Thursday, August 30, 2007



"Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain..."

Robert Browning wrote, "Oh to be in England, now that spring is there." I write, "Oh to be in North Dakota, now that August's here." This landscape is sacred to me.

I have never understood why they call Big Sky, Montana, "Big Sky." To me, the sky is small, hemmed in by mountains. In cities, I am hemmed in by buildings. In the woods of Minnesota, I am hemmed in by trees.

Don't get me wrong. I love each of those places. But I can always breathe a little easier when I am on the prairie. My lungs expand more freely when the air is clean and clear. North Dakota, "Clean and green in the summertime, white and bright in the wintertime."

This sacred space, once trod by Native Americans, who revered and honored the land. This space that does not shout out its beauty to you, but entices you in small ways. To appreciate North Dakota's beauty, sometimes you must bend close to the ground.

Bend close to the ground and pull the soft dusty green sage through your fingers. Bend close to watch the grasshoppers - so benign now, so insidious in the Dirty 30s. Visit a prairie dog town and watch the animals pop out of the burrows as if they were in a game of "Mole."

Stop and listen, to the meadowlark. Can any sound be more heart stopping? Listen to the cottonwoods softly slapping their leaves against each other. Listen - can you hear hymns coming from the old country church?

Yes, there are the abandoned homesteads and the crumbling barns. The North Dakota Tourism Department does not like to promote images like these. But, hush, can you hear the murmur of voices talking about the weather and the crops?

Feel the long blue stem grass - tawny as a lion - as it brushes against your pants. Smell the chaff from the harvest. Glory in a sunset unfettered by buildings or trees.

Oh, North Dakota can be majestic too. Drive west along Highway 2 the length of the state in August. See the sunflowers - field after field, brilliant masses of yellow - all turned toward the rising sun in the mornings. Drive back the other direction in the evening and these gracious ladies have all turned their heads to the setting sun.

Stand on a promontory in the Badlands and be in awe at the power of nature to scrub and scrub away at the landscape until only multi-colored buttes remain.
Stand in awe at the terrible beauty of thunderstorms and tornadoes.
Stand in awe of the loneliness, if you must. In his book, "Travels With Charlie," John Steinbeck remembers never feeling so alone in his life as the time he camped out near Jamestown ND, under a bowl of ink black sky and stars.
But I revel in the loneliness, the starkness. I am never afraid here, as I would be in the city.
I know to seek beauty where many would find none. To search for the tiny orange mallow and scarlet gaura flowers. To love the squabbling of the king birds. To be seduced by the sight of ancient purple lilacs against ancient silvered buildings.
To be home.

Monday, August 27, 2007


I'm very excited to have received confirmation of my registration and classes for the Dakota Woman Song retreat being held in September. It's billed as "A Celebration of Women & The Arts on the Prairie."

I'm signed up for two classes - one on creating a spirit doll, and one on goddesses. There'll also be speakers on women's topics, musicians featuring Celtic, folk and other types of music, vendors, artist demonstrations, a theatre/dance troupe, food, an open stage, and a bonfire to cap it all off. (And I'm staying only one night!)

Even though it's been taking place for few years now, I only learned of it last fall, too late to make plans. I had never even heard of Grand Rapids, ND, the small town in which it is held.

The only sad note is that I couldn't get any of my book club friends to go with me. They don't seem to be as excited about this retreat concept as I am. Dakota Woman Song seems to be right up my alley regarding "where I'm at" in my life right now. (That sounds very 60s, but I was a child of the 60s, so I can say it.)

There will be advantages to going alone, one being that while on outings my book club members (including myself) seem to act like a bunch of baby ducklings trying to wander off every which way while one member (our "Mother Hen") tries to round us all up.

What's ironic is that I know almost any of my blogging friends would be up for such a retreat if they lived nearby. As Mari-Nanci says, "Sigh."


My Sister Glori's wedding day, September 1981. I'm on the right.
Several of you have emailed to see if I'm okay, since I have absented myself from blogging for a while. Thanks for your concern. I am fine, just suffering from eyestrain due to my job.
Recently I've had several projects that have involved perusing very old documents (from Dakota Territory days.) The documents themselves were written in that spidery old copperplate of the time, containing as many as a hundred legal descriptions to comb through. Plus they were very poorly reproduced on film. And the tract books the documents were recorded in are a nightmare too - containing very cramped and tiny writing.
For a while I continued blogging and stopped reading but decided that was foolish so I went back to the books. My eyes are better now so here I am. (BTW, thanks, Robyn.)
Carmen from "Strawberries and Champagne" has asked us to share what was sacred in our lives this past weekend. Carmen is following the "My Sacred Life" project, which is explained in detail in a blog called "Zena Musings" by Carla Blazek (
Every day for at least a month, Carla will be posting "a photo from my daily life - something that connects me to spirit. It might be my altar, a candle I'm burning, my dogs, the garden, a friend, a book I'm reading, nature, something I did, someplace I went, something important to me, or who knows, maybe just my morning bowl of Cheerios." The idea, she explains, "is to connect with the holiness of my every day life."
I know I do not have the discipline - or really even the urge - to post a photo every day for a month, and I'm hampered by the lack of a digital camera, but I think this is a very worthwhile project. From time to time I'll post about "the holiness of MY every day life."
What was sacred in my life this past weekend? Getting together with my sister. I have mentioned before that my sister and I have recently been spending more time together than ever before. Her two youngest children are now 20 and almost 17. They're both really great kids, and both work. Glori is finally emerging from the financial nightmare that her deeply-troubled, drug-addicted oldest son put her through, and so has a bit of money to go to lunch and do a bit of shopping.
I am eight years older than Glori, so she was only 10 when I went away to college. It is only in our later years that we've become best friends. I have to say that my little sister is my hero (heroine.) She became a mom at 19, had to leave an alcoholic husband, was abandoned by the father of her two youngest kids and had to be on welfare for a while. But she put herself through nursing school while earning top honors. She has been her family's sole support, and at one time had eight people living under her roof.
She cared for my stepfather (her dad) until his Alzheimer's forced her to put him in a home. An R.N. at a nursing home, she recently won "Employee of the Quarter." I can personally attest to her tender loving care as a nurse, so I know she really deserves the award. I am so proud of her.
While we usually go out for an entire Saturday afternoon, we only got time for a hurried lunch on Sunday, but that time was especially sacred to me, as Glori had just returned from a funeral for the youngest son of a family she was very close to while growing up.
I chose the photo above for a reason. Jake, the man who died, was the uncle of the little flower girl in the picture. His seven brothers and sisters have to grieve over the fact that their little brother passed first, a victim of drug and alcohol abuse. The flower girl herself is facing jail due to drugs.
The church in which Jake's funeral was held was the site of our Mom's, our brother John's and our dad's/stepfather's funeral. We also lost our other brother, Ron, recently. To go back home was a reminder for my sister - and consequently myself - of all that our own family has lost.
Every moment I spent with my sister on Sunday - even though full of sad reminiscences, was sacred to me. And every moment that I spend with her from now on will be equally sacred.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


