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Viili

My mother was 100% Swedish, and very proud of her heritage. Her ancestors came from Finland and were known as Swede-Finns, and since she was from immigrant parents and only the first generation born here, we ate a lot of traditional foods of both Sweden and Finland. It didn’t matter to me, as Dad was 50% Finn with the rest of his genetic make-up being Norwegian and Danish. Yes, that meant lutefisk for Christmas Eve dinner, not that I ate any. One of my favorite heritage foods has always been Viili, aka Viilia (pronounced feelia), aka filibunke, a mesophilic Finnish yogurt, which means that it needs no heat to culture. In other words, you just add a spoonful of it to a bowl, stir in milk, leave it at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, and voilĂ ! Yogurt! Yes, I know that voilĂ  is French but unfortunately, my Finnish language skills are limited to a somewhat skewed version of “holy cow” and words not appropriate to a family-friendly publication. After years of searching for a Viili starter, I was finally gifted one by friends and fellow Finns, the Salmelas, and have been in heaven ever since. I gave my sister a starter, but she prefers her homemade Greek yogurt, which is admittedly, pretty awesome. I tried to share the starter with other Finnish friends, most of whom remembered their mothers or grandmothers serving it, who turned me down flat. The flavor of Viili is mild and not at all sour, and although very smooth, the texture has been described more than once as kind of like mucous. I like it plain, while others eat it with fruit and sweetened with honey or maple syrup. Although I can’t find raw milk to make it exactly as my mother did, it is still good when made with organic whole milk. Funny thing about heritage, though. I recently got my DNA results back, and surprisingly, this blue-eyed former blonde Scandinavian Viili slurper is 1% African and 48% Finn. If you do the math, and my father is 50%, with the rest of my genetics matching his as expected, that must mean that my proud flag-carrying 100% Swedish mother, whose parents and grandparents lived in Finland, must have been part Finn. Being the storyteller that I am, I think that perhaps a young Swedish beauty went to the neighboring farm to borrow a cup of Viili, and the rest is history. My history, to be exact. Holy cow.

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I have spent part of a long winter cleaning out cupboards, nooks, and crannies, and have come to the conclusion that I am a hoarder. I come by this naturally, being the product of parents who lived through the depression years. My genetics are a mixture of a woman who saved every plastic container and reused her foil to a man who seemingly never threw ANYTHING away, squirreling it away in attic and basement. I know this to be a fact, as I did a lot of the cleaning out and sorting after they passed away. Admittedly, much of it ended up in my house. After sorting through an old dresser, I dug out shiny metal belt and a celluloid framed picture of my dad’s Aunt Jennie, wearing the same belt with a purple skirt, circa 1940. Since I can’t seem to throw anything away either, I remembered and found an old photo of me wearing the same skirt for my sixth grade operetta, The King’s Sneezes, circa 1970. If memory serves me right, I wore the belt under the costume’s apron. My mother managed to hit the camera shutter just at the moment I closed my eyes. In 1970, when it came to pictures, you got what you got. That, along with a hundred other bad photographs of me in various albums is the story of my life. I like to look back on these, so I’m not ready to throw them away, although after I’m gone, I hope someone tosses the least photogenic pictures in the fireplace and keeps the rest. That means there will only be about five, but I sure will look good. I don’t know whatever happened to that purple skirt. It would have been nice to hang on to and store it along with the belt and two photographs: One of an educated, world traveller who was ahead of her time and who viewed the world with her eyes wide open; the other a gawky twelve-year-old who learned to open her eyes and travel a very different road with the prayers and the strength of the women who came before her.

They dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon; and hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon.” ~Edward Lear

