29 December 2009

The Alpha and the Omega

This past August, I happened across this church on the edge of the county. Alone, for once, and with my camera, I stopped to take photos. I stopped again yesterday, about the same time of day (2 in the afternoon) as August, and the light, of course, is totally different. Not much else has changed, though, in the last four months. When I was growing up, I adored old cemeteries, and the stories behind their churches were compelling to me. Though it's in my home county, I don't remember this particular one. It stands next to a major county road, and is locked up tight, with a foreboding (if nearly illegible) sign on the front door.
How long has it been locked? Where did the congregants go? There are many of these closed churches in Norman County, of course, little country churches that couldn't sustain the numbers or draw a pastor for what they could pay. Usually, they become township halls, or are donated to museums, or get torn down. Often just the altar is saved. This one is missing windows, though not all of them. A vine grew through the floor this summer.Winter view through the same window:Pigeons are filling the gaps with their nests. This altar remains: perhaps because it's simple, or no one had room or desire for it. The lectern and pulpit still stand, too. How many couples were married here? How many funerals? There's no cemetery in the church yard, so where were they buried? There is no sign or marking of the name or denomination of this church, either. Somehow this makes it more spooky to me. And why, oh why, is the interior pink? Someone built this church. Someone finished the ends of that cross. Someone designed the arch of the steeple, and chose the tiny round window for the entryway. The only clue I can find are the letters on the altar, and even they don't tell me much. The letters are Greek, and I recognize them from my brief stint as a religious woman, in college. They refer to the infinity of God.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
--Revelations 22: 13
There's some sort of magnificent point here, but I haven't figured it out yet. You go on ahead.

27 December 2009


To fight cabin fever, we went out to play. In the deep, deep snow. Actually, this was before the snowing was over; we've got 17 inches, now, and I think these pictures were taken around 12 inches.
She couldn't walk far in the thigh-deep snow, and when she tipped into a drift, I thought it would be time to go in. Instead, flipped over and dogpaddled through the snow.Then she rolled over again, buried her legs and laughed hysterically. It's goods to have a four year old around to remind me of the joy of snowstorms.

26 December 2009

Winter safety

My father taught me to respect winter. At any point during my childhood, we were prepared to spend up to a month snowed in together: between our large freezer, my mother's canning, and dozens of extra large cans of pork and beans, we were always prepared. Our winter-ready car never had below half a tank of gas, and always held blankets and newspapers, hats, mittens, and extra socks for every passenger, as well as food, water, rope and something to pee in. For as long as I can remember, I was told never to leave a car stuck in a blizzard, and if I needed to check the tailpipe (so as not to be asphixiated by exhaust kept in the car from drifting snow) I was to tie myself to the door handle before setting foot out of the vehicle.

I remember being very young when he told me stories of people slicing their horses open and crawling inside to survive (ala the Ton Ton incident with Han Solo), and I know my grandfather had more than once to tie a rope around his waist and the other end to the door handle of his store to walk the block and a half home.

My father was born in 1930, and was ten years old during the Armistace Day Blizzard. On balmy winter days, he would cite the 1940 storm to keep us from complacency.
(photo from the MN Historical Society)

He certainly knew people who had lived through the Children's Blizzard of 1888, and though he loved winter, and built us huge sledding hills and taught us how to make tunnels through the snow, he parented at least partly by fear, because it could save us.

The storm of the last few days, which will certainly be called the Christmas Blizzard (though will not be as infamous as the other 2 I've mentioned, hopefully), is the largest we've had since living in this house (I think) and we were pretty much prepared: I have a freezer full of food (albeit a regular, top-of-the-fridge kind of freezer), and we're just now running low on cookies. V has several new toys to entertain her, and we have Volume 3 of the Addam's Family television show to keep us busy.

