Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I have found the neatest product by Overtown House Designs and want to share it with anyone who likes accordion books. I've wanted to make an accordion book for a long time, but have been too lazy to actually construct the book. I found this accordion album at Hobby Lobby (several designs available). Although it's advertised as being a small scrapbook, it would work well for a series of drawings, paintings, collages, journal pages, or a combination of all those. Best of all, these albums are very inexpensive. They are on sale right now for just $2.50. They are six inches by six inches and can be tied shut with the ribbon. If you don't like any of the designs, you can make your own covers. I thought this was the most neutral pattern, and plan to alter it. The package says the book contains 14 pages, but if you count the insides of the covers, you have 16 pages. Not bad for $2.50!


I had intended to save these charming illustrations for April, when April showers follow March winds. However, the March winds are bringing us March showers.
Like the snoring old man, when "it's raining, its pouring," I want to stick my head at the foot of the bed and not get up 'til morning. Make that all day. I want to stay home, snuggle up with an afghan and read a book.
I can't complain, when the farmers need rain so badly. I would be almost criminal. And I'm grateful that we're having rain, not snow. I can't say, "Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day."
But still. The day was so dreary, so oppressive. The cloud cover was so low and heavy it seemed to be about 6 inches above my head. My back yard is almost pure dirt, so the dogs will be dragging in mud from now to Kingdom Come.
I remember feeling like this during the spring 25 years ago. We had just moved to Mandan, I knew very few people and I was homesick for Grand Forks. We lived on the top of a windy hill, our lot was bare, and our sidewalks hadn't been poured yet. It got so muddy we had to put pallets down for a sidewalk. Fortunately Beau, our dog at the time, was compliant enough to let me wash his feet in a bucket before he came into the house.
I was six months pregnant, worried that there was no room to put a baby. I thought things were hopeless. I wished and wished for a change for my circumstances.
"Don't wish your life away," my mom used to tell me. "Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it," other sage writers advise. It certainly happened to me. I never got to bring a baby home to that place, because it burned down that June. We lost everything but our dog and our cars. Fortunately, that terrible disaster had a silver lining. We were able to purchase our charming little gray stucco cottage and we've been here ever since - living ALMOST happily ever after.
I've been reading other blogs by writers in the Southern United States and in England, where they are seeing flowering bulbs, forsythia and apple blossoms. Another time, I would have said, "I wish spring would come more quickly."
But it will come in due time. No doubt there will be showers in April too, and they will bring May flowers. In the meantime, I will watch as the clean rain washes away the dust and greens up the lawns. I will watch rain drops hang plump and full from a budding branch. I will admire darkened tree trunks, swelling lilac buds and the faintest green mist in the treetops. I will watch children playing in puddles, for as surely as there are puddles, there are kids.
But can I wish for just one little thing? I wish I had a yellow rain slicker and hat, and some yellow rain boots, too.

Monday, March 26, 2007


My most recent Visual Journaling class was all that I had been hoping for, and more. Upon our arrival, we discovered that our instructor had prepared manila envelopes for each of us, chock full of art supplies, with dried weeds and grasses peeking out from the top. I was hoping that I would get the envelope with the interesting twigs and dried grass, and I did. I was also pleased that I received lots of blues and greens to work with.
Our challenge was to create three different collages using only the materials we had been furnished, and to spend only 20 minutes on each collage. I was delighted how my collages turned out, for several reasons: I learned to use what I have, rather than purchasing expensive materials. Not only did I not freeze up with "artist's block", I immediately began working in a very spontaneous way. I experimented with scrunching tissue, smearing paint, using wire as thread, pulling fibers apart, and using materials "outside the box". (The wooden blocks in the green collage are rubber stamps with the rubber removed.) I learned that I don't need to agonize over a collage for hours and hours in order to create a piece worth keeping. And I learned that I love to work with 3-D objects.
I like all three of my creations, and I liked what the other students did too. So did our instructor. She had praise for all our work, and was, I think, very pleased that we showed such potential.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I never knew that tomorrow was such an important day! I've always known about the vernal - or spring - equinox, when days and nights are of equal length. But I didn't know about the sacredness of the vernal equinox until I started exploring the Celtic World.
I discovered that the vernal equinox was a holy time of transition for the Ancient Celts, who called it Alban Eiler, Light of the Earth - or Alban Eilir to the Druids. This rare balance in nature made these days a powerful time for the Magic of the Ancient Druids.
It's a time of renewal and new growth, when the natural world is re-born. On this day when the earth tilts on its axis away from winter, the God of Light conquers the God of Darkness.
But the Celts weren't the only ones who held this day in reverence. It was celebrated long before them, by the Megalithic people who lived in Britain before the Celts, the Romans and the Saxons. Ancient Greeks, Ancient Romans, Ancient Mayans all celebrated the equinox, as did Native Americans. Ancient Persians called it NawRaz, their New Year's Day. The Ancient Germans called it Ostara, after the Germanic fertility goddess.
To the Ancient Saxons this day was called Eostre. You can see that the word closely resembles the word Easter, a Christian holiday that became extremely intertwined with the pagan spring celebrations. The Legend of Eostre tells how this goddess found an injured bird. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare, but retained the ability to lay eggs. The hare would lay these eggs and leave them as gifts for Eostre.
Other names for the vernal equinox are White Spring and Bird Festival. For some, it is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "The old and accepted folk name for the vernal equinox was Lady Day," writes Mike Nichols at However, Wiccans have appropriated this name for their celebrations of the equinox. "Christians sometimes insist that the title is in honor of Mary and her Annunciation," says Nichols, "But Pagans smile knowingly."