My mother kept a small silver spoon in the back of her silverware drawer. I don’t remember that we ever used it, and I hardly paid attention until she died and we were cleaning out her apartment. There it was: That little spoon, which I now noted had the name “Anna” engraved on the handle. Now I know why she saved it, so I saved it too, for no other reason than Anna was the grandmother I never met. After admiring and running my fingers over the engraving, I tossed it in the back of my silverware drawer. Like mother, like daughter. I have no idea what the spoon was used for. Although it is small, it is too big to be an old-fashioned salt spoon, so by my best guess, it is either for sugar or jelly. I don’t eat sugar, and HIS favorite jelly is grape and gets squirted out of a plastic bottle, so needless to say, it hasn’t been used. After falling asleep and regretfully missing last night’s rare blue moon, I got up early this morning to make deviled eggs for the family Easter dinner. I was rummaging through the kitchen drawers trying to find a spoon small enough to stuff the eggs. Some of you might think that because I am a Farm Woman who writes a weekly blog, I must make picture-perfect deviled eggs by using a time-honored family recipe, putting the stuffing in a plastic bag, snipping off a corner, and piping perfect dollops of egg yolk into the white. Wrong. I don’t use a recipe. I just add yolks, not too much mayonnaise, a bit of mustard, a dash of this and a splash of that until it tastes right. I make extra eggs just for the tasting, by the way. I once tried the plastic bag method and ended up not dolloping but squirting yolk all over the place. It was a hot mess. Now, I just needed a spoon that was not too small and not too big, and it was 6:00 a.m., which is not unusual for bunnies or church musicians on any given Easter morning, even an Easter morning that follows a blue moon and lands on April Fool’s Day. My fingers landed on Anna’s spoon. Perfect. It was a little tarnished, but so is Anna’s granddaughter, so I shrugged, rinsed it off, and finished the job in no time with only a little bit of a mess, which I licked off my fingers, because it was six in the morning and nobody was watching.

When I first started raising chickens about eleven years ago, I named each and every one. One year, they were Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, and Rose, aptly named for The Golden Girls, because they were all Buff Opringtons and a lovely golden color. Another year, I named all the new chickens after female singers, and enjoyed a few years with Pheobe Snow, June Carter Cash, and Mother Maybelle Carter, just to name a few. Lucille was a friendly red chicken who would come when I called her, and I know many of you remember my sweet little Banty, Old Mum, who lived nearly nine years. Sadly, most chickens are not so long-lived, but I try to give them a happy life during their time here on earth, and in return, my egg basket is full. Last year, looking toward retirement, I decided that when these chickens pass on to that big coop in the sky, that would be it for us. By “us”, I mean “me”. HE was never too interested in raising chickens, and in fact, if I remember correctly, I was hearing the words “No, we don’t need any chickens around here” shortly before I got my first flock. Last spring, I was down to 16 hens, which was enough, although I missed picking out and raising some cute fluffy-bottomed chicks under a heat lamp in my laundry room. I missed feeding and watering and cuddling them until they got big enough to get smelly and scratch chicken poop all over the floor or until it warmed up enough to move them to the coop, whichever came first. I no longer name my chickens , because each year, there were more and more, and with that many, it is too hard for an old Farm Woman to remember all the names and faces and fluffy bottoms. Wait. I take that back. I do name them, and they are all called “Mama”, and they all come running when I call. Surprisingly, because some are quite elderly in chicken years, all 16 made it through winter and all are thriving. Spring is here, and although I am once again feeling the itch for baby chicks, I will remain strong and steadfast in my plan. If you do happen to be near the farm store and see me hovering around the brooders and giving each baby a name, please buy them before I do. HE will thank you for it.

This week was the week of renewals and resets. First, I decided to renew my professional license seven weeks early. It’s not that I wanted to do it so early, nor would I wait until the last minute, but they wore me down with all the emails and phone alerts that I have been receiving, telling me that my license was going to expire. For years, I really did have to start the process seven weeks early, as I received ONE notification, by mail, and in the form of a renewal certificate. I wrote out a check, licked a stamp, and *voila!*, a new license was mailed and received. In filling out the computer form, I had to change my password because I couldn’t remember the old one, which was written on something and put in a safe place somewhere else. Where? I have no idea. To add to the confusion, I had to complete a survey before writing down the confirmation number, which couldn’t possibly be something easy, but more like MHFsr#Cxyf236542w@. After that, I discovered that it was time to reset my computer password at work. This was also preceded by a password reset reminder each and every single time I signed in, which is about a gazillion times a day, so let’s just say that I was bullied into it before I was ready. Truth be told, though, I’m never ready. Since that password must be kept TOP SECRET, it must be something that can be remembered easily and not written down. With someone of my advanced age, however, it would remain a secret either way. If I wrote it down, it would likely never be found again, because it would be in that place called somewhere. If I have to rely on memory, well, let’s just say that if I were kidnapped by Russian spies, any and all secrets would be safe. After a week or two of daily use, I will hopefully be able to remember the password and not enter the old password, which if used enough, could potentially cause me to be locked out of the system, which would mean getting a NEW password and starting all over again. Yes, I know. The stuff of nightmares, isn’t it? Speaking of resets, since this is Daylight Savings Time week, I not only have a new password to remember, I will also feel like I am running an hour behind all week. Reset, renew, remember, and rejoice…because it will all be better next week, once I get used to it.

