Sunday, February 25, 2007


"The Mermaid" by Pre-Raphaelite Painter J. W. Waterhouse

"I have heard the mermaids singing each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black
We have lingered in the chambers by the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us and we drown"
("The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot)

In his column today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Garrison Keillor begins with this observation: "February is the season of small sorrows when everyone feels middle-aged even if you are 16."
I do agree with that. But his ramblings today also included comments about "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", and those I do not agree with. How he got from the subject of February to the subject of T. S. Eliot is a stretch. One solution to February's woes, says Keillor, is to lunch with convivial companions, but Keillor doesn't think Eliot would have been a convivial lunch partner. He thinks even worse of one of my favorite poems of all time, calling it "a small, dark mope-fest of a poem."

"This poem pretty much killed off the pleasure of poetry for millions of people who got dragged through it in high school," says Keillor. From there he goes on to talk about Republicans and Democrats. I'm sure that Eliot would have written scathing poems about the modern political scene.
I pretty much agree with everything Keillor says, but to malign Prufrock! Perhaps Mr. Keillor's high school English teacher didn't analyze the poem well. Perhaps college students understand the poem better because they are more experienced.
But the poem is beautiful without analysis, as shown by the mermaid lines above. For years, I had great chunks of it memorized, including the beginning lines (or anyway, what I consider the beginning lines, because the first six lines are in Italian
"Let us go then, you and I, while the evening is laid against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table.
Let us go through through certain-half deserted streets
The muttering retreats
Of one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells.
Streets that follow with tedious argument
of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question....
Oh do not ask "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit"
Such images Eliot creates:
"The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle over the window panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house and fell asleep"
Thank you, Mr. Keillor, for re-introducing me to this poem. I am once again struck by lines like these:
"There will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet
There will be time to murder and create
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate."
"For I have known them all already, known them all--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."
"The eyes that fix you with a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways"
"Time for you and time for me
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
and for a hundred visions and revisions."
Now, in my maturity, I understand this poem even better, for I have had to prepare a face to meet all the faces I have met. I, too, have measured out my life with coffee spoons. I have been fixed and formulated by others' first impressions, never to redeem myself. And how can I explain the butt-ends of my days and ways and make sense of them to anyone, let alone myself?
I have made hundreds of wrong decisions and even worse, have made no decision at all, just let things ride. I have asked myself "Do I dare, do I dare?" and dared not. I have created, and while I have not murdered in the literal sense, I have murdered my own dreams and others' spirits. I have not had "the strength to force a moment to its crisis."
When I was in college I could not have truthfully said, "I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker/And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker." Now, I have. Now I truly understand when Prufrock laments his thinning hair and his scrawny legs, and really hear the pathos in these lines: "I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to each a peach?"
I am surprised Mr. Keillor dislikes this poem. He seems to be a mopey, depressed sort. Even a favorite of his soliloquies, an ode to spring, has a dark side. I think he'd be up for a mope-fest.
I think I'll take some time now to re-analyze this poem, and memorize chunks of it again. They say that mind games and memorizing improves the aging mind. I'm going to give it a whirl.
Keiller calls Prufrock a small poem. It decidedly is not. It is a giant of a poem. Neither is it short, which is why I have not reprinted it here. It can be found by googling the title of the poem. One site is:

Friday, February 23, 2007


Anyone want to buy a dog, cheap? No, it isn't Penny. I just happened to find a picture of a dog house with the name Penny on it, with a brown dog who looks kinda sorta like Penny.
No, it's Gracie who's in the dog house. You just can't see her because she's hiding in the back of the house. She's trying to avoid Mad Mom.
I came home this evening to find out that she had chewed a hole in the couch cushion and scattered the foam all over the floor. While I was cleaning it up, she jumped on the coffee table and knocked a glass candle holder on the floor, breaking it.
She is the most destructive dog we've ever had. (Well, Jacques did chew up one shoe from every pair of shoes I owned, but after that he went straight and became my lover boy.) Beau, Lady, Penny - all were relatively good pups. And sweet, shy Brandy, who came to us as a three-year old, was raised as a kennel dog so she never had much chance to be a puppy.
Not long ago, Gracie chewed up a book that I had borrowed from a friend, so I had to fork up the money to buy her a new one. Yesterday, she gnawed on the back of one of my much-loved Thom McAn walking shoes. Thank goodness she didn't destroy it, as I probably wouldn't have found a replacement pair. AND, she is chewing up the linoleum in my bathroom!!!
Granted, my couch is worn and shabby, and my linoleum is crappy, but I don't have the bucks to buy a new couch or a new bathroom floor right now. Besides, I wouldn't buy ANYTHING until puppyhood days are over. Lord, let that be soon. And let me still have some money left in my pocket by then.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Above photos: Winter views of the old railroad bridge, which is on my left as I drive to work every morning. The photo directly above must have been taken right at the spot where I take the on-ramp onto Interstate 94.
For more than a year, my working days in winter have been bookended by sights like these and the ones below. Each day, I cross the Missouri River twice, going westward toward Mandan in the morning, and back eastward toward Bismarck each evening.
While I've been making my daily treks, I've come to see that my winter days do have touches of grace, due largely in part to the time I spend in the vicinity of the Missouri River, the Mighty Mo.
At this stage in my life, I don't spend a lot of time outdoors in winter. I mainly go from my front door to my car to the parking lot at work, with return stops at the grocery store and gas station. So most of my views of winter scenery have been from the vantage point of my car windows, frosted though they may be.
Grace. There is no other word for it. Every morning, when I traverse the river on the Grant Marsh (Highway I-94) Bridge, I have been graced by the sights I encounter during my commute, whether it be the winter fog or mist rising off the river, or the pure white plumes coming from the Tesoro Refinery on the north. (I'm sure the that steam isn't really pure, but I'm not going to think about that right now.)
Even though I'm not as closely in tune with nature as I should be, I still sense the wheel in the sky turning toward spring. Just few weeks ago, I would have raced the sun after work, challenging it not to dip below the horizon before I reached the turn for the Memorial Bridge. Now, the sun is still suspended high in the sky when I go home.
Each morning earlier this winter, I noted what time the sun crested the horizon (through my rear view mirror). One morning, just as I was climbing the overpass near the eastern edge of Mandan and Josh Groban was singing "You Lift Me Up", the sun "came up like thunder," to quote John Mellencamp. What a moment!
Grace. To spot deer and wild turkeys along the river. To see giant birds soaring on the air currents (too bad they were turkey vultures, not - as I thought - eagles). To see spring-like melted-ice-cream clouds on a supposed winter's day.
Even the most punch-drunk drivers, passing unawares through Bismarck-Mandan, would have a hard time driving through this valley without marveling at its wonders. A few days ago, the north-facing slopes just west of my exit were striated with snow, just as geological formations are layered with deposits of coal and other minerals. Today, the snow had all but melted, leaving the hillsides bare.
I have noticed the subtle signs as well: The color contrast between the red willow branches and the snow, or the patterns the staghorn sumac makes against a snow-covered slope.

Sometimes my errands take me across the Expressway Bridge in the evening. If my timing is right, the sun turns the butt-ugly band of condominiums on the southeast side of the river into a city made of molten gold.

Lit by the setting sun in the above picture is the Veterans' Memorial Bridge along with the construction cranes for the new bridge. Four bridges span the Missouri River at Bismarck. This bridge, the old railroad bridge, the Expressway Bridge and the Grant Marsh Bridge. I take the Grant Marsh Bridge in the morning and usually take the Memorial Bridge home. When I started working in Mandan, I always took the Memorial Bridge. A year ago, engineers tested its footings and found they were crumbling. They temporarily closed the bridge and poured concrete into sleeves around the footings to stabilize them. That's when I started using the Grant Marsh Bridge. For a while after the Memorial Bridge had been declared safe again, I was afraid to drive on it. I've gotten over that, but I still only cross it in the evening. I still drive over the Grant Marsh Bridge every morning, just to enjoy the view, see what's new and clear my head before beginning another work day.