I must emphasize that I am a Christian, not witch, Wiccan or Pagan. However, I see no harm in observing some of the rituals associated with the equinox. Egg decorating, egg rolling and egg gathering are three such rituals, but to me those are best left to Easter.

It is said that on the spring equinox, the sun dances with the water at sunrise. Neopagans gather at lakes or ponds at dawn to see this occurrence in warmer climes, but that's not very fun to do in North Dakota in March! Some things that a Northerner could do would be to tie colored ribbons or strips of fabric to a tree chosen to represent the Tree of Life, plant a pot of grass seed, buy spring-flowering plants, force lilac or forsythia branches indoors. Every culture that celebrated the equinox considered it a time for feasting, and I celebrate that!

Here, the trees and flowers have no buds, the grasses are not green, the birds are not yet laying their eggs. It's too early for riotous spring festivals. But we can observe the equinox in quiet ways too. Since this is the day when daylight and dark are equally balanced, we can use this day to examine the balance or lack thereof in our own lives. We can spring houseclean, either literally, by de-cluttering, or figuratively, by cleaning our psyches. It is a day to seek equilibrium, to re-balance our energies. It's a time for new hope, new beginnings, new relationships, a time to make life changes if we so desire. For me, it is enough to see if I can find some pussy willows to bring home tomorrow.

For an "Alban Eiler" greeting, go to It will be accompanied by the MIDI version of "The Mummer's Dance," by Loreena McKennitt.(Featured in her CD, "The Book of Secrets.") It is fitting that McKennett's music accompanies this greeting, because she is a student of all things Celtic. However, DO NOT forward this greeting to anyone, as you will be put on mailing lists and bombarded with emails from this site if you do.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


This is only the second St. Patrick's Day that I've known I am of Irish descent. Before then, I didn't know who my birth father was. After being contacted by a second cousin who found me out of the blue, it turns out I am a Cody. I even have a great- or great-grandmother named Bridget Cody. I might even be distantly related to Buffalo Bill Cody. (My Cody family genealogist cousin is still working on that one.)
I have mixed feelings about this, being rather bitter that I missed out on celebrating my Irish heritage from childhood on, as I was able celebrate my Scottish and especially, Norwegian heritages. I have always FELT Irish, if that makes any sense. When I was a kid I even fibbed about being Irish on St. Patrick's Day. For years after I grew up, I wore an "Irish At Heart" pin. When I was researching the Scottish Munro clan, I discovered that the Munros may have come from Ireland. "There's the connection! I am validated!", I thought. Now that I know without a doubt that I am one quarter Irish, I feel that I should celebrate the day in some way.
However, I didn't wish to drink green beer, wear a stupid plastic green hat, and go around spouting "Sure and Begorrah" and "Erin Go Bragh." Neither my husband and I are into corned beef and cabbage. There are no Irish parades in this primarily German city.Thanks to my Irish-by-marriage niece Lisa Kelly, who has sent me Saint Patrick's Day boxes for years, I have a large collection of Irish decorations. However, I didn't put them up this year. (Lisa is incredible. Only she would think to send me a pair of her daughter's Irish dance shoes. Such a personal and authentic touch to add to an Irish vignette!)
I don't like the images of Irish people as drunks and Paddys. I don't like silly little leprechauns and pots o'gold. I'm not good at blarney and hopefully I'm not too maudlin.
I did wear green, even though I was seen by only two other people, who were working overtime like me. I also pinned on my four Irish pins: a shamrock, two claddaghs and an Irish angel holding a shamrock (all four are small, so I pin them on in a diamond pattern to make a bigger impact).
After work I brought out my collection of St. Patrick's Day cards to peruse. They are part of my collection of holiday cards from the Golden Age of Postcards from the turn of the century to the 1930s. I am lucky to have some Ellen Clapsaddle cards, as they are highly valued.
But what else could I do? I searched some websites about St. Patrick's Day celebrations and came up with only one that spoke to me. If I lived in a large city, I would have leaped at the first suggestion: to attend a play by an Irish playwright, like John Millington Synge. However, the next suggestion was appealing: have a glass of Irish whiskey, sit by a fire, and read some good Irish stories, poetry and ballads.
Thanks to Lisa, I have just the book: "Ireland in Poetry", edited by Charles Sullivan. It's a collection of poems by Irish poets, dating from the Celts to modern-day writers. They are accompanied by a selection of drawings, paintings, sculptures and photographs by Irish artists.
William Butler Yeats once wrote,"Wherever green is worn, a terrible beauty is born." Ireland's troubled history is full of terrible beauty and terrible tragedy. What is admirable about this book, the jacket says, is that it covers both sides - that of the green (the Republic of Ireland) and the orange (Northern Ireland), the Catholics and the Prods (Protestants).