I know that I am not alone when I tell you that sometimes I wish that that I could have lived in a time when life was more simple. I love reading books that take me back there for a few hours and even have a copy of Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cook Book copyright 1903. It is very complete, and in today’s world would probably be called The Idiot’s Guide to Household Management: A Book For Women Only, but it is well-written and gives helpful information and tips about things such as trimming your lamp wicks and warming your bed with a bed warmer filled with coals from the stove. Even better, according to the book, would be to heat bricks on top of the stove every evening, then wrap them in cloth and distribute to each family member’s bed before retiring yourself. I think a better way to describe it would be “before falling into bed in total exhaustion, but removing your bustle beforehand, or you will bounce”. Every woman also needed to know how to choose the right fowl, fish, or meat from the market for her family’s dinner. That was, of course, for a City Woman. A Farm Woman of those days probably had to gut her own fish and chase down her chickens, hatchet in one hand and toddler in the other. Nothing was wasted in those days, hence the recipes for scaling, soaking and splitting pig’s feet, making desserts out of stale cake and bread, stuffing and roasting a beef heart and preparing sliced tongue. While her fricaseed lamb kidneys were simmering, the woman must remember that each day of the week had a different chore assigned: Monday was wash day, Tuesday was ironing day, etc., etc., ETC.! There are actually a few paragraphs on “How to Raise a Mustache” and making mustache pomade. Making homemade mustache pomade for hubby must have been among the projects for the woman to do in her spare time. I was beginning to understand that the simpler times weren’t that simple when I got to the chapter on preparing the sick room, caring for the infirm, and what to do in case of an emergency. It didn’t involve calling 911 or Googling the symptoms, either. One of the more interesting recipes for a sore throat or lung problems was Irish Moss Lemonade. Thinking that it was probably a hot toddy of whiskey, lemons, and sugar, I was surprised that it really did require moss, with sand and leaves removed, of course. Do NOT try this at home, unless you substitute Irish whiskey for the Irish moss. Even though I may occasionally go back to those simpler times through reading, I am thankful that I don’t have to write this column in the dim light of an oil lamp while dipping my pen in an inkwell. Another winter storm is brewing, so I can just turn up the thermostat if I get chilly, that is, unless HE notices and turns it back down. Barney the Chihuahua curled up at my feet might not be as warm as a hot brick, but he certainly is a lot softer. I have neither Irish whiskey nor Irish moss, but a cup of tea heated up quickly in the microwave sounds pretty good.

You might call it “the sticks” or “the toulies”. You might even call it “terra incognita”. Whatever you call it, we live in the country, and we love it, but it is changing. The other day, I had to wait for three cars to go by before I could turn south and be on my way to work. Three cars is a lot around here, unless it is fishing opener or hunting season. Since it was 6:30 a.m. on a cold winter’s weekday, I wondered what was going on. After living for years in larger cities or towns with their crowds, traffic jams, and stoplights, it is nice not to have to worry about the traffic or finding a place to park. Yesterday, things were really hopping here in the north woods. Heading towards home, I was in the middle of a line of traffic seven cars long. That is the most traffic I have seen here in months. We were following a guy in an old pickup, who drove ten miles per hour BELOW the speed limit in the no pass zones and ten miles per hour ABOVE the speed limit in the passing zones. Since I was smack-dab in the middle, I was determined not to let it irritate me and turned up the radio, adjusted the rear view mirror, and settled in for a long drive home. Car number seven, at the end of the line, must have let it irritate him, so decided to pass. He didn’t pass just one or two cars, but all six of us that were ahead of him. Since we were driving in an area with hills, curves, and deer who run across the road at regular intervals, I thought that he must have had more bravado than brains, but since I tend to drive only a wee bit faster than a Farm Woman’s grandmother, that probably doesn’t mean much. I prepared to slam on my brakes, but he made it by a hair. Perhaps there were so many on the road yesterday because we are expecting a snowstorm today, and it is a holiday weekend, to boot. I’ll bet dollars to dumplings that the only one on the road this morning was the snowplow driver. I’m going to stay in, put another log on the fire, and hope the boondocks will be plowed out by morning.