Saturday, November 28, 2009


"BURNING LEAVES" by Charles L. Peterson

I'm not sure how many people know the meaning of the title of this post. I Googled the phrase and found a lot of confusion and not many answers. Apparently one or more dictionaries defined it as warm, and occurs when seaports are free from ice. 

On one word usage forum I looked at there were many Americans who were stumped by the phrase. It may be of Midwestern or far northern states' origin. It is a well-known term here in North Dakota.

Open Winter occurs when the temps are unseasonably mild and the snows of winter are held in abatement. The big waters remain free of ice and wildlife are easily able to get out and about to feed in fields and along rivers. But it does apply to humans as well!

"WAITING ON THE VERANDAH" by Marie Firmin Girard

In dramatic contrast to November 2008, our spate of mild weather continues into the last week of November. It's generally been in the 50s and even some 60s. I've been able to go outside on a  comfortably warm afternoon to observe dozens of cedar waxwings enjoying a feast from red-fruited trees (crabapples?) Since the berries are fermented, I do hope the birds didn't have far to fly.

On late afternoons, the light slanted very low, turning the bare tree branches into an orange-y rust. It is pure pleasure just to drive along the Bismarck streets and observe the patterns of the branches against a blue sky.

Blue skies. It may not seem much to you, but it means a lot to us. The sky has seldom been blue in Bismarck for almost an entire year. Winter - which came early - was pure hell, spring was a wet hell, summer was not quite hell but cloudy and wet. After an unbelievably beautiful September, October reverted to deja vu - cold, wet, cloudy, and gray.

"AUTUMN LEAVES" by John Everett Millais

And then came November, an open November - with mild and dry weather. One of the clerks at the post office told me it's because the 2008-2009 winter is an El Nino season. That may be the cause, as other El Nino years have meant mild winters for us. I hope so. But whatever the reason, I'll take it. I wear just a light jacket, not a winter coat. No warming up the car - just a quick defrosting of the windows. No slippery or snow-clogged streets to maneuver.

I know, I know, I blog about the weather a lot. We North Dakotans get kidded about talking so much about the weather. But at least it means that we are more connected with nature than our city cousins. Bismarck is classified as a small city, but because of our northern location, we are often cast into the role of rural pioneers as we shovel out from blizzard after blizzard.

"A SUSSEX AUTUMN" by Henry LaThangue

This year, we got to experience a Thanksgiving that most of America enjoys: seeing the subtle colors of late fall - the browns, the grays, the golds - instead of a blanket of white. We were able to put pumpkins out on the stoop without having them freeze to the steps, not to be pried loose until spring thaw.

We could travel "over the river and through the woods" to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving without having to break out our winter survival kits (which should always "be kept replenished and stored in the trunk of your car"). When Thanksgiving dinner was over, we could send the kids outside to play without jamming them into snowsuits, mittens, scarves and boots.

Artist Unknown to me

The turkeys were the only things that were frozen. The person carrying the pies from the car to the house didn't slip on the ice and fall. The smokers could be shooed outdoors without guilt. The weather at the Macy's Day parade actually matched ours for once. We could take an outdoor stroll to walk off our turkey dinner without forging through deep snow.

The freshly-cleaned house did not have an entryway full of smelly wet wool coats and dripping overshoes. People going to the Black Friday sales didn't fall over dead in line like so many frozen toothpicks.


For now, the snowblowers are parked, the shovels sit unused, the cars start happily without protest, the pheasants and other wild birds forage at will. The sidewalks and streets are bone dry, the dog doesn't mind going outside, the Christmas lights could be put up without sliding off the slippery roof. If it were allowed, we could still burn leaves (most ND cities have burn bans). We could even do last-minute gardening chores.

As my husband said, every day without snow is a day off winter. We've already shaved a month off winter this season.

God's in his heaven and all's right with the world.

And for all of this, I am so truly, truly thankful. Hallelujah for an Open November and let's hope it continues into an Open Winter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


KFC and Beer - The Redneck Version of
Norman Rockwell's Famous Thanksgiving Painting

It's a funny thing about families. We have traditions that no one better mess with. Take Thanksgiving Dinner, for example.

Some people have their Thanksgiving Dinner as early as noon or 1:00. Some like it later in the afternoon. Others, like us, have it for their evening meal (we used to be a "Dinner at 4 p.m." family but somehow it got put on the table later and later every year, so we finally admitted it's not going to be earlier than 6 o'clock.)

