Archive for December, 2011

Truth and Resolution

New Year’s Resolutions. Most of us make them and all of us break them. A couple of years ago, I made the decision NOT to make any resolutions. Why? Because I felt guilty in breaking them. That decision involved way too many explanations though, so I have come up with the perfect answers when someone (and they will) asks me what my New Year’s Resolutions are. Feel free to use any of these that might work for you:

Resolution # 1: I will eat less bread and/or carbs. The truth: Of course I will eat less carbs in the new year. I have just polished off Curt Barrett’s famous Yulekake bread, made with soft white flour and cardamom, which he sends over to our house every Christmas Eve.  I have stuffed myself with it all this week, so now that it is all gone I will certainly have less carbs in my life. There was more for me this year than usual.  My husband didn’t eat much of it this year. I don’t know why, because it was right there in the vegetable drawer behind the brussels sprouts, wrapped in two layers of foil and marked “lutefisk”. Strange. I like it best toasted and spread with real butter, which automatically resolves my next resolution:

Resolution #2 :  I will eat less fat.

Resolution  #3 :  I will balance my checkbook every month.   The truth: This is not happening at my house. Ever. I only put it here in case you wanted to use it.

Resolution #4:  I will save more money.  The truth:  I am saving up for a trip to Florida this winter, so that savings will be spent, and very quickly, I’m sure. This trip follows my fall trip to Las Vegas, where “Luck be a Lady” wasn’t very ladylike at all.  If anyone were to steal my identity and get into my bank account they would need to make a deposit before they found any money to steal.

Resolution #5:  I will learn to love weeds as much as I love tomatoes.  The truth:  I garden organically and fertilize with Doctor Goodall’s Black Magic. Don’t bother Googling it, because you won’t find it on the internet. He keeps a seemingly never-ending supply in his back field, and sometimes on a cool day you can see the steam rise from these piles of magic. Keeping the weeds pulled in two large gardens with a full-time job, a bad back and a propensity toward being just a little bit lazy means that I will have weeds, so I either need to learn to love ’em or learn to make dandelion wine.

Resolution #6:  Be thankful for what I have.  The truth:  My 2011 New Year’s resolution was to write more, so The Minnesota Farm Woman was born.  I am thankful that Becky at The Western Itasca Review took a chance on me, and I am very thankful for all of you who read my weekly column and your kind comments. The same thanks goes out to the Facebook followers, who now number 1070!  As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing, which brings me to

Resolution #7:  To write more.   The truth:  I don’t like change, so will stick with what seems to work.

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Ice Cream

My dad was born 90 years ago this week.  He was one of the smartest men I have ever known.  He was a fairly well-known expert on wild foods and herbs as well as a great storyteller.    Even though our family did eat cattails, bulrushes and wild rice, all gathered by him, this story is not about that. My dad loved ice cream.  Not the soft-serve type that comes swirled by machine into your cone, but real, hard ice-cream-scoop ice cream.  He once gave me a black eye when the scoop slipped and my five-year-old-face was too close to the carton, waiting for my treat.  He felt awfully bad about that, and I got an extra scoop that night to make me smile again. I remember summers at our cabin and Dad taking over the crank when it got too difficult for little girls to turn on the old-fashioned churn.  Since we had no freezer there,  we would always eat our fill of vanilla, swirled with wild strawberries that we had picked that morning and spooned out of lovely pressed-glass bowls that we still use today.  We would always take a family hike afterward to walk it off.  Sometimes when we would drive to that cabin, if we were really, really good, we could stop at Hayslip’s corner in Talmoon for an ice cream bar. I think he was more disappointed than we were if we argued or pinched each other on that 20 mile trip, which seemed to take forever. I still remember the anticipation…..would he stop? Is he slowing down? Aughhhhh! My favorite of all his stories was about ice cream:  It was wintertime during the Great Depression, and there were no freezers during those days, just “ice boxes”, which really held a chunk of ice inside. My grandmother had purchased a container of ice cream for a special treat for her five sons. She put the ice cream on the back step to stay frozen, and when she went out to get it after dinner, found the family dog licking away at the ice cream.  The boys were heartbroken, and my grandmother, who was of the “waste not want not” philosophy, scraped away the top layer and served it for dessert. My sister and I would listen in semi-horror, imagining eating something the dog had licked.  We couldn’t possibly have understood, though, because we lived in a house that always had ice cream in the freezer and only knew about the depression through history books and our parents’ stories.  Perhaps because of that long-ago hungry dog, Dad always shared a little scoop of his nightly treat with a succession of family pets, tossed out  onto my mom’s clean kitchen floor, where they licked up every drop.  I don’t think Mom ever knew that he did that, but he often did it with a twinkle in his eye and a finger to his lips.   As I grew to adulthood, I realized there were lessons to be learned, even when it comes to ice cream:   1) Keep your eyes out of someone else’s business. 2) Lend a helping hand to those who are not as strong as you are. 3) Exercise. 4) Don’t pinch your sister.  5) Anticipation makes everything just a little sweeter. 6) Don’t be wasteful. 7) Be kind to animals.  8) There are some things that your mother just wouldn’t want to know.

