SPRING is here at last

Finally!  We had a record-breaking high today of 93 degrees, and the leaves are definitely STARTING to unfold.  Still a ton of bare branches, but plenty of pollen and more and more bright spots of green and patches of flowers.  Spring is here at last.  Felt like an interminably long winter this year.

My son and I planted seeds in old cardboard egg cartons we’d been saving for a couple of months.  Hubbie and Boo and I made two beautiful raised bed planters to replace part of our ugly lawn.  We’ve now got those done, chicken wire stapled below to keep out critters, good organic soil inside each 3 x 3 x 1 foot wooden box, and a plan to sow some seeds directly outside and others to be transplanted in another month when they’re ready.  Carrots, tomatoes, green beans, zuchini, yellow crookneck squash, pumpkins, rhubarb, and we’re thinking of trying to grow potatoes, too.  I have some cucumber seeds, but that may be beyond me.  I’m not sure about buying and instaling a frame for them to climb on at a 30 degree angle.  Bad enough to have to stake tomatoes and tie beans!  Whew — so much to learn!

Honestly, I’m no gardener.  I’m expecting this not to work out very well.  I guess that’s why we belong to a local CSA farm.  So we won’t starve….  But I thought we could learn a bit of gardening, too.  So today, when my son and I were working on the garden out front, three neighbor kids we hardly know came over and asked if they could help.  Of course, we said yes, and thus ensued about an hour of teaching the kids how to ge the bed ready and plant carrot seeds.  About a week or so and we should start seeing sprouts.  I told them to check back then.  And then 70 days to maturity.  I said they could have some of the carrots.  Cute kids.  Made me feel really neighborly, teaching the  children about where food comes from!

I’ll try to take some pictures and post next time.  For  now, just wanted to let y’all know that we’ve got winter on the run at last in New England.  Even though there’s a danger of hard frost for another six weeks, heck, when we start getting LEAVES, winter’s through!  I’ll just hold back those tomatoes for a bit….

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Isn’t March SPRING…?

Yeh, well, so I think Spring is coming….  March is supposed to be Spring, right?  Only not so much today.  This weekend was in the low 60s and today five inches of snow.  Hmmm.  Well, at least my son enjoyed it…

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He created a bow out of some branch that came down int he last storm plus some string he found.  Thena  neighbor kid gave him one of his arrows (my son had created one of those, too, but it was pretty wobbly).  Teh thing is that with snow on the ground, archery is a lot more fun.  (1) You can see the arrow better against the white snow, and (2) It sticks into the snow much more firmly thatn th ground, so one can easily see how much one “rocks.”

So, I’ve been hunkering down lately and doing a lot of grading.  I just checked tonight and saw that I have already surpassed the total number of posts to my on-line students from all of last semester by about 30% and it is only midterm.  I decided they needed more attention this term, and it is paying off.  But 362 posts in six weeks is a bit much!  LOL

Other than teaching and snow, I have nothing at all to report.  I am an empty-headed writer who has no time to write right now.  Oh, wait, I almost forgot.  I’m a liar fo sure!!   An essay collection that I’ve been editing and trying to find a publisher for, let’s seee, it has been a few years…well, anyway, I secured a contract at last.  Yay!  So I guuess I have been writing.  Just not Grandma’s book.  Sigh.  But I’m happy to get our collection published at least.

And now on to that stack of Freshmen essays….

Happy Sankta Lucia Day

Yes, I know that all of you American and English readers are busy eating your Lucia buns and drinking the coffee that your eldest daughter brought to you at the crack of dawn and all that.  Sorry to bug you.  I just wanted to wish all a happy Sankta Lucia Day.

In case you don’t know (though I’m sure EVERYONE does), Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated in Sweden and Italy.  Yeh, that’s weird, huh?  Lucia was an Italian saint, a martyr who brought food to the Christians hiding from the Romans in the catacombs.  She is famous for wearing a crown of candles to light her way in the subterranean caverns (her hands were busy holding big baskets of food, get it?)  Of course, she was murdered, but not until after all the requisite miracles.  Etcetera.

So the Italians celebrate her feast day (Dec. 13), but why the Swedes?  Well, one thousand years ago King Canute was experiencing a bit of Seasonal Affect Disorder and feeling glum because, well, Sweden is relatively cold and dark this time of year.  Then he heard about Saint Lucy and said, “Ah, ha!  This is the saint for us!!” So he proclaimed that Sweden would observe her feast day, too.