It seems that once a meal time is decided upon, it is set in stone. The same holds true for the menu. My family sticks to pretty much the same one year after year. There's been one phase out, and one minor substitution, one "might or might not serve it depending on how we feel", but that's about it. Here's what's on a typical Fredericksen-Fagerland Thanksgiving table: Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stove top stuffing (dressing), scalloped corn, French's green bean casserole, dinner rolls, whole cranberries, lefse, and some sort of pie, ice cream optional.

For years, I used to make New England Yam Bake, which involves ringing yams with pineapple slices and covering them with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, flour and cinnamon, topped with pineapple juice and chopped hazelnuts. At the very end of the baking period, the dish is covered by marshmallows and broiled for a few minutes. I finally realized that other people were eating this dish only out of politeness, and I wasn't that much of a fan of yams, either, making the dish just for the nutty, sweet topping.

I think the year I quit making the yam bake was the year after my 1- and 2-year-old great nephews, Riley and Bailey, got into the marshmallows, giving them a terrible sugar high. The next day, I discovered that our cocker spaniel, Lady, was covered by a sticky mess which turned out to be marshmallow goo put there by little fingers.

If my sister has to work, I skip the green bean casserole, her favorite. Sometimes we make dressing, but if we forget it in the melee, no one seems to mind. Anyway, nothing could ever top my mother's savory turkey dressing, which she made in a separate pan. That gave it great appeal to me, as I have never like dressing that's been stuffed up a turkey's butt.

We used to bake crescent rolls, but they always burned on the bottom, so we switched to brown and serve rolls. Everyone likes them better. Lefse is a Norwegian thing (it's like a tortilla, only made with mashed potatoes) and is the signal to us that the Christmas season starting. Kristen, when she was home, could always be counted on to have some lefse, as did her cousin Nick when he lived in Bismarck.

For dessert, we used to have the traditional pumpkin pie but gravitated to kinds we like better. When it's my turn to furnish pie, I feel no shame in going to Perkins and purchasing their caramel apple pie. If it's Glori's turn, she brings a yummy Fruits of the Forest pie.

We have absolutely no desire to tinker with this menu. But judging by the multitude of Thanksgiving menus and recipes on the Internet and in magazines, there must be a great demand for "something completely different".

I know there are many variations on our menu across the country. For example, some Italian families serve lasagna or other pasta on Thanksgiving, which I find extremely odd. But then again, they probably consider our choices odd. It's like making chili - everyone has their own recipe which is not only THE BEST but also THE ONLY POSSIBLE ONE.

I'm sure some people think it is a sacrilege not to have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. My  mother-in-law would never have dreamed of not serving it, along with her ultra-rich pecan pie, so sweet it made your teeth hurt (but good!). Squash is about as traditional a Thanksgiving side as you could have, but we never consider  it. There are some people who put oysters in their stuffing. Ewww! And what's up with mac and cheese on the Thanksgiving table?

People would probably ask us things like: "You don't use the giblets for your gravy?" "What, you don't like turnips or parsnips?" "You're not serving a green salad - can't you have just one healthy item on the table?" ("Nope, nope and nope!")

Do you like your turkey deep fried or brined? Or do you substitute tofurkey or turkducken? Do you serve bread or corn pudding, glazed carrots or Brussels sprouts, collard greens, sausage or cornbread stuffing,  riced or gratin potatoes, pumpkin cheesecake or sweet potato pie? Whatever traditional or new dish is on your Thanksgiving table this year, do enjoy.

Oh, by the way, save the white meat for me.

PS - Check out this great link entitled: "5 Dishes I Wouldn't Feed A Dog But I Do Eat To Be Polite At Thanksgiving: I can't believe there are that many people put off by cranberry sauce! I love it myself.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


For some reason I am very much in a Thanksgiving mood this year, full of nostalgia over Thanksgivings and Thanksgiving menus of the past. That's a good thing. I've always hated it when Thanksgiving gets swallowed up in premature Christmas madness. 
There have been some very memorable - or shall I say notorious - Thanksgivings in my life.

I went to college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, a six-hour drive from home. I had no car and had to always snag rides from semi-strangers going in my general direction - always a dicey proposal at best.

One Thanksgiving my roommate, who was from Williston, got a ride for us with another Williston native. The guy turned out to have a wreck of a car (I remember that the left rear door had to be tied shut with a rope.) Due to many stops and starts, it tooks us way more than six hours to get home. I had arranged for my parents to meet me at the bowling alley in Stanley, knowing that John Jones would not detour all the way to Larson for me.

By the time we finally arrived, the bowling alley was closed for the night. I later found out that my parents had been there, waited for hours and left again. They had no way to know what had happened to me. Remember, this was in the days before cell phones. I had to ride all the way to Williston and stay overnight with Joan, and my stepdad had to drive the 180 miles round trip to get me the next morning.

