Category Archives: What Is On My Mind Today

What Is On My Mind Today? The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow….God Is Good

cancer hats

What Is On My Mind?

My cousin Sylvia will be having quadruple bypass surgery on Monday. She is currently in the ICU at Mercy. Neighbor Don, hospice, had a much better day yesterday. Last reported sitting up in his chair eating ginger snaps. I have reason to believe his son installed his new trail camera yesterday. As reported by Oliver and Truman as they were either loudly directing the entire installation or begging for butt scratches. Poor, Nate, did stop to give the boys back scratches through the fence.

Aunt Margie’s situation with dementia continues to rapidly decline. She has not known me for several weeks now. Still, I call her because I know her and love to just hear her voice.

My pup Oliver has developed a growing bump on his head and will be seeing the vet in the morning.

And, it’s 2 a.m. In the morning and I am wide awake from the steroids that I have to take every week for the rest of my life to fight my cancer.

As I lay here thinking about all this I still feel like one of the luckiest SOB’s on this planet.

I am a Christian and have a loving God.

I was born in the United States. That is a lottery win right there. My country is filled with people who do not think alike. It is when everyone thinks alike that liberty is truly in peril.

My parents and my brother and sister have had a wonderful trip to Hawaii this week and Dad called and held up his phone so I could hear the ocean.

I am pretty sure I managed not to tick off any of my children. I needed to focus elsewhere this week, I will have to get back to that next week…..just saying.

I am again strong enough to not only have made gingersnaps, and lemon black raspberry muffins this week, but a whole meal for my neighbor who is battling brain cancer and his wonderful wife. Productivity is a blessing.

I no longer take anything stronger than Tylenol for pain. And, that is rarely. I am not saying I do not have pain, I am saying it has declined to ignorable levels. Chemo sucks ….chemo and narcotic withdrawal really bites.

After all those years spent in a body cast sleeping away from my husband in the hospital bed in the living room, truth be told I kind of treasure these steroid induced hours of being awake and knowing he is sound asleep right next to me. Mostly, I just lay here listening to his CPAP machine and count my blessings for there are so very many.

As I wait to watch the sun come up again in my east facing window and it will. I pray that God watches over all of those I love, and those I struggle to find any upside to at all. I ask that they too will come to know Jesus and be filled with his peace that passes all understanding. Best gifts ever!

Tonight I pray especially for Mark Rosen and his dear wife……AND thank God that Jamie Closs is safe.

Well, since I am obviously “woke” there are some cancer patients at Regions that need some bright and cheerful Grandma Pat hats and mittens. I think I have gotten five sets done this week. Every hat as unique as each precious person battling cancer. Last week when I was there getting chemo, a mother actually showed me a picture of her daughter sound asleep getting infusion wearing one of my hats.

So on with my headlight! Wearing that thing is just plain joyful. Always makes me feel like I am camping. LOL.

I will leave you with prayers on my lips and my favorite inspirational Christian motto…..onward and upward.

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Update:  Sylvia had another angiogram yesterday.  Her doctors inserted three stents.  They feel that this will resolve her blockage and that the quadruple bypass is not necessary, at least for now.  She will still remain in the hospital for several days.

My pup Oliver’s head lump turned out to be a plugged oil gland.  These are common and usually resolve on their own.

The first night of trail camera surveillance of our backyards revealed several visitors.  A raccoon and a fox.  

God is good.

Have a blessed Sunday!

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What Is On My Mind Today? Living With Cancer: Myeloma Relapse, Uncle Mrywin, Good News and Great Fudge Bars

possum 5
Errrrrrr!

I have had a busy, if not sedentary and solitary past six months.  In July, I suffered what my doctor told my parents was a “Horrific Setback.” Even though, all of my lab tests at that time still indicated that I was in remission, my multiple myeloma had silently returned. Its presence revealed one evening, when I arose from bed to make the very short trek to my bathroom.

As I stood up, I told my husband that my spine felt really weird and weak, just like it used too when it would break.  As I hung onto the wall, he assured me that after all of the years of bone-hardening drugs, that was not possible.  So, I lifted my foot to step over my huge white German Shepherd and my world and back exploded.

My legs became instantly useless and a pain like electrical liquid fire enveloped me. I fell right on top of my dog.  My dog never moved. He just laid perfectly still until Doug was able to lift me from on top of him.

It was obvious something had gone terribly wrong.

My husband half carried me down our steps, out of the house and got me into the car.  We drove to Regions hospital. There in the emergency room, a doctor asked me to wiggle my toes. I tried and the pain became extremely intense as a spasm coursed through my body so harshly that it arched my back in off of the bed about six inches, then froze me in that position until the spasm stopped.   Then, it would do it again and again….and again.  It was unpleasant.

I remember almost nothing of the next three weeks that I spent in the hospital.  I do remember being conscious for a moment inside and MRI, because I was waving at the technicians. I felt foolish. Then, I was put out again. I remember a nurse standing next to my bed describing to someone else a patient who was in so much pain she was levitating 6-inches on top of her bed.  I felt sorry for that poor soul. I remember staff both Christian and Muslim asking me if they could pray with me.  I experienced angels.