So it was with great hesitation that I set out last night, around 7pm. There was no travel advised, and our street is one of the last plowed in town, so even if we wanted or needed to drive somewhere, there was no way the Mazda was going to clear 16" of snow. I layered my clothes, with long johns, wool socks, and thick jeans, and a t-shirt under my sweatshirt under my long wool coat. I pulled on my black and purple winter boots I bought back in college, and wore a thick beautiful scarf my friend Carla made me, and a hat, and wool mittens. I put my wallet in one pocket of my coat, the cell phone in the other, and I kissed my family.

That makes it sound more dramatic than it was: though travel out of town was nearly impossible, in town wasn't so bad. We could see across the street, easily, and though there was a good strong north wind, it wasn't impossible to walk against. Plus, my father's horror stories all took place well before cell phones, and though I hate it when people are stupid and drive around during a blizzard, I figured the police would be willing to pick me up if I somehow couldn't make it back home from my 20 block adventure. I opted to walk against the wind to begin with, so coming home would be easier.

On my walk, I came to appreciate snowblowers a great deal. The kind people who had cleared their sidewalks (I would say perhaps 75% of the sidewalks were cleared or nearly so) in the middle of a blizzard really made my trip easier. Where it wasn't cleared, or where the snowblower had come through before the plow, I waded through knee-deep snow until I got to the next cleared area. I understand the lure of snowshoes, now, too. It was snowing for a good portion of my walk: cold, wet, stinging snow.

But I pressed on.

All the way there, I heard, besides my father, two voices in my head: the Man in Jack London's To Build a Fire, and Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl. This is what happens when an English major takes a walk in a blizzard.

The walk home was easier, though creepy, too, as I realized that my footsteps had largely been erased by the wind. The sidewalks were still mostly clear, and the wind at my back felt gentle compared to the wind in face.

Why did I make such a journey, you ask, when I had cookies and a freezer full of food and the Addams Family volume 3 in my warm home?

I was out of Coca-Cola. And some things are not negotiable.

19 December 2009

Hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring, ting, tingling too...

When V got old enough to notice the world around her, we started to get excited about all the things we could show her. The zoo, a Twins game, Island Park Pool in mid-August, the world-famous Concordia Choir....but V had other plans. We took her to the circus last April, and, well, let's just say that any plans for anything larger than two cousins and a neighborhood playground got put on hold. I blogged about her beginning therapy, but haven't said much since. So here we go.

It's been a good six months, in a lot of ways. This year at school has been better, probably because she's older, but we also moved her to a different classroom (because she had established some not-so-good patterns in her old one), and the therapy seems to be helping. She still uses the shoebox sometimes on bright days, and sometimes it's hard for her to be in large groups. We had a successful trip to IKEA this fall, where we used social stories to get ready for a big, busy new place. But the circus last April and the school holiday party from last December, which were utter, terrifying failures, were still fresh in my mind. So yesterday's holiday party was not something I expected to enjoy. Last year, she started crying the minute we walked in the door and could not be consoled: we left after six terrible minutes of me pointing to treats and friends and the carousel only to have her bury her head in my shoulder. This year, I suggested she bring a stuffed critter with her, thinking it might help calm her fears. (She picked Julio). Whew. It took several minutes of standing outside the front door, but we made it inside. For the last several weeks, we've been working with Jane, V's therapist, to prepare: we had a social story, a little booklet that explained all of the great things about the holiday party (friends! cookies! hot chocolate! music!) and the scary things (lots of friends! noise! spinning horses!) and how she could respond if she got overwhelmed (go outside, or to the entry way, or into the restroom, where it's quieter). V knew the story by heart, and even shared it, unprompted, with several people. Still, my idea of success was going to be 10 whole minutes without too much crying.

Once we got inside, she took off her mittens, coat, and hat. And promptly put her hat back on. It's quite a noisy place, this carousel, and even moreso when you add 200 people and sugar cookies.Thank God there were cookies. That was in the script: cookies! We like cookies! She was looking forward to these cookies for weeks! But...but....there's no hot chocolate. Uh-oh. I braced for meltdown while pretending it was totally no big whoopdedoo that there was hot cider instead.

