Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Next stop, IKEA

Looking for a white, 16-inch wide cabinet, with four drawers, two shelves, for immediate installation in the new and improved master closet. Will be heading to IKEA this afternoon, now that the blizzard has changed its mind about paralyzing I-494 again. Anybody care to join us there for Swedish meatballs? Also need to find some white vinyl wallpaper from one of those Menardish bargain boxes to hang in the closet. Seen any?
Mudding and taping going well, hung the door frame this morning. Homemade dentil moulding applied shortly.

Big news from Cousin Arnold: His famous daughter, Erika Rolfsrud, is the understudy for Susan Sarandon on a new Broadway production. We'll post details soon. Erika got rave reviews in St. Louis, says he.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ford has gas problem

Saturday plans changed abruptly when Ford and Jenn sniffed what could have been a gas leak in their Eden Prairie townhome.

Getting out of town isn't as simple as it used to be, but the resourceful couple threw together about 50 pounds of infant logistical support materials, packaged the baby and dashed off to Shakopee. Even so, they would still come up two diapers short.

Meanwhile, Grandma and Grandpa, heading from Mankato to Eden Prairie to deliver a van full of dry goods to brother Virgil's house, were diverted to Shakopee.

There a good time was had by all, as two-month-old Kaia made her first ever appearance at her great aunt and uncle's house.

Her rock star hairdo was the center of attention.

Steve finally delivered Kathleen's prize coffee measuring scoop she had sadly left behind in Tucson and dearly missed, along with a couple of winter coats.

And Jenn finally had a chance to open Sosie and Bill's baby gift bag, carried by Stan and Kathleen all the way from Arizona to Shakopee, but never quite as far as Eden Prairie. Jenn and Ford were delighted with the assorted onesies from California.
All this give and take, and Kathleen's dessert too, tuckered out the new Dad and the baby. So, after learning that workmen had finally relieved his gas problem, Ford grabbed a nap on Stan's couch.
And despite being bounced from lap to adoring lap, Kaia, herself, managed a little snoozle.

Here Bubbles, here Bubbles??

Laurie and Stan worked together for 30 years at the newspaper company. He's retired, she still faces the challenges of managing a business in today's tough climate, and now they're just "friends forever."

Last night Kathleen whipped up a roast beef dinner for the three of us, topped off with strawberries on cake. Lots to talk about, including Laurie's upcoming holiday in Utah, 401(k)s, the closet extension project in our master bedroom (below), and all the possible names for a new puppy.

This latter topic has particular importance, as Laurie has historically served as "substitute Mom" for our dogs when we're vacationing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Family Vacation

In an unparalleled act of courage and grace, Linda and Ron Letnes this month packed up an SUV full of Colorado grandchildren and headed out for a Big West adventure. It all went very well, Stan's sister Linda now reports. The retired schoolteacher is back in Minnesota awaiting the arrival of another grandbaby.

Here's her note and photos from the Family Vacation.
Dear Stan,

As I had mentioned before, we were met with big smiles and hugs when we arrived in Fort Collins on the 16th. Right on schedule, the next morning, we piled into the Expedition with its eight seatbelts for the eight of us.

Our first stop was in Vail where the sculptures captured our attention. We spent each night in a motel with a swimming pool as we discovered the kids would swim day or night. Besides the pools, the kids had a ball in Pagosa Springs in the hot springs . Memmo and Antonio are pictured in the shower there.
Arches National Park was followed by Canyonlands National Park, both in Utah. Lots of short hikes, but the Rimwalk in Canyonlands was the hands down favorite of the Huertas. By the time we had gotten to Durango on our drive back to Fort Collins, the Huertas were planning their next family trip...Mesa Verde National Park. They will do that one on their own.

Everywhere we went the whole family was interested in the displays, the walks, films, you name it. The word bored wasn't part of the vocabulary, never heard it. We stopped in Fairplay for a visit with Prunes, a mining burro, and then headed for the Colorado Historical Museum in downtown Denver. That held their interest for hours while Ron and I looked up old friends.
There was a glorious reunion with their pets when we returned to Fort Collins. We have taken the kids to Disneyland, Disney World, the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and multiple trips between MN and CO. They have loved these trips and rarely caused a moment of trouble as they are great travelers. But this is the trip that each child quietly confessed was the absolute best and for the same reason: " Our whole family is here." Made the whole thing awfully special.

