Friday, November 30, 2012

The old maples still give

Fifty years ago we raked and mowed around the same maple trees
that gave up their syrup last spring for this homemade delight.
Almost lost in the excitement over the sexy new vineyard on the old place in Alexandria was the syrup. Traditional maple syrup.
Growing up on our seventeen acre hobby farm on Lake Andrew, we were always aware of the many big maple trees shading the property, most keenly when raking their dead leaves into big, crisp piles for burning. We observed their distinctive palmately-veined leaf structures -- only after learning in Mr. Madson's 10th grade science class what palmate means, of course.
It wasn't until the Fernholz's bought our place around 1980 that the sugar maples were tapped. The new owners went at it industriously, drilling and collecting pails of syrup from the dozens of maples surrounding the house, boiling the raw drippings in a big evaporator, reducing them to a precious elixir, worthy of a Christmas morning breakfast.
Stacks of pails beside the evaporator in Rollie's maple shed.
That's a  garden tiller in the foreground, nothing like that
appeared during our indenture on the weed-riven soil.
We gardened the old-fashioned way.
That's our plan for this year.
When we visited the old place this summer for a dose of nostalgia and a look-see at what was new on the old place, Rollie showed us his five-year-old vineyard, at that time just bursting with shiny, mature varietals soon ready for harvest. A sharp-eyed hawk guarded against winged marauders.
We admired the neat vegetable garden, beehives, new walnut trees planted by the squirrels, and the bright legacy flowers everywhere. As we departed, our kind hosts graciously presented a gift of their prize homemade maple syrup.
We haven't cracked the jar open yet, we were waiting for the right occasion to enjoy its treasure. That's going to be on Christmas morning, we have decided, when we make a breakfast for our family, topping our waffles with an actual product from Stan's boyhood home.
One more reason to anticipate the big day.
The Fernholz's in front of our old homestead.
Notice the lightning rods. They must work --the house is still there.

From the archives. . .

It's our twenty-something Marcy, not Kathleen Turner, silly.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bored aliens

I have an idea! Let's go to the Mall!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thank you, Bill, Sosie and Virg

It is always helpful when you are struggling with the longest below freezing stretch since January to get a thoughtful note from kinfolk in Florida.
Yesterday Sosie and Bill went kayaking on Virg's river. They sat very still and were bumped by a pod of curious manatee. They don't have an underwater camera so we borrowed this image from
Manatees are now quite rare. Perhaps only 2,500 are left in the USA. In ancient times, sailors mistook them for mermaids or sirens on account of their long tails. Today, they often bear scars on account of their collisions with boats, a major hazard.
Manatees spend most of their time feeding, resting or travelling. They prefer shallow saltwater bays, slow-moving rivers, canals, estuaries and coastal waters. Manatees are quite agile creatures. A manatee uses its flippers and tail to steer itself. It moves its tail up and down to propel its body forward through the water. Manatees can swim vertically and upside down; they can do rolls and perform aquatic somersaults. Their extra-dense bones enable them to stay suspended at or below the water's surface.
Manatees eat over 60 different species of aquatic and semi-aquatic plants. Their diet includes manatee grass, turtle grass, various species of algae, mangrove leaves, and water hyacinths. They may consume 10% of their body weight daily in vegetation. Their digestive system allows the bacterial breakdown of cellulose in the hind-gut. To accommodate the great volume of high-fiber food they eat, manatatees have intestines up to 150 feet long.
The jointed bones of manatee's flipper serve a function similar to a human hand. Their structure helps the manatee move through the water, bring food to its mouth, and hold objects. Three or four nails are found at the end of each flipper. Manatees can't turn their heads: unlike most mammals, they have six rather than seven cervical vertebrae, so they must turn their whole bodies to look round.
Material from

Some assembly required

New location for the Dickens Village setup this year is the unused basement work station space. Bob Cratchit's cheery house is over on the lower right. Ebenezer Scrooge's gloomy suite of rooms is at upper left. . . on the edge of the fiscal cliff.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The late night eagle flies

