Culture



During 2020, with so many events and festivals cancelled, I’m encouraged to see that most of places we visited during last fall’s trip to Montana and Wyoming are now open for tourists. Yellowstone Park is open with few restrictions. You can access events here. The Grand Tetons are open as well. And the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce has announced that the 36th Annual Arts Festival will be held from Wednesday, September 9th to Sunday, September 20th.

During our 2019 road trip, after touring Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, we spent a week in Jackson Hole. Along with my sister Ret and brother-in-law John, Gunter and I had rented a two-bedroom condo there to enjoy some R&R before driving back to Billings and flying home. But Jackson Hole turned out to more than we expected: a happening destination in and of itself.

This city of 10,450 calls itself the “Heart of the American West.” Fur trappers and frontiersmen called it “Jackson’s Hole” when they traversed the steep pass in the early 1800s and came upon the majestic beauty of the valley. Since that time, this valley has drawn cowboys, dude-ranchers, mountaineers, skiers, and even John D. Rockefeller, whose large swaths of ranchland later became Grand Teton National Park. Jackson Hole is flanked by the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges offering powdery skiing in the winter and splendid hiking in the summer. The Snake River, with its headwaters in nearby Yellowstone Park, meanders through fields of grazing buffalo and elk. Luxury ski resorts have brought glamour to this wild western town, but Jackson Hole is still a hometown kind of place where you can wear your cowboy boots to the most upscale restaurant.

Buffalo grazing in Yellowstone Park

A lone buffalo grazing at Yellowstone Park.

Lois at Snake River

Lois at Snake River

We four were fortunate to be in Jackson Hole during the final days of the 35th Annual Fall Arts Festival. What a fun event! My sister Ret and I left our husbands—still in their PJs—behind at the condo and rushed off to the 9 a.m. Quick Draw Arts Sale and Auction at the Jackson Town Square. In a unique alfresco setting, national, regional, and local artists demonstrate their skills while spectators watch.

Each has an outdoor “booth” in the Square to set up their “studio” with sculpting or painting tools. They are allowed to have a photo or sketch of art they’ve done before, but each artist begins with a blank canvas. At the end of ninety minutes, the artist must be finished and ready to frame or otherwise display his or her work.

Ret and I strolled through the tree-lined park, watching artists work feverishly to see their works come to life in canvas or clay. The skill required was amazing! Bystanders would ask questions and artists would answer and even tell stories while continuing their work. We stopped to watch for a while when we encountered an especially engaging bear, elk, or mountain scene. In the middle of the square, volunteers from the Chamber handled bidding registration. We were curious about how these pieces would be auctioned off, so occasionally we watched from the sidelines. Then we would take another walk around to see how the artworks we liked had progressed.

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The ninety minutes went by in a flash. And when the QuickDraw concluded, the big sales tent on Delaney Street filled up quickly. At first, we took two of the empty seats, but then we noticed that each of the empty seats held a bid card. We realized that we would be forced to stand or sit around the edges of the tent or group outside the entries and exits. But my sister and I don’t give up easily! Inside, near the edge of the tent, we found a small, flat-topped tree stump, a perfect place for people-watching. We would take turns sitting. What an intriguing cross-section of humanity! We saw anxious artists and their supportive families, local ranchers and businesspeople, well-dressed and wealthy art patrons from all over the world, and on-lookers like us. The noise level increased as excitement built and the tent filled. We watched bidders take reserved seats on the main floor—some wearing cowboy hats and boots, others casual-elegant, and a few dressed to kill—while latecomers crowded around the entrances. The buzz reached a crescendo until the host representing the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce sprinted on stage to introduce key celebrities in the art world. Then he called the auctioneer to the stage amid cheers and waving of hats. It was time to begin. A hush swept over the crowd.

Quick Draw Auction

The Quick Draw Auction held in the big tent.

The live auction was a fun and spirited affair. Art enthusiasts bid for their favorite pieces while the auctioneers urged other participants to bid up the price. Ret and I could imagine the stress the artists felt as they waited for their own work to be displayed on the stage! Afterwards, a festive air enveloped the entire town. Shops and restaurants opened their doors while art galleries held wine-and-cheese receptions. Streets were packed but everyone was friendly and having a wonderful time.

