Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Colorful times

As one whose 4th grade idea of joy was a set of 64 Crayolas to open and have all for my own this fashion moment of neon colors and color block clothing closely parallels the experience.

The paper-wrapped Crayolas, with their sharp tips for bold strokes of color, tantalized with their expanded color range.

I would take them out of the box one by one just to read off each color and absorb the mystique its name evoked. I repeated the names, so much more interesting than just red or blue or green or yellow, as I recklessly blazed trails into new color land.

The collection encouraged me artistically and indulged my sense of playfulness, which an appreciation for color can engender.

Crayola art was as unlimited as one's imagination. If instructed by the teacher to color a picture I filled the page industriously. It was deeply and richly crayoned for handing in.

My Crayola school days are long in the past but the vivid wardrobe they seem to have portended has been growing and evolving through the years.

We who are color hounds instinctively reach for a punch of color to warm us up. For us color is the wow factor. It's what we gravitate toward to make us look and feel good.

As classic as muted and natural tones are (think camel and winter white), and as quintessential as black is, and also helpful to the clothing budget by being suitable for almost every situation, some of us prefer to opt for color whatever the occasion.

While clothing designers, stylists and fashion bloggers dictate, direct or sum up the fashion looks through the seasons (a/w and s/s/ in fashion parlance and don't forget cruise) my radar stays pretty consistently on the pieces I know for sure will make me happy.

Some of these items, truth be told, are bright enough they can be found in my closet without the light turned on.

I look at it like this. Each of us responds to color according to our own perspective. House exteriors, interior wall colors or home accessories are all ways we take a stand on color. Some of us like to be surrounded and drenched in vivid hues. Others find comfort in the quiet, more earth-based and natural colors.

What we choose to put around us is who we are. We can tell this by how we respond to a given room or certain well appointed furnishings. For color-sensitive types this holds true especially in what we like to wear.

Let me tell you about a friend. She'll remain forever anonymous because vivid colors, the shades I turn to as an oasis in a desert, are anathema to her.

She favors mossy greens and woodsy browns for her outfits. When I suggest an injection of - let's say - red she smiles politely. A gift of a spring green wool scarf actually caught her with her guard down. She took to its perkier shade of green.

Spring green scarf aside, she makes me (beside her as we walk along) look like one dressed for a circus in my exuberant pieces.Then she gets into her loud-colored car and makes a blindingly bright exit.

"Go figure" I say as I slide behind the wheel of our ho-hum gray car. We have a tendency to go gray when we buy cars. Gray is a neutral color which wears well on the road.

Gray colors don't look very interesting at the speed traps we've learned. We're yawned over as we sedately go by. And I would say that's a good thing.

As I swing into the traffic, turn lights blinking as I merge with the medley of vehicular colors, my black car coat gives me away as a suburban sort of gal intent on errands.

Underneath, however, sends a different message. An outfit of purple t-shirt, flame-colored pullover and dark blue denims says here's one who mixes purpose with poetry.

Color will always have a place for one whose fashion education is gained through Crayolas.

Ro Giencke - December 21. 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December Birthdays

Blessings on December birthdays, celebration cakes aglow with candle flame,
Brightly affirming life in seasonal days shaped short and dark and cool.
Lit candles speak of hope through the passage of time,
They represent the reality of change allowing new hopes in.
As you blow out the candles on the old year, so do we with you.
Close your eyes and make your wish, and may everything good come true.

This is an eventful week. It holds special birthdays, one even today, with more this month to follow.

I love looking for birthday cards as a switch from the focus on getting the Christmas letters in the mail. By this time we're usually underway with the holiday cards. We're slow out of the gate this year but it will happen. Holiday clockwork has its own perfect motion. One generally gets to the proper place in time.

There was a small setback because I thought we had Christmas cards on hand. A few remaining Christmas cards were located when the search was actually conducted. But they lacked envelopes. There must have been some profound belief that a thorough straightening up at a future date would produce them.

The envelopes, over the ensuing year, very likely were found. By that time they wouldn't have been associated with the Christmas cards. They no doubt were used or put into the recycling bin (feeling virtuous as this mission was carried out). So it goes in a not quite - but still working at it - organized household.

Since my Christmas list is on track, and my birthday card list is almost so, there is time for some of the other preparations that make the weeks rushed but so lovely and right.

Holiday time notwithstanding, thank you to all December birthdays. Born in the season of hope, yours is a special light.

Ro Giencke - December 7, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Twelfth Month

The yard was white at bedtime last night. It was a quiet surprise. While watching To Catch A Thief (and pondering the cycle of fashion which refreshes looks for new generations of wearers - see red polka dot neck scarf Gregory Peck sports in the film, then flip forward fifty five years to the Fall 2011 style pages) it had begun gently to snow.

The dusting gives the first of December a clean sparkling note. A skim of new snow can look very inviting.

November was pleasant as entered into the weather books. The month ran five degrees above normal. Temperatures continued above average for a sixth straight month. Parkas remain in the back of the closet.

We've been encouraged to water trees and shrubbery before winter. Fall precipitation didn't occur. It's been a dry spell going back as far as this summer. One can wish regular replenishment for the ground and greenery. On the other hand the lovely sunny late fall days have been thoroughly enjoyed.

The grocery trip made yesterday took me on a local road that bisects wooded tracts of land. Fallen leaves have collected into random piles in the woods which are deeply leaf-strewn.

In their spiraling descent, or as determined by the scattering proclivities of our strong fall winds, the leaves have come to settle like drifts against the bases of tree trunks. Leaf drifts today. Snow drifts tomorrow. This was my thought as the woods with their autumn tones registered on me.

Today's light snow cover makes me glad for the moment of extra attention paid to the November woods.

It's time to look ahead to holiday baking and other seasonal preparations. Mexican wedding cakes and cranberry bread are favorites out of the oven at our house as the chill of the seasonal air descends on us.

Other yummy things get made too as the weeks fill with festivity. Ideas for treats for sharing have me checking the cupboard for requisite ingredients as a new grocery list takes shape.

Holiday Shopping goes in large letters at the top. It's not that the purpose of the list will be forgotten. It simply affirms to me that I'm putting down important stuff.