The Eagle has landed back at the Herald. 
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the publisher of the Chaska Herald was awakened by a couple of Herald hearties partying the night away at the annual 100 Club Christmas fundraiser held at the Hazeltine National Golf Club. They had boldly submitted a variety of bids in the Charity Auction and were in danger of actually winning one of them when they realized they had neither the company checkbook nor the authority to use it.
It was time to call the boss.
"We want to buy an eagle," the conversation began, quickly pitting the forces of alcoholic exuberance against a semi-conscious wet blanket. "So far we're in it for $400, can we keep going?"
"What? Hello!?" The groggy publisher stalled, blinking in the darkness, having absolutely nothing to reference this unique request, no schooling or experience to draw upon. Purchase a wooden eagle for $400? The background cacophony from The Hazeltine drowned any possibility of hearing the shouted description of the object or its intrinsic value to anybody, or where it came from, or how it was made or finished. So the publisher just wilted there in his pajamas, eventually resigning with something like, "Oh, what the hell, go ahead then."
The newly-acquired Herald Eagle soon took a proud place in the front office, on a custom-made perch assembled at further expense by Charlie the Carpenter. It's been up there now for at least a decade or so, never really did get a proper name. "Dusty" has been suggested as a possibility.
He was let out for the first time ever this summer to attend to the Chaska History Center's elaborate display marking the 150th anniversary of the local newspaper. The very first Herald editions, published during the Civil War, carried an eagle insignia, a symbol for the Union supported by the Herald. It's been a part of the logo since. The hoopla at the museum is over now and last week Editor Mark Olson brought the eagle back home, carefully escorting him for the few blocks back to the vintage newspaper office.
We think Mark's become kind of attached to the old carved legend, as have others, so in the interest of historical accuracy, we wanted to set the record on just how he came to be roosting there.

Katie's picks for today's noon NFL games

Must I do everything around here?
Vikings beat Chicago!
Cincinnati over Oakland
Pittsburgh bests Cleveland
Indianapolis takes Buffalo

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cat's Cradle

Our Florida knee warrior

Here's the tenth day of progress on the comeback trail, now with the staples gone. Go Al and Becky!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Present at Our Table

Jill, Mom, Jennifer and Katie.
Is the service satisfactory, Mrs. R.?
Jill brought Mom. Mom brought an appetite.
She ate Kathleen's turkey and dressing with ample whipped potatoes and homemade gravy and rolls, of course, skipping the cole slaw with Rudolph's dressing. She downed Missy's green bean casserole. Earlier she had sampled Jennifer's walnut/pecan pate on crackers and fresh tangerine slices, later at table she enjoyed her apple-trimmed kabocha squash, local steamed carrots and cranberries ala Greg. So did Mom have any room for dessert?
You bet.
Mom passed on Hai's pumpkin pie, opting for a large, refreshing slice of his Lemon Meringue.
Great grandma inspected the new tooth.
Emily admired the new glasses.
Mom used to bake rye bread for her family. Today Jennifer brought a half-baked loaf of raisin rye, finishing it after the turkey had been extracted from the oven and set aside to rest before carving. Did Grandma Bev ever put raisins in her rye? She thought back for a moment. "Oh yes, sometimes I did." Only then did Stan remember that this was so.
It was a joyful, memorable day at our bustling house, Mom's first Thanksgiving in a private home in many years. We're grateful for our many blessings, and said so. Mom's lead aide, Jill, graciously drove her 92-year-old charge from Mom's new place in Bloomington to her first ever visit to Stan and Kathleen's Shakopee location. Three willing guests eagerly boosted her chair up the front steps and inside a festive dining room, where she quickly became the center of attention.
Before dinner, we not only said a traditional grace, but then Mom led us in a gentle verse of "Be Present at Our Table Lord" in perfect pitch, as always, just like old times.
Our thanks to Jill for a smooth operation. The only lumps today were in our throats.
From left, Dan, Hai, Jennifer, Melissa, Emily, Kathleen, Jill, Beverly, Stan
18 pound turkey, nine for dinner. Leftovers for all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hey Jen, You bring the cranberries