I told you he was smart.

In loving memory of Gilbert Quaal 12/22/1921- 8/2/2002

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Small Miracles

The angels were arguing that day, as they drew names for their Christmas miracles.

“But I want the homeless family this year, ” said Angel Martha as she looked at her card.  Why did I get  someone who doesn’t need my help? Just look at her! ”  she said as they looked down and watched an older woman lock the door to her home and walk down the street toward the grocery store.  “She has everything that anyone could ever need! I want to trade! Who will give me the criminal who needs to find the error of his ways?”

Angel Harriet, who was older and wiser by several centuries, shook her head.

“Martha, you have drawn this particular case this season because we feel that you, like your charge, need to learn to find satisfaction in the little things.”

“OK….OK…,” muttered Angel Martha.  “But next year I want someone with a little more challenge!”  Looking down again, she said, “This will be easy. All I have to do is change one little number…..”

“Remember, Martha, that you cannot sing in the Christmas choir until your small miracle is complete.”

“No problem, ” she replied and shrugged her wings. “This shouldn’t take long.”


Madeline purchased the lottery ticket the Tuesday before Christmas, using her lucky numbers and the last dollar in her purse.

“Are you feeling lucky today?”  The woman behind the counter smiled as Madeline hurriedly penciled in her numbers and handed over the card to be entered in the computer.  She slipped the ticket into her coat pocket and smiled in return.

“I play the same numbers every week, and sooner or later my luck has got to change!”  Shifting the grocery bag to her other hip, she left the store and walked down the street to the women’s shelter, where she volunteered two afternoons a week.

The elderly lady walked at a pace of a woman half her age.  Widowed for five years, she led an active and happy life, and experienced only fleeting moments of loneliness.  With her children and grandchildren living nearby, she had a constant stream of visitors, and many little hands to empty her cookie jar.

Ringing the doorbell of the generic-looking suburban home, Madeline  noticed that the trim needed a coat of paint.  The shelter was one of several “safe houses” whose locations were known only to those who needed them.  There was little extra money to buy paint, as all the donations were used to feed and clothe the needy women and children who entered, sometimes in the middle of the night, with only the clothes on their backs and the bruises both inside and out.

“It was so good of you to come, especially during this hectic holiday time,”  the director shook her head as they looked over the shelter’s books.  “Our donations are down this month, too.  I just don’t know how we are going to scrape by.”

Madeline reached for her grocery bag.  “I brought the ingredients to put together a casserole and a salad. Are we still serving six?”

“Seven if you’ll join us.”

Noticing  a shy toddler peeking around the corner, Madeline shook her head and gave him a wink.   “I can’t stay tonight, as I need to start my Christmas baking, but I do think that there are enough supplies to make a pan of brownies, too. ”

“You’re a lucky woman to have such a big happy family.  I sometimes forget that there are happy families out there. ”

“I do count my blessings every day.”  Madeline thought of her lottery ticket.  “Maybe if my numbers come in, I can count a little cash, too!”

December 24 dawned crisp and cold as Madeline prepared for the holiday.  She spent the afternoon cleaning her already spotless little home while humming along to the Christmas carols playing on the radio.  The pumpkin pies were now chilling in the refrigerator, and the smoky warm aroma of honey-glazed ham permeated the air.  The large dinner had stretched her budget to the limit, but if she counted her pennies, she could make it until her check came in.

Glancing  at her watch, Madeline pulled off her apron and decided she had a few minutes to put her feet up and watch the evening news.  Dozing in front of the crackling fire, she almost missed the weekly lottery drawing.  She sat up a little straighter as the numbers were announced:  1…..9…..10…..12…..48…..49. Staring at the television screen, Madeline’s heart began to beat a little faster.

“My numbers!”  Jumping out of the chair, she grabbed her purse and began rummaging through it.  “Where did I put that ticket?”  Remembering her coat, Madeline reached into the pocket and pulled out the slightly crumpled ticket, clutching it to her chest.  Visions of a trip around the world on an unlimited budget went thought her head as she held the precious piece of paper.

