Bearded lady breathes her last

Minnesota Transplant hasn’t been hanging around here recently. She’s been busy with another project. But she’s popping in with a sad report.

Poopie Girl died this afternoon.

chloe with stuffed toy

Chloe: 2007 – 2018

Poopie Girl is my little nickname for Chloe, the bearded lady, the cutest little miniature schnauzer you ever would meet. She packed a lot of spunk into her 8 pounds, and even as recently as last summer, strangers who saw us as we walked a neighborhood would ask me if she was a puppy.

Regular readers may recall occasional pictures of her cuteness and health reports (click on “miniature schnauzer” in the word cloud on the right to reread the stories in which she starred). Chloe was tough customer who persevered through a dog attack and several years of epilepsy.

She came into my life 10 years ago when my Beloved and I gave her to my stepson for Christmas. No one else in the house had the follow-through to house train her, so I did. My stepson grew up and moved away, but the little dog stayed with us. I became responsible for most of her care and feeding, and her daily walks forced me to take much needed breaks. My Beloved and various guests she could bully into it became responsible for playing fetch with her. She never met a stuffed platypus she didn’t like.

Last August, she came down with what we believed at the time was pneumonia. After months of treatment and tests, including a lung biopsy, the veterinarian determined in December she had lung cancer.

We’ve been keeping her comfortable for two months, knowing the end was coming soon. Today, we decided her breathing was so labored and desperate, we needed to take action to let her go. I visited the vet, and an hour later, my sweet girl was gone.

I am a writer, and I process things by writing about them. I am aware Chloe was no more special than any special dog, but I appreciate you reading about my girl. If you have a pet, I know you will give him or her an affectionate scratch behind the ears, and I will wish for you the mindfulness to be grateful for the opportunity to hold your beloved one close.

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Advent is a season of preparation

Not only do I now own a church, I own a church sign. In the first days of clean-up and demolition, my Beloved found the box of letters to create a new message in the sign so I did what I do best and that’s write.

church sign advent

Today, if you didn’t already know it, is the first Sunday in Advent, and I was inordinately pleased with myself to post this message. Its meaning applies literally to the church season and to the process of cleaning up corners and tearing down walls inside our 119-year-old Methodist church as step one in our renovation project.

In homage to the season (and the double message with new meaning for me this year), I’m reprinting this post from the Minnesota Transplant archive, publishing originally a year ago.

Glory be

While the secular world recovered from a Thanksgiving dinner-induced food coma and then leapt loopily into Black Friday-Small Business Saturday-Cyber Monday (which for many overeager online retailers began on Friday), Christians rang in a new year.

Today is the first Sunday of the liturgical year which is to say the First Sunday in Advent.

Advent is the run-up to Christmas, a liminal season of expectation. But to describe it only as a time of waiting sells Advent short, just as the days between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25 are more than simply an out-of-breath sprint to be endured.

For me, it’s not this time of year without spending some time in church. Sitting (and standing and singing and praying) through a worship service slows down time.

This is not a post about why you should go to church. That’s your call. This is a post about why I go to church. For me, Advent is the best time of year to spend some time in church, to be observant to the reason for the season. Christmas is all crowds and gifts and traditional-in-the-extreme music (let’s just say I’m not a fan of “Silent Night, Holy Night”). Lent, too, is a run-up season, preparing Christians for Easter, but Lent and Easter are solemn. The messages are heavy on crucifixion and death (yes, and rising again, I know, but rising from the tomb).

Advent, though, is news about pregnancy and babies and angels and birthdays. (That Advent also coincides with the countdown to my own birthday is just happy coincidence.)

I went to Catholic Mass last night for the first time in years, maybe even a decade. It was a beautiful quiet service in an enormous church where hundreds of people were doing the same thing I was — celebrating the new church year. I was reminded how lovely is the ritual of Mass, so familiar and universal.

I was once Catholic, but when I got divorced, I reverted to my origin religion, Lutheran. A week ago, I read the scripture lessons for the last time at the Lutheran church where I am a member. I resigned my position as reader in anticipation of moving away. Coincidentally, it was also the last Sunday of the church year.

Serendipity.

I kind of felt like I was throwing off the bonds of responsibility and the old year and the old way of worshiping all at once. Celebrating the new Christian year for me meant Mass in a big, beautiful church. Which is how I found myself last night in church I’d never been in before soaking up Bible readings about waiting and preparation and expectation.

It is the perfect message on which to meditate for a woman waiting (and waiting) to sell her house.

Advent is not an empty time, I was reminded. It is a season of fullness. Because preparing is just as meaningful as celebrating. Anticipation should be as joy-filled as the hullabaloo for which we’re waiting.

