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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why I believe in guardian angels

The classic image of a guardian angel, protecting children who travel a broken bridge above a rude flood.
I was taught that each person has a guardian angel. When I was in second grade at Mother of Good Counsel school in Milwaukee,  Sister Yolanda instructed us to leave some room on our chairs so our angels could sit beside us. The classroom was already crowded, with 60 of us children, but we scooched over and made more room.

For many years, my bedtime prayer was "Angel of God."
Angel of God
my guardian dear
to whom God's love
commits me here -
ever this day
be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule, and guide.
Once I grew up, I forgot about guardian angels.

Then I became a mother to two boys. Lucky for us, we lived across the street from a hospital. I swore they knew me by face in the emergency room - "There comes that bad mother again, with her banged-up son." There were times I was sure that especially our younger boy, Brian, would never live to age 12. So many stitches.
I thought about guardian angels then, but mostly as a joke. After another trip back from the hospital, I'd say, "Brian, your poor guardian angel's wings are probably all in tatters from taking care of you."

And so it went.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Les Miserables" - a lovely movie

[NOTE: This review has spoilers beside the photo of Isabelle Allen as Cosette and beside the photo of Russell Crowe as Javert.]

"Les Miserables" is a beautiful cinematic opera with very few spoken lines and an overload of emotion. The main roles are filled by people who are known more for their acting than their singing. They all sing sweetly (non-operatically), and with fervor. Amazingly, the scenes were filmed as the songs were actually sung; there is no lip-syncing. The movie is unique among Hollywood works in that the word "God" is used in prayer and not in cursing. Faith is a central theme. The film's few flaws should not spoil anyone's enjoyment of the lush melodies and inspiring story. I plan to purchase both the soundtrack on CD and the movie on DVD. I know I'll watch it again, just as I re-view "On the Waterfront" and "The Year of Living Dangerously." I love movies that address what life is really about and how we can prevail against adversity.

My husband, Mike, and I went to see "Les Miserables" on Christmas day. The theatre was packed - we had to sit in one of the front rows. At the end of the film, people clapped. How often do you hear applause in a movie theatre?

Years ago, we saw "Les Miserables" as a stage play. We met a woman in line. She said, "This is my 28th time seeing it." I asked why. She explained that she had seen the play all over the county - like Dead Heads following the Grateful Dead, I guess, or Phish fans following Phish, I guess, 'cept with fewer drugs.

Why did the woman travel all over the country to see "Les Mis?" She explained, "I love the play because it's about the best in people. It's about mercy and redemption."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

And holy is your name

Madonna and Child by Jason Jenicke
When the Infinite meets the finite, there are no words. But we keep trying to find them.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
        - From East Coker in Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot

Today at Mass I was sitting calmly, thinking about nothing, as I watched the adult acolyte, Marie, set the altar for Communion preparations. She quietly fussed about the table like a woman working in her own kitchen, for her own family, before a meal.

All of a sudden tears came into my eyes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Something to do "after the world ends" - Birth 2012

Image from Mayan calendar
My friend Jim Palka sent me the following information about Birth 2012, a positive reaction to the "end of the world" on 12/21/12 that was supposedly foretold by an ancient Mayan calendar. In my  world, Birth 2012 would be called an "International Day of Prayer." I believe it's the same thing with a different name.

Here is the information:

There will be a global event called Birth 2012 this Saturday with perhaps 100 million people participating to change the consciousness of planet. And there will be something called the “global moment” that will take place at 2:00 pm U.S. central time. It's when everyone in the world who is participating will hold the vision of a new world, a new Earth, a more enlightened humanity.

Could this effort shift the consciousness of the planet? Does organized positive intention work? Does prayer work? Some of us think so.

If you are interested in "Birth 2012," and if you are interested in some names of people involved, here is more info:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Believe it, Charlie: Don't Worry Baby is LIVE

One day not too long ago, I told my son Charlie a story that happened during the first month of my marriage to his pop.
Charlie, who is in his 30s, looked me in the eye and responded, "I'm sorry, Mum, but I don't believe that."
Believe it, Charlie.
I'm thrilled to announce that my new book, Don't Worry Baby - A 1972 Adventure on Wheels, is LIVE on Kindle, priced at $3.99.


