What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

My friends, look upon this book:

book ideal bookshelf

My Ideal Bookshelf — I found at the library. It’s a collection of writers, actors, musicians, artists — cultural movers and shakers — talking about their favorite books.

As I read it, I was struck by a couple thoughts. For one, I’m woefully under-read. Not only have I not read most of the books listed, many I’ve never heard of. It’s shameful, really.

Another thought: this book is strangely voyeuristic. Like you’re peeking into their personal lives and getting a sense of what makes them tick.

But really, isn’t that what our bookshelves do? They tell a story of our interests and hobbies, our upbringing and education level, even our fears or obsessions.

And tell the truth, when visiting someone’s home, don’t you look at the titles on their bookshelves and judge them just a little, based on what you find? (Yeah, me too.)

Knowing full well you’ll probably judge me for this, I’m going to pull out a few of the titles on my shelf that I think describe me best. These are the ones I either read over and over again, or I’m deeply sentimental about them. So much so, that moving them from Phoenix to Minnesota was a no-brainer.

(Note: Nearly all links lead to abebooks.com, my favorite site for buying used books.)

My bookshelf and me

On the far right is my Betty Crocker’s Boys & Girls Cookbook. I think it was a gift when I was in the fourth grade and I credit it for igniting my love of cooking. Right next to it are Anderson’s Fairy Tales and Blackbeard’s Ghost. I read those two over and over again all through my youth, and to this day have a strong preference for fantasy. Oh, and that fat book toward the left without a binding or cover? That’s a book of poetry, both silly and serious, that my dad often read or quoted from. I believe it explains my penchant for dark humor:

Willie saw some dynamite,
Couldn’t understand it quite;
Curiosity seldom pays:
It rained Willie seven days.

Next up, let’s consider my teen years: That Certain Something, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and way over on the left, Dr. Zhivago. Probably the weirdest collection for a teenage girl to be found. That Certain Something is a book on developing charm, of all things. You might say it was the first self-help book I ever read. It even has a quiz at the end to see how charming you are. (Note: for those of a certain age, the author was Arlene Francis — she of game show fame.)

As for Jonathan LS … well, as a matter of fact, yes. I was one of those teenage girls who thought Jonathan was deep. Truly deep, man.

seagull

Dr. Zhivago is when my serious reading began. It took three attempts and a course in Russian history before I finally understood the novel was waaaay more than a love story. I felt oh-so-smart when I figured it out, and in the process learned some books are worth a second (or third) try.

From there it was an easy jump to other classics, my favorites being The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice. And then there’s Giants in the Earth, by O.E. Rölvaag.

Never heard of it? Neither did I until I heard a portion of it on the radio. I immediately ordered two copies, one for me and one for my dad. Reason being, the book is about Norwegian immigrants to the Dakota territories and it opens with a man walking ahead of their ox-pulled wagon — the same story my dad told about his grandfather.

Later when my dad was hospitalized with congestive heart failure, I visited him. He brought up the novel and I found out things I never knew — like how his dad would tell him stories of trolls and other folk tales, and I learned more details about his mom’s depression after his dad died (in the book, the main character’s wife suffers from mental illness). My dad passed away a few months after our impromptu book discussion. Some books you enjoy, some you recommend, others hold treasured memories. Giants in the Earth is all of those things for me.

Closing in on our Final Five, you’ll see there’s Lanterns & Lances by James Thurber. I’ve mentioned before this served as inspiration for the Feeding on Folly moniker, and as I said in my ‘about me’ page, I’m a huge Thurber fan. This book doesn’t include his most well-known writings, but it’s about 60 years old and it smells lovely.

As I Live and Breathe, A Sense of the Morning, and Here Be Dragons were all accidental discoveries. Either found in used bookstores or at a “friends of the library” sale, they weren’t my usual choices of reading but became instant favorites. As I Live and Breathe is a sweet, humorous tale of the author and his wife in the ’40s and ’50s. A Sense of the Morning contains essays on nature, but it’s so much more than that. This book reminds me how to look at the world with a sense of wonder. And Here Be Dragons… well, that book taught me way more about the world than any science class did. If you have any interest in evolution or plate tectonics, or even if you don’t have interest, read this book. It explains things better than anything else I’ve read.

That leaves us with Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Hands down, my favorite book on writing. Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself and thinking I’ll never write anything good, it helps to think of this book and picture Lamott whispering over my shoulder, “go ahead, get that shitty first draft done.” (Hmm. Might be time to reread this one.)

And there you have it, 15 of the books from my shelves. I could have shown you more, but these are the ones I feel influenced me the most – either as a writer, a reader, or simply as a human being (if being human were so simple).