Gunter and John joined us for an early dinner across from the Town Square at Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Wyoming’s landmark watering hole. During the ensuing days, we explored the area, using Jackson Hole as our base. That story is coming up next.

Lois and Gunter

Lois and Gunter

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Those with wanderlust in our bones are dreaming of traveling again. When I provide recommendations for international travel, I always include Uzbekistan in my short list. (See my February blog: International Destinations: Where to Travel in 2020.) Here are some other links to my blogs about Uzbekistan:

Oh, to go back to that pre-COVID era of innocence!

But If and When You Go:

Contact Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours, Office: 888-745-7670, Cell: 908-347-4280. Her company manages independent and luxury travel tours throughout the Silk Road Countries of Central Asia, as well as to Mongolia and Georgia.

Below is Zulya’s latest blog, which she has graciously consented to share with us here:

The Ceremony of Uzbekistan Sallabandon
Ceremony-of-Uzbekistan-Sallabandon2

The traditions and customs of the Uzbek people have been shaped by their unique position at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road. The treasures that flowed were not only the ones that can be held in one’s hand, but also those that touch the heart and soul. Art, philosophy, science, and religious ideals were exchanged, enriching the cultures of both the travelers and their hosts.

Uzbek culture reflects a beautiful synthesis of these influences, while maintaining its own unique traditions. From the harmony of its architecture to the masterful detail of its applied arts, from the busy, noisy bazaars to the peaceful, laid-back chaikhana, a journey through Uzbekistan is unique and unforgettable.

It will be helpful for travelers to be aware of some of the conventions of Uzbek society. Let’s share with you our Sallabandon celebration.

Ritual and tradition connect us all. The people of Bukhara, an ancient oasis city in south-western Uzbekistan, celebrate Sallabandon – literally “tying the turban”. This particular ceremony marks the transition of a woman to motherhood.

The regions of Central Asia have a history almost 3,000 years old and the ceremony of Sallabandon has roots in pre-Islamic Sogdian culture. Sogdiana was an empire of city-states in prominence from the 6th to the 11th centuries throughout what is now Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in the heart of the Silk Road. Archaeologists at Sogdian sites have found terracotta figurines of a female fertility deity holding a pomegranate and a baby in her hands. Interestingly, they feature a turban-like headdress in the form of a tied scarf.

Ceremony of Uzbekistan SallabandonSallabandon often takes place with other celebrations. It may, for example, occur together with gavorabandon – the occasion of putting a newborn into a cradle for the first time. Russian and European travelers to Bukhara in the early 20th century described the beauty of the local dress and the richness of the jewelry. Women’s clothing in Central Asia retains its traditional sophistication and aesthetic appeal.

On the day of Sallabandon, the young mother wears a splendid kuylak, the traditional tunic-style dress, its front decorated with peshkurta, a gold and silk embroidered band. She uses a kultapushak or gold embroidered headdress with a hair cover, a peshonaband (forehead cover), a large white shawl and a lachak; a white veil. The dressing takes place in the presence of relatives and invited guests. This ritual is performed by a respected senior female family member with many children and grandchildren, usually the grandmother of the young mother. Accompanied by traditional singing, the headdress is placed on the head of the young mother and a length of white fabric is wrapped under her chin and tied on top. The peshonaband is covered by the white shawl symbolizing purity. The young mother then bows to all her guests and relatives and receives their gifts. Her mother and mother in law usually present her with a gold ring, earrings and bracelet, the circle representing the magic of protection from evil. Ceremonial headdresses and costumes are gifts from the mother to her daughter, connecting generations, and bestowing the desire for fertility and protection.

Family values, the importance of children, and the role of mothers as guardians of the house and family, all are brought together in the wonderful Bukharan ritual of sallabandon. We look forward to taking you to our people’s homes to participate in such amazing traditional Uzbek celebrations during your travel in Uzbekistan. You may also enjoy to participatate in the Silk and Spice festivals or Navruz festival.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


How can one tamp down your inner wanderlust while following pandemic stay-at-home orders?
As a travel writer, how can I help you through these trying times?