With these latest two posts, I have probably really tried your patience with posts about poems I love. I'll stop for now, though there are so many, many more. Some are too long to print, including "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," and "A Few Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey", by William Wordsworth.

What Wordsworth wrote in those two poems above, and what Dylan Thomas wrote in "Fern Hill" below, are what I felt about my childhood: My overwhelming love of nature, my freedom to roam as please, and the feeling that now, as an adult, all of this has been taken from me.

Fern Hill

~ by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


A windhover, or kestrel, a falcon known for its
ability to hover in mid air, even against the wind.
When I was a teenager, I found a little article in one of those "magazines" that came with the Sunday newspaper. Charmingly illustrated, it was a list of actor Richard Burton's five favorite poems. I clipped that article and carried it with me for years. I probably lost it, finally, in our home fire.
It was my great introduction to one of my all-time loves, English literature. One of the poems was "The Windhover", printed below, and another was "Fern Hill," which I will print in my next post. A third was "Miniver Cheevy." At the moment, I can't remember the other two poems, but they may be somewhere in the nooks and crannies of my head.
I loved this poem even before I took a poetry class and learned that this is a poem that MUST be read aloud. And that's where I learned what "sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine" meant (Putting a plow to soil turns up bits of sparkle and shine where the sun hits it, is how our English professor explained it.)
"The Windhover"
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, -- the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
Stupid, stupid Blogger. Why will it let me double space sometimes and sometimes not?

Saturday, August 18, 2007


(By N. Michelle Tully)
(by William Carlos Williams)
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast.
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.


(credit to Grandmalin's blog:

(credit to Kimberly Shaw Graphics)
Robyn of "Tales From Inglewood" recently wrote a post about keeping garden fairies happy, in which she describes making daisy chains. I never made daisy chains as a child, but I told her I used to make hollyhock dollies -flower ladies in fancy ballgowns. She asked me for directions on how to make the dolls. I thought the little girls in my village invented hollyhock dollies, but I find this is not the case. There are actual sites online with directions for making these dolls (a great project for kids - both boys and girls - by the way).

Here are some directions that I cobbled together from a couple of sites:

Nip off one fully-opened hollyhock blossom at the bud. Invert it to form the doll's skirt. (Note - only the old-fashioned single hollyhocks work.)

Use a couple of closed buds to form the doll's head and the ballgown bodice. (Some people peel of the green wrapping on the bud they are using for the head, but stop when you get to the petals.)

Use broken toothpicks to link the buds and the skirt. Some doll makers simplify by using just one bud for the head and skipping the bodice bud. (That's what my friends and I did.)

Optional: Spear a toothpick horizontally through the bodice to serve as the doll's arms.

Use a single petal or small blossom for the doll's hat. I preferred to use a bell- or flare-shape for my dolls' hats, rather than the turban effect shown above. (Harebells were used for the hats on the dolls shown below, but I think they are a bit too small.)
Modern touch: Use a small-point marker to draw eyes and a smile on the doll's face.

Make many dolls with a wardrobe of glorious colors, then find a comfortable shady spot in your garden and stage a hollyhock doll ballroom dance. (Or float your dolls in water to see them bob and sway.) I prefer the one-bud dolls myself, and they float better. The two-bud dolls are top heavy, but they are good if you want to "dance" the dolls with your hands.
Hollyhocks are a must in a garden to keep the garden fairies happy. And garden angels too! See Gemma's post from today about garden angels.

(Below: credit The Cincinnati Post)

Friday, August 17, 2007


I have not forgotten that Daisy Lupin had planned to have a three-month long Summer Poetry Fest: June for poems we loved as children, July for poems we loved as teenagers and August for poems we love now. I am overwhelmed to have to choose an August poem, as there are still so many I love. Therefore, I will probably be picking several poems for August, woefully thinking of the many I don't have time and room to print.

