Archive for March, 2012

My great-grandparents, Andrew and Christine Quaal were among the first settlers in Forbes, Minnesota in 1893.   They were farmers, owned the general store and raised six children. Christine was also the local midwife and helped the immigrants with their English.  I like to call her the original Minnesota Farm Woman.  When telephone service came to the area about 1915, I’m sure there was plenty of excitement throughout the small farming community. Telephones would open up their little corner of northern Minnesota to the world. Grandma and Grandpa were instrumental in getting the service to Forbes, and kept the switchboard in their home.  Those of us who carry cell phones in our back pockets and purses perhaps don’t understand just how a telephone switchboard works, so let me see if I can explain it:  Ole wants to call Lena.  In order to do this, Ole must turn the crank on his telephone, which rings into Grandma’s house. Ole tells Grandma that he wants to talk to Lena, and Grandma plugs the wire into the jack, flipping a switch to make the connection. Being an operator would mean that Grandma must not have left the house very often, because someone always had to be there for the calls to go through.  Since she ran the switchboard for 40 years, she must have liked her job, too.  Grandma did manage to have a social life, however. She had people come in to watch the switchboard when she went to church,  Lutheran Ladies’ Aid meetings, or funerals.  Plenty of folks came to visit her at the farm for coffee and cookies and probably a little old-fashioned gossip. Grandma had the coffee pot going on the stove all the time, the good strong Scandinavian-type of coffee that can warm the belly on the coldest winter day and probably put hair on your chest if you drink more than two cups. Family lore has it that the coffee grounds weren’t changed all that often, but when they were, the used grounds were spread around the rose bushes along with buttermilk left over from the churning.  Those two ingredients were the secret to the prettiest flowers around, according to my father.  The part about the gossip is something I made up, though. Grandpa died in 1929 and Grandma died in 1966 when she was 93 and I was eight, so I don’t remember a lot about her.  I was recently stopped by someone who recognized Grandma’s  picture, which is the same old photograph that  I use for The Minnesota Farm Woman column in the paper and on my web site.   She recognized Christine as the lady that everyone in Forbes called “Grandma Quaal” and had a story that her own grandmother told her:  My great-grandmother, pillar of  society, midwife, business owner and churchgoer would listen in on everyone’s telephone conversations!  How did they know for sure?  Grandma had a cuckoo clock which rang on the quarter-hour, and that gave away her secret. We all had a good laugh over that one, but I tend to stick up for Grandma, since I was named for her.  What harm is listening in along with a little strong coffee and mild gossip to pass the time during the long Minnesota winters?  I watch Desperate Housewives myself so perhaps Grandma came up with her own version, Forbes Farmwives. A little Farm Woman advice is always forthcoming, though. 1) Don’t switch to mild coffee and strong gossip, as neither one is worth the trouble.  2) Never ask for a third cup of that Scandinavian brew or you really might grow hair on your chest. 3) Between you, me, and the cuckoo clock, watch what you say because you just never know who might be listening.

After the Forbes Rural Telephone Company was dissolved, the switchboard was sent to the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. It isn’t on display anymore, so it is probably in an attic somewhere, gathering dust.

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Blowing in the Wind

Monday, washday; Tuesday, ironing; Wednesday, sewing; Thursday, marketing; Friday, cleaning; Saturday, baking; Sunday, rest.  I think I would have failed as a real Farm Woman of old. I do like to go marketing, which of course is now called shopping.  I can’t sew any better than I can bake bread.  I’m thankful that I don’t have to haul out a washtub or use a wringer washing machine but I do love to hang my clothes out on the line.  I call it “mindless activity” but it is really anything but mindless because my mind can wander to almost any subject while I’m out there. . I often plan menus, organize my week and come up with ideas for my blog as I’m sorting socks and hanging them on the line.  I love attaching one towel to another in a row, the breeze catching them and they begin to move and to snap.  On a sunny breezy day in the country, even the heaviest towel will dry in under an hour.  Less breeze means a longer drying time, but the clothes will still have that lovely outdoorsy scent that no fabric softener can match.  I hang out clothes until late fall when they start to freeze on the line. I start back in the spring as soon as the snow melts underneath the clothesline. In between, I begrudgingly use the clothes dryer.  My mom would hang clothes in the basement in the winter, before we got a clothes dryer. I remember that she sprinkled the clothes and then rolled them up, sometimes keeping them in the freezer so they wouldn’t mildew before she ironed them the next day. I think that sprinkling was done before steam irons were invented yet, as the hot iron on the wet clothes would create steam. Clothing was also made out of more natural materials that wrinkled easily.  I have an old clothes sprinkler, too, which looks like a giant salt shaker that Goliath would use for his lunch.  It’s only in my laundry room for decoration, thankfully, ironing is another household chore that I don’t do very often, if at all.  Hung properly on the line, and with enough breeze, clothes won’t wrinkle at all.   When we bought our property, there were a couple of old wringer washers in the trash pile.  My husband thought he should haul them to the dump, but I thought they could be made useful once again. They are now next to my clothesline outside the back door and filled with herbs, a reminder of bygone days on the farm.  I use the herbs in cooking almost every day and I love to touch them with my hands, releasing their scent on laundry days when I am hanging clothes on the line and watching my chickens pecking in the yard.  I guess I am a real Farm Woman after all.