I wondered how it would be with eight of us, most of our trips are with two kids at a time. Before we left I picked up $100 in one dollar bills. Each morning the kids were doled out $5 with the admonition that any adult could ask them to return a dollar to Grandma for any infraction deemed worthy of a dollar. The best behaved child would get the pot at the end of the trip. Amazingly, only $10 was collected over the tour. Nina was our winner. The weather was perfect, yes, 70's.

We travel well together and are planning another spring break, next time a drive through Monument Valley and a visit to the Grand Canyon.

Corey and Alyssa are the parents of Nina, 13; Emillio, 12; Antonio, who turned 11 on the trip and wore his "Utah Rocks" birthday sweatshirt constantly; Memmo, 9.

We are back in Minneapolis awaiting Anja's new baby sister who can arrive tonight or in the next few weeks. The only thing we know is that her middle name will be Letnes as Anja's is. Life is precious and good.
Love, Linda

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nice, but the association dues will kill you. . .

In our continuing search for a suitable retirement estate, Fyvie Castle near Turriff in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, was briefly considered. However, Kathleen is still thinking Highland Park in St. Paul.
The earliest parts of Fyvie Castle date from the 13th century - some sources claim it was built in 1211 by William the Lion. Fyvie was the site of an open-air court held by Robert the Bruce, and Charles I lived there as a child. Following the Battle of Otterburn in 1390, it ceased to be a royal stronghold and instead fell into the possession of five successive families - Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon and Leith - each of whom added a new tower to the castle.

Unfortunately, none of these families were related to the Riccorton Jacksons, Stan's maternal forebears.
Inside, the castle stronghold features a great wheel stair, a display of original arms and armour, and a particularly fine collection of portraits.
Manus O'Cahan and Montrose fought a successful minor battle against the Covenant Army at Fyvie Castle on October 28th, 1644. Following Victorian trends, the grounds and adjoining Loch Fyvie were landscaped in the 19th century. The American industrialist Alexander Leith bought the castle in 1885. It was sold to the National Trust for Scotland in 1984 by his descendants.
The castle (like many others) is said to be haunted. During renovation work in 1920 the skeleton of a woman was discovered behind a bedroom wall. On the day the remains were laid to rest in Fyvie cemetery, the castle residents started to be plagued by strange noises and unexplained happenings. Fearing he had offended the dead woman, the Laird of the castle had the skeleton exhumed and replaced behind the bedroom wall, at which time the haunting ceased.

We survived, Gerry.

Nobody got stewed in the Aberlour mash. We got this kind note from Gerry Harris today. We featured him a couple days ago on this blog. (See below) He's the owner of the Mail Boxes Etc. store in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Great to hear from you!
I'm glad that you made it home in one piece! I wasn't certain that you'd survive the distillery visit intact, especially if you'd given the locals a dose of your Scot's treachery theory. I had visions of you floating upside down in a vat of whisky, the unlucky victim of the murderous nature of us Scots!
I followed your blog link and was shocked to see a wanted poster with my face on it. Then I read the text and relaxed. You have overstated dramatically my service to you and the guys and I thank you for it! It was wonderful to see that you had enjoyed yourself sufficiently to insert us into your family's blog!

Then I remembered, you're a "writer" and now I have you tagged.....you do fiction!
I think you have the most professional blog that I have seen for some considerable time. I hope that all your readers enjoy it as much as I do. I'll look back in from time to time to see how my friend Stan is doing.

If you have any other travel plans, you might want to let me know in advance so that I can warn the tourist information ministry in advance to be ready for the onslaught of "'horror stories' on yer blog!"
Keep well, my friend, and put up your feet after all those exertions here in Bonnie Scotland!
Best wishes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Paul Erickson heart surgery update

Our thoughts and prayers are with Paul Erickson, father-in-law to Linda's daughter Shana. He underwent emergency heart surgery yesterday for a dissected aorta and is in recovery.
Here's information from his family:
"Tuesday morning Paul was doing just fine. He had a morning meeting and then suddenly felt weak in his legs, had a pain in his chest, and couldn't find the words he was looking for. His colleagues called an ambulance and he was taken to Unity Hospital.
"After a CT Scan, they discovered that his aorta had been dissected. This is when a tear occurs in one of the layers of the aorta allowing blood to flow in between those layers. In effect, this causes one normal vein to be converted into two. The problem of course is that one of those tubes doesn't go anywhere and more seriously, this could cause the aorta to rupture. Luckily and thankfully, they were able to catch this before it ruptured.
"From Unity he was rushed to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, MN. On Tuesday afternoon he went into open heart surgery around 3:30 pm and came out at around 8 pm.
"The surgeon reported that the surgery was successful. He thinks the most likely cause of the dissection was an aortic aneurysm. They had to remove and replace a large section of the aorta that connects to the heart along with the valve.
"The good news is that this was successful and Paul pulled through!
"He is currently in intensive care, remains sedated and is on a ventilator. His hemoglobin counts are good, temperature is good, and they are controlling his blood pressure."
For more information and updates, here's the caring bridge link: You may also sign a guest book and relay your encouragement to the family.

