Tag Archives: Montana

What Is On My Mind Today? I Have Climbed the Mountain…The Trip to Montana

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Yellowstone Mountains

I remember the call from my oncologist so very clearly.  After months of battling brittle bones and being injected daily with bone hardening drugs into my stomach, just as I thought I had begun to make progress, he called me to tell me that my bone marrow biopsy was positive for multiple myeloma…a bone marrow cancer.

My first thought was thank God they finally know what’s slowly killing me.  My second thought was like the words of the song says, “Lord, this time you gave me a mountain. A mountain that I may never climb.  It isn’t a hill any longer. You gave me a mountain this time.”

It isn’t surprising that my first thoughts were of God and mountains. Throughout the four years that I battled multiple myeloma, at first just to survive, then to get mobility back, I would often mentally picture walking in the mountains of Montana.  Mountains have always been where I have felt closest to God and found peace.

Multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, destroyed my bones.  They became so brittle that all of my thoracic and lumbar vertebra sustained compression fractures.  I once had six new fractures in my back at one time. I also endured several cracked ribs.

I would break my back doing the simplest of tasks including flossing my teeth, lifting a toilet lid and trying to pick a shirt up off of the floor.  For over 18 months I was imprisoned in a chin to hip hard body cast.  I spent over two and a half years confined to a hospital bed in my living room staring out of my living room window at a small oak tree in my front yard.  I was unable to stand or walk without using a walker for over three years. So, being able to hike in the mountains of Montana was a pretty far-fetched goal.

If in reality I couldn’t get to mountains, I could in my mind. I dreamed, I was in those mountains, often.  I was there when I was encased in that body cast. I spent time in them when imprisoned in the hospital bed in my living room. I was climbing those mountains the day they put the Hickman chemo port into my chest.  I visited those snow covered peaks each time they bored holes into my bones using only local anesthesia before they used a massive syringe to suck out bone marrow samples.

Those mountains were in my nursing home, rehab and hospital rooms. They were there the day I watched, “the nuclear bomb” of chemo for my stem cell plant slowly enter my body.

There were times during those years of battling cancer, fear, depression, chemo therapy and stem cell transplant side effects, mobility loss, and pain when my only contact with the great outdoors, for this outside farm girl, was dreaming of mountains and their meadows.

To beat my cancer I did everything the doctors asked me to do, except for one thing. I refused to use a wheelchair.  I had no intention of being trapped in one of those. For, I had decided, like Winston Churchill stated in his greatest and shortest speech to  “Never, never, never give up.”  In fact, I bought a silver dog tag engraved with those words to always wear around my neck on a necklace that included my cross, a silver family tree given to me by my grandson on a Mother’s Day long ago and the first ring my husband ever gave me.

After making the decision to fight on, no matter how sick I was, whenever someone helped me out of bed, I would push my walker around my kitchen island until I was too tired to go any further. First one, then five, 10, 20 and eventually a 100 laps a day.  I wore a trail into my hardwood floors.

During the long months that stretched into years when I was too sick and weak to leave my home, occupational and physical therapists would come to bathe me, and help me relearn the simplest of tasks.  First, I had to learn how to get out of bed without breaking more bones.  As I would sit up I could feel my weak spine bend sideways just like a willow branch and would pray that it would not snap and paralyze me.  It didn’t.

Eventually, I re-learned how to do stairs. Then, after months of being totally house bound, with two therapists, one on each side, I was allowed to go outside and push my walker to the end of my driveway and back.

There were many trips to the end of my driveway.   I can still remember the sheer terror of trying to step down from the driveway to the street for the first time without jarring my spine.  I did it, though, and my world began to grow. First just to the edge of our property line, next came the end of our street and eventually laps around the block pushing a walker with tennis balls on the bottom.  As I grew stronger, I mastered using a walker with wheels, next came two canes and eventually just one cane.

I walked and walked. I walked with shuffling feet, bent over, with a broken back.  I walked sick and exhausted from chemo. I walked bald.  I walked masked.  I walked on flat streets, inclines and hills.  I wore out many tennis balls.  I have worn out many rubber stoppers on the bottom of my canes. I climbed stairs many times a day just to strengthen my bones and leg muscles. Each step I took was me telling my cancer to go to blazes.

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Pushing my walker on a hiking trail at William O’Brien State Park

After such a hard and long cancer battle, you cannot imagine the joy of traveling out of state for the first time in almost six years; being in Great Falls, Montana, to visit and hug my dear Aunt Margaret who faithfully called me weekly throughout all of those years to lead me in Bible study; and to at last stand on a hiking trail in Montana and see a horizon filled with snow and wild flower covered mountains.

