Thursday, April 29, 2010


Western Meadowlark

So many people come to my blog by Googling this phrase: "Oh to be in England now that spring is here." They manage to land in the right place even though they have the phrase wrong! It is "Oh to be in England now that April's there." I wrote a post a few years ago with this title, and I'm doing so again today.

First, I'll satisfy you searchers by printing this poem written by Robert Browning when he was in Italy:


"Oh to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops - at the bent spray's edge -
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
- Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower."

Prairie Crocus/Pasqueflower
Pulsatilla (or Anemone) Patens

Well, the Internet searchers aren't really off the mark by googling "spring", because Browning does talk about May as well as April. By all accounts, April in Britain is wondrous to behold. I've often read about British bluebell woods. My Scottish second cousin Shirl has sent me pictures of her dogs walking on carpets of bluebells, which are different than the Virginia bluebells I can grow here. And my English blogging friend Leanne at Somerset Seasons Dorset Days posts pictures of her primroses, auriculas, oxlips, cowslips, yellow kerria japonica blossoms and so many more flower swe can't enjoy here.

April in England seems like quite the heady, rapturous event. I'm afraid that April in North Dakota is much more subtle. Sometimes one really has to search for signs of spring.

Bee in a plum tree

Take the prairie crocus, for example. To find them, you have to look close to the ground on virgin soil. When we were kids we would find them on the railroad right-of-way. They can also be found on other soil untouched by the plow. They are a pale lavender, the inside of the petals so pale they almost look white. The little cups are set upon feathered stems only a few inches off the ground.

Nowhere in North Dakota will you find William Wordsworth's "a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils", but we do have homeowners who plant daffodils and tulips in front of their homes. A popular color combination in Bismarck seems to be red and yellow tulips.

I've seen more honey bees so far this year than I did last spring. I hope this is a good sign that the bees have recovered from the problems plaguing them and are returning in force. Two got into my house this week. To capture them, I use a drinking glass and a stiff piece of paper. I put the glass over the bee (who's usually on a window) and slip the glass and all onto the piece of paper. This way I can safely set the bee free. Unfortunately, Gracie jumped on me yesterday just after I captured the bee, and killed it by biting it. (Does she know it has a stinger??)

Purple tulips go well with
yellow and white daffodils

Some robins stay in North Dakota all winter. For the rest of those who winter down south and arrive in the spring, April is the time for them to really let loose with their morning- and evensong. They seem to be singing "We're glad to be back in North Dakota!"

I once visited Denver, Colorado in April. It seemed like there was a forsythia in every yard. Forsythia are much more scarce here. Only a few grow in cool Zone Three, which covers most of North Dakota. A little finger of Zone Four sticks up into North Dakota along the Missouri River, and I think that's why we see a few forsythia bushes dotted here and there around Bismarck.

April in North Dakota is the time for those delicate, oh-so aromatic plum blossoms. And a couple of weeks ago, two rare (for Bismarck) apricot trees bloomed on the site of the old Jewish synagogue. They are so lovely there, their horizontal pale peachy-pink branches spreading to cover the entire south side of the brick building.

There were never many Jewish people in Bismarck, now there are hardly any. I wish I knew someone to who could tell me if some member of the synagogue imported those apricot trees from a warmer clime.

Soon we'll be seeing baby robins
with their funny little tufts

Even though the dandelion is considered a weed by many and a lowly plant by most, I still welcome these sunny yellow buttons every spring and always have the urge to hold a dandelion flower under someone's throat to look for "butter".

Weeping willows are my favorite trees in April. That's because they are such a lovely, pale light green at this time of the year. In a light breeze, the flexible branches undulate like curtains.

And finally, it absolutely could not be spring in North Dakota without meadowlarks and their melodious song. When I was growing up in my little village we could hear them when we walked out the door. Now I have to drive out to the country (admittedly that doesn't take long) to hear those precious cascading notes. These birds, with their brilliant yellow and black markings, prefer to sit on fence posts rather than high wires. They even build their nest on the ground.