I don't have any Irish whiskey, and probably wouldn't like it if I did, but I am going to have a glass - or two at the most - of Black Velvet, a nice Canadian whiskey. Better than a couple of pitchers of beer any day, and a much better way to spend a St. Patrick's day evening. I will read my book, sip my whiskey and raise my glass and say Slainte! (rather than the skoal that I was brought up to say). I will toast all the Codys I have never met, and never will.
And I will save my celebrating for a true Celtic holiday like Alban Eiler, Beltane or Samhain.

Meanwhile, for all of you, an Irish poem with which I was already familiar (see below), and this greeting: "Beannachtai La Fheile Padraig Duit" (In Gaelic: Blessings of Saint Patrick's Day to you All)

Sir Frederick Burton

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, and a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all aglimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of linnet's wings
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Friday, March 16, 2007


I am the hostess for the April book to be read by the CRS Book Club. I chose "The Magic of Ordinary Days," by Ann Howard Creel. I saw the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie first, and was so impressed that I ordered the book. You may be thinking, "Ewww", a Hallmark movie. But it was excellent. It was neither saccharine or treacly, due in large part to the sensitive performances by Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich.
I am always impressed by the luminous Russell. In "Magic" she plays Livvy, a scholarly preacher's daughter and city girl who becomes pregant by a World War II soldier. When the soldier dumps her, her father arranges a marriage for her with a shy bachelor farmer, played by Ulrich. The characters do fall in love, but the development of their love is realistic. When I think of Ray, I think of the old fairy tale, "The Steadfast Tin Soldier". His love for Livvy is immediate, innate, steadfast and true. In contrast, Livvy's feelings for Ray grow slowly with the development of the seasons.
The performances by the two main characters, and Mare Winningham, as Ulrich's sister, are as strong and solid as the Colorado plains in which this story is set, as unassuming - yet as impressive in its own subtle way - as the prairie.
In praising the movie, I am primarily praising the book, for the movie has been adapted very closely from the book. Set in the 1940s, it captures the era very well, especially with the vintage clothing and autos. There is an interesting side story in which Livvy makes friends with two women from a nearby Japanese internment camp.
Not only do we learn how Livvy learns to live with a stranger, but how she comes to love the land and the people around her. She learns she does not have to give up her beloved books, and she even uses her archaeological training to explore the area, kindling an appreciation in Ray for his forefathers. Livvy may have been forced to give up her dreams of excavating treasures in foreign lands, but in return she finds equally rich treasures.


This cartoon appeared in the Thursday Minneapolis/Star Tribune:


Thursday, March 15, 2007


(Click on pictures for larger view)

Last March I could not get enough of the color yellow in my life, so I created this pair of collages celebrating that joyous spring color. I must have had more money than I do this year, because I wrote, ""All spring I have been yearning for yellow. I have bought yellow daffodils, yellow tulips, yellow carnations. Yellow primroses too."
In case the writing is difficult to read even when enlarged, here's what else I wrote:
The hunger is insatiable. I am drawn to yellow like a magnet.
I want to wear yellow, eat yellow (*), sleep in yellow, smell yellow.
(* lemon curd, lemon meringue pie, limone glace)
I would even welcome dandelions: "Dents de Lions" (Lion's Teeth)
I do not want fake yellow. Oh, no. Only real yellow for me.
Even the Crosby supermarket had daffodils
On dit, "jaune" en francais. Ooh la la!
I want to drink only freshly-squeezed lemonade. OK, that's a lie.
I'll take the frozen concentrate too.
Jonquil, Narcissus, Lily, Rose
Yellow's the best color that grows
Real chicks at TSC in big galvanized tubs
cheeping away. Irresistible!
Kids in-old fashioned yellow raincoats and hats.
Yellow roses are my favorite, but no one has ever
asked me what my favorite rose color is
Hidden treasures are worth a little trouble.
I want soft new yellow, not hot burning yellow.
The yellow of a yellow bird.
"Don't make it pretty, they say," but I can't help it.
The last line is a reference to always having to make my collages and/or journals pretty, something I'm trying (without much success) to get away from. I also have trouble knowing when to stop. Half those phrases would have been enough. And if I were doing these collage pages today, I don't know that I would have had my sentences going every which way all over the pages. But it was a fun way to fulfill my yearning for yellow!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Above and below are some of the papers and adornments I am considering for my "Hope" collage. Although it is hard to tell from the photo, the paper on the right above is a shimmering golden vellum. I think the cord on the bottom right looks very feathery and so would be eminently suitable for this project. I have used skeletonized leaves in other projects and really like them. I will just have to decide when to stop adding adornments - that fine line between just enough and too much.