The cause of all of this trouble was due to Myeloma lesions having grown on the base of my spine. My bone marrow biopsy showed over 40% myeloma.  The great news was that no bones had actually broken. Too bad whatever was causing the paralyzing painful contractions could not have celebrated that fact and left me alone.

I am told I had ten rounds of radiation.  I remember only the last three.  I can recall that after my last one my parents were in my hospital room as I returned. When the bed I was on moved too fast, a spasm was triggered and as usual during the contraction my head would be arched completely back.  At that moment my dad was standing right there with the most awful look on his face.  I felt bad that I had scared him so.

When I was eventually released from the hospital, I left too weak to walk on my own and was again trapped in a walker.  And, I faced months and months of weekly, four and a half hour, chemo infusions.

During those months, my life as a cancer patient reminded me of my grandmother’s embroidered kitchen towels.  She would embroider them with the name of each day of the week.  Each day of the week was set aside for a different household task.  Monday for washing, Tuesday Ironing….etc…  My entire autumn schedule became much like those old dish towels of grandma’s.  Each day’s task the same as it had been the week before.

dish towels

It went like this….on a Friday, I received infusion. On a Saturday, I thought I was Hercules powerful and bursting with energy from the massive dose steroids given with the chemo.  On Sunday, the effects of the steroids, such as not sleeping for 48 hours, would begin to wear off.  Monday arrived accompanied by severe fatigue, body pain and nausea. Tuesday was an amplified copycat of Monday.  Wednesday was a slightly more productive day.  Thursday was the best.  Friday morning was outstanding… right up until you began swallowing the half cup of pre-med pills needed for your next chemo infusion signaling it was time to hop on the cancer chemo carousel and take another spin.

Whether it was a real or carousel horse, I have always been an excellent rider.  My dad still brags about how as a small child I would grab onto the ears of a a small pig, jump onto its back and away I’d go.  I only rode the pigs because the adults in charge felt I was too small to have my own horse. He still marvels that I never fell off.  Riding a pig is a lot like riding the cancer carousal. If you loose either your focus or grip the situation is going to become very stinky quickly.

Where there is breath there is hope.  With that in mind, regardless of how I felt, I kept busy. I completed several oil paintings, crocheted over two dozen hat and mitten sets for charity.  Still managed to visit my World War II buddy in the nursing home. And, when my back had recovered enough to lift a cookie sheet…I baked gingersnaps for him and to help relieve my neighbor’s nausea in his battle against brain cancer.

I had no interest in laying around and letting all of my hard won muscles turn to mush again. No pain, no gain. Besides, what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. By the end of August, I had graduated from physical therapy and nurse home visits, and  I had escaped the walker was again using only one cane. And, I was strong enough to enjoy a Saturday at Fort Snelling State Park with my family.  I wasn’t up to my usual miles of hiking, but I did walk from the car parking lot to the picnic grounds and sat up for hours.  I am not saying I did not pay for that outing later, but and it was so very worth it.

Just over a week ago, I had another bone marrow biopsy.  To be honest, my husband and I were both just hoping for single digits.  However, to our and my oncologist’s delight no abnormal cells were present….at all!  I am again cancer free!   What a great 60th birthday present!

Which brings me to this morning.

As I took lots of butter out of my refrigerator to soften for a robust Christmas cookie baking session, which will commence shortly, I thought of my Uncle Mrywin who passed away in early December a couple of years ago after a long a courageous battle with dementia.

Somehow, I always grin when I think of my Uncle Mrywin.  A fabulous earthly legacy!  In my mind, Uncle Mrywin was defined by three things.  His love for God, people and sweets.  So, I guess it is only natural that, whenever I begin baking my Christmas cookies I think of him.  Especially, since so many of the recipes I use are his mothers.

Several years ago, I wrote the following blog about my Uncle Mrywin, his stuck tractor and a recipe for Fudge Bars.  The story of the stuck tractor really does capture the essence of my uncle and the importance of good-naturedly attempting the seemingly impossible, attacking a task with determination, giving it your all, recognizing when you are just spinning your wheels and knowing when to seek help…earthly or divine.

Throughout my life and especially during my cancer battle the following bible verses are the ones get my wheels unstuck.  I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t have the words to these Bible passages pass through my mind.  I guess my confirmation pastor was right when he told me that memorizing these verses wasn’t a waste of time, and that knowing them by heart would pay off in the long run.  It certainly has.

Psalm 118:24 (Everyday is a gift)

“This is a day that the Lord has made, We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 121 (My help comes from God)

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 23 (I am never alone)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

So, if ever you should find yourself stuck in the mud up past your axels, and it is easy to do especially this time of year, remember that a God of Love loves sent us something sweeter than Christmas cookies…a baby…his son our savior…Jesus Christ.  The Son of God who came to give hope to the hopeless.

I hope you enjoy this humorous farm story about my Uncle Myrwin and his stuck tractor.  A yearly spring ritual as I recall. I also would encourage you to try this recipe for Fudge Bars this Christmas Season…they are tasty and would have made my uncle smile.

Stuck tractor 2

My dad and my Uncle Myrwin farmed together for most of their lives. The brothers and their families were all very close. In fact, when I was a child the phone would ring bright and early every morning and it would be my uncle calling to talk to dad about the day’s farm business and work. I cannot remember a day while growing up when I did not talk too or see my Uncle Myrwin.

