Saturday, December 29, 2012

A catch-up post for 2012

Many of my posts over the last couple years have featured pictures from the places that have kindly invited me to do a Farm Heritage Show at their facility. As my wife Nancy became more involved in connecting with old friends, new friends, and family by using Facebook, I found that many times we were likely to post the same pictures. Consequently, I've decided to leave the posting of photos to her, and in this way my posts will be shorter and, perhaps, a bit more varied and less frequent.

My most recent post was on November 27, 2012, and it highlighted the November 2nd event at the Duluth Children's Museum, where we have done shows for over three consecutive years. I really like the place and what it does for kids and parents, and I was gratified that a few of you emailed to say that you had been there and liked it too.

Since then Nancy and I had a busy couple of months doing Farm Heritage Programs for schools, Parent-Teacher Organizations, and Historical Societies. We also had the opportunity to vend at Christmas Shows at Dakota Village in Farmington for two weekends and a European Christmas Show sponsored by the Czech Heritage Club, New Prague, MN.

I thank the following people for arranging my visit to their facility or organization on the dates indicated:

Lisa Bowyer at Children of Tomorrow Learning Centers in Waconia, MN, and in Chanhassen, MN, on November 4, 2012;
Colleen Glover, teacher at Risen Christ Catholic School, Minneapolis, MN, on November 9, 2012;
Sherry Stirling at Chisago County Historical Society, Stacy, MN, on November 10, 2012;
Pam Grussing and Kathy Weeks-Wegner, Jackson County Library, Lakefield Branch, at Lakefield, MN, November 28, 2012;
Mary Hendricks, Christmas in the Village at Farmington, MN, December 1-2 and 8, 2012;
Deb Ziskovsky, Leah Baker, Vi Chromy, European Christmas, sponsored by the Czech Heritage Club, New Prague, MN, December 2, 2012
Patty Norberg, PTO President, at Cedar Creek PTO Family Night, Cedar, MN, on December 11, 2012;
Kelly Adrian, first grade teacher at Chatfield Elementary, Belle Plaine, MN, on December 14, 2012;
Amy Baar, first grade teacher at Cedar Creek Community School, Cedar, MN, on December 20, 2012.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Books Alive! at Duluth Children's Museum

The Duluth Children's Museum provides a learning environment for kids with adult supervision. Displays range from banking to the environmental, and they are all geared to teach by engaging kids with on-hand activities as well as imaginative play.
Much has changed at the Duluth Children's Museum since we were there last year at their Books Alive! event, which is always scheduled for the first Friday in November. They have moved into a new, temporary location at 115 S. 29th Ave W, which is across the parking lot from the building they plan to remodel as their permanent home.
What hasn't changed, though, is that the staff invited us to do a program at the event, which was held on Friday, November 2, 2012. We are thankful they remembered us.
Director of Education, Peter Jacobson, gave us a tour of the new facilities, and later he gave a reading to attendees.

We had the opportunity to chat with Michael Garcia, the Museum's Director, and staff members we met last year, including Emily, who tended the gift shop, which is adjacent to the room where I presented my program at about 7:00 PM.
The audience was about an even mixture of kids and adults, and they seemed to enjoy my half-hour Farm Heritage Program, which included my story, If I were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure.  Thanks to all who stayed after the program to share their farm stories and buy books.

Thanks to all the staff members for having me back again this year, and a special thanks to Peter Jacobson for arranging the visit.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Service for Aunt Bernice

Yesterday, my wife and I, accompanied by my two sisters, Joyce and Judy, drove north to Graham United Methodist Church near Rice, Minnesota, to the funeral of Aunt Bernice Meehl, Dad's sister, who passed away after living 90 years and several months.

She was fun to visit until the end, telling stories and answering questions about her life. For me she was the closest living link to my father, who passed away in 2001. Questions I wished I'd asked Dad, I asked Bernice, and she gave thoughtful answers. But it's not as if I always led the discussion.  To our delight she would go on about all sorts of adventures in her young life, interspersing stories about the childhoods of her sons, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren.

We visited her last on Monday, November 12, just eight days before she died, and we brought an album of photographs that was thick enough to make even the most avid photo nuts roll their eyes in dread, but we went through the whole thing with Bernice, page by page, as she named people and put dates to the events where the pictures were taken. Nancy and I shut up and took notes.