I really don't care for the morning part of daylight savings time. I'm getting up in the dark all over again. It took months after the winter solstice before the sun was above the horizon by the time I awoke. And now, just as mornings were full of light and even some birdsong, I've been picked up and set backward into morning darkness again. DST seems especially weird this year, coming three weeks early.
I haven't been able to sleep for the past two nights. I don't know whether to blame it on DST or my husband's absence. I think it's DST, because I've heard my dogs being restless in the night, as though they too cannot get used to the time change. Even though it was 75 degrees in Bismarck yesterday, I woke up to a blizzard in my house this morning. Gracie had gotten hold of the toilet paper and torn it to snow-size bits. I can't believe she managed to do that in a totally dark and still house, but she did.
It's too bad Dan wasn't here to enjoy the 75-degree day. He left Bismarck at 3:00 AM yesterday to drive Kristen's new (used) car to Washington, DC. He made it to Indianapolis by early evening yesterday. I don't even want to count up how many driving hours that is. He's a real pedal-to-the-metal kind of guy when it comes to driving long distances, but I was a wreck. I lay awake all night Sunday and worried all day yesterday that he was pushing himself too hard and would fall asleep and kill himself (and wreck Kristen's new-to-her little red Corsica). I did a lot of praying!
I lay away all night last night too (maybe the dogs caught my vibes), but now I can quit worrying, because Dan made it to DC by 4:30 PM Eastern time and got to see Kristen's office in the library where she works.
With all my worries put to rest, it would have been fun to go to my Visual Journaling class tonight, but what with the instructor having the flu last week, and spring break at the college this week, we haven't met for a while. For last week's class, we were to start assembling materials for our first class-produced pages. My project is more like a collage, but I'm sure the instructor won't mind. It will feature Emily Dickinson's "Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul..."
I am using blues and browns, and have pictures of brown birds like thrushes and wrens, because I think of Emily as a shy, drab little wren. I have a large assortment of papers and 3-D objects that I will have to winnow down before I finalize the project: brads, photo corners, skeletonized leaves, twigs, mica, beads, gold vellum, fabulous metal embellishments, and ribbons and cords in gorgeous earthy colors. I know I can't use them all, but the choices!
I have really never gotten into "The Belle of Amherst's" poems that much. I didn't study her in college, and her use of dashes in her poetry really irritates me. But probably what put me off Miss Em the most is the day Phillip Lapp was reading a poem of hers in Senior English class. Instead of reading, "I heard a fly buzz when I died," he read "I heard a fluzz buzz when I died." It struck the class as enormously funny. Now, whenever I think of E.D., I think "fluzz buzz." But I do like "Hope":


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


This plate will look so good in my kitchen!

I was on a mission when I left home today. I had two reasons for wanting to get out of the house. Well, three, really. It was a gorgeous spring day with snow melting everywhere, I needed to escape the dogs and their muddy feet, and I had to buy wine glasses. A cheap but decent red wine is always on the table on Friday and Saturday nights, when we try to make gourmet meals. (Tonight, flaming peppercorn steak and my French bistro potatoes.) We were down to two wine glasses because Little Miss Poop, aka Scooby Doo, aka Gracie, had dragged two (full) wine glasses off the dining room table in the past two weeks (then tried to eat the broken glass).
In my efforts to be a Thrifty Scot, I firmly set out for the thrift store. No way was I going to go to an upscale department store and spend $25-30 for four wine glasses when they break so easily at my house. I think the Seeds of Hope thrift store is the best in town. It is clean, it smells good, and the staff arranges items so beautifully, as if they were on display in a gift store. You can actually find items that are "classy, not tacky". Best of all, it benefits abused women, giving them and their children a safe harbor from violence.
Not only did I find my wine glasses (four nice ones for 50 cents each), I also found other bargains. The fetching plate shown above (89 cents) will fit nicely into my kitchen, with its Provencal-Italian theme. I found a small needlepoint pillow with spring hares and purple iris ($2.50), a plaque with lilacs and a Grandmother verse ($1.59), because two of my favorite things in the whole world are lilacs and my late Grandma. There was this really unique battery-operated candle with a stone-looking candle holder and a cross entwined with grapes, with the Bible verse "I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15:5)". For $5.50, this was a real steal. The battery still works and the candle turns from purple to blue to green. I might give this to a certain someone who decks her home in purple for Lent, or I might just keep it for myself.
Except for a lovely blue and white Chinese porcelain vase ($7.00), I was really grooving on a purple theme: Grapes, lilacs, purple irises, wine. It must have been a "Purple Haze" sort of day. When I carried my full-to-heaping bag out of the store, I had spent $20.00 and some change, far less than a set of wine glasses would have cost me.
I was looking at the books when they started flicking the lights. Darn, they close at 5:00. Well, I'm sure Gracie will break more wine glasses, then I'll have to go back for more. Then I can look at the books, those pretty scarves, the candlesticks, the collectibles, that whole roomful of Easter items.
In the meantime, tonight we'll be able to drink our Barton & Guestier Merlot in our new wine glasses. The wine, which Dan recently discovered, is a steal too, marked down to $9.99 from $15.99. One bottle takes us through two nights, so that's quite a bargain. Thanks to the weather, the Seeds of Hope, a husband who loves to cook and has never hurt or abused me in any way, it was a good day.