About five years ago my Uncle Myrwin had to move from the farm into a nursing home, because he had developed memory issues. He has been there ever since and over the years his cognitive abilities have declined.

From the first week he entered that home, I decided that he was not going to ever be forgotten by his niece and so I began to write him a letter every week. I have continued this practice for the past five years except for a short time during my cancer fight when I was in a nursing home and too sick to write. I even got letters off during my stem cell transplant. I have never told him of my illness.

Yes, I know that my uncle would no longer recognize me. That does grieve me, but I know that he still enjoys getting my cards and having them read to him. I will continue to write to my uncle for as long as God allows either one of us to remain on this earth. You see it doesn’t matter one bit that he doesn’t remember me, because I remember him and that is what counts.

For the past year I have found pictures online and made my own “farming” cards for my uncle. This picture of a stuck tractor is this week’s card. I thought I would share this week’s story of my memories of farm life with him, dad and stuck tractors.

Dear Uncle Myrwin,

I hope this finds you having a good week and feeling good. It looks like spring is almost here and there are a lot of song birds again at my bird feeder. Their song sounds wonderful!

I really like this picture of a tractor stuck in the mud up to its axles. Boy, does that bring back memories of stuck tractors on our farms.

It seemed that the vast majority of stuck tractors occurred in the spring when we were in a big hurry to get into the fields and plant. I recall many a time riding on the back of a big red tractor, standing on the hitch behind the driver’s seat and holding on for dear life to the back of the driver’s seat and the wheel fender.

As we would drive into the fields to check field readiness, there would eventually be a dip or ditch that was extra moist looking. Sometimes there was even standing water in them. It was at this point the tractor’s driver would shout loudly above the roar of the engine, “Hang on, I think we can make it!”

The driver would then speed up and make a run at the wet spot. As we would hit the moist mud the tractor’s engine would moan in exasperation at being so rudely stressed while the tractors big back tires would slide first to one side, then back the other way as they cuddled into the rich slippery black dirt. Eventually, we would come to a complete halt with the rapidly spinning back tires furiously spitting mud chunks high into the air.

With mud raining down on us from the heavens, the driver would then start the process of rocking the tractor. First, forward,then in reverse. This was done to try to get out, but in my experience it only served to sink us deeper. Eventually when the big rear tires were sunk to the axles and the back hitch was level with the water and frogs, the driver would shut the tractor off.

As we climbed free of the stuck tractor the driver would then slowly walk around the entire scene with narrowed eyes and a set jaw. Then, he would walk up next to me, grab the bill of his green seed corn cap with his thumb and pointing finger, slide it to the back of his head while he scratched the top of his head with his other fingers. He would slowly replace his cap into the original position, breathe a deep sigh and with a proud smile declare, “Well, we almost made er.”

Sending lots of love and hugs,

Pat

There is one thing that Uncle Myrwin always appreciated as much as he did good farming and that was excellent baking. There was always great cakes, cookies and bars to be found in either family’s farm kitchens. Fudge Mud Bars are still a favorite treat served in my mother’s kitchen.

Fudge Mud Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease at 9 X 13 cake pan.

Crust:
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 cups quick cook rolled oats

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and salt. In a separate medium-sized mixing bowl combine and mix together the dry ingredients: flour, oats, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix well.

Firmly press about two-thirds of the dough into the bottom of your greased 9 X 13 pan.

Fudge Filling:
2 Tablespoons butter
One, 14-ounce can of sweetened and condensed milk
One, 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium-sized sauce pan, on top of the stove on a low-medium heat, add butter, chocolate chips and milk. Stir continuously until the chocolate chips have melted. Add vanilla and stir to combine.

Spread the fudge mixture over the dough. Drop teaspoons of the remaining dough evenly on top of the fudge mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the dough starts to brown.

Letter writing has become a lost art which is a shame, because the written note immortalizes the writer while bringing so much joy to the recipient. I would encourage all of you to take the time to send off a card or note to someone who is ill, lonely, a child, grandchild or anyone in your life who needs encouragement. I can assure you that it will make their day!

What Is On My Mind Today? Saying Goodbye to President H.W. Bush and the Greatest Generation

 

World War II Soldier

As I watched President Bush’s funeral yesterday, and how generous the media was in their praise of his innate leadership, commitment to public service, grace and kindness, I could not help but think of my many friends from the Greatest Generation, who also shared those traits, and who are now gone.

Soon, that entire generation will be gone.

I miss will them. Our nation will miss them. The world will miss them.

As was pointed out many times yesterday President Bush’s personal traits of  leadership, commitment to public service, grace and kindness are certainly and sorely missing in today’s public square and political arena. However, neither he or his generation were born great. Nor were they innately gentlemen and ladies. They suffered their way to greatness.

One of the privileges of my life was being the project manager for the State of Minnesota’s World War II Memorial. From World War II’s beginning at Pearl Harbor to its ending with the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, Minnesotans were there.

