Childhood Flower Memories

It is amazing how our human minds work. Our memories can be sparked by little things that trigger past memories and transport us in time.  A song that reminds us of our prom days, a team that was the champion at our high school or a lost love.  A taste, a smell, or a sight conjures up our childhood, or the smell of our Grandma’s big soft hug. For me flowers are a powerful memory from childhood. Dandelions, lilacs, tiger lilies and meadows full of buttercups. I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm, and at a time when life moved slower. We enjoyed the beauty around us, or at least I did, as a carefree child running barefoot through the fields. I can still remember the smells, the warm farm earth on my bare feet and the sun on my face.IMG_2460

Sometimes we loose track of our roots and our history in busy lives. I was recently traveling along the prairie roads from Minneapolis to Fargo on a beautiful sunny spring day. As we went, mile after mile we saw many old farmsteads from the past, now neglected as farms have become larger and consolidated, leaving the stone and brick houses and barns to slowly wither with time. Many were still surrounded by the beautiful lilacs, probably planted by some young woman many years ago who tended her garden and the farm animals, and raised her family on the Minnesota plains. She planted the hardy lilacs to surround her yard, provide a break from the winds and of course provide beauty and color. I could imagine her picking the flowers in the spring and putting them in a mason jar on her farm table. As we drove I could smell lilacs in the air.

It triggered a flood of childhood memories of our own farm. There is no flower that has a more lovely color. Sometimes in a soft light hue and others a deep purple. I would rather have lilacs IMG_2380than roses, and lilacs smell better too. They have a beautiful smell, but part of their beauty is the memories of warm, spring days, and in particular they remind me of my grandma. She would literally pick buckets of lilacs and we would dig in every cupboard scavenging all of the vases in the house to put the aromatic lilacs in every room, including our bedrooms.

I knew when I had my own house I would like my own lilac bushes. When our kids were young, I actually went and dug some at an abandoned farm in Blaine, right before they bulldozed the entire site for a golf course. It was a farmstead from the past that now had to make way for the new golf course. I had those rescued lilacs at our last house, but they were never big enough to pick as many as my grandma did to fill the house with that distinct smell. When we first looked at our current house on the Lake, I was really excited to see many beautiful mature lilac bushes. We have a variety of colors and they are so prolific, I can pick all of the lilacs I want, just like Grandma.

I can still see grandma in her flowery house dresses doing her gardening and tending her raspberries and her flowers. I can still see her and grandpa’s 1960’s blue car, as it drove down our long driveway into our farm yard. They only lived a mile away, so they came frequently. We were all excited to see her, but our dog went particularly crazy when he saw their car, IMG_20140302_0035_NEWbecause she always brought him food scraps. He could not wait for her to get out of the car, and he would practically knock her down, as she unwrapped the neatly folded peach crate papers to reveal the scraps of fat and meat she brought for him.

It never took him long to devour it all, and she would praise him the whole time, what a good dog he was. She always brought something for everybody. In the spring, she brought her galvanized pail full of the lilacs in water, nicely tucked into the back seat, so it would not tip on the ride over. She often brought her homemade donuts along in a dishpan carefully covered with a towel. They were usually still warm. We would snitch donuts from the pan, as they were being brought into the house and we would carefully put all of the lilacs in vases. I can still smell the fresh lilac fragrance as it took over the house.

My mom also loved her flowers on the farm and still loves tending her flowers in their retirement home in the city.  I don’t know how she does it, but she can grow hydrangeas the size of a basketball. When I was very young, she had pots of violets growing in the kitchen window. I still remember their fuzzy leaves and the deep purple colors. She also had a lot of dragon lilies. I cannot see those without thinking of the farm. She had bunches of them in flower beds around IMG_2459the house and the yard, and as I got older I was charged with watering them. I loved the color and the little brown stems waiting for the bees to spread their pollen. I recently planted some around my mailbox, because they invoke so many strong feelings of home and warm summer days on the farm.

As we drove along that road to Fargo, I had a vivid memory of myself as a young child when I saw the meadows full of yellow buttercups. Buttercups have bright yellow, almost glossy leaves and grow in wet lowlands and meadows.   I hadn’t seen those in years. I was instantly transported in time to my childhood.  I remember putting on my rubber boots as a grade school child and walking through the moist meadow, picking the short yellow flowers and bringing some home, where my mom would help me put IMG_2451them in a glass on the kitchen table. They grew so thick in our meadow along our driveway that it looked like a fine carpet of yellow and waxy green. We had meadows full of buttercups on our farm in the spring.