My casual attitude rubbed off. When it cooled off enough, V declared cider "almost as yummy as hot choclate!"We watched our family riding the carousel. I love this picture of my sister and her family, especially because Jess and Brad got married here five years ago. I can hardly believe how much our lives have all changed since that lovely day. Anyway, we were already ten minutes into this thing, and aside from the initial hesitation, there was no inkling of a meltdown. I could barely believe it.

V saw a wooden sleigh and promptly organizes a photo shoot with her cousins. This photo is excellent because each of their personalities is captured here: Will's looking at something on the ceiling, V's being a goofus, and Emmy's concentrating on her cookie. I have a feeling they'll be taking this same photo in 10, 20, and 30 years. Only Emmy's pants probably won't snap up the inseam. And V's hat'll probably be bigger.
Soon after that photo, Jess, Brad, Will and Emmy packed up and left. Before us. What? How did this happen? I got nervous again. Without a whole posse of beloveds around, how would V not get overwhelmed? Who would look at me sympathetically when the wailing began? After a few minutes, while V was sitting next to me at our table, licking the sugar off her sugar cookie, she quietly said, "Would you ride with me on the merry-go-round?"

What? Yes! I mean, sure, babe. Whatever you wanna do. It's all good. We got in line, and watched the riders ahead of us. "Do those horses have any buckles?" she asked, as one girl kicked her feet off to the side. "No," I said. "You have to hold on." She said "I want to sit on the bench." Okay. Not a horse? "No. the bench." Hey, kiddo, I don't care what you want to do, as long as it doesn't involve laying on the floor and screaming. She was determined, and focused, and I was so excited to sit beside her and her earflap hat. We looked around us as we waited for the music to begin. "Look at the mirrors and the lights. Look at how the horses move up and down. Cool, huh?" She seemed genuinely interested. As we rode, she searched the crowd for her friend Charli (whom we'd watched go around several times earlier) and danced a little to the music. She wasn't scared at all. We got off the ride and I was feeling triumphant: we'd already been here an hour (an hour!) and her actually riding the carousel was beyond my wildest hopes. She walked off the ride and straight into a group of kids who were watching a puppet show, and she joined them. And danced. She laughed and swayed and waved at me. You know, like a normal kid. In a hat.

After a few minutes, she ran over to me and said "I want to ride again!" Really? Sweet. Sure. We got back in line, and this time she stood next to a horse. "Really?" "Yep!" she said. She was so proud of herself, and since there were no buckles, she held on really tight. At first. Once things started moving, she loosened up and enjoyed the ride. At one point she said to me "Why are you standing there?" "Well, you know, in case you get nervous." Or freak out and throw yourself off a spinning hunk of metal. She rode again, after this, alongside Charli, and said "Mom, go ride a horse. Back there." So I did. And my little four year old didn't cry until I told her it was time to go home.

Holiday Party Victory. Maybe we should start saving up for Twins tickets after all...

18 December 2009

Whole cloth quilt

This is the second in a series I've cleverly named Quilts of Our Lives. (Apparently, this is my go-to topic when I feel like I need something new on the blog but I really don't have time to craft a brand-spanking new post.)

In the interest of full disclosure, note all the photos from this whole series were taken this summer, when we had green grass and wore cropped pants and generally enjoyed the out of doors. Now we have 8" or so of snow and it hasn't been above 15 degrees in two weeks.

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, I chose to just leave large pieces of fabric as they are and quilt them. Historically, this is referred to whole cloth quilting, and it's unusual, in that one purpose of quilting that I especially admire is the careful use of scraps. It was pretty rare that our foremothers had 6 yards of fabric laying around that didn't need to be cut into clothing or wagon wheels or something. Still, I like the idea of a whole-cloth quilt, and by my definition, the chicken quilt is an example of that.