So, the first poem is -and it is a total surprise to me, as strange as that may seem - "And Did Those Feet In Ancient Times," by William Blake. I say strange, because I only knew this poem as a hymn, from the opening and the ending of "Chariots of Fire," my favorite film of all time! YES. OF ALL TIME!!!

Those who know me well know I am an indefatigable Anglophile - a lover of all things English. I love to read about England - the England of today (the Aga Sagas); the England of the past. The England of Arthurian legends, of Elizabethan times, of Cavaliers and Roundheads, of Shakespeare, the Celts, the Druids, the pastoral times of the 1800s, the Victorian times, the Edwardian Era, the Brits in WWII, I don't care. If it's about England, bring it on!

So, to the time of the movie, Cambridge University, England, in 1920. An entire GENERATION of Englishmen has been lost as cannon fodder to World War I. But who of the new crop of young men from Cambridge will work and push himself hard enough to represent England in the 1924 Olympics as a runner? Is it Andrew, Lord Lindsey, an aristocrat, or is it the Jew, Harold Abrahams? Abrahams is so driven, so determined to prove himself, that we sympathize with him in his quest.

But, in the Highlands of Scotland, we find Eric Liddell, born in China of of Scottish missionaries. Now returned to Scotland ("A Scot whilst I live and breathe") to study in Edinburgh, he is a natural athlete, revered in Scotland first as a famous footballer (soccer player) and then as a runner.

This is the story of how the two come together in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Fierce rivals, with Liddell having previously beaten Abrahams, they were meant to compete in a race in Paris. But Liddell, a staunch Christian, will not run on Sundays. Because of his faith, he will not run the Olympic heat for his race on Sunday. Can you - can you REALLY - imagine having such principles as that? He has the British Olympic committee over a barrel. How can they fault a man putting his God above his country?
Fortunately, Lord Lindsey steps in and gives his spot in another race to Liddell. So, the stage is set to see if both men can win Olympic Gold for Britain. Will it be Eric Liddell - the Christian runner who feels God's pleasure when he runs? Or Abrahams, the Jew, seeking to erase the lifelong bitterness accorded to him and his race?

I am not going to reveal who won. I love this film so much I would like you to rent it and find out for yourself.

This film is not for everyone. After extolling its virtues to my niece Lisa for years, I purchased "Chariots of Fire" for her for her birthday. She could not get into it (basically saying "What the
----. Are you nuts?)

This is getting way too long for Poetry Fest, so I will now proceed to the poem. But know that I have always heard it sung, as it was in the film, at elder British statesman Harold Abrahams' funeral:
(By William Blake)
And did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon England's mountain green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satantic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
I will not cease, from mental fight!
Nor shall the sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Ben Cross (Abrahamson) left, Ian Charleson (Liddell) right


Thanks to Rowan from England for telling me the name of the hymn is "Jerusalem." See her comment.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


(Edge of photo far right)

I'm always posting about Gracie - naughty Gracie chewing up Dan's feather pillow; silly Gracie, bringing in flower pots from outdoors, Gracie this, Gracie that. I thought I'd better give some equal time to my beautiful girl, Penny, our Golden Retriever. How do I love thee, Penny? Let me count the ways:

You are so beautiful, a beautiful reddish-brown color. Your coat is never snarled, except for a tendency to get little clumps of knotted hair behind your ears. But you patiently let me cut the clumps out. (But don't let anyone else - and that means the vet - mess with her ears.) I love your gorgeous white rump and under tail. This white coloration in Goldens is not favored by show judges, but who cares? Penny's not a show dog, she's a house dog! When Penny tears across the yard that white rump is waggling like crazy and that tail is whipping like a white surrender flag. (Although her tail is quite bedraggled right now, thanks to Gracie.)

Gracie Who? Gracie, that little monster who came to live in our house last November. Gracie, only seven weeks old at the time, has harassed Penny no end. She has chewed on her tail, her ears, her legs, her snout. Penny has exhibited the patience of Job, only snapping back at Gracie once in nine months. Dan and I tell Penny it is just retribution for the trials she caused our poor old Cocker Spaniel, Lady, when Penny was tiny.

Penny, you are so smart. You love the words, "Wanna go for a ride?" But you don't need the words. For the longest time you have known when I am going for a drive. You just needed to hear my keys jingle or see me put on my coat to be raring to go. But now, now, you don't need outward signals. You just . . . KNOW.

We have our special Saturday mornings. We leave that rowdy Gracie at home and we go do errands. We go early so the car won't be so hot. I roll down all the windows so she can stick her head out and let her ears flap. First, the post office, where dogs are not allowed. Boo! But then to the drive through at the bank. The minute she sees the money canister, she goes nuts. To her, that equates dog treats. However, she has a difficult time realizing that the cashier is going to send treats BACK with the canister. She's trying to devour the canister as I put my deposit in.

Then, if she's lucky, we go to Taco John's, where I have a breakfast burrito and Penny gets - more dog treats!

Sometimes Penny and I just press our heads together, forehead to forehead, her golden one and my going-gray one, and we "commune" with each other. It's all unspoken, but we understand each other very well.

I love our daily morning rituals. Dan and I have taken to leaving our clean laundry hung up in the laundry room downstairs. So every morning Penny grabs her ball, brushes past me (nearly tripping me) as I go downstairs to get an outfit. When I get to the foot of the steps, she is by the laundry area, ready to roll her ball to me. I grab it, throw it to her, then proceed to get my clothes. While I do that, she leaves her ball for me to pick it up once again. One more throw and it's time to go upstairs, Penny once again leading the way.

