MISTER AND MISSUS

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One morning just before dawn I was awakened by popping sounds. Three. And then four. A pause. Two more. It went on throughout first light, coming from all directions. I laid very still, awake now, focusing and straining to hear and bear witness.

Just the day before at the farmers market I overheard talk of duck season beginning and thought “How Minnesotan.” Coincidentaly, my friend John had recently written a charming piece which he shared with our writers group. I found myself thrilled by the description of the duck blind that the boy of the tale laboriously constructs with his father on weekends before rising one morning to arrive with youthful anticipation and sense of adventure only to be usurped by a hunter supreme, stalking down the center of the river in his fatigues and dark demeanor, then shooting from the opposite bank as the birds arrive honking from above, taking the primo shots and the prize before saluting and tramping away.

I know much of nothing about hunting, but in John’s yarn I sensed a glimpse of the primordial quest which continues on today so that a boy or a mythic hunter might tangle with life and death from the safety of sport. Perhaps it is simply in our DNA or collective conscience. And how much better, I thought, to take responsibility for our sustenance rather than leaving it in the hands of antibiotic and growth hormone-injecting, feed lot butchers. Better for any prey to live on the wing, if just for a time, or in forests or prairies, or be raised (as one market vendor describes his herd) “in a stress free lifestyle moving daily among fresh grasses, clovers and bountiful bugs with ample sunshine, fresh air, and a touch of morning dew.”

I am, besides, a self-proclaimed carnivore. If you ask me to name my favorite culinary treat, it would unequivocally be filet mignon, medium rare please. Or luscious chunks of lobster dipped in warm butter. Oh be still my heart. And how I miss the California availability of multiple sushi bars – tuna rolls, yellowtail, eel, tekka maki – bring it on. My husband regularly turns a roast chicken into ambrosia. And while I’m not one of the Norwegians who long for lutefisk, I think of pickled herring as candy.

The next morning the popping resumed. This time, knowing exactly what was occurring, I fantasized about every pop, wincing as each magnificent mallard took the hit, flailed and fell. Pop, pop, pop.

The problem lay partly with my overactive imagination. Each death became a tale unto itself. The teenager on his first, thrilling flight south, terrorized when dad suddenly jerks and falls from the sky. What to do? Go back? Flee faster?

The point leader who is taken down while the flock scatters in panic, desperately trying to regroup.

Or the devoted couple whose partnership is destroyed with one pop. And that was the other part of the problem. Each spring since we have resided on Mt. Faith, a drake and his mate have taken up residence at our backyard pond. And because I know that migrating birds usually return to the same place each year, how could I be absolutely certain that our particular mister and missus were not being blown out of the sky? No. Not them.

And so I am left with a dilemma. Hankering for a hamburger while decrying murder and mayhem. But it’s Minnesota, I tell myself. And certainly there is a 4H Mom grief support group out there somewhere. Please respond ASAP to snowbirdredux.

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Posted in Birds, Farmers Market, favorite things, hunting, minnesota life, Wild Life | Leave a comment

WHAT I DID THIS SUMMER

I didn’t cruise the Alaskan coast or go on African safari or even explore the fjords of Norway – all aspirations of my youth. I suspect, in fact, that those “bucket” dreams shall be sensibly set aside for another lifetime.

But to answer the many queries I have received – “Are you all right? I haven’t seen any posts on Snowbird!” – I am still comfortably happy here on Mt. Faith, watching the garden grow, bed by bed, collaborating with what will hopefully be the final stages of inside tweeking and re-furbishing, all the while juggling and struggling to manage my all too many hats.

Those who know me well understand that I suffer from a disease that forces me to raise my hand too easily while enthusiastically proclaiming – “I can do that! That would be fun!” And if I experienced a bad bout of this peculiar illness last summer, I relapsed with an even more virile strain this year.