The sweetness of the season is in this list. Blended, stirred and baked as cookies, bars or bread, or as stovetop candy confections dropped by heaping spoonfuls onto yards of waxed paper, the tasty results speak for themselves.

Wrap the gifts, trim the tree, pass the plate of goodies. Listen to your heart's song as the carolers greet merrily. December, twelfth month, is here.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1 cup butter, softened,
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chopped walnuts.

Form the dough (chilling dough in refrigerator helps with this first step) into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10 minutes. Remove to cooling rack. While wedding cakes are still warm gently shake, a few at a time, in paper sack of powdered sugar. Repeat process later again when cool.

Ro Giencke - December 1, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Good Morning Meditation at Thanksgiving

Good morning new day!! The exclamation marks are all mine as, with the stealth of sunrise, you come bringing the strengths, vision and enjoyments which daily renew us.

Help me to tend wisely to the things given to do today. It's a busy time. Things get done by going at them one by one. It's like a countdown. Each specific task lines up after the one before and blends at length in another completed preparation. It's a good feeling with an energy all its own.

Thank you for our homes and communities. Thank you for the beautiful word homecoming. Thank you for lively expectation which feeds the desire to make festive. Bless the baking, cleaning, traveling, arriving. Bless those who await their loved ones. Bless all travelers. Bless the welcoming. Bless the gathering in.

Thank you wonderful Thanksgiving Day. Thank you as we prepare the gifts of the table. Thank you for Thanksgiving appetites and the folks who sit down to eat. Thank you for the stories that will be told and the stories that will be repeated.
Bless my family wherever we are. We scatter so far. Let the Thanksgiving table extend to include all who cannot pull their chairs in beside us this holiday.
Thank you for the laughter and the listening. Thank you for the memories that are the sweet dessert. Let us pause and quietly remember the ones not with us, by dint of loss, today. Tears are the unbidden guests for which a chair must also be found on Thanksgiving Day.

Thank you for dear friends in all the places I've found them. Sometimes they're the ones who found me and called me friend. Tenderly I count each by name. Places at the table are reserved for them if only they knew it.

They can't see the napkins folded or plates set out. But it's all right. It's something we all instinctively know, that we're invited to sit at many tables today as heads bow in gratitude.

Thanksgiving reminds us we are relational in spirit. We're made to care about each other. We're made to build each other up. We're made to not stand alone but to reach across divisions that are often simple misunderstandings that come with solutions if we allow it.

Let us do all we can to remove separation from out of our midst, if this difference of experiences should be the barrier. Let us strive toward trust, peace and friendly intentions. Certainly these qualities were at the first Thanksgiving feast. May the clasp of understanding be firm and gentle as we hold hands around our Thanksgiving tables.

It's a holiday to fill us through and through. We eat and find our hearts are replenished. Help us appreciate and respect resources used. The resources are of the earth - the food foremost - and also the resources of time. Time gives us a day, set aside from the others, to honor the harvest friendship tradition. We use our time to celebrate today in the same fitting fashion.

Thank you for the people in our lives who satisfy our hunger for acceptance, respect and kindness. Let us be truly thankful. Yes!! Let us be.

Good morning my thoughts. You formulate into expression like a friend who lights the way. You direct me to gratitude. You help me start this Thanksgiving Day.

Ro Giencke - November 22, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Perfect Pause

The newest Midwest Living is on the counter. It's on its way to my daughter. It's a joy to pass along good reading. With this magazine in particular there are recipes and articles to comment on. It's good to have folks who share your reading interests.

The article on St. Charles has been pointed out. Al and I enjoyed this old Missouri river town when we visited St. Louis last summer. The snowy scenes in the holiday story are far different from the warm August afternoon of our brick stroll through old town.

While there we called our daughter from one of the restaurants along the leafy and inviting sidewalks. We were at the outdoor terrace. It was an ideal spot.

Our seating was a fact we were celebrating, and you'll understand if like us you're not always ushered to the premiere spot. We sat back from the street but in position to see the action along it. She may remember St. Charles for the happy Sunday sounds of our voices as we visited with her.

The Little Hills Winery, covered in the December issue, struck a familiar chord. Little Hills is a name you see on signs in that part of town. It's a lovely name. It has a pleasant ring.

How can you not want to live in an area with the name Little Hills. The name promises green rises of land where the lift of river breeze saves you on a sultry day. Prominent slopes catching sun rays on crisp fall mornings come to mind. It's easy to picture venerable houses built on tiers of land with puffs of smoke curling from the chimneys.

The payoff in traveling is that any place once visited is yours.
Regional magazines understand this and plan accordingly. They lay out places we can easily get to and explore and come back for more.

As I write a white utility truck is drilling in the opened manhole in our street. It's making such a racket. The drilling reminds me of my dental appointment. I count on it being a routine checkup. I don't want to exceed my twice yearly visit with the need for follow-up dental work. The noise outside has me keeping my fingers crossed. I want an appointment that ends with a free toothbrush and a grateful quick exit out the door.

Pleasant November weather continues. A couple cold days in the 30s are coming. (Well, winter in its entirety is coming if you want the whole perspective.) It's been a mild advance through the month.

Some plants appear unscathed by our light frosts. Hard freezes haven't happened. The black-eye susans in the front yard must sit in a colder spot. They've folded for the year.

A few maples in the otherwise bare neighborhood continue in full leaf. They shine like gold towers when the sun is on them. Their leaves may well be pasted on. Their lasting power is phenomenal.

I'm enjoying the days. They're get out and walk days if that's your preference. They're also perfect for cozy times inside. No apologies for not being outdoors are required.

I'm current with my magazine reading. It's too early for holiday shopping. Thanksgiving preparations aren't yet consuming me. Mid-November may be the perfect pause. All is well as the seasons go.

Ro Giencke - November 15, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Home is the Country of the Heart

It must be the influence of the season. It's a couple weeks to Thanksgiving and the December holidays are in the air. It's as explanatory as anything for why the words "home is the country of the heart" popped into my head just like that.

One minute the table was being cleared of the scattered newspaper sections. The next you know, the words lining up in my mind, I am diving for a pen.