The Swedes today celebrate with Lucia buns and coffee in the early morning.  Girls wear electric lighted crowns and bring their parents the food.  Boys wear funny pointed hats and are called “Star Boys.”  There’s lots more to it and all, but that’s the basics.  Oh, and there’s a song, of course, as well!

Anyway, happy Sankta Lucia Day to one and all!

Ice Storm

We awoke this morning to the news that today my son’s school was canceled due to an historic ice storm in New England…and then I called my university and found it was also closed for the day, thus leaving the semester forever unfinished.  No leave taking means no closure.  The last day of class is a very bad day to have a weather cancellation.

Ah, well, the students, no doubt, are rejoicing that they have extra time to complete their final portfolio essays, and I suppose it will not kill me to be unable to grade papers this weekend!

So my son and I were home today.  Hubster had to go to work, governor declared state of emergency or not, his office was open!  Anyway, son and mom have been housecleaning and ventured out to go to the grocery store, as we are a bit low on food.  So we went to our favorite local store where they sell a lot of organic foods.

When we arrived, we found that their power was out, and they were cleaning the fish and meat sections and tossing out a bunch of perishable food.  There were only a few lights on in the large store — eerie and more than a little weird to be let inside.  But they were selling food to those who made it to their store.  We got what we needed, including the last carton of buttermilk in all of Massachusetts, no doubt.  Thank goodness — since my quick bread recipe that I wanted to try out this afternoon calls for 3/4 cups of buttermilk.  Eeghads, what would I do without that ingredient?!

As we walked to the checkout counter through the frozen food aisle, I stopped to take this photo with my phone camera.  They had saran wrapped the doors all shut so nobody can buy the food from the freezers.  Think of the enormity of the waste and financial loss.  Yikes.

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In the parking lot, I started chatting with an elderly gentleman who works at the store as a bagger.  He was on his way home.  He first asked me if my power was out at home (so nice!)  Then he went on to explain that by law the store has to throw out perishable food if the refrigeration or freezer is shut off for three hours or more.  The store will lose tens of thousands of dollars, and it will take quite a while to restock. In fact, the Governor says none of the power in the whole state  is likely to be back on until at the earliest MONDAY.

What a terrible waste, I thought.  I mean, of course, there is the safety issue and all.  But if only someone from the store had decided at 2 hours and 45 minutes into the power outage that they should donate all the perishables to the local food pantry (which still DOES have power and does not have enough food)….  Alas, instead everything is being dumped into the county incinerator.

It was quite an eye-opener for my son.  He usually relishes storms, especially when they mean no school, but I think he is beginning to understand how interconnected everything is.  His school friend’s power is out and their sump pump is not working, so their basement is flooding.  Lows in the teens tonight will mean a chilly evening for that family.  I’ve called to offer them a place to stay with us, but I can’t reach them. Friends from church just sent out a plea on the church listserv asking to borrow anyone’s generator to run their sump pump because their basement, too, is under water.

As the sun begins to hang lower and lower in the sky, I can feel the temperature dropping.  We enjoyed about an hour of sunshine this afternoon, during which time the tres and bushes tried to shed as much of their ice encasements as possible.  The outdoors were blindingly bright, shimmering with falling ice, glittering in the sun. Now everything has turned gloomy again. High winds and low temps are expected tonight.  I can only hope enough ice melted earlier to keep us from joining the one million households in the northeast currently without power.

Church Year Begins with … Bagpipes?

Our church does not hold regular services during the summer.  It’s not that we completely shut down — there are still some informal services held in the air-conditioned common room, but the regular ones in the sanctuary stop for three months.  Then we start up again, the Sunday after Labor Day weekend.  And, weather permitting, we hold that service outside on the green.  Our minister says the same thing every year: “I’m not ready to be back inside yet!”

Well, this year, we had an excellent reason to be outside for the first formal service of the church year.  Bagpipes.  Yup a corps of nine bagpipe guys played for us.  Turns out this group was first formed in 1964 when the then minister of our church (can’t recall his name) asked the “men of the church to form a band.”  They thought about a banjo band at first but could not find anyone to teach them to play that instrument.  So they turned to bagpipes!

Over the years the group lost all association with our church, and now not a single person in the ensemble is a member.  The award-winning group lives on, though, and last week we had the pleasure of listening to them play…outdoors…on the lawn.  It was a windy day, in fact, the day after the remnants of hurricane Hanna passed through New England. I honestly didn’t think we’d be outside that morning, but when I saw the bagpipers, I understood the particular need.  Bagpipes are pretty loud.  Cool.  But loud.  Really strange instruments, I think.