Somehow, I found myself president of the Otter Tail County Master Gardeners of Minnesota – a hand raising I must have done in my sleep, for I can’t really recall the circumstances. Fortunately, the premise of the organization is based on “service to one’s community” so I am backed up by an amazing cadre of horticultural public servants. And then there was the accidental incident (someone in command falling by the wayside) in which I found myself hugely responsible for pulling together the Lake Region Writers Network annual conference which, at this very moment, is breathtakingly imminent I might add. Not to mention – program committee for Underwood Unitarian Church, facilitator for UU Covenant meeting, and eager participant in the Fergus Falls Writers Group. And yet to my credit, I have sat on my hands every single time that the garden club president cried out for volunteers. Sorry, Lisa. If it’s any comfort, I experienced wracking guilt each and every time.

That’s a lot, you might think. And you would be right. But I haven’t yet mentioned the one major, all-consuming endeavor of the summer. The Fergus Falls Farmers Market.

I’ve struggled through the procreation and subsequent adolescence of the market for three years and often wondered what in the world Lynn and I were thinking that day we decided that someone needed to start a farmers market and it might as well be us. Last summer, as it expanded, and this summer as it grew even more, I often lamented the time which drained me of the ability to sit down and write. Well, write anything else after I’d written the weekly newsletter.

If I’m honest, I’ve done a lot of inner whining and self-pitying. Well, some outer. Actually, a lot of outer. Ask my husband.

The first hint of a reckoning occurred when I considered what it would mean to birth a child, even one of those menopausal, Oops, Surprise! Pregnancies, followed up by decrying that I “hadn’t realized that this kid would be so much trouble, need constant care and nurturing and publicizing and directing and organizing and rules and I have a life and what was I thinking! I couldn’t very well just put it out on the street and hope that someone took pity and took over.” Could I?

The second reckoning occurred when locals began to tell me how much they loved the market and “thank you so much Lynn and Diane for doing this for the community.” And the third reckoning occurred just a few weeks ago when I paused for a moment in a hectic, making-it-happen Saturday morning, paused and looked down the row and surprised myself with the energy, animation, and happy hustle and bustle all about. I had been so busy organizing and directing and publicizing and creating rules, that I had forgotten to breathe and celebrate.

Once I did, my priorities subtly shifted so that I no longer felt I had to choose either/or. With some adjustment there was no reason that I could not include both in my life. And more importantly, I realized that I might sit at my computer the day long and type my stories, and feel the artistic satisfaction, and even get a bravo or two now and then, but what Lynn and I began had evolved into something much bigger than we originally envisioned and, lots more bravos or not, it was good.

So I am determined to adjust the work somehow, create space for both, hustle and bustle, and definitely make time to celebrate.

Celebrate with me -

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PACKING FOR A PILGRIMAGE

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In the first prompted exercise in a recent writing workshop we were asked to jot down ten things we would take upon a pilgrimage. And then we were instructed to cross out three. Not so simple, as it turned out. The first three I eliminated were the first three I had written, and I reluctantly gave up my comfy down pillow, my sensible shoes, and my collection of New York Times crossword puzzles to keep me occupied during “down times.”

The next three rejects included (gulp!) my camera, and as I worked through the last of the list I surprised myself by surrendering my notebook and pen for the blessed security of a talisman. Or, more accurately, talis-men.

Let me explain. I once experienced a year that included three car accidents in succession. I hit two deer with one blow as they leapt into my path, ran over a fleeing coyote as he dashed across the road, and sent a pedestrian flying. The last incident was the most traumatic, of course, and while she was also responsible for entering my line of direction, and thankfully and amazingly only suffered cuts and bruises, the whole business of setting out on the paltriest of journeys, never mind searching for the Grail, became daunting after that.

And so, as I made up my pilgrimage packing list for the workshop and momentarily struggled over the last entry, I threw in with a certain sense of silliness, my old remedy and creative technique for calming my driving and journey fears those years ago. And just as the first entry became the first to go, the last was left, necessary and pre-eminent.

At the workshop, after all the unpacking and discarding, the reluctant letting-go of this and that and the panic of leaving my notebook behind, I called upon the ultimate necessity – my Driving Angels. I had named them Zepheriel and Mercuriel and decided they were “Angels in Training,” novices that could be sent to protect a newly Nervous Nelly like me.

I imagined them perched upon the hood of the car, ever excited, letting the sea wind blow through their hair, straining to look around the bend in the road. They would laugh with joy as they hung onto their newly earned halos. The more intense the weather, the better they liked it. The crazier the freeway traffic, the more thrilling the adventure.

