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Christmas Past and Present and Future

We are having a lovely time with family, and I must admit this is a pretty wonderful Christmas. Everyone is getting along, the food is good, we aren’t being driven and perfectionistic. We are taking naps.

Son reminded me of a Christmas when daughter was about 2 when we traveled to my parents in Luverne and we all promptly came down with the stomach flu. My favorite Christmas pasts were those when my parents were at our home with us and the children were old enough to participate in the festivities without being too old to be snarky and disinterested.

My only hopes for the next Christmases is for us to be together and to keep having peaceful times with one another.

Beliefs aside, what is your favorite way of spending Christmas? What are your more memorable Christmas Pasts? What are your hopes for Christmas Future? What are your favorite Christmas movies, stories, and songs.


Most mornings YA and I share our schedules with each other.  Not specific details down to the hour but general “what I have on my plate for the day” schedules.  On Saturday morning, YA told me she was going to the gym and running a couple of errands.  

I was finishing up cookies and after about an hour I realized that not only had she not left the house, but that I could hear the hair dryer running upstairs.  I was a little surprised as I would never shower and do my hair and makeup (not that I ever wear makeup) before going to work out at the gym.  I always save the shower for AFTER the workout.  I shook my head at what the younger generation gets up to.

It occurred to me that every generation shakes its head at the younger one but then I thought about my mother.  When I was growing up, my mother’s standard lipstick color was flaming red.  If she ever wore another color back then, I wasn’t aware.  And she did not go out in public without it.  I have a very clear memory (probably because it happened so often) of her applying a fresh layer of lipstick in the rearview mirror of the car before getting out to run whatever errand was on her agenda. 

So here am I, stuck between the rearview mirror lipstick application and the showering before the gym generations.  I’m guessing that YA probably has a long list of my actions that she just doesn’t understand.

Any habits of yours that another generation just doesn’t get?

Happy Birds

The warm weather the last several weeks has given us a glimpse of some fun bird behavior.

We have a bird feeder in our backyard that Husband fills with black oil sunflower seeds. We are the only people on the block who feed birds, so our yard is pretty popular, especially given the tall lilac bushes where multitudes can perch. They also like weaving in and out of the twisty grapevines on our deck. There is a very large flock of about seventy sparrows, with several Red Polls, House Finches, Chickadees, Rose and White Breasted Nuthatches, and Junkos who frequent our yard. There are often seven Eurasian Collared Doves on the ground under the feeder, eating what the other birds knock down. A Downy Woodpecker also makes an appearance now and then. They are all really greedy, and feast and gobble as fast as they can. The Chickadees alert the others after Husband refills the empty feeder to let them know that dinner is served.

I cleared out the rhubarb bed the other day, leaving a large area of smooth dirt that the rhubarb leaves had formerly covered. Last Saturday I noticed about twenty Sparrows rolling around in the exposed dirt, digging into the earth, making little indentations in the soil. I guess they were having dust baths, a luxury in North Dakota in late November.

Even more luxurious was the shower they and a migrating flock of Cedar Waxwings had a month ago on the last really warm day of autumn. I set up a sprinkler to water our rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, fern bed, and hydrangeas before freeze up, and we saw the birds flying repeatedly through the spray and huddling on the ground, letting the water cascade over them. The Waxwings made a point of drinking copious amounts of the water that collected on the walkway. The next day, they were gone.

What are your favorite birds to watch? Tell your bird stories. What is your favorite bird-inspired music and visual art?


Husband is always on the lookout for sourdough rye recipes, and settled on a Danish Rugbrød last week. That is the coarse, very thinly-cut type of rye bread baked in a Pullman pan with added sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and rye chops. It is often used as the base for Smørrebrød, those lovely open faced sandwiches..

The recipe he chose took eight days to make, beginning with the sourdough starter. He meticulously measured things as he fed the rye starter, and by Day 8 he was ready to mix up the bread.

