The Strong Survive!


Wind hurls shards of ice over undulant waves of snow.

Brooding skies usher in gray days without sun.

Monochrome world rests, void of life save for the tracks of wild turkeys, foxes, and a lone wolf.

Deep, profound, stillness.




My love for this place is an ache.

At five, maybe six, I helped Dad plant a windbreak, the seedling pines that now soar thirty to forty feet. Their tips touch the clouds.

Back then, it was called Willow Island Farm, and I climbed the graceful trees that gave it that name. Hopefully, I aged better than they did…decayed stumps…a few sprawling branches.

I’ve moved more than 45 times in my life. Vagabond. Gypsy. Restless maybe. But also curious. What’s it like over there? Are the people kind? Happy? What stories do they tell? What gods do they worship? I was told that people are people – basically the same no matter where you go. That isn’t true. Brilliantly unique and endlessly fascinating, humans reflect their culture, their climate, their geography, and their belief systems.

Balinese are nothing like Australians. Aussies are vastly different from Italians. Italians are as unlike Norwegians as Chianti is to Aquavit. But how magnificent. I love them all.

So where am I going with this? Good question. Sometimes I write because my head cannot contain the abundance of my heart. For instance, right now it’s 6:46 a.m. Look at that sky! I’ve been gifted another glorious morning. A splendid new dawn. My throat constricts and tears burn behind my eyelids. It’s -18° F out there with a high of 7° expected today. This is winter in northern Minnesota and I came back.

It’s about choices and consequences. Connections to people and places. Belonging.

The long-time residents of this area are tough and willing to help one another. Community sustains itself through connection…shared abundance…shared work…shared life experience…winter!

People have welcomed me because of their memories of my parents, because of their love for my sister, and because of the helping hand my brother-in-law has extended time and time again to so many over the years. And, I suppose, because they’re curious. Who is this woman who left so long ago and now returns late in life? Why here? Why now?

For eleven years, I was defined by where I was. It was an exciting, exotic persona. Shedding that skin leaves me naked, a blank canvas. I no longer have the urge or feel the need, to be unique. No, that’s not quite right…I am, by nature, unique. But I’m ready to be a part of this culture that is in ways so familiar and yet so foreign. I want to approach the people here with as much curiosity as I carried with me to other lands. I want to know them, not only for the ways we’re different but also for our similarities. I want to engage and blend and discover my place and purpose. But most of all, I want to spend the time I have left near family.


During the past six months, my energy has been consumed by house construction. There was little time for reflection and less time for writing. Exhaustion was a permanent state of being.

On Valentine’s Day, I moved into a not-quite-finished home. There’s still work to be done. My shower tower (raised because all the plumbing is housed beneath it) needs steps. The kitchen begs for a countertop, a sink, and shelves in the corner for dishes. Oh…and dishes…I’ll need those, too!

It never ends. But now, there’s a little more time to think, to feel, and to remember how delightful it is just to be.

Soon I’ll share the after pictures of the magical home that has emerged from the love and sweat that Gwen, W, and I have poured into it. Just another week or two and the finishing touches will be photo-worthy. And so will I, stronger and more resilient, with a host of new skills I didn’t know I needed.

Don’t mess with this Granny!

But I will never, NOT EVER, tape and mud sheetrock again!

Rockin’ to a Zydeco Beat

Aaron stuck his gorgeous head through the kitchen window. “It’s my birthday Sunday,” he smiled. “I’m having a bbq in the back yard if you wanna come.” A bigger smile. “There’ll be music and food, poetry…”

Okay. I’m in. Not only is Aaron the cutest thing since the Ken doll, but he’s a brilliant musician.  And he lives in the mother-in-law house in the back yard. “What can I bring?” I asked in typical Minnesota potluck fashion.

“Do you have an instrument? Or a poem?”

Do I have a poem? Is the Pope still Catholic?

This is North Oakland. A block away is Berkeley. The neighborhood rocks with color and vibe. Aaron rocks with color and vibe! So Sunday morning I scanned my provisions and put together a chicken avocado salad to share with other guests. Around 3:30 I could hear happy sounds wafting through my open windows. What was that…an accordion? Definitely drums… I grabbed my salad and strolled into the back yard.

Suddenly I was back in Bali. It was a hodge-podge of people from toddlers to older folk, and nationalities that spanned the globe. It was community. Angelique and her little angel were crafting graffiti on the fence.


So were Dubonwi and Larry.

P1040609P1040613Summer stenciled blue paint around a giant leaf from Aaron’s garden while also manning the bbq.


