Archive for October, 2012

Rocks in my head

One of my favorite movies is a Lucy and Desi comedy from 1953 called The Long, Long Trailer.  Lucy plays a young naive bride who saves a rock from each stop along the way of their trek across the United States so she would have the memories to look back on when they finally reached their destination. She hides them in every nook and cranny of the trailer with hilarious results.  Although I never had to hide my rocks, I have a special understanding of the character she played.   Florida has no rocks. One doesn’t think much about missing something like rocks until you live somewhere where there aren’t any. Oh, there are landscaping rocks and stones that are shipped from the north and that people pay a premium price for. There is coquina, which kind of looks like a rock, but is actually of thousands of tiny shells cemented together by Mother Nature and is hard to find in a round shape unless you once again want to pay a premium price. In the days before security became so tight on airplanes, I sneaked a rock or two from our cabin property into my suitcase to begin my own memory garden. I can just imagine how things might go these days.  Airport  Security Officer: “So you have rocks in your suitcase because you miss rocks.”  Me: “Yes. I miss rocks.” Airport Security Officer (Looking pointedly at his coworker as he dials for the paddywagon) “Yes, Ma’am. Let’s get you into a special room where you can talk about your rocks.” Several years later I attended a family reunion and was privileged to get a tour of the original family homestead, still owned by a 94-year-old relative named Agnes.  As I was admiring the flower garden lined with stones, I asked her if I could have a couple of the smaller ones. Agnes:  “You want what? Rocks? Me:  “Yes, please.” Agnes: (Looking pointedly at another relative and much too polite to make the crazy motion with her finger making circles around her head and probably glad I wasn’t asking for the family silver), “Take all the rocks you want, I have plenty!” Those particular rocks didn’t go into my garden, but had a place of honor on the mantle in my living room.  When we moved back home to Minnesota, I wrapped them carefully in tissue paper and packed them in a special box which I carried with me in the car. When we built our stone fireplace out of lovely smooth Minnesota rocks, I asked our builder, who is also a gifted stonemason, to fit these smaller rocks in. They are there, along with a piece of Florida coquina in my own memory garden of sorts. As I rub my hand along their surfaces, I wonder about a long ago great-great grandmother, who originally homesteaded that farm.   Did she perhaps bring a rock or a smidgen of earth when she travelled from her beloved Norway? Did she touch these same stones as she worked among her flowers? As her children grew and had children of their own, could she even imagine that her own great-great granddaughter would someday  be writing about her?  As I touch those smooth stones and remember this special woman who I never knew but in part gave me life, I know that I have finally reached my own destination. I am happy and healthy and will soon have grandchildren of my own. I will help the little hands seek out the special stones. They will hear the stories, and  they will know her. I think she would be glad for that.

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Coffee and prune tarts

My grandmother was of Finnish descent, the daughter of immigrants. When it comes to coffee, the Finns get serious.  Finland has one of the highest coffee consumptions in the world, and Finnish-Americans have always carried on the tradition.   My grandmother drank her coffee  black and strong enough to eat through the finish on the kitchen table if you spilled it.  Children in the family were allowed coffee at an early age, and I was no exception. I remember getting a cup of milk (canned or fresh) with a splash of coffee and plenty of sugar. That was back in the good old days, giving a child coffee or plenty of sugar was not a bad thing.  As I grew older, I was allowed more coffee than milk. By the time I was about 15, I was drinking it black and strong, just like Grandma. I remember Grandma and her sisters sitting around the kitchen table sipping, dipping, and gossiping.  “Sipping” meant drinking coffee out of their saucers, which is something they did to cool those first few wonderful sips, before drinking  the rest out of their cups. Saucer sipping was a European tradition that has gone by the wayside.   One Scandinavian tradition involves putting a sugar cube between your teeth and slurping the saucered coffee through the cube  for a special treat. Why? I can’t imagine, but I do know that there must have been quite a few shirts and blouses with coffee stains down the front, at least if those Scandinavians were related to me.  I always manage to dribble a little even if I have a lid on the cup.  “Dipping” meant dunking something sweet into their coffee, which sometimes made for a kind of chunky beverage if they lost of piece of cookie in their cup. Nothing ever went to waste for these depression-era ladies, though. A thoroughly soggy piece of cookie would just be fished out of the cup with a spoon and eaten. My family’s favorite dipper was a hard piece of cinnamon-and-sugar toast, dipped just for a moment in the hot coffee, just long enough to soften it for that perfect bite but not too long to make it fall apart and make for a chunky beverage. Grandma always had a tin of prune tarts in her cupboard.  Prune tarts are a Finnish specialty:  A cross between a pastry and a cookie, star-shaped and filled with a sticky sweet  prune filling.  I didn’t like them very much at all.  Grandma made them because they were my dad’s favorite, and every time we visited, she sent him home with at least a dozen.  A few years after Grandma died, I came across an old recipe for prune tarts, which included the directions for cutting and folding the dough into a star shape, just like she used to make. I excitedly told my dad that I would make them in place of some of my usual Christmas cookies.  He quickly told me not to bother.  Surprisingly, he didn’t care for prune tarts that much, either.  He told me that he just told his mom they were delicious because he knew she had worked so hard to make them.  Just like that, a family tradition is lost forever.  It’s a good thing we still drink coffee. That will probably go on for generations to come. It is in our blood.

