Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The Autumn Sketchbook
of Bess Stanhope
November 26, 1925

I awoke this morning to the heavenly smell of roasting turkey. It's Thanksgiving Day! Inga let me sleep in this morning – what a dear. We are having Thanksgiving Dinner about 2:00 p.m. and the huge bird needs to cook for hours. Little Tommy Swenson will be happy to eventually discover that the biggest, meanest gobbler in the flock won’t be chasing after him anymore. Let’s hope he doesn’t make the connection between Big Tom and our delicious meal today.

At this moment, all is calm in the household. We are caught up with the dinner preparations, the children are playing quietly and Lars is doing chores. I am catching up with my journal at the kitchen table.

We won’t be traveling "Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother's House", because all four grandparents - the Swensons and the Nygaards - are coming our way! But I did have my pupils learn that fine old Thanksgiving poem this week. It was written by Lydia Maria Child in 1844.

"Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandmother's house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood -
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
As over the ground we go.
Over the river, and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring, "Ting-a-ling-ding",
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!
Over the river, and through the wood
Trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground like a hunting-hound,
For this is Thanksgiving Day.
Over the river, and through the wood -
And straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait!
Over the river, and through the wood -
Now Grandmother's cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!”

We had a Thanksgiving pageant yesterday at the school. I have such fond memories of the Thanksgiving pageant held annually at my St. Paul elementary school when I was a little girl. I still have a photo too. It is kind of faded but you can see our Thanksgiving costumes. Can you tell which one is me?

When I showed my pupils the photo, they were eager to hold a Thanksgiving Pageant too. Fortunately for them - and their parents - simple Indian headdresses, Pilgrim hats and collars are easy to make with cardboard and stiff paper.

Last month, President Coolidge issued his 1925 Thanksgiving proclamation. I have copied out a portion of it:

“We have been brought with safety and honor through another year, and, through the generosity of nature, He has blessed us with resources whose potentiality in wealth is almost incalculable; we are at peace at home and abroad; the public health is good; we have been undisturbed by pestilences or great catastrophes; our harvests and our industries have been rich in productivity; our commerce spreads over the whole world, and Labor has been well rewarded for its remunerative service.”

How blessed and fortunate were are to live in prosperous times!

This is our Thanksgiving menu for today:

Roast Turkey
Mashed Potatoes with Giblet Gravy
Sage Dressing (Stuffing)
Scalloped Corn
Candied Yams
Fresh Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream
Caramel Nut Cake

(I was introduced to lefse last year when I moved in with the Swensons. It is a delicious soft Norwegian flatbread made from mashed potatoes, cream and flour, and cooked on a griddle. I like mine spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar and rolled up.)

In addition to helping prepare all of the above, my contribution is the Caramel Nut Cake which I found in the recipe book above.

Here at the Swensons, we will SING grace before our meal. I learned this from the family, who are Lutheran:

“Be present at our table, Lord
Be here and everywhere adored
These mercies bless and grant that we
May feast in paradise with thee.”

I will give thanks for the love of my adopted family, Inga and Lars Swenson and their four lovely children, and for my wonderful parents who are still on their auto tour throughout the American Southwest. I am thankful to have found my calling as a teacher and for my students and their families. I am thankful for the beauty of this countryside and the new friends I have made here.

It is a wonderfully mild day so I am sure that after the dishes are done we will take a walk out on the prairie to work off our dinner. This evening we will just snack on leftover turkey sandwiches. I will add a dab of cranberry sauce to my plate and I will be set. Later, as we all gather around the radio, I will work on my scrapbook, adding some new postcards to my Thanksgiving postcard collection, especially ones from my favorite postcard artists.
John Winsch's Thanksgiving postcards often featured Indians

Adorable children were the hallmark of the Whitney Company

Frances Brundage created some of the most
beautiful Thanksgiving postcards ever

Ellen Clapsaddle was another postcard
artist who often drew cute children.

Finally, I will retire to my room to read this new book my mother sent me. Of course, we who claim St. Paul, Minnesota, as our hometown, and especially those of us from Summit Avenue, are so proud of Scott. I have followed his career avidly and I have read his other books. I think he and Zelda are the berries! I can't wait to start "The Great Gatsby."
NOTE FROM THE FUTURE, THANKSGIVING 2008: How fortunate indeed for Bess and her adopted family, students, neighbors and friends to be living in prosperity. Little did they know that in four scant years the stock market would crash and they would be plunged into the Great Depression, and the Dust Bowl would spread all the way from Texas to North Dakota. I think maybe the very first thanks we should give on this Thanksgiving Day is: “Thanks be that we can’t foretell the future.”

At my home it will be Dan, myself, my sister and her two kids. Our Thanksgiving Dinner is fundamentally the same as Bess’, except for Green Bean Casserole with French’s Onions, which was not invented until the 1950s. (Oh, and no caramel nut cake for us.)