Yesterday's service for Bernice was a celebration of her life as well as a worship service for her faith.
Reading of Scripture, messages from the Pastor, prayers, and hymns were followed by a period where audience members were invited to share their memories of Bernice. This started out out with a comprehensive, heartfelt talk by Bernice's grand daughter, Carmen. Then each of Bernice's sons, Bill and Harvey, commented from their seats. Soon many others spoke up, and bit by bit we learned more and more about the shared love audience members had for Bernice.

As her God Son, I commented that she never forgot my birthday. She always sent a card and a small gift that truly reflected the fact that she was thinking of me on my birthday.

After the service, I had the special honor of carrying her ashes to the hearse and holding the urn on my lap as I rode to the grave site. I've been honored to be a pallbearer many times in the past, and consequently, I've felt the weight of a friend or relative as I helped lift the casket and carry a loved one to his or her final resting place. I've always found it to be a moving experience and one I highly recommend to everyone.
However, I found the experience of lifting the urn by myself, feeling the slight weight of the urn and Bernice's ashes on my lap as I rode to the cemetery, and finally setting the container with the ashes on the pedestal by the grave, to be a profoundly unique and personal experience, one I will always remember.

Do not pass up the chance to bear the pall. Although it may be a service to the deceased, the benefit is greatest to the bearer.

Several years ago I wrote a rather long poem entitled "Bear the Pall." Like most modern poetry, it had
no regular meter or rhyme, but I ended it with a couplet, which are the only lines I'll quote here:

Let us always have the living provide the dead
With flesh-powered parade to their final stead.

After the cemetery service, we all met back at the church for a hearty Minnesota lunch served by the Graham United Methodist Women. More stories were swapped and memories were shared before the event ended with everyone dispersing to go on with their lives, feeling a little closer to knowing Bernice.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

About Thanksgiving and Traditions

Like many Americans on Thanksgiving morning, my thoughts go back to past Thanksgivings, and I realize how much my expectations of the day are grounded in what I experienced as a child. Preparation for the big noon meal started in earnest the evening before, with Mom making apple pies and pumpkin pies from scratch, baking kolackys and bread, and generally preparing everything to be prepared the next morning. She had no refrigerator and the cook stove burned wood. I cannot imagine or explain how she managed it all, but I do remember that cooking a holiday meal always put her in high spirits. She loved to cook and she loved the excitement of expecting company.
Thanksgiving morning began at 4:45 AM as my folks got up to milk cows and feed silage. My oldest sister, Joyce, helped milk from a very young age, and my sister Judy stayed in the house and had the more difficult job of taking care of me.
When they came in from early morning chores, they smelled of barn, a mixed odor of corn silage, cow, and manure, not unpleasant at the time and even sweet in my memory. Mom brought with her fresh milk in a jar which she had filled that morning and had kept in the milk cooler in the milk house by the barn. Then she would make everyone breakfast, which was a feast in itself. When I was little I ate Grape Nuts Flakes and a big slice of toast made from Mom's homemade bread, which I heaped with butter. My sisters had their own favorite cereals, but Dad and Mom usually had bacon and eggs, cheese, and sausage. The few minutes of sitting down at the breakfast table were the only moments of rest either of them would have until they sat down for the big noon meal.
Then it was back outside for another two hours or so of chores. In the two illustrations below from my book,  A Farm Country Thanksgiving, I try to show the variety of chores on a typical morning in 1950.

 Mom would try to get back in the house early to continue preparing the meal. By 11:30 AM guests might arrive and usually they would help set the table with Mom's best china, mixed with enough of the everyday tableware so everyone had a place at the line of tables that extended the entire length of the kitchen.

We all know things have changed, and traditions have been updated according to the needs of people. When I was a child, the focus was on visiting and playing games with guests, eating a great meal, and giving thanks for the blessings of the year. I do not lament changes in traditions, and my purpose for writing is never to glorify the past or try to put a stop to change. I just like to portray the past in an accurate but entertaining way. When the children of today get old, they will want to remember what Thanksgiving was like for them when they were kids.  I hope they write an illustrated book so future generations can understand how they enjoyed their Thanksgiving Day.