The thought grabbed hold. I couldn't set it down. It has so much truth. It needs to keep going. It's the new heading for my web site. It puts into focus the aim of my writings.

The thousands of words already written have mirrored this concept all along without my quite recognizing it. Home is the country of the heart. This is the field, the thought tells me, in which my engines hum.

Thoughts come to all of us. Many are in the form of spontaneous advice or encouragement. We didn't even know what we're going to say until it's said. The right words and right thoughts show up because they come from a deep and caring place.

Unsolicited and freely appearing, either in conversation with others, or in quiet periods when our brain can pay attention, there's much wisdom to tap from others or our own selves.

This is an anniversary month for me when it comes to wisdom words. I first began writing down, on loose lined notepaper, compelling thoughts read or heard on TV or on the radio. My first entry is from 1986. It came from Glamour magazine.

"Listen to your inner voice," the article recommended. "Many experts on creativity believe that we're 'brainstorming' good ideas of all kinds (innovations for work, plans, gifts, decorating schemes, moneymaking ideas ...) all the time, but don't pay attention to them. Carry a notebook and jot down useful ideas as they occur. You'll see your creative self more clearly - a wonderful ego boost!"

It happens that I do carry a notebook with me. I like the comforting feel of pen in hand and the concept of pen and paper working together as a kind of team to keep me on track.

My notebook is more my mobile to-do list than anything. It's where what's needed from the store gets jotted down as I grab my handbag and head out the door at a run. On its tattered pages, slewing around in the depths of the purse, along with the eggs and milk reminders, are things to look up on the computer when I get home. Very occasionally something else gets noted down.

No brainstorms have arrived via the notebook as far as I can ascertain. This doesn't lessen its importance as a recorder of ideas. It's all part of training your mind to intercept, to use a football term, the ideas that show up unannounced. And most do come that way, no matter how much groundwork of thinking or preparation for the idea you've put into action.

Jotting down ideas - even if it's a note to match fuchsia scarf with your tweed jacket as seen on the person walking by - nudges your brain to observe and record useful information. Along with imagination, information is basic to harvesting the successes waiting to happen.

Profitable ideas don't need to materialize as dot-com enterprises. They can be, as with me, thoughts that make you smile or give a certain light to something or open a door to yet another thought.

Here are some thoughts recorded recently. Some come from other sources. A few are my own.

"Any small thing can save you" -title of book by Christina Adam read May 2011.

"Here's to getting lucky" -store sign at mall. I love the insouciance of this, especially as balance to catching my windblown image in the window glass on a blustery October afternoon.

"Life is better in a sweater." This is from The Limited, also seen at the mall. It's a favorite new thought. Life really is better in a sweater. They got that so right.

"Italian music even seems to understand where your heart is at the moment." This thought, which is mine as are the next three, came from a wonderful Italian restaurant complete with New York City ambience. I read the line and it's like the table is newly set to enjoy all over again.

"A good life is the cheerful adaptation of what comes along."

"Things have a way of being a little more interesting after you've had a little more experience."

"Happy times are meant to be shared." Happy start to the holidays everyone.

Ro Giencke - November 10, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dreams and Roots

A Norwegian royal visit to this country last month put me in mind of my grandfather whose birthday is today. Royalty and roots - I weigh the concepts in my mind.

King Harald and Queen Sonja were in Minnesota in October as part of a Midwest tour preceding their visit to New York City. During their visit we learned that one in five Minnesotans has Norwegian in their background. This includes me through my grandfather.

As time passes, separating us further from our original homelands, our heritage can become of mild interest or not at all. Our cultural reality is the present day. We shape ourselves by our choices and interests as much as by the guiding environment that first forms us or the rituals of belonging to any certain group.

That said, an allegiance of sort ties us to places carried in our blood. Whether our ancestors fled for reasons of persecution, hunger, opposition to current authority or for opportunity of any kind including economic gain or plain simple adventure, some of their reasoning for starting over rides in our veins.

We continue to bring forth and bring out the realization of the hopes they brought to this country. Whether our immigrant forebears are a generation removed or as ancient as the land bridges from Asia we all come from somewhere. We're headed to dreams we call our own. These dreams are our preferences for the life we wish to lead. Nevertheless they proceed from what comes before.

Their majesties bring with them a renewed sense of the importance of ties. We keep and honor ties because of their value. It's a value based on no mere thing.Ties are stronger than the casual connection on which we base many of our relationships or loyalties these days. It implies an essential attitude of allegiance based perhaps on nothing more than respect and good will. This is enough.

My grandfather, born a year after his teenage mother came to this country, grew up American. Norwegian might have been spoken in the home in the first years. Norwegian traditions and foods went into the makeup of the ethnic community in which they lived. But all in that farm community had dreams. They put down roots so their dreams could flourish and the families born here could take new strength from the land.

Vision is passed along through the decades. It alters as it will and as we make it happen. Our part is to choose our dreams well. Our decisions will describe our future. We are wise to borrow from the past to build our dreams. Experience serves us well. In the testimony of those who've gone before it offers the abundance of hope.

When grandpa was born the farm neighbor women came to visit. Fruit soup, a Christmas Eve tradition and a gift to the sick (and new mothers it would seem), was brought. This old recipe, copied down, handed along and surely modified at some time, is below.

Fruit Soup

2 cups raisins
2 cups prune
1 cup dried apples
1 cup dried apricots
few slices lemon
pinch salt
cinnamon stick
5 cups water

Boil until fruit is tender. Add 3/4 cup sugar (to taste). Add 1/2 cup tapioca, some grape juice and 1 can mandarin oranges, drained, and cook until tapioca is tender. Remove cinnamon stick.

Ro Giencke - November 3, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Red and Orange Extravaganza

Apples and pumpkins are a potent combination. They have a pull at this time of year which leads us, as if by instinct or some ancient ancestral longing, in search of nature's bounty in the beauty of the countryside.

Offered together in one big October extravaganza they make it sheer joy to drive beyond the city limits as you look to reap your own harvest of happy times.

The recent breezy sunny weekend was perfect for indulging in the annual fall ramble. The parking lot of the apple orchard - an apple farm across town not visited for many years - was the first giveaway of the popularity of a stop like this in the weeks before Halloween.