It may have been a lovely mild Thanksgiving Day for Bess in 1925, but here in 2008, winter descended a few weeks ago. It is definitely no longer fall here, and for that reason I think this will be the final virtual chapter in Bess Stanhope’s “Autumn Sketch Book.” It was a blast to write. Thanks for all your kind comments.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Americans call this holiday Veterans' Day. I think of it as Armistice Day.

I began writing this post at 10:57 a.m. today - three minutes before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This is the moment in 1918 when the Armistice was signed, signaling the end of World War I.

Of course, it wasn't called that back then. It was known as the Great War, the largest war the world had ever seen. It was thought of as the war to end all wars. Sadly, as we well know, it wasn't.

Today, I honor my three great uncles who died during or because of the Great War. Though in desperate circumstances, Archie, Jack and William were positive they would beat the savage Huns. Jack and William never even lived long enough to learn that in 1917, isolationist America finally came to the Allies' aid and joined the fray. None of them knew that defeated, humbled Germany would bitterly and vindictively rise again, just a couple of decades later, and start a firestorm that would engulf the entire globe.

Throughout the centuries, people have saluted their soldiers, and today I salute ours, living and dead, including the newest - the American, British and other allied soldiers of the Iraq War, heroes every one.

But I carry a special place in my heart for these three brothers from Golspie, a small town in Scotland.

Archie Munro did not let immigration to Canada, having a wife and children, or being too old stop him from enlisting in the Canadian Army. He lied about his age, joined up, and was among the first Canadian soldiers to be shipped to Europe. He was gassed at Ypres, France, and taken prisoner. So close to death that he was taken for dead, he was brought outside and thrown on a heap of corpses awaiting burial detail. Fortunately, he was saved at the last moment. Archie later returned to Canada and lectured about his experiences as a POW. However, he died just a few years after the war ended as a result of being gassed.

William and Jack joined Scottish regiments - the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Seaforth Highlanders, units of the British Army. William was the first to die. A famous footballer, a journalist, and reportedly a fine young man, he was well-respected in the northeastern-most tip of Scotland. Attaining the rank of sergeant, he was much loved by his men. After he enlisted and was posted to France, he filed reports from the front to his former newspaper. That same newspaper, when reporting his death, said those stories were some of the best writing it had ever published. All of Golspie mourned when William died.

Both Archie and William were true heroes. Jack (John Alexander) was that, and something else as well: a publicly-recognized, much-lauded and highly-decorated hero. Just a few months after William's death, Golspie again mourned the loss of a Munro boy, along with Hughina, their widowed mother.

Jack was a true soldier's soldier and became the youngest Regimental Sergeant Major in the British Army at the time. He was wounded many times, his wounds usually occurring while he was rescuing another soldier. After his last hospital release, he became a British Army instructor and could have remained in the rear until war's end. However, he felt he could not abandon his men. He returned to the French front and was later killed instantly by a shell. His last act in life was to yet again rescue a fallen comrade. Jack was awarded Britain's top medals posthumously.

Who among us actually has the courage to die for our country? I surely don't. I salute my and your family members and friends who did, and still do, every day.

PS: The image at the top of the page is a montage that includes photos of Jack and William, the Golspie WW I Memorial and Golspie itself, along with part of a famous poem. It was created by an e-card company with the guidance of my second cousin Shirley Sutherland, who lives in Golspie. Shirley, our family historian, went to France not long ago to visit and document William's and Jack's gravesites. Though I could not accompany her, I took the journey with her in spirit.

"They shall not grow old
As we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun
and in the morning

We will remember them."

(Thanks to Carole at Pea's Corner for publishing this poem today. I didn't know all the lines.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008