Giving much credit where credit is due, the attributed photos, all taken in and near Bismarck-Mandan in January and February, 2007, are Sky Spy photos from KFYR-TV. The photographers are:
Missouri River fog: Brian Austin, Mandan
Missouri River steam and Blue Skies, Ken Yetter, Bismarck
End of another day: Lauren C. Stewart, Mandan

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Snaps to Craig Ferguson for taking the high road - and I don't mean the one to Scotland - when it comes to the latest Britney Spears fiasco. Monday night, Ferguson told viewers of "The Late Late Show" that he has decided not to poke fun at Spears, who shaved her head last Friday. He has, he says, reconsidered making jokes "at the expense of the vulnerable".
"For me, comedy should have a certain amount of joy in it," said Ferguson. "It should be about attacking the powerful - the politicians, the Trumps, the blowhards." What comedy shouldn't be about, he adds, is attacking the vulnerable.
A recovering alcoholic, Ferguson says he worries that Spears may have troubles of her own. "Now I'm not saying Britney is alcoholic. I don't know what she is - alcoholic or not - but she clearly needs help."
I really admire Ferguson for declining to joke about Spears, even though I am no fan of hers. When was the last time she actually entertained anyone on stage rather than in the tabloids? Enough about Britney Spears, once and for all.
(And enough about Anna Nicole Smith. I think that an email I received the other day says it all: It showed three coffins draped with American flags, and at the foot of each were signs that said something like: Sgt. Anna, Private Nicole, Capt. Smith. That's who we should be remembering.)
But getting back to Craig Ferguson. I didn't actually see his comments on Monday night, but I do try to catch him as often as I can. He's the only late night host who's actually funny.
A very intelligent man, Ferguson recently wrote a bestseller. He interviews authors like he's actually read their books. His questions to all his guests are insightful, and he seems to actually enjoy visiting with them. His monologues are off the cuff but on the mark. While they may take wildly divergent paths, they always seem to always come full circle. A true storyteller in the old-fashioned sense of the word, he can weave a hilarious 15-monologue around having his new couch transported across the country.
Ferguson can also reveal a serious side. His eulogy to his father was obviously unscripted but one of the most touching moments I've experienced in television.
Ferguson revels in using the cheapest of props, especially wigs, in his skits. He is spot on with his imitations of Michael Caine, Sean Connery and especially Prince Charles, the twittiest twit in twittendom, with his terribly bad English teeth, big ears and obviously fake wig comb over. Instead of having gag writers, Ferguson will tell his producer the subject he plans on discussing that evening, and then have a nap in his office. I love how he addresses his audiences as "my wee cheeky monkeys" or "my frisky little ponies."
I might as well add that Ferguson a charming, handsome Scotsman with a lovely burr, a cheeky grin and a rapier wit,which no doubt add to his appeal. Also adding to his appeal, in my mind, is that he refused to dye his graying hair when requested to do so.
Ferguson admits that he was a hard-drinking, wild Glaswegian in his early days, spending most of the 70s in an alcoholic and drug-induced haze, but he's obviously learned a lot of lessons on that high road he's taking. I hope a lot of comics will take a cue from him and stop making jokes at the expense of the vulnerable. There's enough other material in the world. Leno, you're getting more and more vulgar and lascivious with each show. Conan, you're a one or at most a two trick pony. And Letterman, asking each guest, "How was your summer?" does not count as witty repartee. Sit up and take notice, you three. One of these days Craig Ferguson is going to get the ratings he deserves.
And besides, who can resist a guy whose rallying cry is "Let's Scottify!"


Artist: Mildred Lane
University of Nevada Collection
After analyzing hundreds of poems in college classes, I can still agree with the author of this poem:
By Archibald Macleish
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf
For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -
A poem should not mean
But be

Sunday, February 18, 2007




Last night I read in the latest UND Alumni Review that a developer (I'm not going to honor him by naming him) wants to turn the area north of the campus into a "Dinkytown" sort of neighborhood. Anyone who has been to The Twin Cities knows that Dinkytown is a charming little neighborhood near the University of Minnesota Campus. It's a sweet, low-key mix of little restaurants and smaller shops and service businesses. A Dinkytown cannot be created. It happens gradually over years and years. It is the antithesis of planned. An aerial photo accompanied the story. It featured the area where I used to live - UND's student trailer court. The English Coulee wound its sinuous way nearby. I used to take my dog, Beau, and a camera down to the walking path by the coulee. I'll never forget the day a great blue heron suddenly rose from the water, flapping its huge wings and startling me so much that I didn't even think of getting a photo. In the summer, teams used to play softball in the vast open field to the east, right outside my front window. It was heaven.