Signs of spring in North Dakota may sometimes be subtle, but they certainly are welcome.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


(It strikes me that I look haughty here,
but it was nerves, all nerves)

In spring, a young girl's fancy turns to thoughts of prom. And in spring, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of how to pay for prom.

At least that's the way it is for teens today. We've all heard about the high cost of prom these days - the elaborate themed decorating kit more suited to a Broadway musical, the expensive dress and salon hairdo for the girls and the rental of tuxes for the guys. One must hire a stretch limo, reserve a photographer for formal photos (!) and go to a fancy restaurant before the dance. And after the dance it's time to head to the all-night after prom party. 

Here are some stats from just one website: Tickets can be anywhere from $50-80, tux rental $150, dress at least $250, flowers $40, limo rental $400, total $920. Hey, they forgot the dinner! You're talking $1,000 before you can say "May I cut in?"

Prom is short for promenade, or what we used to call the Grand March. (Do they still call it that?) It's a prelude to a dance. A dance. That's all it is, gals - and guys. Just a dance, not a wedding, not a coronation.

My thoughts turn to prom today because it's Bismarck High School's prom tonight. I knew that because of a news story I saw last evening. Apparently BHS is cutting back on the cost of the prom by holding the dance "in only one gym". Only one gym? We only ever had one gym, which always smelled of old gym socks and sweaty bodies. The cost for a BHS prom ticket? A "low" $35.00 (for a single or a couple, I'm not sure.) The ticket price includes two spectator seats. Cripes, in our day the prom was free and the town bum could come in off the street, plop down on a bleacher seat and watch the Grand March.

For my junior prom, I was invited by a fellow junior, a red-headed Irishman named Tim Fay. On prom day, I washed and set my own hair. Like all the girls, I wore a long dress (maybe $30?). Short dresses were NOT an option. My dress was sleeveless with a straight-line skirt. It was pale yellow with a lace overlay and featured a deeper yellow bow at the waist with long ribbons trailing down the front. I wore "bone" colored gloves and shoes.

Tim, like all the guys, wore a suit. Like all the guys, he drove his dad's car. He wasn't a farm kid, so he didn't have to worry about showing up in a truck. Unlike the other girls, who got roses or carnations, I got orchids. I still remember their beautiful color, sort of a creamy beige with purple at the throats. I was the only girl who had a wrist corsage too.

This corsage is very like the ones I got for prom.

We raised money for the prom by holding car washes and other fund raisers. The day before prom, the girls decorated the gym with color-coordinated crepe paper, cut-out lettering and balloons. We always chose some dreamy theme like Tropical Paradise or Under the Moonlight. Even then, proms were about getting asked out by the cutest boy in class, or the excruciating fear of not being asked at all, and ultimately having the most romantic evening ever.

Back in my day, not having a date for the prom could scar a girl for life. A friend of a friend of mine still holds an annual BFFL (Big Fat F------ Loser) Party for anyone who never went to prom. 

This $1,186 Castle in the Sky theme
was not quite in our budget.

Columbus High School proms were pretty sedate, with forgettable bands hired from Minot, the typical mix of slow and fast dances, dance cards to fill out in pencil, and punch - not spiked! After the prom, the girls changed into more casual clothes while our dates waited, and then we went out for a late supper at The Portal Corner supper club, which stood in for swanky in our area. (Specialties: steak, fried shrimp and fried chicken.) After supper, we all went home. Well, I went home anyway.

The next year, very little had changed, except that a small group of senior girls determined that everyone - EVERY SENIOR at least - had to go to the prom, so they went into overdrive to matchmake. Tim had moved 100 miles away, but I was pressured into strongly urged to invite him. A good sport, he accepted. Thank goodness gas was cheap then.

