, of course, but that’s another story……

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Shoes and Memories

A few years ago, my adult daughter took a family road trip with us for a week and needed two suitcases, two pillows, a Snugli and a backpack. It wasn’t all clothes, of course.  One of the suitcases was filled entirely with shoes and the backpack was overflowing with snacks and books. My husband thinks that clothes for a week’s vacation should fit into an overnight bag, but never forgets his golf clubs  and a cooler the size of Duluth.  Me? I tend to overpack, but always save  room for the treasures I find along the way.

I recently returned from a cousins reunion trip to Las Vegas. I was quite surprised to learn that the airlines now charge you for your luggage.  One bag is usually $25, but that is only for about 40 pounds. Anything over that costs you more.  I packed lightly and carefully, but couldn’t get by on less than three pairs of shoes. I certainly breathed a sigh of relief when the luggage police didn’t charge me more.  I couldn’t have been more nervous had they asked me to step on the scale myself!   Shoes are extremely important in Las Vegas.  A middle-aged Farm Woman has comfort in mind rather than style, so I packed walking shoes, one pair “dressier” than the other, plus a pair of  sandals for wearing around the pool.  Looking around, I saw that most people were just like me. As each day turned into night, however, the shoe styles changed. Dresses got shorter, heels got longer.   I wondered how someone could manage to walk briskly wearing a pair of five-inch stilettos.  Although I did see a few women  more wobbly than others, they all made it.  At least I think they were women.  In Las Vegas, one never knows.  If I hadn’t lost my daily self-imposed allowance on the slot machines, I would have placed one more bet that there were a lot of sore feet and blisters the next day.

We have a fairly small family. As children, we would visit only in the summer or on holidays. We span about 14 years in age, so we were often busy doing our own thing. As adults, it seemed we got together for weddings and funerals, but never just for the sake of being together.  We live in four different states and have busy lives, so it is not easy, and we have planned this event for two years.  We walked, we talked, we laughed.  We drank wine in our pajamas until two in the morning. We caught up on each other’s lives.  We shared happy memories and made some more. We remembered those who are no longer with us. Somehow, I think that I didn’t need to leave  room in my suitcase for those treasures I found along the way. They are right here in my heart, and there’s plenty of room for more.

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I have a new phone. It is one of the “smart” types of phones, and it is much, much smarter than I am.  For those of you who get the latest and greatest gadgets every year, this is no big deal. For those of you who know me and how frugal and non-technical I am, you understand that this IS a big deal. Recent technological advances in both phones and cell towers around rural northern Minnesota now allow me to actually use a cell phone and get decent reception without leaning over the east corner of the deck holding the phone up high and waving it  around to get more than two bars. Thanks to those of you who honked and waved back. This really is a friendly neighborhood.   Phones are now mini-computers. One can talk, take photographs, watch movies and play games on a device small enough to slip into your pocket.  Some people can do all of these at the same time. This technology is totally amazing to me, who  grew up in the 70’s in a small town. Phones had cords and computers took up whole rooms at NASA headquarters in Cocoa Beach, where genies came out of bottles and were named Jeannie.  When the weather was nice kids played outside. Period. No exceptions, unless you were running a temperature.   When someone said  “your mom is calling you,” it didn’t mean to answer your cell phone. It meant she was hollering out the back door and telling you it was time for supper…..and you’d better not be late, either.  These days, if the errant kid doesn’t show up, Mom can push the “Family Locater” button on her phone and find him by GPS. That button would probably have gotten more than a few teenagers in trouble when I was growing up. (Not me, Mom!) I am now texting, too, which is something that I said I would NEVER do.  I’m eating….er, typing my words now, that’s for sure.  Texting can be difficult for those of us who need bifocals, as you have to hold the phone back a little in order to see it and the letters on the tiny little phone keyboard are in a slightly different order than a regular keyboard. Whose bright idea was it to change that? My texts always seem to contain misspellings and oddly placed letters, which can drive a [erfection(st lke me craxy. Younger, more agile  texters have their own language now, done in abbreviations, such as NOOb, which means “newbie”, (that’s me), or B9, which means “boss is watching”.  Learning another language, especially one using symbols, is just too much for a middle-aged Farm Woman. I will stick with regular words for now,  with a few exceptions: B4N (bye for now),  hoping the MFW hlps U to ROFL (roll on the floor laughing) or at least LOL. (laugh out loud). CUL8RG8R. (see you later, alligator).

This column is dedicated today to the memory of Steve Jobs, an ordinary man with an extraordinary vision that reached far beyond the wild blue yonder.

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I am somebody who can get lost once I leave my own yard. Really. When I lived in St. Augustine, Florida I did all right because I knew the area.  The thought of driving to the nearby big city of Jacksonville was enough to make my palms begin to sweat, though.  Then my daughter moved there. “I’m coming to town, can you pick me up at the mall at the edge of town?” I would whine. Her answer was always, “Now Mom, you need to be able to drive to my apartment. It’s not that hard.” I did learn, eventually, but I never got there without heart palpitations and white knuckles. I don’t know how she managed it, either, because it seems we had just taught her how to drive the day before. Moving back to Minnesota, I was happy to to be back in my home town, which now even has a stoplight. Growing up in a small town,  I was used to getting and giving directions such as “Turn left after the blue house with the big crabapple tree in the front yard.”  That was easy.  These days, things are much more complicated.  There are more roads and more houses.  For some reason, people don’t put their names on their mailboxes any more.  Thank goodness for my GPS navigator.  For those of you who are even more behind the times than I am, a GPS is a box that sits on your dashboard and in an irritating voice that tells you where to go. Kind of like some husbands I know.  (Other women’s husbands, of course!)  You just have to type the address in and push “go.” Easy, right? Just make sure enter correct information so the little box knows that you are in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and not Grand Rapids, Michigan, or you won’t be home in time for supper.   In these modern times, things have either become harder or easier, depending on who you talk to.  Our cameras are now in our phones which are now in our pockets and not on our desks. Computers keep us in touch with family and friends from all over the world, but there is nothing like the excitement of opening a real letter from a friend.   A good decision can keep us from getting lost, but if we’re not careful, can take us far from home. Some of us, be it through luck or circumstance, will eventually manage to find our way back.

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