And now it’s your turn. Think about the books you’ve read that made you who you are today. They might be ones you prominently display on your bookshelf, or it may be you read it once and can’t get out of your head.

List them in the comments below or, if you have a blog, write about them on your site and link it here. I’d love to get more book recommendations. After all, I’ve got some extra space on my bookshelves just aching to be filled.

my bookshelf for featured photo

No Worries: The Kids Are Alright

Our kids came for a visit this last weekend.

It’s their first visit since we moved here, the first they saw our new place, the first time they’ve been in Minnesota.

Before they arrived, I told Husband how strange it felt. It was like I wanted to show off the place, impress them a little. He agreed.

We wanted them to understand why we abandoned them in Arizona.

Driving away

Now let’s be clear, we knew we didn’t really abandon them. They are in their early 20s, old enough to be on their own. They have jobs, they have an apartment, they have family and friends nearby.

And yet

Why do these images persist? My daughter is at an intersection with a cardboard sign: “Hungry, Motherless, Please Help”

Angry robin 1Son is on a street downtown, playing his keyboard. He’s got a hat in front of him and he’s singing…

When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when.
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.

We parents love riding that old guilt train, don’t we? If there isn’t enough to feel guilty about, we’ll make something up to fill the void. (One mother told me she felt guilty her daughter had to wear glasses. If she had eaten better when she was pregnant, maybe her daughter’s vision would be better.)

So it was good for us to see they were doing fine. Somehow for these last six weeks, they managed to keep themselves fed, clothed and sheltered.

Amazing.

They liked our new house, agreed the area was pretty. They seemed to enjoy Minnesota but thought our evenings were a little cold (HA HA, wimpy Arizonans!).

Still, I wondered what they thought of our moving. Did they understand? Did they think we were nuts?

It was a short trip as they had to get back for work, but before we dropped them off at the airport, we walked around Mall of America. We discovered it is one FREAKIN’ big mall. It has its own amusement park, for cryin’ out loud.

Husband and Son went on Ghost Blasters, Daughter and I did our roller coaster thing.

At some point (it may have been on the plunge down), a thought occurred to me: Our kids aren’t thinking about us.

Do you remember back when you were young and out on your own? When we’re trying to figure out the whole adult thing and find our way in the cold, cruel world? The one thing we weren’t doing at the time was sitting around wondering what our parents were up to. We had our own concerns and our parents didn’t enter into it.

Which is how it should be. Right?

They left the nest and are doing their thing, and now mama and papa bird have to figure out their thing.

So yeah. The kids are all right.

Jury’s still out on the parents, though. 😉

Feeling at Home at Bev’s Place

First, an update from last Friday’s post: The chocolate cake was a hit. (Was there any doubt?)

Second, as to our haphazard posting: If I ever get back on a regular writing schedule, it will be a miracle. (Hang tight, folks. We’ll get there eventually.)

Third, as to our housing situation: We signed the papers on Monday; it’s officially ours. (Yippee!)

mid-century home

I don’t know how well you can see her, but in front of the house by the two small shrubs we have a metal lawn decoration of a girl holding a flower pot.

She came with us from Phoenix. My kids were in grade school when we found her in a thrift shop, so we’ve had her quite some time. Over the years she took on a fine reddish-brown patina. As you can see, she fits right in with our Minnesota home.

I wonder how long before that’s true for me? When will this truly feel like our home?

At times it feels like we’re staying in a vacation rental, mostly when we walk to the river or stroll along the nearby golf course.

Other times it feels like we’re staying in the home of an elderly relative.

(There was a time when the sight of arm rails and assists would have bothered me. But after having undergone a couple difficult surgeries, I look at them now and think, “What a great idea!”)

Husband and I seem to have a knack for buying the homes of old ladies. Our first was in Nebraska from a woman named Willametta (great name, don’t you think?). The second was Eva’s home in Phoenix.

And now it’s Beverly’s home. Or Bev, as the neighbors say.

As I said last week, we know a few things about her. She collected recipes, enjoyed reading, worked at a school, enjoyed her sunroom and yard.

I found this picture posted on an online tribute to her (she passed away in March):

Beverly on porch

One of the many comments posted: “What a kind and classy lady.”

She does look rather classy, don’t you think?

Jerry, our new neighbor, said she had funny little sayings she’d repeat, perfect for whatever you were talking about. Jerry’s wife, Patricia, said no one could tell a story better than Bev.

“She’d make you laugh so hard you’d cry!”

I wish I could have met her. I’m certain we’d be friends.