Last year, we were over-cranberried.
Let's see if we can do better this year.
We've been calling Jennifer at work all day. She's busy, we can't get through. (She does work at a grocery store, after all.) Her voice mail isn't working. So no answer yet. Maybe she'll check the blog:
Jennifer, in order to avoid last year's mixup where we ended up with TWO cranberry offerings (the item isn't particularly esteemed here anyway), you are in charge of the cranberries this year. Missy will bring the green bean casserole. We'll do the turkey, potatoes and gravy. Hai will bring the pumpkin pie. Jill will bring Grandma Bev.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bring back The Mint?

Beer and business mixed with pleasure tonight as two aging co-workers, one rusty and retired, the other just tired, hatched a mammoth deal to shake up the advertising markets in the southwest suburban area. A handshake and a six-pack was all it took to put the revival of the defunct Minnesota Valley Mint on the table. After all, Stan's non-compete is about to run out and State Senator Claire Robling, who used to write the front page Mint feature years ago, has retired, so it could be just the time to bring back the durable mass-circulation shopper that circulated the area for decades, before changing tastes and electronic media put it in the dustbin of history. Its iconic logo may now be in the public domain.
Will Stan be lured out of retirement to ramrod this throwback enterprise? Will Future Mint Sales Manager Bombastic Bob capture the Hostess Twinkies advertising account?
Watch for further adventures of "Mad Men on a Warm Porch."

Meet Mr. Mark

This kindly gentleman is Mom's night shift companion and Tuesday hairdresser at the Kell Avenue eldercare residence in Bloomington. Mark owns a haircutting business on Nicollet Avenue as well, established in 1994.
Mom has new glasses and we wanted to show you a picture of her wearing them today, but Mark hadn't worked his magic yet, so the reveal will have to wait for later when Mom's ready for her closeup. What couldn't wait were these four golden Cornish hens prepared by chef Marcia for today's luncheon. MMM.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Rest in Peace, Mike

Mike Bolin (back row with open shirt) celebrated a mini-reunion with
Jefferson High School classmates in our basement three years ago.
Mike Bolin, long-time St. Paul resident and noted artist in the Twin Cities area, died Saturday in hospice. He was Stan's classmate, a 1965 graduate of Jefferson High School in Alexandria as well as Concordia College in Moorhead. He attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
A talented artist, he created many of the wonders of the Dayton's Eighth Floor Christmas exhibition during the years it was a must-do part of the holidays for Minnesotans. His work also appeared in the restoration of the Foshay Tower as well as at the Mall of America.
He is the second son of the late Floyd and Lois Bolin of Alexandria, and is survived by his brother, Stan Bolin.
Other details of his passing and funeral arrangements are not presently available.

Good morning Stan,

Mike spoke fondly of his friends and youth in Alexandria.  We became friends in the 1970's.  Twin Cities Public Television has archived and posted on its website a profile/essay that I produced with Mike for the weekly arts magazine Wyld Ryce.  I am sure you will enjoy it.  To my great admiration, Mike lived without a computer or cell phone at least until two years ago when we last got together in Saint Paul with L.K. Hanson, a long-time artist and cartoonist at the Star Tribune.  We hung out together during the mid-1970's in Saint Paul galleries, apartments, saloons and studios.