Here’s an odd tidbit.  I always find myself humming the drone note when I listen to bagpipe music–you know, the note that stays the same throughout the whole song.  Why is that?  How weird of me!  But I do it every time.  It’s like I get dragged into the song, riding along on that plodding underlying tone.

Anyway, when the band played “Amazing Grace,”  we stood and listened in honor of our fellow UU’s in Knoxville, Tennessee, who were killed and injured by the lone gunman who entered their church and began shooting during a children’s performance this summer. The music was incredibly moving. All the more poignant as we could look off to the sides of the town green where our church is located and see our children running and playing during the service, climbing a lovely ancient mulberry tree–their perennial favorite.

Many of us brought water from our summer travels and dropped some into a common bowl.  We will use this (later sterilized, of course) for child dedications throughout the year.  I brought water back from Sweden and Norway especially for this purpose and was happy to add my drops to the pool.  And I was happy to be back in my beloved community.  It is good to be together.  I am ready to go back inside.

Dear Grandma…

Dear Grandma,

I miss you.  Lately these flashes of memories keep intruding on my day.

Your laugh.  You looked so regal, so classy.  But your laugh was down home, real folk, spilling out of you whenever the smallest opportunity for mirth arose.  How much we laughed, working on your book, our book.  Every Sunday night when I called you on the phone, we inevitably found our way into a laughing fit.  Such simple things, too. Silly, really.  But you and I, fifty years apart, found so much to chuckle over.  No cynicism in you.  Honest and kind good humor.

I miss you.

Your reassurance.  When I sometimes had not had a chance to work on the book that week and we spoke on Sunday, I knew you were disappointed, but you always said such kind words. You knew I had other responsibilities. You never pressured.  You had faith in me to carry on after you were gone.  And I feel so bad that sabbatical is over and the book is still not finished.  I’m sorry, Grandma.  I’m still working on it. I thought I’d get farther.  Of course, I traveled a lot to research the book settings and stories.  And that was a jolly good thing I did since I found so much usable information that the book is being transformed into a much fuller account.  You’d hardly recognize chapter one anymore, Grandma.  Did you know that Grandpa Skaug’s mom was illegitimate?  Did you know your Dad’s relatives were soldiers back in Sweden?  Did you ever hear about the shipwreck at Kløkstad, Norway?  Did you know our famiiy church was built in 1240 and is still standing?  Did you know that the sea off the coast of Bodø can be as still as a pond and turn savage within minutes? Did you know in Sweden they had a big stick in church to poke people with when they fell asleep during the sermon?  No, you never knew these things.

I miss you. Lately all I want, suddenly, is write your story.

But timing is everything.  I know you’d say now that I ought not to be too hard on myself.  That I have to work and take care of my family.  You’d never begrudge me that.  I was thinking only the other day about the story you told me of when my mother was a baby and Grandpa wanted to go to a movie (always go go going, that Grandpa).  So you swooped up the baby in a blanket and got your coat.  In the theater, you wondered what was poking you, only to find the coat hanger still inside the coat you were wearing.  I understand such exhaustion. I know it’s okay with you that this project is taking a while longer than anticipated.  After all, we moved at a snail’s pace, and I asked you if you wanted me to speed up.  You said, “Do it right!  It’s more important for it to be good and to be read than for me to see it finished.” So you died without seeing it.  And here I am pluggin along over two years later. Still.  I’m sorry, Grandma.

I miss you.

Trondheim, Bergen, and the Open Sea

Sorry that I’ve been off-line for a while, folks.  Odd that it’s been harder to get internet in Scandinavia than in Peru….  Anyway, here’s a recap on the last part of the Scandinavian portion of my trip.  Tomorrow I’ll post on the UK part.

TRONDHEIM:  Discovered a few key things of use there for my book.

(1) Lovely woman at the folk museum called her father on her cell phone to ask him about Trondheim in 1879, the year my Norwegian relatives left.  Her dad is a historian.  Found out the railroad had come there in the early 1870s but had not gone north to Bodø yet.  So my ancestors’ week in Trondheim would probably be the first time they had seen a train. Also, the city was just starting to industrialize then, with a few machine shops popping up.  They made iron stoves, among other things.

(2)  Lovely tour guides at the cathedral helped me put the pieces together that the ancestors would have been there during the time when they had just started restoring the ruined nave of the church.  I saw drawings of what it looked like then — much diminished from the grandeur of today.  That visit to the cathedral, the holiest sanctuary of Norway, made me start thinking about what my relatives would have done in Trondheim while waiting for that boat…. Ah, pray and attend church, I think.  They were very religious.  The tourguide ladies sent us to another old church that they thought my relatives also might have visited.  Yup.  Looked like their church in Bodø but only bigger and a little more ornate.

