Monday, April 30, 2007


(by Mickie Mueller)

Tonight is the Eve of Beltane, one of the two most important Celtic festivals of the year, or, as you probably know it, May Day. It is properly observed from sunset April 30 to sunset May 1.

On Beltane (or Beltaine) Eve and its counterpart, Samhain Eve (or Halloween), the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest. But unlike Samhain, when spirits of the dead roam the world, on Beltane Eve it is the fairies who are returning from their winter respite, carefree and full of fairy delight and mischief. Beware, tonight the Queen of the Fairies will ride out on her white steed to entice humans away to fairyland. If you hear the bells on her horse, turn your face away, or she may choose you!

More properly, Beltane is a Gaelic festival, celebrated by those in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. (Other Celts, like the Welsh, had similar celebrations). The name Beltane means bright fire, bale fire, or Fire of Bel (Bel or Belinos being the Sun God). Halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, this day marks the beginning of the bright half of the year.

Preparations for Beltane began with gathering flowers for the Maypole and for wearing on the body and in the hair. Young men went May boughing or May birching, gathering garlands of hawthorn (Mayflower) and rowan (mountain ash) to hang over doorways and windows. On the Isle of Man, the youngest child of a family would gather primroses to throw against the door of the house for protection.

From the woods, villagers gathered nine different types of sacred wood. From this wood, two giant bonfires, or need fires, were built on top of a hill. The villagers drove domestic animals between the two fires to purify and protect themselves and the animals, insure their fertility, and bring luck. People also jumped over the bonfires (hopefully after they had died down a bit) in a fertility ritual. In Scotland, boughs of juniper were added to the fire for purification and blessing.

The Beltane celebration honored life over death and celebrated the rebirth of the world. Above all, it was a fertility festival, a symbolic union of the God and Goddess, of the divine masculine and the divine feminine. A young virgin, often dressed in white with a crown of flowers, was chosen to be the Queen of the May. Her consort went by many names, including the Green Man, the May Groom, the May King, and Jack-of-the-Green, often dressed in green and decorated with leaves.

In Scotland, bannocks (or oatcakes), were passed around in a bonnet. One bannock had been blackened by the fire, and the person choosing the blackened bannock became The Fool. It was the hope that all misfortune would henceforth fall on The Fool and no one else. Poor Fool, he also had to jump over the bonfire three times.

After the fires died down, the youth of the village would slip into the woods to go "A-Maying", to act out in reality the symbolic joining of the God and Goddess. No wonder they sing about "The Lusty Month of May" in "Camelot".

May Day morning, the young people would emerge from the woods, perhaps mussed and disheveled, to dance around the maypole, gaily decorated with colorful ribbons, flowers, leaves and garlands. Flowers were put in baskets and left on doorsteps for those who were too ill or too old to participate in the festival. From that, we get our modern day May baskets.

Beltane was serious business for the Gaelic people. They believed that the wheel of the sky would not turn without their intervention, and they did everything in their power - with their fires, celebrations and rituals - to ensure that summer returned each year.

Beltane was celebrated in English villages up into the 1950s. The festivities came to include mummers' plays, Morris dancing, riding the hobby horse, feasting and drinking. Tonight, the Beltane Fire Festival on Colton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland, will attract 12,000 to 15,000 people.

There will be no May bonfires for me, in Edinburgh or Bismarck, and certainly no creeping into the woods to go "A-Maying." Instead, I will look at the nearly-full moon and play "Huron Beltane Fire Dance" by Loreena McKennitt a number of times. Since I can never listen to this music without dancing, I'll do a little springtime dance of my own. Beltane comes only once a year!

For a sample of "Huron Beltane Fire Dance," click on: On the right of the screen, under the photo of the "Parallel Dreams" CD cover, click on the audio symbol next to the song title.



In my previous post, I was being tongue in cheek when I wrote, "Oh to be in Bismarck, now that spring is here." It is a takeoff on Robert Browning's famous poem. Spring in Bismarck will never, never, ever equal spring in England (although I have never been there, I have read and dreamed about spring in England.)
Robert Barrett Browning
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 the noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower -
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!


by Gundula Jacobs
Spring is a series of firsts:
1. First barbecued chicken of the season (last night), accompanied by my husband's famous Fredericksen potatoes - sliced, sprinkled with herbs, dotted with butter, wrapped in foil and cooked on the grill.
2. First thunderstorm (last night). It was pitiful, as thunderstorms go, but the rain did settle the dust.
3. Lawns dotted with dandelions (dents-de-lion, or lion's teeth, in French). I loved the sight, probably because it wasn't my lawn they were covering. Like my mom before me, I always put my daughter's dandelion bouquets in a glass of water.
4. Finally, a glimpse of red and yellow tulips.
5. Newly-leafed trees.
6. Clouds of white plum blossoms.
7. Irises poking up by the driveway. I have gorgeous lavender blue irises whose stems are extremely sturdy.
8. And - ta daaa - saving the best for last, The St. Mary's Central High School Marching Band's first practice. I had forgotten that every spring, this band from a high school just a few blocks from my home practices in the neighboring streets. It used to be a wonderful background to getting ready in the morning, but today, it blasted me awake when I had no need to get up early. I woke up with a headache, and the band only aggravated it. Not only that, I found out something I never knew before. The band practices a SECOND time later in the morning.
The second round featured even more vigorous drum solos than the first, with a low booming drum beat that resonated perfectly with the throbbing in my head: Boom, throb....boom, throb....boom, throb.
Oh, it's grand to be in Bismarck, now that spring is here!
There was no more sleep, so I started googling jobs, and found one I would really, really like to have, so I hope you all pray for me, to God or your higher power, that I get it. I have until Wednesday to figure out how to do Microsoft Access, or even figure out what it is. It seems that whatever job I want to apply for, I am lacking knowledge of some sort of computer software. I already wrote that I flunked the 10-key test. For another job I applied for last week (and also would really like), it was PowerPoint and Photo shop.
Egad, I am from the days of overhead projectors and cut-and-paste newspapering. Not to imply that the Tribune's methods were outdated, but I didn't have to do layout there, just write. Now, it's Access, like some form of mysterious ancient code that I'm going to have to try to decode before the villains get to it. (Sorry, I just read "The Last Templar.") I want to tell my potential employers, "I can write it, the rest will come." (didn't Kevin Costner say something like that in "Field of Dreams"?) But of course, that's not what they want to hear.
Today I also made a trip to the library to do some research. I could do it at home but my printer doesn't work and I wanted to print out my research instead of enlarging and reducing screens, which makes me dizzy. Then, I visited my local Barnes & Noble, with a credit burning a hole in my pocket. I found a book set in 14th-Century England, "The Illuminator", by Brenda Rickman Vantrease, and a book set in modern day San Francisco, "Summer of Glorious Madness," by Christy Yorke." I spent a grand total of one cent.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Today is the first day of spring by my reckoning. When I walked outside this morning, I could SMELL spring. We've had 70- and even 80-degree days in Bismarck this year, but the ground hadn't warmed up yet. Today, for the first time, that wonderful smell. It's probably 95% new grass and damp earth, as a lot of things aren't blooming yet.