Pondering Advent and the imminent celebration of the birth of Christ, I was reminded of a scene I appreciated earlier this year.

nativity-facade

This is the Nativity Façade at the Sagrada Familia, aka the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona, Spain. The church was designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. The structure is so elaborate, it has been under construction since 1882 and remains incomplete. This is the entryway to the church, and I snapped this picture when I had the opportunity to tour it in June. As you might expect, the Nativity Façade is dedicated to the birth of Jesus.

A single figure is itself a fantastic sculpture, and here there are hundreds of them. But let’s look at the central point of interest there, right above the two doorways of entry.

nativity

You can see Jesus surrounded by his mother Mary and Joseph. Check out those two faces peeking around the corners — an oxen and a donkey. Kind of cute, if you ask me. Carved into stone above Joseph’s head are the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (you can read Deo clearly in this closeup). That’s Latin for “Glory to God in the highest.”

This sculptured wall is the entryway to the church (inside is entirely amazing experience in itself). But before you even get inside to see it (and, presumably, participate in Mass), this enormous highly detailed art greets you. You could spend days gazing at each sculpture, taking in the meaning, and you’re still outside the building.

That’s Advent. Days of detail, building up to the threshold of Christmas.

Don’t wish it away. Soak it in.

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If you’re interested in more from Minnesota Wonderer/Minnesota Transplant, don’t miss my new blog about renovating the 119-year-old church. Start reading here at ChurchSweetHome.com.

A new project. And as far as projects go, this one is a doozy

The day of reckoning has arrived, and I couldn’t be happier.

My Beloved and I signed the paperwork to buy a 119-year-old Methodist church this afternoon. It’s official. We’re crazy. Or crazy like foxes.

We thought this day might never come, to be honest with you. Our offer on the church was accepted nine weeks ago, but closing was delayed twice.

And yet, things work out together for good to those who love God. And a couple who buys a church surely must love God, I think.

You’re wondering about the back story here. You’re trying to figure out how (and why) we decided to buy a church. Maybe you’re worried I’m about the pass a collection plate.

If you want to know more, you’ll have to subscribe to my new blog at Church Sweet Home. I’d love it if you would (and don’t worry–no collections). My first post is already up; check it out right here.

If you’re perfectly happy hearing Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant, or whatever she’s calling herself) write about travel and the Twins and other assorted life happenings, not to worry. I’ll still post here occasionally about subjects of interest. But I’m devoting myself to writing every day over at Church Sweet Home. So if you can’t get enough of my Midwestern perspective and wry sense of humor, check it out.

Travel Tuesday: This is some hot stuff!

The chill in the air makes me long for some heat, so I thought I’d pull this out of the archives, a memorable trip from October 2014 to the home of the “finest condiment in the world.” Enjoy.

Dishing spicy details on ‘the finest condiment in the world’

Family legend posits that my brother once marveled about the business model of Tabasco pepper sauce: “I don’t know how they stay in business! One bottle lasts a lifetime!”

My family of origin doesn’t have a taste for hot capsicum peppers. I remember the Tabasco bottle in the fridge, the label faded and the top ringed with a dried spicy sludge.

We are outliers it appears.

IMG_3941

A tour of the Tabasco pepper sauce factory puts the fallacy of the rare need for the sauce to rest: Up to 700,000 bottles of Tabasco a day are manufactured here at Avery Island in southern Louisiana and shipped to 110 countries around the world. The stuff is even sold in gallon jugs! Among facts I learned on the tour was that residents of Guam are the highest per capita consumers of Tabasco in the world: “Islanders use it on everything: Corn flakes, popcorn, beer and local dishes.”

Hmm. Corn flakes. That’s Crazy Town. But then I have the taste buds of a Minnesotan, not a Guamish breakfast eater.

IMG_3942

I began to understand hot sauce had flavor not just heat when I moved in with my Beloved and Adored stepson a few years ago and learned we had to stock at least three brands of the stuff, some of it good for wings, some for Chinese food and some (lots) for scrambled eggs. My Beloved found six different flavors of Tabasco he couldn’t live without in the factory store today. We also tried Tabasco ice cream, and I discovered a cold food that left a hot sensation in the back of my throat.

IMG_3945

The factory tour was fascinating, if not complimentary to all things Tabasco. “It excites the appetite, promotes digestion and is pronounced, by connoisseurs, to be the finest condiment in the world.” But make no mistake, you of bland palates, Tabasco “is not a luxury” though it has a place on every dinner table: “A bottle lasts a long time. It is not intended to be poured on like ketchup–neither is salt to be used like sugar.”

From garden to soup pot: Autumn lessons

Nothing transforms vegetables like roasting them in a hot oven. And a run through the blender. Gotta have the blender.

I’m obsessed with roasting vegetables. Thirty minutes in a hot oven brings out the natural sweetness of savory stuff in a way that makes you forget what you’re eating is good for you. And it’s so dagnabb’ed easy, too.