Look what I found in the backyard, next to her cute little shed:

Peace

I have a hunch — just a hunch, mind you — that a grandchild painted it and gave it to her.

Walking through the home, it’s easy to feel the love and care that went into it. For over 50 years this was their home. Children were raised here, meals served, laughter shared and tears shed.

Someone asked me if I can feel her here. Meaning Beverly.

I don’t put much stock into the idea of ghosts, but I know others do so usually I say, “Well, she didn’t die here, you know. She died in a nursing home.” Thinking that will explain my lack of haunts.

It doesn’t of course. They point out “her spirit will inhabit the place she loved most.”

Now were it me? Were I a ghost?

Seems to me I’d travel. See the world. Hang out in Paris for a bit. Head over to Venice for a ride in a gondola. Spend some time in Egypt studying the pyramids… But like I said, maybe that’s just me.

Now should Bev drop by, maybe to check on things? I’ll show her how the Peace Rock is in its place and I’m doing my best to keep the yard and flowers looking nice.

I might also ask her a few questions.

Like, what did she put in the odd little space by the dining room table? Why are there seven outlets in the small sunroom, but only two in each bedroom? And why the five small nails under one of the bedroom windows?

But mostly: what the heck is the plastic hook above the basement light switch for?

light switch

Was it a key? A key to what?!

Augh, I may never know. If any of you have a guess, I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, in case you’re curious, here’s the nitty-gritty on making Bev’s chocolate cake mentioned last week:

Bev’s Rocky Road Cake

Ingredients:

  • One package Devil’s Food Cake mix
  • 4 cups mini-marshmallows
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, walnuts or peanuts
  • 1 jar hot fudge topping

Mix the cake according to package directions except replace the water with coffee (this is optional; you don’t really taste the coffee, but it adds a nice depth to the flavor). Spread into a greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Remove from oven and immediately top with mini-marshmallows and sprinkle with nuts. Heat the hot fudge topping in the microwave according to directions on jar, drizzle over the top of the cake. Let cool completely before serving.

Enjoy!

chocolate cake

Thanks, Bev!

My Clever Cat Earns Her Keep

Merricat knows how to open cabinets.

She’s quite good at it. She paws at the bottom corner, careful not to scratch the finish (she’s very considerate that way). As soon as the door opens just a bit, she sticks her paw in and pulls.

It’s marvelous really, how clever she is.

But her real talent – the one I’ve yet to capture on video – is how she opens kitchen drawers.

Now I confess, for the first few weeks we lived in this house I had no idea it was the cat opening the drawers. I thought it was Husband, who for some reason – looking for a screwdriver in the utensil drawer, perhaps? – would open two or three drawers in his quest and then leave. Not closing said drawers. Every day, multiple times a day.

I meant to ask him why. “What are you looking for?” I’d say. “Shall I show you how they close?”

Then one day I walked into the room and saw Merricat in action, exonerating Husband.

You see, what she does is stand or, depending on the height, leap up and land her front paws on the upper part of the drawer. At the same time she pushes her back paws against the cabinet below, creating a momentum that – along with the smooth working mechanism of the hardware – slides the drawer open. With Merricat swinging along.

Merricat on drawer

I marvel at my cat’s ingenuity. Truly, she is a marvel.

She is also a superior bug and vermin hunter. So when she began showing an inordinate amount of interest in one particular drawer, when she continually crawled behind it and made rustling, scratching sounds, I confess, my courage failed me. While I was curious as to what was happening in the deepest bowels of my kitchen cabinets, I decided I wasn’t curious enough.

Then our belongings finally caught up with us. I was laying Contact paper on the shelves and drawers; Merricat came to help, as she so often does. When I pulled out that drawer, she leaped in, crawled behind it, and turned to me with her big green eyes.

As if to say, “Trust me. You’ll want to see this.”

Gathering up my strength – and finding my flashlight – I pulled the drawer all the way out and looked where Merricat was sitting. On top of a pile of papers.
Old newspaper clippings, note cards, appliance manuals, an opened economy sized pack of batteries, and a cassette tape of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits.

Recipes in cabinet

The expiration date on the batteries was 2005. Most of the newspaper clippings were earlier than that.

The part that thrilled me most? All of the newspaper clippings and note cards were recipes.

The previous owner collected recipes!

We’ve learned a few things about the owner while living here. Her son told us she’d been widowed for over 40 years, raised her three children by herself, and in her last few years, in declining health, spent nearly every day in her sun room.