I wore the SAME dress and the SAME shoes to senior prom, with maybe a different pair of gloves. Spare no expense was not my family's motto! I was again the only girl who got an orchid wrist corsage. (I bless Joan, his mom, to this day.) This time we went to the Border Triangle Club, which was located exactly one block from my house in our tiny town of Larson. However, my family rarely ate there, so it was a treat for me. And afterward I went home, removed my second orchid corsage ever, and stuck it in the fridge so it would last for days.

Tim lives in Bismarck now and I have run into him several times in Wal Mart or K Mart, and he's usually accompanied by one of his four red-headed sons as we yak about this and that.

Attitudes toward prom have changed in the last 40 years. Some kids try to see how inexpensive they can make their prom experience. Some kids - gals and guys - go stag or as a group. When it was time for Kristen's prom, she went to an anti-prom party, probably wearing her usual jeans thrift shop T-shirt. That was fine by me.

These days, my only opportunity to see prom goers is when my sister and I are out and about on a Saturday afternoon and the kids are emerging from limos for an early dinner at a nice restaurant. How beautiful they are, all dressed and tuxed, moussed and sprayed, made up and splashed with cologne. I won't be going out today so I won't see them but I do hope the rain holds off so it doesn't spoil their special day.

And for anyone not going to prom, or never went to prom, you are not, I repeat, not a BFFL.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I haven't been blogging much lately. I just don't know the direction I want this blog to go any more. I have thought about quitting blogging because I have run out of things to say and I haven't liked what I've written lately. My good blogging friend Gemma convinced me not to quit, saying that my blog is my gift to the world. I never thought of it that way.

I'm going to keep writing it, at least for now, and I'm looking here and there for topics until (if and when) I find my way again. I might use memes, or borrow a topic from another blog, or delve into my past. For example, I happened upon a gratitude journal I had written in April and May 1999 or 2000. It was interesting to see what has changed, and what has stayed the same.

(BTW, I enjoyed the ingratitude graphics way better than the gratitude graphics I found.(The gratitude ones are the least cutesy I could find.) An ingratitude journal would be so much easier to write, wouldn't it? When I started my journal, on April 23, I had no trouble finding five entries. As the days went by, the number of daily entries dropped to four, or even three. Then, I could scrounge up only one or two entries. The day before the journal completely tanked (May 17), I had "nuttin', honey"!

But even so, I did manage to find a lot of things to be grateful for in those three weeks. Because of changing circumstances, I couldn't even write them today.

"Lunch with my sister at International Stir Fry." (That restaurant folded a couple of years ago and they are building a motel on the site.)
"A friend has invited me to a stamping party tonight." (That friend has gone by the wayside, and so has my interest in stamping.)
"A warm waterbed and comforter to crawl into/under after a hard Monday." (Dan got rid of our waterbed, and I have never quite forgiven him!)
"My shaggy, smelly, stinky puppy dog, Lady." (Lady died several years ago, as did my beloved Golden, Penny.)
"Dusty, my kitty, who adores me to pieces. So affectionate, so warm and cozy (so heavy)." (Dusty has also passed away.)
"I'm grateful to have a job, even when the stress level is high and co-workers are jerks (e.g. J----, the Dragon Lady)." (I no longer have that job, or any job, for that matter.)
"The flea market! Even when it is mostly junk, as this one was, the anticipation and the hunt are still fun, and I almost always find something." (The flea market is now defunct because everyone sells their stuff on eBay anymore.)
"Peace and safety for Kristen and all the other kids at Bismarck High School. May terror never visit here." (I was referring to the massacre at Columbine. This must have been the year it happened or the year after. School shootings still go on. I don't have to worry about my daughter now, but am concerned for all teens so vulnerable in classrooms.)
"I am utterly, utterly, utterly thankful for the invitation seven years ago to join book club. It has given me wonderful friends and broadened my reading horizons." (I'm all over that now.)