"That's quite the book!", said one of the students in my visual journaling class as I pulled my "everything" book out of my purse to jot down some notes. I guess it is. I've carried this book around for years. I love it because it has an elastic band that secures all the loose papers I've stuck inside it. It's become quite worn. The elastic has had to be re-attached (with staples) on the back, and there's almost no binding left on the spine. The glossy plastic covering came off long ago.
I call it my everything book because I put just about everything ephemeral into it. There are street addresses and email addresses, phone numbers and birthdays in it, but it is not an address book. I tape business cards on the pages, because they're easier to find that way instead of being all jammed into a wallet. I have jotted down insurance information while sitting at Kristen's bedside in the hospital. I have copied song lyrics and poems into it. There's info on the next book for book club, and suggestions for books that people have recommended.
And lists! A list of all of Oprah's books when her book club was in full swing (starred with the ones I have read). A list of the Dickens Village pieces I used to collect. A list (depressingly long) of things that need to be fixed around the house. Lists of perennials I've bought and what I spent on them (yikes). A list (way too long) of garden chores still to do. A list of my very favorite songs. A list of dishes I plan to sell on EBay, and the prices I hope to get for them.
What size was that lilacs picture I want to frame? 20x24, my everything book tells me. The type of printer/scanner I own? It's in the book. Fortune cookie fortunes anyone? "You are soon going to change your line of work." "Your flair for the creative has taken an important place in your life." Only the best fortunes make it into my book. Clever saying I see in bookstores and elsewhere: "She had not yet decided whether to use her power for good or evil." "Has anyone seen my hormones?" A hurried sketch of my family tree, from memory, as I waited for Dan to give me a ride. Class notes because I forgot to bring a notebook. Notes from an Internet site because I couldn't find any scratch paper.
I have used White-Out to delete information that is no longer relevant. I later discovered that correction tape works much better, so there's plenty of that in there too. Even though my everything book is shabby, there's still lots of blank pages left. If I'm dining alone, waiting in a doctor's office, or biding time in the car - I'm never at a loss for something to do because I have my everything book.



One of the things I am trying to do with my visual journal is to use it as a safe place to vent my feelings. There is a person in my life whom I absolutely despise, but I have to interact with her. There is nothing I can safely do to counteract her influence, unless I were to make a voodoo doll and stab pins into her likeness.
Or, I could write a poem about my feelings. So, I did. The words absolutely tumbled out of me, poured out like life-giving water, and I wrote the poem in about 20 minutes. Talk about catharsis! If that's what writing therapy does, I want more of it. I am printing the poem below, after taking out a few identifying lines. It was incredibly fun to pretend to be the animal familiar of a voodoo priestess. You may feign surprise at the venom and vehemence behind my words. But come on, admit it, all of us have feelings like that, and even more dire desires. We've all wanted to stick pins into someone. But writing these lines was a safe outlet for my feelings. And no humans were harmed in the making of this poem.

Ma Maitresse, Madame Julie,
is vexed with you.
A Witchy Woman, she has got her
mojo working against you, ma chere.
She has made the voodoo likeness of you.
She has captured you well:
(Descriptive lines deleted)
Ah, and your two faces,
the one with its insincere smile,
the other with the barely-concealed contempt,
false words and superiority.
Soon, she will stick the pins in your belly
and then you will know such pain!
I am un chat from the dark side
I can call the lightning down sur la tete.
I will wind 'round your legs and trip you,
bring you down to the gutter.
I will pounce on you as I pounce on Les Souris.
I will tear off your limbs like a jungle cat.
Do you know these words?: "Despite all my rage,
I'm still just a rat in a cage."
Warning, mon amie!
From now on you must be good to Ma Maitress,
Our she will rip out your malicious tongue
and poke out your evil eyes.
She will turn you into a poxy, fly-ridden,
brain-addled, forever imprisoned RAT IN A CAGE