In fact, Minnesotans aboard the U.S.S. Ward fired our country’s first shot of World War II during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  (The actual gun from the U.S.S Ward that fired the first shot rests on our State Capitol Mall.)  When the war ended, Minnesota was there too. Harold Stassen, Minnesota’s 25th and youngest governor, who resigned after being re-elected to a second term to fight in the war, was present and witnessed the war’s final act…the Japanese Surrender on the U.S.S Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

So, it was no surprise that Minnesota’a World War II Memorial Dedication was well attended.  Over 25,000 people came that day in June of 2007 to honor our state’s over five thousand World War II Veterans.  Many of the World War II Veterans in attendance wore their old uniforms.  Members of the 101st Airborne, Rangers, Tuskegee Airmen, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Battle of the Bulge and all of those who landed and fought so hard on islands in the Pacific were there. Young veterans approached the World War II veterans as though they were rock stars.

world war II ded

Minnesotans fought on land, air and sea. Many in the crowd that day had returned home maimed from their military service. Many others never returned home at all.

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It was of utmost importance to me that during the dedication there be a roll call of the fallen.   I wanted a human voice to read and human ears hear again each and every name of those who “gave their last full measure.”  Small American flags carpeted the Capitol grounds. One for each Minnesotan that died in the war.  I felt strongly the people needed a visual of the scope of the loss of life and personal sacrifice.

World War II ded 2

At the dedication, I was honored to meet our state’s last two surviving Medal of Honor Recipients—Michael Colalillo and Charles Augustus Jr. Lindbergh.  I have Charles Lindbergh’s autograph framed in my family room in the basement.  He helped raise the first flag on Iwo Jima.  He died just weeks after the dedication event.

I also met Sid Schmuckler.  With a name like that, he had to become my friend.

Sid was in his mid-nineties when I met him.  He was the Navy beach commander on Iwo Jima. He landed on that beach the night before our troops, and was tasked with calling in the landing craft filled with boys knowing that many of them would meet instant death.  The weight of that task never left him and still decades later weighed heavily on his mind, heart and conscience.

Sid was quite a guy, he was still going to work everyday and driving his station wagon on our state’s freeways.  Rarely did he talk about his war experience.   Until one day when this tough independent fellow was reduced instantly to tears by the mere mention of….nurses.

WWII USS_Comfort_(AH-6)_at_Hollandia_in_1945U.S.S. Comfort

During the final weeks of the war in the Pacific, Sid was on a  war ship deployed safely in middle of our vast Naval fleet.  His radar man saw a odd blip on the radar.  Initially they did not think much of it, because the Japanese Airforce had been decimated and well, they were in the middle of the entire fleet. Obviously there was a lot of fire power between their location and that tiny blip.

When the blip did not disappear from radar.  Sid figured out rather quickly that it was a Kamikaze pilot.  He and the men in their radar room quickly relayed their information up the command. For whatever reason, their information was never acted upon.

Next to his ship, was a hospital ship.  All lit up.  It’s deck brightly lit so that the dozens of doctors and nurses could operate on the wounded throughout the night.  Sid could only watch in horror as that Japanese plane lined up with the deck of the hospital ship.  As it crashed onto the ship’s deck it skidded the entire length of the ship setting off explosions and setting the entire surface of the ship ablaze. Personnel on its deck disappeared into the flames.  “Those nurses, those girls, were killed! All of them!”

They were not the only girls in uniform killed or maimed by World War II.

WWII Honor Flight 185 group with Bob Dole

Irene is the woman veteran on right.  I am the woman pushing the wheelchair wearing a yellow shirt.  

Irene, a nurse, followed closely behind the first troop waves on Omaha Beach on D-Day.  She had great pride in her care of the “boys.”  Her memories included lots of fun with the “boys”, and much personal loss of friends and colleagues.

aviator jmp
Elizabeth Stohfus, WWII Pilot

Elizabeth Stohfus was a pilot.  She and her aviator sisters helped teach the “Boys” how to dogfight.  They also ferried new planes across the country from factories where they were made to where they would be staged for deployment.  She remembered buzzing highways to read road signs to navigate her way. “We did whatever we could so that the boys could be sent to fight.

Many of these female pilots lost their lives.  One fell to her death when she had neglected to properly fasten her safety harness.  Her body was placed in a plain wooden box with her name and address penciled onto the board.  Her parents had to pay for her remains to be returned to them.

World War II women would not officially be recognized as veterans or eligible for veteran’s benefits for decades.  Their “boys” were horrified by that.

World War II Veteran Bob Hanson
Robert E. Hansen

Bob Hansen came home from the war. However, his only brother was killed by one of the last Kamikaze attacks. Bob, like many of his fellow veterans, became active in public service.  He was National Commander and Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars during the Kennedy Administration.  Yes, he personally knew and worked with John F. Kennedy.  He was also the guy who successfully lobbied for the “First Shot Gun” to be displayed in the home state of the men who fired it.

World War II Veteran Lyle Pearson
Lyle Pearson

Lyle Pearson was shot from the sky during the war.  Lyle was a bomber pilot and was blown from the cockpit when his plane was hit.  He regained consciousness in mid-air long enough to pull the rip cord of his parachute.

WWII Veteran Carl Falkowski
Carl Falkowski

Carl Falkowski was drafted into the army in 1943, landed in Normandy in June of 1944 as a member of the Fifth Division.  He was wounded by near Metz by a shell fragment.  After recovering he rejoined his unit and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Both Carl and Lyle became prisoners of war.  After surviving combat, wounds, captivity, forced labor and a death march, Carl could not get over that when they were finally safely among American soldiers one of his fellow prisoners died…from eating donuts.  His starved body could not handle all of those calories and he dropped dead on the spot.

