Search This Blog

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmastime at Red Oak House

Much as I am saddened to see the autumn season come to an end, it makes my husband, Jim, delighted when I spend about twelve hours decorating Red Oak House for Christmas. He is just a big kid at heart.

I'm stubborn about not taking down the autumn decorations until Thanksgiving has passed, even though I began seeing Christmas decor all around our town two weeks ago.  Jim kept asking me when I was going to do the deed, and I told him not until after I had attended the Moscow Ballet's production of The Nutcracker with a dear friend, as that would surely put me in the holiday spirit.

Once I dig in, we go all out here, as we have two lifetimes of Christmas decorations in our storage, including a set of Waechtersbach dishes from Germany. I began collecting the dishes in 1981 when I was given a gift of a two-tiered cookie plate. Sadly, that plate was broken several years ago when we made the move to this house.  By collecting a few pieces each year, I put together a fairly complete set.

Father Christmas is also a recurring theme here and Jim even has "Santa on a Buffalo' from some years past.

Like so many others, I am filled with nostalgia when I unwrap these things and place them around the house. I text back and forth with my friend, Pamela Jean, who gave me this lovely glass hummingbird ornament many years ago and she tells me she still has a wreath I gave her. I know at her church in Arkansas they are busily preparing for Advent and these rituals link us no matter how long it has been since we've been together.

The days are growing shorter here on the northern plains and thus we fill our lives with the light of Christmas.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Slope County Lessons

I am a daughter of Slope County, one of the many grandchildren of Andy and Lillian Silbernagel.

Slope County is one of the least populated counties in the United States.

I was named after Lillian Hovick, my maternal grandmother. I can see my daughter Rachel's nose in her nose.

My last memory of her is when she and I went picking juneberries in the pasture west of our place, along the banks of the west fork of Deep Creek. I was eleven. On the way home, she let me sit in her lap and "drive" the blue Ford Galaxy.  A few days later, we buried her at Tuttle Cemetery, southwest of Rhame, North Dakota. She baked the best sugar cookies ever.

To this day, I use her salt & pepper shakers in my Bismarck kitchen.

She and her sister Anna herded horses in the Powder River valley of Montana, when they were young women, before they were married women raising children and sheep, and milking cows.

What would this daughter of Norwegian immigrants think of a world of Google and Facebook and Twitter? Nonsense, probably.  She might even thunk someone over the head with her rolling pin at such foolishness. I would do well to bear in mind her wisdom.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Beyond the Bedroom Wall

The year I was a sophomore in college, one of my mentors, my Lutheran pastor, was reading a novel. He told me I should read it, and so I did. I remember exactly where we were and what the car in which we were riding looked like. I paid attention, as I greatly respected this man.

The book was Beyond the Bedroom Wall, a novel by a North Dakotan, Larry Woiwode.

I had a full academic load and a part-time job, but I found the time to read the novel. Profoundly moved, my mentor asked me what in particular I liked about the book, and I told him that I felt the author had captured the protagonist's voice, a woman, exceptionally well.

Here is the first paragraph of the novel:

"Every night when I'm not able to sleep, when scrolls of words and formulas unfurl in my mind and faces of those I love, both living and dead, rise from the dark, accusing me of apathy, ambition, self-indulgence, neglect--all of their accusations just--and there's no hope of rest, I try again to retrace the street. It's an unpaved street and it's the color of my hand. It's made up mostly of the clayey gumbo from the flat and tilting farmland all around this village so small it can be seen through from all sides, and its ungraded surface is generally overrun with ruts that are slippery and water-filled in spring, ironlike in summer, furred in fall with frost as phosphorescent as mountain ridges on the moon's crust, and in winter buried beyond all thought except for any thought that clay or gravel or the booted feet of people crossing ice-covered snow above might have. It's the main street of Hyatt, North Dakota, and it's one block long. I lived in Hyatt from the time I was born until I was six and returned only once, at the age of eight, wearing a plaid jacket exactly like my brother's, too light for the weather, and ran up and down this street with changed friends, playing hike-and-seek between buildings that stand deserted, now that time has had its diminishing effects."