I have been reading other blogs written by residents of the southern states, and England. I have been so envious of their red buds, tulips, apple blossoms, daffodils and so forth. Finally, we have some things in bloom in Bismarck, although not many. Forsythia grows here, but not well, so bushes like the one above are scattered few and far between. The two almond trees by the old Jewish synagogue are also in bloom. I believe they are the only ones in town.

Other than that, we are still waiting. The tulip leaves are up, but there are no blooms, or even buds. The flowering crab apples are budded out, the lilacs, not yet.

This morning, I had an appointment to take some tests for a job. Since the building is on the outskirts of town, I was pretty sure I would hear a meadowlark and sure enough, they were singing joyously to the morn. I have never heard the much-lauded English skylark, but I can't imagine hearing a prettier song than that of the Western meadowlark. It's a lilting, trilling cascade of notes that always gives me a thrill.

As it turns out, I passed the typing test with flying colors, but flunked the 10-key test. That was hardly a surprise, as I have never 10 keyed in my life. What is surprising is that I came so close to passing. I will be able to go back in 7 days and test again, so I guess I will be doing a lot of practicing starting tomorrow. Thank goodness for Google. You truly can find anything you are looking for online, including 10-key tests!

I'm not starting my practice sessions until tomorrow, because I'm busy getting ready to host book club tonight. I made two no-bake cheesecakes - country blueberry and peaches and cream - from mixes I found at a local gift store. I am not a baker. My daughter's second grade teacher once asked her if her mom could make some bars for a class party. My daughter replied, "Well, I'm going to have to ask my Dad, because my Mom doesn't bake." True, absolutely true.

My book club friends make heavenly desserts. Orange sherbet in chocolate cups for Halloween, green St. Patrick's Day parfaits, Better-Than-Sex Cake. I could go on and on. So when I trundle out my crumbling, cracking, falling-apart desserts, I am usually apologizing like crazy.

Since my house isn't in the best shape either right now, the artist in my group graciously offered the use of the BAGA - Bismarck Art and Gallery Association - gallery in which to gather tonight. I can't wait. Our usual stimulating discussion will be even more stimulating since we'll be surrounded by beautiful art.

The reception area of the office I was in this morning was unusually busy. I saw dozens of people walk by, all with a purpose. I looked at them thinking, "They are all employed, and I'm not. Will I ever get a job?" It was a panicky moment of loss. But this afternoon, I'm remembering the meadowlarks, the forsythia and almond blossoms, the smell of spring. I'm looking forward to another great meeting of minds this evening with my soul sisters from whom I receive so much enrichment and nourishment. I guess I'm feeling what William Wordsworth described when he wrote, "Other gifts have followed, for such loss, I would believe, abundant recompense."

Two gifts for you on the "first" day of spring:

An excerpt from "Ode: Intimations of Immortality
from Recollections of Early Childhood"
by William Wordsworth
Then sing ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound!
We in thought will join your throng.
Ye that pipe and ye that play.
Ye that through your hearts today
Feel the gladness of the May
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour,
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind"

To hear the song of the Western meadowlark, click on this link:
The trill of notes plays three times, with space in between, so don't close the site too soon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


THAT letter came in the mail recently. You know the one. The one that says (insert your high school's name here) 40TH HIGH SCHOOL REUNION.

I COULDN'T have graduated from high school 40 years ago next month. I must have been swept up in a tesseract (which, as Madeline L'Engle explains in "A Wrinkle in Time," is a folding of the fabric of space and time). One minute, there I was reading "Rebecca" in study hall and the next minute I've been transported to the other side of the universe. I've been married almost 33 years and I have a daughter who's nearly 25. I'm composing an essay at a computer, not a typewriter, and the "wrinkles in time" show on my face. How can that be? I'm still in love with Paul McCartney, aren't I? Don't I still tune to CKCK Radio in Winnipeg at 4:00 PM every day when rock music takes over the programming? Don't I still curl my hair in super-jumbo rollers? I'm still skinny, aren't I? Aren't I? (Looks down at her body) Oh, noooooooooo!

At first, my reaction was going to be to toss the reunion information in the trash and forget about it. I haven't gone to any of my reunions, and I could count on one hand the number of times I've seen a classmate since graduation. Well, that's not quite true. Every once in a while I encounter Tim Fay, my junior and senior prom date, in the aisles of K Mart or Wal Mart, usually accompanied by one or two of his four red-headed sons. We always have a good chat. God bless his mom. I'm sure she was the one who picked out orchids for me to wear to prom -twice. I was the only girl who had orchids, to be sure.

I turned my back on high school the minute I walked out the door after giving the valedictory address during Friday night's graduation. Saturday I cut off my long hair. Monday morning I started a job - a real job at a newspaper - at the invitation of the editor. I was going to blow that hick town and make a name for myself. Those kids I graduated with? Forget them. They were mean to me.

But this year I just might go, because I've had a change of heart.

Oh that I, at the tender age of 17, could have had the wisdom and maturity of my 57-year-old self. Those kids weren't mean to me. They didn't pick on me or bully me. The worst they might have done was ignore me. I think I saw them through the distorted mirror of my insecure self. They couldn't possibly LIKE someone like me.

Heck, they probably couldn't figure me out. The acknowledged class brain. A bookworm. Yes, I read "Rebecca" in study hall. And "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre" and "The Return of the Native" and "Les Miserables." I was tucked up into myself as cozily as one could get in study hall, and I tuned out the world. How could anyone have approached me even if they wanted to?

I LIKED diagramming sentences, drawing amoeba and learning that the assassination of the Archduke of Sarajevo started a chain reaction that led to World War I. How weird is that?

I saw myself as I thought others saw me, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks with a not-quite-functional mother and a dad who wasn't my real dad. Inside, courtesy of all my reading and a rich fantasy life, I was a fairy changeling, switched out to live in reduced circumstances when I was meant to be an English Lady, newly arrived like Mrs. De Winter to take my rightful possession of Manderly.