And we had many. There was the magic day dolphins arched along the shore, seeming to race the car until they abruptly turned west and vanished from sight. There was a foggy night when a small dog appeared in the headlights, trotting rapidly ahead before dashing into the dark of a turnout, and we pulled over and called and whistled and pleaded until the frightened fellow came running and leapt into the back seat. There was the motorcyclist down by the side of the road and we raced to the nearest café to call 911.

When I fly I marvel at how flight supervisors on the landing strip must gape in amazement, can hardly believe their eyes at the awesome figures, each sitting astride a wing of the plane. And passengers waiting to board, looking through terminal windows, gasp at winged creatures flying a large golden ball coming in for a landing.

A real, in-the-flesh pilgrimage might be enlightening or scary, and most likely both. By its very nature a journey is meant to challenge and push beyond our comfort zones with a promise of something greater at the end. But I suspect the real enlightenment always occurs in the treading of the path.

I think I better understand the writing exercise now and the importance of recognizing what is most important for a pilgrimage. My angels have served me well over the years, calmed my fears, encouraged me to travel, and most importantly, fueled my imagination.

 

-Inspired by Karen Hering’s writing workshop – Pilgrimage into Creativity: seeing with pilgrim eyes. Her book,“Writing to Wake the Soul, opening the Sacred conversation within,” Simon and Schuster, available online at Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MINNESOTA DIRECTIONS

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After reading James Liliks’ Sunday column in the Star Tribune, I had to chuckle because he aptly synced-in with a major observation of mine. In writing about why Minnesotans decide to leave this state, the first thing on his list was – “13 percent are transplants who can’t wait to leave because Minnesotans are a cold, clannish tribe whose outward politeness masks a bottomless well of Scandinavian gloom.”

Ouch! I could add that we transplants of only three winters felt satisfyingly superior about our ability to adapt until – well, until this winter. Gone is the glee about wafting snowflakes, the thrill of experiencing seasons, the novelty of it all. But that’s another story.

What Liliks (who also writes a blog appropriately named “The Bleat”) was referring to, was a strange, surprising, dirty little secret about the tribes in this prairie/lakes land. Given the well-known moniker about Minnesota Nice, it took us awhile to unearth the truth.

At first we wondered why the neighbors didn’t arrive post haste bearing kaffe-kage (coffee cake) and Spritz. And invite us to their cook-outs. To be honest, the neighbor across the street arrives after each snowfall to plow our long driveway and even apologized for not doing it the first winter of our arrival. He is an angel and I am beyond grateful. But in California, in all our many moves, we inevitably became “kitchen pals” and barbeque buddies.

Here, the niceness syndrome is everywhere in evidence. It is a pleasure to make a business call on the phone in this town, where everyone goes out of their way to be accommodating and pleasant. Not a hint of L.A. impatience and snippiness. And passing others on the street inevitably rates a smile and usually a comforting, aren’t-we-just-in-this-together quip about the weather.

Was it us, we wondered?

A fellow RE-transplant gave me an answer. “It isn’t,” she explained, “that Minnesotans are made up of “Scandinavian gloom. They are just too polite for their own good and don’t ever want to seem too forward. Too pushy.” And furthermore, she added, “A Minnesotan is always happy to stop and give you directions, but never to his house.”

Her perspective helped to explain too, why locals sit primarily in the middle to back pews in a church. That practice bothered me whenever I went to our Shepard of the Prairie Lutheran Church with Aunt Lil. And when I queried her, she told me that, of course, no one wants to look like they’re “forward” or that they think they’re better than anyone else. Uff Da!

No wonder people looked uncomfortable and didn’t take us at our word whenever we proclaimed – “Stop on by anytime!” We’re gradually learning the proper lingo and mannerisms. And whether or not we actually adopt the traits of a native born, we are still happy in their midst. After all, the neighbor, bless his heart, is still plowing the driveway, and the clerk at Service Foods is cheery and accommodating, and the oil fuel delivery man is grateful to leave with cookies. Not to mention, most of our new good friends are part of the local Unitarian Church and they are natural rebels who don’t mind sitting in the front row.