Now, there's an upscale housing develop-ment where the trailer court used to be. Right there, where I walked the coulee banks and waved to passing canoeists, where I picked wildflowers and snapped pictures of frost-covered weeds. Right there, where my friends and I flew kites as undergraduates; where, as a woman living in married student housing, I had a flower garden in the community vegetable plots. I am incensed. I have read dozens of stories of developments ruining nature, but this was my home, my little corner of the world. And all this happened without my being aware of it.


I have not been back to Grand Forks since about 1985, since our friends Fred and Sara moved to Arizona. I haven't seen the changes that came about after the flood ravaged the city in 1999. I'd like to visit the renovated Grand Forks; I don't mind those changes. But I, sentimentally, want the UND campus to remain the same as when I was a student there 40 years ago. I want the campus not to be bisected by an overpass (I did fight the project when I lived there, and we won that round.) I want the hockey arena to be the one that was built when I was a student (no, not the old barn) instead of the posh, overblown Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Why am I so bothered by these changes? Because my time at UND was GOLDEN, and I want those memories of it preserved as if in amber. It was a full, rich, stimulating period in my life that has not occurred before or since. Halcyon days, they were.
Coming from rural, isolated, northwest North Dakota, from a graduating class of 20 seniors, I came to a world of challenging lectures, foreign films, beautiful Gothic-style brick buildings and the taste of pizza and Mexican food (I had never had either.) I read plays by Ibsen, Strindberg and Synge. I went to student productions at Burtness Theatre and concerts at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.
I got over homesickness and my obnoxious Homecoming Queen roommate. I found a group of close friends who all belonged to the GDEs (god-damned independents). As a freshman I fell in love with a senior who courted me and then dumped me for my roommate.
A journalism/English major, I reveled in the heady world of the finest examples of English literature taught by the finest professors. I took creative writing and bloomed. I went to writers' conferences, newly created by Dr. Bob King. I was exposed to the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke. I learned to analyze a short story and write a concise paper.
One of my favorite haunts (because of all the classes I took there) was Merrifield Hall, the bastion of the Arts and Sciences. There, I took my English, French and journalism classes. (Only the journalism department was a disappointment.) I loved Merrifield's three flights of wooden staircases, its window seats, its marble steps, slightly hollowed from all those footsteps.
But there were so many other beautiful places on campus: The eternal flame by Twamley Hall, the mall crisscrossed by sidewalks and adorned with English-style bedding plants. The warm, welcoming lights of Chester Fritz Library. And the Coulee Bridge, with the requisite, oh so romantic weeping willow. As I lay in bed at night the gentle, reassuring tones of the carillon drifted over the campus.
I learned to live with two other girls in a dorm room; put in hundreds of hours of studying in the tower of Bek Hall. I grew intellectually and matured emotionally. I got thrown into the coulee
and marveled at spring in "The East" (oh, those double-flowering plums). I learned to love walking in rain and using an umbrella (I had never seen one in person - it was that dry where I came from).
When I was a senior, I met my husband-to-be at UND and introduced him to the Coulee Bridge. He loved it too. It was an idyllic time. In the ensuing 37 years, life has grabbed the two of us and shaken us around quite a bit. No wonder I want that long-ago UND to remain unchanged, hidden in the mists, like a Brigadoon of higher education.