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When we moved from Florida to Minnesota five years ago, we sold, gave away, or donated more than half of our possessions. We had lived in that house nearly twenty years, and stuff had begun to pile up.  Not that we (or shall I say I) necessarily wanted to wanted to get rid of things, but we were moving to a smaller house and besides, the moving company was charging us by the pound, so out it went.  We happily moved into our little country home with plenty of storage space…wonderfully EMPTY closets, cabinets, a basement, and a garage. We had never owned a home with a basement or a garage before. It only took me five years to fill it all up. I have to take the blame here.  HE would be just as happy to live in a one-room cottage with only a few possessions: Giant, flat-screened TV, remote control, comfy chair, and a refrigerator within arm’s reach.  The golf bag and fishing pole could be leaning in the corner. A simple man with simple needs.  I, on the other hand, am a collector. I collect chickens, books, sheet music, Fire King, seeds, old magazines, and lots of other interesting stuff. I love going to garage and estate sales, and have the propensity to purchase something just because it is a good bargain and not necessarily because I need it.  I feel the same urge if something is on sale at the grocery store.  If crackers are on sale I feel like I need to buy three packages instead of one.  Truckload sale on toilet paper?  I’ll take two, please.  I think I am a hoarder.  There. I said it out loud, and it makes me feel better.  HOARDER.  I came to this realization while on vacation last week.  I had no specific plans except to get the house in order and relax, so I started cleaning out the closets and cabinets, which were so wonderfully empty five years ago.  How did they fill up so fast? Why did I save some of this stuff? Why is there a pile of junk mail on the closet shelf? I really felt like a hoarder, that’s for sure. By the end of the week, while I was tackling my side of the garage, I came up with a few hard and fast rules for myself:  1) If something comes in, something else must go out of the house.  2) If company is coming and you grab a pile of stuff off the counter and shove it  into the closet, remember to go back and take it out of the closet. 3) Having a lot of shoes should not count as hoarding, even if you no longer have a need for those cute sandals since you spend most of your time in the garden or the chicken coop.    4)  The top shelf of the linen closet holds 35 rolls of toilet paper, and no matter how good the sale, nobody needs more than that.  5) Save the basement for another time and enjoy the rest of your vacation.

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The Best Laid Plans

I’m a planner. Some of my most important plans are made while sitting in a comfortable chair, cup of coffee in hand, paper and pencil or laptop computer in front of me and just let my imagination lead the way.  Every year I make gardening plans. Big, grandiose blue-ribbon gardening plans.  The I-planted-too-many-pumpkins-and-not-enough-rutabagas kind of gardening plans. Each and every year, I plan for a huge, thriving weed-free garden.  It is always huge. It is sometimes thriving. It is never weed-free. I had special plans for one corner of the garden this year.  Broccoli would be planted first.  Broccoli is one of our favorite vegetables to eat fresh, but it freezes well, too, so I planted 24 seedlings, which is more than enough for both.  When the broccoli was done, I had plans to pull up the spent plants,  re-till the area and throw in some lettuce seeds for fall salads.  I did get plenty of broccoli, and I was pleased that my plans were working out.  We had some to eat, some to give to friends, and some to freeze.  Some people say that for them, time seems to stand still in the garden.  For me, time always runs out.  While I was busy with other projects, the broccoli started bolting, and there was a mass of bright yellow flowers, which the bees absolutely loved.  There were literally hundreds of the little critters hovering around those flowers, drinking in the nectar and also pollinating my tomatoes, beans, squash, and pumpkins. I couldn’t pull up the broccoli for fear of getting stung.  Later, while I was busy harvesting, canning, and freezing the rest of the garden, the yellow flowers started turning into seed pods, but I had too much to do to take the time to pull them up.  It is now October, and we’ve already had our first snow, which stayed on the ground a couple of days.  I am on vacation, so now have time to pull up those spent  plants and get things cleaned up.  The snow is gone, and surprisingly enough, my vacation days are coinciding with some warm sunny autumn days.  I entered my dead-looking brown garden, but not with any sadness, as you might expect. It was a very productive year, and I am ready to rest.  There are a few frost-bitten tomatoes on the ground and a couple of tiny heads of cabbage which never grew to maturity due to the pumpkin apocalypse. There are dried pods of beans still hanging, which I may pick and make into a pot of bean soup.  There are a few carrots left to dig, which will be all the sweeter for the frosts that we have had.  In the middle of that brown spent garden, I was surprised to see that my broccoli plants were still an oasis of green, although they are more than four feet tall and covered with thousands of seed pods. Each pod contains many seeds. Each seed will grow into a broccoli plant. I tossed a bucketful of the pods to the chickens, and they gobbled them up quickly, making that happy “I’ve got a treat” sound that they make when they discover something special.  As I started stripping the pods, I discovered something special myself. Growing from the bottom of each plant were more small heads and shoots of broccoli! I picked a handful for dinner, and there are still more to come, so I won’t pull them yet. I will gather all the seed pods, saving some for sprouting, some for chicken feed, and some to start seeds for next year’s crop.  This time I’m glad that the best laid plans didn’t quite work out quite the way I had planned.

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