So, I don’t entirely agree with James Liliks. At least about the gloom. But if Spring doesn’t arrive soon, I’m outta here!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in COMMUNITY, friendship, Immigration, introspection, minnesota life, MOVING, Norwegian, religion | Leave a comment

BOUND SHRINK

That’s what I called my journals throughout my younger years. My “bound shrink.” I scribbled with passion, if not always memorable prose. I poured out my heart and my thoughts, my faults and my foibles, my dreams and my deepest desires.

I’m certain if I opened those tomes and read them today, I would swoon with embarrassment. My good friend Melanie and I vowed once, many years ago, that whoever died first, the other would hightail it to their house and have one heck of a bonfire. We’re both still here. And the journals still sit upon my shelf like dear, old emotive and geeky friends.

It was just over three years, by a few months, that I began to write snowbirdredux. In the beginning I poured out my heart and my thoughts almost on a daily basis. It was my main fun in life. It “tickled” me to write with abandon. I had vowed, after all, to chronicle my musings, my fears and excitements, about the whole process of moving from California to Minnesota, and all that that entailed.

Everyday brought new concerns. How to leave the over 50 heirloom roses that I had planted and nourished and lovingly tended in my garden? The hammock under the pines? The lovely heavy smell of the ocean at the end of Morro Canyon? Who would feed and care for Button, the feral cat who pressed her nose against the window each day? Not to mention – how to justify leaving family behind? The children and the grandchildren.

There was so much to ponder.

Everyday I speculated about our new home. Would we fit in and feel part of the landscape and community? Would we master the art of manipulating ice and snow? Could we suffer through endless hot dishes and sliced meat on buns? Could mosquitoes ever become my “national bird?” Would the lakes and the prairies ever really feel like home?

I wrote and wrote. And readers came to know me. And commented if I neglected to report for a few days – “Are you all right?”

Then I joined a local writers group which, indeed, has become the highlight of each month, the inspiration and education of my literary life, not to mention – I love these guys! I have learned how to dissect my scribblings, edit and punctuate, cut out clichés, and above all – cut, cut, cut. And so much more. And now I write carefully, all the time analyzing the content for quality and publish-ability. And it has made me a much better writer I believe, but at the same time, I am now self-conscious and cautious before I share my thoughts.

To the extent that where snowbirdredux is concerned I have vowed and procrastinated and re-vowed again, to return to regular posts. To no avail. I even considered using what my husband calls my “whine” about all the volunteer jobs I have undertaken which overfill my days. And it is true that I am prone to practicing “Enthusiastic Hand Raise” whenever something needs to be done. “Oh, that would be fun.” “I can do that!” And before you know it I am running the Fergus Falls Farmers Market (now in two locations!), officer in Otter Tail County Master Gardeners (coffee chairman at Garden Day), directing the 1 Vegetable/ 1 Community Project (beets this year), conference committee for Lake Region Writers Network (that’s a major Uff DA!), programs for Underwood Unitarian Church, facilitator for Covenant Groups and – well, I’ll stop there before my whine raises in intensity to a shrill scream.

What happened, I begin to wonder, to the pleasure I had in simply sitting down at my desk and “riffing” without self-consciousness, the tale of my day? Yes, it’s true I have multiple volunteer tasks to fulfill. But also, I realize, my writing has been compromised at the same time it has been enhanced by my new found ability to critique. No longer do I sit, as I once did with my bound shrinks, pouring out my heart and enthusiasms.

I have taken on the habit of letting my husband do the first edit before sharing with the writers group and then, after a few rewrites, possibly proclaimed it good enough to post. Is it any wonder that my pages have been scarce and mainly non-existent?

Dear reader, if you want to comment and critique, I welcome your edits and suggestions and now pronounce you my extended writers group. I can use all the help I can get. I promise to post about passions and pitfalls, foibles and folly and as I would with my bound shrink, not fret about perfection or lack of.

Whoops. Did I just end a sentence with a preposition?

I love you guys. – Signed, Snowbirdredux

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WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?

A well-meaning friend of my mother asked me the question many years ago and I had to think about it. In those days, if you were a boy, the common accepted answer would have been fireman or policeman. More often than not, little girls, being put on the spot, responded with social correctness by choosing nurse, teacher, mommy, or if they were dreaming big, ballerina.