The storm is over, the sun is out, and look, the dancing snow couple is gone (see photo, previous post).
The same lady who took a photo of her farm yard the other day during the blizzard has posted a new photo (to KFYR TV Sky Spy pictures). And as you can see, there is nothing there where the snow people were. I think they have gone away until another blizzard comes. And I think blizzards make them delirious with joy.
Seeing the snow people reminded me of the wonderful video I got for Kristen when she was little, Raymond Briggs' "The Snowman." If you've never seen it, you should rent it or buy it (it's on DVD now!) It is fantastic. It has no dialogue whatsoever, but features incredibly beautiful music. It's the story of a snowman who comes alive, and then magically flies the little English boy who created him to a merry, musical gathering of snow men and women. I've always thought of it as a Christmas video, but I think from now on it will be my blizzard video.
For those of you who expressed concern about my husband being stuck on Thursday night, don't worry, he was given a push right away. Almost everyone is a Good Samaritan in North Dakota, and you can always count on them in a storm. In fact, there are teenage boys with their four-wheel drives who think it's fun to go out in a blizzard to help people with a push or shoveling out. There are folks who fire up their snowmobiles to deliver medicine and get people to the hospital. The people who were stranded at the Bismarck Greyhound bus depot on Thursday (some had NEVER seen snow before) were given food and beds by the Red Cross. That's one reason why Dan and I continue to live in North Dakota, even during a nasty winter.
I haven't been outdoors since late Thursday afternoon and I am starting to get cabin fever, trapped here alone with the dogs. My sis and decided not to go to lunch today. She lives in a small town five miles outside of Bismarck, and the roads out in the country are still bad. I am at loose ends. I did start a good book last night - "Sepulchre" by Kate Mosse. It drew me in right away, as I thought it would because I loved her previous book, "Labyrinth."
But today, I didn't feel like reading. Instead, I once again tried to post a Rich Text post to my blog and once again, I failed. There are several things about Blogger that really bug me, including having a very limited choice of fonts, not being able to wrap text around a photo, and not being able to control spacing between paragraphs.
For about the third time in a week, I composed a post with wrap-around text, a nice font that looks like handwriting, bullets, framed pictures, a banner and more. All for naught.
Tell me, people who use Blogger, how do you do counteract this? I specifically downloaded a free trial of Microsoft Word 2007 because when I took the class I found out that you can supposedly write a Rich Text post and send it right to your blog with format intact. I wrote a post and found that I could indeed send it - but all the lovely images and formatting had disappeared.
Then, I wrote to Blogger Help and was advised to use Microsoft Windows Live Writer instead. I found myself to be frustrated there as well. (Let it be known right now, that I am an older person who merged onto the information highway via a tricycle.)
So now, I'm asking all you Bloggers with a capital "B" for help (in non-techy language, please!)

Friday, November 7, 2008


Photo by Charlotte Kahrs at Scranton, ND

Bismarck, ND

Sunday, Nov. 2: A beautiful 70 degree, Indian summer day, shirt sleeve weather.

Monday: Lovely day, temp in the 60s. There's talk of a big storm coming in from the west.

Tuesday: Election day and another lovely day in the 60s. They're predicting a nasty snowstorm later on this week.

Wednesday: The SW portion of the state is getting snow but then again they always get the nasty weather. They've already had snow this fall. But in Bismarck, it was 50 degrees when I went to work this morning! There was a bit of light rain but nothing major. However, blizzard warnings are posted!

Thursday morning: Oh my god, what a night we had last night. I woke to sleet/ice hitting the north-facing windows about 3:00 a.m. and then came the lightning and thunder. Followed immediately by scared dogs tearing into our bedroom and refusing to leave. After a major tussle we finally get them out.

The radio reports that the blizzard is on its way and is playing havoc in other towns, with some having a foot of snow already. They're also saying that our streets are slippery due to all that sleet/ice last night. However, as I drive to work the streets are just wet, and there's a bit of snow at the edges of the streets and on the lawns. But, it is really cold and the wind is howling like a banshee.

Driving by the municipal golf course, I see two medium size dogs, one brown and one white, trotting happily in tandem down the sidewalk, a popular path for joggers, walkers and dog walkers. There were no owners in sight. I had to chuckle at the dogs' merry aspects (We're free! We're free!) and wondered at what great adventure they thought they were embarking upon. (I also hope they were re-captured and brought home before the storm.)

Noon: No action yet, but I'm glad I brought my lunch anyway. Brrr.

2:00 p.m. Yish, we can't see beyond the parking lot. The snow is blowing sideways.

3:00 p.m. One of my co-workers couldn't make it up the hill on the street that runs in front of our building. People are getting antsy and nervous.

4:00 p.m. The P.A. system announces that Bismarck State College is closing. Fortunately, they've just sanded the many hills that make up the BSC campus so all the stuck people are able to get moving again. I creep home, making it back in 30 minutes as opposed to the usual 7 minute drive.

8:00 p.m. Dan gets stuck on his way home from work.

10:00 p.m. No travel is advised in the western 2/3 of the state and roads in the SW are closed. The local news is all agog that a national weather channel has sent a representative out here for the first big blizzard of the winter of 2008-2009.

Friday, 6:45 a.m. The radio announces a bunch of school closings, including BSC. But wait, they're saying BSC classes. What about the offices? Shall I get up or not? I'll snuggle down and wait a few minutes more. Oh, here's an amendment - BSC classes are canceled and its offices are closed. I have an unexpected day off.

8:00 a.m. I'm at loose ends. I guess I'll start by writing a post. Penny is enjoying this weather. Instead of being the big red dog, today she is the big white dog. She could lie down in a snow drift and not mind it a bit. Gracie...not so much. The neighbor kids are already outside playing in the snow. The neighbor is blowing out all our driveways and sidewalks. I'm going to have a cup of hot chocolate and chill out (I mean, snuggle up.)

Photo by Amanda at Bowman, ND

Photo by Paulette Haar at Hettinger, ND

Photo by Harvey Oase at Reeder, ND


P.S. Is it just me, or do you see those two ghostly snow people dancing at the right side of the photo at the very top of this post?