Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation has been named a Minnesota Book Award Finalist

IMG_1183 I am so grateful for this news. My goal in writing the book was to make more people aware of these inspirational women and to encourage others. This recognition will help further that cause at time when women’s history and stories are not sufficiently being represented in the media and publication world.

The honor is even more significant to me coming from a public library. Public libraries in the United States represent a cornerstone of our democracy, open to everyone, and empowering anyone willing to read something longer than a tweet!

Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation is a reality!


A few weeks ago, I came home from a trip out of state and nearly stumbled over a box frozen to my porch. As I fumbled for my keys in the dark, I realized it must contain my complimentary copies of the book I have been writing for four years. Despite the chilly, dark February night, I was elated. I am so grateful that Minnesota Historical Society Press saw the value in these stories and offered to publish the boo9781681340005_RGBk. I am also grateful for everyone who helped me along the way and that list is long. I am going to post more soon about my adventures discovering and getting to know these strong, intelligent, and resilient women.

Mayo Clinic gave them a warm welcome by commissioning a play written and performed by the awarding winning actor Megan Cole, as well as funding an exhibit of twelve of the women, which is on display in Hage Atrium of the Siebens Building in Rochester through most of the month of March.




So, ta-da! Be prepared to be inspired by these women.

Some of these stories have waiting 100 years to be told!! 

Another Minnesota Winter


Today is a beautiful day in Minnesota. The sun is shining, illuminating a bright, blue sky. Freshly fallen snow covers trees, houses, and all open spaces with a whiteness as white as you can imagine. These are the pleasant remnants of Thursday’s blizzard.

The storm had been predicted well in advance, but it was late in arriving. We expected to wake up to a blizzard in progress, but instead there was only a cloudy, gray stillness. Some schools and businesses had already closed in anticipation, and downtown seemed deserted. People stopped moving, for the most part, staying put where they wanted to be when the storm hit. Many watched the mass of blue and purple creeping towards us on the radar screen, reminding me of the lines in Yeats’s poem, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” As the storm approached, businesses and schools abruptly began closing, although not a snowflake had fallen, nor the wind stirred. Even buses were canceled. I felt like a sitting duck, but even ducks have wings they can use for a quick escape. Anyone who has lived in Minnesota any time at all knows how storms can descend suddenly. One snowflake becomes a wall of snow in minutes.

And it did descend, the snow filling the air as the wind gusted. People scurried to get home.

By morning, nine inches of heavy snow had fallen on top of snow that had fallen only days before. We had barely recovered from two storms in the preceding five days. But this storm was worse, a blizzard, and one person died. I am surprised only one person. 1,900 cars collided or slid into ditches, utility poles, guardrails, and who knows what else. Mailboxes in rural areas leaned after being pummeled by snow pushed by plows. The governor called a state of emergency and released the National Guard to help clear the roads. Power outages left a few thousand in the dark and without heat. Two days later, we are left with roads glazed in thick, immovable ice. Salt apparently doesn’t work below a certain temperature, and we have been below that temperature almost all winter. It is scary driving. I try to keep one wheel on the shoulder of the road, which for some reason is the only clear spot on most roads. Is this any way to live?

It has been a long, cold winter, and it is only the end of February. Last year, we dealt with a heavy snowfall in May. This year it seems as if it got cold around Thanksgiving and hasn’t warmed up since. The temperatures have been below zero week after week, punctuated with polar vortexes bringing wind chills to fifty degrees below zero, colder than the surface of Mars, according to one account.

My mother and I have imagined going somewhere, but we can’t think of a good place to go. The winter has been hard almost everywhere. Cape Cod has had repeated storms. There are droughts and fires in California. The national weather map is grim.

So best to stay put, endure it, and try to enjoy the beauty. But don’t be deceived. In the photo here, those puffs of white snow clinging to the tree branches like cute marshmallows are actually balls of ice. When the wind blows they plummet onto cars and people below. It’s a Minnesota winter, people. Keep your heads down!

Ares (1999-2012)


Ares passed away December 18, 2012 at the Quarry Hill Animal Hospital in Rochester, MN after valiantly resisting old age. Kris, Harper, and I were with him, along with Dr. Anderson and the amazingly compassionate staff there.

