A Beautiful Sight . . . Everyday

 

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine was admitted to the hospital for a “routine” procedure. She ended up in an ICU and had several more surgeries due to unexpected complications. Her recovery will be long and will involve another surgery.

A few days after I visited her in the hospital, I drove past a patch of prairie at dusk. I was in a hurry, but I thought that my friend would appreciate seeing the late fall colors vividly draped across this timeless landscape. I stopped quickly, backed up the car, jumped out, and took a picture on my phone before rushing on my way.

I emailed the image to my friend and in return discovered that taking the photo had as much of an impact on me as it did on her. She appreciated the beautiful view that she couldn’t get out to see for herself. And I realized that I had slowed down barely, but enough to be connected, at least for the moment, with the beauty around me.

I decided to take a photo of something beautiful for her (and me) everyday. Initially I missed sending images a couple of days when the weather was dark and rainy. I learned that I had to intentionally look for beauty. Now, during my drive into town everyday, I watch for something beautiful. If I don’t see something in the morning, I look in the afternoon, including when my canine companion, Beethoven, and I take a walk.

My search for beauty has become a powerful antidote to the frightening and depressing news of wild fires, hurricanes, mass shootings, and mean spirited Tweets and executive orders emanating from the White House. I had been struggling to cope with all of the depressing and demoralizing news, wanting to ignore it for my own sanity, but also fearing my silence would passively condone destructive actions and attitudes.

While I am still not totally sure what my role as a writer, teacher, friend, and grandmother is during this time, I sense I should be doing what I do best. And for now, I am finding, appreciating, and sharing beauty everyday, as an act of healing and strengthening, so I can continue to write, teach, and grandmother the best that I can during a trying time.

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!

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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.

 

 

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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

Snowballs.2014

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

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.

http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/animal-kingdom/

http://ibc.lynxeds.com/species/asian-fairy-bluebird-irena-puella

http://ibc.lynxeds.com/species/golden-pheasant-chrysolophus-pictus

http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/animal-kingdom/attractions/the-tree-of-life/

http://www.okapiconservation.org/

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>.