If you’re keeping track, you’re just now realizing you haven’t heard much lately from Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant, whatever she’s calling herself). Yup, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in insurance paperwork. Not for myself, Lord no, for various clients who require insuring (which is pretty much all of us, if you’re being legal or you’re just plain risk-averse). In any case, I haven’t been blogging.

Oh, and there’s this other big project I have on the horizon. By big, I mean ginormous. Like, the only thing bigger in terms of financial commitment and time frame would be having a child. But I’m not quite ready to share that project. When I am ready, you’ll hear about it, I assure you.

In the meantime, I took a breath from paperwork on Saturday, and I made a pot of soup. And it was some kind of soup. So I feel compelled to share. Just in case you, too, have a garden of junk peppers you’re considering letting go to Jack Frost.

Animal VegetableI’m reading this book, you see. In between paperwork and project planning and meal prep, I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The fiction author wrote this memoir with her husband Steven L. Hopp and her daughter Camille Kingsolver to share their family’s experience with eating local for a year, that is, consuming only food that was produced locally. That meant a lot of gardening, farmer’s markets and organic chicken. And no bananas or avocados.

Her premise is that locally produced food is better for the environment, society and the human body, and she makes her point in a pretty compelling way. I mean, I’m not going to become a gardener or make my own cheese, but I’m inspired to pay better attention to where the food I’m putting in my mouth comes from.

banana-peppers.jpg

So I paid a visit to a friend’s garden on Saturday afternoon and picked all of his overripe banana peppers (with his permission). Did you know those lime green peppers turn red after a while? Me neither, but they do. The sun was shining in a way that it might not do again for six months or more, and we haven’t had a hard frost yet this autumn. I also picked one — one! — red hot jalapeno pepper. While I was picking my way through the overgrown weeds, I spied a few red-and-green tomatoes, too. Upon inspection, I discovered they weren’t perfect but they were pretty much free of bugs.

Thus inspired, I dug through the crisper drawer and found a stalk of celery, a carrot, a half of a yellow sweet pepper, a half an onion and two cloves of garlic. I can’t vouch for their local provenance, but I’d already purchased them so I was wasting-not-wanting not.

roasted veggies

A little bit of chopping (a very little bit) left me with this pan of vegetables to roast. I doused them in olive oil, salt and pepper, set the oven to 425 degrees, and I headed for the shower.

spicy red pepper soupThirty minutes later, I dumped the whole mess into the blender, added a cup of water, a teaspoon or so of Better Than Boullion and a dash of tomato paste I saved from the previous day’s chili (that’s the cheap Minnesotan in me, I can’t throw away perfectly good food, even a tablespoon of tomato paste). Whirr, whirr, and I had the world’s tastiest, couldn’t-be-better-for-you Spicy Red Pepper Soup (all I needed was the one — one! — jalapeno pepper for the spice; I suspect jalapenos left on the vine this long might be hotter than the season’s early fare). I simmered it a bit on top the stove (just so I could enjoy the aroma, but it didn’t hurt to let it spend some time melding flavors). I added a bit more olive oil (because … olive oil! It’s good for you and tastes delicious, too). Then I ladeled it into a bowl, sprinkled it with parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper, and dug in. Wow, was it good.

So the lessons here are many:

  • Don’t believe you’re ever too busy to make dinner. It’s good for the soul and the body to chop and roast and be creative.
  • Don’t let an abundance of garden harvest go to waste. Think of a new way to consume it. Or invite a friend to scour for vegetable jewels.
  • Roasting and blending makes anything better. Sure, fresh is good, and who doesn’t like a good salad? Well, a lot of people don’t like salad, let’s be honest. But it’s harder to find soup haters. Smells good, warms the tummy, takes all the hard edges off produce. Roasted vegetable soup can inspire a lot of admirers. Get cookin’.

full on spicy red pepper soup

 

 

Throwback Thursday: One of the best things about autumn is the soup

Nothing like recycling a good recipe for Throwback Thursday, so today we’re praising soup. And kale.

I’m obsessed with kale lately. It’s so good for you! And sneaking some into your soup is a painless way to consume lots of it.

Which brings me to this recipe I first published Aug. 9, 2014. That was a tough month in Minnesota Wonderer’s life (I’m still not ready to tell the story of the Very Bad Thing), but the soup is a keeper, especially as fall approaches. Enjoy.

Lentil barley soup as comfort food

For some people, mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. For others, spaghetti. My Beloved leans toward macaroni-and-cheese.

Honestly, forget food — what beats a glass (or two) of wine?

A Very Bad Thing happened a week ago. The story of the Very Bad Thing isn’t ready to be told yet. Or maybe I’m just not ready to tell it. But I finally had (took) a few minutes to myself today, and I decided to make something to comfort me.

It was a big pot of lentil barley soup.