The first year Dan and I moved to Bismarck-Mandan, there was a terrible ice and snow storm the day before Thanksgiving. We hemmed and hawed, but finally decided we just couldn't risk driving home. That was a bitter pill for me to swallow. I was pregnant and weepy. Living in a new town and knowing very few people didn't help either. Dan and I decided to make a full Thanksgiving dinner and headed for the grocery store that Wednesday evening. Did I mention that I had morning sickness that went on all day? I will never, ever forget the tremendous will power it took for me to make it through the store without barfing. I got to the car door before I whoopsed. After I sat down to dinner the next day, I suddenly had to excuse myself for a good half hour or more, for the same reason.

One Thanksgiving when Dan was hunting elk in Montana, pity was taken on Kristen and me and we were invited to not one but two Thanksgiving dinners, one in the early afternoon and one in late afternoon. Yes, we went to both, and I ate heartily at both, having just enough time to digest the first dinner before attacking the second. The next day I was terribly ill. I may have had the stomach flu, but I thought otherwise. In what I now realize was a terrible faux pas, I called both hostesses and asked them if anyone else got food poisoning from their dinners.

On yet another year when Dan was away hunting, my sister Glori cooked Thanksgiving dinner at her Fourth Street apartment. That's the year we both got very tipsy on white wine and I ended up breaking one of her Duncan Phyfe chairs (in my defense, it was old and very brittle). Thank goodness I lived only a few blocks away.

Fast forward to another year and Dan is gone yet again. My sister and I were feeling lazy so we, our Dad and our kids went to a restaurant buffet. I hope to never have to do that again. Easter buffets are fine, but for some reason Thanksgiving buffets feel sad, pathetic and lonely to me. Thanksgiving is about family and HOME. During yet ANOTHER Thanksgiving hunting trip, Kristen and I went to Perkins for our holiday dinner. I think Kristen had a hamburger or chicken strips. As awful as my "fake" mashed potatoes, yellow gravy and dry turkey were, I should have followed her lead.

Was I seriously upset with Dan for missing all those family Thanksgivings in a row? Ya think? One year, he and his hunting buddies had planned to be away for Thanksgiving but ended their hunt early. He phoned me with the news that they were on their way home, and I found myself yet again traipsing through the grocery aisles on a pre-Thanksgiving night. Fortunately, I wasn't sick that time. I had to buy a fresh turkey as there was no time to thaw out a frozen one. I remember that my bird dripped turkey juices the entire way through the store. I was afraid mop-wielding grocery police were going to get after me. As I pulled into the driveway with my very fresh turkey and other groceries, Dan arrived home!

I was thrilled to have him home that year. Another year, not so much. That was The Year Dan Cooked The Turkey Upside Down. He had called me into the kitchen about halfway through the roasting, saying the turkey "looked funny". It did look very funny. I declared, "That's not a turkey. You bought some other kind of poultry. Go to the store and buy a turkey now!" He reminded me that the stores are all closed on Thanksgiving Day. We ultimately figured out that it was a turkey, just upside down. A friend who was dining with us and I got into a laughing fit over it and Kristen thought we all had gone completely nuts.

I am totally going to gloss over the year we had a disgusting wild turkey for Thanksgiving, so proudly bagged by Dan. I am going to pretend it never happened.

Because we've had so many dogs, I'm  surprised that this is not one of our Thanksgiving stories:

This year I hope we have a quiet, uneventful Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, my sister has to work. I've invited her two kids, but since they're 19 and 22, they may find better places to go.

Dan bought a 19 pound turkey, so we'll have lots of leftovers, regardless.


ADDED LATER: I totally forgot that one year we discovered - after we cooked the turkey - that we had forgotten to take the neck/giblet bag out of the cavity. We're not the only ones to have done that, or cook a turkey upside down for that matter. At least I have never stuffed a turkey with unpopped popcorn.  I discovered these and a whole lot more Thanksgivings gaffes in this link called "What was your worst Thanksgiving disaster?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009



Americans call this holiday Veterans' Day. I think of it as Armistice Day.

At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Armistice was signed, signaling an end to World War I afer four long, bloody years.

Of course, it wasn't called that back then. It was known as the Great War, the largest war the world had ever seen. It was thought of as the war to end all wars. Sadly, as we well know, it wasn't.