Every child should have beautiful flower memories of warm spring days and lovely scents; of picking dandelions, of running through the meadows free of all cares and playing in the bright sunshine. Of a mom who grows tiger lily’s and keeps violets on the windowsill and a grandmother who brings homemade donuts and fills the house with the scent of beautiful purple lilacs. We were lucky to grow up on a farm, with a loving, but hard working family, but childhood flower memories can be created anywhere for any child. Make time to create beautiful flower memories for the children in your lives. Pass on the beauty to our next generations.

 

Seeking Wild Penguins

There are many penguins on display in zoos. You can watch them swim and dive in their little tuxedo looking suits. They are the cutest things ever. You cannot help but smile when watching them. I had only seen penguins in the wild in Alaska and I felt as if I were experiencing something rare and beautiful. There is something special about seeing animals in their natural habitat, especially if they are rare and far from your own home.IMG_6907

When we recently traveled to New Zealand, I was sure after doing my research that I wanted to try to see the elusive and rare, yellow-eyed penguins. If you see the picture on the internet, you know right away that this is something rare and beautiful. It is not the textbook tuxedo looking penguins we have seen in zoos. Yellow-eyed penguins are not easy to find, even on nature excursions. I always try to plan some things for vacation that are not a sure thing. I don’t know why such self challenges are so fun, but it is exciting when you try something that may turn out to be a good effort, but unsuccessful and maybe even disappointing.

There are plenty of sure things if you plan well, like traveling to see the geysers on the North Island of New Zealand. They have been there for thousands of years, and you know they’ll still be there when you go see them. But these penguins intrigued me. I don’t like being disappointed, but I like that I tried and truthfully, I always say I am one of the luckiest people ever, so I have a good chance at success. I usually see the rare sights, but if not, I have the right positive attitude and appreciate the effort of trying.

IMG_6888The yellow-eyed penguins live on a peninsula by the town of Dunedin, on the east side of the South Island of New Zealand. I was armed with information regarding the available excursions, and hoped for some good weather to be able to trek and search for the penguins.

I planned our trip with the peninsula excursion, and to cover my bases, I talked to the guides and made sure there was other wildlife to see in case we did not find the penguins. They assured me the four wheel van ride there and back would be lovely, and we would stop to see other wildlife on the way. Once we reached the end of the road we would have a challenging hike from the top of the sea bluffs to the coast, and we actually had to do that twice in two different locations. That was enough of an incentive alone to do the trek, so I booked it. I love good hikes and I love seeing beautiful countryside, and any kind of wildlife in a foreign country is exciting.

They picked us up at our hotel, and because it was a bit chilly we dressed in our warm jackets covered by our rain gear for wind protection, hats, mittens and hiking boots. The van was full of other explorer tourists, all filled with anticipation and cameras in hand. Everyone shared information about what they knew about the penguins. You could hear the excitement in people’s voices, all hoping as a group that we could see these rare creatures together.

We drove out of the city and through the hills until we reached the narrow dirt roads. We drove along the edges of cliffs with no guard rails protecting us from the steep cliffs below. It is always extra fun when there’s a feel of danger on a trek.IMG_6918

After about an hour, we ran out of road at the top of the cliffs overlooking the sea. We got out and headed onto the hiking trail and started in a zigzag fashion down the hills. Some areas were a little steep, but it was a very nice hike. It was late afternoon heading into evening, and even though the sun felt bright at first, it was low enough in the sky that we were happy to have our layers of clothing. We heard we were more likely to see the penguins at this time of day, as they feed in the ocean most of the day, and rest on land at night away from predators.

IMG_6988As we got closer to the bottom of the cliff, our guide stopped dead and spoke in hushed tones. He pointed out a yellow eyed penguin almost standing on our trail and blocking our way. It was standing in the sun as if posed to sun itself. Our guide actually pointed out that it was cooling itself in the breeze. I referred to it as a penguin with attitude. It stood there with its bright yellow eyes and yellowish head in its perfect little penguin tuxedo. It looked like it was about to say something profound or let out a war cry, just to be sassy.

It seemed not to mind that we were snapping picture and video, as we tried not to get too close or to scare it. Everyone kept their distance and did not move around a lot, as we had been instructed on our way there. Also, no flash photography, and everyone was very good about observing that rule. I really want to see beautiful things, but I also try to follow all of the rules to make sure we IMG_6931preserve these beautiful creatures for other generations. The rule is to observe, but do not harm or interfere with them.

The little guy eventually dawdled off and we continued down to the beach. We walked by sea lions wrestling with each other and taking naps on the beach, which I loved. My husband and I snapped selfies with them in the back ground and we watched as they growled, fake bit each other and wrestled like middle school boys with too much energy.

We kept moving down the beach and found another penguin along the trial hanging out in the shade under a bush. We had field goggles along and scanned the hillsides for even more penguins that had already found their resting place for the night. We cackled with eaIMG_7008ch other about how lucky we were to see not only one, but multiple yellow-eyed penguins, and to get so many nice close up pictures and watch their little shenanigans on the sun drenched cliffs. What a treasured memory for years to come for all of us. They were peaceful, yet playful, hopeful and joy filled waddling on the warm grass abutting the ocean sand.