You'll note, if you went to the whole-cloth quilt link above, that mine looks nothing like those. I mean, mine looks like a preschooler's attempt at Starry Starry Night. I'm comfortable with that.
And you all know better than to do what I do, right? Because I'm not a professional, I'm totally making this up as I go, and often it doesn't work out at all. Okay?
So I sewed around the edges with the quilt sandwich inside out, flipped it, straightened it, pinned it, and quilted in large (5") squares. The batting is, I think, a warm cotton batt (as opposed to the loftier but less warm poly, or ridiculously warm wool), and both the chickens and the gold swirl backing (pictured below) are upholstry weight, denim-y type fabrics, which make for a good thick heavy quilt. When I bought the chicken fabric, I fully intended to make myself a jumper. Leave me alone: I was a librarian at the time, and desperate for some excitement. Luckily, I needed a quilt more than a new jumper, and chicken quilt was born. Considering its weight, I must've used a denim needle or three to do the quilting, and every 5" is almost certainly the very least amount of quilting that batting allows. (which means that if you quilt it more than 5" apart, it's like to disintegrate sooner rather than later and become sort of a crumbly pile of yuck.) You didn't know you were going to learn so much about quilting when this post started, did you?
The chicken are really lovely, and over the years this quilt has held up very well. That may be partly because it wasn't in daily use, until some little sprout got a big girl bed, and needed a big girl quilt to tide her over until Mama gets her shit together enough to make her "a real one." I don't think the chickens have any idea who they're up against.

11 December 2009

Sick day update

We've progressed from low-grade fever to throwing up. Luckily I've slipcovered the couch with a flannel sheet, and it's made a cozy place for a plum-tuckered girl to doze off.

Where've ya been?

Sorry things are so quiet here, folks.

This is that time of year that things get too crazy for me: I have 70-5 to7 page research papers, 70 hand-written 2 page essays, and 40-3 page essays to grade in the next week. Plus an 8 page final exam to administer on Wednesday. And the house is a huge mess, and V's home sick from school with a cold that makes her whiny and demanding (even more than usual) and I spent $1100 yesterday to fix my car, and Shaun works this weekend, which means lots of hours home alone with a sickly 4 year old and not much time to grade, and I actually really want to walk on the treadmill but it's too loud and upsets V, so I have to wait until her naptime, and I think I've pulled some sort of ligament in my foot, because it hurts a lot, and I still haven't sent Christmas cards, though they're mostly written on and addressed, and having spent $1100 on my car really cuts into my holiday shopping budget, and I can't think of anything good to get V's teachers and therapists for the holiday, anyway, and I caught my second plagiarist of the semester yesterday, and really I just want to take a nap.

See? Now you know where I've been. Hope your week is shinier than mine.

04 December 2009

Snuggled up together....

Since winter has finally arrived, I thought I'd start a new series of posts. I've been planning these since this summer, and I'll be posting them sporadically throughout the winter. I've been calling it "Quilts of Our Lives" and then I hear the soaring soap opera music in my head. You do what you like with that information.
One day this summer, I was doing our laundry and realized that we have many, many homemade blankets. Store-bought blankets are outnumbered 5 to 1 or better at our house. This makes me tremendously happy.
This is the first quilt I made at Camp Lebanon's quilt retreat, way back in the 90's. I had already made several quilts by this time, but being surrounded by women quilting made me more careful and conscientious. It's a standard log cabin stitched in the ditch, and is crib sized. I made it before I even met Shaun, and many of the attendees of quilt retreat commented that it would be a perfect quilt for a little boy. Which made V's birth even more victorious: I was thrilled for my daughter to roll around and drool on this. Those are lizards on the green jungl-y fabric. It was also the first quilt I finished with a proper binding, and after machine sewing the homemade binding on one side, I hand-sewed the whole thing to finish it.
It's still big enough for V to use, though not by much. Soon it will be relegated to babydoll swaddling, I suppose. Not a bad way for a quilt to retire.