Appreciate where you’ve been.  Embracing an attitude of gratitude can bring you out of the doldrums. Realize that this is temporary and eventually, you’ll put your tabled travel plans back in motion. During this pause, those of us who are intrepid travelers have a rare chance to think more deeply about what we’ve already experienced. We can look into the rearview mirror, learning—or relearning—what our past travels taught us. Or we can take this time to delve further into the history and culture of places we’ve visited but barely scratched the surface because of time limitations. Be thankful for the gift of time you now have.

Celebrate what you did when you could. Gather together your photos and mementos, and consider making them into a travel book. If you no longer print out photos or do scrapbooking, use one of the online photo book services such as snapfish.com. Technology has made it easier than ever to collect travel memories. I have many digitally-produced travel books that I set out on the coffee table to remind us of the good times. And come to think of it, I never did make that book about last years’ trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Now is the time!

Engage in armchair reminiscence.  Remembering the high points of a trip has distinct advantages. When we recall a memory, we tend to edit out inconvenient details, allowing what’s left to take center stage. When I recalled and blogged about our trip to Uzbekistan two years ago, I fittingly left out the part about the horrific cold I caught there, and the stomach flu that Gunter endured during the long flight home. That part had faded into the background while our experience staying at a yurt camp, where Gunter fell off his camel, became the primary story. In fact, reliving that adventure made having traveled more fun than actual traveling! I tend to travel in search of a story, but the challenge and fun of shaping the narrative comes only in retrospect when I’m safely home.

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Travel virtually. While you’re sitting at home, consider taking in the pleasures of spring without the pollen: online offerings from impressive botanical gardens around the world allow you to take a tour from the comfort of your home. I missed the Cherry Blossom Festival in San Diego this year, but I could take a tour of similar gardens around the world via Google Earth, complete with satellite images soaring to ten different destinations and quotes by local guides. Vancouver’s cherry blossom festival in Queen Elizabeth Park lasts an entire month—as does the National Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, D.C. For a sidewalk view, go to the National Garden and Joenji Temple in Japan.

As an impressionist aficionado, one of my favorites has been Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. But after sailing the South Pacific for two years, I fell in love with tropical gardens. One magnificent virtual tour is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which sits on 17 acres in Papaikou, HI. Every year, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx stages a spectacular orchid show. This year, Jeff Leatham, a “floral designer to the stars,” used thousands of orchids to fashion a series of rooms festooned with orchid-laden arches, vines, hanging baskets and columns. Then it closed on March 15, never to reopen again. This 21-minute narrated tour steers viewers through a kaleidoscopic exhibition, stopping to tell stories along the way. I cannot end a virtual tour of gardens without taking you to Holland for a tulip show. “Because you cannot visit Keukenhof right now, we decided to bring Keukenhof to you!” says the park’s managing director.

Now that I’ve turned you onto virtual tours, you may decide to use them to pursue your own passions. Gunter likes to while away the time watching YouTube videos of ships in monster storms. “Why is that calming?” I asked him.

“Because I’m so relieved that we’re not out there.” Then he added, “And I’m so grateful that we survived all those storms during our circumnavigation—especially that scary Force 10!”

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Spring is off to a rough start this year. Usually I would write about the thrill of new beginnings in my spring blog and newsletter. But in this year, in the grip of a worldwide pandemic, many of us feel anxiety instead of anticipation, worry instead of wonder. What can we do to put that joy back into our hearts? How can we bring back that sense of renewal?

Joyful and Rewarding Things to Do

Buy Flowers: Where I live, although seniors are advised to stay in our homes, we are allowed out to shop for food and medical supplies. Many grocery and drug stores have baskets of cheerful spring flowers—brilliant tulips, bright yellow daffodils, and pussy willows for a striking contrast. We pick up a bunch or two whenever we can. It’s fun to watch the tulip stems grow wild and unruly as they unfold, while the daffodils bring rays of sunshine as they open.

Daffodils

Call a friend: So what if you can’t meet that special friend for lunch because the restaurants are closed! Just pick up the phone and call him or her.