The recipe was poorly translated from the Danish, and the exact steps were very difficult to follow. Husband fussed and fussed over getting all the proportions of everything correct at every step. He measured out everything by weight, and had to covert even the liquids from liters to grams. I served as his calculation assistant, and when he asked me to find out how many grams in a deciliter, I knew we were in uncharted territory.

I remember feeling so lost when the metric system was introduced when I was in elementary school. As I helped Husband with his deciliters, I thought of that and how ridiculously logical the metric system is. Why is this so hard for my American brain to comprehend?

The bread turned out quite well. We froze half and plan to send it to the only two Danes we know for their honest opinion.

What are your experiences with the metric system? Why is it hard for the American mind to grasp? What is your favorite bread to bake? Whose opinion do you value?

Great Ideas, Lost

Husband and I have 4×6 inch note pads lying around all over our house. Husband is an inveterate list maker. I want to have pencil and paper handy whenever a potential blog topic comes to me.

I decided to straighten up a bit last weekend, and I found a bunch of blog topics listed on the note pads that I can’t, for the life of me, remember what I was thinking when I wrote them down. Here are a few examples:

Hydrologic Engineer


The Ludicrous Life

What Would Ian Altman Think


Wondrous Vs Wonderful Life

Boccherini at work

I think I need to put a few more details about what I am thinking instead of just writing the topic or title.

How is your memory these days? Come up with some esoteric blog topics. Looking at the above listed ideas I forgot about, what questions would you pair with them?

By Any Other Name

Tofurkey calls it a sausage.  I call it a brat.  But despite the fact that we’ve been eating them for years, when YA went to the store last week, she came home without them because I had written “brats” on the list and the product on the shelf said “sausage”.  Sigh. 

I grew up without sausage or brats.  Bacon and hot dogs were our porks of choice; I don’t know why.  I actually had never even heard of a brat until I was married and moved to Milwaukee.  By that time I was a vegetarian so never delved too deeply but has always seemed to me that a brat is just a fat hot dog.  Go ahead… pile on. 

Tofurkey’s Italian sausage is a brat to me, because if it were sausage, in my world it would be smaller and something I might have for breakfast.  But according to YA she didn’t put it in the basket because it didn’t say brat.  I won’t say we actually argued about this, but it was the first time in a long while that I’ve gotten to roll MY eyes.

Is a hot dog in a bun a sandwich?

Stop and Smell……

The Boy Scout brought the two wreaths over the weekend.  Even though I normally don’t do any decorating before Thanksgiving, it seemed silly to just lay them on a table for a few days, so I hung them up.  One on the outer front door and one on the back porch inner door. 

Then yesterday morning, I spent a few hours picking up, cleaning up, arranging – it had been a while and the downstairs was looking ragged.  Our kitchen trashcan is actually on the back porch (thanks to a string of too-smart Irish setters) so I was opening and shutting the door onto the back porch repeatedly – each time I was greeted with a waft of evergreen.  It gave me a wonderful feeling every time.  My family always did live trees for the holidays.  A couple of years ago I flirted with the idea of an artificial tree and decided against it because I thought I would miss the evergreen smell.

I have other favorite smells.  Two of them are hard for me to admit; as a vegetarian for almost 50 years, it seems somehow wrong that bacon and tuna are high on my list.  They bring back pleasant memories from when I was younger, not from the taste of these things but the experiences surrounding them.  Of course, warm bread smell is hard to beat as well.   Wasband and I once ate an entire loaf in two hours – the first loaf out of our new bread machine.  And chocolate chip cookies.

Any evocative smells for you?

Simple Gifts

Husband and I finally had time last weekend to see to the garden to trim the irises, peonies, and day lilies, roll up the soaker hoses to store them in the basement, and take down the bean poles and tomato cages. It has been very cold at night here, with lows of 20°F.