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What’s For Dinner?

Long ago and far away, I lived another life. Instead of planting apple or plum trees that freeze or get eaten by deer, I picked lemons and oranges just out my back door. Instead of shoveling snow from the front porch, I swept away a lot of  sand.  Instead of driving into town on country roads with little traffic, I lived in a city with a stoplight on every corner.  My husband and I worked a lot of hours and had a more disposable income. (Admittedly, he worked many more hours than I did.)  We spent less time relaxing. We never went fishing. We ate out more often.  Despite these very major life changes, the two of us really haven’t changed that much. South to North, sand to snow, the Atlantic Ocean to Bowstring Lake, and  here I am  still asking the age-old question, “What do you want for dinner?” He gives his usual answer: “I don’t care. Whatever you want to fix.” Just so you know, the words “I don’t care” do not mean that he doesn’t care. After 34 years of marriage, I understand his language. “I don’t care” means he would like meat which is baked, broiled, grilled, or fried, but not, and I mean NOT cut into small pieces and stir-fried in a wok or braised in some sort of liquid that is not gravy or barbecue sauce. He would also like a potato, baked, fried, or mashed, and a vegetable. Oh, and a salad with iceberg lettuce, please. Grilled baby bok-choy is not a vegetable in his book. Zucchini fixed in any way goes untouched. Raw spinach with raspberry vinaigrette is not a salad.  You see, I am a woman with an adventurous palate married to a man who likes simple country cooking. If someone were to ask me what I wanted for dinner, I would lean toward a spicy Szechuan stir-fry or perhaps a chicken breast in cilantro-lime sauce served with quinoa and sprinkled with capers.  My husband and I  are as opposite in our taste for food as our present life is from our previous one. Don’t take this as a complaint, though. He cooks, too. He grills the perfect steak and if you’ve ever eaten his hot wings I would almost bet the farm that you would go back for more.  I can fix whatever I want for dinner, too, and he wouldn’t say a word. He would just lift up the lid of the pan, sigh, and make himself a sandwich. It would not be a grilled Panini sandwich with fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella, however. His type of sandwich is  more like ham or turkey on whole wheat with iceberg lettuce, tomato, and a little mayo. There’s nothing fancy about his food.  Simply cooked, comforting, and with a southern accent. A lot  like the man himself, I would say. I think I’ll stick around for seconds.

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Travelling just isn’t that much fun any more.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love both the anticipation and the destination, I just don’t like the stuff in between, especially if travelling by air.  This is my second vacation via airplane within five months, so I know there are probably more than a few of you who don’t want to hear whining from anyone who is lucky enough to get TWO vacations, so I will give you a moment to turn the page or click to something more interesting.


Back to the whining.  Those of you who haven’t travelled by airplane lately perhaps need to be aware that things have changed.  The airlines have not only increased the fare, but they are now charging you for your luggage.  I don’t know why they didn’t just increase the price of the ticket another $35.  Did they think we would be less upset if they charged us for luggage instead?  Note to airline executives:  Money is money and don’t think that I didn’t notice that you also increased the “surcharge”. What the heck  is a “surcharge” anyway?  

 You may have ONE bag plus ONE personal bag as carry-ons.  I wish that someone would have explained  that to the lady in the purple coat who stuffed two weeks worth of clothing into a small softsider and got it stuck in the overhead, causing all of us a delay in getting off the plane.  Her personal bag was also the size of Rhode Island, which she tried to jam under the seat in front of her, hiding it with a lap blanket. 

 Another note to the airline executives:  If you are going to offer a flight which involves two plane changes in two different cities, please allow an extra seven minutes for your passengers, some of whom have had two cups of coffee,  to take a potty break.  I have an aversion to those tiny airplane lavatories, and by the time the 17th person has finished his business, I think they have more germs growing in them than a petri dish.

 Does anyone remember the airplane dinner?  It wasn’t all that great, that’s for sure, but now all you get is a bag of 15 salted peanuts. Yep.  I counted them.  Any other snack will be charged to your credit card for about the same price that a restaurant would charge for Porterhouse and steak fries.

 If an airplane lands on Concourse H in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and a connecting flight must be made to Duluth, it is guaranteed that said flight will be leaving in 20 minutes from Concourse B, leaving no time to grab anything from the 87 food kiosks located throughout the airport. By “throughout”, I mean every concourse except Concourse B, which is located 2 miles from nowhere. I think that the airline executives must think that most folks going north of Brainard take a dogsled and a bag of venison jerky so added Concourse B as an afterthought and thought we’d chew on our jerky if we got hungry.

All whining aside, I am thankful for vacations, friends, and warm Florida weather, if even for a short time.   Note to airline executives:  Thanks for a safe trip,  good pilots, and friendly staff. You got me home safe and sound, and that’s better than TWO bags of venison jerky.

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