North Dakota re-claimed its snow angel record on Saturday with 8,911 people flapping their arms and legs in the snow. I should have been there. I excused myself on the grounds that it wouldn't do my arthritic knee any good. Now I'm ashamed of myself because a 99-year-old woman showed up on her birthday and made her first-ever snow angel. And an 8-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. I am ashamed of myself.
There's no doubt that if they had done this 20 years ago, Kristen and I would have been there. If they had done it in 2000, Kristen would have been there, as well as Val, our Venezuelan foreign exchange student. I would have probably tagged along too, even if they wouldn't have let Mom be in the same row with them.
Houghton, MI, recently had to cancel its attempt for the snow angel record, ironically because of too much snow. But if they or anyone else ever beats our record, and they hold another catch-up event here, I'm showing up. no matter how old I am. I'm too embarrassed not to.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


At last fall's street fair, I broke down and bought a piece from an artist I have long admired. Not being able to afford her large pieces of art, I bought a six by six inch plaque. The background is in beautiful earth tones. On the left side, it's strung from top to bottom with copper wires, one bedecked with brown and gray stones and jewels. On the right is a sheet of hammered copper that bears this verse:










That's how I feel about winter today. How long will we have to endure winter? How long will it be until laughter returns? I always count down to April 15, a date arbitrarily picked by me, and it is usually spring-like on that day.

So from today, it is 57 days until the laughter comes back, until the earth unfolds her frozen arms and enfolds us in her warm embrace again.


This amazing photo was published in The Bismarck Tribune yesterday. These antelope were spotted near Bismarck, which is interesting because antelope are seldom seen this far east in North Dakota. (They were common in the northwestern corner of the state where I grew up, small bunches often approaching close to my little village of Larson.)
But what makes this photo amazing is its composition: the colors, forms and textures. It looks almost like one of Bev Doolittle's brown and white paintings in which she "hides" spotted horses in a camouflage landscape. It's just perfect, with its bands of light brown and dark brown foliage in white snow, with the white, medium brown and dark brown antelope "posed" right in the middle. I don't think a painter could have composed it better. Kudos to the savvy copy editor who spotted this gem and gave it a prominent place on the front page.
How many antelope are there? I count 8 heads, but there seems to be an extra rump as well, so I might be wrong.

Friday, February 16, 2007


I have been in the doldrums lately. Now, I do know that the doldrums is the calm band of water surrounding the equator, but I think someone in the frozen North can be in the doldrums too. Sailors of sail-driven ships became depressed after weeks of being becalmed in the doldrums, and it was a very real worry for them that they might die before the wind ever picked up.

I am in the WINTER Doldrums. I am certainly depressed, although I know that this winter isn't going to kill me, even if if feels as if I'm dying, and I know that if the damned wind dies down here, it just picks right up again.
But I have decided to get out of the doldrums by adding a little spice to my life and my blog by inserting some poems here and there. They may be poems I love, or poems I write. Who knows?

I discovered the following poem in the Dakota Student (or Dakota Stupid, as we called it) newspaper in - I think - about midwinter 1967-68, my freshman year. I cut it out and posted it on my closet door. It was accompanied by a black and white photo of a young woman cupping her arms around a stand of beach grass. I wasn't able to find a like photo, so I went with this one, which does match the tones of the original.

I can't believe I still remember this poem after almost 40 years. What's worse, I can't believe it's almost 40 years since I started college. But that's beside the point. Here is this beautiful poem, title unknown, author unknown.

I sang my harp on the sun's deck
Here at the water in the cool unblossoming year
All the day's time leaned into lengthening shadows
And the light notes clung at my hair roots
Like bird cries gathering.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I have given myself a (picture of a) big bouquet of yellow roses for Valentine's Day. I know I won't get any flowers or anything else from Dan, so I'll treat myself, if only via photo. It's been years and years since I've gotten flowers for Valentine's Day or any other occasion. And even if Dan were to get me roses or a rose, he'd get red roses, because after all this time he hasn't taken the hint that I like YELLOW roses the best.
My husband doesn't "believe" in Valentine's Day. He thinks it's just a big commercial ploy by florists and Hallmark to get his money. Hmmm. On Father's Day I might tell him I don't "believe" in that either, since it's just a big commercial ploy to get my money.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007