Today, I honor my three great uncles who died during or because of the Great War. Though in desperate circumstances, Archie, Jack and William were positive they would beat the savage Huns. William never even lived long enough to learn that isolationist America finally came to the Allies' aid and joined the fray. Jack died a mere 6 days after the U.S. entered the war. None of them knew that defeated, humbled Germany would bitterly and vindictively rise again, just a couple of decades later, and start a firestorm that would engulf the entire globe in another world war.

Throughout the centuries, people have saluted their soldiers, and today I salute ours, living and dead, including the newest - the American, British and other allied soldiers of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, heroes every one. They include my Uncles Donny and Scotty, two members of the Greatest Generation who fought in WWII, and my husband Dan, who served as a Navy corpsman (medic) attached to the Marines in Vietnam.

But I carry a special place in my heart for three brothers from Golspie, a small town in far northeastern Scotland.

Archibald (Archie) Munro

Archie Munro did not let immigration to Canada, having a wife and children, or being too old stop him from enlisting in the Canadian Army. He lied about his age, joined up, and was among the first Canadian soldiers to be shipped to Europe.

He was gassed at Ypres, France, and taken prisoner in April 1915. So close to death that he was mistaken for dead, he was thrown on a heap of corpses awaiting burial detail. Fortunately, he was saved at the last moment. Archie later returned to Canada and lectured about his experiences as a POW. However, he died in 1921 - a mere three years after the war ended, never having fully regained his health.
William (Willie) Munro

William and Jack entered the British Army as members of Scottish regiments - Jack joined the King's Own Scottish Borderers and William joined the Seaforth Highlanders. Praised as a famous footballer (soccer player), a journalist, and a fine young man, William was well-respected in his home grounds of Sutherland and Caithness Counties in the Scottish Highlands.

William Munro of the Seaforth Highlanders

Attaining the rank of sergeant, William was much loved by his men. After he enlisted and was posted to France, he filed reports from the front to his former newspaper. That same newspaper, when reporting his death, said those stories were some of the best writing it had ever published. Willie was the first Munro son to die. All of Golspie mourned when he was killed on Nov. 13, 1916.

Beaumont Hamel, France, Nov. 1916
The hellhole where William died

Archie and William were heroic soldiers. Jack was all of that, and something else as well: a publicly-recognized, much-lauded and highly-decorated hero. 

Jack, seated

Written on the back of this postcard: "Just a P.C. in haste. Hope you are all well. Saw Archie's name in Scotsman yesterday 2-6. Our 3rd Batt. have gone from Portland (England), off to Edinboro Kings Park. Love to you all in haste. Jack."

The brief note "Saw Archie's name in Scotsman" would have been in reference to the listing of Archie as Missing in Action. Jack had to have surmised that family members back home would know what this meant.

RSM John Alexander (Jack) Munro

Jack was a true soldier's soldier and became the youngest Regimental Sergeant Major in the British Army at the time. He participated in such well known conflicts as the famous Mons Retreat, the Battle of the Marne, the fierce fighting around Ypres and the Offensive on the Somme. He was wounded but survived four times, his injuries usually occurring while he was rescuing another soldier.

After his last hospital release, he became a British Army instructor and could have remained in the rear until war's end. However, he felt he could not abandon his men. He returned to the French front and was later mortally wounded by a shell. His last act in life was to yet again rescue a fallen comrade. He died on April 12, 1917.  Jack and William's widowed mother, Hughina, had lost two sons within just five months, and Golspie again wept over the loss of another gallant Munro soldier.

An embroidered linen postcard of the
KOSB, mailed home by Jack

Jack's medals. He was posthumously
awarded the Military Cross (far right)

Who among us actually has the courage to die for our country? I surely don't. I salute those who have, and still do, every day.

This image is a montage that includes photos of Jack and William, the World War I Memorial at Golspie, Scotland, and Golspie itself, along with part of a famous poem. It was created by an e-card company with the guidance of my second cousin Shirley Sutherland, who lives in Golspie. Shirley, our family historian, has traveled to France to visit and document William's and Jack's gravesites. Though I could not accompany her, I took the journey with her in spirit.


"The Ode of Remembrance" taken from
"For The Fallen" by Laurence Binyon

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them."

Friday, November 6, 2009


Photo by Charlotte Kahrs, Scranton, ND

Does anyone remember this photo that I posted on my blog last November, taken EXACTLY one year ago today? Trying to find a single positive thing about the horrid snowstorm that whalloped those of us living in North Dakota in the first week of November 2008, I posted this photo borrowed from the KFYR-TV Sky Spy Photos. In it, I saw what today I still see in the lower right hand side - a happy snow couple dancing their hearts out in the midst of a North Dakota blizzard.