Penny is not a paragon of virtue. She isn't really fond of a lot of people outside my family, including the vet (see above). "Don't you bring her anywhere?" he asked me. "Well, no" was my feeble reply. She and her ball slime me at every opportunity, she muddies my clothes and -at 70 pounds - she gives me black and blue marks, once in the perfect shape of a paw. Bought for Dan as a Christmas present almost five years ago, she was meant to be a hunting dog. Let's just say - erm - she has a long way to go. But then, Dan's not a great dog trainer either.

Golden Retrievers are known by French-speaking people as "Le chien qui sourire," the dog who smiles. (Hope I got that right.) And certainly Penny fits that bill. And while I'm on my mini French kick, "J'embrasse mon chien sur la bouche." (I kiss my dog on the lips.) No apologies!

Penny Sue, Penny Lou, Penny Poodle Pup, Miss Pen-Pen, My Little (Big) Love Bug, The Most Beauti-Ussest Dog of All," I love you, doggie!


Did I mention Penny's ball? I do have to admit that when we first got Penny, I wanted to give her away. She was just so "needy." She either needed constant petting, or to constantly have the ball throw for her. I confess to having "disappeared" a few balls. However, getting Gracie has really taken away Penny's constant need for human attention.
And is she ever affectionate! When Kristen came home for Christmas last December, Penny, who hadn't seen Kristen for a whole year, remembered her immediately, and proceeded to lick her for 15 minutes. "Welcome back to the clan, Kristen," (Kiss, Kiss), "I missed you SO much!"
Penny loves winter. Plowing through the snow is great fun for her, if not me. I swear, she could lie down on a snowbank for hours and it wouldn't faze her. Yes, Penny is a dog for all seasons.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I saw "Stardust" yesterday and it was all I hoped it would be. I give it 4 stars out of 4. I consider it the best fairy tale ever. By the way, it is a fairy tale for grownups. Some scenes would be very scary for smaller children, but older children would enjoy it. Now I must put the illustrated book on my wish list, as even the used books are still very spendy for now.

I am heartened to see a film like this appearing in the theatre, as well as a couple of others I saw this summer and some upcoming films I've read about or seen the trailers for. I have hope for the film industry after all, when it comes to producing films for people - especially women - of a certain age.

There are so few movies I have wanted to see in the past few years. I don't like cartoons, so that leaves out a whopping number of new releases. I don't like horror films, most action flicks, comedies with high-school-boy mentalities, sequel upon stupid sequel, remakes of old TV shows that I grew up with, for heaven's sake.

I want good, meaty dramas and comedies with heart. I saw one of the latter this summer: Kerri Russell, whom I really like, appeared as the pregnant title character with a brutish husband in "Waitress", who dreams up scrumptious pies for the pie diner in which she works. (I have never heard of a pie diner. Is that a regional thing?)

I also saw "Evening" with a stellar cast that included Claire Danes, Meryl Streep and her daughter Mamie Gummer, Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close and Toni Collette. Although I should not have, I read the reviews before I went to the movie, and they were not flattering. However, I thought, "How can you go wrong with a group of actresses like that?" I was right. I was totally engrossed by the film, which I liked far better than the book it was based upon, by Susan Minot. That will teach me to pay attention to movie critics.

When I went to the theatre yesterday I was surprised that one of the "Showing Now" posters was for "Becoming Jane" about literary lioness Jane Austin. I didn't know it had opened already. I plan on seeing it, even though American Anne Hathaway may not be perfect for the part. It will still be fun to see a lush period drama.

There's also, in my opinion, a great lineup of films opening from now through Christmas. I had better be saving my pennies because I think I will be going to Saturday matinees way more often than I have in the past few years. Here are some that caught my eye:

"Elizabeth: The Golden Age". I have been waiting for this film since I saw Cate Blanchett play Queen Elizabeth I as a young woman. Now she's back for Elizabeth's golden age, and is joined this time around by Clive Owen, one of my favorite actors.

Based on their book counterparts, these should be great: "Kite Runner," "Love in the Time of the Cholera", The Jane Austen Book Club", "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and "Atonement."

"Introducing the Dwights" with Brenda Blethyn. I saw the trailer for this so I think it will be very enjoyable.

"The Other Boleyn Girl." As you may know, one of my secret pleasures is English historical fiction. I have the book, by Phillippa Gregory, queen of historical novelists, now I must read it before the movie comes out. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as Lady Mary Boleyn, Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn and Eric Bana as King Henry VIII. Once again, it will remain to be seen if American actors can fill these historical shoes, but I'll give it a whirl!

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I am having a beautiful day today, because I had a beautiful morning. And I had that beautiful morning all because of a breeze. I woke early this morning, about six-ish, to the sound of a very fierce thunderstorm. After the storm passed, a lovely cool breeze started blowing into the bedroom windows.

I got up briefly to have my orange juice and meds, and a little visit with the doggies, but then I went back to bed until noon. It was just so wonderful to have that fresh invigorating air blowing the curtains in and out. I could actually snuggle into my comforter and still not feel too hot. Oh light wind, oh kind zephyr. You have cleansed my mind, refreshed my spirit, rejuvenated my body and soothed my soul.

Now, having having shared my lunch with the dogs and done some emailing and posting, I can still feel a gentle breeze throughout the house. The dogs are grateful too, as they doze on the cool living room floor beside me.

The weather here in August has been an improvement over that in July. It is such a relief to leave work at 5 pm and not walk into a blast oven. So nice not to have your car keys and steering wheel get so hot you can barely stand to touch them.