Volunteer: If you’re healthy and under 60, take advantage of the new trend while it lasts:  volunteer to support the at-risk elderly by asking what they need, shopping for them, and asking what you can do to help.

Start spring cleaning: There’s always spring cleaning! This week, I picked up where last spring’s Kondo spurt fizzled:  I Kondoized my sock and underwear drawers. Ah! What a sense of accomplishment! Then I tackled my writer’s den. Frankly, writing something new (like this letter) is more fun than deciding whether to file or throw something I wrote five years ago. Do I really need to keep those outdated brochures from each of the 62 countries we visited during our circumnavigation?

Read a good book: This is the time to look through those books on your nightstand you’ve been neglecting. Pick up each one, then select the one(s) you want to read first. Which would bring you the most joy? And if you’re looking for way to escape all the COVID-19 talk, consider sailing around the world while in the comfort of your armchair. My book series will take you through adventures and those special and rare moments of bliss.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Think back for a minute. Was there a miserable place somewhere in the world from which you were desperate to escape?

For Günter and me, during our world circumnavigation, that place was Gove, in Australia’s remote Northern Territory. You’ve probably never heard of this working port on the western shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The nearest town is Nhulumbuy—about ten miles away—which you’ve probably never heard of either! Half the town’s 3,500 inhabitants work for the bauxite mine and alumina factory—the reason for its existence.

Map of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

From Darwin to Cape York showing Gove and the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory, Australia.

Everything we did in Gove was an effort and an adventure. Fueling was next-to-impossible because the fuel dock was designed for massive freighters, not low-freeboard sailboats.

Rain coat

Michele, from SV MiGitana, prepared for the wet dinghy trip to shore.

A 15-20 knot wind in the bay forced us to fashion garbage bags over our foul-weather sailing gear to protect us during the wet and salty dinghy ride to shore. Taxis and/or rental cars were nonexistent. One cruiser managed to borrow a car from a local Aussie, who loaned it to a  cruiser friend, who loaned it to us for a trip into Nhulumbuy to provision, check out the local scene, and visit the Aborigine Arts and Crafts Museum, an additional 15 miles inland. And on top of it all, I almost lost my little finger!

 

 

Here is my story, excerpted from The Long Way Back, page 74:

We Gotta Get Out of this Place.
July 4

“If it’s the last thing we ever do.” I walk around Pacific Bliss singing these lyrics by The Animals. I’m anxious to move on. I never expected to spend a week in Gove; there are far more interesting places I wanted to see, such as Kimberly Gorge and Kakadu out of Darwin. Every day we spend here in Gove is a day we cannot spend there. But there’s nothing we can do. The weather gods are in control. The wind has ranged from 20 knots to gale force every day; this bay is never calm, so there is no opportune weather window. We’ll just have to go for it.

Günter sits across from me at the salon table entering repairs into the maintenance log:

  • Adjusted Spectra watermaker to get close to specs by changing filter and cleaning fore-filter fine mesh.
  • Took out burned shunt on port engine and connected cable directly. It’s only a measuring device; however, one side had melted and opened so no current could flow.
  • Our VHF can no longer transmit, although it can receive. Roman, the skipper of Dragonfly, tried to fix it, but no luck. He loaned us his ham system until we can replace ours in Darwin.
  • Installed Version 10.2 of MaxSea and all the world charts, a two-day process.
  • Adjusted both fridges with “butterfly farts,” small puffs of Freon.
  • Replaced a toilet handle. Retrieved our last spare from the sail locker, then mistakenly dropped it through the sides of the net. Used our last one from a toilet assembly we had stored for just such an emergency.
  • Repaired lazy jack (and bandaged Lois’ crushed little finger).

Of course, there’s a story behind that so-called “crushed finger” on my right hand. Most likely, it was more than crushed—it was broken. It would head a different direction, going its own way, from that day forward:

We’d planned to wait for a calm day to repair that broken lazy jack line—a part of the cordage that helps guide the mainsail onto the boom when it’s lowered—but yesterday, we concluded that calm waters in Gove are as rare as rain in the Sahara. So, despite the wind roiling the bay, Günter strapped me into the bosun’s chair and slowly winched me high alongside the mast, past two crossbars, up to where the line had broken. Despite weaving in the wind, I managed to tie the parts together. Only then did I dare to look down. Going down from a 63-foot carbon fiber mast would be worse than going up!