He came to us in 2001 from a kennel in Dayton, Ohio. Kris and I drove 650 miles to meet him. When the door opened and we stepped inside, Ares ran straight to Kris as if he had been waiting for her. He has been with us ever since.

Ares was originally from a breeder in the Czech Republic. The Ohio breeder bought him and then soon, rejected him as a show dog because his ears didn’t stand up acceptably. Knowing Ares’s personality, I don’t think this was a great disappointment to him. During his 11 ½ years with us he tended to be quiet and gentle. He didn’t care for car rides or being around people he didn’t know. I doubt he was cut out to be a show dog.

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What I Learned From Disney Princesses and Animal Kingdom

I didn’t intend for this blog to be a travelogue, but in late October – only three weeks after returning from Paris and Vienna – I headed to Orlando, primarily for a business meeting. Fortunately, my recent travel companion, Marsha, came along to visit her brother and sister-in-law, who live in the area and we did a little sightseeing. We arrived a day before my meetings started and visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom. My interest in animals and habitat drew me to the park, despite the mixed feelings I’ve had about Disney over the years.

I cringed as a parent, watching my young daughter fall under the spell of the Disney Princesses. There were only five princesses in the 1980s when she was little: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I felt a lot of competition with the Disney princesses and Barbie, who incidentally is seven months older than I am. We didn’t resemble each other when my daughter was young, and we resemble each other even less now. There ought to be a law that Barbie has to age like the rest of us. We deserve to see a 50-something Barbie!

I wanted to raise a strong, intelligent, thoughtful, resilient, compassionate young woman. The stories of women who exemplified these attributes: Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rachel Carson couldn’t hold a candle to the glamour of the Disney Princesses with their sparkling tiaras and taffeta gowns.

All of my trepidation about Disney resurfaced as Marsha and I planned to visit Animal Kingdom. Despite my concerns, I have come to admire Disney’s reputation for first class guest services. Their facilities are clean and attractive; their staff is polite and exclusively focused on the needs of their customers.

So with this back-story, Marsha and I headed off to visit the 1700 animals, representing 500 species, in the 500-acre Animal Kingdom. According to Disney, it is the largest animal theme park in the world, and it is the largest of the Disney parks. We took the safari ride in a Land Rover-like vehicle that took us past giraffes, zebras, rhinos, elephants, and flamingos nestled in realistic appearing habitat. We also walked through many paths populated with animals from Africa and Asia, including fruit bats, chimpanzees, and alligators, or were they crocodiles? We saw an animal I never knew existed, an okapi, which is a member of the giraffe family, despite its zebra-like stripes. It looked like something out of Dr. Dolittle.

We ate lunch at an African buffet that served couscous, curried meats and vegetables. The food was delicious, and while we were eating, we met the princess of Animal Kingdom, Daisy Duck, who was wearing a khaki safari outfit and sensible shoes.

Not everyone is a fan of Animal Kingdom. Various groups, including PETA, protested during the planning stages of the park prior to its opening in 1998, but to Disney’s credit they have placed the wellbeing of the animals first. The park closes earlier than the other Disney sites and animals are brought inside every evening to reduce stress. No fireworks are displayed at Animal Kingdom. They are very committed to conservation and have been a leader in saving the white rhino from extinction. Apparently conservation was important to Disney’s founder, Walt Disney, himself.

Marsha and I were able to tour the building where the animals are monitored and cared for by a staff including ten veterinarians and animal nutritionists, who routinely check the nutritional content of the food with cutting edge technology.

One of the technicians was available for questions. I asked her what the most common health problem was for the animals living there. She didn’t hesitate in her reply: aging. Animals in captivation often live longer than they do in the wild due to the consistent food supply and lack of predators. They develop some of the same maladies that aging people encounter and their remedies are often the same. They get Tramadol, anti-inflammatory drugs, and other medications for their arthritis.

I know some people, less militant than PETA, who still think it is wrong to incarcerate animals for our entertainment. I definitely see their point, but I believe the zoos are important for two reasons. Facilities like Animal Kingdom that support strong conservation programs are making important contributions that are not always possible in the wild.