Young families with wind-nipped rosy cheeked toddlers were in the majority. They were transporting some of the tots by wagon. The wagons, with space to accommodate purchases when the time came, trundled over the uneven ground in an approximation of a bumpy hayride.

The smell of fried apple treats followed us up the hill through the apple trees. Apple fritters we said. Our knees, like our resolve, buckled under the temptation. It turns out it was apple doughnuts that had its hook in us, as confirmed by comments of others who had surrendered to the olfactory invitation.

An old apple storage barn caught our attention. We learned that the rustic barn is now called the theater. It is used for the school field trips that bring hundreds of elementary students to the apple orchards every fall.

The vintage barn with its wooden seating lets the children soak up the atmosphere of apple farming and a taste of apple lore - as well as samples of apples, as we ourselves had afterwards.

A grocery store visit can be different for students after their trip to the orchards. Apples in the store have an association and a background thanks to the orchard experience. The youngsters can better grasp food in the context of its journey from tree or field to table.

The understanding may only lightly sink in at the time. Even taken as it is - time out of class in a different setting - is enough to spark new concepts best taught on location.

The pumpkin alley lay beyond the orchards as we went further along. Pumpkins in all sizes and shapes composed various groupings as far as we could see. It made the hunt for pumpkins interesting.

The golden globes, from tiny to huge, and great numbers of them, weren't stacked neatly by size or weight. They weren't put together so that all it took was a cursory glance to make a decision. This would have been the easy way. Changing things up a bit, making you look if you wanted to play the game that way, was a lot more fun.

The pumpkins, distributed in various groupings along a cleared strip of ground, stretched to an adjacent cornfield.

You could walk to the end if you preferred. You could hold off on a selection until you were practically in the next county. Or you could choose from pumpkins set closer to the smell of the donuts, which many chose to do.

Watching folks wrestle their pumpkins back to the start point was interesting. The weightier pumpkins were lifted and lugged with maximum effort. Those with wagons had a decided advantage. Their pumpkins rolled out almost regally under wheeled escort.

Down in the corn maze all was warm among the shocks of corn. As we breasted the hill between the rows of laden apple trees, retracing our route to the apple store, the wind was more raw than bracing.

We looked forward to getting inside. Apple stores, with their apple operations onsite, tend to be cool places. Our jackets felt as good in there as outside but at least we were out of the brunt of the wind.

Past bottles of apple cider, stacked cartons of cookies, the department with the ready-made pies, a conveyer with a bobbling parade of apples claimed our attention from the glass domes of apple slice samples.

A viewing platform had us mounting the steps, which stairs get you you do if you're curious and want to see more.

It doesn't take being mechanical to stand quietly before a working conveyer. There's something admirable in its brisk efficiency. It's natural response to be at least momentarily held fast. A business at work with all systems running and the product in view is worth a glance.

Employees stood at intervals sorting or grading apples or whatever their responsibility was. The apples skating along in front of them are this year's crop. The 2011 harvest will bring health and hearty touches to fall snacks, meals and desserts. It's as satisfying a thought to chew upon as the apple bread set out on tables all wrapped and ready for purchase.

A visit to the apple orchard lets you be seasonal baker whether through the fresh or frozen pie you bring home or the apple recipes you're inspired to try. Our trip to the apple farm reminds me of an apple cake introduced by my sister-in-law which has been a family favorite ever since.


Mix together 1/2 cup butter, softened, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg and 1 tsp. vanilla. Add 2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking soda, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. cloves, 1/4. tsp. nutmeg. Stir in 1 1/2 cups applesauce. Add 1 cup chopped walnuts and 1 cup raisins (optional). Pour into greased 13 x 9 inch pan.

Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown on top in preheated 350 degree oven. Cool. Ice with penuche frosting, below.


Melt 1/2 cup butter in saucepan. Add 1 cup brown sugar. Boil over low heat two minutes stirring constantly. Stir in 1/4 cup milk. Bring to a boil stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm. Gradually add 1 3/4 to 2 cups powdered sugar. Beat until right consistency to spread.

Ro Giencke - October 17, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Hero and the Hoop

If you're not into earrings this story isn't for you. If accounts of resourceful endeavor are up your alley, however, you may want to hang on. We'll get to that part.

But first we start with earrings. I had my ears pierced after I became a mom. This puts me in the class of late starters as far as earrings are concerned.

I quickly made up for lost time. For years earrings were the most enjoyable part of shopping at the mall. My purchases also came from artisans at art fairs and venders in cruise ports. The silver dolphin earrings are from such a stop.

Mostly they were inexpensive pieces. Friends told of losing precious earrings - diamond or gold earrings which had been big occasion gifts. Besides the sentimental loss they were a cost to replace.

My tastes were more basic for the active life. When scrubbing toilets or washing dishes the sparkle you want to see is not the diamonds at your ears but the gleam of porcelain or the shine of dinnerware rinsed clean.

For a long time my earrings were sturdy and stayed on. They clicked into the post and were unshakable through all I put them. The first lost earring was a big deal. This kind of mishap was new to me.

It was an intricate filigree hoop. It was discovered missing with a glance in the mirror after returning from getting friends at the airport. Both earrings were on when I left the house. Where, I asked in dismay, could the earring have gone?

I retraced my steps through the house. I looked in the car. I dug into my purse. On hands and knees I felt under the hidden recesses of the bureau. There was the possibility the earring fell out right away and rolled out of sight.

No one commented that I was sporting one earring. In itself this isn't strange. We're often oblivious to details about each other. Preference in personal appearance is a subject largely left alone. This is a good thing until those times when it isn't. I'd have been wildly appreciative of someone pointing out the missing earring. The search would have started right there.

The lone earring was unfastened and dropped in a drawer. It was the first of now a number of earrings set aside in the slim chance their partners will be recovered.

Many of us have a place for our orphan earrings. They're the ones which resolutely stay attached while their mates go missing. Lost earrings are almost never found. In effect we build earring museums. Sometimes I come across the left-behinds. They remind me of the pleasure in wearing them when the earrings were a set.