Forecast: Saturday, 50s; Sunday, 50s; Monday, 60s
Translation: It's MUD SEASON!
Right now my patio door is more mud than window. Ditto the kitchen floor, the hardwood floors and my pant legs. But I welcome it all. No way would I return to last Friday's blizzard just for the sake of clean floors and windows. It's a very small trade off for the gorgeous spring-like weather we are experiencing.
It's also the first time I have heard geese this year. To think that such a raucous cacophony can so lift our hearts and spirits! It is still wonderful for us - who have all the technology in the world - to have proof positive that spring is coming. Hearing geese gives me the same primal feeling it must have given Native Americans and aboriginals of other lands, hundreds of years before Daylight Savings Time, computers, weather forecasters, calendars.
How they must have dreaded the dark days of winter and feared that one year, spring would not return. So imagine their joy to hear the geese, feel the warmer sun, watch the ice melt on the lakes, and yes, wipe up the dreaded muddy paw prints.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


1. Patience is a virtue.
2. Anger does not become you.
3. Computers and other machines are not out to get you.
4. Chill Out Already!
I thought I was becoming more patient. Truly. I can now mark time in the grocery line without chuffing and stamping like a racehorse at the gate. I stand there calmly, reading the magazines, looking at people and not allowing myself to ask why I always get in the slow line. This has taken conscious effort, as has not shouting "Go, Go!"at drivers who do not see the green light immediately, and pushing the elevator button extra times to make it arrive sooner.
Learning patience is important to me, as I struggle on my path to becoming a better human being. But I admit to slipping off the path sometimes (falling off the cliff, as it were). Sometimes it just gets to be too much. Last Friday, I was extremely irritated by this bleached-blond, red-faced broad who blocked every.single.aisle of the grocery store, spending 20 minutes in front of the soups while her cart was turned sideways. Was I wrong to think she was doing it deliberately?
So by the time I got to the checkout counter, I was miffed. The dreary, dumpy, droopy-eyed clerk looked at me askance. How dare I come to HER checkout? Then I made the mistake of asking her where the au jus mix was. "I looked for it in the soup aisle and the mixes aisle", I said, thinking this was eminently reasonable. She looked at me, shook her head, and said in a small, dispirited voice, "I don't know where that is (loud sigh)."
"Julie, get hold of yourself," said the good little angel on my right shoulder." "Rip her lips off," said the devil on my left shoulder.
"That's not the right answer," I said calmly. "Call someone and ask them where it is." I got my au jus that day, but at what cost? (I later - in calm mode - called the store and said, "When I shop at XXX store, checkout clerks smile at you, and ask you if you have found everything, and if you say you can't find an item, they send someone to find it for you. Therefore, I am switching entirely to XXX store, even though your store is only one-half block from my office."
Oh, but computers! I have crashed my tricycle so often on the information highway. Take these posts, for instance. When I type them, I add spaces between certain lines. I can SEE them there - the beautiful pure white space where no type is. When I post, the spaces are gone. Aaaarrrrgggghhh!
Not long ago, I called my daughter in desperation. Not, "Hi, honey, how are you? Just thought I'd call and see how you are." Oh, no. It was, "HELP! My icons and desktop picture are all turned sideways!" She helped me immediately. She told me to touch two keys in unison, and the problem was fixed. To younger people, using a computer is as natural as falling off a log (but when was the last time you or I fell off a log?)
Thank goodness I have my "Go-To Girl". I might have spent the rest of the evening craning my neck 90 degrees sideways to the left while I tried to navigate email and the Internet. Now I'm having problems with my printer. I may have screwed it up in a major way just because I didn't use it often enough. Who knew???? My daughter said I should have read the manual. Oh, come on now!
So I'm trying to do various things to clean the print heads, and the digital readout keeps saying the same thing: "Nozzle check. Press the color button," over and over, no matter which buttons I push. "Make it stop, Make it stop!!", I scream, as my husband wonders if his wife has truly become a lunatic.
I remember the first and only time I tried to downhill ski. I had no lessons, no training of any kind. I was with my husband to be, who had had only minimal experience skiing himself. Somehow I went up the tow rope and careened down the bunny slope, crashing ignominously at the bottom. As I sputtered in frustration, Dan said, "Go into the lodge, take off your boots, have a glass of wine and cool down."
No sooner than I had gotten into the lodge and taken my boots off (Okay, so it took a while), than the ski patrol was rescuing a skier. It turned out to be Dan - with a ghastly bloodied face and twisted ankle - who had tried to go down a more advanced slope.
No, I don't think that's poetic justice. I just think that when the demon computer is out to steal my soul, I should "Just go have a glass of wine and chill out, already." (30 years gives me the excuse to say "Chill Out" instead of "Cool Down")