Here's the link -

Jeff Strate
Eden Prairie, MN

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Papers, please

Photo by Stan Rolfsrud
While making our weekly football picks at the horse track today, we stumbled onto a dog show. Every year about this time, the Minneapolis Kennel Club takes over Canterbury Park for an All Breeds canine event. Hundreds of hounds, shepherds, retrievers, terriers and lap dogs take over, escorted by owners and trainers every bit as interesting as their animals. Everyone was teased and primped to the nines, a little silly, of course, but great fun for all, trying to make the best impression on the judges, somewhat the odd characters themselves.
This gorgeous four-year-old Sheltie, a miniature "Lassie,"
had a big, stressful day today. He kept calm and relaxed, thanks to his faithful
companion, a 12-year-old retired dachshund, (above, left) whose show days
are over but who still has useful work to do, comforting the family contestant.


The Joker
Just what were we to think? There it was, discarded without explanation amidst the construction zone chaos in our sweet Jennifer's new house. And Jennifer wasn't around yet to tell us just what this provocative, handmade poster was all about. Eventually she arrived and after saying just one word, we understood everything. The word? "Elgin." This eye-rolling world class practical joker had left his mark again, this time on Jennifer's gate, for the world, and the neighbors, to wonder about before Jennifer discovered it and pulled it down.

Friday, November 16, 2012

It wasn't the perfect day, but it was pretty nice. . .

It wasn't a perfect day, but it was sure pretty nice.
Sunshine drove the porch temperature to 60 degrees. Not perfect, but good enough to pretend it was Indian Summer, beautiful, warming, calm, comfortable.
We watched 30 new citizens swear allegiance to the United States on the Today Show and couldn't help but get lumpy and emotional. They dearly want what we've always had, imperfect union that it is.
Yes, there is a skin of ice on the pond.
But, hey, the thermometer says it is better than 60.
Good enough. Sorry, the lighting in this photo isn't
quite right, but you get the picture anyway.
Sister Becky reported in from Florida that all is well with hubby's new knee, he limped home from rehab today. Our neighbor, Miss Carla, underwent the same operation last week. Now she's walking the cul-de-sac. Her gait is not perfect yet, but it's getting there. Late this afternoon we had a cheery mailbox meeting about getting better. We're sure Al will be right behind Carla with his shiny new joint, which, no matter what, will be a lot better than his old one.
Kathleen accidentally shut down the furnace when she changed the filter a day ago. The house was chilly this morning until we discovered the error and flipped the heat back on. Made us think about the East Coast folks still without power.
Jill cooked hot lunch for Stan and his Mom today. Jill's not the regular chef, so, she modestly explained, lunch wouldn't be as good as Marcia's. But Stan and Mom thought her chicken pot pie and stuffing was plenty good enough, plus Marcia's cherries jubilee dessert, made yesterday, capped it off nicely.
We opened a welcome email from Mom's eldest grandson, who shared some good news about his persistent music career. It would have been better to know more details, we only know that it involves a possible movie score and a director and some hope, but that was good enough to get us excited and happy for this sweet, talented man who deserves a big break real soon.
The afternoon was just barely warm enough to break out the golf clubs and walk a few holes with a handful of scuffed rescue balls. Stonebrooke looks a bit ragged around the greens and the fairways are far from their summertime perfection, but they were quite good enough for an aging optimist with an imperfect swing.
As we enjoy a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale tonight, Kathleen leaves on a mission to take out the $10 feature at a tired old Pizza Hut on Marschall Avenue. She'll bring back the predictable sausage and pepperoni on an ordinary thin crust, but, on a day like today, it's going to be just perfect.
Wednesday we installed a handy shelf in Jennifer's bedroom in Dundas
for her to use while she is working on the rest of the house. It's not the
perfect solution, of course, but it is good enough for the time being.
The shelf is level alright, but the corner isn't square. Whatever.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the Mall

It was Mother-Daughter freak-out on the Mall of America roller coaster when our thrill-seeking kinfolk took a turn around the track, blowing off steam after a sedate visit with their Grandma Bev. In the front row are Cherice and Lacey, followed by Melissa and Emily -- with her hands in her mouth. We're not sure what those fearsome faces are all about, but we do know it must have been a lot of fun. Now, photo fans. . . just who does the left hand in the front row belong to??? Now that's something to scream about.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hey, Jen! Will this work?

Jennifer is moving into one third of her new house in Dundas so she can gut the rest and begin her make-over of the interior spaces in her century-old home. To do that, she needed to consolidate her living space into a rather small area, sort of like moving into an RV.
We volunteered to convert a closet into a de facto kitchen, cramming shelves and a kitchen counter into a space normally reserved for coats. Jennifer owns a ton of spices, so here's our shot at a double-decker spice rack. (Her spice jars all have labels fixed to their end caps, so they're readable from a slanted position, doubled up, as shown above.)
Tomorrow we'll deliver the one-of-a-kind project to the job site, tonight we made a trial run by setting up a mock arrangement with our groceries in our Shakopee kitchen. Should work. We'll see. Patent Pending.
Please note the thoughtful (covetous?) look on the product demonstrator below. Could it be she wants one for her own?

Bragstad Brothers counsel an old friend

Photo by Brittany
During the summer of 1971 the Bragstad brothers, Glen and Claude, drove from Minnesota to Fort Hood, Texas, to cheer up their college pal, who, after five years of hard-fought student deferments, had been drafted. They remember spending an afternoon swimming in the reservoir near Killeen, but little else, which was okay, because there were plenty of other stories left for the long-time friends to share over salad and breadsticks at the Olive Garden today.
Glen's daughter,

Kathleen and Stan drove to the offices of Bragstad & Bragstad LTD in Brooklyn Center today to receive competent tax advice from this respected firm. They got that and much more. After some business, there was the usual grandparent exchange and photographs of the latest trip to Norway and then stories about their springtime trip to LA to deliver Claude's son Bjorn to the Bruce Springsteen concert.
Details of the legendary 1970s parties at the Roseville Aquarius Apartments and pool as well as at the Memorial Blood Bank Night Attendant quarters were covered only briefly and will not be repeated here due to space considerations.
Glen and Claude's mother is doing fine at 90 so we chatted about her and our own 92-year-old. We then learned that the Norwegian bachelor twins are knowledgeable visitors to our nearby Shakopee racetrack. . . which set up our next meeting and report.
Good friends, great times.
Photo by Katie

Monday, November 12, 2012

California. . . of course

Photo by Sosie
This image arrived in Mom's electronic mailbox today, postmarked Napa, California, the apparent sole work product of a weekend of frolic and nonsense. Sosie breathlessly reported spotting this custom vehicle while visiting a friend's home near the Napa vineyards. Vineyard may be the operative word here, but we don't know, because Sosie did not report on any level of alcoholic consumption in the email note to her mother, so we can only speculate. . . and we will.

First measurable, miserable amount

It brings us no joy this morning to report this sad fact. The sorry evidence will disappear by the time the garbage truck gets here today, but the sting will remain. There's no denying it now. We're resigned. Just bring it on.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kell Avenue Girls Club reunion

 Photo by Rob
On their way to the Mall of America today, these Eden Prairie residents dropped by Kell Avenue in Bloomington to see their Grandma Bev. From left are Melissa, Beverly, (wearing a horse collar???) Cherice, Lacey and Emily. It was a great reunion, a long time has passed since this group was together. Reminiscing included times spent around the piano. That brought a smile to Grandma.We have no photography from the Mall of America, where, we are told, Christmas is in a full gallop. Lord, save us all from the earthly celebrations of Jesus birth.

Prognostication witchcraft?

Here are today's NFL picks for the noon games.
Winners will be:
We ate dinner with our lively neighbor Lisa Wednesday night,
and noted that she cleans up real good.
New England
Tampa Bay

These picks will be meticulously entered this morning in the Canterbury Park Perfect Pick contest at the third floor race book, right after our Sunday eggs and browns, in fervent, enduring hope of bringing home $1000 in prize money.