For of course it's only favorite earrings that get lost. It's a rule of thumb among earring wearers to expect that the earrings which mean the most to you won't go the whole distance. Put on a so-so pair and you'll have them fifty years from now. They aren't going anywhere. But the earrings you love - ah! they're the ones that get away.

About a year ago I bought a pair of sparkly hoop earrings. They were modestly expensive. They were bling but I was ready for some bling. Diamonds ("diamond dust" the jewelry department salesperson told me) encircled the mid-size gold hoop. They had a beautiful gleam in the right light.

"Want to come with me?" Al asked one recent morning. The boating season is at its end and he wanted to try a nearby lake not visited before. Temperatures were mild. It made some lake time, while not planned, a great detour in the day. I threw on a denim jacket and joined him before the invite was out of his mouth.

The diamond earrings were surely shining as the sun beamed down on us. We circumnavigated the smallish lake in our rendition of a farewell tour.

A young woman in a canoe skimmed the waves near us. We exchanged greetings. The changing foliage as seen from the lake was pleasing on the eye. It was a relaxed last outing as we pulled into shore.

I stayed with the boat while Al went to get the truck. I crouched close to the metal post to which the boat was tied. Suddenly I heard ploof, a sound so small it sounded like a sigh. From the dock I looked down into the water. A bubble was rising to the surface on the water.

Some piece of grass must have fallen off the dock was my first thought, judging the tiny bubble that formed. Oh oh was the subsequent reaction. My hand went to my right ear. The earring was gone.

"My earring fell into the water!" were not words Al imagined he'd be hearing when he innocently came back to hook boat to boat trailer. The water, while not murky, was deep enough, and the water cool enough, that my impulse to look for it made no sense.

This pair of earrings had fast become a favorite. I put them on this morning not dreaming we would be boating. I'd never had an earring just fall out and sink into the water. It put a crimp on the boating excursion.

Earrings are earrings after all I said. I tried practicing a resigned shrug. But then it came to me. Al is inventive. Could we devise a scoop? With a scoop we could return to the lake. We could check the area where the earring fell in. The hoop was light. I reasoned it would have settled like a feather on the sandy bottom by the dock.

Al went to work making a screening gadget. After supper, and before it got dark, as storm clouds threatened in the west, we drove back to the lake. Our earring finder was in the back seat. It was a garden rake fixed up. A square section of wire mesh was wired to the teeth of the rake. The screen would sift the sand.

In the car trunk were the duck waders Al knew he would need. At the dock he pulled on the waders. Dressed in waders and wielding the rake he was a figure of curiosity for the occupants of the only other car in the parking lot.

He waded in, up to his chest in water by the time all was done. From the dock I gave suggestions for where my hero should try next. In his mesh screen he picked up small rocks of varying sizes and fragments of dark red glass. No lightweight circle of bling was found. After many attempts to locate the earring we gave up.

At some point in the day disappointment over the lost earring became the adventure of a plan to try to find it. Al was a good enough fellow to rig up a screening tool, don waders and take on the October waters because he knew the earring was important to me.

As we drove to the lake, not knowing whether the earring would stay lost or we'd get lucky, I was reminded of how easy it can be to give up on anything. Al's attitude of being agreeable to look for the earring, as long a shot as it was to find it, says something too.

His help with this told me there can be a changed net result, without the original thing changing an iota, when two work together on something.

Teamwork can be a definition of adventure. This kind of adventure comes when two or more decide to make something matter.

It wasn't the sparkly earrings that ultimately meant the most to me. It was the desire, and the effort put into it, to do our utmost to locate the earring. We worked from the oldest of principles. What is lost can be worth looking for.

Ro Giencke - October 14, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flame and Fire

I crossed paths recently with a large gray squirrel. It was hightailing it across the street. The squirrel had nice bounds. Its form was good. But the series of springs over the pavement - paws set down and body arcing into the air for another leap - were as if filmed in slow motion.

"You've gotten heavy, pal" was my thought as it made the other side. We're noticing that squirrels are well padded this fall. They're packing noticeable poundage.

The squirrel was hobbled by more than weight issues. Its cheeks bulged. it was presumably in the middle of an acorn heist. It was hauling its booty to safety. All the way around it was being forced to clock a slower speed.

The litter of fallen leaves is in swirls and deep piles on the ground. In the dry weather the leaves seem to pulverize as they drop. Our yard still has an abundance of golden leaves mixed with green. The wider views, however, are opening up. Gracious distances, screened by summer's glory, stand revealed like a curtain pulled back on the months to come.

It's been several weeks of bright full sunshine and fall color. Some of the best color has been right around us. That doesn't stop us from checking out other places.

There are many pretty places of seasonal color at this time of year. It does good to go out and take in these larger areas. One can more appreciate nature for experiencing it in the fuller spectrum. The hills with their flame of color, and the color reflected in our blue lakes, can be viewed as our stored treasures towards winter just as the stash of acorns supplies the squirrel.

This is why we happened to be in Finlayson the other day. Finlayson is about a two-hour's drive north of the Cities. It wasn't where were were headed on this particular drive. I call it the serendipity of the road. Sometimes you wind up in places you're meant to be.

As signage started announcing Finlayson up ahead there was a flash of connection. Finlayson is where an elderly woman I visited, years ago and in another town, was born.

Let's call her Eva. Her real name was a pretty, old-fashioned name. I don't remember how we came to meet. There were regular visits over a period of about three years.

I often brought something homemade. It wasn't ever anything much - banana bread, a few cookies on a platter. She liked the slice of pumpkin pie I brought her. It pleased me that she enjoyed the simple gift so much.

On these visits Eva talked of her growing-up years. They sounded happy times. She put Finlayson on the map for me. I was not, otherwise, acquainted with that area of Minnesota.

She talked of the closeness of families. Relatives lived nearby, on farms I imagine, as it was a rural population. They got together frequently. Cousins grew up like best friends. She spoke of Christmastime and dances when she was older. She told of the Hinckley Fire, a to-this-day respected fire tornado which killed many area residents in 1894.