Giddyup, giddyup, my pony girl. . .

A favorite toy at Grandma and Grandpa's is an old-fashioned rocking horse we brought back from Arizona last year. So when Grandpa spied this Shetland pony sweater at an Edinburgh wool outlet on the Royal Mile last week, it was a no-brainer.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Break time

A workman pauses outside the public washroom in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Another satisfied DIYer

IKEA features easy-to-follow picture instructions for assembly of its products. We're not saying Anja, our great niece, assembled this on her own, but she helped. See her Mom and Dad's blog for details at left.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Great Scot at 68 Market

Three hundred and fifty years ago, whilst storming through Scotland on behalf of God and the English Parliament, Oliver Cromwell made plans to destroy what was left of the once glorious St. Andrews Cathedral.
But a naked volley of Protestant cannon fire might be bad for his legacy, he was advised, so the clever "Lord Protector" devised a more politic scheme: He invited the townspeople to scavenge the Cathedral for building materials -- sort of a 17th Century Home Depot, and more convenient than shopping the local quarry. As a result, many buildings in the adjacent business district contain consecrated rubble.

One such solid mid-1600s building shelters the new Mail Boxes Etc., a bustling courier, postal and document service at 68 Market Street, St. Andrews, owned by Gerry Harris. Amidst his higgily-piggily warren of travelers' aids are three sleek computers connected world-wide by high-speed wire. You can "hire" a keyboard, keep track of your own time, then pay Gerry what you think you owe. He cheerfully sorts the loose change from your sweaty palm's worth of mixed pounds and pence while chattering knowledgeably in a thick brogue about the news of the day.

He's biased passionately toward his gleaming stable of Apple Macintoshes, comparing their operation to driving a Porsche. Nonetheless, he generously tolerates the vulgar PC user, patiently and willingly helping the ignorant shift through an unfamiliar electronic gearbox.

We like to think this Scotsman's gentle acceptance of the preferences of others is the ripened fruit of centuries of lessons in bloody religious cruelty, corruption and intolerance. Or maybe he's just a nice guy.

The old fireplace in Gerry's shop was blocked off years ago. On the hearth stands a steel rack of cardboard tubes and mailers. Look closely at the stone work, you can see broken stones from a ruined cathedral window, redeemed ages ago and given new purpose as a place of warmth and comfort for some forgotten St. Andrews family.

That was well over 300 years ago, and it's still a nice place to be.

Photos: Gerry Harris, owner of Mail Boxes Etc. at 68 Market Street, St. Andrews: www.mbestandrews.com . (Photo right) Ruins of the St. Andrews Cathedral, just blocks from the store. (Photo left) Golfer John Dovolos "hires" a computer to email his wife Michelle back home. (Bottom photo) Materials for this fireplace were taken from the St. Andrews Cathedral ruins after Oliver Cromwell suggested doing so. -- That's the story, anyway. To see more photos of the St. Andrews area, follow this link:


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Our picks for Scotland's best

Best English

The best English we heard in Scotland was spoken by a Russian. Andre and his wife, Maria, shared breakfast with us twice at the Bell Craig House in St. Andrews. They weren't there to golf, though the first tee at the famed Old Course was a mere two blocks away. They were there to visit their son, a business management student at the prestigious 600-year-old St. Andrews University, just down the storied, cobbled street. Andre, who lives with his wife in Moscow, learned English at school, but working for Price Waterhouse has given him fluency. He's current on American politics, and we enjoyed a nice conversation about the present global financial situation.

Best dinner

The best food we ate in Scotland was served at the Davidson home in Aberdeen, by Kenny, who also wins a vote as the archetypal man's man.