P1040614Jimmy sat next to his wife who had dressed in pink bunny ears for the occasion. He swore that he didn’t know her but the twinkle in his eye said otherwise.


Their son, Mali, remembered me. He had passed me on the sidewalk while I was walking. He was skateboarding. I remembered him because he said, “Hi!” as he went past. I said “Hi!” back, both surprised and impressed. But after meeting his mom and dad…not surprised but still impressed! They are the friendliest folk!

The table groaned with food from all ethnicities.

Aaron passed out instruments that he had harvested from who knows where! Anything that could make a sound had been commandeered for the occasion. I saw an egg beater, a very large cowbell, a metal dish drainer, and a can filled with something noisy, like rocks. That was my instrument of choice.


I-dream-of-Jeannie, a vision in polka-dots and a sassy red hat, played masterfully on the accordion. The music swelled into the air and suffused the neighborhood with syncopation. We rocked. The poetry was rap, spontaneous, bawdy, and sometimes sweet, paying tribute to Aaron on his special day.

P1040617Here’s the man himself, Aaron, on the box drum, world-class musician beating his little 33 year old heart out.


Aaron has played in Bali. He’s seen the traditional performances. I was aware that a group of guys had gathered behind me but, deep in conversation, I paid no attention. Then it was kecak, a wild, Californianized version of male voices simulating the background chorus for the Ramayana saga. The force of that familiar sound stopped my heart.

What are the chances? Really, what are the chances that I would find kecak in my back yard in Oakland, California? It seems, like everything in my life, the chances are very good. The flow of energy, the aligning of experiences that bring joy, the magic of synchronistic happenings no matter where I am, has become the norm. I blinked away tears and allowed gratitude to once again flood my being.

Happy Birthday, Aaron. You are a gift.

Troublesome Taste Buds

If you have never shopped in an Asian market you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. I no longer crave meat loaf and mashed potatoes, staples of the Midwestern diet! My taste buds have undergone a serious transformation. That was proving somewhat troublesome as the typical grocery stores do not carry fresh pandan or banana leaves, black rice, trasi, ketjap manis…you get my drift.

There are substitutes for some things, but I didn’t want to compromise the flavors that are still so poignant in my memory. When my mouth is watering for Bubur Injin with the subtle influences of pandan leaf and palm sugar, there is no way I want white rice, or brown rice, or wild rice with some other leaf or sweetener! No way! I brought a number of ingredients home with me, but U.S. Customs are picky about agricultural items, green leaves are terribly suspicious. So I needed a local source for quite a number of culinary essentials.

With that goal in mind, I prepared two lists. One had the names of the food items I was searching for, the other had the addresses of all the Asian and Indian markets in the Twin Cities. I decided to begin at the one nearest me. Across the street from the fabulous Quang Vietnamese Restaurant at 27th and Nicollet, is Shuang Hur Asian Grocery. As soon as I passed through the door I knew I had achieved Nirvana. There were aisles upon aisles of wonders the likes of which I had never seen before. My leaves were there, and the black rice and the red rice, and so much more!

After 45 minutes of awestruck wandering, my cart was 3/4 full. About that time a wiry Asian man approached me. “You find everything?” he asked. I pointed to my list and said, “Almost.” He reached out and plucked the paper out of my hand. “What you NOT find?” I had checked things off as I located them so I told him I still needed the items without the check marks. After studying my scribbles for a minute he looked up and said, “I direct you!” With that he grasped the front of my cart pulling it behind him and off we went!

In no time at all he had completed my shopping. I thanked him profusely and told him I just wanted to browse a few more minutes. He agreed that I should do that and disappeared down another aisle. Adding some red bean Mochi and rice noodles to my now heaping basket I headed for checkout. There was a line and I patiently awaited my turn. Suddenly my gallant knight reappeared. Once again he commandeered my cart and whipped it over to a dormant check-out counter. Nevermind the folks in front of me, I had somehow achieved VIP status without knowing it! We chatted away as he personally rang up my groceries. Who was going to cook for me he wanted to know. I would be cooking for myself I explained! Good, good, very good, he seemed pleased. We finished our business and he sent me off with big smiles and an invitation to come back soon.

My daughters will tell you that I have always hated shopping. And cooking has bored me for years. But I can hardly wait to go back to the Shuang Hur market. Grocery shopping has become a treasure hunt and cooking a creative adventure. Not only that, but I have a friendly personal shopper at my disposal there. Community. It happens is the most unexpected ways. A sense of belonging, of shared experience. So vital to happiness.

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