She was born after the awful fire. She referred to it as a child who hears the stories from her elders. She may have lost family members in the fire or neighbors or friends. Fire survivors, whom she would have known, with the memories of fear, flight and searing heat as the flames raced, provided an oral history for Hinckley and surrounding communities.

What is recalled specifically from these conversations with Eva has nothing to do with her girlhood. She innocently showed me something of herself which was an insight into human nature which was eye-opening to me.

She said she wasn't on good terms with another woman in the building. Perhaps, more forcibly, she said this person seemed to go out of the way to not be nice to her. Maybe the woman made a hurtful comment I remember thinking. Or it could be (trying to pinpoint the source of the apparently mutual ill will) that Eva felt snubbed in some manner.

"Wow," I breathed inwardly. "Ninety years old and you can still have your feelings hurt." Ninety was Eva's age. From our first meeting I was amazed at how active and engaged ninety can be based on Eva. That fact that relationships can fester among the elderly was a revelation to me.

I assumed that by ninety the slings of life would long be in the past. You've laid down the crutches and masks. You've put behind all the props and disguises for salvaging your pride or pressing your advantage. You've made peace with the obstacles strewn along the way, or by sheer will power have vanquished them. This ideal of ninety is easy to picture when ninety is far away.

Eva's perturbation at being at odds with this fellow high rise occupant brought home an important point. To some extent we forever wear our hearts on our sleeves.

Our feelings are major components of who we are. An intrusion into our equanimity can leave their scar, stain or mark however old we may be. Just as the Hinckley fire left lasting traces, our run-ins with other can have similar effect on us.

Eva didn't offer forgiveness or have a solution for making things better with this woman. In the honesty of her sharing she let me see the actuality of the hurt as felt by her. All this came to me as we entered Finlayson.

In this town which gave Eva her start my thought for her was the hope that peace eventually came between these two.

Ro Giencke - October 8, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Gusty winds are a vigorous change maker after yesterday's ideal summerlike weather. This is the day we'll really lose the leaves.

So far it hasn't seemed many leaves have dropped. Our lawn contradicts the statement. The tree canopy, however, is still thick. It's on this fact that the impression stands.

The leaves fill the air as they spin to the ground. They're a symphony of yellow parachutes. Today has no room for doubt. Soon the woods will open up.

The fall color change, both around here and up north, where leaves typically turn earlier, is starting to take hold. Over the weekend we were in the maple hills of west central Minnesota. The orange maples were more bold splashes than a continuous blanket of color. It was sufficient bold display to satisfy us.

Crimson sumac and field grasses in their different tints added to the sense of the change of seasons. Lakes sparkled like diamonds in the low angle of September sun. There was a lake or slough with almost every rise or curve of the road. It's a well-watered area we commented.

Pelican Rapids was a stop as we headed to Maplewood State Park. This charming town puts me in mind of new London in central Minnesota, another destination getaway.

New London's charm, in turn, has been likened to a New England village. Hereby runs the chain of connection from the small Minnesota places to scenic counterparts back East.

At Pelican Rapids the Pelican River tumbles over a small dam. At the base of it is Pelican Pete. The pelican statue, which I think dates to the 1950s, is a beloved icon. It brings its own set of visitors.

Smaller pelican statues line the streets calling attention to local businesses. The pelicans - Pete and his cohorts - remind residents and visitors alike of the creativity and contentment engendered by small town life.

As I bowed into the wind, buffeted by its force as I walked quickly from car to grocery store this afternoon, the skies were dark. Clouds were a contrast of light and deep shades of gray. They were torn about as the wind pushed them along.

I bring the groceries into the house. It feels good to be in. Raking is for another day. Last weekend's color trip feels like perfect timing to me. I watch from the window the leaves get stripped away.

Ro Giencke - September 29, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

First day of Fall

The day is starting out gorgeous. It's great to have sun back in the picture. It's been a string of cloudy days.

The start of the month was warm. The final part has run cooler. Today we'll be about right on target as far as average temperatures for this time of year. That's mid or upper 60s around here. Sunset this evening is 7:09. It's ever forward to winter.

September has been full. One can wonder how the third week can be here. But then I look at the notations on the calendar. Almost every day has had some kind of busyness attached.

Fall is not my favorite time. I appreciate, all the more, the serene or sensational weather which comes along, and less typically stays, in this third season.

The pleasant days are a reminder to enjoy the shorter daylight hours. It might be taking in the fresh air as one rakes leaves, shopping for antiques in small interesting towns or preparing a picnic drive with blanket along to spread your feast upon.

Wherever we are is a chance to enjoy the dazzling blue of September sky as given to us, and to find beauty in the color beginning to brighten the fall landscape.

As we steal moments to pay attention we help to make each day shine like a polished apple.

Ro Giencke - September 23, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Last Bloom of Summer

It's absolutely cool when you sit down with a book you know nothing about and find it starts out in the same month you're now in. This is the case with No Fond Return of Love, a reissue of the 1961 novel by English author Barbara Pym.

The story begins at a weekend conference being held in rural Derbyshire. Dulcie Mainwaring, introduced to us right away, gets to thinking (as she settles for sleep in the iron bedstead of the rather cell-like room at the girl's boarding school where attendees are gathered) about her suburban garden full of dahlias and zinnias.

September is Dulcie's favorite month we learn. I think this is true for many. They're worn out by summer heat. September is bounty of plums and apples as Dulcie thinks about, and the loveliness of late season flowers, blue skies, the tang of lighter air and changes that come in seasonal activities. September has a number of folks sighing in relief and in peaceful remembrance.

The sentence about dahlias and zinnias jog my memory as well as reminding me that several friends look forward to fall. In a makeshift pile of papers which I intended, at the start of summer, to go through, is a small envelope with tightly folded sheets of paper. The handwriting goes back a long time as I unfold the pages to review what they have to say.

The contents of the envelope take me back to an interest shared years ago with my mom. The 1970s were a time of all things natural. Euell Gibbons and Adelle Davis, along with Prevention magazine's Bob Rodale, were proponents for healthy eating and healthy living. We found their books at our local library and incorporated some of their thoughts and recipes.

It was a time to be in touch with the earth and the living things from which we get our sustenance and have essential connection. This is when herbs became important to me, something written about before.