I once froze up in French class when our instructor asked each of us to name the color of his/her bedroom. Just a simple exercise in rudimentary French, but to me an exercise in humiliation. I immediately flashed on the picture of my "bedroom." It was the living room of our one-bedroom house. We four kids slept in the living room - the two boys on the fold-out couch and my little sister and I on a twin daybed. "Bleu," I hurriedly mumbled, averting my eyes to avoid more questions.

Until I was a senior, I wasn't invited to a sleepover at someone's house. But to be fair about it, I didn't ask anyone to stay with me. I would NEVER have invited anyone to share that cramped, tiny, messy space.

I see now that circumstances came together to color my high school world. I went to a one-room country school in Larson, ND, where I thrived. When the teacher wasn't teaching my grade, I could go find a book from the (meager) library. Engrossed in a book, I was lost, utterly absorbed, in Armstrong Sperry's "Call It Courage," in "The Water Babies " and "Caddie Woodlawn." When I felt like listening to another class, I did, which probably reinforced the learning I already had. Occasionally I helped the younger kids. (In truth, I would sometimes impatiently grab the pencil from their hands and do the work myself.) After lunch, we would practice penmanship while the teacher read to us. No wonder I have such excellent handwriting and a love of literature.

In 7th grade, it was time to move on to the "big house", otherwise known as the high school, the red-brick edifice that was the tallest building in Columbus, ND. 7th grade was rough. Kids from three country schools tried to blend in with town kids who had known each other since first grade.

Every morning when the high school came into view, my stomach flipflopped. When I had to read aloud, my voice trembled and shook. Thank God - again - for Mrs. Loucks, a wonderful, wonderful teacher who ignored the shaky voice and recognized my talents. She was my champion and cheerleader for many, many years after I left CHS.

I was an anomaly, neither a country kid or city kid. The town kids had piano lessons and Girl Scouts. The country kids had 4-H. I was the "In Between Kid." I lived in the village of Larson four miles from Columbus. By the time I got on the bus, all the good seats were taken. I had to walk to the back of the bus, no one moving over for me, everyone glaring at me, feeling all the time like Rosa Parks. (My God, how dramatic I was. My situation had nothing to compare to Ms. Parks' valiant struggle.)

So what if I royally flubbed my cheerleading tryout. I wasn't a cheerleader. I wasn't being true to myself. So what if Miss K. didn't let me be librarian in my senior year? So what if the annual staff left out (on purpose, I was positive at the time) all my accomplishments and achievements. Memory is selective, isn't it? I forget that my classmates once threw me - ME - a dance to celebrate the fact that I had won the regional spelling bee. All those stupid grudges (but that annual stuff really did hurt.)

I remember one time when our health teacher conducted a class survey asking students to rate other students. I got the lowest rating in the class. Now, get this, it was only one kid rating one other kid, not a mass rating, but I was so hurt I went home bawling to my mother. Poor Mom, sympathetic but having no clue what to do, certainly not going into town (she didn't drive) and bawling out the health teacher. That wasn't Mom.

As I said, Mom didn't drive and my stepdad was gone long hours at a job that required constant traveling. When my gym teacher suggested that I try out for gymnastics club, I had to demur, as honored as I was. However, when it came to writing for the paper, I insisted. I felt the call to write and I had to stay after school for paper staff no matter what the cost. That meant spending many hours in the Columbus laundromat waiting for my stepdad to pick me up. While the dryers whirred, I once again was engrossed, this time in the politics of the ballrooms and battlefields of "War and Peace."

By the time I was a senior, I had received a measure of forbearance, if not acceptance. The kids were growing up, especially the girls. I had fun with my "country kid" classmates as we tooled around town and countryside, not quite willing to go home after play practice. We had picnics at Wildwood Park and the senior girls had sleepovers in a grain bin and in an open field (I said it was North Dakota, didn't I?) Perhaps if we had had about three more years of high school, I might have been one of the in crowd. But of course if I had today's wisdom I wouldn't have cared.

Columbus High School no longer exists, having been bulldozed into oblivion. Only the gym is left, I am told. The kids are bussed to that dreadful new North Dakota entity, the consolidated high school. Another former Columbusite told me that all the buildings on one side of Main Street imploded and fell down one day.

But as Elton John says, "I'm still standing." This time, if I don't go to my reunion, it will be due to finances only. It would be fun talk about how truly weird Miss K. was, about why we didn't like Mr. Eagle Beak, and how our none-too-bright social studies teachers were hired because they were primarily coaches (except Mr. G.). How some kids t-p'd the giant Christmas tree in the middle of Main Street, and no one ever tattled. How Mr. King always teased Bonnie Steffenson, who, I learned to my shock, died in an automobile accident.

A couple of others are gone too, but it would be nice to talk to the guy who was Mr. Bad Attitude in high school but, according to his letter in the the last reunion catalog, turned his life competely around. It'd be fun to see Babette, the gal who has had an adventurous life in Alaska, or the guy we nicknamed "Puff" (from his character in a school play and no reflection on his masculinity). I'd even like to visit with those of us who stayed in North Dakota, including Mr. Tim F. and me, still standing and still living the good life in Bismarck. As they say, there IS life after high school.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Last week was a week of peaks and valleys for me - one day hopes were raised, the next day they were dashed. But one of the high points was definitely a package from SCOTLAND! I really wouldn't have cared what was in the package as long as it came from Scotland, but my "new" cousin Shirl sent me some wonderful things from the Scottish Highlands, where the members of my Clan Munro came from and still live.

In the background in the photo above is a blue and white wall hanging of Caithness and Sutherland, the two northern-most counties in Scotland. There was also a big silk Scottish thistle, a fridge magnet, a pin of the Scottish flag, and a coaster that says "Lang May Yer Lum Reek." To Americans, reek means smell or stink so maybe Shirl was wishing "Long May Your Feet Stink." However, my niece Lisa, knowing my penchant for all things Scottish, had long ago sent me a small English-Scottish phrase book she found at a rummage sale. In there, I found that "Lang Your Lum Reek" means "Long May Your Chimney Smoke".

In an email today, Shirl elaborated that this is an old Scottish proverb that implies, "May you always have a fire in your hearth, may there always be food on your table and may there always be welcome for a stranger." I was delighted to add a SCOTTISH proverb to my repertoire of Irish sayings.