Despite the cold, the spinach and chard have thrived over the past few weeks. Our next door neighbors, whose children help us in our garden, love chard. I only grow it to make a couple of Italian pie of greens each summer, and freeze some for pies in the winter. We always have more than we need, and the neighbors take the fresh chard we gladly give them to extended family gatherings where they cook it up and sprinkle it with vinegar. It is their family delicacy.

I thought I had picked the last bit of chard a couple of weeks ago, but during our garden clean up I noticed that the remaining chard had grown some pretty big leaves. I asked the neighbor if he could use some more, and he and the children came over and clipped the chard to the ground for one last autumn feast.

Husband visits a couple of our Lutheran congregation members who reside in an assisted living community to bring them communion. There is always an exchange of their homemade pickles and slices of pie for our pesto sauce and pastries. Simple gifts that mean so much.

What are the simple gifts that are precious for you to give and to get? Have any of your pets brought you “gifts”?

Hello – Goodbye

I had a hard decision last week.

Even though the last thing I really need in my life is another dessert cookbook, I could not resist Frosted by Bernice Beren.  It presents some more complicated techniques than the usual sweets cookbook but in a way that made it seem like I could take them on. 

But you know my rule.  The cookbook shelves are full – if a new cookbook comes in, something has to go.  This has been easier in the past but it took me a few days to finally choose.  I have a handful of cookbooks that I have never used (not even once) but because they are cookbooks from my travels, they have always been protected by the “something has to go” rule.  For many years I would pick up a cookbook while on trips but most of them have just sat on the shelf for all these years as a testament to where I’ve been.  The Hawaii cookbook is a case in point.  It wasn’t very expensive and had a pretty little cover, but I’ve never made one darn thing out of it.  Hawaiian food isn’t one of my favorites and this particular little cookbook is mostly meat and fish recipes. 

When selecting a “to-go” cookbook in the past I’ve always felt like I shouldn’t oust a travel cookbook.  Having them felt like a statement.  But last week when trying to decide I realized that nobody stands back there in the breakfast room reading through all these titles.  I’m not making a statement to anybody but myself.  And I certainly don’t need an unused cookbook to do that.  Even if I don’t remember where I’ve been, I actually have a world map (in the very same room) with push pins of all the places I’ve visited around the globe!  (This is not the first time I’ve had a revelation about keeping books around for the statement I think they make, but the first time I’ve applied it to my cookbook collection)

So the Hawaii cookbook is going to a new home in my friend’s Little Library.  I expect some of the other travel cookbooks will also make an exit one of these days, although Scandinavian Cooking (from my Baltic cruise) and The Africa Café (from my first trip to Capetown) will stay, since I have used them repeatedly!

Anything you’re hanging onto because of a statement it makes?


My van was in the shop last week for new brake pads. My office building is a mile down the same road as the dealership, so it should have been a straight shot for the driver of the courtesy car to get me and take me back to the dealership to retrieve the van when it was finished. There has been extensive construction work on the road, however, so he had to take me the winding, back way through a new housing development behind my work and the dealership.

The driver was younger, a mid-30’s guy who doubles as a mechanic, and he told me that he grew up in an older section of houses also right behind my work. He even pointed out his parents’ home. He remembered when the area of the new development was just tree shelter belts and bare plains. He reminisced with great wistfulness about the trees that were no longer there and all the “forts” he and the kids in the neighborhood would make among the trees and how they would raid the other forts and all the fun they had.

This put in mind all the forts my cousins and I would try to erect in and around the trees in the groves on their farms, trying to nail boards together to make structures and how exciting it was to sit in them. (Here, they are shelter belts. In Minnesota, they are groves).

Children love forts, even if they consist of blankets thrown over the sides of end tables. I remember my mother throwing a blanket over the sides of my crib, and how oddly satisfying that was. I couldn’t have been more than 3. Our children, too, loved blanket forts, and any small enclosure they could erect and escape into. We even had a book about innovative ways to make forts.

What are your memories of forts? Why do you think children like forts? Did you or anyone you know ever have a tree house? Any good tree climbing stories?