What a Christmas present! ”  she said aloud.  “All for these six little numbers:  1….9…..10…..12…..48….and 50…..”FIFTY!”  Putting on her glasses, she checked the numbers again.  “But I ALWAYS play forty-nine!”  Digging into her coat pocket again, she pulled out the card she had filled out.  Sure enough, in her hurry to get to the shelter, she must have pencilled in the wrong number.

Deflated,  the woman sat down again, still clutching the ticket in her hand and shaking her head. Oh, the unfairness of it all!

Nobody seemed to notice that Madeline was a little subdued during dinner that night.  The grandchildren were so excited that they were  hardly able to sit still, and the happy laughter echoed through the small house.  How she loved them all!  It would have been so nice to surprise them with all that money and shower them with expensive presents.  The few simply wrapped gifts under her small Christmas tree made her heart heavy. After dinner, the family walked down the block to the church for Christmas Eve services.  Listening to the familiar hymns and the age-old Christmas story brought little comfort to her heart, but as her young grandson slipped under her arm and gave her a smile, the realization finally struck.  With the warmth of a family’s love, the blessing of good health, and a snug roof over her head, she was already the wealthiest woman in the world! To wish for anything more or for what might have been would be unnecessary, and Madeline knew at that moment that she would never again buy another lottery ticket.

The family passed the shelter on the way home.  Christmas lights adorned the slightly shabby exterior, and Madeline pictured the sadness and courage found inside.  Reaching into her pocket, she felt the edges of the ticket.  It may not be worth millions, but with five winning numbers, it would be worth enough to get the shelter through until the new year.

“Please stop here a minute,” she held her son’s arm.

“Do you know someone here, Grandma?” asked her oldest granddaughter.

“I’m just dropping something off for a friend,” said Madeline as she walked up the steps and slipped the ticket under the door.  Straightening her back, she looked up at the lights, sparkling in the clear night and at the dear faces of her family, cheeks reddened from the cold.

“Merry Christmas,” she whispered into the night.

“Somebody is playing some beautiful music tonight,” said Madeline’s daughter as she rounded up her little ones.

“It sounds like the angels are singing,” said her grandson. And they listened to the glorious  music all the way home.

Originally published in the St. Augustine Record, December 25, 1997

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The wolf is at the door

This is the time of year when it starts getting dark at 4:00 p.m. Not very pleasant, in my book. It’s dark when you leave for work and dark when you get home. The chicken coop is about 50 yards from our house. That means 50 yards of a very dark walk which seems like a mile even when one is carrying a flashlight gripped in her sweaty palm waiting for the wolves to attack. You can’t blame me for being afraid.  Our first year here, I met a wildlife biologist who told me that there was a large  active wolf pack living in our area.  Sometimes, late at night, you can hear them howl. For those of you that don’t know, wolves are a protected species in this state, so the pack gets larger every year.  Larger and hungrier, I’m sure.   Our second winter here brought weeks of temperatures well below zero and a wolf who came right up to our front door and curled himself up on our welcome mat.  We figured the wolf was probably injured, so on our neighbor’s advice, I called the DNR to see what could be done. The conversation went something like this:   Me:  “There is a wolf lying on my front porch. What should we do?” DNR Guy: “It is probably not a wolf.”  Me: “There is an animal that looks like a wolf lying on my welcome mat.”  DNR Guy: “It is probably a coyote. Wolves are big and don’t usually go on people’s porches.”  Me:  ” It is big and looks like a wolf and he is on my front porch.”  DNR Guy: “Are you sure it is not a dog?  Sometimes Huskies look like wolves or it is a mix.”  Me:  “Should I go out and ask him?”  OK…I didn’t say that last part, but I wanted to.  My common-sense husband shooed him off by opening the front door and pushing it against the wolf, and he took off down the road.   Now you know why I am afraid.  Very afraid. Each evening, as I leave the house for the long dark walk to feed my chickens, I announce that I AM NOW LEAVING TO FEED THE CHICKENS AND IF I DO NOT RETURN IN  15 MINUTES COME AND MAKE SURE I HAVE NOT BEEN EATEN BY WOLVES. He rolls his eyes. It is even worse if he is not home. Then I carry my phone in my pocket, but I am not sure what good it would do if I called 911 and reported “HELP, I AM HALFWAY BETWEEN MY HOUSE AND MY CHICKEN  COOP AND AM BEING EATEN BY WOLVES!” The first year we were here he wired the coop so I had electricity, but I still had a long walk in the dark before I could turn on the switch. The second year he installed a timer, so I at least have a light waiting for me, but there are still 50 very dark yards to walk. I am thinking that next year I might ask him  to install floodlights and light up the back yard like a football field on a Friday night.  They would probably still be there, waiting just beyond the light. Watching and waiting.  If you notice my column missing in next week’s paper you will know what happened.

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