Making your own breakfast cereal like museli or Adelle's granola (whose recipe, in her book, mom and I made for years), and putting up your own jams and jellies (like the recipe for sumac jelly given me by a neighbor) were the new hobbies.

"The Last Bloom of Summer" is in red marker at the top of the first sheet in the envelope. As I glance through this page, and the second, they prove to be directions for making potpourris. There were many recipes for potpourris in those years. Potpourris were part of the appreciation and preservation movement that defined the era.

"Potpourri is that happy blend of color, fragrance and design that captures the essence of summer, and promises with each savored scent, to release summer sunshine through winter's long sleep."

Whether this is a quote from some magazine or book, or my own introduction to the potpourri directions that follow, I have no idea these several years later. It sounds like my writing. I can almost see my head bent over paper and the intent to put important things down.

Potpourri-making is quite easy. Start with a large wide-mouth glass jar. (We used washed-out peanut butter jars which were the right size for holding the mixture.) In the storage container place 2 cups flower petals. Add 2 scant teaspoons crushed or ground orris root. (This helps to preserves the potpourri by retarding evaporation of volatile oils.) Stir in 2 teaspoons crushed or ground spices. Add a few drops, a drop at a time, of aromatic oil.

Seal and store for six weeks to allow the various fragrances to mix. Shake the mixture every few days. After six weeks you may divide the mixture to make individual potpourris or as bath sachets or herb cushions.

In the envelope, along with The Last Bloom of Summer notations, are a pair of folded half-sheets of notepaper. They are directions for potpourris which mom had written down for me. They date from this same period of potpourri interest.

Lavender Potpourri (from mom)

3 cups lavender flowers
2 tablespoons dried lemon peel (see note above for drying citrus peelings)
2 tablespoons dried sweet basil
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
4 tablespoons orris root
4 tablespoons dried spearmint leaves
1 teaspoon benzoic acid powder
6 drops oil of lavender

Combine all ingredients but the oil. Add the oil a drop at a time, tossing as you add. Seal in dark dry warm place for 6 weeks - shake often.

Rose Potpourri (from mom)

8 oz. dried rose petals
4 oz. granular orris root
1 oz. ground cloves
2 oz. granular patchouli
2 oz. benzoin (broken up)
2 oz. geranium leaves

Mix all ingredients and let them blend for some time

Suggestions for potpourris (from the list found in the envelope)

flowers: aster, baby's breath, calendula, cornflower, garden violet, goldenrod, hollyhock, larkspur, lavender, lily of the valley, nasturtium, pansy, peppermint, rose, rose geranium, stock, tiger lily, wild daisy, zinnia

leaves: basil, bay, garden violet, lavender, mint, rose, rose geranium, rosemary, sage, sweet marjoram, thyme

fixatives: gum benzoin, orris root, patchouli oil, sandalwood

spices: allspice, caraway, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mace, nutmeg

miscellaneous: anise seed, coriander seed, lemon or orange peel
(dry the citrus peelings and coat with a powdered fixative before adding), pine needles, rosebuds

aromatic oils: caraway, carnation, dill, gardenia, honeysuckle, lemon, lilac, lily of the valley, orange blossom, patchouli, peppermint, rose attar, rosemary

Finding the potpourri directions (The Last Bloom of Summer) was surprisingly like uncapping a jar of preserved rose petals. The fragrance of summer blooms, obviously not detectable as the notes were extracted from the long put-away envelope, still seems to reach me.

I'm revived by them just as autumn can revive a person after summer. They awake memory. My mom's hand, and my additional directions, didn't preserve actual blooms. They were able to retain, instead, the sense of the old good times as they were.

As the final note indicates, "if you keep your potpourri in a tightly stoppered jar and open sparingly, the fragrance can last for years."

Ro Giencke - September 13, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Evening baseball at Target Field is cool. Ballpark temperatures last night were not. The sticky heat is actually a bonus, I thought, as I happily wandered the concourse with my husband prior to the game.

At the time we were on the prowl for food. Getting to the park early, shuttled there by one of the convenient Express buses, and having a bite to eat onsite before finding your seats, is part of the package deal for many of us.

"This is great," I thought. "It's real summer baseball." The light wrap brought along was obviously not going to be needed. There was no reason to reach for a sweater, which is often appreciated when temperatures drop with sundown this close to September.

The sun slid away, leaving shadow in the stands. A plane flew overhead. It diverted my attention from the game, going badly for the Twins. It was 4-0 in the first inning. The Baltimore Orioles were taking a decisive lead.

"This is the same as last time we were here," we groaned. We slumped back in numbed silence. We're having sheer bad luck in our choices of games to attend. Absence of victory when we go explains why it's been awhile since our last game.

Following the slim line of the plane out of sight I commented on how neat to be on that plane right now. It must be awesome to peer out your window and realize you're looking directly down into a night baseball game.

From your window seat the action is briefly all yours. It's ball under the night lights. You likely have the rush of one who gets in through the gates for free. The playing field is green and manicured for the precision moves which wins depend upon. In the stands there appears to be a sea of navy and red. Ah, the faithful fans!

Navy and red, the colors of the Twins team, are worn by many fans, generally as tee-shirts with player numbers on them. Little kids come with their Twins baseball caps. You look around and there's someone you recognize. Then it sinks in. It's the #7 or #33 or #41, numbers widely seen on fan jerseys, that gives a block party feel to the parade of humanity around you.

As the game went on there wasn't much to cheer about. Lester Oliveros, the new guy traded for Delmon Young, proved to have solid stuff in his pitching. There was a double play or two which we spontaneously applauded (needing no help from the electronic prompters). Closer Joe Nathan came in and competently closed down the 8th inning. That was about it.

Fortunately a losing effort at the ballpark can be recompensed to some degree by other things. The three-ring circus, once Barnum & Bailey's domain, has moved to the modern ball game. Fan favorites like Circle Me Bert perk up the crowd. We rally at the cheerful (and loud) promotional and advertising fill-ins. It makes me surmise that fans aren't so much fickle as starved for any feel-good emotion they can get.