An interesting point I'd like to make, though, is that recently I did a one-hour show, which included my story, A Farm Country Thanksgiving, for the Annual Banquet of the Chisago Historical Society. This was a very lively and friendly audience, and when I brought up certain nostalgic items, people would applaud in agreement or shout out their support. The cheers and applause were loud and long when I said my book "tries to capture a Thanksgiving when most people did not have a television, and no one was concerned about football or parades going on somewhere else." People were concerned with visiting or playing games with the their hosts and their guests.

Thanksgiving traditions at our house have changed, too, but some things have remained constant. In the morning we watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade as Nancy prepares the meal. At noon Nancy and I enjoy a quiet dinner of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans, wine, and a dessert of pumpkin pie. We go for a walk after dinner, and about 3:00 PM we will leave to visit our dear niece and nephew, Lisa and Tony, who have invited us over for the afternoon. We look forward to seeing lots of relatives there.
Right now, I've got to get back to watching the parade. My wife tells me the Rockettes are up next.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Memories of Hogs

I chuckled as I read Dave Minar's "Thoughts from the Farm" in the latest Cedar Summit Newsletter.
(Scroll to the bottom of the newsletter to see Dave's article.) He recalled helping his father raise hogs in the 1940s when Dave was a teenager, a time when no one used electric fencing or steel gates. Gates were constructed of sturdy, home-sawed lumber, but given time, the hogs would eat their way through. Dave's dad called hogs "The Demolition Crew," a name which I think truly characterizes the nature of the critters.

Although Dave's farm memories may go back a few years beyond mine, our memories of hogs during our youth are similar. After raising hogs for a few years in in late 1940s and early 1950s, my folks decided that the joy of having pork was not worth the constant effort to keep them fenced. I don't remember the exact words that Dad used to describe the hogs, but I'm sure it wasn't as kind as calling them "The Demolition Crew."

That hog experience was in my mind in 1973 when Nancy and I bought a farm near Donnelly, MN, as a way to supplement my first-year teaching salary. My new neighbor, Ted Pulasky, was willing to loan me gilts and a boar to get started, and I saw how easily an electric fence kept his hogs in the pen. Nancy and I thought it over and agreed to the proposition.

The learning experience wasn't always fun, but it was always memorable.
We kept the boar with the gilts for several months, and sows started to farrow some time in March. Our neighbors all warned me how I would be up all night sitting with the sows as they farrowed, each sow typically having 8-15 piglets.

Instead, what happened is that I never had to sit up with a sow because our sows always started farrowing about the time I had to leave for school. My dear wife Nancy was left to the task of tending the sow as one piglet after another was born. After the birth of each piglet, Nancy learned to trim its razor-sharp teeth so that the piglets didn't hurt each other as they competed for teats on their mother. She learned to give each piglet an iron shot shortly after birth, and she learned to use a scoop shovel as protection against a sow's sudden reaction to the squeal of its young. She did all that while I was in my dress slacks, shirt, and tie, teaching high-school students about five miles away.

At first I worried a lot, but I knew our neighbor would help if she needed it.
The funny part is that Nancy learned to like tending the sows and raising hogs, in general. So did I. I even got used to the ribbing the neighbors gave me about how I managed to get sows to farrow during the day, instead of at night.

As the little tykes grew, we learned to enjoy watching them play with each other. Giving them a fresh bale of straw was cheap entertainment for us because we could watch them jump and twirl in mid-air as they gave a loud, joyful bark.

And honestly, Nancy enjoyed doing chores in the morning so much that she captured one typical morning scene in the photograph below:
Piglets lying under heat lamps with kitties lying on top of them. 
In the lower, right corner, a tomcat we called "Goofy Tom" warms his back.

Raising hogs wasn't all joy and perfection, but the activity did provide us with some lasting memories that now, after 42 years of marriage, define our "Good Old Days."

And I thank our friend Dave Minar for the article that brought those memories to the forefront.
Take some time to read the article yourself by clicking on the words  Cedar Summit Newsletter.

Also, if you're looking for some really quality grass-fed beef, dairy, and other organic products, give Cedar Summit Farm a visit. Click on the words Cedar Summit Farm to learn more.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Yesterday was my birthday.
I sincerely thank everyone who sent me a card, an email message, or a Facebook message.
The messages help highlight the whole day.
It's good to feel popular, even if it is only for one small part of one short day each year.

Another highlight of the day was the birthday card from my wife, which I spotted on the kitchen table yesterday morning.  It was pretty funny so I scanned the cover of the card to share it with you below:
She had snapped a photo of me as I worked to saw off a broken limb on a beautiful maple.