From the number of built-in bookshelves, we can assume she enjoyed reading. Safe to say she was a fan of show tunes, possibly theater in general. She was organized enough to keep appliance manuals, but wasn’t always able to find them.

She had a habit of losing batteries. (I can see her now: “I know I bought batteries — where on earth could they be?”)

Also, she was a school secretary. (Those of you who have been following along know that was my previous job.)

It’s kismet!

And if all that wasn’t enough, we now learn she collected recipes and put them in this drawer. The drawer Merricat found so interesting.

Thank you, Merricat. The pooping incident has been forgiven.

Merricat and Freckles

I’m sure you’re wondering what sort of recipes they are, right? After careful study and reflection, I would say they all lean heavily toward “what-should-I-bring-to-this-week’s-potluck” fare.

Which shouldn’t surprise any of us, right?

Oddly enough — or perhaps not, given your understanding of Minnesota culture — there’s a potluck at my church this Sunday.

what to bring… what to bring…

Say, how about you help me decide? There are two here that look promising.

Two recipes

One is a Canned Corn Casserole, which normally I wouldn’t find interesting but it has an option of using fresh corn instead of canned. I’m not sure if the local farmer’s market will have corn yet, but it’s possible.

The other possibility is Rocky Road Cake. To its credit, it’s a chocolate cake with marshmallows, nuts and chocolate fudge sauce. The downside is that it uses a cake mix and normally I never buy those because I’m a food snob. And yet! The recipe has this intriguing notion of using coffee rather than water when blending it. Doesn’t that sound fascinating?

(I need to get out more.)

In any case, we have these two contenders for my first Minnesota potluck. Shall I make a side dish or a dessert?

Choose your selection carefully. My future as a Minnesotan may depend upon it.

Okay, not really. But please help me out anyway. I’m terribly indecisive about these things, and for some reason Merricat is showing little interest in the whole affair.

Merricat drawer

On Moving, New Homes, and a Harrowing Incident Involving Cat Poop

We made it.

From our home of 17 years in Arizona to our new place in Minnesota, our move is complete.

Currently we’re residing in the house we’re in the process of buying. The owners agreed to let us rent until closing, keeping us from having to move a second time (my gratitude knows no bounds). And I’ve so much to tell you, I don’t know where to begin.

So to release my crowded thoughts and frozen fingers, I’ll start with the view from our sunroom, which we have designated my writing room…

Sunroom

I HAVE A WRITING ROOM!!!

A-hem

And now for a brief recap of our trip here. Picture us in a car with one 13-year old arthritic dog and one very anxious cat.

Shall we begin?

Last Day in Phoenix

The city decided to turn off our water a day early. We were nearly done loading the car, but I hadn’t cleaned the house yet. (Yes, I know I’m under no legal obligation to leave the house clean. Even so. I clean.)

Fortunately I had two packs of Scrubbing Bubbles Flushable Wipes. Which I couldn’t flush, but whatever. They got the job done.flushable wipes

You’ve not lived until you’ve mopped an entire kitchen floor with bathroom cleaning wipes.
Use this information carefully.

First Stop, Flagstaff

We purchase “calming treats” for Merricat and stopped in a park for me to take a call. After three treats (the last one I shoved down her throat), they took affect and Merricat became… well, not a happy traveler but a more compliant one.

Merricat drugged

Fast Forward to Nebraska

Now why would someone fast forward to Nebraska?

If you’ve ever traveled through Nebraska, you’ll know it’s flat and boring and nothing ever happens there. And that’s where you’re wrong.

The eastern portion of the state (perhaps others, I don’t know) is quite lovely. With rolling hills and charming farmhouses.

Nebraska hills

Not a place you expect a crisis to occur, but occur it did.

I’m telling you, until you’re trapped in a Toyota Corolla with a pet cat who just pooped, you don’t know the meaning of panic. Quick as a flash, Husband pulls over, doors are opened, fresh air sucked in… soiled pillow removed.

As an indication of our love for humanity and all creation, I want you to know we did not leave the soiled pillow by the side of the road.

Per Husband’s suggestion (he nixed my idea of burning it), we sealed it in a plastic bag and threw it in the first trash can we came across.

Back in car, Dog looking out window, Cat acting like nothing happened.

Merricat and Freckles

Stupid cat.

Minnesota at Last

The next day we arrive to our new home in Little Falls, Minnesota.

The listing agent for our house, Donny, is there to give us keys. He tells us about a band concert in the park that evening. They do it once a year; we happened to arrive on the right day.

The park is walking distance from our house (truthfully, most things are walking distance from our house) and the band, all local, was quite good. For some reason we expected something along the lines of an old-time Sousa band, instead we heard selections from Van Morrison, Chicago, and Steely Dan.