World War II Veterans Dick Carroll
Dick Carroll (on right)

Dick Carroll was also a prisoner of war in Europe. On July 2, 1944, Dick’s plane took off on a bombing mission.  He was forced to bail out near Budapest.

Reaching the ground and just barely free from his parachute, he was shot. The bullet went through his right lung and lodged in his heart.  While the bullet did not immediately take him down, the blow to his head from a shovel swung by a Hungarian farmer rendered him unconscious. He was glad that the farmer did that, because he figured had he walked his chest wound may have killed him.

A couple of days later, when he regained his senses, he found himself in military headquarter in Hungary with a fever of 104.7 and a racing heart. He was given last rites.  For five days his fever raged.  His only medical attention…cold blankets.

Dick Carroll would go on to survive his wound and eleven months of captivity as a prisoner of war to return home. For the rest of his life that bullet remained in his heart, but he said he could not feel it.

World War II veteran Don Schrodel
Don Schroedl

Don Schroedl directed troop traffic near the Arc Triumph  in Paris during the city’s liberation.

WWII El Ewert Honorflight

El Ewert (picture taken during Honorflight)

 

El Ewert was one of only four soldiers to survive an ambush during the Battle for Luzon.  Wounded in the leg and back, he fell onto his stomach.  Laying there he feigned death for five hours as Japanese soldiers bayoneted and kicked him and his fellow soldiers to see if any were still alive.  Every so often he would hear a gun discharge and knew that another of his friends would not be going home.  Eventually, the Japanese moved on and the four sole survivors sought help.  El  was evacuated from the island tied to the wing of a small aircraft.  By the time he reached an aid station, his wounded leg had already begun to turn black with gangrene.  They saved the leg, but he went through life carrying a bullet…near his spine.

Marvin Anderson would drop to the ground whenever he heard a loud sharp noise.  Even a slamming door would cause him to shake like a leaf…battle tactics he earned as a young soldier in the first wave on Utah Beach on D-Day.

WWII vet Michael Horan
Michael Horan went to war and returned home disabled all before he was old enough to vote.

WWII Honor Flight 185 group with Bob Dole

Minnesota Veterans on Honorflight.  I am woman in yellow shirt pushing wheelchair. 

World War II Lincoln m.JPG
James Schiff was one of the World War II Veterans in my care during an Honorflight to Washington D.C.  Wheelchair bound, James had dementia and couldn’t remember too much anymore.

Our wonderful exhausting day touring Veterans memorials in Washington D.C. was coming to a close as I stood behind Jame’s wheelchair and watched a colorful sunset become the backdrop for the Lincoln Memorial. It was then a harmonica appeared from his pocket.  Staring straight ahead at the Memorial he began playing God Bless America. Next, came his favorite hymns and other patriotic songs.  Soon, a crowd began to gather around us.

When he finished playing the last song, he just said…”I never go anywhere without my harmonica.”  I hope his soldier friends in heaven heard him, because it was the best concert I have ever attended in my life.

I have been richly blessed to have personally met, listened and learned from these men and women who experienced World War II.

They are the very definition of selfless.

Their mantra…never forget!

Our super power status as a nation is because of them.

So, what turned a bunch 17, 18, and 19 year-old kids into our nation’s greatest generation?

Survival.

Just like President H.W. Bush, they returned home determined to make their lives, and their friends’ sacrifices count.  Having been allowed the choice, they chose to do good.

 

**************

If you would like to personally meet World War II heroes, I would suggest you watch the  University of Illinois, Urbana, World War II oral history project.  These wonderful videos are available on YouTube and record World War II Veterans sharing their personal war experiences.

What Is On My Mind Today: Gifts and Christmas Cookie Recipes…It Really Isn’t Christmas Without Them!

When I was young, the Christmas season officially began when two things happened.  We began practicing for the Sunday School Christmas program and the mailman brought the Christmas toy catalogs.

While, I was always left disappointed in my wish to be Mary the mother of Jesus in our church’s Christmas pageant, I certainly did my share of perusing babies, Barbies and bling in those books of bliss.

The Christmas program at church, while wildly popular with adults, was just one more hurdle kids had to jump before we were able to get to the main event…gifts.

So, in the interest of moving things along to a successful and swift conclusion.   Sunday School Christmas program practice and participation received its due diligence. Positive attitudes, that was the key!

As repayment for our happy hearts, on the night of the program, we were rewarded by two things. Arriving and finding the the church filled to its rafters. Many of who were scary-looking strangers due to them being our community’s two-timers.  Those that worship only on Easter and Christmas.  In addition to adult attendance,  we each received a gift from the church of a small plastic nativity scene ornament, and a brown paper bag of treats filled mostly with peanuts in the shell and hard Christmas candy. I liked the fruity candy with the chewy center that was flavored and shaped like a raspberry, not so much the spicy ones…they were nasty. Even hungry barn cats wouldn’t eat those.

Parents filled with pride as they watched the small army of children decked out in Christmas finery herded to the front of the church by bun-capped church ladies.   Not a crier in the bunch!  Kids, either.