The highlight of the game for me was having my picture taken with Tony Oliva. It'll take someone else to explain who he is. I'm unsure as to his position on the Twins staff. But if you're a Minnesota Twins fan he needs no introduction.

I'll call him a goodwill ambassador for our team. He's unbeatable in his courtesy, his integrity, his accessibility and for his undisputed place at the heart of the Twins franchise since its beginning years in Minnesota.

The Twins arrived here when I was a youngster. Neighborhood pals Jim and Bill were wild about the new team from Washington D.C. They were the Senators there. Here they were our Minnesota Twins. They took their name from the twin cities of St. Paul (state capital) and Minneapolis (largest city).

The two brothers talked a lot about the Twins. My siblings and I got acquainted with the new team through them. Foremost in their adulation, as I recall, was Harmon Killebrew. (The Hall of Famer died of esophageal cancer this past May.)

We came to know Jim Kaat, Earl Battey, Bob Allison, Camille Pascual. And then, later, there was this rookie by the name of Tony Oliva.

Tony O he was affectionately called. Whether the nickname was given him by the press, or this is how the neighbor boys referred to him, it's by this pleasing moniker that I think of him. They were all heroes of Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins field at Bloomington, the largest suburb.

It's possible these two brothers never attended a Twins game. We certainly didn't. My first game was at the Metrodome. This was well after it was built.

Folks didn't travel much out of their area then. Not even for a baseball game when you lived that far away.

Radio was best friend to fans from a distance. Announcers, describing every play vividly and in detail, and with consummate zest for the game, were about as important as the players to the legions of baseball radio listeners. Baseball was on TV but it wasn't the means by which those we knew kept track of the scores.

The Minnesota Twins bridged differences between the small town/rural experience and the metro region. It brought us all closer at a time when the interstate system had yet to be built. The baseball team helped form a new Upper Midwest alliance. This entity had less to do with geography than with pride through the power of sports.

I didn't think of any of this as Tony Oliva gamely posed with me, as he did with others, all basking in his greatness as we stood alongside him for that one quick shot. But it's there in my smile. And awareness of his part in establishing Twins Territory, I believe, is there in his kind eyes.

Ro Giencke - August 24, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

Serenading St. Louis

We got back from St. Louis to lovely late sunshine over the Twin Cities. The neighborhood was deep in restful shade by the time we pulled into our yard.

It was the end of a good road trip. We even managed to stay off interstates most of the time which is quite a feat considering the desire to get to places directly.

For this vacation we deliberately chose a slower pace. We opted for winding roads with colorful byway signage. We passed through towns held together by nothing more than quirky names. It made us speculate on how places come to be called.

There are towns we found a route to simply because, looking at the map, one of us liked the sound of the name. Blooming Prairie, Rose Creek, Coralville, Muscatine and Nauvoo are among the tracked down locations. This doesn’t get to Missouri where pert and peculiar names go with the wide-skied prairies and Ozark scenery. If there’s music in the name, and poetry in the image of the name, this is enough for us to seek off the main highway.

Vacationing in St. Louis felt both new and old. We visited several years ago. The present trip was an undertaking to properly finish what was missed the first time.

Specifically we wanted to visit historic St. Charles. American explorers Lewis and Clark began the arduous expedition to the West from this rivertown settlement in May 1804.

The St. Charles historic district has handsome brick buildings which house shops and restaurants. It's a reasonable comparison to call St. Charles the Williamsburg of the West.

Another idea prompting the trip was appetite for some serious St. Louis dining. We wanted to dine at more of the excellent restaurants we came upon the first time.

It also was a chance to revisit Forest Park and do it thoroughly.The 1904 World’s Fair site offers a host of recreational and cultural choices after the obligatory stop at the Jefferson Arch and St. Louis Riverfront.

The city and surrounding area have many other places of interest. Hotels have brochures and maps if your planning is as spontaneous as ours can be.

Numerous attractions make St. Louis quite removed from the Gateway to the West it was in early days. In the fur trade era, and succeeding decades of westward expansion, it was a starting point. Today it’s a magnet drawing people in. We come, many of us, over road systems which lie atop or approximate the routes of the original pioneer trails that once led out from St. Louis to the Missouri and Platte Rivers and beyond.

We packed expecting St. Louis to be hot. Missouri can sizzle in the summer. August can be the steamiest month of all.

As it turned out a cool front rode into town with us. A dew point of 60 is considered fall-like there. The weather was pleasant throughout our stay if not exactly autumnal by our standards.

Two outdoor evening concerts along the way were bonuses. This is so often how it is. What you don’t plan for, but stumble serendipitously into, emerge as favorites among things done and enjoyed.

The concerts, one night apart, coincided with full moon. The rising full moon made the settings – historic Nauvoo on the Mississippi River in Illinois, the second concert along the Missouri River in Missouri - quite remarkable. The rivers, each with their own lore and mystique, rippled nearby, with strong currents to them, in the silvery moonlight.

At Nauvoo we were entertained by Synthesis, a jazz ensemble from Brigham Young University. The energy of the young musicians is amazing. Electric is the best way to describe the performance. It was the vitality of students wrapping up their summer with perhaps the best presentation of the season. They were off for home at 6:30 the next morning.

We came home through Missouri wine country. The fruitful hills, on the Missouri River as you head west from St. Louis, support a series of vineyards and destination towns.

Defiance, Augusta, Washington, Marthasville and Hermann all have their charms as well as providing services for bikers and hikers on the adjacent Katy Trail. The trail, known as Katy Trail State Park, is the longest developed rail-to-trail corridor in the United States.

Along with signs for wine tasting, and Katy Trail trailheads, Highway 94 is lined with Lewis and Clark markers. The road keeps close to the course of the river traveled by the explorers setting out to investigate the great uncharted territory which lay to the West.

One roadside sign indicates how much the Missouri River has changed since Lewis and Clark embarked on these waters. Proximity of bluffs to the present channel, the presence of wooded islets, even the very width of the river, is profoundly different from when the exploring party navigated the river.

Missouri crickets definitely have a Southern voice. Their booming choruses were the synthesis as well as personal backdrop to the enjoyment of our St. Louis getaway.

Ro Giencke - August 19, 2011