We made our way back up the cliffs, huffing and puffing all of the way, giving ourselves the best cardiac stress test possible, only to then go down another cliff on the other side, and observe the fur seals with their babies. There were nursing mothers and babies playing on the jagged wet rocks. Our guide filled us in on the habits and statistics on fur seals as we snapped picturesIMG_6967 and marveled at the beauty of the cold foamy sea and the rocky cliffs, full of chocolate-brown fur seals in the backdrop of the bright orange setting sun.

As we trekked back up the hill and quietly made our way back in the dark along the narrow roads to the city, we could see the Southern Cross constellation, and the billions of stars in the southern night sky. We were victorious in our quest to see the rare yellow-eyed penguins, and along with our feeling of accomplishment, we again were reminded that nature nurtures. We were cold and tired physically, but we were mentally and spiritually refreshed and renewed. Rare and beautiful things inspire us and fill our lives with joy and wonder, and are worth pursuing with our time and our energy.

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A Most Perfect Day

I will admit, I know I am a lucky person. I have a great husband and wonderful children who make me proud every day, and I have a job I like most days. It has provided well for my family. I live on a lake, where I fall asleep at night to the sound of loons, and I can Kayak or Jet Ski off any stress at the end of a work day. Being surrounded by nature and water leads to a calming and happy atmosphere in my everyday life, but sometimes there comes along a day which exceeds our dreams and expectations in life.

I can think of many such days over the years, but recently I had what I would consider a day to remember all of my life. It was a day that exceeded my expectations of life.

My husband and I went on an adventure to Australia and New Zealand to celebrate and appropriately mark our 30 year anniversary. We got back a week ago, so this is fresh in the memory books. Part of our adventure led us to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The Calypso

I loved water growing up, swimming and water skiing, and now living on a lake, and I have always loved the ocean even though I live in Minnesota and could not be farther from any ocean. My fascination with the oceans may have begun with Jacques Cousteau, a Frenchman who was an explorer and scientist, and who studied the oceans of our planet. He had a TV series through National Geographic back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  His shows featured colorful underwater video of fish, sharks and dolphins from all over the world. He and his divers perfected deep diving and spent hours under the surface. I watched every show he made from his exploration vessel the Calypso, but my favorites were always the shows involving the Great Barrier Reef.

He moved from show to show studying a particular area or a particular species of sea life, and created a curiosity and a passion in a young farm girl from Minnesota, wondering what the IMG_9644worlds oceans had to offer. I remember pretending our lakes were the ocean and pretending to dive and explore. I was excited when I was lucky enough to see some of the pan fish in our Minnesota lakes as I swam in our clear but cold waters.

I watched Cousteau intently each week and longed to dive or snorkel and see the beauty of the reef for myself. Over the years I have traveled to the Caribbean and Hawaii, and both the East and West coasts of America to swim in the oceans. About 10 years ago I was certified in Scuba diving and went diving in Mexico, and even in some Minnesota lakes.

It was a dream come true. However, the Great Barrier reef was still on the other side of the world, unexplored by me. I had not been lucky enough to be able to travel to see the Reef of all Reefs. This was the Reef that made Jacques Cousteau famous and the reef that I longed to explore since I was a young child, watching intently as Jacques took us along on his diving adventures — until now.

Joe and I started our adventure to Australia with about 19 hours of flying time. A marathon in travel for sure, but all went well and with some napping, movies and reading we were soon landing. Our first day by the Great Barrier Reef started at our lovely resort on the north beaches IMG_0973just outside of Cairns, Australia.

The weather was sunny and 95 degrees in the morning as we woke up in our jungle lodge, tucked into the palms along the yellow sandy beaches of the Coral Sea. We were picked up by van at 7:00 a.m, armed with our gear for the day, as we were off to catch the boat for a reef trip to explore multiple reefs.

We also booked a helicopter ride back over the reef at the end of the day to see the reef from the air as well. We boarded a beautiful reef tour boat called the Evolution, which was new and had only been used for the last two months. It was equipped with stairs in the back to make access to the water very easy for anyone, at any ability level. It held a lot of guests maybe 200 or so, but it was well equipped to handle the crowds and the crew was fun, experienced, organized and helpful.IMG_0424

The trip to the first reef would take about an hour, and during that time the crew fed everyone muffins and coffee and fitted everyone for snorkel and dive gear. They reassured apprehensive newcomers to snorkeling, and they assisted anyone who needed it by offering guided tours and a buddy to swim with for anyone who needed a little confidence booster. I was so ready for the reef, and Joe and I have snorkeled all over, including our own lake, so we needed no assistance and we were ready to explore the reef as soon as the boat was in position and the stairs lowered for access.