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Uncle Klynn and Aunt Margie

As I stood beneath a snow-capped footstool of God, the bible verse that I clung to throughout my cancer battle was again prayed.

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

It did not matter whether I could only lift my eyes to the top of a small oak tree in my front yard, or the summit of a great mountain, my help always came from the Lord….who never left me or forsook me.

With baby steps, a bit a grit and by the grace of God, I climbed the mountain!!!

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I hope you enjoy these vacation pictures!


Lots of Wild Horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

 

Beautiful Wild Flowers

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Animals galore! Bear, wolf, elk and antelope too! 

 

Geyser basins.

Waterfalls 

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Mountains!

Doug!

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Me!

It was a great trip. We hiked from sun up to sundown and I never even got sore muscles….Bully!!!!!

Just Saying…Cancer, Capitol and Grizzly Bear!

A view

My cancer battle against multiple myeloma was a very long and painful one.  It began in earnest during the Christmas holiday’s in 2012 when I first broke my spine taking the turkey out of the refrigerator.  Over the next four years, I would have many new unpleasant experiences.  Such as being in a body cast for 18 months, confined to a hospital bed in my living room for years, months of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, baldness, drug withdrawal and other physical, emotional and mental challenges.

Having cancer is just plain tough.  I have now done it twice. Thyroid and multiple myeloma. No matter what your age, a cancer diagnoses is terrifying.

Cancer patients suffer.  They become quick friends with much of the worst that life has to offer. Their new companions include the fear of death and dying; pain; nausea; anxiety; depression; isolation; loneliness; and job and financial loss.

Cancer patients lose.  They lose body parts, hair, appetite, mobility and independence. While most of those things can often be compensated for or regained, there are permanent losses.  Relationships change. Friends and relatives drift away, because they are either too busy to be bothered, your situation is bringing them down or they just cannot stand to watch the suffering.  Some of those relationships will never be made whole again.

In addition to physical, mental, emotional and financial loss, cancer patients often miss out on everyday things that most people take for granted.  Like being there for the special children in your life as they grow up. Then, too, due to circumstances beyond control special events cannot always be attended. When I was in chemo and still in a body cast due to my broken spine, I missed my only daughter’s wedding.

Cancer patients surmount.  This morning when my latest round of cancer tests indicated that I am still cancer-free, I told my husband that it is time for me to experience the things that for so many years were beyond reach and only dreams.

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Stairs to the Senate Chamber at Minnesota State Capitol

When I was hospitalized for weeks for physical rehab to relearn standing, walking and stair climbing. I vowed to myself that not only was I going to conquer those five steps in the rehab room, but that someday I would, again, climb the steps to the Senate Chamber at our state Capitol.  After four years, God willing, next Friday, March 17,  after my oncology appointment and infusion at Regions, I am going to return to the Capitol.  I am going to visit friends, deliver some cookies and check out all of the changes. And, I am, again, going to climb all of those beautiful marble steps.

Later this spring,  I will need to complete a short test run of a trip. So, my husband plans to take me to see where my daughter was married two years ago.  Then, I am going to return to the land of Lincoln to visit my daughter and her husband and finally see their apartment.

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Our last trip to Illinois before my cancer struck. 

If my back can survive a car trip to Illinois, then, later this summer I am going to Montana. I am going to visit my dear Aunt Margaret in Great Falls, Montana, who spent so many hours in prayer on my behalf. When I was totally bed bound, with not much light at the end of my tunnel, Aunt Margie called me every week, for months on end, to lead me in bible study.  I need to give her a hug.

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Great Falls, Montana

Then, I am going Glacier Park.  I am, again, going to stand outside of the cafe at Swift Current, look up at those God made granite cathedrals and hear the Lord whisper in the winds that race around those cliffs.

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Glacier Park, Swift Current Lake. 

After, I get my fill of the view,  I am going to take on a few trails with just as much determination as I did my cancer while trying my best to avoid a  bear.
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Although, after all I have been through, the bears would be wise to watch out for me.

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….just saying.

 

 

Recipe: Stairway to Heaven and Luscious Lemon Jello Salad

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My uncle and aunt live in Great Falls, Montana, the land of exquisite vistas, perfect summers, low humidity, no mosquitoes and rarely a tornado.   When I was young every summer we would travel to Montana to visit my cousins and they, in turn, would travel to Minnesota to enjoy our hospitality, heat, humidity, mosquitoes and tornadoes.

It never failed that the week our Montana guests arrived turned out to be the hottest most miserable of the summer.  Now, my beloved uncle was born and raised in Montana, so Minnesota summer’s were a special challenge to him.  Other than the fact that our state’s agriculture helps feed the world, I do not believe he saw many perks to living in this state.