Rock the park

The park – Maple Island Park – is lovely. The Mississippi flows through it (the slogan for Little Falls is Where the Mississippi Pauses) and there are walkways and bike paths throughout.

By one of the bridges we came across a young girl trying her darnedest to catch a duckling.

“Last year my uncle caught me one,” she said.

I asked her if it was all grown up now.

“No. It died. That’s why I want another.”

Duck photo

Don’t worry, she didn’t catch one.

Days 1 Through 7

We beat our moving “pods” here. Meaning we’re without belongings, but worse yet, without internet. We buy an air mattress at Wal-Mart and a table and chairs at a thrift store. A neighbor (Jerry) offers his truck to haul the table. Another neighbor (Buddy) mows the lawn for us.

We get our internet fix at the library and coffee shops and occasionally by using our phones as hotspots. Husband orders cable & internet. Router and Modem are on their way.

Day 8

Two of our three pods arrive. Several church members come to help us unload.

Unpacking

Afterward we gather our chairs on the front lawn and have pizza.

We slept on a real bed for the first time it over a week. It was glorious. Still no internet. That bites.

Day 9

The third pod arrives. This one contains Husband’s motorcycle and both our bicycles, all in perfect condition.

Packing cube

Still no internet. I’m bereft.

Day 10, Arrival of Modem and Router

Remember the scene in the movie 2001, when the ape people stare at the monolith in awe and wonder?

2001

That should give you an idea of what Husband and I looked like when we saw the soft light emanating from the router.

Now, one would think that since I was without internet for a whopping 10 days, I should have accomplished a lot.

Like, maybe, I don’t know… unpack things?

Sadly, no. From the looks of this place, you’d think I sat around and stared into space the whole time.

Well, no. Not into space. Just my backyard.

Backyard

From my writing room.

I’VE GOT A WRITING ROOM!

A-hem.

PS: The call I took in Flagstaff was a job interview for a position at the hospital near our new home (you guessed it, within walking distance). I start on Monday.

A Letter From Nanna

My dad’s mother — my grandmother and namesake — was the youngest girl of 11 children, six boys and five girls altogether. The oldest was Clara, whom we heard from in a prior post

IMG_20180424_201733414

In the course of packing for our move to Minnesota, my progress is being continuously sidetracked by finding old photos, notes of family history, even a few letters.

Case in point: I found a little letter written by my grandmother when she was 12 years old, addressed to her sister Clara.

And when I say it was a little letter, I mean little:

Nanna's letter
The pen should give you an idea of the letter’s size

I was in college when my dad received the letter from a cousin. I remember him showing it to me and how delighted we were by the size of it. The envelope is 3” by 4” and the letter itself is folded like a little book.

What I didn’t remember was that my parents made a replica of it for me, going so far as to create a makeshift envelope so I had the complete package.

I must be the luckiest blogger in the world.

Before I reprint the letter here, I should explain something. As has been stated before, my dad’s family was not one for nicknames but they made an exception in my grandmother’s case. Since her name was so long — Christianna — as a young child she had a hard time saying it. The best she could manage was “Nanna.”

The name stuck. Even as a young girl, she was called Nanna.

Clara and Grandmother
Clara & Nanna

Personally I’ve always been charmed by the fact that my grandmother’s name was literally Nanna. 

Postmarked: Nordness Iowa, May 4, 1897

Miss Clara Jacobson
Hills, Rock Co. Minnesota

Dear sister:

I will ans. your very welcome letter, received it yesterday eve when I had gone to bed. Momma has a cold, the others all well. Ragnvald is over to Bakken to help Signe Abraham and she has not done her house cleaning yet.

How do you like to teach school when it is so many, 34 in all wasn’t it?

It is getting very nice down here now. We have Pentecost lilies that bloom and bleeding hearts will soon be out & pansies out and many buds on the peonies. Momma said I should thank you ever so much for those nasturtium seeds. I’ve been going to school today. Helga is playing now.

The church was just full at Mary’s funeral. The boys came up. Christian, Isaac and David, they came up on bicycles Saturday. Isaac and David stayed till Sunday but Chr. went down again.

We laid 5 hens on the hen house, one was dead on her nest and the others ate up their eggs.

How do you like to stay with Mrs. Sarah Jacobson? I suppose she has it nice.

Martha Brown fell out of the buggy Sunday when they came home from church and the wheel went over her. Nettie Hovey said she did not get killed but I have not heard any since that.

I must close now. Please ans. soon.