01 December 2009

And then there were five.

Sunrise over North Dakota yesterday:

My grandparents already had three children when they moved to Hendrum. My Aunt Beverly, Uncle John, and Uncle Dick were all born in North Dakota. Aunt Sharon was born February 10, 1941 in Halstad, and two years to the day later, my mother was born at home in a snowstorm. Aunt Bev remembers holding 2 year old Sharon in the upstairs bedroom as Grandma Beulah screamed in pain on the sofa downstairs to bring my mother into this world. Then came Aunt Linda, and the youngest, Barbie, who still gets teased for her temper tantrums.

My grandparents raised all seven of their children in a two bedroom house in Hendrum while running the local grocery store. I remember that house well, and how it smelled of Sanka and my grandmother's cigarettes, and sawdust from the basement woodshop. Even after almost 50 years in the states, my grandfather had a lilting Swedish accent that I loved. Still today, whenever our family is together, we say a dinner prayer in Swedish that he taught us all.

There are several family photographs of the seven Johnson children, but one in particular, taken in the side yard of the house one spring/summer day, is a favorite. They are lined up by height, Bev-John-Dick-Sharon-Myra-Linda, and wee Barbie is in Bev's arms. They are a beautiful family of the late 1940s/early 1950s.

I grew up a block and a half from the house where my mother was born, and next door to my father's mother. On the other side of us lived Uncle John, and just east of him was Aunt Bev. Four blocks north I had grown cousins, and two blocks further east from us were my father's brother and his family. Hendrum has few fences, and my childhood was filled with running between grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles.

Barbie moved to Eagle Bend; Sharon moved to Brookings; Linda taught in Michigan and stayed there. Dick lived in Cottonwood for years, and has since moved to Marshall. But with the grandparents and three of the seven in Hendrum, holiday locations were a no-brainer. Nearly everyone came home, and until I was 14 or so, we had a giant family gathering somewhere, often at John's house, and then at Becky's. There were lots of opportunities to re-enact the photo of the Johnson Seven. Along with their spouses, they produced for Art and Beulah sixteen grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren (to date) and 6 great-great grandchildren. We are spread out now, but at least most of us still know the Swedish prayer, and many of my cousins share my memories of that little two-bedroom house.

John died several years ago, now, and then there were six. They gathered once a year for "Sister's Weekend," to which Dick dutiful came, as well: a lone brother who doesn't even get acknowledged in the festivities' title. My aunts are this crazy group of women: some are loud and boisterous, like my mother, and they each have their own passions and their own strongly held opinions. I love them all tremendously.

It was with terrible sadness, then, that we drove to Brookings, South Dakota yesterday for my Aunt Sharon's funeral. As we pulled off the interstate and on to Orchard Drive, my eyes welled up, unexpectedly, with tears. I've not been to Brookings since the mid1980s, but I have clear, sharp memories of their street. I could picture myself at 6, all dressed up with tights and shiny shoes to go to Easter with my cousins and our parents. We walked to the church, just up the street from their house, and I didn't even know I remembered doing that. Turning in to the driveway of the church yesterday, I recalled all the excitement of a holiday with the Arnold family, of Easter Egg hunts and baths in new bathtubs. I can see Dawn's goldn curls. I was as at home there as I was in Hendrum, and we were all glad to be together.

I feel like I've said this all already, in a way, in Deron's post. But Sharon deserves her own good-bye. I will miss her sense of humor, her determination, and her sparkling brown eyes. I was lucky to have her for an aunt.

So now they are five. Everyone is retired now, so they no longer line up by age: Linda, Myra, Dick, Beverly, Barb. They are still a beautiful family, aren't they? I miss the seven: I miss John and Sharon. But I'm thankful for these five, too. I hope they know it.

Sunset over North Dakota yesterday.