By the time I read this novel, I was a college English major and I was immersed in the glory of learning new things every day from all of my professors.  I recognized the places Woiwode wrote about as I, too, had grown up in rural North Dakota.

That there was a New York Times bestseller written by a North Dakotan was big news. Little did I imagine that one day I would become friends with the writer, well acquainted enough that I would recognize him when our paths cross in the Bismarck Menards parking lot.

At the time that Beyond the Bedroom Wall was published, he lived in New York City, but he now lives in the rural Hettinger County, near Mott, and teaches at Jamestown University, traveling back and forth each week.

Perhaps I should re-read the novel, with my hard-earned wisdom of years changing my perspective and appreciate it anew.

What is your Bedroom the Bedroom Wall memory?

The shelves in the library at Red Oak House are filled with Woiwode books and we attend his readings whenever we are able. We eagerly await his new writing, this author who captures the essence of this place so well that he was named the North Dakota Poet Laureate. Write on, Larry, and Godspeed.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?

Jim requested that I bake a cherry pie. We found a jar of Door County Cherry Pie Filling at Seed Savers in Iowa and brought it home. I tucked it away for this special occasion.

While pumpkin pie is traditional Thanksgiving fare, I set my mind to making the cherry pie for the holiday feast. I mixed up my pie crust using a recipe I've had for many years and perfected. While I was shaping it with my Grandma Lillie's rolling pin, I thought about my very early attempts at making pie crust, as a Slope County teenager. Several were not fit to eat and I had to throw these out for the chickens. I'm so grateful that I have my namesake's rolling pin in my kitchen. I consider it to hold magical powers.

The table is set and all of the food is prepared, and now we await our guests' arrival.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Elkhorn Ranch: a love letter

In the last days of 2016, Jim and I sent a handwritten letter to President Barack Obama, a heartfelt plea to him to act in his last days to protect the Elkhorn Ranch. We were inspired to do this after a Christmas winter campout to that area.  Here is a two-part series Jim wrote about that campout: Camping at the Elkhorn Part 1 and Camping at the Elkhorn Part 2

We carefully chose a card from the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, and used a Theodore Roosevelt National Park postage stamp on the envelope. From a lifetime of knowledge of this landscape, we drew by hand the map upon which we overlaid a vision for the protection of this heartbreakingly beautiful and important place. It is our Love Letter to the Elkhorn Ranch.

We put it in the mail and then braced ourselves for the inauguration of a new President, fearful that conservation would take a backseat to the interests of the captains of industry and finance, profits above all.  The sun kept coming up in the east and North Dakota inaugurated a new governor, Doug Burgum. We even attended his inauguration ball and talked to him about Bad Lands wilderness proposals at this festive event.

And as each week passed by, we kept on reading our emails, and going to meetings, and writing letters, and writing blogs, all for the protection of wild places in the Bad Lands of North Dakota.

Occasionally, I wondered whatever happened to that note, and I'll admit that I hoped that it would find a home in the Obama Presidential Library.

On Monday, as is true on every day but Sunday, our friendly mail carrier, Jamie, dropped a stack of envelopes into our slot. I collected and sorted through those. Lo and behold, here was a letter from Barack Obama, a reply to our card. Here it is, to Jim and Lillian. My sense of hope, for just this moment, is restored.

If this story inspires you just one tiny bit, please consider writing a letter to the current President. You never know what might change the course of history.

Monday, November 20, 2017

On my personal Laura Ingalls Wilder quest

Friends and family know that I'm a fervent fan of the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I've written about this before on my blog, including in this book review.  There was a time in my life when I read her books over and over, but I eventually moved on to devouring the books about her, of which I have a dozen or more. Just today a good friend sent me the link to this article, "Little House in the Prairie and the Truth about the American West" in today's New York Times which just goes to show that Wilder's writings continue to inspire and interest readers.

Over the years I've made a pilgrimage to all of the LIW sites in the United States with the exception of Walnut Grove, MN, and Malone, NY.  It is my intention to travel to Walnut Grove next summer with my sisters. Maybe we can even talk my daughter into joining us.