We were armed with our underwater camera, and I felt as if I had been ready for this for 40 years or more. Now I have to admit, I built up the beauty of this reef all throughout my life, and I was a little apprehensive that I may be disappointed, but as we entered the water for the first time on IMG_0703the reef, my fears were immediately dispelled.

I saw corals in pinks and cobalt blue, and fish as orange as the setting sun. It was almost overwhelming at first and I had to just lay flat on the water and just look around in one area to take it all in. The more you stayed in place the more you observed and saw happening before your very eyes. The activity of the multitude of different kinds of fish and sea life was unbelievable. Every color and size of fish, small fish clinging to large fish, one fish the size of a small child and so colorful it looked like a cartoon, and coral the size of tree branches. I was looking at things I had seen only in movies and on TV, and as I moved around slowly exploring and taking it in, the phrase I had heard Jacques Cousteau repeatedly say more than 40 years ago came to me over and over.

He used to say that the reef was “teeming with life.” There is no better way to describe it. Even though we explored that particular area of the reef for about three hours, and then moved to a different area reef for another four hours, we kept finding and seeing new things.IMG_0588

On this trip we spent a week on different boat trips to the outer and inner reefs and a few days on Green Island which is right on the Great Barrier Reef. On Green Island we could snorkel right from the beach and see different reefs. Each time we saw new things my excitement and enthusiasm increased even more. We saw sharks and sting rays, and we saw a jelly fish and many sea turtles. The sea life did not seem the least bit afraid or concerned that we were swimming with them. They went about their business as if we were a part of their big world. That made the experience, for me, even better. I felt like a part of something much bigger in our world.IMG_9751

I could not get enough of the beauty; I was like a starving person in search of food. I could not stop myself. I just kept exploring and swimming and taking pictures, hoping to grasp enough memories for a lifetime of living in the middle of a continent and not on the seashore. In hours spent on a reef I spent little time on the boats or land. I would only come in occasionally to wash the salt water taste from my mouth with juice and obtain more energy to move on. We were there for a week, but no matter what time we would have spent, it would not be enough. The Reef did not disappoint, as I had worried. It was even more spectacular than could be captured in the films and photos I had seen before.

The first day on the Great Barrier Reef ended with a helicopter ride over the reef to see it from the air. The day was as perfect as one could ever hope for in a lifetime. As we flew over the reef, I was lucky enough to get the copilot seat for the best views possible. The waters of the Coral Sea in itsIMG_9712 deep blues and aqua hues glimmered in the sun as we made our way along reefs visible from the air over the crystal clear waters. I cannot imagine a more perfect day, and I will remember and cherish these memories for my entire life.

What started as a curiosity as a young child watching the movies made from the Calypso, turned into a lifetime passion to see for myself, the beauty of our oceans and to appreciate the rich life forces at work everyday so many miles from our work a day life. My passion to see more of our great planet is enhanced by such perfect days when traveling. As Jacques Cousteau so eloquently put it many years ago, “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” No truer words were ever spoken.

I have been lucky enough to have a lot of great days in my lifetime, but seeing and experiencing the Great Barrier Reef for the first time, after a lifetime of dreaming about it, led to a most perfect day that I will cherish forever. Travel provides and maintains the mystery and keeps alive the childlike wonder in all of us and is essential for a full and fun life. Never set aside your childhood passions and curiosity. Pursue beauty on this planet at every opportunity and relish every perfect day.

Fishing with Grandpa and Dad

We grew up close to Mille Lacs lake in Minnesota, and as a family spent a lot of time on Mille Lacs. We swam and water skied and fished in the summer. We had a ski and fishing boat, and
would bring our Winnebago to camp at Father Hennepin State Park. Winter was even more fun when it came to fishing. It was an event and special time with my dad and grandpa.IMG_20140318_0072_NEW

We were only about twenty minutes from Mille Lacs, and my dad and grandpa loved to go ice fishing. I remember one fall the two of them gathered scrap lumber from around the farm, and built themselves two ice houses.

Grandpa was really good at building stuff and so was dad. As father and son they were a good team. They built hard sided, dark houses which were needed for spearing. We watched as they worked for days in the large farm machine shed, with its wall full of tools and piles of salvaged parts neatly stacked under the work benches and around the outer walls. We marveled at all of the old treasures and how easily Grandpa could make old parts fit and work together to make something new.

We walked around the shed and looked at all of the old things. Sometimes we had to ask what they were. He had old parts from horse harnesses, from an era gone by and even square nails and triangular barn hinges. They saved small windows and wheels of all sizes. Grandpa was very 53dgood at saving things. He had weathered the depression and still saved everything.