Personal circumstances put him in the kitchen as a wee one; he's now an expert hunter, fisherman, sportsman, outdoors man and whisky drinker. Briefly a roughneck and member of the Royal Air Force, he's a career phy ed teacher, and counsels and coaches youth about snowboarding, skiing and . . . sexually transmitted disease. An enthusiastic golfer, he once had a heart-attack on a fairway and walked himself in, leaving his clueless mates to finish the round. A long-time friend of our gruppen fuehrer Danny Martin, the plucky Scotsman invited over both our foursomes and teed up an eight-man buffet of ham, smoked turkey, prawns-au-melon (click on the image), red potatoes (one garlic, one plain bowlful), fresh veggies and icy salads.

Oh, and a yummy chocolate dessert for our gourmands, (at left) of course.

Then his lovely, accomplished, health-care services bride, decades his junior, arrived with their young red-haired daughter, in perfect time to warmly greet the departing grateful, sated guests and head up a post-party cleanup effort for her weary partner.

Thus bolstered, the next morning our Scottish host played an energetic 18 holes with his American friends at Peterhead. Truly a Scotsman for all seasons.

Kenny, Linda, Jody ( age 13) and Dan
Best bangers

Every bed and breakfast in Scotland, as far as we can tell, serves bangers and bacon with eggs and blood pudding. The bacon isn't bacon, it's a very hammy Canada slice, and bangers are sausages.

The best we ever ate were at the St. Olaf Hotel in Cruden Bay, and served to us by James, (left) a polite 18-year-old who's been to chef school at nearby Hatton College, and aspires to someday cook for big bucks on a North Sea oil platform.

We probably liked his bangers best because they had more texture and bite than the softer, mealier, versions at the St. Andrews Bell Craig House or the Craigallachie Highlander Inn (at right - click image to see the pepper). James' performed almost like a premium Jimmy Dean.

All the breakfasts were good and substantial and lasted through a complete 18 holes of golf that always ran past lunch into the mid-afternoon. Scottish courses don't always have a "clubhouse turn" with sandwiches... and never a "cart girl" with snacks, so a big breakfast is a must. And you're walking clubs up and down the glens, never riding.

One day, just for educational purposes, we chose the breakfast Aberdeen kippers and oat cakes (left) at the St. Olaf. This brightly-flavored salt sea offering was a good choice, and did last through 18 holes of golf, but in a repeating and re mindful way, and not ideal for one's concentration on the duties at hand.


Worst credit card

"American Express, don't leave home with it," they joke around Scotland. Poor Danny Martin relied on this powerful American icon as an old reliable, but was chagrined to learn that thrifty Scots simply don't take it, given its fee-laden policies.

Restaurants, hotels, golf clubs, even the Royal Bank of Scotland looked down and sadly shook their heads at our frustrated leader's plastic. Fortunately, Danny was traveling with friends and able to cope, and a few phone calls back home (right) got his assets transferred to a more useful banker.

Runner-up for worst has to be GM Mastercard. Despite being informed of my impending departure from usual spending habits, and being given a specific itinerary, Mr. Mastercard slammed the cash drawer shut when I attempted to purchase a $100 bottle of cask-strength hand-filled single-malt whisky, aged in a bourbon barrel, from the Chivas Bros. at their Aberlour Distillery in Craigellichie. Fortunately, a quick swipe from Mr. M & I Visa, who had been similarly warned and informed, solved the problem.

It took an expensive follow-up phone call in a chilly red phone booth, using the special international number I was given when I made my first notification, and then a series of confusing security questions about my checkered past (have you ever lived on Lyndale Ave. North in Minneapolis? Your wife's birthdate?) before Mrs. Mastercard put me back on the "A" list. "It's just an automatic block, sir, and we apologize," the scripted voice intoned. So why is that, please? Or could someone have possibly screwed up? (Calm down, Stan)

Oh well. It's been a long time since being refused at a liquor store. Made me feel downright youthful.

Yeah, we sure missed ol' Stan. . .

Stan's girls: Marcelline, Missy, Jennifer, --wife Kathleen, granddaughter Emily.

Southern belles: B&B go to lunch

The Florida chapter of The Ladies Who Lunch enjoyed Pincher's Crab Shack overlooking the Caloosahatche River in North Fort Meyers a couple of days ago. Becky J. had the crab. Becky R. had the shrimp, and, she reports, was a crab. This we doubt, as our ladies always enjoy their lunches and their company.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Stan's back

Home again with Kathleen. We're looking at pictures tonight and enjoying each other's company, after Stan's 12-day golf and whisky tour with seven friends through Scotland. All's well. This is a view of the North Sea from Peterhead.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen. . .