When I was a little older I might have secretly confided that I would like International Film Star or World Famous Explorer added to my resume. But this was a time when I had only seen the movie, Dumbo, and I hadn’t yet read “I Married Adventure” by Osa Johnson (and wanted to be her).

I never coddled my dollies, drilled them on their numbers, or pretended to burp them.

But I did regularly prop them around in a semi-circle, Melsina and Marcella, the large baby dolls, in the choice rocker in the middle.Teddy and Jocko, the Australian koala bear, snuggled at their feet. Nurse Jane had to be propped on the side of the chair because her legs didn’t bend. Leilani, in her green grass skirt, and Elizabeth, the very proper English girl, sat together because they were unlikely but bosom chums. Beloved Belindy completed the grouping with the Raggedys, of course, sprawled in front.

When they were quietly assembled, I sat on a small stool and opened a book. I hadn’t learned to read yet, so I turned the wondrous pages and told the stories of what I saw – tales of being bundled in bed with a stuffy nose, kept company by miniature creatures who trounced among the covers and burrowed about the pillows; the adventures of a golden haired maiden who rode in a chariot pulled by sweet tabby cats, up and over the rainbow; a winter world of icicles ruled over by a beautiful but scary queen.

Eventually I learned to read and write and proudly shared my stories, written painstakingly in pencil on lined notepaper, and as the years passed I filled up many notebooks and read my tales to others beyond my little group.

All these years later, in retirement and after many different jobs and wearing a multitude of hats, I find myself in our upstairs office/all-purpose room, where whatever doesn’t fit in another part of the house is deposited.

To my left sits Melsina and Marcella in a child’s rocking chair, Nurse Jane and Leilani and Elizabeth are propped about, Teddy and Jocko are on the bookshelf and the Raggedys are nearby.

I sit in the middle, typing away on my computer keyboard, telling tales.

     I know just what I want to be when I grow up.

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Posted in enchantment, Favorites Books, IMAGINATION, memories, playtime, STORY TELLING, writing | Leave a comment

HERITAGE – A TRIBUTE

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My Fergus Falls Writers Group (of which I am the noted and most highly enthusiastic groupie) is for people who are writing for profit as well as passion, and the gathering serves as a combination editing, critique team/cheering section. I also belong to Writing as a Spiritual Practice at the Unitarian Church in Underwood. Minnesota, which is all about connecting with the inner self and one another.

Our statement of intent affirms – “We write to break through clichés, to challenge old assumptions, and to step beyond our anxieties and discover what we really want to say. Sometimes it is difficult to uncover the authentic, the true, the spiritual. Other times it is a transcendent rush to find new insights for ourselves and with others.”

This past month the group decided to conduct a church Sunday service and, following the theme presented by the church’s 125th anniversary, wrote about and then presented thoughts on Heritage and Legacy. I was thrilled to see the amazing array of diversity, everyone following their own focus, genre, understanding, and path of discovery. Our writings encompassed everything from a remembrance of immigrant grandparents, a discussion on the provenance of values, poetry about forgotten family farms and towns, personal tales of boyhood, philosophical context, to a humorous fictional yarn about an elderly couple who take “…a long strange trip, worth remembering, but neither will.”

When I first pondered the theme, the first thing that came to mind was the tale of my grandfather who came across the sea from an island off the coast of northern Norway, at age eight with his seven year old brother and Uncle Simon. Simon, who had promised once he had secured good, fertile land, and the boys had helped him reap a crop, that he would send money back for the parents and three sister’s passage. But Simon didn’t keep his promise because he died upon arriving at the Red River of the North and the little boys were left virtual orphans, stranded in a strange land, and were never to see their parents and any of their family again.

A chilling tale with a lot more drama to come and so it began to feel more suited to a novel (there’s an idea) than a short church presentation.

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I thought of my other grandfather who, after a storm dashed his little fishing boat to smithereens on the rocky shore (again in Norway), picked up what boards and pieces of wood were not too shattered and built a small chest in which he stowed his few possessions. He then, too, sailed off to the new land, settling along that same Red River, digging out a crude enclosure into the bank in which to sleep and huddle against the elements, at times skiing or skating over a hundred miles to Alexandria for supplies.