It was a good attitude that more of us could be better at in today’s world. We so easily throw things away that are perfectly good. We buy too much and we waste even more. My grandma even saved bread bags and bread bag ties and the old metal band aide boxes. They learned to waste nothing and on that day of building fish houses, all the parts and saving they had done came in handy. They did not have to go into town for anything.

The houses each had a wood burning stove in it with a proper smoke stack protruding out of the roof. They built the wood stove by welding old metal together in a small box shape, the size of a large bread box. It had a small hinged door on the end to add the sticks of wood, to keep the house warm and it worked really well.   As a matter of fact, its problem was sometimes too much heat and then we had to open the door to vent it out. It was very warm and snuggly in there even on very cold days. The top of the stove was flat and so many times my mom would send cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup along and we would open those cans and heat the soup on the stove. It made a perfect lunch, especially since she sent along bologna sandwiches made with white squishy bread. It tasted best if actually dipped into the noodle soup.

After the houses were fully constructed and painted a light green sea foam color, a paint left from past projects, they had to be taken with the pickup, one at a time to Mille Lacs. A lot of IMG_20140318_0062_NEWdiscussion always occurred between Dad and Grandpa over the decision about where to put the houses. Should the houses be placed over the shallows, fifteen or more feet, or the deep waters? Knowing where the fish would be was a decision based upon years of fishing knowledge.

The houses were built on skids to make pulling them easier on the lake. They were considered seasonal houses and so they stayed on the lake all winter, but could be moved around by Grandpa and Dad if they wanted to try a new spot. Once set onto the lake, we could go whenever we wanted to fish. As a truck driver, Dad was laid off in the winter and there was not much farm work in the winter either. Grandpa was retired so they could go fishing anytime they wanted.

When we were not in school we could go along. We would leave with Grandpa and Dad before sunrise with our lunch in the black hinged top, old fashioned lunch pail. We usually had rice krispie bars along with our soup and sandwiches and some peanuts or other snacks for mid-afternoon. We took the pickup truck drove onto the ice along makeshift roads plowed right on the ice of Mille Lacs.

We pulled up to the fish houses and file into them. The first thing Dad and Grandpa had to do was to cut the large square holes, and then they lowered a big minnow into the hole. The minnow was held low in the hole by a loop of string around its gills, like a leash and the other end was attached to the ceiling of the fish house. This allowed the minnow to swim around in the hole, but not get away.

The person fishing had the fishing spear attached to their wrist and standing against the side of the inside of the house ready to grab if they saw a fish go after the minnow. We sat on the wood bench built into the fish house, our gaze fixed on the hole. We IMG_20140318_0090_NEWtraded off sitting with Grandpa and Dad, and a lot of good conversation took place during these outings. This is a sport that takes lots of patience. They would let us have the spear and fish too. We did not have the talent they had, but I actually remember spearing two fish over the years. One was a small Northern and the other a rough fish that is called an Eelpout. It is an ugly fish with skin. When Grandpa saw I speared it, he laughed and said “lets get that ugly thing off of our good spear.”

Sometimes during casual conversation the minnow would get jittery and start trying to swim away, and it was then that you knew there was something big coming. My Dad would grab the spear and wait. Sometimes the large Northern would swim into view, and stop to look at the minnow. Those were easier to spear, but other times you just saw the large fish dart through while going after the minnow, and sometimes there was a chance for a shot. They may came back into the hole for another pass, or other times they grabbed the minnow and they were gone.IMG_20140318_0073_NEW

It was mostly a slow relaxed sport, except for those few minutes of extreme excitement and elation if they actually speared the fish and successfully got it out of the hole. Many of the fish were of average size, but there were those very large Northerns sometimes, that made you think there were monster Northern Pike in that lake. Fortunately, we have pictures to prove that my memories were correct. They caught some really large fish, but more importantly we had some really special times with my dad and grandpa.

Fishing was a special event with Dad and Grandpa, but it was so much more. We did not know it at the time, but they were teaching us many lessons. We learned that my dad and grandpa were really talented at building things and resourceful. They taught us how to fish, but they also taught us patience, and the joy of appreciating our environment and the beauty of our lakes.

They were the best dad and grandpa kids could ask for. They left us with great memories of our times together and taught us lifelong skills. They taught us to work together as a team, to relax and have fun, and to save and not be wasteful, and by their great parenting, I feel they taught us to be good parents and to include our kids in the things we did and teach them lifelong skills. Fishing with Dad and Grandpa is not only a beautiful memory, but the age old process of passing down from one generation to another the many skills needed for a full, fun and successful life.