So nice not to toss and turn at night trying to grab some sleep in a hot bedroom, or tolerate having the living room window a/c on and a series of strategically-placed, noisy fans trying desperately to distribute some cool air. When we do the latter, we have to leave the bedroom door open and the doggies think they MUST sleep with us as they love us so much.

It's so great to have the high humidity gone too. So nice not to feel sick to my stomach when the humidity and heat have matching numbers. So nice not to feel too hot and miserable to eat. So nice not to have your clothes stick to you and your hair go all frizzy. (Why did I pick this, the most humid summer in memory, to get a perm?)

By the way, that lovely bedroom in the photo above is not mine. I wish it was. My bedroom needs help. Dan loves to have a feather pillow, and recently Gracie chewed a big hole in his pillow, so there are feathers floating all over. Plus, the carpet needs to be replaced due to you know who. (Gracie, not Dan!!)

Anyway, I feel great, and I am soon heading out to see "Stardust." I'm as excited to see it as my daughter was to see the three "Lord of the Rings" movies.


Art by Matt Manley
I've just discovered a wonderful new collage artist named Matt Manley. As far as I know, he's only available through items produced by a company called "Brush Dance", which makes journals, address books and cards melding Manley's art with poetry by Rumi.
I first heard about this Medieval Persian poet and philosopher through a Loreena McKennitt CD. Lately, I have been seeing references to Rumi in a number of blogs. Also, I have lately been seeing a lot of references to Anais Nin. I've never read Nin but I knew that she wrote erotic literature.
I'd like to read more of their writings, but don't know where to begin. Can anyone recommend any of their works that I might find cheaply on used books? (I'd prefer non-erotica by Nin if available.)
Thanks in advance for your help.


When I was at the arts and crafts fair at the Capital last week, I spotted what was meant to be a picture holder. It's a metal rectangle with a stand, plus four decorated magnets to hold a photo. I, however, thought it would be a great way to compose and/or display my magnetic poetry.

I've had these poems on the refrigerator for quite a while now. I think they must have embarrassed my family a bit due to their erotic nature. I am not a writer of erotic poetry so it much have just been the choice of words in that magnetic poetry kit.

Some people scoff at magnetic poetry as not being creative. I beg to disagree. I certainly would not have come up with those poems "on my own." I don't see it as being any different than going to a poetry class and having a teacher give you "starter ideas."

In any event, I've removed the poems from the fridge and put them on this stand instead. I'll use the reverse side for composing new poems. I also have a new magnetic poetry kit that is advertised as being Haiku.

Haiku is the old traditional Japanese form of poetry containing 17 syllables - 5 in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the third. I'm not exactly sure what the makers of this kit thought constituted "Haiku" words - probably a lot of nature words - but they are delicious words and I am eager to get started!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


By William Adolphe-Bougereau
(She may have been painted by a Frenchman,
but I think she's a Scottish shepherdess!)

Writing my last post make me think about the ways in which rich people spend money. For them, it's nothing but the best, whether it's a house, a meal, wine, a car, clothing, furnishings. The higher the price, the more desirable.
I think certain people might be shocked to find out how little I actually spent on the two new pictures I bought for my office. But I also think those people couldn't guess their prices just by looking at them.
I am the descendant of Highland shepherds, immigrant hotel maids and sod busters. I'm the daughter of Thrifty Scots. Their shared adage was "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without." However, I am not as famous for my thrift as my mom, who never filled a glass of milk to the top or put more than a dab or two of butter on a slice of bread.
I will never be rich and have sometimes actually been in quite the hurt bag financially. Dan and I are finally standing on the brink of solvency, but we will never live the lives of the affluent or even the well-heeled. And frankly, I don't care.
I am driving a 1996 car in which the driver's side window does not roll down. My previous car's headlight started on fire and burned the right front side, but I still drove the car afterward. My husband drives a rollover, a vehicle that's been in a rollover accident and fixed up. We're actually quite proud, in a weird sort of way, about our modes of transportation.
I buy most of my clothes at Target, Wal Mart and K Mart, and wear them until they are almost an embarrassment. I purchase my shoes at Payless or the above-mentioned stores. I dye my own hair (I will not go gray!) and get to the hairdresser months after I should.
I gave up my one great passion - magazines - and now read them at the library. I may go to an occasional movie, but always a matinee, and I usually see my movies on DVD through Netflix.
We live in a simple little house. We can count on one hand the evenings we've dined out in the last year. We like to have a steak on Saturday night, but we'll often have a bowl of soup for supper during the week. We buy $7.00 jugs of Merlot that see us through both Friday and Saturday nights.
I have a "brand new" couch and two new living room chairs right now. My couch was $120.00 used. My chairs were $15.00 apiece. My towels are all raggedy and thin, my drinking glasses mismatched, my furniture falling apart, my underwear a sight! But don't go feeling sorry for me!
Sure, sometimes I am envious over relatives' and friends' new cars, vacations, boats and the like. I am human, after all. I have "champagne taste on a beer budget" and like to imagine what I could do with limitless funds. But all in all, I don't mind getting some snooty looks and giving up luxuries to be able to buy the things that really mean something to me. (BOOKS!) I'd rather give a gift to a friend than buy myself something. And, when my daughter was in college, putting her needs first was even a pleasure.
I adore finding bargains. I love scouting out the cheapest books online. I like going to the thrift stores and winnowing out the classy from the trashy. My home decorating is courtesy of T. J. Maxx, Thrifty White Drug and - new in Bismarck - Tuesday Morning. Even the dollar stores carry items that are just right for tucking into a package for friend. You just have to be patient enough to scout for them.
There's another new store in Bismarck (to go unnamed here) which has style and taste written all over it. I took one walk through it and knew I would never enter it again. $1,000.00 for a distressed chest, and $78.00 for a T-shirt? If that's cachet, I'll pass.
I have read hundreds and hundreds of decorating magazines and I know what is tasteful and what is not. Good taste and style have never been a question of having money, and they never will be.
I try not to make impulse purchases any more. I will go home and think about something and often the "need" for that particular item goes away quietly. I earned very sore feet for trudging all over town to find my new pictures at budget prices.
Of course, I could do so much better. I could go green, I could be less wasteful, I could try a month - or summer - or year, of not buying anything, which some people have done successfully. But come to think of it, when I was unemployed, I pretty much did just that, so I know I can do it.
Added later:
I started this whole post to illustrate the difference between the rich and the rest of us. But of course I know there are those who have so much less - those who are unemployed, or have no home, or struggle with debilitating illnesses, or don't even have enough food to eat. I am EXTREMELY grateful to be clothed and fed and housed and entertained, and I do help out those who are in need. My whole point was to illustrate that one can be happy with far less and that way have surfeit to give to the less fortunate.


