Category Archives: Family

Scholar’s Mountain

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota.

Some time ago I submitted a post about a large piece of carved Chinese jade in my possession that my maternal great grandfather hauled from Hamburg, Germany to New York to Minnesota in 1914. I thought it was an incense burner, and couldn’t figure out why it was so important that the family brought it with them when they immigrated to the United States.

My son did a little research this fall and discovered that it isn’t exclusively an incense burner. It is called a Scholar’s Mountain, Scholar’s Rock, or Spirit Stone (Gongshi), and it was used to encourage wisdom and deep thoughts as it was gazed upon. The holes, some natural and some that were carved in it, are for calligraphy or paint brush handles, and the round basin is either for incense or for water for rinsing the brushes. Who’d have thought?

Most were naturally occurring rocks carved and perforated by water, sometimes embellished with carvings, sometimes placed in gardens as points for contemplation or else brought inside. They were chosen on how well they emulated the natural world of landscape, especally mountains and elevations.  Ours is 10 inches by 7 inches. It is carved with a stag, a bat, a bear, two ravens, and a honey comb or coral shape. Now that I know this, the shape and design and purpose make sense. I wonder what scholars or deep thinkers might have used this for inspiration.

I used to worry what would happen to this after I am no longer here, and now that son has taken an interest and we know what it is, I think it will continue on its journey with him.  He is a scholar and a deep thinker, after all.

Describe a sight or an object that encourages you to think deep thoughts.



Now you see them…

Today’s post comes from Jacque.

We pulled away from the curb to leave. I turned around to wave at the grandchildren just in time to witness our 8 year-old granddaughter racing across the street behind our car, running behind it yelling, “Good-bye, I love you!” She ran for 2 blocks.

“Oh, dear,” I said to Lou, who was driving. “She is following us. It’s so hard to say good-bye to them.“

We had spent the weekend playing games with the 3 kids, primarily the card game Uno, a great game for many ages and abilities. Our 6 year old grandson, who got to nail his dad with a Pick-up 4 card, was jumping up and down and shaking with excitement. All three kids seemed to notice us in a new way that weekend. As in, “Oh, this is fun. They are not just old people!” And for our part, we found their delight and antics adorable!

Six months later, after our next visit, our Granddaughter ran after our car again, this time joined by our Grandson. It was clear that these kids wanted us around. The allure of those Uno games, to which we added Spot It was undeniable. So my husband and I made a decision to visit Arizona more. We scraped together our funds and some courage, and decided to purchase a small condo near Phoenix, in the exurban community of Fountain Hills, just east of Scottsdale.

Cloud shadows

This is a lovely town surrounded by the Superstition Mountains to the East. It is more like Northern Arizona than the Phoenix area. As our granddaughter said, “I feel like I am in a different state than Arizona.” We are here now. My blogging plan was to document the mountains with pictures from our balcony, demonstrating to you how these mountains appear to change colors, shapes, and sizes with the weather. Last week, however, they disappeared entirely during 5 days of rain. Gone. I couldn’t even find them to TAKE a picture. The El Nino weather pattern that dumped many inches of rain on drought-stricken Southern California, extended into Arizona, dumping heavy rain and sleet here, and now in the mountains. People told us rain like this had not happened since 2007!


Finally on Saturday, the clouds cleared and we could see the mountains again, covered with new snow. So here are the pictures of the fascinating and ever-changing mountain view. Meanwhile, we spent last Sunday evening with the kids and grandkids watching the Vikings beat Green Bay, playing Uno and Spot it while talking football smack. After all, their Arizona Cardinals are really good this year. This coming Saturday, two of the three kids may be over for the afternoon while their parents work.

I am no fan of hot weather, so our time in Fountain HIlls will be limited to winter. This year we will return home to Minnesota in February while some renters occupy the condo. We will come back to Arizona for a week of mountain views and Uno games in April. So in the meantime I will have to just look at the pictures of the mountains.

What do you rely on that just disappeared?

Tomte Trouble

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota.

I have always liked Scandinavian design in textiles and folk art, and I often shop at The Stabo, a Scandinavian store in Bismarck and Fargo. My daughter finds this embarrassing. “Mom, you aren’t Norwegian. You’re Dutch and German! Why do you shop there? Why do you like that stuff” I tell her that my ancestors are the people of Beowulf, and that something in the designs speaks to deep yearnings that must come from beyond the mists of the long distant past (well, not really, but if she wants to think I’m weird, I’ll play along).

My daughter takes particular exception to the tomte I have purchased-figures in different shapes made out of wool with luxurious beards and red hats. These are made from the wool of sheep raised on the Swedish island of Gotland. I keep them, along with a couple of Yule goats and straw girl, on top of our media cabinet in the living room all year long. Daughter warns me that I am to stow the tomte and goats in a closet the first time she ever brings a beau home to meet the family. I ask “What if he is Norwegian or Swedish?” She says it doesn’t matter, and the weirdness must be hid in favor of good first impressions.


Imagine my surprise this Christmas when I received this hefty fellow from my daughter. Now, I like tomte, but this guy is almost too much, even for me. Unlike the others, he has hands and thumbs, and I blame him for the dishwasher breaking down after Christmas. I didn’t put out the rice pudding, you see, so I suppose he let me know his disappointment by preventing the water from draining out. I mentioned this to daughter and she said “Good. Serves you right”.