One summer, in particular, Minnesota put on a display of weather that will not be soon forgotten.  Each day of their visit, the temperatures were in the upper 90’s to over 100 degrees with very high dew points.  It was sweltering.  Added to that, mother nature decided to show off her power, by sending severe storm after severe storm, tornado after tornado, day after day.  I think we spent most of their visit ducking for cover.

Our century old farm home added an extra thrill to tornado survival due to it being built over a natural spring.  At least, I assume that is what it was.  Even in dry weather, no sooner was the basement pumped out than a two-inch jet of water would shoot up from between the cracks in the flooring and re-flood the whole thing.

Our basement was almost always flooded with several feet of water. Which did have its perks.  Once, I released some fish that I trapped into the basement.  My plan was to let them grow and then be able to sit inside on the basement steps and fish in the evenings without having to do the constant mosquito evasion fandango dance.  Swatting and swinging at those bloody thirsty insects raises havoc with fishing bobber control, don’t ya know.

The basement fish plan had real potential, at least it did in my mind, and was initially successful. I really enjoyed watching those fish swim around in that clear, cold water. Unfortunately fish have to breathe and eat and soon they gave up the ghost. That is when my plan became problematic.

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Opening up the basement windows to get rid of the dead fish stink, attracted swarms of flies. The swarm of flies attracted, swarms of toads by the hundreds who then crawled into my mother’s canning jars and died.  Canning jars filled with dead smelly toads got the attention of my mother. She’s alert like that.  For my ingenuity, I was awarded an opportunity for personal growth by being put solely in charge of cleaning up the old testament plagues that had struck our basement.

Of course, now, as an adult I realize that my childish plan for basement fishing was not destined for success. It failed for lack of an aerator and more minnows.  Then, too, I have always regretted never being able to ice skate down there.

Anyway, since our basement was always full of water, during severe storms we would sit on the rickety, crooked, half-rotten basement stairs. There in the dank and dark, without even any fish to watch, we would wait out the storms.  When our Montana cousins were visiting there would be all ten of us on those stairs,  including my urbane highly respected architect uncle from big sky country.

Of course, sitting on the basement stairs was not as safe as actually being in a basement during a tornado warning. In reality it was probably no safer than being upstairs, but we felt that it was an appropriate feel good gesture for company . And, it was safer than standing in that flooded basement.

Sometimes, regardless of the number of safety drills, when a storm hits there is just not time for everyone to get into a swimming suit before seeking shelter in their flooded basement. Besides common sense dictates that it is never safe to go swimming during a lightening storm, basement or not.

Then, too, the sump pump used to drain the water out of our basement had questionable wiring. Sometimes it worked, most of the time it didn’t so no one was really sure what kind of a shock hazard may be involved in touching the basement water. Shocking as it may seem, when one actually did the math, it was comforting to know that getting killed or injured by wind debris was far less likely than electrocution by questionable sump pump wiring.

Human or divinely inspired… the potential for an electrical shock was a given.   So, we had adopted the basement stair sitting storm survival protocol.

Whether it was the flooded basement or the bats in our belfry, I was convinced by the look on my highly educated and devout Montana uncle’s face, as he sat on those filthy farm dirt covered stairs, that he was fervently praying for a loving and just God, in my uncle’s absence and before their next summer’s visit, to aim a direct hit by a tornado or bulldozer on those basement stairs and the house that stood over them for safety and sanity’s sake.

While the safety standards of our homestead may have been questionable, our hospitality could not be faulted.  We loved having our Montana cousins come to visit.  Whether it was my mom, Aunt Jane, the great aunties or grandma their annual visit was a time to get together and celebrate family with good food.

Hot weather called for cold salads. In those days jello salads were all the rage and lemon jello salads were especially popular in the summer.  There is only one rule you need to remember for jello salad making and that is, that vegetables and fruit flavored jello is always a bad idea.

This recipe for Luscious Lemon Jello Salad is a crowd pleaser and perfect for a hot, humid Minnesota summer supper.

Luscious Lemon Jello Salad

2 (3-ounce) packages Lemon Jello
2 cups of boiling water
1 (12-ounce) can of Mountain Dew or lemon-lime soda
1 (21-ounce) can lemon pie filling
1 (15-ounce) can crushed pineapple, well-drained
2 cups of miniature marshmallows
8 ounces of Cool Whip, thawed

In a large bowl combine jello and boiling water.  Stir until jello is completely dissolved. Add the Mountain Dew and stir until blended.

Stir in one half of the pie filling.  Spoon into a 2-quart glass serving bowl. Stir in pineapple and marshmallows. Chill until set.

In a small bowl combine remaining pie filling with Cool Whip.  Gently mix together. Spread over the chilled layer.  Chill until serving time.

Yield:  12 servings.