"Ophelia," by J. W. Waterhouse

I finally broke down and bought a couple of pictures for my new office. I say "broke down" because I have been too apprehensive to get anything until now. Some of you may know that when I started my new job in May, I got my own private office. (All six of us in the new branch have his/her own offices.) Each of us is supposed to decorate our own space - with no mention of anyone else footing the bill.

My new boss is extremely particular, and so is his wife. That means that new rugs for the hallway have arrived, been laid down, been found wanting and rolled up and shipped back. The local professional interior decorators have streamed in with their pictures and coffee tables and lamps, and have streamed back out again with their pictures and coffee tables and lamps. I think the final decisions have been made regarding the reception room and the conference room, and they meet my approval (as if my approval were needed!). The rug, pictures and other accessories turned out to have an earthy, autumn-y feel, which is something I am in the mood for.

But, getting back to our individual offices, a couple of us were afraid to bring in pictures because they might not be "suitable" or expensive enough. No dogs playing poker, no big-eyed children, no puppies and kitties, ha! And for me, no hateful inspirational posters, as I had them shoved down my throat at my previous job.

Tim, one of my co-workers, finally broke the ice (or rather he asked his wife for help). His office now has a beautiful tapestry featuring a medieval lady and unicorn, a Gothic candelabrum, a big fat earthen-colored pillar candle and a wooden knight on a horse. All in all it has an Olde World appeal, and I think it looks wonderful.

That gave me the courage to proceed. I've posted about the oriental accessories I've already added - a Buddha, a silk hydrangea in a "stone" container, a miniature fountain, a small picture with bamboo and oriental writing, and some candles on a black wooden tray (all but one from my favorite upscale store, "Tarzhay").

Yesterday, I found a horse that looks oriental to me. Thinking I had better stick with an oriental theme for my pictures, I went looking and found a very appropriate picture. It's a large square, and features nine subtle color blocks, with the picture of a narcissus in the center block. I think it's sophisticated and tasteful.

I looked for other pictures along the same line, but couldn't find anything I really loved, so instead I bought a copy of J. W. Waterhouse's "Ophelia". After all, the Pre-Raphaelites, of which Waterhouse was a member, revealed oriental influences in their work. Plus, I think the water lilies add an oriental touch.

It remains to be seen what my boss thinks of my good taste. (Just call me "Charlie the Tuna"). One of the reasons I bought "Ophelia" is that if she is banned from the office, she will find a good home at my house, in the company of this other J. W. Waterhouse lady, whom I call "Lady Smelling Flowers" because I can't think of the real name of the painting. And, I can always find a place for my oriental block print at home too.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


The winner of my giveaway for Loreena McKennitt's DVD, "No Journey's End", is.....Ta Da:
Nature Girl! Please email me your address (and real name!)
Thank you everyone for entering the drawing. It has led me to some lovely new blogs.


I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie, which begins Friday. Here's a synopsis:

“Stardust,” based on the best-selling graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, takes audiences on an adventure that begins in a village in England and ends up in places that exist in an imaginary world. A young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox) tries to win the heart of Victoria (Sienna Miller), the beautiful but cold object of his desire, by going on a quest to retrieve a fallen star. His journey takes him to a mysterious and forbidden land beyond the walls of his village. On his odyssey, Tristan finds the star, which has transformed into a striking girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes).
However, Tristan is not the only one seeking the star. A king’s (Peter O’Toole) four living sons – not to mention the ghosts of their three dead brothers – all need the star as they vie for the throne. Tristan must also overcome the evil witch, Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who needs the star to make her young again. As Tristan battles to survive these threats, encountering a pirate named Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) and a shady trader named Ferdy the Fence (Ricky Gervais) along the way, his quest changes. He must now win the heart of the star for himself as he discovers the meaning of true love.

It's been categorized as science fiction, fantasy and fairy tale. For those of you who read Faerie Magazine, they've done a nice spread in their summer issue.

When was the last time you saw a unicorn in a movie?


Saturday, August 4, 2007


I found this picture recently and thought you might like to see where I live! This was taken the first fall in our new home, 25 years ago. That's my mother-in-law (no longer alive) on the left, me on the right (no longer slim) and my daughter (no longer an infant!)

It amuses me to think how much the house and yard have changed in the past 25 years. The dark gray trim eventually started to peel away and Dan undertook the massive job of scraping it. I had carefully matched the new paint with the existing color and was excited when Dan told me it was the day to start painting. Puttering around indoors, I didn't go out to look at what he'd done until he was almost through with the garage door. I was stunned to go out and find a bright blue door! Obviously the paint did not match the chip, but I had not checked.

Dan was adamant about not re-painting, so ever since we've had a bright blue front door, garage door and trim. I'll never forget what a neighbor said about the new color: (Barely disguised loathing) "Don't worry, dear, it will fade in time." No it hasn't, but that's okay. It looks like the cheerful trim on houses in the Mediterranean.

The evergreen on the left has grown almost as tall as the chimney and I have been thinking for several years that it must go, though I have not broken the news to Dan yet. The beautiful weeping birch on the right is gone, a victim of the tiny bronze birch borer. I have ripped out all the evergreens on either side of the steps and replaced them with flower beds.

We now have a picket fence around the front yard, with an arbor over the sidewalk leading to the house. I grow hardy shrub roses inside the fence on the driveway side. I let the purple lady bell wildflowers grow where they like. They are considered to be a weed by many, but I think they are beautiful intermingled with the roses. I also grow roses and other perennials inside the fence bordering the front sidewalk.

My plans are to make the entire front lawn into a flower garden. The patch on the right will someday be Daisy's garden.

My home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I had always thought that the National Register was for grand or famous homes, but that is not the case. A lovely lady in our neighborhood almost single-handedly and successfully ran a campaign to have a group of homes in this area placed on the Register as prime examples of the stucco bungalow style of architecture from the 1920s-1930s.

Our house is not technically a bungalow, because that definition would have to include a front porch. So my home is actually a 1929 stucco cottage. Or, as Kristen called it when she was young, "our cozy little house."


(The cranes and the piling are for the new bridge)
My heart goes out to those people in Minneapolis-St. Paul who lost family and friends in this week's collapse of the I-35 Bridge over the Mississippi River. Thank god, the death estimate in this terrible tragedy has gone way down. Five are confirmed dead and about eight are still missing. That's astonishing when you think about the bumper to bumper traffic that was on the bridge at the height of evening rush hour.
Every day, I cross not the Mississippi River but the Missouri River on the bridge shown above. When I first went to work in Mandan, I worked in an office downtown, so it was about the same length drive whether I took this bridge or the Grant Marsh (Interstate) Bridge. In 2006, this very bridge shown above was declared unsafe - the supports were crumbling! - and it was closed for repairs. That's when I started driving the Grant Marsh Bridge exclusively, and came to love the drive and even posted about the wonders I saw on my daily trips.
Workers repaired the Memorial Bridge by constructing sleeves around the supports and pouring concrete into the sleeves. The bridge was declared safe enough to drive on until the new bridge opens in 2008. For months, though, I would not cross the newly-reopened bridge. That is, until Dan told me "Don't be ridiculous!"
With my new job, I still work in Mandan, at a location in the southeast part of the city, very close to the Memorial Bridge. It would be truly ridiculous for me to go out of my way just to avoid this bridge. As it is, I am only six minutes from my driveway when I take this route.
I really don't care for this bridge. Although it is pretty seen from a distance, when you are on it you feel like you have blinders on and can't see what's going on on the river. Plus, there's construction everywhere as they build the new bridge. Yesterday was particularly disturbing as they were doing something on the new bridge that caused a deep low booming sound - thrum, thrum, thrum. It sounded like the drums of doom.
I have never had a phobia of crossing bridges, and I still don't, but sometimes as I'm driving over the bridge I have an image of my car sailing off the bridge into the void, "Thelma and Louise" style. What keeps me going over this bridge twice a day is deciding that if it is my karma to die crossing a bridge, so be it. I keep remembering the scenes from "Shogun" in which Lord Toranaga tells Englishman John Blackthorne that it his karma - or destiny - to never return home but to forever remain in Japan.
That may be a bizarre way of looking at things, but as I said it keeps me crossing the bridge. The people who died in the Twin Cities bridge disaster, I'm sure, were not thinking of karma as they crossed that bridge toward home on a beautiful late summer afternoon. They were thinking of their supper, the Twins game on TV and the pleasant Midwest summer evening to come.
It also leads one to think, could they have changed their karma by going a different route that day? CAN you change your karma? How do YOU know what your karma is? If you change something you were certain was your destiny, was it your destiny after all? What you end up with IS, then, your destiny. I could follow that convoluted train of thought for a while!
What I should have, is underpass phobia. As it is my husband's birthday tomorrow, I am remembering another birthday of his. We had left his parents' home in Williston to drive to his home in Langdon, where a birthday party was to be held for Dan and a friend with the same birthday. We were engaged at the time, so it must have been 1973.
Seventy miles into our drive, just outside Stanley, ND, we were hit by a massive cloudburst - a hail and heavy rainstorm. We pulled over to the side of the highway and waited out the worst, then drove into Stanley. What we didn't know was that the underpass was filled with 7-8 feet of water. (The policeman who should have put barriers up turned up later.) Just as we entered the underpass, Dan realized (visibility was still poor), that the underpass was flooded. He could not reverse in time, and into the drink we went.
The swirling waters were taking the car and throwing us against one side of the underpass and then the other. I remember very well sitting there with water up to the level of the seat, thinking I was going to die. And being absolutely paralyzed.
That's when the policeman showed up. He came into the water and pulled me out the passenger window. Dan managed to get himself out. I remember sitting in the back of the police car with a blanket around me. The streets had been deserted minutes before, but now there were dozens of gawkers looking at me. One of them said, "She's hysterical!"
"No, she's not!" Dan said. "She just needs a drink." So, we and our new friends went into the bar for drinks and the policeman belatedly put up his barriers. Dan called his parents who came and brought us back to Williston. The icy cold waters meeting the car's hot engine had cracked the block, causing hundreds of dollars worth of damage. Dan missed his birthday party and I missed the last week of summer school at UND.
Hope Dan has a better birthday tomorrow! (And I'm still not afraid of underpasses!)