I'll have to admit that I am kind of disappointed with my Visual Journal class. It sounded so promising: "An imaginative journey into recording everyday events....a snapshot into time and space, of memory and history...a delicious variety of materials..."
The first class was taken up with the definition of what a visual journal is. The only trouble is that all three of us participants already knew what a visual journal is. We weren't there to do scrapbooking; we had something far more ambitious in mind.
This week, all we did was create our own giant color chips. I feel like I know the basics already, except I know that I am weak in composition. So I'm antsy to get beyond the basics and get to work!
I thought we would be doing journal pages in class by now. At the end of class last week, our assignment was to find images that showed how we were feeling each day, along with a word or a phrase to accompany the image. Tonight in class we all had some very interesting images, words and quotes to share. However, I was disappointed because I thought we would actually DO something with them in class.
I think I will do something with them anyway. These were my seven images for the week:
A woman floating in an eerie, green underwater world. My word: powerless. It's how I felt at work that day.
A black and white picture of an old woman with very poor posture standing in her yard in a shapeless apron. My word: Old. I feel very ancient when I am experiencing my joint pains.
A black cat with vivid green eyes, wearing a very ominous expression. My word: furious. It's how I felt toward someone that day.
A woman reading a book surrounded by pillows and blankets. My word: relaxed. That was my Saturday, when I read, watched DVDs, puttered around the house, napped, played on the computer.
A woman painting on the seashore. My word: creative. That's how I felt Sunday when I was blogging and gathering photos and words for my assignment.
An ad showing a tent in the woods, with an owl perched in a tree. The ad said, "I want my Serta!" My words: tired and owly.
A woman with a hilarious expression which I can only describe as frustrated, which was my word for yesterday. Last night, I could NOT get my printer to work after I changed ink cartridges. I was so frustrated I wanted to SCREAM!!!
As I look over this list of images, I see that my only good days this past week were Saturday and Sunday. Hmm, that says something, doesn't it? The best part of this visual journaling class may just be the emotional catharsis I find through it.


(Click on the photo to see detail)

Friday, February 9, 2007


This is an artist's rendering of his/her vision of Kristin Lavransdatter, probably as she would have looked on her wedding day. In a previous post, I "reviewed" the trilogy of Kristin Lavransdatter books, but in this post I am showing her picture because when I think of this fictional character, I think of the significance of her name in Norwegian genealogy. She is Kristin Lavransdatter, literally, the daughter of Lavrans. One of her sons, whom she named after her father, was called Lavrans Erlendson, because her husband's name was Erlend. (And woe to the parents who named their child after a living grandmother or grandfather!!)

Therefore, if I had lived in Norway, instead of being called Julie Fredericksen, the name I took when I married, I would be called Julie Forrestsdatter, after my birth father. Tracing back from present days, my husband would be called Daniel Earlson, and his father would have been named Earl Hanson. Well, not really. If I am correct in assuming that Danish names followed the same pattern, they would be Daniel Earlsen and Earl Hansen.

Obviously, it gets very confusing when the surnames change from generation to generation. My particular family history is even more confusing, with variations on the spelling of first names, surnames, and what I call "place" names, lacking the real word for this type of surname.

In the 1900 census, my maternal grandmother was listed as Julie Olsdatter Pladsen. Her father was listed as Ole Olsen Pladsen and her mother as Margrete Jorgensdatter Pladsen.

It gets more confusing. My grandmother was also known as Julia Wangen. In Norway, family names changed to match the farm on which they lived at the time! My ancestors lived first on the Pladsen (or Plassen) farm, then on the Wangen farm. In America, my grandmother was always called Julia, and though I was christened Julia, I was always called Julie! In my lifetime, I have been named Julia Marie Munro, Julie Marie Johnson (spelling and surname changed when I was adopted at the age of 12) and Julie M. Fredericksen.

My great- great-grandmother was known as Jorgine Hansdatter Wangen OR Vangen! And my great-grandmother Margrete was also known as Margaret. My great-great and great-grandfathers were both listed as Ole Olesen Pladsen, though one might have been called Ola.

It's enough to make a genealogist's hair turn gray! Good luck to Kevin when he searches the records in Norway this spring.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Pictured at left is my cousin, Kevin. No, he isn't a graveyard ghoul, just a generous genealogist. He's kneeling beside the tombstone of my Great-Great Grandmother, Jorgine Hansdatter Wangen.