And what's more, they remind me of the Scottish dancing snow man and lady in "The Snowman" video which came out in the 1980s when my daughter was little.

Today, in Bismarck, it was 72 degrees. It was the warmest day of a lovely warm week that none of us took for granted, especially after the weird fall we had. October was a dull, dreary, dark, grey litany of cold, cloud and wet (rainy and/or snowy days). Given the wretched winter we had last year, we were all dumbstruck that we would have to endure yet another slap in the face by having to accept an early winter this year. So, this week, when we were granted a reprieve - October weather in November, we responded.

We raked leaves - those multitudinous leaves that this year never turned into the blazing colors of fall. They had died on the trees, still green. They did eventually turn brown, and all fell off in about two days.

We walked our dogs along the pathways of the Bismarck Municipal Golf Course. (Okay, I didn't walk Gracie - she is uncontrollable on a leash, never having been trained on it. But she did tear around our big back yard in perfect abandon.)

We groused that there was no snow on the ground for the benefit of hunters on opening weekend of deer hunting season. Okay, you guessed it - not me again. I don't want to see Bambi get shot!! Dan used to be a deer hunter, but work has prevented him from going deer hunting for many years. (I'm secretly glad, and so is Kristen. But although even more of a Bambi lover, she does like deer jerky.)

Deer hunting is almost a religion in North Dakota, and - at least in my day - school was dismissed at noon on Friday of opening weekend. It is also known as "Ladies Shopping Weekend", with hunting widows attending craft fairs and other ladylike venues that have not one whiff of testosterone about them. The theory behind this is that if you - the husband - can spend all that money on rifles, bullets, blaze orange jackets and hats, gas, food, lodging, beer, etc. etc., then I can spend an equal amount of money on frilly, fluffy, cute stuff that guys hate.

Photo from the Bismarck Tribune - Cathedral Area, Bismarck

We ran as many errands as we could think of, sans the coat and gloves we had already taken out of storage. I am sure that good little church mice stocked up on new boots, snow shovels, antifreeze, sidewalk salt, snowblower parts and the like. Me, not so much. But I accomplished a lot too.

Having sold a bunch of items on eBay, I ran to the post office many times this week, plus I went to the bank, the grocery store and shopping for my sister's birthday yesterday. A belated birthday greeting to my dear sweet sister Glori! (I'm taking her out for a celebratory lunch tomorrow).

We took beauty where we found it. Above, a photo from the Bismarck Tribune shows a solitary walker
strolling through the historic Cathedral District on a sidewalk obscured with leaves, accented by a small blazing orange tree. This year, while the larger trees were a disappointment, the small trees and bushes stepped to the forefront, giving us a range of colors - orange and red, scarlet and vermilion - not provided by the trees.

In another photo from the Tribune, crab apples stand out against a blue sky and the North Dakota State Capitol building. The North Dakota Capitol building, by the way, is a stunning example of 1930s Art Deco architecture - which I tend to think of as a beautiful end to a sad beginning, as the original Capitol building, with its traditional dome, had burned to the ground.

Photo from Bismarck Tribune, ND State Capitol.

I chose these two photos because since I live just a few blocks to the west of the State Capitol and just a few blocks east of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, for which the Cathedral District is named, this is what MY fall looks like. I live just on the fringe of the Cathedral District. If one could look at an aerial photo of Bismarck, one could draw a straight line from the Capitol to the Cathedral, and my house  - a 1929 Arts and Crafts cottage - would be on that line.

This very morning, we in Bismarck awoke to this sunrise:

(By Joe Dilger, Bismarck, ND)

I ask you, what could be a better gift to start a day, a better present from the new month of November? I don't know if this glorious sunrise was from the Christian God, or the Native American Great Spirit Wakan Tanka, or Mohammed, or Buddha, or the Hindu gods, or the Higher Power. I don't really care. It is a wondrous gift, where ever it came from, and I accept it with gratitude.

I've expressed the same sentiments here before, but I can't help but reiterating them. No matter how technologically advanced man has become, there are still things, like this sunrise after weeks of cloud and rain, that stir the primordial human that resides within our modern selves. No matter how we have trained ourselves to not feel it, we still respond to the change of seasons.

It is the same with the call of the geese, either heading north in the spring, or south in the fall, that makes all of us respond in the same basic, primitive way. (By the way, I have not yet heard any geese heading south - perhaps there is hope for an even more protracted fall?)

And as for those dancing Scottish snow people? They'll be back. Aye, ye can count on it!

For more photos of the blizzard of the first week of November, 2008, go to: