Tag Archives: Minnesota

Thor Stories: The Fence….Nothing Is Harder to Defeat Than Grandma and Minnesota Gophers

Thor was just finishing washing and wiping the breakfast dishes.  He didn’t mind doing this chore as he could look out of the kitchen window that was over the sink and survey his backyard….otherwise known as…the jungle.

Rex

As he looked out the kitchen window he saw Rex, his trusty dog sniffing along the bottom of the backyard fence.  This fence was all that kept the jungle in and troublemakers at bay.  Why without the fence Ned the fainting goat would wander off and pass out only heaven knows where; there’s just no telling what kind of trouble Morton the Spitting Squirrel would cause for neighbors; and protecting the jungle from dinosaurs, rooster pirate kings, farting trolls, cat ghosts and mischief makers of all varieties and sizes would present an even greater challenge.  Yes, his backyard fence was just as essential as its big door that lets folks go safely in and out.

No sooner did he finish his sublime thoughts about the importance of the jungle’s fence, than heard Rex utter a loud yelp. Quick as a wink the whole dog disappeared under the fence in a “Pop”!

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Thor spun on his heels and ran to the calendar…sure enough it was strawberry picking season. That means that Gus the buck-toothed  gopher, along with his family and friends, had burrowed under the fence and let Rex loose as part of their plan to decimate the strawberry patch.

Thor knew that of all of the enemies that had caused mischief in the jungle none were harder to beat than Minnesota Gophers.  Saving his strawberries from the gophers would be a supreme challenge.  Especially, since Rex was now stuck on the other side of the fence, howling his heart out.

First things first, Thor opened up the front door of his house and hollered “Dog Treats.” Rex was there in a flash.  With his trusty canine friend by his side Thor quickly began to formulate a “Save The Strawberry” game plan.

Going one to one with a  Minnesota gopher is never good strategy.  Too exhausting and too easy to trip.  No, what was going to be required here was a very offensive team with an even more offensive gopher elimination plan.  Thor had no choice, he was going to have to call Grandpa Walter.

grandma on phone
Vicki Lawrence as Mama in Carol Burnett Show

Grandma answered Thor’s phone call.  Thor got out two words…gophers and strawberries.

The line went dead.

He was on his own.

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Bill Murray in the movie Caddy Shack

Thor had watched gopher fighting training movies and had learned that to catch a wily rodent you have to think like a wily rodent.

Morton.  Yes, Morton the spitting squirrel, Thor’s arch enemy was an expert at the obnoxious.  He would be just the ticket.

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Thor grabbed his protective eyeglasses, rain hat and coat, rubber boots and umbrella, opened the mighty gate in his fence and entered the jungle.

The vision that greeted his eyes was disturbing.  Gophers gnawing away on fresh strawberry after strawberry. Their buck teeth emitting non-stop chatter like the clicker of the telegraph operator on the Titanic.  Strawberries as doomed as the ship.

He had to find Morton!

Thor braced himself to be assailed with spit wads and slimey loogies only to discover that Morton had gone over to the dark side.  He was taking a nap on top of the chicken coop.  At times, squirrels can be worse than useless.

Rex and Thor raced back into the house to formulate another plan.  First, Thor went down into the basement to get a plastic bucket.  Then, he went into the kitchen to get a fork, Styrofoam plate, a jar of maraschino cherries, a strong rubber band and a towel.  Thor grabbed his favorite cat and headed for the jungle.

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By now the chickens were sounding the alarm, which made Rex began to howl again.  All of the noise distracted the gophers from their strawberry patch raid long enough for Thor to hook the wire handle of the pail into the fork, and fit the fork to the rubber band like an arrow against a bow string.  Thor pulled the rubber band as far as he could and let fly.

The bucket sailed through the air landing right in the middle of the patch. Since, everyone knows that a Minnesota gopher cannot resist getting a bucket, the gophers raced for the bucket excitingly dribbling all over the place.  Gus the biggest gopher was the center lead and got to the bucket first.   No sooner had he run into the  bucket and claimed it as his own than the cat pounced on top of the bucket trapping Gus.

With their leader rendered helpless, the other gophers forgot their game plan.  They  began running around completely disoriented as their dribbling increased two-fold. It was a foul scene. At that very moment the backyard gate crashed open with a bang as loud as a shot out of a cannon.

There stood Grandma!   Wrinkled stockings and knees sagging down to her ankles with a huge kettle in one hand and large metal spoon in the other.  She began to bang on the kettle with the spoon with all her might creating sound so loud it would make thunder blush.  Of course this woke up Morton the Squirrel who immediately began spitting at grandma.

The situation was quickly getting out of control.  Thor took out his rubber band and loaded it with a maraschino cherry.  He aimed carefully and just as Morton took another deep breath before he lobbed another spit loogie at grandma, Thor let the cherry fly.  Into Morton’s mouth it sailed and he swallowed it with a gulp.  The high levels of artificial red dye and sweetener from the Maraschino cherry put Morton into an immediate sugar coma and he fell fast asleep.

Thor threw grandma the clean towel so that she could rid herself of squirrel spit.

Then, he did the most cruel thing he had ever done to an animal in his life, because Thor knew that you cannot show any mercy to Minnesota gophers or they will beat you every time. He pulled out the Styrofoam plate and flashed the gophers with a non-recycleable item.  The horror! With the environment of the jungle supremely compromised, the dazed shrieking gophers cried foul for being so severely penalized for merely being off-sides and double dribbling. They quickly bolted for the fence to get out of bounds.

By now grandma had cleaned off all of the squirrel residue along with most of her makeup, and was walking towards the bucket being guarded by the cat.  Grandma tipped the bucket up and grabbed Gus.  She then benched him by the picnic table.

grandma rules
Vicki Lawrence

She eyed him over as she said, “Well, what have we here? Looks to me like we have ourselves a strawberry thief. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Gus thought about it and then blurted out, “I did not take any strawberries.”  “You cannot prove that I did.”

Grandma’s eyes narrowed to a squint as she glared down at him over the rims of her bifocal glasses.  “Do I look like I was born yesterday?”  You have strawberry juice stains  around your mouth, your big buck teeth are as pink as a sunburned pig’s butt and your feet look like you’ve been line-dancing barefoot at a bloody vampire festival! Gus, you make bad choices. Do you know what we do to strawberry thieves in these parts?”

pig butt

Gus negatively shook his head as his pondered what his gruesome fate would be.

Grandma reached into the pocket of her apron.  At that moment, Thor’s heart sank as he realized the fate in store for the gopher.  “By golly, young fella, it’s time someone teaches you how to follow the rules.”  Then, out they came, a razor sharp pencil, a small notebook of paper, and a sheet of paper with writing on it.

It was a copy of Grandma’s rules for acceptable behavior.

Grandma believed that most things in life improve with practice. That includes rule following and writing.  Thor knew all of grandma’s rules by heart.  Whenever he was caught in a violation, you can be sure he would be found copying them 100 times.

“Gus in my opinion you could use some work on all of these rules, but numbers five and seven are the ones you really, really need to focus on. Oh, don’t think that you are going to take any short cuts or escape…I plan to sit right here to point out any omissions you  make.  As for escaping, well, I might be slow, Gus, but the dog, cat and chickens are not.”

Grandma’s Rules of Acceptable Behavior:

1.  Treat everyone just like you, yourself would like to be treated.
2.  Be respectful of your elders and others.  Always say please and thank you.
3.  Kindness like cleanliness pays.
4.  Be responsible and take responsibility.
5.  Always be honest with your words and actions.
6.  Don’t use bad words, unless you like the taste of soap.
7.  If it isn’t yours, it is not yours.
8.  When you want something, work for it.
9.   Don’t pick your nose.
10. Be thankful to God and count your blessings.
11. Never, ever, pull Grandpa Walter’s finger in grandma’s presence.

As Gus began his journey of human moral assimilation, Thor picked up the bucket.  While, grandma supervised the gopher’s character development, Thor filled the bucket with strawberries, then dumped bucket after bucket of the berries into grandma’s big kettle.

As Thor picked, grandma cleaned the berries.  By the time Gus was done learning right from wrong, the strawberry patch was empty.

Grandma carried Gus to the fence and tossed him over the side.  Everyone knows that Minnesota gophers know how to bounce.  No harm no foul.

No sooner had the rodent disappeared than Thor’s dad came home from work and walked into the jungle alongside Grandpa Walter.

Thor’s dad wondered why on such a bright sunny day and with the garden hose off that  his son was wearing rain gear and eye protection.  He then noticed that there was a squirrel sleeping on top of the chicken coop, a jar of Maraschino cherries had been left outside, a towel was hanging on the line covered with mascara stains and goo, his mother was there without makeup on, and there were sheets and sheets of paper with her rules for acceptable behavior copied on them floating around the yard like dry leaves in the fall.

Suspicious that his mother had his son spend the afternoon practicing writing skills Thor’s dad asked, “Son, what have you been doing today?” “Nothing much.” Thor responded.

Thor’s dad saw all of the picked cleaned strawberries and said, “Your mom has ice cream in the house for those.”

On the way into the house they all walked past Grandpa Walter. Grandpa Walter stuck out his finger and Thor’s dad pulled it.  As Grandpa Walter ripped a leg lifter fart that fluttered the fabric of the seat of his pants and sent Thor running, Grandma handed Thor’s dad her notebook, pencil and her list of “Rules for Acceptable Behavior.”

grandma angry
Vicki Lawrence

“Get copying son, and focus your attention specifically on Rule Number 11. It is just luck that a strong breeze prevented Grandpa’s wind from spoiling all of the strawberries and rendering us all blind and unconscious! For Pete’s sake, most of your garden is wilted and uprooted, and the ferocity of the release of all that hot anal air blew half of your fence over!  A methane emission of that magnitude could advance climate change by decades! There are reasons for rules!”

In grandma’s world, with the single exception of Grandpa Walter, no matter how old you are acceptable behavior is acceptable behavior whether human or beast.

Thor immensely enjoyed eating fresh strawberries and ice cream while watching his dad improve his penmanship.

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What Is On My Mind Today? Rock Picking Minnesota’s Farm Fields and Danish Puff Pastry

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For the first week in June, it is rather cool today.  When there is enough humidity in the air fog up my glasses, I will know that summer has finally arrived in Minnesota!

The effects of summer heat and humidity is something a farm kid learns to dread at a young age while doing field work, especially rock picking.  Getting rocks out of a field is a dirty, hot, sticky, exhausting and a very boring job.

rock picking 3

However, it is important to pick rocks out of the fields that are bigger than the size of an orange.  During harvest hitting a rock with the combine will cause the combine’s sickles to break. My Uncle Myrwin always called these small rocks, “sickle-breakers.” Fixing a broken combine sickle is expensive and brings the entire harvest to a standstill. You can easily lose half a day or more driving to town and back, finding and purchasing the right part, then installing the part to repair the machine. When you have hundreds of acres of grain to harvest before a Minnesota winter hits, you cannot afford to lose any time.

So, every year just after school let out for summer vacation, when all of the town kids took swimming lessons, visited libraries for story time and played, us country kids would find ourselves day after day from sun up to sun down in a hot grain field looking for grey rocks.

In reality rock picking season only lasted for several weeks from the time the plants were big enough to be visible in rows until the soybeans began to bloom or the corn became too tall to fit under the tractor’s axles. In my mind’s eye this character building torture lasted for almost the entire summer. There is nothing more endless looking to a young child sitting on a flatbed wagon than a couple hundred acre field full of rocks.

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In addition to boredom, one thing you could always count on during rock picking season was intense heat and humidity.  The crops loved it, but it sure wilted this kid.

On a family farm everyone has to pitch in and rock picking was no exception to this rule. We usually had two, but on occasion, when the plants were getting too big and we had fields left to do in a hurry, we used three rock-picking crews.

First, there was what I would like to call the slow crew with the little red H Farmall tractor pulling the wooden flatbed rock wagon. This crew prided themselves on accuracy. Many a time they were spotted in a virtual standstill seemingly sifting gravel on top of hills, to make sure no “sickle-breakers” got away.  It was the firm belief of their leader that small rocks would grow into big ones by the next year so there was just no point in not picking them all.

rock picking

This crew usually consisted of the very young, the old and the slow moving. A very prominent state-sanctioned slow moving vehicle sign was clearly displayed at all times on their tractor as a constant reminder of output expectations and of them being a field or road hazard.

It is important to note that this crew was made up of our most dedicated hardworking and thorough folks who were accustomed to long hot hours in a field.  No slackers here. They were the family traditionalists and came prepared to get the job done.  They strictly adhered to the farmer’s official dress code of a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants. They wore this uniform no matter how hot or humid the weather.

Should some misguided young wimp decide to challenge tradition and swap long pants for short, on a hundred degree day sitting in the blazing sun in a windless field of heat seeking black dirt while believing that the evaporation of their sweat is only serving to increase the humidity and misery index further, payback for violating the dress code was swift and merciless in the form of wooden slivers embedded in the back of soft tender thighs.

The sliver reprisal by the wagon was a two-for, as they hurt worse coming out, than going in. One of the traditionalists would get out their ever-ready tweezers that came with the jack knife kept in the middle pocket of their overalls and sadly shake their head while removing the sliver muttering, “Some people’s kids.”

The injured rebel, who had thought they had a cause, instantaneously learned that the wearing of the official farmer’s uniform of a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants was a generational homeopathic preventative for in the field unsanitary surgical procedures and major sunburns.

The second rock picking crew was built for speed…not accuracy.  It consisted of three members. One to drive and two to jump off and on the big red International tractor. The rocks they picked were deposited in a homemade skid that was mounted behind the driver just above the tractor’s wagon hitch.  This team’s quality control was inversely affected by the speed of the tractor and teenage attitude. The speed of the tractor usually increased the closer the rock picking season came to high school football training or date night.

Rock picking procedures established by this crew could be described as the original cross-fit exercise program–simultaneous weight lifting, throwing and running. It was part of their official bylaws that any”sickle-breaker” that was not in plain view would be disregarded. As they must concentrate on getting the best tan on their shirtless chests while finding, lifting, carrying and tossing the largest rocks in the field to build muscle, and improve the chances of the school football team winning the conference and them getting a girlfriend.

To increase aerobatic capacity rocks were picked on the run. The tractor must never slow down or stop. Should a member violate this rule, they had to eat dirt.

This rock picking crew could be seen racing up and down the fields at high speeds bare chests glistening in the sun, shirt tails flapping in the breeze as they occasionally picked rocks when not dodging lit firecrackers or dirt clogs.

It is important to note that an occasional female could be promoted to be on this team. However, no matter how concerned the fellows were for the girl wilting in the heat, only the boys could go shirtless in the field.  Regardless of how hot it got, any suggestion to the contrary would have killed off all of the old people in our entire community and most of the Mennonite neighbors, and in all likelihood would have gotten a robust Lutheran farm gal a one-way ticket to a place hotter than that field.  Yes, shirts for girls was the rule and like a horse in the old days that included being fully harnessed.

If you didn’t see this rock picking crew you could always hear them. Their work ethic necessitated the constant revving of the tractor’s diesel engine, a radio blasting rock and roll music, and shouts of general mockery to advertise their superior expertise and provide a motivational shaming to improve the progress of all the lesser rock picking crews.

The old folks prayed for that crew a lot.

Finally, there was a third tractor that was used for rock picking.  It was a very old John Deere with a front end loader.  My grandfather purchased this tractor on the black market, just after World War II. It is still on the farm today. This tractor was used sparingly for rock picking due to respect for its history and age. It had many other farm duties such as; digging ditches, cleaning out the cow manure pile, burying the farm’s garbage piles and in the winter clearing out the long snow covered driveway.

When used for rock picking this rusty old green tractor sported a driver and usually two pickers.  The pickers rode in front of the tractor in the loader.  This was most dangerous, as the loader’s controls worked in the opposite direction from what logic would dictate. T

The safety protocol most commonly deployed to protect this crew was quickness. Quick thinking and moving.  When you did dump out your fellow pickers for what ever reason while the tractor was moving they had to quickly to roll away from the tractor tires.  Then, pop out behind the tractor, run, catch up and jump on again.  If you dumped out anyone more than once, you were no longer allowed to drive and could expect to get hit with multiple hard dirt clogs. No rock-pickers were ever squished.  Safety first was always our motto.

Rock pickers get hungry, no matter what crew they were on.  Dinners were our big meal and were usually brought to the fields and served picnic style. The food would arrive at noon and was always hot. Whether fried chicken, potatoes and gravy or a casserole (or a hotdish as we call casseroles here in Minnesota) nothing ever smelled or tasted so good.  As on most farms, salads were served for the cattle, hogs and chickens.

Sometimes suppers were also delivered into the fields.  They could be leftovers or just sandwiches, chips and pop. No matter which meal was delivered it was always accompanied by plenty of home-baked, breads cookies, bars, cakes, pies and pastries to provide energy and help replace the many calories we had burned off working hard in the fields all day.

The family members that stayed behind in the kitchen also knew what heat and humidity really was….there was no air conditioning in any home back in those days and baking still had to be done. Only small electric fans and open windows were available to help cool down those cooks in those hot, hot kitchens.

I can still picture those loud little oscillating fans blowing the dead insect covered fly strips dangling from the kitchen ceiling light back and forth in the breeze.  My grandmother expertly ducking out its way to prevent the yellow ribbon of bug death from sticking to her hair or dropping flies into her cooking.  Oh, the horror of having a bug cemetery wrapped around your head!

bug death

Those hot cooks and kitchens never let the field workers down.  We were always fed and fed well.

Danish Puff Pastry would have been too fragile and sticky to be included on a field meal menu. It was made for special occasions as a treat or to impress guests. It is a wonderful light summer pastry that can kept simple when topped with just icing and nuts or dressed up with fruit pie filling or preserves and icing. Either way this pastry is a real gem.

Danish Puff Pastry 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Crust:
1 cup flour
1/2 butter
2 Tablespoons of cold water

In a small bowl mix ingredients together like a pie crust.First cut the butter into the flour, when that is combined, add the water and mix into a dough.

Put crust dough onto an ungreased  cookie sheet and pat into a 6 X 12 inch rectangle.

Puff Pastry Top:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 teaspoon almond flavoring
1 cup flour
3 eggs

In a medium-sized sauce pan bring water and butter to a boil.  Remover from the heat; add the almond flavoring.  Then, quickly beat in flour.  When the batter is smooth, add the eggs, one at a time.  Beat well after each egg, until that egg is completely combined into the dough before adding the next egg.

Spread the batter over the crust to the edges.

Bake for about one hour.  The batter will shrink over the crust and be golden brown. Cool completely.

Top with icing and nuts, or with some fruit pie filling or preserves then drizzle with icing.

Powdered Sugar Icing

1 cup of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of almond or vanilla extract
milk or cream

Put powdered sugar into small mixing bowl. Slowly stir in milk or cream one tablespoon at a time until the icing reaches the consistency you desire.  Icing is usually the consistency of syrup.

Add flavoring.  Stir until combined and drizzle over cooled puff pastry.

 

 

 

Recipe: Spring Calves and Buttery Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

calves running

The snow here in Minnesota is finally melting.  The sun seems warmer now and brighter too. Winter’s thick blanket of silence has already been replaced with the sounds of song birds merrily singing away and geese honking as they pass overhead on their yearly trek north.

As the snow melt water and mud recede, plants quickly emerge.  Filling a color-starved world with a much welcomed emerald carpet.  Farm pastures quickly become great green waving seas of luscious grass.

pasture spring

On our farm the cows and the year-old calves were kept inside the big barn during most of the winter. It just got too cold for them to be outside.  So, it is a joyous day for the entire herd when they are finally released from their stalls and pens and shepherded out the barn door into a world of bright light and fresh air.

cows in cold barn
Cows in cold barn

Joyous it the right word for the first day that the cows are let out again into the pasture.  Even the old cows kick up their heels and cavort about like young heifers.  However, it the young stock that really put on a show.  At first they just buck, jump and kick.  Then, they sprint around chasing each other like a bunch of big frisky puppies.

cows happy

Not only does spring get the cows out of the barn.  It is also the time of year when the cows get their calves out of their wombs.  When a cow was ready to give birth she would often wander off by herself to some remote area of the large pasture.  There she’d give birth and hide her calf.  Much like a mother doe.

cow and calf

Old bovines, just like most of the rest of the world, always think they are much smarter than the farmer. So, shortly after giving birth a much thinner version of the old gal, often dragging her nasty slimy after birth while displaying a vermilion stained behind, would show up at feeding time acting like nothing new was a foot.

The birth announcement would go as follows, “Well, that one has a calf somewhere!”

Then, the yearly spring ritual of finding and retrieving her calf commences.

The story below describes this process.

Going to Get the Calves

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Having grown up on a dairy farm, I have memories of cows.

Every morning and evening we’d go down to the cow yard with grandpa and dad and call the cows in from the pasture. We’d all stand there by the silver barbed wire fence, bathed in the colors of the rising or setting sun, hands cupped around our mouths, yelling, “Ca, Boss…. Ca Boss” at the top of our lungs.  As I recall calling in the cows at odd hours of the day was strictly frowned upon.

Soon, the cows, in a nice straight line, would come in from the pasture. They would climb the worn wood ribbed ramp into the barn, find their very own stall and patiently wait to be milked.

Oh sure, on occasion you’d get a beller’n bossy, but all and all they were quite well behaved.

In the spring when the calves were born was my favorite time of the year. Our cows always gave birth to their calves in the pasture. They’d hide them and we would have to go find them.

calf hidden
Hidden newborn calf

Grandpa would hitch up the small gray metal grain wagon to the little red H Farmall tractor and the search and rescue mission was on.

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Red Farmall Tractor

We were all lookouts, and you had to, stealing a cow’s baby after all the effort she’d just expended made her mad. Who wouldn’t be?

The goal was to distract the cow while grandpa put the calf in the wagon, got back onto the tractor, put the tractor in road gear so that we could go faster than the cow could give chase, and then to get out of the pasture before the cow could escape.

cow charging

Grandpa was 82 years old, so being distracting was something us kids had to excel at. Besides who hasn’t had to stare down and taunt an angry bovine a time or two in life?  Excellent life-skill training!

Once we had successfully gotten the calf into the wagon and grandpa safely back onto the driver’s seat and headed in the right direction towards the pasture gate, the cow would inevitably charge the wagon to save her baby.

elephant charging

With the tractor in road gear and grandpa with one hand, minus a thumb, on the steering wheel and the other hand holding onto his faded and frayed yellow straw hat that grandma assured us he’d had since birth, and as the wagon gleefully bounced over every cow hump and pocket gopher mound in our path—one of us would comfort the calf.

Meanwhile, the other members of the team sat on the very back edge of the rocketing, jumping and bucking wagon wildly flailing their feet and legs in mid air. Occasionally, feet coming into contact with the cow’s forehead each time she got too close to the wagon.

Naturally, the whole operation could have become dangerous had the cow decided to ignore the preventive foot volleys and chose to join us in the wagon, or if any of us had been over the age of 10 or under 80. Safety first! That was our motto.

When we were safely out of the pasture, the calf was gently carried inside the barn, checked over, thoroughly petted and fed.

feeding calves

All of the calves were kept together in the barn until they were old enough to be turned out to pasture—weaned. The cow’s milk would come in shortly after the birth of her calf.

Each Minnesota dawn and twilight would find us all standing by the fence, calling the cows home from the pasture to be milked. Inside our big red barn the cow would walk to her numbered stall and wait to be milked. The calves safe and warm inside the barn would watch their mamma’s parade by each morning and evening. Somehow they too learn the milking routine.

Throughout every season, the milk was sent to the creamery in town, to be processed, and sold to city folk.

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Butter makes bakes better!   This recipe combines the rich taste of butter and chocolate with sweet caramel and the salty crunch of pretzels.  Just like a like every newborn calf… this one’s a keeper.

PretzelCookies

Buttery Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 bag (11.5 ounce) of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 bag (11 ounce) of Kraft Caramel Bits
1 cup of chopped pretzels
36 small pretzel twists for garnish

In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer cream together butter and sugars.  On a high speed, beat them until they are light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix until well combined.  Turn mixer down to low setting and slowly add the dry ingredients.  Mix until completely combined.  Add chocolate chips, caramel bits and pretzels and mix slowly until evenly distributed.

Roll a large tablespoon of dough into a ball.  Place cookies about two inches apart on top of the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Press a pretzel twist into the top of the cookie, slightly flatting the cookie.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the edge of the cookies just begin to slightly brown.  Remove cookies from oven and let cool on the cookie sheet for a couple of  minutes.  Transfer the cookies onto a wire rack or clean counter top and cool them completely.

May the joy of spring be yours! 

What Is On My Mind Today? Demise of the Last Childhood Tooth Filling

 

dentist office

This household has started out the New Year with a bang!  My quarterly cancer tests showed a cancer marker had returned.  So, I will get re-tested in six weeks.  My husband was diagnosed with his first cataract.  And, the very next day while eating, of all things, meat loaf, I lost a tooth filling.

Now, for most people getting a filling replaced is not a big deal. But, for this gal, with all of the bone hardening drugs that I have to take for my cancer damaged bones, going to the dentist could end up with complications that could give the most stoic of souls nightmares.

After my tongue found and fell in love with the sharp hollow crater, I  immediately reported the loss to my dentist.  An appointment time was set for the next day.  It wasn’t too long before the dentist’s office called me back to ask if I could come in a half hour earlier.  No problem!

When I got to my dentist’s office there wasn’t even time to get my new insurance card back into my purse before I was called back.  My dentist of many years came in and informed me that the filling I had lost was a very old one. She acknowledged that it had done very good service, but it was now time for a crown.

It was show time.  Needles delivered pain, then numbness and sun glasses went on.  The high whine of the drill, the only sound more obnoxious than finger nails on a chalk board, resounded throughout the office and my brain.

As the drilling commenced in earnest, I tried to mentally focus on my favorite place, the Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National park.  I could see the the water falls cascading hundreds of feet straight down into the icy cold crystal clear glacier lake.  I could almost hear wind whistling through the craggy mountains peaks.  Almost, but not quite.

Dentist drills are hard to ignore.  I started thinking about that old tooth filling.  My last from childhood? Instantly, I slipped away from peaceful mountain meadows right into an over-sized antique dentist chair in Litchfield, Minnesota.

dentalchair

Dr. Farish was our family dentist.  He had curly grey hair, wore glasses and a white lab coat, and seemed to be always leaning over me with a drill bit the size of a car jack clutched in his fist of enormously fat fingers as he threatened, “If you don’t sit still, you will get Novocaine”.

dentist drill 2

Somehow trips to a medical doctor in those days always ended in shots….in your end.  A successful trip to the dentist was not the absence of cavities. It was avoiding a Novocaine shot to the head.

dentist drill

It was an experience sitting beneath the well-oiled cables and spinning pulleys that sprang into action when the drill began its work. The drill was so big and slow that your whole face shook as it came into contact with the offending cavity.  You knew the dentist was getting somewhere when you could smell the putrid smoke of your burning teeth.

There you sat with your tiny hands clutched to the arms of the dentist chair as if your life depended on it. Your focus centered on the prevention of wiggling, grimacing or groaning.  Wiggling, grimacing or groaning was to be avoided at all costs as it sent you straight to the head of the line for the dreaded Novocain shot.

Many a sin was repented in that chair.  Hoping a loving God would prevent your demise by drowning in your own spit or the perspiration dripping off of the dentist’s forehead.  As your mouth overflowed with juices, the good doctor shouted above the whine of the drill that if he stops for spitting, it is only going to take longer.

dentist sink

Prayers were said for courage so that you wouldn’t shame yourself by crying, as your siblings were usually watching in the doorway. Going to the dentist was an officially sanctioned farm family group activity and was considered a form of entertainment in the spectator sport category.

Visiting, a long lost communications art form where people politely talk to each other face to face, was widely practiced during my youth. Even, in a dentist chair.  With a mouth full of huge dentist fingers and equipment, a nod or well-timed grunt sufficed to keep the conversation going.

During each visit my dentist would retell the story of his heart attack while on the local golf course. More details were included with every appointment.

The basics of the story were that my dentist was golfing with his good friend who was a surgeon.  This surgeon not only practiced at our local clinic, but he had written a book about making a surgeon that had topped some list that impressed adults.  He was a local celebrity to be sure.

There my dentist was, golf club in hand when he was dropped right to the ground. Not by lightening, but by a heart attack. As he laid on the green drifting between life and death, his golfing buddy, the surgeon, began screaming, “Somebody get a doctor!”

Once the heart attack story was completed and after the last of the squeaky metal filling had be pushed into your tooth with the same tool grandma used to get walnuts out of their shells, the aqua blue paper drool bib held together with alligator clips was removed.

Your reward for “being a good little girl”  was picking a plastic gemstone ring out of the little square orange box, that would break before you got home. Or, a colored animal shaped pencil eraser that smeared more than it erased.

Off you’d go, happily skipping away with your hard earned prize and a new tooth brushing kit.

Of course you’d have to try out that tooth brushing kit as soon as you got home.  Into the bathroom you’d go excited to use the little kid’s sized tube of toothpaste on the new toothbrush.

Then, after you gave your pearly whites a rigorous going over.  After a quick inspection in the mirror of your glowing smile, it was time to put the pink pill that came with tooth brushing kit in your mouth and chew it.

dentist plaque-tablet-1

When you opened your mouth the red dye from the pill made it look like you’d bit your tongue off and were bleeding to death.  I am convinced that whoever invented that pink pill had no intention of ever having any child successfully pass the toothbrushing test.

The day’s adventures ended as an exhausted youngster said her bedtime prayers with pink teeth. Or in this case, with a new crown.

 

 

 

What Is On My Mind Today? Buying a Bomb at a Garage Sale

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/01/06/active-world-war-ii-style-mortar-shell-turns-up-in-all-places-oregon-womans-shed.html

This story from Foxnews about a live World War II shell in an Oregon’s women’s shed  reminds me of when I bought the bomb at the garage sale.

Yup, I bought a 90 mm solid brass artillery shell at a garage sale in Shoreview for $3.25 to use as an umbrella holder in my entry way.

It looked like a huge solid brass 22 shell. The fellow had brought it home from WWII. The shell had been in his living room for over 60 years.

When I got it home, transported of course in my red Corolla with my daughter in the car, a neighbor boy looked in it and said, “Pat, there is shit in there!.”

So, we got a flash light and sure enough, the detonator was still in there and when I flipped it over the percussion cap was still intact on the bottom.

My neighbor, the one who has the brain tumor now who is a veteran, happened to be outside and hollered to keep that thing away from his house.

That was when I realized, I was $3.25 and a bang away from paradise.

I went indoors and called an army surplus store to see if it was dangerous. The nice fellow that answered the phone gently and calmly explained that explosives explode. Large explosives explode largely.

So I called the police, who called the bomb squad. It’s just how things go some days.

They told us it was safe as long as it was laying on its side. We all took a step back.

A discussion commenced. It was pointed out that I had no fear of the thing when I was driving all over with it in the trunk of my car.

Reality changes perspectives.

I tend not to lose arguments, if I decide to take one on. As former Secretary Mark Ritchie once complimented me after I learned that I was too short to be a Civil War soldier, without missing a beat and with a big smile on his face, he responded, “Oh, they’d take you, you’re a fighter.”

Recognizing when a cause is truly lost is a gift. The gifted officer, a true credit to his department, demonstrated an exemplary commitment to public service and bravely, and as soft as a feather, laid it on its side. He put it into the trunk of his car and hauled it away.

I arrived back in the house just in time to hear a television news station announce that a woman in Centerville had bought a bomb at a garage sale. My ever dignified and quiet husband said he was going to his room as the phone rang. It was his grandmother from Pine City who just said, “It was you, wasn’t it!”

The bomb squad had to blow it up and I never got back a single piece of brass. A shame! It was a nice piece of brass. It had 3-5 dynamite blasting caps worth of powder still in it.

After that I did see more bombs for sale at garage sales in Shoreview,. People had stolen them from the Arden Hills arsenal. I never purchased any more, not even the homemade dumb bells made with large live artillery shells, much like the one pictured below, duct taped to each end. A situation that clearly illustrated the difference between a dumb bell and a dumb ass.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but DAMN!

bomb

 

Grandma Pat Letter: Cat Warfare: Cats Predict Catastrophic Children’s Blizzard of January 12, 1888

Dear Kids:

I could not help but notice that at a school bus stop this morning there was a young person wearing shorts, with no jacket, hat or mittens.  It is a Minnesota January and it is cold!  Going outside in the winter not dressed for the weather demonstrates even less common sense than fashion sense.  Let me tell you, there can be very bad consequences for not dressing warm in the winter.