Shirl also sent a calendar and bunch of brochures and pamphlets about the area, so now I am drooling over Scottish wildflowers and cultivated flower gardens; highland stags, grouse and trout; misty moors and lofty mountains; Highland Stoneware (, and even the big-horned shaggy red Scottish cattle. I so much want to visit the standing stones of the Shetland and Orkney Isles, just off the northern tip of Scotland. I want to climb the (low) mountains and descend the valleys. I want to see the lights of Inverness. I'd even venture down to the Lowlands to take a look 'round Edinburgh, walk the Royal Mile, see Edinburgh Castle and pay a visit The Palace of Holyroodhouse, residence of my old friend Mary, Queen of Scots.

One of the presents was in a gift bag from Dunrobin Castle, about a mile from Golspie, where Shirl lives. Of course I had to immediately google this marvelous French-influenced castle and its lovely grounds.


Of course most of all I want to visit Shirl, her family, and other Munro relatives. But, I doubt I'll ever get there. Dan and I had actually planned to go to Scotland on our 25th anniversary, but we had what you might call a "Reversal of Fortune" and never made it. But if we had gone we wouldn't have known about Shirl and the other relatives anyway. A month before our 25th anniversary, Dan had a heart attack and by the time the anniversary rolled around he was still feeling very fragile. We made it as far as Deadwood, SD, to celebrate. What a far cry from Scotland!
Our 35th anniversary is in two years, but I'm pretty sure we won't make it by then. But we could shoot for our 40th. I can dream, can't I?

Saturday, April 21, 2007


The small print reads:
"Bullies attack the best and brightest employees, eroding their self-esteem and dignity. They demoralize the departments they work in, and undermine creativity and joy. They jeopardize their employer's reputation and put them at risk of liability. They disrupt service to customers and diminish the value to shareholders. The serious consequences of mobbing are very real and hurt us all. It's time to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH."

I learned two things Friday. One is that I will be awarded unemployment compensation, as it was determined there was no misconduct involved when I lost my job. Well DUH! But I had to pretty much prove it to the the u.c. people before I won out. I also learned that North Dakota is a "fire at will" state, meaning if you do not have a contract, your employer can fire you for good cause, bad cause, or NO CAUSE AT ALL. As one source states, your employer can fire you if you wear green and green gives her a headache.

I know that if my wonderful former supervisor Marilyn hadn't recently retired I would still be at my job, moving right along at 9 years plus. Marilyn was my boss for 8 years and 9 months of that time. But there was a small part of me that knew that once Marilyn was gone I was a goner too. Once I learned our department was being transferred to our sister office, I was afraid - very afraid - because I had already heard stories about the person who would eventually become my supervisor. Her reputation had preceded her.

I am a victim of a toxic work environment and workplace bullying, and right now I'm checking out what legal recourse I have. If I lived in England, Canada or Australia I'd have an excellent chance at recourse, because they have better laws against this no-longer-tolerated problem.

Please don't call me disgruntled. As Steve Carell in "The Office" would say, I am "gruntled, very gruntled." Even considering that have I lost my livelihood and my health insurance, and will likely be discriminated against in the job market because I am 57 years old, I am happy.

I'm happy that I'm no longer throwing up in the bathroom every morning before I go to work because I'm so stressed out. Happy because I will no longer be in an office where the tension is so palpable that it's an almost a tangible object. Happy because I will no longer have to wonder if I am facing Dr. Jekyll or Mrs. Hyde today, happy I will no longer have that agonizing wait for the other shoe to drop (and it always did). I'll no longer fear for my emotional safety and I'll no longer be enduring psychological violence.

I'm happy to be away from a boss who holds different people to different standards, who berated and belittled my department and my supervisor on a daily basis. I no longer have to face temper tantrums and childish behavior. No longer will my questions be called stupid. I'm happy that my former supervisor is no longer there to have her 24 years of experience and vast knowledge of the field denigrated at every turn and her opinions undermined and dismissed. (Her husband reports that she "hasn't quit smiling" since she left.)

I'm happy to not be around a boss who is a hypercritical, nitpicking, moody, grouchy, volatile and mercurial control freak. A boss who calls her style of management authoritative, when it is in fact just plain mean. A boss who makes Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada" look good.

I do worry about my friends who are still being victimized. I worry about my friend with the stress-related intestinal ulcers, my friend who goes home and cries at night, my friend who's been there 30 years and has been passed over for many promotions. Oh, yes, I was not the only victim, not by a long shot. Because I was a highly productive worker who made few mistakes, I never had to face what some of my co-workers did - being severely chastised (in front of their peers) and even demoted for their mistakes while others making the same mistakes got off scot free. I never had my personality torn apart, analyzed and found wanting. Unlike another employee, at least the supervisor never told me "I have nothing good to say about you."

In fact, sometimes I could sit back and relax for a while because someone else was in the hot seat. Someone else was the scapegoat of the week. There is just one thing I wish I had done differently at work, and that is to stand up for another fellow employee and friend who was incessantly being picked on. Instead, I sat there and kept my mouth shut like a coward, worried about my own job. I hope I'm never that cowardly again.

The ones who are still there are the unfortunate ones. They're the ones who have to work with Miss Junior Boss, who kisses up the ladder while -issing on the ones below her. They're the ones who are terrified to make complaints because even a legitimate complaint about the boss' favorite will be dismissed. They're the ones who will soon be yelled at for doing something wrong that they didn't even know was wrong. They're the ones who will see the "young bloods" promoted over them yet again. They'll be the ones wondering when the next tongue lashing will come. They'll be the ones who'll only feel it's safe to breathe again when the boss walks out the door.

Like I said when I left, "Glad to be gone."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


APRIL 16, 2007

(Jesus Wept by Erik Hollander)

Saturday, April 14, 2007


I can't believe I am starting a second post today with "I can't believe." But I truly can't believe that when I was naming people for the "Thinking Blogger Award," I forgot about Jason Mraz. Maybe it's because I haven't visited his site lately. Maybe because I've been caught up in the wonderful world of lady bloggers.
If you're thinking you don't know Jason Mraz from Adam, you are wrong. He's a pop/rock star who usually wears a goofy grin and a red cap turned sideways. If you are an American and have a radio, you have heard the song "The Remedy" (better known as "I Won't Worry My Life Away"), his hit from a couple of years ago.
You only have to listen to the lyrics of "The Remedy" or "Word Play" to know that Mraz is a master of word play. As with his songs, his blog radiates with intelligence, insight and beautiful writing. I'll never forget the words he wrote upon the death of Hunter S. Thompson. (Unfortunately for anyone who wanted to read them, Mraz' blog (or more properly Journal) no longer goes that far back.)
He is a student of chakra meditation, salsa dancing, Sanskrit, Scrabble (of course) and surfing. He actually researches topics before posting about them. Occasionally he is a little scatological and/or silly ("How much Coke can you drink before your pee turns brown?" he posits in one blog.) By the way, his named is pronounced mih-RAZ, not Mr. Az or Mr. A-Z (although he has fun with this). He is funny and serious in turns, but always thought provoking.