I had not known about Jorgine until Kevin unearthed her. Oops, sorry, that was a really bad choice of words. Until Kevin researched our heritage, I should say.

At first I thought it incredible that neither my Grandma Julia, my Mom or my two aunts had ever mentioned Jorgine's existence. Then I did the math. Jorgine went to America eight years before Grandma was born, so she never even met her.

According to her obituary, Mrs. Wangen "was a woman possessed of the highest Christian character." At all times, it stated, "her kindly spirit pervaded those who knew her and endeared her to all acquaintances and close friends." I only hope that one of her great-great granddaughters (namely, me) will have such complimentary phrases written about her for her obituary.

Jorgine went directly to Mankato, MN, when she arrived in the United States in 1887, and lived there the rest of her life. How sad that Grandma and her family were never able to connect with such a close relative living so close to North Dakota.

To me, Jorgine's emigration is shrouded in mystery. Why did my great-grandmother leave Norway? Her husband had died in 1862; perhaps she could not farm the land alone. Kevin notes that the area of Norway my ancestors came from (Lesjaverk in the Gudbrandsdal Valley) had a severe famine in 1868 and had one of the highest rates of emigration in Norway. It's apparently a beautiful area, but not good farmland.

But why did Jorgine's son, my great-grandfather, Ole Olsen Vangen, stay behind? At least one of her children, a daughter, emigrated with her. But Ole continued to live on the farm, and he married my great-grandmother the following year. Perhaps he was already courting Margrete when Jorgine decided to emigrate, and Margrete might not have wanted to leave Norway.

Hopefully, Kevin may soon discover the answers to these questions. He's traveling to Norway in May, and I'm eager to find out what he learns there. I had always planned to research the genealogy of my Norwegian and Scottish ancestors, but I'm very happy to "allow" Kevin to perform that task. He's even promised to start researching the Munro side of the family. Like I said, he's a "generous genealogist". (More about my Wangen/Vangen heritage in posts to come.)

Note added Feb. 26:

I learned from my cousin Kevin that Jorgine's daughter emigrated before her. "The daughter apparently married well and they had a very nice (big for the time) stone house in Mankato. I can see why Jorgine may have wanted to move from the log house farm in Norway." I can see why too, so that's a little bit of the mystery cleared up for me.

Sunday, February 4, 2007


This little imp, a German Shorthair Pointer, came into our home on November 9, just in time to celebrate the 4th birthday of our Golden Retriever, Penny, on Nov. 11.

I admit it, I stole her name. I took it from two books I had read: "Amazing Gracie: A Dog's Tale," by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff, and "The Saving Graces," by Patricia Gaffney. I didn't think Dan would go for the name, but he did. All my friends think it is THE most charming name for a puppy.

So what is so amazing about Gracie? It's what she did for Penny. After we had to put our Cocker Spaniel, Lady, to sleep in October, Penny was beside herself with grief. Anyone who says that dogs don't mourn is wrong, wrong, wrong. Penny moped around and went into a general decline. She was listless and sad. In short, she was depressed. We decided that although it wasn't the best time for us to get a new puppy, we had to for Penny's sake.

We didn't expect what came next. In addition to bringing Penny out of depression, Gracie helped Penny regain her sense of play! From her first day at our house, Gracie took charge. Only seven weeks old when we got her, she was never the shy, retiring new puppy. Immediately, she began wrestling with Penny, and Penny "fought" right back. Gracie actually inflicted pain, biting Penny with her needle-sharp milk teeth. Penny, however, only "gummed" Gracie, never once biting her back. Gracie would come out of the fray wet, but always unscathed. Penny, however, got nipped on the legs, the ears, the snout. Her tail is somewhat bedraggled from being snagged so many times.

To this day, Penny is exceedingly patient and gentle with her new friend. In addition to wrestling, they love to play tug of war with a stuffed animal or a rag. They can amuse themselves for hours this way, and then it's time for a rest (see photo below).