Did you hear on the news this morning about a meteorological phenomena called a “Bomb Cyclone.”   This type of weather event is not new, but it is still dangerous and deserving of respect.  Well over one hundred years ago there was another “Bomb Cyclone” a winter  blizzard or “White Hurricane” that hit Minnesota and its neighboring states on January 12, 1888.   It was named the “Children’s Blizzard.”

Scores Frozen 4

The day of the Children’s Blizzard began with an unusually beautiful coppery colored sky.  Folks who had been trapped for months by severe cold and snow inside of dark windowless sod houses or drafty wooden homes emerged into the bright daylight to be caressed by a soft warm “velvety” breeze from the south.  The morning only seemed to improve with each passing hour.  Soon, the temperature had risen above freezing and in some areas into the 40’s and 50’s.

“Carl Saltee, a 16-year-old Norwegian immigrant in Fortier, Minn., remembered that “on the 12th of January 1888 around noontime it was so warm it melted snow and ice from the window until after 1 p.m.”

This beautiful January morning energized everyone.  After being housebound for so long almost everyone found a reason to head outdoors.  Adults found work to do, and for the first time in weeks children went to school.

blizzard 4

Schools in those days were mostly one-room country schools.  I actually went to one of those when I was in first grade. It was a long walk across a field and neighbor’s cow pasture, filled with cows, to get there.  I remember being cold a lot.  My grandmother braided a rug for me to have under my desk to help keep my feet warm. Also, there were no indoor toilets we had to use outdoor outhouses which were back behind the school building.  Trudging through snow drifts with a full bladder and parking your little bare butt on a frosty cold splint-laden wooden toilet seat in sub-zero temperatures is an experience not soon  forgotten.

blizzard outhouse

The children in 1888 also had to walk to school.  Yes, they, too, used out houses to go poop at school and at home. No, there was not any toilet paper. Most of these people were so poor that they couldn’t afford paper for school lessons. They certainly would not throw the precious commodity down an outhouse hole.  Leaves, grass, hay or corn cobs roughly served the purpose.  Poison Ivy leaves were identified at a young age and were to be avoided at all costs.

Not knowing that a horrible storm was coming and with the weather so warm, many of the youngsters shed their heavy winter coats and boots to enjoy the freedom of traipsing across the prairies with no hats or mittens and sporting lighter attire and footwear.  Undeterred by the presence of a teacher and the prospect of actually learning something, the students arrived at school excited to see and play with their friends.  Soon they were all inside, at their desks and reciting lessons.

Today computers, radars and even satellites in outer space are used to help the National Weather Service predict weather. Weather forecasts, watches and warnings are communicated immediately to the public on cell phones, computers, television and radio. Even with all of the current state-of-the-art technology, weather reports are not always accurate, nor do people heed weather alerts.  But, imagine living in a time where the only mass communication was Morse Code, telegraphs and newspapers.

In 1870 the government assumed responsibility for weather data collection and forecasting.  That would be only five years after the Civil War ended and still six years before George Armstrong Custer was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  Soldiers from the signal corps were in charge of weather predictions.

Weather data was collected by observers who measured air pressure, wind speed and temperatures several times a day, then telegraphed their data to district offices.  The district office would then decide whether or not to issue any weather warnings.  For some reason no Cold Front Warning was issued by a human for the Children’s blizzard.

Cats on the other hand did try to warn their humans about the impeding catastrophic change in the weather.  Cat owners reported that the morning of the storm their felines acted very strangely and began chasing their own tails or spinning.  Obviously mimicking the spin in the atmosphere.

What made this storm so dangerous?  The time of day it struck, its viciousness and the utter lack of a warning.  The blizzard raced across more than 780 miles in 17 hours as it slammed into Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Temperatures fell almost 100 degrees in 24 hours. The temperature dropped 18 degrees in just the first three minutes of the storm.  Snow drifts were quickly 20-25 feet deep.

blizzardchildrens2blizzard1888

One minute the sun was shining and then,

“About 3:30, we heard a hideous roar. … At first we thought that it was the Omaha train which had been blocked and was trying to open the track. My wife and I were near the barn when the storm came as if it had slid out of sack. A hurricane-like wind blew, so that the snow drifted high in the air, and it became terribly cold. Within a few minutes, it was as dark as a cellar, and one could not see one’s hand in front of one’s face.”

Wind speeds were measured at above sixty miles an hour in Minneapolis and gusted to over eighty miles an hour.  Roofs were blown off. Homes collapsed.  While there was still plenty of light fluffy snow left from an earlier storm to blow around,

“This was not a storm of drifting lace snowflakes, but of flash-frozen droplets firing sideways from the sky, an onslaught of speeding ice needles moving at more than 60 miles per hour. Even without the whiteout conditions — climate experts call this zero/zero visibility — many people couldn’t see because the microscopic bits of ice literally froze their eyes shut.”

To see, frozen eyelids had to be torn open or torn off.

There was no escaping the power of the storm,

As Newspaperman Charles Morse, founder of the Lake Benton News in Lake Benton, Minnesota reported,

“It was astonishing the manner in which this fine stuff would be driven through the smallest aperture. My sleeping quarters were on the second floor leading off a hallway at the head of the stairs. … On arriving home I found the wind had forced open the door and the stairway was packed with snow, and when I reached my room I found my bed covered with several inches of snow which had filtered over the threshold and through the keyhole.”

The great tragedy of the blizzard was that most of those who died were children who were caught in the storm walking home from school and farmers.   It is estimated that over 235 people died, 213 were children.  Seventy people lost their lives in Minnesota.