Your sister,
Nanna

Excuse scribbling and bad spelling, writing and everything. I hope you can make it out. – Nanna

Just a couple thoughts:

  1. How hard it is to write out ‘answer’? That’s twice she abbreviated it to ‘ans.’ (No offense Nanna, but really. It’s just three stinkin’ letters)
  2. Is it just me, or do you get a sense Nanna was disappointed Martha Brown survived? I mean, outside of the peonies the letter was a bit dark, don’t you think?
  3. Did you notice where the letter was sent? Clara was living in Minnesota! Where I’ll be living in just one month’s time!

I looked it up. Hills, Minnesota is in the southwestern-most corner of the State, very close to both South Dakota and Iowa borders.  According to Google maps, it’s just a little over four hours from where I’ll be.

Hills to Randall

I was aware that our move would put me closer to family in South Dakota and Wisconsin. I hadn’t considered how much closer it would put me to my past.

Of these 11 offspring of Jacob Abrahamson (Nanna and her siblings), eight of them wound up in Minnesota. I know this because my family kept ridiculously good records.

When my move is complete and the dust has settled, when I find my “new normal,” I plan on sharing a few thoughts regarding the bios I have on these 11 offspring. They are interesting not only for what they say, but for what they omit. Particularly with regards to Nanna.

In the meantime, hang loose my friends. Only don’t fall out of the buggy.

When You Know it’s Time to Move

It’s one thing to move when you’re unhappy, it’s quite another to move when everything is going positively swell.

We’ve got ourselves a swell life here in Phoenix. Our kids are here, family and friends abound, we have jobs we like.

Heck, I even like my coworkers. How amazing is that?

We live in a decent neighborhood, in a decent house, with decent neighbors who watch out for each other.

But yeah. We’re moving. To Minnesota.

When people ask us why, it’s not always easy to explain.

“You know it’s cold there, right?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that.”

Snowing in April
The view from our hotel the first time we visited. It was mid-April.

We could say there’s a danger in getting too comfortable. You start to feel like you’re coasting along. No longer striving, no longer trying. Just settling in and waiting for the inevitable.

Sometimes what you need is a change of scenery.

“You know what the state bird of Minnesota is? The Mosquito!”
“Haha.”

Bench by the river
The Mississippi as it flows through Little Falls, a ten-minute drive from Randall, MN

Do you ever get an antsy feeling that something is not quite right? You feel a bit unsettled. Despite your life being perfectly fine, you have this voice inside saying, “You need a change… It’s time… Do something!”

And as Husband is a Presbyterian minister, we tend to put stock in that sort of thing.

We’ve been in the same house in Phoenix, at the same church, for 17 years.

Seventeen years. That’s half a century in Pastor-years.

He wanted to try something different. Still ministry, of course, but somewhere different.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, he “activated” his information. In essence, it alerts churches looking for a new pastor that he’s available. As per usual, he didn’t narrow the parameters as to where he was willing to go.

We’ve always been foolhardy in that regard.

“Hey, maybe we’ll wind up in Hawaii!”
“Yeah… or maybe Detroit.”
“Um…”

trees, Minnesota, small town
The sleepy little town of Randall, Minnesota

Fortunately for us, Presbyterians allow pastors to have a say in the matter. We’re not moved willy-nilly. We can scope a place out, take our time, interview the people there as much as they interview us. Do everything we can to make sure it’s the right move.

We were in no hurry, and with Husband having recently turned 60, we figured it’d be a slow process. We expected a year, maybe two, before we found the right place.

So imagine our surprise when he started getting emails from Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, California, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma…

“Oklahoma?”
“Um… no.”

river, small town, Minnesota, Little Falls
Look at all these homes blessed with riverfront views. Do you think they know how lucky they are?

Another thing we weren’t prepared for was how much politics would enter into it.

With each interview, Husband had a clear impression they were fishing for his political views, especially with regards to gay marriage. They weren’t asking overtly of course, but the meaning was there. And almost without fail, the churches contacting him were very conservative.

We began to wonder, was there some sort of code language we missed? Was there a phrase he used in his information form that inadvertently labeled him Alt-right?

He began researching locations as soon as a church contacted him, mostly to see how their area voted in the last election. What we hoped for was an area with some political diversity, neither all red nor all blue.

We look great in purple.

Most of the areas were heavily one sided. Such as South Carolina.

“I saw that 86% of your county voted for Trump.”
“Well, we ARE the Bible Belt, you know.” (Said in the most charming accent ever)

quilt shop, coffee shop, creamery building, randall minnesota
Randall’s quilt and coffee shop, housed in the old Creamery building. Soon to be my favorite hangout.