One Saturday night I fell asleep on the couch. When I woke at 2 AM, I found the two dogs sleeping side by side, with Gracie's "arm" flung across Penny's back. Dan says he's gotten some good photos of the two cuddled in sleep, so I can't wait to get my film back tomorrow.

It's a good thing that Gracie has been so good for Penny, or I would have been tempted to get rid of her. She's been a terror for us, being in the the doggie equivalent of the Terrible Twos. She has drawn blood from both Dan and me, having nipped us hard on the ears. During the holidays, she broke a number of Christmas ornaments and decorations. She's pulled full bowls of soup and tubs of butter off the counter. She stole a whole platter of hamburger patties and would have devoured them if she hadn't been caught in time. She loves to chew paper plates, napkins, toilet paper, socks, underwear, the couch, newspapers, anything she can get out of the garbage, medicine bottles, Dan's ties....I could go on and on. The only thing "Saving Gracie" is that I know she will eventually outgrow this phase.

Besides, I admit it: Her future is secure with us, because I have fallen in love with her. Not a fan of short-haired dogs, I have come to love how warm bodied shorthairs are. When Gracie sleeps on my lap or snuggles next to me when I'm lying on my bed, she is such a cozy little bundle. She likes to sit beside me and lean into me so that I can pet her and speaking loving words to her. She gazes adoringly up at me. How can it not be love? She also loves to have her soft little tummy rubbed. Every morning when I am getting dressed she comes into the bedroom to have a little bit of Mom Love. Could there be any better way to start the day?


Friday, February 2, 2007


I don't expect this post to be a lengthy one. My computer desk is by the window with the air conditioner, and it isn't sealed properly. Anytime it is windy, the cold air comes seeping in, or - more appropriately today - blasting in.

Thank God I'm not living in the movie "Groundhog Day," or I might have to shoot myself. This is the coldest day of the winter so far. If I had to keep waking up to this day after day I don't know how long I would last. It's no coincidence that I picked a summertime groundhog photo. It makes me feel warmer for a second or two and gives me hope that I will once again see green grass.

At least I was able to stay warm and toasty at home. Because so many people are taking Presidents' Day as a float day, I decided to take my float day today. It goes without saying that I am extremely happy I did. The only time I got cold today was when I was trying to convince my Golden Retriever, Penny, to come back into the house. Gracie, the new puppy, had the sense to come in out of the cold, but not Penny. She could lie down on a snowbank and think she was in a sauna. She has a new version of her "throw the ball" game that's driving me nuts. Usually, she drops the ball by the patio door and dashes out into the yard, waiting for me to pick up the ball and throw to her. Now, she drops the ball as usual, but instead of waiting in the yard, she lurks at the top of the stairs. As soon as I open the door, she dashes back and grabs the ball before I can reach it. Needless to say, this is frustrating for me and extremely fun for Penny.

After work last night, I dreaded going to the grocery store. The temps were already low, the wind was biting, my car was frigid and I was tired. I forced myself to go anyway. Thank goodness I did, because I would have been without a car and food for the weekend. Dan had to use my car today, his car being without a working heater fan. I will graciously offer my car to him tomorrow too, because I am not venturing out anytime soon. Certainly not tomorrow, and hopefully not even Sunday (Can I use cold as an excuse not to go to a Super Bowl party?).

Channel 7's teaser for the evening news went something like this: "We North Dakotans are a hearty bunch, but today it's cold even for us." Ya think? It promises to be from -20 to -30 tonight, -40 to -50 wind chill. We have a saying here in North Dakota: "Forty below keeps the riff-raff out." Today, I think I'd gladly welcome a few more riff-raff in if I could trade them for about 80 more degrees. How bad can those riff-raff be, anyway?

Our mail wasn't delivered until 6:40 PM today. They say that neither rain or sleet nor hail can stop the postman from his appointed rounds, but maybe low wind chill factors do.

Oh, and by the way, out in Pennsylvania where Groundhog Phil lives, folks can count on six more weeks of winter (whether he sees his shadow or not.) In North Dakota, that translates into 10 more weeks of winter. Oh, joy. At least the mailman, when he finally came, brought me three brand new Netflix movies. "Well, it's hi, hi, hee, cocooning I will be."