The Energy of Spring in Our Blood

Spring not only gets the Maple tree sap flowing, the warming sunlight adds a bounce to our step as if spring is actually flowing through our veins. There is something promising in what is to come, with the creeks slowly opening and water starts to drip and then flow. The ice on the lakes slowly recedes as it gets warmer, and we have more sunlight and energy.  The drastic differences between the Minnesota seasons are amazing and spring is a particularly special time.IMG_20140318_0061_NEW

The weather beacons us outside after a long winter. The sound of water flowing on the farm was irresistible for us as kids. Even though the creeks were freezing cold we would take off our shoes and walk into the water until our feet were starting to become numb. We sat on the bank warming them in the sun and marveling at the bird sounds, the re-emerging bugs and frogs and the warm winds blowing in the dry grasses. My brothers, Dave and Jim and I were always exploring the farm and hanging out by the creek and in the woods. It never failed, we always had big ideas to build a raft and try to sail it along the creek in the spring as the water was high and moving fast with the melting snow and spring rains.

We built a raft a number of years in a row. We used scrap wood lying around the farm, and we had work shops full of tools and nails and whatever we needed. Our parents were very tolerant of such shenanigans as it probably kept us busy and maybe we learned some building skills. We would sometimes draw up a crude plan and then search for the materials. It usually took a few days or more to build anything worth while. We had all read Tom Sawyer and so the
IMG_5672conversations we had while building were as much fun as the actual launching. Our anticipation of how it would work and how far we could get always exceeded the capabilities of what we had built, but we were never dissuaded by past failures.

Each year we built as if this was our year to be very successful. As each year passed we grew older and wiser in building our raft. I wish we would have had cell phones back then, because then we would have pictures of those beauties. We just have our memories, which are probably somewhat distorted. When I imagine the rafts, they look like a small version of the rafts from the Tom Sawyer movies.

We had three logs or half logs on the bottom and on the top, short boards nailed into a platform that we could sit on, and some long sticks to try to push and steer it from the bottom or the creek banks. Sometimes our neighbors or cousins helped. We always watched out for each other so no one was hurt and the only injuries I ever remember is minor things like scrapes or the occasional black fingernail from pounding our own fingers.IMG_20140318_0075_NEW

We did not have a very deep creek even when it was swollen for spring, but it was enough to float our little raft about halfway through our pasture if we did not load it too full. Usually only one or two of us could go on at a time and it got stuck often in the weeds or shallow areas, but we always considered the project a success if we could get it to float with one of us on it for even a short stretch down the creek. It was usually my brother Jim who volunteered to ride the raft.

He still is an adventurous guy, and also was the youngest at the time, so probably the lightest for riding the raft. Nevertheless he was always game to give the untested raft a try. I still remember dragging our heavy creation to the creek and the elation we felt as we actually got it floating with Jim aboard, riding proudly like one of the Spanish explorers we had read about. It was a spring ritual for a number of years. I suspect that there may still be remnants of some of our creations in the area where the creek turned narrow and shallow and we were all done navigating the creek for the year.

I think the ritual was more about being outside and feeling the sunshine and the cool waters than any real need to navigate the creek. We also slopped around in big boots in the pastures as IMG_20140318_0053_NEW (1)we let our beef cattle out of their winter pens. Most of the mamas had calves by this time and the beautiful deep red colored calves with white faces were as happy as we were to be let free in the green, fresh spring grasses. They would follow their mamas and would literally kick up their heals when they first felt the grass on their hooves and smelled the freshness of spring.

Spring is still an exciting time for me.   It seems as if winter makes our blood thick and slow, but as soon as that spring thaw starts I have an overwhelming urge to dig in my garden and to step in the puddles. I cannot wait to plant my flowers and plan a little vegetable garden. I look at garden websites and survey my dry dead gardens and imagine what they will be with some tender loving care. I love digging in the dirt in the spring, andIMG_5758 even cleaning the leaves. There is still a lot of farm girl in me. I even own a small tractor despite the fact that I am not farming. I watch the lake edge at our home and marvel as we slowly get running water past our shoreline and eventually full ice out. I don’t have to build a raft to enjoy the water as we now have boats and kayaks but the memories of building rafts on the farm with my brothers came flooding back this weekend when standing on the edge of our lake in the warm sunshine, watching the ice melt before our eyes.

The energy of spring flows in my veins as I open the windows wide and the fresh spring air fills the house with the clean smell of a new season. The buds start forming on the trees, and the birds even their pleasure with the end of winter. We walk the dog in the sunshine and feel warm and energized. Spring is a time of fresh renewal and infinite possibilities, of beautiful flowers being surveyed by the butterflies, cooking with the fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden and floating along the lake watching the herons and the eagles emerging in the ever increasing sun leading to summer. Enjoy and appreciate the spring for its fresh possibilities!

Meandering Through Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is an undiscovered vacation destination for many. Most Minnesotans would fly to Nova Scotia, but we decided to take almost 3 weeks one summer for a driving tour to Nova Scotia through Maine and New Brunswick, Canada with the kids. It was what we later referred toNovaScotia4 as a meandering vacation: seeing all of the sights, but taking our time to enjoy the highlights and soak in the people and natural beauty.