This recipe can be found in the cookbook, “Minnesota 4-H Recipes, Favorite Recipes of 4-H Families and Friends.”

Purple Mountains Majesty and Grilled Chicken

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Montana mountains and wheat fields

Growing up on our farm grilling outside consisted of cutting and whittling lilac bush sticks with a jack knife into sharp little spears, then stabbing a coarsely ground skin-on wiener and roasting it over a very large outdoor fire made up of sticks, grass clippings and pine cones raked up after the most recent thunderstorm. This attention to recycling detail made us fully compliant with Swedish farmer’s commandment–waste not want not.

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After roasting your wiener, it was then time to spear a couple of nice sweet soft white fluffy marshmallows onto your stick, hold them over the fire until they lit up like the 4th of July with at least a four-inch bright orange flame, chase a younger sibling around the yard with your sugar-fueled torch until either the fire burned itself out or your mother got her hands on you. Then, you very meekly, without smirking, ate the charred remains of the marshmallow.

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The simplicity of the wiener roast was the extent of our outdoor meat grilling for many generations. I suppose it wasn’t so much a lack of interest in protein dietary diversity preparation methods that had prevented an early introduction to marination and grilling of meat on the farm. I believe that this obvious missing link in the culinary evolution of animal muscle consumption techniques resulted not so much from a lack of interest in the subject matter, but moreover from a generalized adversity to further exposure to the daily elements of heat and humidity which would only be extended should external environment cooking methods be tried.  In other words, we liked eating tasty meat, but were just too darn hot to cook outdoors after a long day spent baking in farm fields. (Can you tell I used to write wordy confusing at times nonsensical copy for politicians.  LOL! )

The first grilled food I can remember tasting was during one of our annual trips to Great Falls, Montana to visit my Aunt Margie, Uncle Klynn, and cousins Debbie and Laurie. Their home was surrounded by neighbors, not fields, and there was a store closer to their house than the barn was to ours where you could buy Popsicles for a nickle. If you couldn’t walk the short distance to the store, there was a brightly colored van chiming the song, “Pop Goes the Weasel” that stopped and sold ice cream treats right in front of their house. I knew right then, that the big city held marvels such as I had never experienced on the farm.

Uncle Klynn was an accomplished architect and designed several major buildings in the state of Montana.  He was also the first man I had ever seen wear short pants and open toed shoes…without socks!   The man was a revolutionary.  For no matter how high the heat or humidity on the farm, the men folk always wore long pants.  They even wore long pants when we went fishing. In addition to being fashion forward, my Montana uncle was also the first adult male I had ever seen cook–he used a Weber grill in his backyard.

It was at Uncle Klynn’s home that I first tasted grilled meat.  Grilled hamburgers were a revelation, but what remains foremost in my mind’s eye and taste buds was when he grilled chicken and once even a whole turkey.  Not only did he grill the poultry, but all that deliciousness was basted with tangy sauces–none of which were white. What a shock it was to my young mind that there were more sauces in this world than Swedish white sauce, ketchup and mustard.

Montana’s snow capped mountains and Uncle Klynn’s  poultry grilling expertise opened up a whole new world for me.  The discovery of  a land with endless vistas of striped golden wheat-filled plains abutting purple mountains majesty was just a little more exciting than discovering that were a variety of cooking sauces. From that time on poultry became so much more than something to feed, butcher, pluck, freeze, casserole, bake and fry. Chickens and turkeys could be turned into saucy barbecued masterpieces of culinary delight!

Lime Marinated Grilled Chicken with Mango Salsa

Mango Salsa:
2 mangoes, peeled and diced into small cubes
½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
½ cup orange juice
juice of 2 limes
3 Tablespoons of minced fresh basil
salt and ground pepper to taste

In a medium-sized bowl add the diced mangos, bell peppers, lime and orange juices, salt and pepper and the basil.  This mixture should be covered and refrigerated for 2-3 hours before serving.

Marinade:
2 Tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 Tablespoons frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
½ teaspoon salt
ground pepper to taste

1 chicken cut up for grilling, or 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts.

 Line the inside of a large mixing bowl with an unzipped, 1- gallon Ziplock bag.  Next, added the marinade ingredients of salt, pepper, limeade and orange juice.  Zip bag shut and mix ingredients together.  Open bag and put in the chicken.  Take out as much air out of the bag as possible without spilling the marinade and zip bag shut. Let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.  (Always marinate chicken in the refrigerator to prevent food borne illness.)

Heat the grill and adjust the rack for proper cooking.  Grill the chicken until brown and the juices run clear.  (Do not under cook chicken, if you do, you are just sending an invitation to a nasty food borne illness to attend your barbecue.)

Serve chicken topped with the mango salsa, and sides of cold salads.

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Wheat fields of Montana