Also, most people aren’t going to get to Africa or Asia or sometimes even out into their own local wild areas, which are quickly diminishing, to see fascinating birds like the Fairy Bluebird and the Golden Pheasant that Marsha and I saw at Animal Kingdom. There is evidence that people will only protect what they love and it’s hard to admire animals and wildlife you have never seen. Having amazing representatives of the animal kingdom accessible helps us convince people of the importance of saving them and their habitats.

We had a great day at the park, and I am glad we went.

I now have a five-month old granddaughter and Disney has ten princesses now. They have added Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, and Rapunzel since my daughter’s childhood. My daughter, Kris, turned out just fine, despite her nearly constant exposure to the first five princesses in the Disney line-up. Perhaps she was ultimately more influenced by her grandmother, godmother, aunts and other women in her life. She notes that the nurses who competently and compassionately cared for her father after his leukemia diagnosis had a lot to do with her becoming a nurse.

IMG_2971So, I guess I am less intimidated by the Disney characters these days. I admit I’ve bought my granddaughter a Disney Fairies gift for Christmas. Tinker Bell is probably the best known and their “Imagination in Flight” theme is somewhat appealing. I expect little Harper will turn out fine. She has an amazing great-grandmother, terrific paternal grandmother, stellar mother, fantastic godmother, and wonderful great-aunts all of whom will be important role models. And I am planning on telling her the stories of Rosa Parks, Rachel Carson, and Harper Lee while we take frequent walks in the prairies and woods. Who knows maybe we will come across some helpful fairies, too.

Some information for this blog was found in the following websites.






Discovering “French” fries

Benjamin Franklin and I came to the same conclusion about “French” fries after visiting France.

IMG_2517Franklin, the first United States envoy to France in the 1770s, discovered pommes frit (fried potatoes) at a dinner hosted by a French pharmacist who made a habit of serving potatoes up to 20 different ways at dinners for dignitaries to promote potatoes as a food for people. Potatoes, native to South America, had only been used for feeding livestock until his campaign sought to popularize them as nutritious food for humans. Franklin carried home the good news about potatoes, especially fried potatoes.

When Thomas Jefferson succeeded Franklin as a diplomat to France, he also experienced fried potatoes “in the French manner.” After becoming President, Jefferson included fried potatoes on the menu for a White House dinner in 1802. They weren’t popularized for over a hundred years; however, until around 1918 when American soldiers serving in France during World War I came home clamoring for “French fries.”

Even though Americans have been preparing French fries on a rather large scale — to the tune of about about 29 pounds per person annually — American fries are not as good as those my friend Marsha and I ate on our recent trip to Paris. We agreed that if American fries were as good as what we ate there, we would be putting on weight. I don’t know if it is the oil they use or the potatoes themselves that make them taste better. Even with over two hundred years of experience, we do not seem to be able to produce a fry that so perfectly tastes like potato with only subtle hints of oil and salt.

I mentioned my preference for French prepared fries to a local restaurant owner. He noted that fries probably tasted better in the United States in the past when each order was prepared as it was ordered, rather than being prepared ahead in baskets that sit until the fries are served. Or is the difference related to using frozen potatoes instead of fresh potatoes?

The method of frying might also be different. While in Paris, I bought a copy of The Alice B. Tolkas Cookbook. Alice was Gertrude Stein’s partner, and although they were both Americans, they lived in France for most of their lives. Gertrude wrote, Alice cooked, and together they entertained some of the greatest artists and writers of the early 20th century, including Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Alice’s cookbook includes “The Real Right Way For French Fried Potatoes,” which calls for a second quick plunge into the fat, and then “sprinkle with salt and serve at once.” Alice was a stickler for serving food hot. Her cookbook is part memoir and contains many great anecdotes about their life in France, which spanned both World Wars.

Advocating consumption of fried potatoes is probably not going to be well received at a time when obesity and diabetes are on the rise in the United States, but Marsha and I didn’t see very many overweight Parisians, which boggles my mind given how wonderful the food is. I haven’t even mentioned the pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants). I don’t know what their secret is, but it is worth investigating. We all would probably like to eat and drink like they do. Remember they are the ones who believe that red wine is good for us.

It is fun to think of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and American WWI soldiers preceding Marsha and me in discovering “potatoes fried in the French manner.”