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But that could easily be the tale of almost everyone in our little church.

I certainly inherited my two grandfather’s wayfaring genes, having gypsied up and down the Pacific coast throughout my lifetime, moving every year or so. And then, instead of settling down for my retirement years in my home state, decided to journey again, far across the country to Minnesota, settling not far from that same Red River of the North. Grandfather Jorgen arrived with a handmade chest and a cow and two oxen. I came with a small moving van and a husband and a cat.

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I have told my familial tales many times over. The heritage is ingrained in my DNA and perhaps, my persona. But my contribution to the program that Sunday at the Unitarian Church, I realized, had to be centered on a more present reality, the “who” and the “why” of my being, and it was directly related to the two women who raised me.

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My Grammy Marie sang softly to herself throughout the day, in a sweet Scandinavian soprano, whether she was taking a swipe at some dusty shelf as she passed by, making me cocoa with marshmallows on top, or working her magic in the garden. Our little, white-picket-fenced cottage was crowned with climbing roses on arbors, around the entry walk and clustered about the front door. Each spring daffodils encircled the yard, interspersed by sparaxis and irises and lilies. I played under her giant blue hydrangeas and fashioned ballerinas and Dancing Girls of the Old West, by pulling out all but two of the stamens from the fuchsias. My love and obsession of the garden comes from her. My understanding of sweetness and goodness all stems from her.

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And from my mother. Mom was fond of telling the tale of how she came to California from Minnesota as a young bride and “saw the palm trees and the mountains and the ocean” and thought “she’d died and gone to heaven.”

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But she also liked to reminisce about teaching in a little schoolhouse in Rustad, Minnesota in the early 1930’s and “making $65 a month and buying a fur coat and going to the World’s Fair in Chicago.” Imagine that! She also described the coat as having a Fitch Collar. All those years I knew that she didn’t actually own a full-length mink, and that she must have had a stylish but perfectly nice wool coat with a fur collar. And Fitch, I believed, must have been a style of the times, named after a place or person – like Eton collar or Nehru jacket. Imagine my surprise when I googled “fitch” to discover that it referred to polecat! Yes, polecat – which indeed, was the lower priced popular fur of the early 20th century, and so just perfect for the young teacher who makes $65 a month and goes on a road trip with her chums to the World’s Fair.

My mother was always the Fashionista. Well into her 90’s, whenever the J. Jill catalogue would arrive in the mail, she would say to me – “Look in here and see if there is anything that would look cute on me.” She prided herself on her vast collection of sweaters and earrings.

But she was so much more. I was certain that Mom would make it to 100 and get the congratulatory letter from the president. She almost did. When she died she had no illnesses, took no medication, and looked to be many years younger than 99. It’s true she was way ahead of the crowd when it came to healthy meals and natural supplements and at eighty she was still reveling in daily two mile brisk walks.

She advised my young friends about vitamins and minerals and how to eat for health when Adele Davis was the main and lonely proponent. And she understood ecology and the importance of saving our Mother Earth long before Rachel Carson had written “Silent Spring.”

Growing up I watched and absorbed the lessons of a mother who was often glued to C-SPAN, following a senate hearing, noting the number of each bill, citing the politicians and knowing who voted for or against, and following through by phoning her representatives and taking petitions around the neighborhood. And never with ardent stridency or a sense of harsh indictment, but colored by her Libran nature, perhaps, and with a heavy dash of her mother’s sweetness.

In spite of being widowed at a very young age, and having to struggle financially for a time, she was inherently happy and positive, had more fun and enjoyed life – truly so from the depths of her being – more so, than anyone I have ever encountered.

I had a mother who would teach herself reflexology at eighty, continue to make the best Swedish meatballs, stand up for her principals, truly believe in angles, revel in everything Christmas or Easter, and always enjoy a nice glass of wine.

When I looked back at the Writing as a Spiritual Practice statement of intent, I actually felt a “transcendent rush of insight.” Lucky, blessed me. It was not difficult, nor did I have to go very far, I realized, to “uncover the authentic, the true, and the spiritual.”

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 Harriet Sylvia Pederson Johnson – with Fitch Collar

 

 

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