We'll see if our witch's magic spell works.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bag puppet show

Emily's anatomically-correct Holstein milking cow features a Moo-vable mouth that can say most anything. We've got our first-grader at our house today, her loose and bleeding front tooth and everything. Could be out by the end of the day, we shall see.
Next up, making kleenex flowers and then a tea party for three. On the menu? Hamburger, shrimp . . . and a nice green salard, of course.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Hunter shoots deer

Okay, it's a bit blurry. But the deer is moving fast and it isn't easy to
grab a camera and get it all lined up and not be shaky when you're
doing it. Just ask Aunt Katie, who shot the Arizona bobcat below,
all trembly and shaky and excited. A computer program can only
do so much to sharpen it up, you know.
In the weekly Underwood family email to Great Grandma Bev, Hunter casually mentions that a deer cut across their West Des Moines lawn and they were able to get a photo of it.
In other news from Iowa,

Hunter - I am going to my last football tournament this weekend. I hope we win. We are playing in Omaha so we will be gone all weekend. We just saw a deer in our front yard. I attached a picture. We had parent - teacher conferences last night. It went okay.

Blake - I am between football and wrestling. This week I am playing basketball for Hunter because he has a football tournament. It will be fun to play with the older boys. We are doing Iowa Skills Tests at school this week. It is almost done. Yeah!

Knee class today

Our dear brother-in-law Allen goes to knee surgery class in Florida this afternoon, in preparation for the Big Day next week. As veterans of this miraculous procedure, our best wishes and good thoughts go to Becky and Al as they embark on this challenging adventure. We stand by for questions and to offer support. :)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Another sign of the season

This time of the year, more golfers convert to brighter, iridescent balls with the hopeful notion of spotting them under the lowered sun and in the scattered leaves. Alas, not so effective, witness today's back yard catch.


Mom's lead aide avoided a tongue lashing from yesterday's visitor, but barely. Jill spends her weekdays with Mom and lets Birdie run in the back yard after the squirrels. So far, Squirrels 2, Birdie 0.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Food hurricane makes landfall

Pulled pork tostadas with Slaw and Chipotle Cream?
Spinach, Brie and Bacon Mini Quiche?
Upside-down Apple Pie?

Kathleen and her pals attended cooking school in Prior Lake yesterday and watched a skilled chef whip up 10 tasty dishes. The creative inspiration lingers today. There's already been a couple of unscheduled runs to Cub Foods for supplies, a big breakfast in two skillets was served this morning, then Barb Lee's favorite Poppy Seed Cake made its first appearance in years. It was devoured warm as an accompaniment to the Vikings-Seattle event.
Standing by for Dinner.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Weekend visitors

Among the visitors today at Kell Avenue were Aaron and Amber. Aaron is Mom's grandson and works about 10 blocks from Mom's house so he's always in the neighborhood. Earlier, Linda and Ron, along with their grandchildren, Milla and Anja, dropped by for a visit. The little ones got their ride on Mom's stair-o-vator, a gentle ride into the basement and then back up again.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Starting in on This Old House

The refrigerator came out of this cubby today, revealing some really
old-fashioned plaster and lath under the staircase.
The list of things to do at Jennifer's new house got just a bit shorter today.
Jennifer's fixer-upper in Dundas, a suburb of Northfield, has a long way to go before Jennifer will be satisfied with it. She's moved in, now the first thing to do is to separate her living quarters from the main project area. Then the real fun will begin.
We joined Jennifer on her day off for a day of putting up shelves, hooks, doors and insulation. It was fun; Jennifer is an organizational aficionado, so anything made available to keep things straight and neat will be used assiduously. We have no idea where this trait comes from, but she's got an idea for storing everything.
This Old House has great potential. . . wonder if HGTV is looking for a project?
Later in the afternoon Marcelline joined in for a few laughs and some big plans.