Some information for this blog was found in The Christian Science Monitor ( 2 May 2000) <http://www.csmonitor.com/2000/0502/p18s1.html>. Here is a link to information on The Alice B. Tolkas Cookbook (1994) <http://www.serifbooks.co.uk/books/cookery/?book=18>.


I’ve traveled a fair amount, but never before was there a live band playing at my homecoming. It took four days to return from Iraq. We waited twelve hours in a cold, damp hoop house for a plane out of COB Speicher. A severe thunderstorm, followed by dense fog thwarted our departure. I had no idea that dense fog could form over a desert. Julie and I were caught in a downpour and found ourselves jumping to avoid lightening at one point. I thought, good grief, I made it this far, this long, and now I am going to get hit by lightening.

After our first flight was canceled, a dispatcher notified us that an unscheduled flight would be landing in a few hours. We were welcome to take it to Kuwait, but we needed to be okay with flying with HR. HR? My face probably went blank as I was growing weary of military abbreviations. Someone whispered “human remains” by way of explanation. We were tired, eager to return home. If we missed another flight, we would miss our flight out of Kuwait. We agreed.

After breakfast, the sun came out and we saw muddy Iraq for one last time on our way back to the airfield. Water pooled and the thick syrupy mud stuck to our boots with every step. We climbed into the back of gray Air Force C-something and strapped ourselves into the benches in the open hull. An unmarked white truck backed up to the plane and two metal coffins were unloaded and strapped in next to our pallet of duffles. One carrying a U.S. service member bore the American flag. The other was plain.

It was a rough flight. There was turbulence, and they tend to fly high as long as possible and then make sudden, steep landings to minimize the chances of attack. We landed at one airfield, disembarked, and stood in formation while the caskets were unloaded. We then took a short, even more turbulent flight to the military base in Kuwait. Julie’s complexion turned pallid as she struggled with motion sickness during our combat ascents and landings.

In Kuwait we met up with Red Cross co-workers from the Balad and Baghdad stations. It was a warm reunion with hugs and pictures. We had our first non-DFAC meal in four and a half months at McDonald’s. McDonald’s never tasted so good. At 0100 hours we rose to catch the end of midnight chow before flagging down a four-wheeler to take our bags to the customs staging area. We waited there for four hours until the 0500 formation for a briefing. A Major standing next to me in formation kept asking me why we were processing so early when our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave Kuwait until 1700 hours. I told him I had only been around the military for five months and suggested that he would probably know better. He laughed, saying he’d never understand. He was a civil engineer in the reserves.

Navy customs personnel asked us to dump our three carefully packed duffles out on the counter so they could look through everything. I embarrassed myself by thrusting a Subway cookie at the inspector when I approached his station. We had been told during the briefing that if we had any prohibited items like fruit, tobacco, or any food not in its original packing, pornography, or explosives, we could just hand it to the inspector and no harm done. So I thrust the only prohibited item I had at him as I approached the counter, a cookie. “What’s this?” he asked. Maybe he thought I was trying to bribe him. When I explained, he told me I could keep my cookie.

About three hundred servicemen and women and various civilians waited in lock-down status within a fenced in area containing some benches and two tents. The air conditioning in the two tents was blasting at some temperature that felt like below zero to me. Outside, it was over 90 degrees and the sun was direct. I was getting sunburned, so I tried to take cover inside one of the tents where rows of chairs had been set up in front of large screen televisions that projected movie after movie. Exhausted, so I flattened empty cardboard water bottle boxes and tried to nap on them. The concrete was like ice and the cardboard provided a buffer. Nicole caught a photo of me trying to sleep. I resemble a homeless person, although I was in the care of the U.S. Navy.

Eventually we boarded buses and were taken after dark to our plane, which landed in Leipzig, McGregor Air Force Base in New Jersey, and then finally Ft. Benning, GA. There is where an Army band played as we debarked from the plane. As a chaplain and another officer greeted us, the reality that we were home, back in the United States, sunk in. I wanted to cry. I had made it. The dog tags that hung around my neck had not been needed. Now I wanted to see my family.