There are entries so generic that anyone could have written:

"My health."
"Sunshine at last."
"The first real spring day."
"Mail that's not bills."
"A car that gets me where I want to go."
"If one has to have rain, at least it's making the grass green."
"As Mondays go, it could have been worse."

Referring to the above graphic, Kristen was NEVER an ungrateful little shit. Well, maybe once, on Valentine's Day when she was 14. She made it quite clear that my gifts to her were extremely childish, silly and unwanted. She made me bawl. In her later teens and into college, she got way more tactful about her gifts. (She has seldom liked the clothes I buy her.)

Nope, I had a lot of gratitude entries about Kristen:

"Kristen winning the gold medal in the National Latin Exam."
"The big hug that Kristen gave me after running into each other at B&N".
"That I am the mother of a beautiful daughter, and I get Mother's Day presents because of it."
"My brilliant daughter has won first place in the state in the National French Exam, and is in the top 10% of the nation."
"I'm so grateful Kristen is better after being in such pain following the tightening of her braces."
"A daughter who is so enjoyable to be around."
"A daughter who scored 30 on the ACTs (97th percentile!)."

Kristen is no longer a kid - she's 27 - but she's still great. She has a master's degree in library science, has a great job at a college library, has a steady boyfriend of four years and is mom to three sweet kitties. And, she calls us every Sunday.

There are many, many entries in that old gratitude journal that I could repeat today:

"The almond trees at the Jewish Synagogue are blossoming." The only two almond trees in the city, they are blooming today as I write this.
"Friday and Saturday night special dinners with my husband: Candlelight, wine, good food."
"The sight of a blue jay in our back yard this morning. They don't visit very often."
"Fountain pens."
"Marie Callender chicken pot pie with big chunks of white meat."
"Not having to get up in the dark, and longer evenings too."
"My 1929 stucco bungalow."
"Living on this beautiful blue, white and brown marble called Earth."
"Having some spending money in my pocket."
"Chicken Carbonara from Minerva's."
"I am grateful that I have my sanity and am also pretty well-balanced emotionally."
"Mocha coffee with whipped cream."
"Books, glorious books."
"A clean house, on a weekday even."

There are new gratitude entries I could add today, ones I wouldn't have made 10 years ago:

1. Dan bought himself a used car today, through the dealership. I get my car back, yay!!
2. Bismarck's terrible economy may be improving at long last. I am getting a few more temp job offers.
3. Being able to reserve books at the library. It's so convenient.
4. Blogging and Internet friends.
5. My crazy, excitable, super-hyper Gracie dog.
6. Dan helped me get rid of a bunch of junk this morning for Bismarck's "Clean Up, Paint Up, Fix-Up Week." This is the week that our garbage men will pick up large appliances, furniture, tree branches, etc.!
7. The sweeping elm branch right in front of our deck is not dead, as I had feared, and is finally greening up.
8. Reading glasses at 3 for $10.00 so I can have a pair in every room.
9. Finding things outdoors that were hidden by winter snows.
10. Things you run across that make you smile, just because. See photo below:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


by Ulla Ploughman-Turner

Sometime last fall, I think it was, I wrote a post illustrated with photos of my daughter, myself, my mother, my maternal grandmother and my maternal great-grandmother. Those are all the photos I have of women in my matriarchal line. And beyond that, I had only the name of the other identified woman to whom I am linked by mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA for short, is DNA that is passed down only through the mother. (Even though men have mtDNA, they cannot pass it along to their children.) So for me, the known direct line is Kristen, Julie, Myrtle, Julia, Margrete and her mother, great-great-grandmother Margrete for whom there is no photo. Other than my sister and daughter, the only other living person that I knew of who shared my mtDNA was a male cousin, the son of my Aunt Ina.