I don’t think I need any more tomte after this. I have no more room, in any case. I am touched that daughter purchased something for me that I like but that she professes to loathe. Maybe something in the design speaks to a deep yearning in her. If so, the weirdness may continue long after I am dead and gone.

What do you love that others can’t abide?

Daddy, We Need to Talk

Today’s post comes from Steve and Molly Grooms

I think every parent dreads the day when a child asks “that question.” I sure did. And yet it is almost inevitable that some day your child will come to you to ask the question you have avoided for years. And you can’t avoid it any longer.

“Daddy, I have a big question. You have to tell me: Is Santa real?”

This crisis of faith occurred for me when I was in fourth grade. I was playing with classmates during recess when I overheard a conversation that shook me up. One of my more cynical classmates was explaining that Santa Claus was an elaborate fiction. All that stuff about flying reindeer and delivering presents down the chimney was just a lie.

I didn’t join the conversation, but I began debating the issue in my head. I was that kind of kid.

By coincidence, a few weeks later I joined my dad as he ran an errand at his office at Collegiate Manufacturing, his employer in Ames. His office was in the third floor of the old Masonic Building. Because it was three stories tall, that building was one of the tallest structures in Ames.

While Dad fussed with his paperwork, I wandered over to the window on the north side of the building. Ames had a white Christmas that year, getting a drop of about five inches of snow the day before Christmas Eve. I was already experienced in woods wisdom at that age, having played outdoors for years. Looking out over rows of homes I suddenly knew the truth. Every home below me had an unblemished coat of snow, with no marks of sleigh runners and no reindeer footprints. Santa was a fraud.

All that came back to me when I became a parent and began teaching my daughter about Santa Claus. I bought books for her that showed in detail how Santa did his miraculous work. But when she turned nine I could tell she was beginning to harbor doubts.

Just before Christmas that year, the Pioneer Press Dispatch ran a huge color photo of Santa’s sleigh flying through the night sky. At the head of the team of reindeer was one that had a bright red nose. Molly stared at that photo in silent wonder for several minutes. She finally said, “And I was beginning to think Rudolph wasn’t real.”

Weeks later, right after Christmas, Molly came to me with a serious expression. “Daddy, we need to talk.” A group of friends at school had been debating Santa. Some believed in him. Some did not. Molly volunteered to resolve the matter, saying, “I’ll ask my dad.

He always tells me the truth.” The group agreed to let her research the question by talking to me.

With mixed emotions, I told her. As I remember, I made a big deal of the fact “Santa” was a fiction but Christmas love was not. Rather than debunking Santa I told Molly the love of parents was the true Christmas miracle. She instantly joined the great conspiracy to perpetuate the Santa story with younger children, and it touched me to see how hard Molly worked to preserve the secret with kids who still believed.

All this comes to mind because I just got a note from my daughter. For readers who might not know, Liam is my daughter’s five-year-old son. I’ll let Molly finish this story:

Liam came home yesterday, helped himself to a Christmas cookie and said, “Mom, we need to talk. About Santa.”

Santa and Liam - two real guys
Santa and Liam – two real guys

My heart sank. “What about Santa, Hon?”

Liam crammed the rest of the cookie into his mouth, dusted his hands off on his pants and said, “Well, it’s more about his wife.” He leveled a very mature almost-six-year-old look at me and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “She’s not really real, you know. That’s what they say at school.”

After 15 minutes of discussion on the merits of having a wife to look after the elves and reindeer, not to mention to work as an attorney or teacher so that you can essentially run a non-profit for the world’s children, we decided she must really exist after all.

As he left the kitchen in a trail of crumbs and with a red and green sugar cookie mustache, my heart almost broke.

Stay young, little one. Treasure what could be, as well as what is. Believe in magic and your own heart. And dang it–Listen to your mother, not your friends, for just a little longer…

Do you recall how you learned about Santa? Or how you told a child?

Crying “Wolf”

Header image – “The Boy Who Cried Wolf“, by Francis Barlow

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbindsale.

I’ve just come from a semi-annual Care Conference with two of the people in charge of my mom’s care at her assisted living residence. This is sort of like parent-teacher conferences, except in reverse – YOU are learning about your PARENT. You find out which medications are working and which aren’t, what other services might be needed, and any concerns on our part or theirs are addressed. You are given a written update, and may have to sign permission slips which will be appropriately filed. “Are we all on the same page?” is one underlying question, and “Do either of us know anything the other doesn’t know that would be helpful?”

The concern I voiced was “What would it take for my mom to get an assisted walk every day?” We resolved that to the best of our ability. Then they had one for me – a new behavior my mom has done just once so far:  testing the system. She apparently called out to one of the cleaning people for help, telling them she had fallen and needed a nurse or caregiver. When the caregiver showed up several minutes later, they learned that she had indeed not fallen, but just wanted to see how long it would be before someone would come to help her.

Oh, boy. We’re going to “watch and wait”, see if this happens again. What is behind it – some sort of desire for attention? If it does happen again, she and I will have a little talk about:  if you create false emergencies, then when you really DO have an emergency maybe no one would believe you… She is still lucid enough to understand that she shouldn’t be doing this.

All in all, I am pleased with where she is – she loves the physical space, the resident dog and cats, and she now has pretty good relationships with the staff. There is just this one little glitch.

Have you ever “cried wolf”, or known someone else who did?