In looking for photos for my posts about winter, I found this one. After taking a good look at it, to my surprise I recognized the scene as being my corner! If you would turn right precisely here, and go one-half block North, you would be at my house!
Up until a year ago, I would have turned left, driven eight blocks and arrived at the parking ramp downtown, just a block from work. Now, I turn right and go eight MILES to work, usually feeling as bleak and blighted as a winter morn. (What fate will befall me today?)
I'm not not sure why the KFYR-TV photographer took this photo, unless it was to illustrate the frost on the trees, but at this time of the morning (street lights are still on), the sun wouldn't have caught the effect very well.
Five or ten minutes before I get in the car and reach this corner, I'm scraping frost and/or snow off my car, since I don't park it in the garage. I once read a not-very-good book (and even worse movie starring Julia Ormond) called "Smilla's Sense of Snow." In the book, Smilla can distinguish between different types of ice and snow, in the way that Eskimos are reputed to have hundreds of names for snow (I have read that this is a myth.) This sense serves Smilla well - I think I can remember her jumping across ice floes in an attempt to get to shore during her travails in trying to solve a mystery.
Anyway, I do believe that I have a sense of frost the minute I see it on my car. There's the kind that is heavy and thick (uff da, I'm thinking), but it comes off the scraper as easily as shaving cream comes off a razor. There's the kind that looks like Jack Frost has been at work. That type is pretty but surprisingly hard to scrape off. It looks innocuous, but isn't. It needs "elbow grease."
Then there's the kind that a scraper hardly puts a dent in. It takes 15 minutes of hard, hard scraping and a sore arm - or two - before this type of frost is conquered. Then there's just plain ice. One is tempted to use the edge of the scraper like an ice pick, but that's just futile. Nothing to do with this kind of "frost" but let the defroster melt it.
Then you have different levels of scraping. Some people, like my husband, clear themselves a little area on the windshield and call it good. They're the happy-go-lucky kind who only look forward in life. Some people clear the windshield entirely, the left and right front windows and a patch in the rear window. They're optimists. Others, like me (pessimists), clean the entire surface of all windows.
Like the Eskimos, I could give my different kinds of frost names, but I think they would end up all being of the %x#@* variety. I wonder if I can write a mystery based around "Julie's Sense of Frost."
(P.S. I PLAN for this to be the last post about winter this year.)


In a recent post, I mentioned how lovely daffodils look when paired with blue and white porcelain. Later, I found this example. My point is well illustrated! I saved this picture a few days ago, and today, even after looking at over 50 pages of daffodil photos, paintings and drawings in six different categories, I can't find it again. However, I WILL find out who the artist of this wonderful piece is, and add the name of the artist and painting later.

As a result of my daffodil post, my friend Jude - also a lover of daffodils - sent me an essay called "The Daffodil Principle." Not knowing how to attach her email to this post, and not wanting to share her email address, I googled The Daffodil Principle. There are lots of websites featuring the essay, but the very first one - right at the top of the page - is illustrated with the picture (left, below) of daffodils and grape hyacinths.

Grape hyacinths, or muscari, are among my favorite of the spring bulbs. The first time I ever saw muscari, I was in the hospital. I was given a shallow clay pot filled with sky-blue muscari. Even though it was a very bad time for me, I still remember the lift those heavenly blue flowers gave me.

Back to the essay. In it, a daughter shows her reluctant mother a "glorious" sight, "a great vat of gold" daffodils flowing like a river down the mountain sides. The sight - and the fact that 10,000 bulbs were planted by just one woman - changed the woman's life forever. The fact that her daughter's name is Julie also endears this essay to me. (Go to The author of the essay is Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards.)
I was then reminded of William Wordsworth's poem, "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud," in which he discovers "a crowd, a host of golden daffodils." As an English major, I naturally studied Wordsworth, one of the greatest of the romantic poets. I learned him so well that I can remember, without looking it up, that to Wordsworth, poetry is "Powerful emotion recollected in tranquility:"

"For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils"

May you dance (at least in spirit) with the daffodils today.

(For the entire poem, google it. One site is, a great site!)

Friday, March 2, 2007


I found a sure sign of spring today, even in the blizzard! I can always tell when March is here and spring isn't far behind when daffodils appear in the supermarket.
I remember that my mom could even buy daffodils in Crosby, where freshly-cut flowers were scarce. I think she got them for about $1.00 a bunch.
I loved how the succulent green stems are held together by rubber bands that squeak wetly when the bands are slid off. Daffodils smell so, so, pollen-y. It's hard to describe their scent for anyone who hasn't smelled daffodils, but it's fresh, light and clean, not heavy and cloying like hyacinth and paperwhite narcissus. They smell ripe and green. Yes, green, even if they are yellow. They smell like promise and earth and living things, when all living things are submerged under a fortress of snow.
I always buy two bunches and put them in my milk glass vases, placing them on the mantel. They also look wonderful in cobalt blue vases, Alice blue vases and blue and white Chinese porcelain. I always buy them in the bud stage, for it doesn't take long for them to open in a warm room, and they last much longer that way.
Today, daffodils are $2.79 a bunch, but that's still a bargain, at 28 cents a stem. I didn't buy any today. Usually, the first daffodils of the season aren't as high quality as the ones that come in later. That was the case today, as the flower heads looked limp.
But they were a welcome sign of spring, when one was sorely needed.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