Please check him out at

And please check out his video for "The Remedy." You gotta love a guy who wears bunny slippers and drives a car full of chickens.


I can't believe I forgot to post about this until now. Denny Duquette came back! Well, not really Denny Duquette, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the actor who portrayed the late, great Denny Duquette on "Grey's Anatomy."
Thursday night's "Grey's" special episode was hosted by Morgan. OK, I know I am going to sound like a teenybopper now, but I couldn't stop looking at his handsome smiling face and listening to that warm drawl. "Grey's" fans loved Denny so much that they clamored to have him come back from the dead. Thursday's episode was the writers' answer (plus a cameo in a recent episode in which Meredith "dies" and sees Denny and others from beyond the pale).
Actually, I'm not behaving like a teenybopper, because the teenies wanted Izzy to get together with Alex. Alex? That cad, that lowlife, that uncaring, insensitive jerk! (He has improved now that he's gotten together with the ex-Mrs. Dr. McDreamy.)
I think the writer's answer was the best one. How do you bring a character back from the dead unless you go the Patrick Duffy "his death was just a dream" route on "Dallas." Bringing Denny back as his twin brother would also be lame. No, let Denny be dead, and show the devastating effects of grief, sorrow and mourning over a truly loved person. His death undid Izzy, for a time.
Why did everyone (except the teenyboppers) love Denny? Why weren't viewers willing to let him go? Because he was the ideal man. The head writer says, in fact. that he was HER ideal man. A mature man, a true man - sweet, kind, warm, funny. The chemistry between Morgan and Katherine Heigl, who plays Izzy, was real. As one viewer wrote, Denny blended "warm charisma with unbridled masculinity." He was strong, but also, as a patient awaiting a heart transplant, very fragile.
Part of Denny's character came from the writers, of course. The rest came straight from Morgan. The fact that fans loved Denny so much is testament to his good acting. Poor Morgan. His character was killed off in "Supernatural" too. He is a ghost/memory in "Weeds." Let's give Morgan his own TV series (not as Denny) where his character isn't killed off. Or let's give him some leading roles in movies. I'll watch!


"Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." (Margaret Mead)
Mead's comment is shown at the end of the Nickelback video, "If Everyone Cared." The video showcases single people who have changed the world: Bob Geldof ("Live Aid"), fighter against world hunger; Nelson Mandela, fighter against Apartheid; a single committee, organizers of Amnesty International; Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner and organizer of the peace marches in Northern Ireland.
"If everyone cared, and nobody cried,
If everyone loved, and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
Then we'd see the day when nobody died"
But what if everyone started smaller than that? What if this week we all committed ourselves to showing loving gestures at home, to zipping the lip against saying hurtful things? What if we swallowed our pride and turned the other cheek at work or in the marketplace? What if we shared something small with someone?
What if we stopped lying? (Except for the little white lies that are intended to PREVENT hurt.) What if we not only stopped lying? What if we told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, for just once? What if we stopped lying to ourselves? What if we committed a Random Act of Kindness? Just one?
If we set a limit of just one week, could we do it? I've been thinking about this and have been practicing it already for a few days now. Can I make it seven days? Can you?
So far, I have told the truth to myself about something about me (that I'd rather keep private for now). I have shared something small and inexpensive - my time - with a friend in the hospital. I have turned the other cheek when the lady at Job Service bawled me out (for having a four-page resume. It's been 11 years since I looked for a job. Who knew?)
Maybe I'm no Bob Geldof. Maybe we can't change the world at large, but maybe we can change our small world. Who is up to the challenge?

View Nickelback video at:

Thursday, April 12, 2007


My friend Jude (a non-blogging friend from Bismarck), sent me an email this morning, accompanied by the lovely picture above.
Jules - My thought for today.
"There is no such thing as "friendly fire."
Your duty is to take care of yourself,
so do what you have to do."
This is the reason Jude is one of my Anam Caras - a true soul friend. With true friends like her, it doesn't matter who your enemies are, because your soul friends will help you defeat them, even if only in your own mind. Thank you, Jude, for sending me a thought you instinctively knew that I needed today. And in turn, I want to send it out to others who need take care of themselves and do what they have to do.
(By the way, her real name is Judy, which she doesn't like but I do (though I get called Judy a lot), and she has taken to calling me Jules. And I think she should blog, as she is a marvelous storyteller. So far though, she won't take my advice!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Oh shoot, I thought this picture would print larger.
It says, "I am a nice person. Come closer."

Am I nice person, or not? Am I good, am I kind? I always thought I was, but I have been questioning it lately, especially after I lost my job. I think I'm a nice person who didn't deserve what I got. In my view, I'm an example of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People."
I know I am nice to the underdog. There have been a couple of people at work who were mistreated and/or shunned by the other staff members. One was a teenage helper whose personality and dress came in for ridicule, and another a temp who looked just like she was: a woman worn down and beaten by her life. I went out of my way to be nice to those people, and when the teen left (both were unceremoniously dumped), she slipped me a note that said, "Julie, thanks for helping me. You are a good person."
I was once eating in a hospital cafeteria when I saw an old man struggling to put on his jacket. The way he was weaving around, some might have thought him drunk. I helped him with his jacket, and he was so thankful he almost cried. He told me he had a medical condition that affected the way he walked and moved. So at least there are some people who think I am good, or nice, or kind.
I found two "Nice Person" tests on the Internet. I scored a 3 on the site, which means I am a "Very Nice Person." However, it was a very short test. On the 100-question test on site, I scored 86.0% "in the niceness domain" and am "probably a really nice person or, a liar." Well, I like to think I was telling the truth. But I don't think this was a very reliable test, as many of the questions were along this line - Had I:

Stolen from or beat up a small child?
Put someone in a dumpster?
Purposely ruined someone's clothes?
Killed an animal or person?
Poisoned someone or set them on fire?
Set a house on fire?
I think you see the trend here. I think this quiz was written by the "nicest" prisoner in the cell block. I also think it was quite tongue in cheek, as one of the questions asks if I had ever "tortured someone in a dungeon."
I always thought I was a practitioner of the "Minnesota Nice" rule, which also extends to North Dakota. (Minnesotans just coined the phrase first, the show offs.)
People who practice "Minnesota Nice" are friendly (even clerks), they ask "How are you?" and mean it, they don't get impatient if you hold up a line when you can't find the right change, they allow you to budge into traffic, etc. etc. They carry things for you, they open doors for you. Minnesotans are world renowned for their generosity, their charitable activities and donations, their hospitality and courtesy to others. Minnesotans file fewer civil lawsuits than people in other states.
There are a few particular categories of "Minnesota Nice" that I and my book club friends instantly recognize, as a lot of us are of Scandinavian descent. Scandinavians, it is well known, offer you food and drink multiple times. My Grandma was happiest when she could fill your tummy and put slippers on your feet. She thought if your feet were warm, your whole body was warm. I was warm alright, enveloped in the warmth of her love. It's the first thing my husband noticed about her when he met her.
Scandinavians are notorious for prolonging good-byes. One couple will say, "Well, we'd better be going," and the host will bring up something new to keep them there awhile. Then, when you finally get out to the car, they lean in the window and talk some more. After you pull away, they stand in the street, waving (I'm talking about grownups here.) My friend Jude actually did this (in the driveway, not the street) after a particularly rousing book club.
And Scandinavians are nothing if not tactful. If they see something - say a painting - they won't say what's really on their mind ("Uffda, it looks like the bottom of a chicken coop."), they'll say, "That's interesting. (Don't like it.)", or "That's different. (Can't stand it.)" It's like damnation with faint praise.
Ryan, on the blog "Rambling Rhodes," explains M.N. very well: "There's a rule here in Minnesota, unspoken and unwritten though it may be. It is: no matter how angry, how frustrated, irritated or bent out of shape you may be regarding the actions of others, you must stoically remain silent and steadfastly refuse to show any displeasure whatsoever. 'Oh, you ran over my foot? Twice? With a train? No problem. Off you go, you little scamp. Godspeed and good health to you (cheery wave).' You can always tell when you're dealing with a non-native Minnesotan, because they end up speaking their mind, which is just a horrifying concept to a Minnesotan. 'You said what you think? How RUDE!'"
I personally think most people have who have experienced Minnesota Nice would rather experience it than "California Cruelty" or "Mississippi Mean" or "Rhode Island Rude." Others, however, wish for more to-the-point behavior. If everyone - not wishing to offend - refuses to argue, some ask, how can you have intellectual discussions? Are people who practice Minnesota Nice acting like doormats? Aren't they justified to get angry if someone is truly mistreating them?
Some say Minnesota Nice is just a facade. On the website's forum, one writer posited that while you may find a lot of nice people there you won't find a lot of friendly ones. "Minnesotans," she says, "by and large have their circle of friends and family and aren't always interested in adding to it." Wow! Change that to Bismarck, ND, and that's what I've experienced in some circles.
Another participant in the forum thinks that nice versus friendly is a good thing. "Minnesota Nice means we are friendly to a point: We will wave and say hi, give directions, etc., but will keep our noses out of your business unless you ask for advice."
The most damning argument against Minnesota Nice is this, from "Minnesota Nice is a pattern of non-conformist, passive aggressive behavior. It is a manifestly dysfunctional foundation for relationships."
In fact, in my research I found many, many correlations between the phrases Minnesota Nice and Passive Aggressive. And that has opened a whole can of worms for me. But that's fodder for another post.


(Click on pictures to see larger images)

There is always tweaking that could be done, errors to be avoided in the future. That uphill writing has to go, and stamping so hard that part of the rubber backing stamps too. Emily's picture is too dark - there should be something dark to balance it on the left side. Is it finished yet, or did I do too much? I use too many pretty, manufactured things, not enough natural things. (In my defense I am trying to use up all the materials I purchased during my short-lived scrapbooking days.) There are ink blotches and glue splotches. But still. I am CREATING. There are 16 pages in this accordion book. Perhaps by the time I finish the final two I will have approached the artistic vision I had in my mind. And perhaps not. But there are other projects too, where I may be able to be more spontaneous and less anal retentive. Maybe I can try those watercolors and pastels. And how about that branch with buds that I found in a store's parking lot. Before I could think about it, I stopped my car, scooped up the branch and put it in my backseat. (I wonder what my husband thought when he drove my car?) Those buds. I'm sure, are going to find their way into one of my projects soon.


Above are the two pages comprising my final project for my Visual Journaling class, featuring Emily Dickinson's poem, "Hope". (They are rather more like collages than visual journal pages.) Both had white borders, which I could not fit onto the scanner, and each has strips of writing on the bottom and one side, which cannot fully be seen.
Although I had a great deal of satisfaction doing these, I am not totally pleased. I am happy with my choice of 3-D elements and my use of color, but I know I still have work to do when it comes to composition.
While this project was still in the planning stage, I was telling my instructor that I was having a really difficult time winnowing down my final selection of materials. "Don't stop with two pages", she told me."Do more!" Therefore, I started work on an accordion book featuring the same theme and similar materials. I will post some of the finished ones in my next post.

Monday, April 9, 2007


Lila from "Indigo Pears" has selected me for the Thinking Blogger Award. I am terribly honored, being so new to the blogging world. I didn't even know what a meme was before now. (To learn more, google Thinking Blogger Award.)
I almost fell over when Lila chose me, because I think of myself as being more in tune with my emotional side rather than my intellectual side. I AM an intelligent person, having graduated from college Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude. But when I'm around true intellectuals, I feel quite inferior. I'm much more comfortable with the written word. When I'm speaking, the words don't come out the way I want them to.
That's why this selection is such an honor. In turn, I am to name five other bloggers who make me think. It took me several days to complete my list, not because I couldn't think of anyone, but because it was so hard to narrow them down to five. But here they are:

1. Misty Mawn (
2. Nina Bagley (
3. Alexandra S. (
4. Kathryn (Katie) Kendrick (
5. Liz Elayne (

Lila's blog (a previous Thinking Blogger Award winner), is a must read for me everyday. And there are two more blogs that I had been reading religiously and would have put on my list but Lila had already chosen them. They are:

1. Mrs. Pom (real name?) at Pomegranates and Paper (
2. Daisy Lupin (


I finished reading "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday. I can't believe that I have only read one book so far in April, but I have been busy looking for work, connecting with my newly-found Scottish relatives, and - yes - blogging. But if I had to stop at only one book for the month, I'd be happy. I ordered it thinking it was going to be a pleasant travelogue. And it is. Gilbert is a superb writer. She could pen fascinating essays from Siberia, the Sahara or even the Antarctic. It is truly a "couldn't put it down" book. But "Eat, Pray, Love" is so much more.
After a devastating, long-drawn-out divorce, an on-the-rebound failed love affair and subsequent depression, Gilbert decides to take a year to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia (specifically Bali). She planned to explore pleasure (through food) in Italy, devotion (by living at an ashram in Indian) and a combination of worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence in Bali. As I read it, I found myself earmarking the book, something I don't even do while reading my book club books.
Little did I know that while Gilbert was exploring her spirituality, I was exploring mine. For me, it was literally a self-help book (and I never buy self-help books because they do nothing for me.) In her pages I found peace, serenity, contentment, release from pain, succor, call it what you will, for a difficult situation I'm enduring right now.
I'm going to print some passages from the book here, because they are ones that spoke to me. But I think everyone who reads it will find something to meditate upon. (I will leave the passage about soul friends for another post.) I HIGHLY recommend this book.
Page 120: "I honor the divinity that resides inside me." (Me: God is in me. God is love, therefore I must love myself. I AM good, I have worth, I am someone, I am not to be taken lightly. I may have overstepped the Yogi's concept a bit, but isn't the purpose of any text to take your thoughts to the next step?)
Page 178-179. "I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore.....A harbor of course is a place of refuge, a port of entry. I pictured the harbor of my mind - a little beat-up, perhaps, a little storm-worn, but well situated and with a nice depth. The harbor of my mind is an open bay, the only access to the island of my Self (which is a young and volcanic island, yes, but fertile and promising). The island has been through some wars, it is true, but now committed to peace, under a new leader (me) who has instituted new policies to protect the place....You may not come here any more with your hard and abusive thoughts, with your plague ships of thoughts, with your slave ships of thoughts, with your warships of thoughts--all these will be turned away....This is a peaceful harbor, the entryway to a fine and proud island this is only now beginning to cultivate tranquillity...."
Page 251: "The [Balinese] child is taught from the earliest consciousness that she has these four brothers with her in the world wherever she goes, and that they will always look after her. the brothers inhabit the four virtues a person needs in order to be safe and happy in life: Intelligence, friendship, strength and (I love this one) poetry. The brothers can be called upon in any critical situation for rescue and assistance. When you die, your four spirit brothers will collect your soul and bring you to heaven."
Page 260: "...I also keep remembering a simple idea my friend Darcey once told me--that all the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people. Not only the big global Hitler-'n'-Stalin picture, but on the smallest personal level....The search for contentment is therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself, but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people."


I went to the antique show on Saturday and salivated over the vintage Easter items. There was a yellow and white papier mache rabbit for $32.00, a chalk ware rabbit for $35.00 and a couple of papier mache Easter eggs for $35.00 each. Since I don't have that kind of money this year, I came away with a few $1.00 Easter postcards, like the one shown in my previous post.
I have quite a large collection of vintage Easter items from previous years. I have gotten rid of all my cutesy Easter stuff and only display the vintage items, or reproductions thereof. The best ones were made in the early 20th Century in Germany, up until the war stopped exports to the U.S.
I love the rabbits with clothing, like the proper gentleman shown below. I really like vintage Easter scrap (scrap is colorful chromolithographed images printed on cardboard). And I adore vintage chenille chicks. I used to save my pennies so I could go to the five and dime store and buy ones similar to those pictured below, but with feather headdresses. The resin chick shown above is reproduced from a vintage Easter postcard. I'm especially drawn to Lefton chicks and bunnies made to look like chocolate rabbits. The vintage items can be found on EBay, but they are expensive because they are rare and in great demand.
The Victorian Papers catalog has six pages of to-die-for vintage Easter reproductions. Raz Imports, Inc. offers beautiful - and large - reproduction rabbit figures. Seasons at Cannon Falls also makes lovely, accurate reproductions.


It's too soon for the pasqueflower yet (which we in North Dakota call crocuses.) Neither have I heard the lilting tune of the meadowlark this spring. Meadowlarks don't come into town, and the crocus only grows on virgin soil. I used to find them growing on the undisturbed land on the railroad right of way. I'll have to take a trip outside the city limits to see and hear these spring miracles. Meanwhile, here are a couple of Haiku poems I wrote about them.
I'll never forget the April day when it had just snowed and I was trudging toward the little one-room schoolhouse. Although it was freezing, there was a meadowlark on a fencepost, bravely serenading me toward school.



-by Julie Fredericksen


It's Easter Monday, time to begin the secular Easter celebrations! Post-Easter celebrations used to last a week, but in the 19th century that observance was reduced to one day. However, I am going to celebrate the entire week. However, after googling some Easter traditions in other lands, I am so glad we don't observe them here. In Poland, boys pour buckets of water on girls' heads and strike them on the legs with willow or birch sticks. Ouch! This may harken back to a pagan fertility rite. This also happens in other countries, where girls are "tenderly" switched with sticks decorated with ribbons.
In Merrie Olde England, men would lift women into the air and carry them a distance. On Easter Tuesday, women lifted the men. This may symbolize The Resurrection, or the rising of the crops in spring.
Easter Monday morn is celebrated a bit more gently in other places, where men wake their wives with spritzes of perfumed Easter water and the salutation, "May you never wither." Hmm, I could go for that. The Easter water, brought home from church and perfumed with oil, was also used to bless food, pets, gardens and homes.
Easter Monday is not celebrated in the United States, except in North Carolina. In Canada, it is a day for feasting on lamb, as well as trickery and tomfoolery, telling jokes and playing pranks.
I celebrate by decorating with vintage Easter cards and other items. More on that in another post.


I wonder what size eggs this Easter bunny would bring?