Like soldiers carrying out an important mission, we formed three rows.  One on each of the steps leading to the altar and communion rail.  In our church that is as far as an unconfirmed child should go. No matter how inviting the plush velvet looked on the communion rail and kneel board, or how much your tired tiny knees longed to rest upon its fuzzy softness while you prayed…you just knew that would look so cute and God would hear you better there…it was no place for children with sticky fingers. Ushers stood ever on guard to deliver the tempted from trespass.

Anxiety always ran high during these performances for both child and parent. It was a rare thing for man, woman or child from Swede Grove Township to answer out of turn, let alone crave the limelight. The bright lights that beckoned to folks in our community were on tractors.  Footlights were flashlights.

Children experienced their first bout of stage fright as parents sat nervously perched on the edge of their pews fervently praying that it would not be their little girl that would lift a lacy or velvet hem to reveal their undies, or little boy their shirt to expose a bare belly before God and the entire congregation.

After the church doings were over the next item on the holiday agenda was the Christmas dinner with relatives of several generations.

The beginning of this event was signaled by the yard becoming packed with cars pointed in every direction.  Into the house they came, clothed in many layers to ward off the cold of a Minnesota winter. It took considerable time to carefully unwrap all of those old folks. Some had parts missing; hankies could fly out from the most unusual locations, and all of their rubber boots had to be removed and neatly stacked by radiators to dry and warm. Nobody wanted cold wet “rubbers” to go home in at the end of a nice evening.

blizzardboots

Once removed, hats, mittens, gloves, scarves and extra sweaters were shoved up into the sleeves of the owners coat, causing them to stick straight out.  After taking on the look of a headless zombie, each coat was then stacked like cord wood onto a bed to be retrieved at a later time when the person whose coat was at the very bottom of the pile would leave first.  A person had about as much chance of finding the correct coat at the bottom of that pile and retrieving it without instigating an avalanche of Biblical proportions as a piglet has of finding a dry nipple.

Christmas dinner preparation was cheerfully achieved by having more square feet of cooks in the kitchen than there was square feet of kitchen.  For such a huge farm house that home has the smallest kitchen.  In that kitchen, three was a crowd. Never the less everyone pitched in, except the young who were overcome by lutefisk fumes, to get the meal on the table. Never in all of that cramp and chaos was a profane word ever uttered.

lutefish dinner

Our Christmas dinner consisted of lutefisk, boiled potatoes and white sauce. The truly daring, and somewhat suspect, dotted their colorless entree with a bright yellow hot mustard mixture delicately applied with a wooden toothpick.  This mustard sauce was a secret family recipe that consisted of me adding water to powdered mustard until it became a paste. Mustarding your lutefisk was tricky business, as one would hate to overpower the taste of the lutefisk or initiate chest hair growth on unsuspecting pre-menopausal females.

If you didn’t like lutefisk, your other entree option was Tony’s pizza.

Christmas Eve always ended with gift opening. Finally!!!

I don’t remember the gifts that I received; however, do remember how the candlelight reflected like diamonds off of all of my grandparent’s and great uncles and aunts’ glasses. I remember the uproarious laughter produced by Uncle Ing and Ed’s stories. I remember the Swedish accents, now as long gone as the those who spoke over our heads in their native language.

I will never forget the big brightly-colored lights on the large real Christmas tree that filled the parlor. They burned hot enough to set the tree and house on fire. Those lights quickly became a dare to see if you could touch them without burning your fingers. The key to success was to deposit enough excess spit on your fingertips to produce a nice….spit, not skin, sizzle.

Today, I can still taste the home-baked treats shared by my grandmother, and great aunts Hilda, Esther, Olive, Anna, Agda, Amanda and Doris.  Really, I can. I was astute enough as a teenager to collect many of their favorite recipes.  Many of those recipes have been shared on this blog. I still make them using my grandmother’s rolling pin and spritz cookie maker.

There are so many memories and lessons to be gleaned from Christmas’ past. Such as the smell of lutefisk. Or, the image of grandma using the water the lutefisk had been boiled in to bleach out laundry stains after the holiday had passed.

However, the most important lesson gleaned from generations of Christmas celebrations is that this holiday was, is and always will be about people.

Christmas is the celebration of God’s unwavering, undying love for humankind…people.

John 3:16

For, God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Christmas, like the Christian faith, is about love. God loving us.  Us loving God. And, us loving each other.

There is no greater love than the love God has for each and every one of us. To clarify this, Jesus summarized the entire ten commandments to two. Both about love.  First, that we should love God with all our heart, soul and mind and have no other god’s before him.  Second, that we love one another as God loves us, and as we love ourselves.

John 15:13  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

That is what Jesus did on the cross.

He laid down his life to save those he loved…us…no greater love

There is great personal peace in knowing such a loving God, and in knowing that if there is sorting out to be done, that it is God’s job, not mine.

John 3:17

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

My job as a Christian is to share and example God’s gifts. To share his message of salvation and eternal life through his only son Jesus Christ…the Christmas Story… and try to be a living example of the gifts of the Spirit.

Galatians 5: 22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.


Yes, Christmas is all about gifts.

This year share the true gifts of Christmas…. love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

It really isn’t Christmas without them….just saying.