Monday, November 26, 2012

The Life of Pi - a mystery to me

The tiger on the lifeboat in "The Life of Pi"

I couldn't wait to see "The Life of Pi." I hadn't read the book, but I had seen the trailer featuring a tiger and a whale - that's all I needed.

I saw the movie with my husband and we both enjoyed the story-within-a-story about the boy stranded on a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger.

However, we are still both scratching our heads about the symbolism alluded to in the story-outside-the-story that enveloped that tale.

Friday, November 23, 2012

50 Reasons my Daughter is Grateful to be Car-less

Anna (second from left) in Uganda
My daughter, Anna Rose Sweet, is addicted to travel. Her blog post, "50 Reasons I'm Grateful to be Car-less", recently got special notice in WordPress. She had almost 800 viewers in one day!

Read it! You will be moved.

How did we ever raise our kids? "Parental Guidance" sounds like a page from real life

Marisa Tomei, Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Tom Everett Scott and kids in "Parental Guidance"
So. I was sitting with a bunch of friends my age - all of us grandmothers. We were talking about old-school punishment. One woman remembered being advised to spank with a wooden spoon that had a hole in it "to cut down on wind resistance."
The conversation evolved to today's parenting styles.
One person in the group told a story about being corrected by her children re: how to handle the grandchildren. "They told me not to praise them," she said. "That's a bad thing now."

We started laughing, and the examples flowed from there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Spielberg's "Lincoln" - better than Sominex

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln
Everyone is going to say "Lincoln" is a great movie, but I saw it last night and I have to say it's better than Sominex.

A screenwriting friend of mine, Patricia Fox, complained to me about Spielberg years ago. I didn't know what she meant. But now I do.

From Beethoven to Gotye: great melody + SIMPLE arrangement = great listening experience!

Gotye & Kimbra

Music and writing have a lot in common. This is what I tell my writing students: writing will be full of life if it has Clarity, Brevity, Simplicity, and ZIP!

I love music. For me, the same rules apply - especially the SIMPLICITY part. If you've got a great melody, don't bury it in mush. I hate overproduced music.

If an already-good melody is produced with simplicity, the result is something I never get tired of listening to. There are so many examples....

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Prescription for Happiness Found at an Eagle Court of Honor

Jon Skipper at his Eagle scout ceremony
On November 11, Veteran's Day, I had the privilege of witnessing an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for the first time in my life. The Eagle was Jonathan Skipper, the son of friends Walt and Irene Skipper. For his Eagle project, when he was still in eighth grade, Jon organized a spaghetti dinner fundraiser to benefit HOPE Network for Single Mothers, a charity I founded in 1982. Jon's efforts resulted in a gain of 31 new Pack n' Play portable cribs, dozens of diapers, sleep sacks, crib bedding, mailing supplies, and donations to benefit families headed by single mothers in the Greater Milwaukee area - a total value of nearly $5,000. John enlisted other scouts in the effort. The cribs and safe sleep education may well save lives in Milwaukee, where there has been a rash of deaths from unsafe sleep environments.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cakelike carrot bread with frosting but not all the guilt

frosted carrot cake image from the Web

My favorite cake is carrot cake, and my sweet pal Karen Cluppert made one for my birthday Saturday. It tasted good, especially baked with the love of a friend who would go to the trouble to make it! Below is the recipe that Karen adapted to be less guilt-producing than most carrot cakes. 

Karen says: "This is really carrot bread, so it's a little heavier than a cake might be. And I substituted olive oil and a little coconut oil for the vegetable oil. The vegetable oil recipe is delicious."

Monday, November 5, 2012

A little town honors her military sons & daughters - and an idea for Honor Flight Vietnam!

Emily's niece Annaliese pointing to Emily's name
Emily's nephew Landon getting in on the action

Emily F. Vanden Heuvel's name has been added to the Town of Erin Veterans' Monument.

         Mom Maureen, aunt Erin, sister Fawn, nephew Landon, niece Annaliese, and dad Tom at the Erin Veterans' Monument now bearing the name of U.S. Marine Emily F. Vanden Heuvel
On Saturday, Nov. 3, I went to a dedication ceremony of names to be added to the Erin Veterans' Monument. I never expected to be as moved as I was by the ceremony that honored a dozen service men and women.

I was there to honor the daughter of my friend Maureen. Emily F. Vanden Heuvel is a U.S. Marine from Erin who served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. She survived her hitch over there and remains a Marine. However, her duty prevented her from seeing her name dedicated.