Then sometime in February he was contacted by a church in Randall, Minnesota. A Google image search showed us… well, honestly they need to hire a new photographer for that town. Most of the images are less than stellar.

But our emails with the church were lovely, as was a phone call. So a Skype interview was scheduled.

That then had to be rescheduled.

“So let me get this straight: no one from your committee can get to the church right now, on account of snow?”
“We really didn’t want to tell you that.”

snowy path, trees, minnesota
Are we nuts? Yeah, probably.

The eventual Skype interview was one of the most pleasant interviews he had, lasting for over an hour. It led to a second Skype interview, followed by a third… then a fourth… then a fifth…

The conversations were open, honest, forthcoming. They classified themselves liberal. They’re also pro-military.

They’re an interesting bunch.

They flew us up there. We hugged. (Heck, after five Skype interviews you’re practically family.) They put us in a nice hotel, drove us around town. Showed us the best roads for scenic motorcycle rides. (Husband took notes.)

They took us to a restaurant by a lake (of course), where Husband watched two snowmobiles make their way across the ice.

“That looks fun.”
“Um… yeah, actually. It does.”

snowmobiles, minnesota, family in the snow
Sure it’s cold, but dang it’s fun!

It’s an odd thing, but sometimes it takes a move across the country to find your kind of people.

So Husband wanted something different.

I think we found it.

church in randall minnesota

A Good Long Walk, Pioneer Style. Plus, an Announcement

Picking up where we left off last week, our caravan of Norwegians traveling from Decorah, Iowa, into the Dakota territories in 1861, had little in the way of drama on their trip. Nothing worthy of a movie. No Donner party mishap to report.

Shame, that.

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And yet this next part of the tale is without a doubt my favorite, for it gives us the picture of old Great-Grandpa ambling ahead of the ox-pulled wagon, reading a book under the shade of an umbrella.

I can’t remember how old I was when my dad told me about it, but I remember the warm feeling it gave me. It gave me an awareness – an explanation for who I was. These are your people, the story said. This man who walks in solitude and brings a book to bide his time? Yes. It explains everything.

Along with this we hear of more practical matters, such as how they parked their wagons for the night, and later crossed the Sioux River on a ferry. You read this tale long enough, and you’ll have all the instructions you need to make the trip yourself.

Here it is in his own words (as published in 1907):

The course to the west which we were now to cover consisted of long stretches of naked prairie, with great distances between places where water and fuel could be found. We had to carry these supplies with us in our wagons so that at night we would be sure to have these necessities. Every evening the wagons were placed in a square, the oxen were turned loose to graze, and a fireplace, with a wall encircling it, was spaded out. Here we made our fire.

Before we went to rest the oxen were tied to the wagons, and at the earliest break of day they were again let loose so that they might both feed and slake their thirst in the dew-laden grass. In rainy weather we found it advisable to remain in camp; otherwise the chafing of the yokes on the necks of the animals caused sores to develop.

As a protection against wind and rain, I had provided a small tent under which we could cook and braise to our heart’s content. The varieties of food might not have been many, but oh, how delicious they were to our keen appetites!

The day’s journey was short, averaging perhaps fifteen miles. With an umbrella in hand and a book in my pocket, I would go ahead of the caravan as a advance guard, and when I was a mile or so in front of it, I would sit down in the shade of my umbrella to read until it (the caravan) caught up with me again. The long evenings of early fall were utilized for reading within the wagon by light of a stearin candle.

At last we reached Sioux City, near the point of influx of the Big Sioux River into the Missouri. The Big Sioux forms the boundary line between Iowa and Dakota. Across it we were transported by means of a ferry, and although the boat was a primitive one, the passage was very ingeniously accomplished.

First a cable was stretched across the river. The flat-bottomed ferry had a wide keel and at each end of the ferry this was made fast to the cable with a hawser. When the crossing was being made, the hawser at the front was shortened, placing the ferry aslant with the stream, so that the force of the current against the keel moved the craft across. For the return trip it was necessary only to reverse the arrangement of the hawsers. The adjustment of the lengths of the hawsers was all that was needed in the operation, the rest being accomplished by the stream itself.

After a three weeks’ journey we arrived at Vermillion, which, by the route we traveled, was approximately three hundred miles from Decorah. I had walked, not ridden, every inch of the way.

I hope you’ve been enjoying these last few weeks of my Great-Grandpa’s tale. I may from time to time present a few more interesting nuggets, as the mood strikes me or the need arises.