The inside of the card indicates that even if I hide I will still get older. 
This is, of course, true.
 It's one of the cruel truths of the universe.
As you age even gravity becomes your enemy. 
The bounce in my step gets heavy and the skin on my face sags. Where did these jowls come from?

The physics law that states "a body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest" comes under question after age 65 or so. 
The law can be shortened and restated as "an old body in motion longs to be at rest."

I disagree with people who rave that age is "just a state of mind." 
Sure, attitude has a lot to do with it.
In fact, it may have a great deal to do with it, but denial of the physical state of things doesn't help.

So as I embrace getting older, I also embrace exercising regularly, eating lots of fruits & vegetables, eating good meat, taking good vitamins, eating healthy dairy products, and staying gluten free and sugar free. 

I like to make people of all ages smile when I do my Farm Heritage Program. Up to this point I've done nearly 500 shows for over 19,000 children and adults. For me it's important to keep my mind active by writing and performing my stories and by meeting new people who tell me new stories. 

I like performing for children, whose enthusiasm and questions always lift me up. 
And I like performing for adults of all ages because the experiences they share with me before and after the show make me laugh and grow wiser. 
At historical societies and assisted living facilities I meet and talk to active men and women who are in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Some are even over 100 years old! They tell me stories of their lives on farms, in cities, or in small towns. Sure, I can't claim to remember it all in detail, but they are fascinating people.

I'm not working on any tricks to stay young, but I am working on ways to stay alive.
I think one key is to keep planning for the future, even though you need to have plans for the end, as well.
My plans for the future include continuing to write as long as I can. In my Farm Country Tales series, which is about a family on a small farm in 1950, I have over twenty titles planned, only four of which are completed at this point. I don't write to glorify the past or lament the loss of the so-called "good old days," but I write to preserve the heritage of the very small farm with short books that are entertaining and accurate. The twenty titles of the Carlson Family follow their farm activities from January through December, 1950.

I have several novels planned, too, but I intend to keep writing stories, and I'm hoping that seeking the details for the large number of stories I plan to write will keep me living and enjoying the world around me.

Even if my work can't keep me young, maybe it will serve to just "keep me"for a time. 
And if it "keeps me" with my dear wife beside me, for what more can I hope? 

May you all live long and prosper.

Please take the time to comment below, if you wish.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

All Hallows Eve at Farmamerica

West of Waseca a couple miles stands the interpretive center called Farmmerica where Nancy and I put up our Farm Heritage Photo Display and sold our books yesterday during their All Hallows Eve Event.

 The 120-acre site has an array of farm buildings, crops, and machinery to tell the story of past, present, and future agriculture, but on Saturday the focus was Halloween, as you can see in the photo below.
The event ran from noon till 4 PM, and by 12:30 PM the lobby was full of children and adults eager to carve pumpkins, be photographed, watch a magic show, or witness the making of balloon animals.
Volunteers Mackenzie and Jordan register people for free prizes 
and encourage them to pick up free activity sheets.
Children lined up to have JJ the clown make a special balloon animal for them.
David and Shanna Peoble, who own Country Reflections, a photography studio near Janesville,
kept busy taking photos of families posing in the fall setting.
Magic Zach Madel, a magician, performed at 1:30 and 3;00 PM.

 In the photo above, I sit and sketch while people browse the books and photos,
and, below, Nancy crochets when she tends the display.
As children and adults walked around the 120-acre site, they collected treats at the Country Church, the 1930s Barn, the Feedmill, and the Blacksmith Shop.

The pumpkin-carving tables after most pumpkin-carvers had left.

A fun time was had by all. Since Nancy and I were seated near the entry, we were treated to a parade of kids in costumes of all kinds, and we didn't have to hand out any treats, although we did give out a lot of free stickers that are from the covers of our books. Our most popular sticker on Saturday was the cover from my book A Farm Country Halloween, which tells a story of farm kids going 
Trick or Treating in 1950.

Thanks to Jim Gibson, Executive Director, for inviting us to be part of the event, and thanks to Crystal Paulson, Office Manager, for helping arrange our set-up and always providing a friendly greeting which makes us feel welcome.

Their next event is "Christmas on the Farm" which features Dad's Belgian Waffle Breakfast from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. on Sunday, November 25, 2012. Check the Farmamerica website for more information.