I finished "The Madonnas of Leningrad" at two minutes past midnight last night. I think that qualifies it to be included it in my February list of books. My list:
"The Madonnas of Leningrad," by Debra Dean
A stark, bleak, depressing look at Leningrad in winter during World War II. At the end of it, I felt like I, too, had been freezing in cellars and eating wood to survive. Too bad the characters didn't have this book to eat or burn for warmth.
"Three Junes," by Julia Glass
I though this book was about three women named June, but instead it's about Fenno McLeod, a gay Scotsman transplanted to America. Fenno, his friend Mal, his Scottish relatives and his bad-boy lover are so well-fleshed out and complex. I would have never picked up this book on my own, even though it was The National Book Award Winner for 2002. That's the greatest value, I think, of belonging to a book club when one is already a voracious reader.
"Odd Thomas", by Dean Koontz
"Forever Odd," by Dean Koontz
"Brother Odd," by Dean Koontz
I do love that Odd fellow, short-order cook extraordinaire. He's smart and he's funny. Just what I like in a guy, even if he sees dead people. I seldom read mysteries any more, and hadn't read a Koontz or Stephen King novel in years. The humor and humanity of Odd Thomas makes this a stellar series in the mystery/thriller genre.
"The Uncrowned Queen" by Posie Graeme-Evans
The third novel in a series about a woman whose life was entwined with that of England's King Edward IV. I am so glad I re-discovered the historical novel.

"City of Falling Angels," by John Berendt.
"Falling Angels" refers to the fact that the City of Venice is crumbling and stone angels have been known to fall from their perches. In this book, Berendt tries to do for Venice what he did for Savannah, GA, but his effort fails majestically. He centers the book around the burning of the Venice Opera House and the subsequent investigation, the purloining of Ezra Pound's papers and the Save Venice charity. Snore. I was underwhelmed. None of these events can hold a candle to a murder with a socialite suspect, a graveyard chanting voodoo priestess and a flamboyant cross dresser. Berendt is hard pressed to find the charming misfits and eccentric characters that people Savannah. If you want to read a book on Venice, there are thousands more interesting than "City of Falling Angels". I especially loved "Miss Garnet's Angel" by Salley Vickers (fiction) and "A Thousand Days in Venice" by Marlena de Blasi (non-fiction).


In Dakota Country, March came in roaring in like a pissed-off lion, riding in on the chariot of the gladiator he ate. (Translation: the lion was a nasty storm that dumped a foot and a half of snow in the eastern part of the state.) But in Bismarck the storm was tempered by a little bit of woolly soft weather. Although we, too, were supposed to get the brunt of the storm, we only got 4.5 inches. Plus, the temperature wasn't too cold and the wind wasn't whistling too sharply around the corners. So in Bismarck, the lion might have looked as content as the one in the picture above, with nary a thought about lunching on lamb.
The only problem is that the storm will probably "turn back west" and attack our flanks. When has a Dakota storm ever turned back west? We haven't heard the last of the lion's roar, I'm afraid.
I, myself, came into March like a pissed-off, cranky, boorish, thorn-in-the foot lion. It was one of those days that my skin felt like it was stretched too tight, my eyes wanted to go crossed, my hair decided to grow sideways. A tight band was wound around my forehead. Even my teeth hurt.
I wasn't ill, couldn't call in sick. It wasn't the weather. I've dealt with worse before. It wasn't the job. Ditto on dealing.
Maybe my blood pressure was too high. Maybe my blood sugar was too low. Maybe the ion balance in the air was wrong.
Pure and simple, it was just one of those days when I wasn't in sync with my body. If I were a lion the burrs would be sticking in my coat, the wild game would be scarce and the flies would be buzzing around my head. Not to mention that pesky thorn.
In short, I was cross. Don't you love that word? "I'm cross, so don't cross me." Don't you wish that on those days, you could just let off a few well-timed roars? Just let it out in a primal scream.
Those are the kind of days that you want to tell the people that annoy you: "Hey, I've got one nerve left and you're getting on it." Better, yet, let's throw those annoying people to the lions and tell the lions "Bon Appetit."
"My damn paw hurts and somebody better come take this this thorn out of it," says the lion. The human says, feed me some soup, give me a hug, tell me how great I am. Better yet, just go away and let me take a nap. Tomorrow will be better, and it's just 45 days until spring by the Julie-n calendar.

Comment added Friday, March 2: Worse sh--, different day. Dakota storms do turn back west. The Bismarck lion ate the lamb. There's not one woolly curl left. This day gives new meaning to the phrases "ground drifting" and "almost wet my pants"due to near accident.