Tom Vanden Heuvel (with Marine jacket) stands for his daughter when her name is called
Erin is a little town, population under 4,000, located in the rolling glacial hills of Wisconsin. Ten years ago the town erected a humble and lovely little obelisk honoring the sons and daughters of Erin who served in conflicts from the time of the Civil War up to the present.

The ceremony opened with a short speech by Michael Eggleston, the Senior Vice Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars #8834. He called for us all to honor our warriors as the Native Americans revere their warriors. He reminded us that every one of today's warriors is a volunteer serving his or her country.
Michael Eggleston & the Erin Veterans' Monument
Eggleston said something I've never before heard uttered by a military person. He went through a catalog of our wars. Then he said, "War is never wanted nor is it popular with everyone. Only history tells us if the war was necessary or worth the sacrifice."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. In the past, I've only heard military people defend wars, no matter their outcomes.

Big Miracle - a fun family movie based on a true story

I wanted to see this movie on the big screen, but never did. I wish I had. It would have been beautiful. I have no idea how they filmed the scenes of  whales trapped beneath Alaskan ice. Fabulous.

I rented the movie (through Redbox - with no bonus explanatory material) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember reading a movie review complaining that the Greenpeace worker played by Drew Barrymore speaks in preaching paragraphs. I found that completely believable, and slightly comical. Some of the other characters are a bit cartoonish also, but it's forgiveable because overall, the movie has a big heart.

The film tells the amazing true 1988 story of how some California grey whales were trapped beneath Arctic ice but - despite daunting odds - were saved through the cooperation of Greenpeace; television reporters and cameramen; Inupiat tribespeople; Minnesota guys with their invention, a de-icing machine for ice fishermen; helicopter pilots; the United States government; the U.S. military; the CEO of an oil company; the government of the U.S.S.R. (funny line: "Gorby? It's Ronnie"); and an  enormous Soviet ice cutter. 

It's heartening to see a story of cooperation between "enemy" nations, whatever the cause of the cooperation. This is one reason why I love to read the publication of  The International Crane Foundation, located in Baraboo, Wisconsin. For instance, for the sake of endangered cranes, I've read that the two Koreas have come together to protect habitat. The two Koreas!

A fun side note: the movie includes archival television footage. We get to see very a young Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw reporting on the real-life events. And there's one surprise: a TV report by a certain Sarah Heath, a very pretty woman with dark hair and glasses. She bears some resemblance to a future governor of Alaska and vice presidential candidate!

Another fun feature is the collage of photos flashed during the end credits, showing the real-life people with their Hollywood counterparts.

I love anything that shows the best of human beings. "Big Miracle" is a great movie for the whole family. I would watch it again.

Teacher Gail's grade: a solid A.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My vote is the kiss of death

My mom always said, "I vote for the man." I'm an independent voter like she was. I vote for the man or woman based on what I perceive is integrity.

You do not want me voting for you. I have an almost perfect record of voting for the guy who lost in the U.S. presidential elections. In only one case, since I've been old enough to vote, have I voted for a winner. I've underlined my votes, below:

1972 McGovern vs Nixon
1976 Carter vs Ford
1980 Carter vs Reagan
1984 Mondale vs Reagan
1988 Dukakis vs. George H.W. Bush [*This was my only winning vote.*]
1992 Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush
1996 Clinton vs. Dole
2000 Gore vs. George W. Bush [I voted for Nader.]
2004 Kerry vs. Bush
2008 Obama vs. McCain
2012 Obama vs. Romney

I voted yesterday for the 2012 race. I have the feeling that my vote is the kiss of death for any presidential candidate. Maybe if I don't tell anyone who I voted for, my guy will win...? Tune in later for my confession.

POSTSCRIPT NOVEMBER 7, 2012: Yup. Kiss of death. My apologies, Mr. Romney. Carry on, Mr. President. And please, I beg you - cut our national debt. Don't leave that legacy for our children and grandchildren.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What to expect with "What to Expect When You're Expecting"

I have some strict movie rules. Among them is: Never, never watch an ensemble-cast movie.

"What to Expect When You're Expecting" shreds that rule.

The beauty of coincidence

Lands' End fleece roll-brim hat
So. Mike and I are getting ready to take our morning walk. It's one of those autumn days when you don't know how to dress, so I layer the clothing - light turtleneck, sweatshirt, Gore-tex jacket, light vest, fuzzy purple Lands' End hat.

It doesn't take me long to start shedding layers. Pretty soon I'm juggling sunglasses, jacket, vest, hat, and leash (Our dog can run free on our walking path, the "Bugline Trail").

By the time we reach the end of the trail, I realize my hat is gone.

NO! Not my beloved fuzzy purple hat!

Police Beat - Markesan, Wisconsin

Here are some (belated) listings from the August 16 and September 20 issues of Markesan Regional Reporter:

8/11/12: LOCKOUT - Police assisted a Markesan resident in gaining entry to their vehicle without incident.

8/10/12: ORDINANCE VIOLATION - Police were dispatched to the area of Bridge and John Streets on the report of a barking dog. Police arrived on the scene and were able to locate the residence in question, which police have had previous contact with. Because the residence had been contacted previously, Police issued the dog's owner a noise ordinance citation with further warnings to register the dog within three weeks or face additional sanctions.

9/14/12: AGENCY ASSIST - Markesan police were contacted regarding a stop sign that had been knocked down at the intersections of County Roads X and O. Police contacted the Green Lake County Highway Department to fix the stop sign. A short time later, a sheriff's deputy arrived, followed shortly thereafter by a member of the Highway Department who put up a temporary sign.

9/12/12: FOUND PROPERTY - A concerned citizen dropped off a single key attached to a key ring to the Markesan Police Department. With no other identifying marks that would direct police to the owner, the key was placed into "lost and found" until someone comes to claim it.

9/10/12: OPEN DOORS - While on routine patrol, police observed multiple juveniles in the driveway of a business/residence on S. Main Street. Approaching the scene, police observed one juvenile rummaging through a dumpster on the property. Police found a door to the business/residence was open, but nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. Police cleared the juveniles from the scene and contacted one of the key holders to apprise him of the situation.

"Here Comes the Boom" - a fun family movie

Kevin James and Company in "Here Comes the Boom"
"Here Comes the Boom" is a fun movie for the whole family. It has action for action lovers, a hero for hero lovers, plenty of laughs for humor lovers, and a message for everyone.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Recipe for Edie's Aggravation Cookies

[a Web image of cookies that look like Edie's cookies]
I am not a baker.

But Saturday I felt inspired to make cookies for a book-signing. More than that, I felt inspired to make a specific recipe: "Aggravation cookies" made famous on my street by my dear neighbor Edie Schneider.

There may be an Edie Schneider in everyone's life - or there should be. She was already an old lady when I met her in 1981. It seemed she was always working - mowing the lawn, carrying water to the garden with a metal watering can, harvesting the crop with her husband George, then freezing the vegetables for winter. She raised five kids, and lived with her husband for more than 60 years. She and George did volunteer work for the elderly well into their own 80s, and rode double on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle just as long. They wore matching biker jackets. Edie kept herself in shape. Her hair and her nails were always just so. Whenever I visited, she said "I love you," especially toward the end, when she knew and I knew it wouldn't be long.

But Edie was more than the old grandma down the street who was always working and always loving and always looking good.

You see, Edie always had "aggravation cookies" in her freezer. My kids got wise to this fact and would just happen to stop by now and then, to visit Edie and George. They were always rewarded with some yummy (and freezer-cold) cookies.

Charlie, my oldest, asked Edie for the recipe. She gave it to him. I put the recipe card in my seldom-used dessert recipe binder. That was about 25 years ago. Saturday was the first day I've ever looked for the recipe. There it was, the card faded over a quarter of a century - entitled, "For Charlie - Aggravation cookies," in Edie's neat cursive handwriting.

I was nervous about my book-signing. I think that's why I was inspired to bake Edie's cookies. I wanted her with me that day. It made me feel calm.

I felt calmer when I found out how easy the cookies were to bake. That means a lot to a non-baker like me. Unfortunately, all the cookies were not devoured at the signing. Now I know why Edie called them "ag-ra-VA-tion" cookies in the way she always emphasized. They're aggravating because it's almost impossible to stop eating them. I put the leftover cookies in the freezer. I'm hoping to forget them until the grandkids come to visit.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It's kick-leaf time!

Our "back forty" - October 2012
Recipe for kick-leaf time




Go outside.
Take a walk.
Kick the leaves in your path.
Listen to the shh-shh-shh.
Smell the heavenly scent.


Enjoy as often as possible
Thank God for the joy.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Say it ain't so, Tyler Perry

Matthew Fox in "Alex Cross"
So. Mike and I are in the movie theatre getting ready to see "The Bourne Legacy" when they show a movie trailer that I can hardly watch. It's for the film "Alex Cross," starring Tyler Perry and Matthew Fox.

More than once in the trailer, we're subjected to seeing the image of a woman who obviously cannot move. She's lying in a bed, looking terrified. A tear runs out of her eye. A scary man looms above her. He says "I'm fascinated... by pain."

I apologize for putting this image into your head. I do it only to register a complaint, which I hope will be repeated throughout the land all the way to Hollywood.

Hollywood, stop making movies that feature the torture of women.

"The Letter" tops Gail's list of cruddy movies

Winona Ryder and James Franco in "The Letter"
I'm new at Redbox. I swear I pressed the wrong button.

I wanted to rent the recent movie about a plagiarizing writer. Even though the film got mixed reviews, that subject is always interesting to writers like me.

What I wound up with - by mistake - was "The Letter." Within its first five minutes, I said to my husband, "Man, this is moving slow - I bet it was a Sundance movie."

Why do I not listen to myself? I know that the minute I think, "Maybe it'll get better," that's the time to turn off a video. Run while you can!

"Trouble with the Curve" - Thank you Clint Eastwood

Amy Adams, Clint Eastwood and Justin Timberlake in "Trouble with the Curve"
What a fun, fun film. It may be that anything with Clint Eastwood's name attached is a guarantee of a good night at the movies. I almost didn't go to this one because I've felt afraid of baseball movies ever since I fell asleep twice during the overly talk-y "Moneyball."

"The Bourne Legacy" - a fun popcorn romp

Jeremy Rennner and Rachel Weisz in "The Bourne Legacy"
I don't usually do "guy movies." When the Tom Cruise Samurai movie came out, my husband took our daughter-in-law. He goes to Bond movies with our friend HB. He knows my rule for renting videos: Don't get a movie with a gun on the cover.

But Bourne? Jeremy Renner? It sounded good. And it was.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Brian is coming home from Qatar!

Brian's sign says "Milwaukee, Wi - 7,066 mi."
Sometime during the second week of October, our son Brian will travel home from Qatar.

The second week of October isn't tomorrow, but it feels like it.

He hasn't been in Qatar long, but it feels like it.

Brian & Liam the day Brian left before his 10-week duty with the ANG.
There will be one sweet boy happy to see his dad.

And one sweet wife.

The rest of us will be smiling too.

Godspeed, dear Brian.

I love you very much.

Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, and Don't Worry Baby, all available from

Monday, September 17, 2012

Audrey's Best Barbeque Sauce in the World

I served my mother's beef barbeque sandwiches - also known where I live as "Sloppy Joes" - at a neighborhood gathering recently. People commented immediately that the sandwiches were unlike any they'd ever tasted. Too often Sloppy Joe can mean a glorified ground beef and ketchup sandwich.

"This recipe is different because of the horseradish," I said.

"No, it's more than that," someone said.

I told them the other ingredients and we deduced that the recipe is a classic German thing - combining sweet and sour, like German potato salad. Mum was 100 percent German-American, so it all figures.

I have no idea where Mum got the recipe, and there's no email to heaven that I know of, so I can't ask her. I'll share the recipe here and promise you that it's the best one you'll ever taste. Mum's directions indicate chicken but I've only made the recipe with ground beef. YUM!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

We canoed around the whole lake!

Pauline & me at an event a couple of years ago
Pauline and I talked about it for two years: we were going to canoe the whole perimeter of Little Green Lake.

Every summer for four years, I suggested this endeavor to my husband, Mike, but he said we couldn't do it.

Pauline and I plotched our paddles around just a little, two summers ago.

Then last summer we waited too long and the season got away from us.

This summer we re-scheduled three or four times.

But we finally did it.

Nancy is still alive, more than one year later

Nancy Reinsvold is my friend. I wrote about her last summer in my blog post Don't tell her when she's gonna die. Her doc told her that she'd be dead by last July, 2011. It's mid-September 2012, and she's still here.

She's 78 and fighting pancreatic cancer. I visited her today, as I do every week, and we sat on the couch laughing about this and that. Her hardest laugh came when she told me about a robber who drove his car through the glass windows of an Apple store and stole a bunch of computers. Unbeknownst to him, the license plate fell off his car in the process. The police were waiting for him when he got back home.

Boy did she laugh. I could see all her teeth.

Fifty Shades of Grey - a Grumbling Report

I didn't want to read Fifty Shades of Grey even though everyone was talking about. I didn't want to read it even though my writing students were trying to dissect its success. There are so many wonderful books to read and I didn't want to waste my time on, well, smut.

But when my neighbor Marlene plopped the book into my hands and said "Don't judge it until you read it," I took her up on it.

That was months ago.

It's been a real chore to finish the book.

Why? For three reasons:

Friday, August 24, 2012

How to separate a yolk from an egg white

This is so cool I want to do it just for fun! Pay no attention to the language (unless you speak it) - all you need is the video:

How to separate a yolk from an egg white

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ten Tips for Threat Assessment & Avoidance of Violence

This week I attended a mandatory training session on threat assessment at Waukesha County Technical College, where I teach creative writing. I did not want to go. The subject seemed so negative. I thought, "Has the world really come to this?"

It has.

To my surprise, the training was wonderful. It was led by Pewaukee police officer and WCTC instructor Christopher Jaekl, who must have gone home exhausted after his energetic presentation.

I purposely did not take notes because I wanted to force myself to lodge his ideas in my head. I think the officer's tips are useful for all of us. Each one of us could encounter someone who poses a threat at any time, anywhere. Here are Officer Jaekl's tips that I carried home in my head:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Police Beat, Markesan, WI, Aug. 9, 2012

I'll continue to record the "Police Beat" feature of the Markesan Regional Reporter, the newspaper of the town where my husband and I own a house trailer on a lake. Reading "Police Beat" may help us all get through this Silly Season of candidate mud-slinging. Mike and I find that these listings are most fun if read aloud. We punctuate each item with loud "Dum - dum - dum -" to the tune of the music from "Dragnet"...

Having a picnic with Mark & George

Don't read this if you think it's wrong to have a picnic on a grave.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My little book, Calling all Horses, available on Kindle

I'm delighted to announce the publication of my little volume, Calling all Horses, as an electronic book on Kindle. The book is a compilation of favorites from my award-winning syndicated column as well as some poems and quotations.

The tone is light and fun, with just a bit of philosophizing (I can never resist). I originally published the book as a paperback in 1993 - yipes, that's almost 20 years ago! Feels like yesterday.

To my amazement, every time I go through the book, I find surprises and I'm usually pleased by what I find. That's why I had the guts to re-publish it as an e-book. (Thanks to my dear writing student, Katie Rothschadl, for uploading it to Kindle.)

If you like this blog, you'll enjoy Calling all Horses. Same collection of this-and-that. And the price is right: 99 cents.

The book is good "bathroom reading" - it has lots of short bits. You can click on the link above to order the e-book.

I always think "real" books, rather than e-books, are better for the bathroom, but what do I know? I've never wanted to make the loo my library. Wherever you like to read, if you prefer a real book between covers, I still have some copies, available for $5 plus postage. You can order through my website, by clicking on the "Book order form" button:

Keeping it simple for a great 40th anniversary celebration

Chucky & Oliver & "the pee show" - their entertainment for our anniversary

On Sunday, Aug. 12, Mike & I celebrated our 40th anniversary. We kept it simple and invited only our children and grandchildren for a blessing at Mass followed by brunch at our house.
Five grandkids stayed in the nursery during Mass; two of them remained with us. There were nine of us adults in the pew. Our son Brian couldn't be there because he's serving in Qatar with the Air National Guard. Colleen and Des couldn't be there because they were on their honeymoon.

I should mention that the phrase "our children and grandchildren" includes some whom I refer to as "borrowed." It's like adopted 'cept different.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Clatite - Romanian pancakes with cottage cheese & fresh dill...and stories

I met Seana Stoia in spring of 1972, when I took a road trip from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Aberdeen, South Dakota with Mike, my then-fiancĂ©. Mike was Seana's grandson. Over the next two-plus decades, until her death at age 94, I learned her life story from her - and I learned to make some of her favorite Romanian dishes.

My adapted recipe for clatite is at the end of an account of Seana's remarkable life. (Clatite is pronounced Cla-TEE-teh.) Clatite are Romanian pancakes. Seana made them savory, with cottage cheese and fresh dill, as I do. My version is a little more "healthy" than hers, avoiding deep-frying. I just spent a week eating clatite because fresh dill is available NOW.

Seana's story

Seana Stoia was born Seana Biliboca in Dragus (Dra-GOOSH) in the Transylvania mountains in Hungary - now Romania - in spring of 1900. (You pronounce Seana as "See-ANNA.") She was an ethnic Romanian who was never told her birth date; she picked May 9 as the day.

Parasciva (Para-SEE-va), Seana's mother, was the second wife of John Biliboca. The couple had buffalo for pulling the plow and for milk. Paraseva would run when John came home drunk. He beat her.

One day when Seana was nine, she and her mother were outside hanging clothes when suddenly they saw a certain bird (I think it was a blackbird; my husband thinks it was a stork). 

Parasciva started crying and asked Seana to forgive her; the bird was a sign to the mother that she would soon die. And it was true - Parasciva died within weeks. She was 50 when she suffered a stroke, on Seana's 10th birthday.

Seana was pulled out of grade school and went to live with her older brother, where she did the work of a grown woman for her brother's wife. She knew that if she stayed in Dragus, she would continue living the life of a slave. The tradition at that time was that any woman who married went to live in her husband's family home and became a servant to her husband's mother. That was not the life for Seana Biliboca.

On October 2, 1920, Seana was 20 years old, and she and her cousin left Dragus. They traveled by train from Romania to France. The two young women had tickets, but climbed to the top of the train car because they were afraid of being raped by the soldiers who filled the train. They lay on top of the car and held on, soot from the smokestack blowing into their faces. They ended their land journey at Le Havre, France, where they boarded the ship Niagara. It took nine days to sail to New York. Seana's brother, George Biliboca, had long settled in a Romanian neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, and had sent Seana the ticket for her passage.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How to write a memory book for a child after the death of a loved one

When a beloved grandparent dies, how do you keep that person’s memory fresh for your child who is very young? I recently talked to Stephanie, a friend who was struggling with her own grief and wondering how her six-year-old daughter would remember Grandpa, who had just died.

I suggested that she interview her daughter about Grandpa, and preserve the girl’s responses in a little memory book complete with family pictures. I told her I’d made memory books for four different children. My hope was that the parents would read the books to their children so the memories would never fade. The grandparents would remain “alive” for the kids as they grew up; the wisdom of the elders would stay vital in the young people's ives.

Stephanie had a lot of questions for me. She wanted a sort of template. So here goes….

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Police Beat - Markesan, Wisconsin

Nearly every weekend from April 15 through October 15, my husband and I take a mini-road trip to our estate – er, trailer – on Little Green Lake in Markesan, Wisconsin. For those of us who grew up on the concrete sidewalks of of Milwaukee, Markesan, pop. 1,479,  is “Up North.”

Wisconsin folks always argue about where Up North starts. I grant that Markesan is not True North like Minocqua, Wisconsin, separated from Canada by only a couple of hours of lonely road.

But it’s Up North for us, and paradise.

our trailer on Little Green Lake

This is our fourth year at the lake, and we’ve developed a tradition to start out the weekends. After the hour and a half drive through corn fields and cow pastures, our first stop, before we arrive at the lake, is the town gas station, where Mike jumps out of the car and purchases that week’s issue of the Markesan Regional Reporter.

The high point of the Regional Reporter is a weekly feature on page three. It's called “Police Beat.” This is the high point because after being subjected to a week of world, national, and city news full of murder, mayhem and misery, well…

… It’s a relief to read about “crime” in a little town. My favorite listing of all time was the account of the herd of pigs that got loose in the street in front of the post office.

Broken by the heat

In September 2003, Mike & I went to “Festivals Acadiens” in Lafayette, Louisiana. Our aim was to spend three days dancing to live Cajun bands. That we did.

But we did something more.

We sweated.

We sweated like we had never sweated before. We were dancing all day long outdoors, on grass, to live Cajun bands. We couldn’t believe the heat. It was 88 degrees Fahrenheit and so humid we could hardly breathe. Still we danced along with hundreds of people old and young who surrounded us in a happy throng.

Then we heard a guy nearby saying, “Thank God the heat broke.”


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How I got hooked on giving blood

I gave blood again yesterday. Dang, it felt good.

Nope, I don’t like getting stuck with a needle. I’m not nuts. But I am hooked on donating….