Probably not the first choice of comfort food for, well, anyone else. When I told my Beloved about it, he was less than impressed.

Soup in general might be considered a comfort food, though probably not in August. Chicken noodle soup, though, ranks on the Food Network’s list of Top 10 comfort foods.

I, however, am not a big fan of noodles. And I don’t care if it’s August.

I ran across a big pot of lentil barley soup at Au Bon Pain the other day, and I thought, ahh, I could make that. And I could make it even better with a few mushrooms and some kale. Because mushrooms are comforting. And kale is good for you.

So I cleaned out the crisper drawer of my fridge, and I made a big pot of soup today. And it was delicious. And only 180 calories per serving, which is pretty darn good for comfort food. And it made me feel better.

lentil barley soup

Lentil Barley Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  •  4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes (I added a half of a leftover fresh tomato, too, chopped)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons chicken base (I used Better Than Boullion brand)
  • 1 cup red lentils (they really must be the red ones, which break down better than green ones)
  • 1/2 cup barley (not the quick-cooking kind; the kind that take 50 minutes to cook)
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup kale, ribs removed and chopped

Directions:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a big pot; add chopped vegetables and cook a few minutes.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients except kale. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer an hour until lentils are essentially mush, thickening the sauce, and barley is tender.
  3. Fifteen minutes before the hour is up, add the kale.
  4. Remove bay leaves. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Makes 6 servings.

Throwback Thursday: What baling hay teaches

Going back to school reminds Minnesota Wonderer of her uncle who’s worked in education for the better part of his career. September reminds me of harvest time, too (I no longer have a garden but I drive by those fields of bounty). So today’s Throwback Thursday post, first published Aug. 9, 2012, pays homage to both my uncle and a harvest. It’s one of my favorites. Enjoy.

What a perfect haystack means

Symbols remind us of what’s important. A wedding ring symbolizes a commitment. A lushly green, well-watered lawn symbolizes suburban perfection. A signed baseball symbolizes a brush with fame.

For my uncle, a perfect haystack symbolizes a summer’s work.

stacked hay final

A meaningful stack of North Dakota hay, circa 1965.

I recently found a black-and-white picture of the haystack in my uncle’s collection of personal photos.

“You’ve had this photo for 40-some years,” I said. “There must be a reason you kept it so long.”

“That hay stack represented a finished job,” Uncle Lee said. “I don’t get many ‘finished jobs’ in my line of work now.”

Nowadays, making hay is highly mechanized. Round bales, created by a machine, dot the rural landscape around the little town where I live on the outskirts of Chicago.

But a century ago, hay was cut with scythes and moved with pitchforks, and haystacks shaped like little houses were fixtures of the Midwestern landscape. Square balers mechanized the process in the 1940s. As the farming industry moved to a more corporate operation in recent years, large round bales have become more common.

The biggest advantage of small square bales like those handled by my uncle is that they can be moved by one person without a lot of machinery.

Square hay bales must be stacked in such a way as to shed moisture and prevent rotting. My uncle estimates his haystack probably had 2,000 square bales in it.

“I probably handled those bales six times each,” he said. “That’s why I was in such great shape! The knees wore out of my blue jeans from hiking up those bales. I could throw them like you couldn’t believe.”

As the saying goes, you make hay while the sun shines. One has to cut it, rake it and bale it first. “Dad [my grandfather] had a brand new baler at the time,” Uncle Lee remembers. “Then I’d go out and put ’em in six packs — that’s the first time I handled ’em. Then I’d pick ’em up and throw ’em on the hay wagon (that’s two), then stack ’em again on the wagon (three), bring ’em home, throw ’em down (there’s four, right?), then stack them like you see here in the picture.”

The stack in that picture symbolized a whole summer of work.

“Wait, that’s five times, I think,” I said.

“Then in the winter time, you have to feed the cattle – I had to throw the bales on the ground for the cows.”

Six.

“I like everything about cattle,” said Uncle Lee, who grew up and made hay in the western plains of North Dakota. “I enjoyed that part of farming. I didn’t like seeding or combining, but one of my favorite times of year was when we moved the cattle to summer pasture. All winter, they were cooped up in the barnyards, but in spring we moved them to the open fields. They were like little kids! They’d kick up their heels and hit their heads together, they were so happy.

“I still like cattle.”

Early on, Uncle Lee left farming because there was no money in it and embarked on a career in education. He started out as a social studies teacher. He worked his way into school administrationthe top of the stack, so to speak—favoring smaller school districts.

“That’s probably why I prefer rural districts,” Uncle Lee said. “North Dakota built my foundation. It was a hard place to make a living: It’s got a short growing season. It’s colder than hell. Sometimes it doesn’t rain. It can be a very lonely, lonely place.”

But he learned what hard work can accomplish.

And the picture of his haystack symbolizes it.