Tag Archives: storms

What Is On My Mind Today? Power Without the Destruction.

st g painting
2016 Painting of St. Genevieve Church in Centerville, MN. 

For weeks and weeks I have painted and repainted the sky on the same canvas.

Whenever I start a painting I have the exact image in my mind.  I can actually see it on the white canvas. As an artist, my job is to make the image appear for others to see.

I like painting landscapes especially ones with vivid skies.  I have always had a fascination with clouds.  I remember spending many hours as a small child, resting on the lawn just watching them change shapes.  Quietly watching clouds on a calm summer’s day is a very peaceful and relaxing activity, which I highly recommend.

For me the peace of clouds disappeared in an instant when I was about eleven-years-old. Cloud watching changed forever on a stormy day while traveling in a car on Highway 12 just east of Litchfield, Minnesota.  At the precise moment we were along side a huge metal factory, a tornado dropped out of the sky and shredded the big building.  Huge pieces of metal ripped through the air and rained down all around our car.   The destructive power of that small tornado was horrible, yet so very awesome.  From that moment on, I had a very healthy appreciation for power, especially power that originates in the heavens.

After experiencing that tornado up close, instead of looking for the peace in the clouds I looked to find evidence of their power. It is exhilarating to stand in an great empty field and watch a thunderstorm explode on the western horizon and come barreling at you.

It was even more exciting to stare down a menacing mesocyclone astride my Arabian mare.  Animals are naturally much better forecaster’s of weather that humans. My mare could sense stormy weather hours before it developed.  Her restlessness and whinnying told me it was time to saddle up.  Down to the edge of farm we’d gallop and wait for nature’s big show.

Radiant white clouds billowing upwards with great speed and purpose announced that the guest we were waiting for so impatiently was on its way.  Just as the first gust of wind rushed up to make our acquaintance, I would pivot my  mare and give her, her head and we’d race the storm home.

It was all speed, wind, water and…..power. Intoxicating!

I like power.  I love the power of storms.

So, my goal for this canvas was to paint a beautiful powerful mesocyclone with all of its whirl and swirl.  No matter how many skies I painted none of them seemed to meet the vision of my mind’s eye.

Since, I don’t tend to give up, I had to just keep trying and trying to succeed.  Becoming more and more frustrated with a process that is usually as easy for me as falling off a wet horse.

Last week a very good friend of mine, who knows me extremely well, called to say hello. I told her about my canvas of perpetual repainting and how frustrated I was not being able to  produce the image I wanted.  I explained to her that my goal was to capture the winds and the beauty of a great storm, but I wanted it to be a friendly storm.

As always she listened to my concerns very carefully and then responded, “So, you want all of the power without any of the destruction.”

Yup, that would be it.




Recipe: Montana Cousins, Tornadoes, Stairway to Heaven and Luscious Lemon Jello Salad

Basement-stairs (1)

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.


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.

Regardless of the number of safety drills, sometimes when a storm hits there is just not enough 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. However, the pre-storm donning of a swimsuit makes post-storm flooded ditch body surfing and swimming immediate and sweet.

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. No one was really sure what kind of a shock hazard may be involved in touching the basement water. Shocking as it may seem, we were probably in less danger from the storms than electrocution by questionable sump pump wiring.

Human or divinely inspired… the potential for a severe electrical jolt was a given.   So, the basement stair-sitting storm survival protocol was established and implemented.

Whether it was the flooded basement or potential invasion from 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…combining vegetables with 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.”

Racing Storms and Finding the Light


Original Oil, “Jesus Calming the Storm.”

As Doug and I were sitting together in the backyard last evening, there was a strong wind in the trees.  I have always loved hearing leaves rustle in the wind. It is one of my favorite sounds. I think it sounds like a soft whisper from God.

Sitting there last night, I couldn’t help but remember all of the times as a small child that I had sat by my bedroom window on the second floor of our century old farm house and watch storms.

My bedroom window faced east and right in the center of our yard was the yard light. A yard light is a very powerful large light that is perched on top of a tall telephone pole. It illuminates the entire farm yard. I can remember daytime storms so deep, furious and dark that their blackness would trigger that old trusty yard light to come on. Sometimes that yard light would illuminate a gentle shower of crystals that sparkled as they fell from the heavens. At other times it would only serve to heighten the terror of a truly evil tempest by outlining sinister shadows that danced between lightening strikes.

Whether it stormed during the day or night, there was always enough light provided by the sun or that yard light for me to enjoy watching the trees being wildly whipped back and forth in the wind.

As I grew older I was no longer content to just watch storms from my bedroom window, so began racing storms on my horse Beauty–an Arabian/Pinto mare.  When I would spy a storm on the western horizon, I would saddle up Beauty and we would trot out on the field road to meet it.  Once there, we would watch the storm as it kicked up dust across our neighbor’s farm fields as it rumbled closer.

Beauty’s ears would twitch as we faced into the oncoming storm. Then, she’d begin to stomp her feet and snicker, as she primed herself up for the start of the race.  As the rain sheets reached the line fence, I would pivot Beauty on her heels and we’d be off!  She ran as if she had wings on her feet. As we bolted for the homestead the first gusts of wind seemed to push us faster.  Then, we’d be drenched by cool rain when the storm inevitably caught up to us–just before we entered the thick tree grove that surrounded the farm.

When we entered the tree grove the storm miraculously vanished…it was a perfectly silent hush like you entered a holy place on the wings of a prayer…a cathedral of nature.

As we shot out of the woods on our way to the horse barn the storm again attacked!  It whirled around us loudly crashing like two great symphony cymbals.  The sound of Beauty’s hoof beats absorbed by the roar of thunder. The trees in the yard, impressed by our daring, bowed as we passed.  All of us targets of the flashing lightening.

Yes, the stronger the thunderstorm the better I liked it. I greatly enjoy just watching the beauty of the clouds. Once the clouds merge and become a towering dark whirling mass, I love its unchallenged power, speed, roar and energy.  What I don’t like is the damage that storms leave behind.

The damage a thunderstorm leaves behind is so much like the damage we experience from life’s storms. Thunderstorms like life’s storms can come upon us quickly and wreck havoc with a vengeance. Sometimes the damage just requires a little picking up and sometimes it’s devastating.

While we cannot always predict or escape a nasty storm– we can choose how we react to it. I believe that storms leave us with two choices. Either you become embittered and obsess about your losses or you can focus on the light that will appear after the storm passes.

Everyone who gets to be my age is a bit storm damaged.  This is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe that it takes a bit of age to acquire wisdom. No one is born wise, wisdom is earned by surviving the rain and challenges of life’s storms.

So, what have I learned from enduring my share of storms including the loss of several babies, two bouts with cancer? I have learned that there is really no need to fear storms for they are a temporary phenomena. When caught in a storm and actively trying to escape the tempest, I choose to have faith in the coming light, because it is both bright and everlasting…just saying.