It was a big adventure and put a lot of miles on the Yukon, but our kids seemed to really enjoy the journey and not just the destination. They are a fun bunch who will go with the flow of their crazy parents’ travel plans. We were lucky; no one suffered from car sickness even when we drove over rolling hills, simulating the best roller coasters at a theme park. We made lots of stops too, and included places we knew they would enjoy like Prince Edward Island, the site of the home of Anne of Green Gables.

Initially we planned an aggressive driving itinerary that brought us from Minnesota to Maine within a few days. After some lovely vistas and eating the best lobsters in the world, we meandered our way north into Canada following the coastline. We stopped at many beautiful NovaScotia2places, including one called Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick where you can hike around the teetering rocks along the beach during low tide. The rocks look like large boulders on the top, but have been eroded on the bottom by thousands of years of ocean tides, so that it appears that they are teetering on a base that looks too small to support the top. They are located in the upper reaches of the Bay of Fundy, which is an interesting area in and of itself.

This area has the largest difference between high and low tide in the world. It also has reversing rivers that flow one direction at low tide and then the opposite way when the tide comes in. We have been so lucky all of these years in that my husband is not only a brilliant scientist, but he researches any area before we would go and he has an incredible base of knowledge about geography, geology and the oceans. As we moved from area to area, he would show us the natural wonders of the area and give us the historical and scientific explanation.

As we entered Nova Scotia we had seen many beautiful places, but Nova Scotia had a feel all of its own. The road followed the rocky coastline rolling up and down bordered by the deep blue waters of the North Atlantic, and over the brilliant green grasses of the flats where the road is built and bordered on the other NovaScotia5side by the sun drenched, rolling cliffs. It was hard to fully absorb the natural beauty as we drove through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and stopped periodically to hike a short trail or have a snack while watching the North Atlantic roll in over the rocks.   We slowly made our way to a small ocean side cabin rented for the night. As the kids ran to the cabin it reminded me of the scene at the beginning of the Sound of Music where Maria spins around as she runs through the Swiss Alps. I like to think it was the natural high they were getting from feeling the cool, moist, salty air rising from the ocean mixed with the natural dark green landscape, but it may have been that they had been cooped up in the Yukon for a little too long.

Nova Scotia means New Scotland and this area was settled initially by Scottish immigrants in the early 1600’s. After a tumultuous history of claims between Scotland, France, and England the NovaScotia1 (1)Scotts finally “won out” and make up the majority of settlers in these highland regions of Nova Scotia. Our cabin was in the small seaside town of Inverness. The people of Inverness possess such a heavy Scottish accent that even though we drove there, it felt like we were in a foreign country. It was a quaint little village full of friendly warm people and delicious comfort food. Its small town charm was highlighted by the fact that they were having a wedding and a the wedding dance was at the fire station in town. Evidently the fire station was the only facility large enough to accommodate the wedding, which appeared to include everyone from the town as a guest.

We stopped for food and the kids were mesmerized by the lovely accents of the people in the NovaScotia3shops that lined the well kept streets, but we took our food back to our seaside escape as we wanted to enjoy every minute at the ocean. We ate and drank in the beauty before us. We walked along the beaches by our cabin and picked up a few pieces of brilliant sea glass and a rock or two, rocks being the kids’ favorite mementos to collect while on vacation. We actually also found a piece of a ceramic plate along the Nova Scotia beaches and daydreamed that it may be a piece off of the Titanic, as we knew that it had sank in the North Atlantic not far from there.

It added to the mystique and wonder of this lovely area to engage the local Scottish people and to dream about the history of this unspoiled place. Nova Scotia gets some visitors, but because it is so remote it has maintained its history and charm and has not been overrun with tourist mobs that sometimes demand more and more accommodations and features from their own
homeland, which can interfere with the natural and basic experience of the area. I like to appreciate a place for its natural beauty; culture and history and not complain that it is not enough like my own home.

Nova Scotia is unspoiled in its natural beauty as well as unspoiled in its people’s love of drink and dance – to celebrate a wedding, dancing the night away to highland music at the town’s fire station. You learn a lot about a place on this earth by meandering through it, without a stringent plan. It is especially precious if you can experience it with family and see beauty through the eyes of your children.

Washington D.C. in the Winter

A few years ago I was invited to my friend’s daughter’s wedding in DC on New Year’s Eve. Normally I am not one to enjoy big cities or seek them out for vacation, unless it is overseas and has mysterious or exotic sites to explore. I planned to make this trip to DC, and since my husband could not attend I called my good friend from law school, Jenny, who was also invited. We decided to go together, share a hotel room, and go out early to see the sites of Washington.DC1

In all of our travels I had never been to Washington D.C. before, but I had studied history in college and really liked American history, so I knew that I would enjoy all of the museums.