Friday, August 3, 2007


I finally got to watch the "Miss Potter" DVD, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The film, based on the life of famed children's book writer and illustrator, Beatrix Potter, was enjoyable in many ways.
It outlines the difficulty of a woman of her day in becoming a published author or artist. It also gives a good picture of the repression of women in general during Victorian times. For example, Beatrix' mother was aghast that Beatrix wanted to pay a visit to her printer's office.

"Miss Potter" is also a love story, between Beatrix and her publisher, Norman Warne (played by Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor). Beatrix's parents considered Norman beneath their daughter, because as a book publisher he was considered to be simply a tradesman. Their story demonstrates that love needn't be dramatic, or filled with fireworks, but can be friendship that deepens with time into something more.

I loved the costumes and "look" of the film, and Emily Watson as Norman's sister. Best of all, to me, was the beautiful scenery featuring the Lake District of England.

I knew that animation was going to be a part of the film, and I was a little worried, because I don't like animation, but I needn't have worried. The animated scenes are few and far between, they are subtle, and the animals do not speak!

I knew about Beatrix Potter, of course, but what I didn't know is that she was a preservationist. She gave almost all her property - nearly 4,000 acres - to England's National Trust, so that her portion of the Lake District will be preserved forever. I hope to see it some day, still in its pristine state.

Rowan of "Circle of the Year" (link at right), wrote a lovely post about her visit to Hilltop Farm, Potter's home in the Lake District.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007



Slipping, sliding, soft fur gliding
Through the forest water bright,
Friendly otter in tumbling water,
Lead me to happiness and light.


Recently I posted about birth animal totems, and promised to post about animal totems in general and my individual totems. But what is a totem? It's any entity which watches over or assists a group of people, such as a family, clan or tribe. Traditionally, it supported groups - such as Native American tribes - rather than individuals.
However, in modern times, some single individuals, not otherwise involved in the practice of a tribal religion, have chosen to adopt a personal spirit animal healer which has a special meaning to them, and refer to them as totems.
An often-asked question is: "Do you choose a totem, or do totems choose you?" You may actually have chosen a totem for yourself, but don't think it hasn't chosen you too! Perhaps you have been unconsciously aware of your totem all your life. Do you see coincidences, signs or even omens concerning a particular animal?
It may be an animal you have felt strangely - but strongly - drawn to since early childhood. You may have drawn or written about it, or collected art or jewelry featuring it. You may have dreamed of your totem frequently. Do you visit it first at the zoo? Is it one you have literally bumped into over and over? Is it one you notice more than others when you are out in nature? Have you watched this animal for hours and hours? Your totem could even be an animal you are afraid of.
What I have been discussing is your Life Long Animal Totem, or your Spirit Totem. It is always there to remind you of your power and connectivity with the earth, and generally reflects your inner spirit nature. Totems are our guides, meant to teach us life lesssons.
There are other totems: Journey, Message and Shadow Animal Totems, but I won't discuss them here.
About 15 years ago I visited Northern California for the first and only time. My husband and I, armed with binoculars borrowed from our B&B, took the 17-mile drive between Pacific Grove and Carmel. We pulled over to the side and got out on the rocks to observe mother sea otters, lying on their backs and cradling their babies on their tummies. At a different stop, we watched another otter, again on her back, cracking open a shell with a rock. I was entranced, enthralled and enchanted with the sea otter, and have been ever since.
I am also drawn to the river otter, especially after reading "Ring of Bright Water", and I must see them first when I visit the zoo. I hate to be anthropomorphic, but otters are so winsome, so intelligent, so playful, so curious, charming and contented.
The otter, whose elements are earth and water, is woman medicine. She teaches us the beauty of our female energies. She is a sign of healthy play, balance and "go with the flow" attitude. Those with the otter totem attract love, harmony and grace into their lives (That's me, Julie, always seeking grace.)
It is otter that brings forth our ability to allow others into our lives without doubt, jealousy or fear. Otters awaken curiosity. They remind us that everything is interesting if we look at it from the right angle. Otters help you awaken your inner child and allow events to flow naturally in your life.
With an otter totem, you can create a space for others to enter your lives without preconceptions or suspicions. Otter teaches us that balanced feminine energy is not catty or jealous, but instead is sisterhood and sharing. Otter expresses joy for others.
Otters represent loving memories and nostalgia for family and friends and for the past. I am otter, and I move gently in the river of life.
One may have more than one Life Long or Spirit totem. My other totem is the dolphin, and I will write about it in the future.
This is from a brochure for the otter totem necklace made by my friend Lila Marquart. (I blogged about her "Jewelry With Meaning" this spring.) Lila also creates many other totem, goddess, chakra & fairy necklaces. For information about her, email me or check my blog.)