My dearest Irish eyes:
It was great to finally reach you by telephone today, after seven unsuccessful attempts from various phone booths in Scotland. Learning that you have been taking down the poker tables at Canterbury was especially sweet. This trip is a wee bit expensive and your serious winnings will be most appreciated.
I am seated in a pub surrounded by fine single malt Scotch whisky, my mates are throwing feathers at the dartboard behind me; they've already toasted my sweetie for being lucky and Irish today. I am truly the lucky one, of course, they are quick to point out.
We took a day off from golfing to visit the Aberlour distillery in Craigellachie (rhymes with smart alecky, John "Little Stick" Shotz hints).
By following host and mentor Julian's instructions, we were soon sniffing the vanilla, the chocolate, the sweet apple flavors in the water of life that has been the mainstay of this area for centuries. Our brave leader has been taking these tours for years, says today's was the best he's experienced.
This afternoon I explored an old walking bridge over the Spey and as luck would have it a salmon fisherman was wading below, lashing his long fly rig over and over. He said he caught nothing, but I captured a camera full of fabulous photos framed by the arch of the auld bridge against the sheer cliff walls.
I talked with mothers pushing prams past some nursing lambs in a verdant meadow beside an abandoned railway right of way. I walked through three handmade stone tunnels to get there. We chatted, then I learned that one was an English mum, the other a native Californian transplanted by her homesick Scotch husband. Yesterday the gentlemen at the 250-year-old Fraserborough Golf club left us in stitches. Their club was being organized when we were throwing the British out of the colonies in 1776.
They claim to have invited Gen. George Armstrong Custer across to be the keynote speaker at their 100th anniversary club celebration, but George was a no-show.
Talk turned to Highland clans.
"How would ye tell if a man be a real McDonald?", twinkled the ruddy-cheeked club member.
We were stumped.
"Ye jist reach under 'is kilt and ye make sure he has a quarter pounder!"
We tee off at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Cruden Bay, one of the 50 top-ranked golf courses in the world. We've been playing all the best courses at reasonable cost because it's now off-season. The weather has been great though and there's more great weather tomorrow.
We'll be home on Friday. Can't wait to see my Irish Collee.
Remember your father singing, I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen?
Love, Stan

Monday, March 16, 2009

John's pix from Scotland

Here's some photos that John Dovolos took during our Scotland trip. Try clicking on this link or pasting it into your browser.


Whisky, salmon and castles

Thank you for your patience. I will try to not lose mine on this tiny strange keyboard.
At the moment I am seated at a tv table in my little room at the Highlander Inn in the tiny town of Craigellachie beside the River Spey in the far north end of Scotland. We are in whisky and salmon country.
There over are 500 golf courses in Scotland, there must be just as many distilleries. Tomorrow we intend to see some, along with more castles. A couple days ago we rummaged through an unattended Slain castle, climbing turrets and looking far below at crashing breakers and deep moats. It was dangerous to be there, but we just walked in and explored. Bram Stoker drew his inspiration for Dracula from this monstrous edifice. Tons of photos, of course, but you'll have to wait until the support technology improves.
Tonight, after a fine round of golf with friendly locals in the rural town of Fraserborough, we followed the spectacular northern coast through MacDuff to the Moray Firth and its legendary whisky trail. Tomorrow morning a gentleman we know as Duncan will make us breakfast. He used to work at a nearby hotel, but had an opportunity to buy this one and took it. I had the Aberdeen kippers with oat cakes at the St. Olaf in Cruden Bay.

I am thinking bangers, bacon and poached eggs. The bangers, if they have some texture, will taste like a Jimmy Dean sausage link. The bacon will look and taste like fried ham. We see a lot of sheep, but rarely see it offered. A Scotsman told us that the French eat most 0f their sheep and their drink most of the whisky. There are five rooms. We have all of them.
The scenery out my window is dazzling. The people are most cordial.

Three floors below, Tatsuya Minagawa, director of the Highlander Inn and a famous whisky judge who brought his family here from Japan, is serving our party from a 200 bottle collection of rare whisky. Danny, left, our group leader, is a connoseiur, and the rest of us are learning to appreciate the finer points of this water of life.
Stan Rolfsrud
9 p.m.
Somewhere east of Inverness