On our recent blue highways trip to Iowa and back, I lobbied Jim to let me stop at the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. We had been there once before a few years back, but I did not learn until later that Laura's daughter Rose's papers are deposited there. These papers include handwritten documents by Laura, a treasure trove of interesting items. In advance of my visit, I communicated with a member of the staff and he graciously provided me with very helpful links to review to prepare myself for the visit.

We arrived at the Hoover Library early one morning, just as it was opening. Jim went to the museum to see new exhibits and I went into the Library. The Library was built in 1960 and Rose Wilder Lane wrote a biography of Hoover so her papers were felt to be a natural fit to be deposited here by her executor Roger Lee McBride.   Spencer Howard checked me in and issued me a Researcher Identification card. As a past librarian and museum archivist, I have a particular affinity for the people who labor away in places such as this, ensuring that our history and literature will be preserved in perpetuity, and Mr. Howard couldn't have been more helpful.

Lillian Crook and Spencer Howard

The Little House Heritage Trust owns the copyright for Wilder's works and many of her artifacts can be seen at Rocky Ridge Farm near Mansfield, Missouri. I visited there in 1982 and so wish that I could go again. Maybe someday.

Mr. Howard brought me the finding aid and I requested twelve boxes, mindful that I had only the morning for this visit. My photographs in this blog are reproduced as a courtesy of the Hoover Library.

I was so thrilled to sit and look through page after page of her letters to "Manly Dear", Laura's husband, Almanzo, letters that illustrate her powers of description, many written to him when she traveled to San Francisco, where their only child, Rose, was living.

Here are a couple of the passages that spoke to me:

"Feb. 5, 1937 But I am so having to live over those days with Pa and Ma anyway, so I did." She refers to correspondence with her relatives who shared remembrances that added rich detail to her books.

"March 12, 1937 People drive me wild..."

Almanzon and Laura in Florida

Rocky Ridge Farm

Almanzo Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Rose Wilder Lane


Charles "Pa" Ingalls
 There is a copy of her father, Charles Ingalls' homestead document dated May 11, 1886, from Watertown, SD, for which he paid a $3.86 filing fee. There are the original manuscripts for Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy. There is the handwritten first page from By the Shores of Silver Lake and galley proofs for Little Town on the Prairie.

Another document that was of great interest to me was the questionnaire that Almanzo completed for Rose as background for her book Free Land as well as the manuscript for Free Land.  Almanzo's answers were fascinating!

I've always felt that these books have resonated with me all these decades because I am the granddaughter of pioneers. When I was a young girl, my mother sewed a pioneer girl dress and bonnet for me, out of green calico and I still have these cherished items. This year, I loaned these to my granddaughter Seraphina and just in the nick of time I shipped these to her as the fit was, her mother reported to me, perfect. She wore the outfit for Halloween.

Backtracking to an earlier day in the trip, our first night was spent in Spring Grove, MN (I know, I know, so close to Walnut Grove!). As we reached the city limits, I immediately spotted a sign for The Wilder Museum. I made inquiries at a downtown pizza place and the girl working there proudly told me she also worked at the museum. I had completely forgotten that Almanzo's parents had moved to Spring Grove. We explored the area the next morning, knowing that we wouldn't be able to get into the museum, as it was the off-season. It is housed in the old Methodist Church where the Wilders worshipped. At one point, Almanzo and Laura lived with his parents in Spring Grove. We drove out to the city cemetery and located the family graves, including Almanzo's brother Royal.

Royal Wilder headstone

On we traveled on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, where we saw a couple of Amish buggies, driving along the same road.

Our next destination was tiny Burr Oak, Iowa, just across the Minnesota border. Again, it was the off-season so everything was locked up tight, nevertheless we enjoyed a walk around the town and Jim even persuaded me to pose for a silly photograph or two, channeling my inner pioneer girl.

And wait, there's more! Ten Things You Probably Didn't Know about Laura Ingalls Wilder