 

****************************************************************

 

Links to Generational Family Christmas Cookies Recipes:

Grandmother Esther’s Cutout Butter Cookies,
Grandmother Esther’s Melt In Your Mouth Sugar cookies,
Aunt Heidi’s Gingersnaps
Grandmother Esther’sSnickerdoodles,
Grandma Esther’s Spritz,
Patricia’s Chocolate-Cherry Bon Bons

Great Aunt Doris’ Swedish Creme Wafers
Grandmother Vacinek’s Mo Mint Brownie Bars
Grandmother Esther’s Fabulous Lemon Bars;
Mounds Bars

What Is On My Mind Today? The Perfect Thanksgiving…Dinner Table

pumpkin-pie

Yesterday, my husband and I spent the Thanksgiving Holiday  alone.  That was our choice.

My sister had invited us and our entire family to her beautiful home over six months ago, unfortunately between then and now my cancer relapsed and I am back on chemo with a very compromised immune system.  Crowds are a no go.

However, my superstar younger sister still made my Thanksgiving one of the best ever!

Last July when my cancer returned and I was hospitalized for weeks, she came to visit me. My memory of her hospital visit is pretty fuzzy, but I remember mentioning to her that our cousin was looking for a home for the original family homestead farm table.  It is ancient, huge, solid oak and has about a dozen leaves and many chairs.

I think that girl had taken custody of that table within 48 hours of learning of its availability. I am always proud of her, but in my drug and pain-addled mind I felt she really excelled in this endeavor.

My sister and her family had just returned to Minnesota after residing in Michigan for decades and she was on the look out for furniture for her new home.  My cousin had offered the table to me, but the trusty tape measure I always carry in my purse, soon settled that question.  Big tables need big houses and that table would never fit in my home.  I was a bit devastated to be honest.  Sometime reality sucks, what can you do?

Well, you can trust that God has a plan and it is going to be all right…even for treasured old tables.  Even if was treasured by only me.

Throughout Thanksgiving Day it provided me much joy to picture our family table set beautifully with my sister’s finest china, stem and silverware again surrounded by four generations of family and souls from generations past.

I don’t think my younger sister has sat up to that table for a holiday celebration since she was four-years-old.   It was one of our last Christmas celebrations with Minnesota family and cousins before our immediate family began going south for the winter to Tucson, Arizona.  Everyone was there.  Our grandparents, great uncles and aunts, and cousins, and yes…the lutefisk!

My little sister sat on the north side of the table just in front of the upstairs door.  Her feet were so short that they stuck straight out from the big old oak chair.  So cute. She inherited the blonde locks in our family and they just shined in the candlelight.

Yes, I had a fabulous Thanksgiving this year…and so that old hundred-year-old table.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and took time to thank our loving heavenly Father for all the blessings in our lives.

 
Below is the blog I wrote last year about the importance of family tables. 

Antique-Round-Oak-Dining-table-

What Is On My Mind Today: Family Tables

A cousin of mine passed away yesterday. After helping to make calls and send emails to notify other family members of her death, I could not help but think about how it sometimes seems that there are more of my family members in heaven than here on earth anymore.

Yesterday was a time to remember them. Grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts, uncles and cousins who have slipped beyond the veil. Each one a totally unique human treasure.  Now, I am not saying that we all got along, were always pillars of the community or had perfect reputations, but come heaven, hell or high water they were my people.

I have been very blessed to have had the opportunity to know several generations of family very well. When I think of the times we were all together, whether it was for a baptism, birthday, confirmation, graduation, wedding, holiday or funeral, it seems that the doings were held in the dining room of my Uncle Myrwin’s home around the great round oak table.

That table by now must be well over a hundred years old.  I believe that, that old table has twelve leaves and can seat over twenty people. It has stood the test of time far better that some of the folks who gathered around it to feed body and soul.

I can clearly remember all the shining happy faces on Christmas Eve as we all sat down together for a traditional Lutefisk dinner.  Or, the hungry faces of the farm folk when they came in starved from the fields and barn for their noon and evening meals.  The first and last time I ever ate a bear roast was at that table.  I wish, I could say the same about the Lutefisk.

There were times when that big strong husky dark table would be covered in a dainty lace or hand-embroidered tablecloth and perfectly set with gleaming china to host the neighborhood ladies club luncheon, a women’s bible study, quilting bee or any other special occasion when the women were in charge and manners and social graces were required.   A silver coffee pot, creamer and sugar on a large tray meant to impress provided the ladies with smooth real Swedish egg coffee.

When sad times came to the farm, that table provided support for the elbows of the grieving.  It was there when baby Ruth Marie died; boys went off to war and two did not return; and when other beloved children in our family went to be in the arms of Jesus Christ. It was there when a parent suddenly died. During those times our family gathered around that table.  It supported us, as we supported each other.

That table held the oatmeal mush my grandparents and their children ate three times a day during 1930’s great drought and depression when they almost lost the farm and had nothing to feed their remaining livestock except the thistles that grew in the slough down beyond the cow pasture.  It was there as they listened to the radio announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt’s fireside chats.  It was there the day they received the telegram that my uncle Wendall had been killed in action in Korea and when grandpa had his bad heart attack.

Yes, that table was even there the day that toddler Pat decided to kill a fly on the window next to it with a baseball bat. As big as that table was, hiding under its wide wings was no sanctuary to escape justice.