1. Pens
2. Books
3. Toilet Paper
4. Paper Towels
5. Napkins
6. Letters
7. Packages received in the mail
8. DVDs
9. The strap on my purse
10. Three wine glasses
11. Glass candle holder
12. My glasses
13. My comforter
14. An afghan my mother-in-law made for my daughter 25 years ago
15. The remote control
16. A five-foot-long branch she tried to drag in from the yard
17. Plants
18. A bowl of soup
19. A platter of raw hamburgers
20. Plastic juice bottles
21. Towels (I let her chew on corners of towels - it seems to pacify her.)
22. My pillow
23. My pillowcase
24. My medication
25. Christmas ornaments
26. The couch cushions
27. Cardboard boxes
28. My scarf
29. Chenille Easter chicks (fortunately not vintage)
30. Ribbons
31. Silverware
32. The phone cord
33. My new black flats
34. My best Thom McAn walking shoes
35. Newspapers/magazines
36. Packs of cigarettes
37. Lighters
38. A necklace
39. The dustpan
40. The dogs' water dish
41. Penny's ball (she loves to steal it)
42. Lamp cord
43. Rug
44. Two new sets of rubber stamps
45. Styrofoam peanuts
46. My jacket
47. A little garden statue of a fairy (which she dragged in the house)
48. Penny's collar (while on Penny)
49. Scissors and other tools
50. Kitchen utensils
51. A roll of aluminum foil
52. Underwear
53. Socks
54. Our earlobes (She has drawn blood from both of us)
55. Coat hangers
56. Silk flowers
57. All her chew toys, right away
58. A candle
59. Milk carton
60. Pop cans
61. Soap
62. Plastic flower pot (also dragged in from the garden)
63. Belt from Dan's robe
64. Tube of toothpaste
65. Dan's toothbrush
66. Broken glass
67. Plastic garbage bag
68. Penny's tail, legs, snout and ears
I bet I could go on and on. I will keep adding to this list, and it could probably get to 100 without much of an effort. When I'm home and realize she's stolen something, I have to chase her around and around the dining room table or around and around the couch. She never does figure out, though, that when she runs into the kitchen she has trapped herself. So why do we keep this scallywag? Just look at that face!



After seeing my post about the Legend of the Dogwood, Lila from "Indigo Pears"
( sent me this:

One day long ago, a little bird in Jerusalem saw a large crowd gathered around a man carrying a heavy wooden cross. On the man's head was a crown made from a thorn branch. The thorns were long and sharp. The little bird saw that the thorns were hurting the man. It wanted to help him, so it flew down and took the longest, sharpest thorn in its tiny beak.
The bird tugged and pulled until the thorn snapped from the branch. Then a strange thing happened. A drop of blood fell onto the bird's breast, staining it bright red.
The stain never went away, and so today the robin proudly wears a red breast, because it helped a man named Jesus.

I isn't it strange how once you notice something, you notice it everywhere? I didn't know about the Anasazi Indian tribe until I was an adult, but once I learned about them I saw the word everywhere. It's been the same for me this year with the dogwood. First there was "The Legend of the Dogwood". Then I found a perfect dogwood blossom to go with my Anais Nin poem. Then came "The Legend of the First Robin."
Job hunting, which I've been doing for a week, is hard. You have write resumes and cover letters, drive here and there, humble yourself and beg for work, and put your best foot forward, all the time. It is exhausting. So to reward myself, I have decided to purchase myself a small present, no more than $5.00, for every week I am out of work. It may be a used book from, or a lunch at a fast food place, or something like the nest pictured below. I didn't notice until yesterday that it has - lo and behold, dogwood blooms! (They look a bit smashed from being placed face down on the scanner.) So for the last time this season, here are some dogwoods!

Saturday, April 7, 2007



I saw this phrase while waiting for my takeout pizza in a local pizza/Italian restaurant. It means, "We do not age at the dinner table." I'm all for embracing that philosophy! How lovely to live longer just by spending long evenings over a wonderful meal and wine.

My husband and I don't dine out much anymore. I think we've eaten out only three or four evenings in the last year, and two of those were at a local truck stop! (But they do have a great prime rib/broasted chicken buffet, and Dan can order liver, which I will not cook at home.)
However, it doesn't really matter to me that I am not able to go out and have fabulous gourmet meals, because my husband is a fabulous gourmet cook. Last night he made "Pork Chops With Soy-Orange Sauce" from Martha Stewart's Quick Cook Menus book.


1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
8 sprigs fresh thme (we use dried thyme, to taste)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 tablespoons safflower oil
8 lean (1/2-inch) thick loin pork chops
(we use four thick-cut butterfly or boned chops

1. Combine orange juice with the soy sauce, sugar, garlic, pepper, and thyme sprigs. Set aside.

2. With a very sharp knife, score the pork chops 1/8 inch deep in a crisscross pattern on each side. Place in a glass stainless steel dish in a single layer. Pour the marinade over chops. Drain and reserve the marinade.

3. Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet until hot. Add the chops in a single layer and saute over high heat for three minutes on each side, browning them well.

4. Reduce heat to low and pour reserved marinade over chops. Cook until done, about 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove chops to a heated platter.

5. Reduce the marinade in the skillet to 1/3 cup. Pour over the cooked chops and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

NOTE: These pork chops are also excellent grilled over hot coals. Reduce the marinade separately in a saucepan and pour over the chops after removing from grill.

You can tell this is a great recipe, because that page in Martha's cookbook is covered with spatters and spills. That always means a recipe is good, because it's used so much.
The photo above, which I took from Easy Home Cooking Magazine, features a similar orange juice and herbs chops recipe that uses oil instead of soy sauce for a marinade. Because of the soy sauce, our marinade gets even darker than the sauce pictured, and there's no green onion in it. This sauce is piquant. I didn't think I'd ever use the term piquant but it best describes the flavor. Dan made this dish last evening. We cheated and had boxed garlic potatoes with it, but usually I make my French Bistro Potatoes, for which I gave the recipe in a January post. We like those potatoes with the chops because the meat sauce mingles so well with the cream from the potatoes.

However, there's an unspoken rule in our household. If only one person is preparing the meal, there will be only one gourmet dish. If two people are preparing the meal, then we can have two gourmet dishes. Therefore, tonight I have already made my bistro potatoes, and Dan will make spicy Southwestern chicken. These potatoes go well with this dish too, but for a different reason. The cream and the cheese help put out the fire!

This dish isn't for the faint-hearted. If you're in the kitchen when it's cooking, the fumes can give you coughing fits. In addition to your wine you need to have big glasses of water nearby. But we love it. It's made by a friend of ours who has talked to people about marketing it. It's that good. He never lets us pay for it, just mixes up a new batch for us. And the newer the batch, the hotter and spicier it is! These days we tend to only make this dish for the two of us. We used to serve it to guests, until a friend told me the spices had burned her lips - literally. She didn't tell me until years after the fact, but I was still mortified. That has never happened to us, but to be on the safe side we've taken it off our guest menus.

Second Photo from the Tuscan Italian Cafe, Las Vegas