(3) Also discovered that they would have stayed at a boarding house down on the canals.  Interesting because there are also canals in Göteborg, where my Swedish relatives started their journey to America.  Canals, I know.  My own town is full of them.  Anyway, got a good view of that area.  Short stay in Trondheim, less than twenty-fours hours.  But fruitful research.

We also visited a decorative arts museum and an old fort that had been taken over when the Germans occupied the city in WWII.  I’ll write more about WWII stuff in a post after I return home.  It was very interesting how this kept cropping up….

BERGEN:  Flew to Bergen as the train would have to go all the way to Oslo and then Bergen. A short, uneventful flight.  I did not expect to discover anything of note in this city.  It was merely a stopping point, or more accurately, an embarkation point for our sea journey.  But, as has happened repeatedly on this trip, I gained in understanding.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was just to see this part of the coast and to realize that the immigrants hugged the coastline all the way south before crossing the North Sea.  Bergen was a major port at that time.  While their ship did not stop there, they were traveling in waters frequented by many ships.

By the way, it rained in Bergen.  Anyone at all familiar with the place will not be surprised.  It is like saying, “It was Bergen in Bergen.”  Charming city but we mucked about with our heavy backpacks in the rain for far too long to say we enjoyed Bergen fully.  Had a terrific meal at an Italian restaurant set off the tourist road one block.  Not a soul in there when we first arrived, but we were starving.  We sat down and had dinner while listening to loud Michael Jackson music. Waiter chose the music: “I LOVE Michael Jackson! He’s a great singer!!”  Surreal.

BOAT:  Boarded the Queen of Scandinavia the next morning at 8 a.m. and found our cabin.  La dee dah!  When I booked, I decided to go for the room with a window because I was worried about being sea sick.  Didn’t realize that Commodore Cabin essentially means first class.  Oh, my, aren’t we special?!  It was a lovely room (for a boat, that is) and I learned to thank my lucky stars for that window once we hit the open sea.  Before that, however, I made an appointment to interview one of the crew about travel from Scandinavia to England.  Kim from Denmark was super helpful (except for his comments that seasickness is purely psychological and HE never gets sick). What I learned from him that is useful:

(1) There is a very dangerous and rough patch of sea between the north coast of Denmark and south coast of Norway.  Our Swedes must have had a rough time traveling through there on their way to England, about a day out of the port of Göteborg.  Also, they sailed at the worst time, in October, after the start of storm season.  This explains why great-great grandma Lotta was so very seasick.  I knew that from my grandma’s story, but I didn’t know they had very good reason to be ill.

(2) Norwegian steamers would have followed the coastline even if they did not go into port.  One can totally see this after traveling by boat there.  A huge difference between the sheltered coastline with its many islands and deep and easily navigated fjords and the open North Sea where the wind sweeps down from the north and huge waves can make sea travel treacherous.

(3) The coast of England just appears out of nowhere, and it is relatively flat with a few hills with churches or ruined castles and a few lighthouses dotting the coast.  A strange contrast to the rugged fjords of the north.

When we hit the North Sea it was almost supper time.  Ugh. Within an hour I decided to take the little motion sickness tablet they give out free at the information center.  I went to bed and let it take effect. My friend had no problem with seasickness at all — thank goodness!  When I awoke from my nap, I felt better.  Decided to go to dinner as planned.  Ah, but I hadn’t counted on how the sight of odd sea-related food sitting out in a buffet would make me feel, plus the difficulty of getting to the buffet and back my seat with a loaded plate.  Oh, and the woman at the table right next to us who vomited on the table, poor dear. I ate a digestive bisquit and a few bites of lovely salmon, with my head turned to look out the window at the horizon.  Finally started feeling clamy and made a run for our lovely cabin where I applied a skin patch for seasickness and went to bed for good.  Awoke in the morning feeling much better.  I kept my equanimity overall.  Bed is sometimes best.  Even ate breakfast that morning.  But was heartily glad to get off the boat soon after that.

Good thing that I took that trip, too.  I discovered soon after boarding that the route is being discontinued in September.  This was my only chance to trace the ancestors.  Whew!  What a lucky duck I am!!

And now to bed. I shall write about the UK tomorrow (more interesting stuff)…unless I can’t get the internet connection to work again.  Took an hour this time before I managed to make it work, and I’m not sure how I did it.  Ah, well, homeward bound soon.  Missing the family. Will be good to be home.