Looking at that table is seeing family.  All together again sharing the grace of God, good food and all of the joys and sorrows life can offer.

I hope that all of you have memories of just such a table.  May your children and children’s children have just such a table in their lives.

Moral of Story:  Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.  

What Is On My Mind Today? A Letter To Justin: Great YouTube Channels…. Exploring Abandoned Mines with Frank, and “Hell On Earth” and “Bros of Decay”, Urban Explorers

Dear Justin;

Well, Justin, now that you have left us Minnesotans to live in Florida, I thought I would drop you a note to inform you that our first winter weather watch is tonight…the second week of November!  We both know what that means…no more barbecuing in flip flops.

Justin, it is going to be a long winter.

So, today, during one of your mom’s regularly scheduled Friday visits, I chose to be neighborly and introduce your mom to Frank.

Frank2

As I am sure you are well aware, and what was probably your major incentive to seek employment in Florida…it certainly was not their election system…during a long fridge Minnesota winter a person just cannot not find too much indoor entertainment to steel a person’s wool against the months of freezing gray misery, respiratory infections and traffic accidents.

As you know when you helped care for me when I was in that retched body cast for several years, my cancer weakened my bones to the extent that a fall on ice or snow would be a very, very bad thing.

Therefore, due to my disability for the past six winters this previously active outdoor person has been practically totally housebound except for trips to doctor and medical appointments.

During this forced isolation, I have learned two things:

1.     You can guarantee a major snow or ice storm during every situation where I have to  leave the house.  These terrifying episodes in human propulsion are
hair-raising….hair or naught.

 

2. My head is absolutely bursting with newly acquired online knowledge I never
thought existed, I needed or felt compelled to acquire.  I mean bursting figuratively, not like when Henry VIII’s body which was so rotten and bloated when he died, it exploded when his casket was shut and showered his groupies with his majestically kingly stinky dead-people slime.  DNA everywhere!

Before, becoming disabled with cancer I was never much of a television watcher.  I believed that it was mostly a waste of precious time and that reading was the avenue to mental and moral improvement and discipline.  Then, something happened.  My husband installed ROKU. I discovered…YouTube and threw discipline out the window.

Yes, Justin, YouTube is a smorgasbord for the mind! And, a boon for repentance!

Today, after introducing your mom to Frank,  I thought of you, and decided that you needed Frank as a friend too.

Here is the link to Frank’s YouTube videos about Abandoned Mine Explorations.

A bit about Frank.
Frank

Frank risks certain death with every exploration…you never know if he gets out alive until the next video shows up. He lives or dies by the right-hand rule, finds and explodes old dynamite…mostly out of the mine.I suggest starting with the video where Frank crashed his plane….he uses drones now.

Let your lady friends know that…..Frank is currently single.

Next time your mom and I get together I will be introducing her to the Hell On Earth Boys, Urban Explorers”. These British lads are full of good fun, you can understand their English without resorting to subtitles, but their blasphemy skills are exceptional and could use less practice.  Gives me something to pray for them for so its a win, win.

 

Hell on Earth
Henry the VIII, Al and Optometrist

One of the guys is an optometrist…but, you’d never know it, except my guess is that he finances this operation. Al is the team’s heroic canary down the mine, but is disconcerted by pigeons…dead or alive. The emboldened red-headed guy, looks a lot like a young robust King Henry the VIII.  My guess is it will work out better for him than the ladies. Here is a link to their videos.

Options and choices in this world are important. While the Hell On Earth boys sometimes choose poorly, not so with the Bros of Decay.  These brawny brothers are also urban explorers, but in Belgium.  Actually, Leslie is brawny, Jordy not so much…he’s more adorable.  Never the less, they are soft-spoken, non-blasphemous, nice young men.

If I were their grandmother, I would be proud to claim them in public. Their scrumptious Belgium accents are a bonus.
bros of decay
Leslie and Jordy

It is amazing what they find left in abandoned mansions, homes, factories and World War II structures….

Well, I better wrap this missive up.

I am keeping you in my prayers as always.  Again, always remember that sharks, alligators, pythons, wild pigs, and most snakes and spiders are not your friends, and to look up when walking under a palm tree on windy days.  Manatees are OK.

Don’t forget to schedule a dentist appointment when you visit here in Minnesota.  I don’t know which is worse England or south of the Mason-Dixon Line when it comes to oral hygiene.  I am convinced that both regions use all their dental floss for fishing line.

I understand that I will get to see you soon.  Pack more than flip-flops and shorts.

Hugs!

Your neighbor in Minnesota,

Grandma Pat

What Is On My Mind Today? Election Day: November 2, 1948

Aviary Photo_130940636797426988

About a month ago or so my cousin Bryan gave me a suitcase full of old letters we found in our family’s century farmhouse.  Many of them were written in Swedish. as was the one below, by my immigrant Grandmother Christina Larson.

November 2, 1948

Kara Allisamman

Far fosaka rila ihop nagrarader……

Most of this letter continues in her native Swedish language until the “so called wonderful pen” her son Oscar gave her quits working.  It is then, that she briefly switches to writing in English to complain about that crisis and to say,

“Here it is Election  Day and our radio is dead, isn’t that the berries?”

I hope that everyone who is eligible to vote exercises that right today!