We booked our hotel and flight and off we went. We only had an extra couple of days before the wedding, so we really had to pick and chose between the great sites to visit. The one thing I learned is that we do have to go back. There is so much I did not see, especially one of the main places, The White House. I have wanted to see that for a long time, but it was closed to tours during the holidays. Jenny wanted to see the Holocaust museum, and we both wanted to see the Supreme Court since we are both lawyers.

DC4One thing I am proud of is that I am admitted to argue before the United States Supreme Court. I have the certificate on my wall to prove it, and it is an impressive certificate they give out for the Supreme Court. I have never been there to argue a case and the chances are nil that I ever will. There are a very few lawyers that argue before the Supreme Court. It is a very small specialized circle. However, for a small fee and by filling out an application and putting in a few affidavits that I am licensed to practice law and I am of good moral character, I was admitted and got that large certificate to display on my office wall. That certificate is exactly why I did it even though I knew I had no chance in hell of ever arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States. You only live once. Actually a few years later, I did argue before the Minnesota Supreme court, which was awesome and does not happen often to most attorneys here in Minnesota. I won too, so that is a source of pride for me.

We plannedIMG01005-20111228-1118 ahead and made the most of our time. We did not have a car so we walked a lot, used the buses, and we got to know the train schedule really well. Our first stop was Arlington Cemetery on the day we got to D.C. This was a somber reminder of all of the lives cut short to defend our country. The stones go on and on over the hills placed so perfectly to create the perfect rows like soldiers still standing at attention and in formation. However the most impressive are the guards protecting the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They are so precise and so exacting in their movements and the ceremony is somber and respectful. Many people stand around to watch, but everyone is quiet and it is frowned upon to do any talking while watching the ceremony. People move in and out of the area walking lightly and observing and silently contemplating the overwhelming respect for the location and what it signifies.

We spent an entire day on the National Mall area. Jenny wanted to visit the Holocaust museum. It was such a popular spot so we made sure we were in line before it opened to ensure we could view it and also see other sites. It was haunting and disturbing, but a great reminder how horrible people can be to each other sometimes. I wanted to visit to pay my respects, but it was hard to look at the faces of the people, especially the children that were lost to such atrocities.

DC2I was very excited to find out that many of the museums were free in Washington. In this day and age there is usually an entrance fee to everything, so I was elated to find out this was a very inexpensive trip.  We moved from museum to museum seeing our favorites, such as Lincoln’s hat, the first Lady’s gowns, the largest giant squid ever caught and preserved, and dinosaurs and so many other historical artifacts. We moved from place to place talking about the artifacts and about family, life, careers and our worries, hopes and dreams. Time spent with good friends is time well spent.

I have to say my favorite visit was to see the Constitution. However, Jenny and I were almost taken into custody when I entered the building while on my cell phone. While there is no admittance charge for such a location, they do have heavy security and I did not see the signs as I walked into the building, talking with my husband on the phone, that talking on a cell phone is prohibited. It was a quick call, but obviously not quick enough. As we DC3entered the guards started yelling for me to get off of my phone. It took a second for me to realize they were talking to me, but once I realized these armed guards were talking and yelling at me, I shut that thing down and almost dropped it like a hot potato. Luckily, I am of an age where I do not look like much of a threat, so they did not actually draw their weapons, but that phone flew into my pocket and I promptly apologized. I think Jenny was ready to kill me, but later we had a good laugh about it. The Constitution was amazing. I have seen pictures, but as I always say pictures do not do justice to most amazing things one sees in their travels.

My favorite place as an attorney was to visit the Supreme Court. The building is lovely with daunting steps to climb to the front door, like one is ascending mount Olympus and the large Greek columns are set to be majestic and intimidating. The doors are over sized and many times Photo (1)larger than needed. This building was built and is meant to show power and exude respect from those entering, yet it is a court of the people and so they have tried to ensure full access for all who wish to visit. This is the Supreme Court of the land and as a lawyer it meant something to stand in its halls and on its intimidating steps.

Jenny took a picture of me on the front steps of the Supreme Court building looking towards the Capital. It is a cherished picture I keep in my office as a reminder that I visited one of the coolest places in the United States for an attorney to visit and I did it with one of my best friends from law school. Jenny was one of the first people I met in Law school and we were in the same study group. We helped each other through school and have remained friends throughout our careers. That was almost thirty years ago, so to stay friends that long and to travel together to see the highest court in the land was an experience I will treasure forever.

Washington D.C in the winter was amazing, but being able to see it and especially visiting the Supreme Court with one of my best lawyer buddies in the world, made it an extra special event for my memory treasure chest.