For now though, I have an announcement to make: We’re moving. As in, Husband and I are packing our belongings, selling the homestead, trekking across country to a new locale. (Though unlike Great-Grandpa, we’ll be driving.)

This is why I’ve been so busy lately, and why I’ve been so dreadfully behind in responding to comments on this blog or keeping up with my fellow bloggers.

Again, terribly sorry.

It seems packing up 17 years of living and laughing and loving doesn’t happen overnight. We had to tell family and friends, break it to the kiddos (they’re staying in Phoenix), get the house ready to sell, and sort through our own complicated emotions. Emotions containing fear, sadness, excitement, longing… everything all at once.

Yet whatever fear or sadness we felt were never outmatched by the overwhelming sense that this move is right. However nuts it may sound to anyone else, we believe we’re on the right path.

Where are we moving, you ask? Believe it or not, Minnesota!

From extreme heat to extreme cold. No half measures for us.

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I’ll let you in on more details in the weeks to come, as we still have to sort out moving details, as well as a place to rent until we (hopefully) find a home of our own.

In the meantime, through all of this, I’ll think of a man walking in solitude, biding his time by reading a book. Did he experience fear or sadness on his trip? Possibly. Mostly, I think he felt his path was right.

Visitors to the Parsonage: Goatmen, Drunkards, and Convicts

In our last episode of Feeding of Folly, the blogger hinted she was “busy,” and therefore would have difficulty posting on a regular basis.

“Busy with what?” readers demanded.

She didn’t say. The only morsel she offered was that for the next few weeks, she would be supplementing her blog posts with found writings from her Great-Aunt and Great-Grandfather. (Leaving readers with the profound hope that not only will Great-Aunt Clara be a good storyteller, she’ll also know the proper use of a semicolon.)

First, by way of introduction, here is the short bio for Clara that appears in Pioneer Memoirs:

Clara Jacobson (1863-1949), eldest child of Abraham and Nicoline Jacobson, studied at Monona Academy, Decorah Institute, and Valder College. She taught both public and parochial school for many years in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. She wrote a great many accounts of the pioneer days and her work appeared in Norwegian-American journals and newspapers.

The passage below is an excerpt from “Minder fra Perry Prestegard” — Memories from Perry Parsonage. It first appeared in print in 1911 in the Norwegian-American journal Symra. Clara’s father, Abraham, served a congregation in Dane County, Wisconsin from 1868-1878.

Here, Clara describes a few of the guests her family entertained at the parsonage. (I have to say, I rather like these people. Their guests, too.)

In those days the parsonage was a stopping place for itinerant people of various kinds. Father and Mother never asked any pay for keeping them, and it was in exceptional cases that anything was offered for their trouble.

Many queer personages visited the minister. Among others may be named Gjeitemand (the goat man). He had gotten this name because he had brought goats with him from Norway. These he sold to Americans, but after a while they returned to their former owner, who sold them again. He loved to tell local stories, but when they did not receive the desired appreciation his visits ceased.

Jonsebergen was also a well-known figure. He was very fond of strong liquor, but as he lived far from town he could not get it easily when the longing came over him.

Mr. Dahle, who kept the store, always had spirits on hand, together with various patent medicines, but he only sold them for medicinal purposes. Once when Jonsebergen was somewhat drunk, he went to the store to get liquor, but Dahle would not sell him any.

What did he do then? Yes, he actually came to the minister and asked him to write a testimony saying, Let Jonsebergen get a pint of whiskey. “The pastor in Valdres wrote this for me,” he added.

“No,” Father said. “If I were to write, I would have to say, ‘Do not let Jonesbergen get any whiskey.’”

Jonsebergen left, stumbling along. Later he said to his friends, “What in the world was the matter with me that I should think of going to the minister when I was drunk?”

Haavelsongutten, who was well known among people from Valdres, Norway, also visited the parsonage. He had a bad record, for he had served a prison sentence at Christiania (Oslo) for his misdeeds. When he was released he left for America.

He had acquired a citified speech and did not use his native dialect when he visited the minister. He spoke of the “institution,” and Father understood that by this he meant the prison. Once he told Father that his daughter was married to a cavalry officer in Christiania. When Father could not conceal his surprise, he said in his stiffest book language, “Do you not know, pastor, that a black sow can have white pigs?”

Here is a picture of the whole Jacobson clan: Mom, Dad, and all 11 (eleven!) children:

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Great-Aunt Clara is the woman seated on the far right. The young child leaning into her is my Grandmother.

Tune in next week when Great-Aunt Clara tells of more visitors, including a schoolteacher of whom a farmer says, “We might just as well have a cow to teach school as this Berentsen.”