With amazing efficiency, the cadre at Ft Benning handled our equipment turn-in, and the following morning they gave us plane tickets home. Of course, there was a long shuttle ride to Atlanta, more delays due to bad in weather in Chicago, but eventually, at 11:30 pm (My life was no longer counted in military time) my daughter Kristina met me in tears at the Rochester, Minnesota airport. There was no sweeter moment.

I had seen many public service announcements on the military television stations about adjusting to civilian life. And it is pretty much like they said it would be, but it is still hard to prepare for feelings like this. There is so much relief to being home especially to see my daughter, mother, siblings, in-laws, and my seven wiggling, giggling nieces and nephews, who all gathered a few days after I returned. I was so relieved that everyone was okay, that unlike the 1,100 emergencies messages I had passed in Iraq, none of my family or friends had died or been diagnosed with stage four cancer or incapacitating depression. It’s selfish, I know, but I was deeply grateful. My dogs met me, wagging their tails to the point I thought they’d fly off. They slept next to me that first night. I can’t begin to describe the soft, perfect feeling of sleeping in my own bed again.

There are also adjustments. I admired my daughter for all of the things she handled while I was gone. There are little things that can wait and she let wait. I remember overhearing the conversations of servicemen trying to tell their spouses how to add oil to the car or how to unclog a drain. I wondered what sort of burden they felt trying to run all of the details of their home from Iraq. My daughter handled important situations (the toilet needed to be replaced in my absence and this is something that can not wait in a one bathroom house), and she left the little things. So when I came home I saw that the front lid on our mailbox had fallen off and that neither the washer, nor the dryer were working properly. She made do. But I inherited an immediate to-do list as I looked around our place.

There are also bigger issues that are best left until everyone is together. Kris bravely decided not to tell me that my favorite dog (You aren’t supposed to have favorites, but I do) might have a kidney disease, which may shorten his life span. I am glad she chose not to tell me about his condition while I was in Iraq. Hearing the news at home, I could see him, hug him, and go talk directly with the vet myself. This news would have upset me more while I was in Iraq. But none-the-less, coming home means dealing with everything from the missing door on the mailbox to the ailing companion.

There is also so much hometown news to absorb. You come home expecting everything to be the same, and mostly it is, but restaurants and videos stores have closed. Apartment buildings have been demolished. Family and friends talk about events that happened in the last five months that you don’t know about. And then it started snowing. It has snowed, sleeted, and rained a lot since I came home. These are not the sunny, warm, dry skies of Iraq.

I know from emailing with colleagues like Julie and Nicole, we are all adjusting to a more chaotic world than our days of rather rigid routine. There we got up and did basically the same thing – deliver emergency messages from families to their serviceman or woman – every day. We turned our laundry into someone else to do. Someone cooked for us and maintained the vehicle we drove. We were focused on one mission. Here it seems like there are about a hundred things happening at once. I miss my uniform (I never thought I’d say that!). It was simple, no decisions everyday. Nicole is still wearing her boots. They are comfortable and familiar to us for now.

But don’t worry. I’m glad I am home and I don’t think I’ll leave again soon.

I read an article about a young Marine from this area in the local paper a few days ago. He said he wouldn’t trade the experience of being deployed in Iraq for a million dollars, but he wouldn’t go back again for a million dollars either.

A close friend of mine had the good sense to take me to a poetry reading shortly after I returned. We heard Mary Oliver read some of her most poignant poems about the natural world we inhabit. Her poems are like prayers, and they made me even more grateful than I already was just to be here. Jodeen typed up one of Mary’s poems and gave it to me in a frame:

“There is something about the snow-laden sky . . . that brings to the heart elation . . . Whenever I get home – somebody loves me there . . . Wherever else I live . . . in this world . . . which is falling apart now, which is white and wild . . . Don’t worry, sooner or later I’ll be home . . . I’ll stand in the doorway, stamping my boots and slapping my hands, my shoulders, covered with stars.”

Thank you to everyone who waited for me to get home, who nurtured and sustained me while I was in Iraq – personally by emailing me or sending me coffee or treats or seed catalogues – or professionally by being one of the thousands of Red Cross staff and volunteers who take in and verify all of the emergency messages that I relayed while I was on COB Speicher. And also to those of you who read this blog. Thank you. And thank you to the band that played when my feet first felt the tarmac in my home country.