That has changed. After I wrote my post, a blogging friend sent me a mtDNA testing kit through Gene Tree ( Since the test costs $150, that was quite an early Christmas present! (Thanks, CB, for your generosity.) I took the test by swishing some mouthwash around in my mouth and spitting it into a container. I mailed it off and then sat back and waited. Usually, the test takes about 12 weeks. Unfortunately for me, there were changes at the lab and my test had to be re-done, so I had to wait five months, but late Monday evening, I received my results via e-mail!!

Here are my results: My mtDNA haplogroup is N, subgroup W. My mtTDNA markers are: 16189C, 16223T, 16292T, 16519C, 73G, 189G, 195C, 204C, 207A, 263G, 315.1C, 709A.

Oh, gobbledygook. Those numbers meant no more to me than they probably do to you. I found out that learning my mtDNA is only the beginning. Tracing my lineage is going to take a lot of study and hard work. But Gene Tree will help me, as will corresponding with other people who have been tested, and tons of research.

I did learn that I have one perfect match, meaning that there is a person out there who took the test and has my identical mtDNA from a common ancestor, probably many generations back. That person, it turns out, wishes to remain private, but he/she, I was disappointed to learn, is American with Norwegian roots. Plain old Norwegian?? I want to move away from Norway, way-far away.

I know that I originally came from Africa. We all do, there's no denying it. There was an ancestral mother there from whom we all descended. But I want to know where my people went from there. What lands, what continents did they traverse before they ultimately reached Norway?

One Theory of the Spread of  Haplogroup W

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and that is probably the case with me, after having spent a couple of days perusing the Internet.

In the little bit of research I've accomplished (or understood), I've learned a few things. I learned that my haplogroup W, which Gene Tree calls a subgroup and other sources call a group, is relatively rare. (Well, I always knew I was special!) Back in 2001, a man named Bryan Sykes wrote a book called "The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry". According to him, there were seven "clan mothers" from whom the majority (95%) of Europeans are believed to obtain their mtDNA. They were given the names Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine and Jasmine. As you can see, there is no "W" name.

I learned that geneticists now believe that there were 10-12 Daughters of Eve, including a woman classified by the haplogroup W.  One site has nickednamed her Wilma and fondly uses Wilma Flintstone as a graphic for the Wilma clan mother. I am a daughter of a Daughter of Eve!

Apparently, the first Wilma was born somewhere in northwest India or northern Pakistan from 49,000 to 28,800 years ago. Her people had left eastern Africa via the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula (there being dry land then at the mouths of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Arabia) and headed east along the coast of the Arabian Sea.

On one site devoted to the W haplogroup, I found that I am just one mtDNA marker short of being a match to a Wilma group of people who lived solely in Russia, and one marker short of a match with a group out of Poland. I also share markers with a lot of people from Finland. Does that mean my long-ago ancestors perhaps traveled west from Russia to Poland or Finland and then further west to Norway?

Or does missing that one marker totally mess up the formula and geographically place me somewhere else entirely, like Turkey, the Balkans or Eastern Europe? And if my ancestors were Russian, did they come north from Mongolia, China, Japan? When my aunt had her quintuple bypass her surgeon asked me if she was of Japanese ancestry (though she was as WASP as WASP can be). He said she had a very, very strong heart, the kind he had seen in Japanese people (strong heart, bad arteries). I laughed in his face at the time but now I wonder??

If I am understanding it correctly, this test is more anthropology than genealogy, less an indication of whom I came from than where I came from. And I want to - I NEED to - know where I came from, so I am determined to gather as much information as possible. Sigh, there is still so much to learn, and it's so complicated. I know what it means to be a "zero difference" match with another person, but what does a 1- or 2-difference match signify? My understanding of DNA sequencing, haplogroups, HVRI and HVR2, clades and subclades and all the rest is miscroscopic. And of course with a mtDNA test I still know nothing of the ancient homelands of my maternal grandfather's Scottish relatives or my father's Norwegian and Irish relatives.

But it's a start, and I'm really glad I took this mtDNA test.