Many people, even those walking very short distances, became lost in the blinding snow and froze to death.  People were actually found frozen to death standing up.  The Minneapolis Tribune reported that recovered bodies were frozen so solid that they “give forth a metallic sound” when struck. Both humans and animals died from suffocation. There were so many fine ice crystals in the air that it was impossible to breathe.

blizzard_-_NOAA

Many of the dead were found right away. Some bodies were not discovered until spring when the snow melted.  Others were never found, because wolves ate them.

Teachers, parents and other brave souls did their best to save lives.

“By forming in parties of ten each, taking a long rope and marching across the prairie in line, the villagers today found all the lost school children except one”

“Schoolteacher Seymour Dopp in Pawnee City, Nebraska, kept his 17 students at school when the storm began at 2 p.m. They stayed overnight, burning stockpiled wood to keep warm. The next day, parents made their way over five-foot snow drifts to rescue their children.”

“In Great Plains, South Dakota, two men rescued the children in a schoolhouse by tying a rope from the school to the nearest shelter to lead them to safety.”

Minnie Freeman, heroine of the Blizzard of 1888, 12_BLIZZARD1888
Minnie Freeman

Minnie Freeman, a teacher in Nebraska, successfully led her students to shelter after the storm tore the roof off of her one-room sod schoolhouse.  Another teacher wanted the parents of her students to know that they were safe inside the school so she had the children continuously ring the school bell all through the night.

Others were not so lucky.

“Lois Royce found herself trapped with three of her students in her schoolhouse. By 3 p.m., they had run out of heating fuel. Her boarding house was only 82 yards away, so she attempted to lead the children there. However, visibility was so poor that they became lost and the children, two nine-year-old boys and a six-year-old girl, froze to death. The teacher survived, but her feet were frostbitten and had to be amputated.”

“Ten-year-old Johnny Walsh of Avoca, Minn., froze to death trying to find his house.”

“Six children of James Baker froze to death while trying to make it home from school near Chester township, Minnesota. They were found with their arms entwining each other in the snow.”

Many times the rescuers themselves perished in the blinding storm.

“Norwegian immigrant Seselia Knutson became frantic when her husband, Knut, was trapped out in the blizzard. She went out to look for him and became so confused she froze to death under a sled just 40 steps from her front door.”

There were animals that rescued people from the storm.

Bear Claws the Heroic Dog

“Omaha Indians Charley Stabler and Rough Clouds were hunting and trapping muskrat and beaver along Beaver Creek near Genoa, Neb., with Stabler’s dog, Bear Claws. The young men took shelter under a tree, and snow drifted over them.

Stabler awoke the next morning. Rough Clouds was dead. Bear Claws was missing. Stabler could not break out of the tomb of ice and snow.

About noon Jan. 15, Stabler heard his dog whining and digging over his head. They both dug frantically and broke through the crust of snow. Stabler, with the dog at his side, crawled toward a dim light in the distance and fell against a farmhouse door. The farm family took him in and cared for his frozen hands and feet.

Bear Claws went on to the Omaha camp where he whined and whimpered until some of the men followed him to the farmhouse. The dog later led the men to the place where Rough Cloud’s body lay. Tracks in the snow showed that the dog had made many trips back and forth, trying to bring help to his master and friend.”

Leader of the Herd.

“A girl named Mary was out with the family cows in an Antelope County, Neb., field of corn stubble.

One of the old cows led the herd, and when it was time to take the cattle in, Mary would hold the old cow’s tail to walk home and the others would follow. The old cow started for home when the blinding storm hit. Mary grabbed the tail and was safely guided home.”

Old Blind Horse

“Theodore Peterson of Oakland, Neb., had been to the mill at Lyons to grind wheat for flour when he was caught in the storm. He was driving a wagon hitched to an old blind mare and another horse. The blind horse had been over the road many times without seeing it, so Peterson loosened the reins and let her find the way home.”

The Children’s Blizzard left its mark on the hearts, minds and bodies of many of its victims.  Families forever mourned the loss of their loved ones.  Towns would toll their school and church bells each year on the anniversary of the storm. Many people bore physical scars from their tangle with the bomb cyclone of January 1888.  Wooden legs, finger-less hands and missing ears announced that they had won the war and survived the blizzard, but had lost the fight with frostbite.

It’s effects also were forever remembered by your great-great-grandparents who actually survived that storm.  As a child I remember being told about a blizzard so bad that people lost their way trying to get from their barn back to their house and died wandering around in their field.  That is why from then on whenever winter set in, a rope was strung between our farmhouse and barn.

So when your mom and dad ask you to wear a coat, and put a hat and mittens in your backpack do it.  It is always better to be prepared and safe than lost in a prairie and sorry.

Then, too, if I ever see you kids waiting for a school bus wearing shorts without even a coat on a Minnesota January morning, I will conclude you are issuing a dare to look ridiculous.  I will accept the challenge and carry it out during your very next school event.  It will involve Grandpa’s Elmer Fudd hat and his rubber boots…the ones with the buckles.

blizzardboots

Stay warm and toasty,

Love

Grandma Pat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Family’s Farm Christmas: It’s the people, not the presents!

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

In 1997, I wrote this story for my young daughter.  After my thyroid cancer diagnosis when she was only 14 months old, I had adopted the tradition of writing her an original story, with a soft moral “mom” message each year as a gift.  I wanted her to have something special from me to remember me should  I have croaked from the cancer.

This story was created to introduce my children to their extended family and be a record of some of our family’s Christmas traditions.

This year is the second Christmas since my second cancer diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma.  I feel wonderful, am filled with joy and am looking forward to many more years of making holiday memories.

I hope you enjoy, “A Family’s Farm  Christmas.”

In your great-great grandfather Ole Larson’s house, which is more than 100 years old, many years ago our family gathered making Christmas memories untold. This story is…

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