“Take it slow!” I yelled, but the wind stole my words.

I descended to the second crossbar—much too fast.

“Stop!” I needed to catch my breath.

Instead of stopping, Günter winched faster. Or so it seemed. But I’d already reached out to hold onto the crossbar and couldn’t release my hand fast enough. Ouch! Fortunately, my little finger came along with me, still attached, as I sped down alongside that mast.

The closer we get to departure the scarier the sailors tales become. Our last stop at the Gove Yacht Club is a case in point. I take my job as Navigator seriously, so I set my little blue notebook within easy reach on the bar as we down our beers. The local sailor sitting next to me is more than happy to tell me what to do. With his long, grizzled beard and plaid shirt hanging out of his red-soil-stained jeans, he looks like he’s been trapped in Gove for years.

“My dear Sheila, when you pass Cape Wilberforce, you’ll find the tide floods west. And when you reach the Hole in the Wall, the tide floods east. Got it?

I nod and jot it down.

“After the cape, passage is best during a flood…much more pleasant,” he continues. “Now, write this down.” He points to my notebook. “You want to reach the Hole during the first hour of an ebb tide, so you don’t face a rough entrance. But even so, it’ll suck you in and push you out the other end like a devil’s vortex.”

Sounds like a fun ride. He can’t scare me. I just wanna get out of this place.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


From time to time, my blog will include an excerpt from one of my books. This story is an example of Serendipity—one of my favorite words.

Excerpted from The Long Way Back, pages 228-29:

An Unplanned Stop in Sri Lanka

06º01’N, 80º13’E
Galle, Sri Lanka
February 9

Despite the miseries that we’ve endured this past week, part of the joy of traveling is encountering the unexpected. We did not plan to stop at this island nation, southeast of India. Our plan was to sail straight to the Maldives. But after our miserable crossing of the Bay of Bengal, we welcome any refuge from the lumpy seas.

Serendipity brought us to Sri Lanka. And I’m fascinated that the country’s original name was Serendip, an Arab traders’ word applied to the land long before the Portuguese came on the scene. It reflected the lucky circumstance of their discovery and contact. Today, in its native Sinhala tongue, Sri Lanka means Land of the Blessed. For us, being here is indeed blessed and serendipitous.

Günter and I intend to understand its people and culture better—and, yes, even its’ continuing civil war. This war caused us to strike Sri Lanka from our original circumnavigation plan. Now, though, we cannot avoid its ongoing cruelty. We arrive at dawn’s light, crossing the shipping channels at 90 degrees and deviating course twice to sail behind giant freighters.

“You never want to cross in front of a freighter,” Günter tells our crew, Chris, “because it can take one of those monsters up to four miles to stop.”

Maldives flag, Sri Lankan flag

Chris, our crew, with the Maldives flag. Gunter with Sri Lankan flag.

As instructed via VHF, we prepare the ship for anchoring outside the harbor. It doesn’t take long to see the guns. We’ve never experienced an entrance like this! Two small runabouts, with mounted machine guns, race toward our boat while men wave and point to where they want us to drop the hook. Next, we spot a huge navy vessel—tons of sleek steel glinting in the morning sun—coming around the breakwater. Three Immigration Officers from the navy vessel board Pacific Bliss, while the two speedboats keep circling us.

Sri Lanka fisherman near Galle

Stilt Fisherman near Galle, Sri Lanka.

The officers conduct a thorough inspection of Pacific Bliss and give us forms to fill out.  These are immigration forms, and each asks the same questions over and over. The process lasts half an hour. Then, after stamping the paperwork, one officer asks for “smokes.” Wisely, we had purchased a few cartons just for this purpose. Chris distributes a pack to each officer.

We’ll have a two-hour wait before being shown inside the harbor, but we don’t mind; we’re happy to have our first onboard breakfast in a week in calm water. After breakfast, via VHF, we hire a local agent, G.A.C. Shipping, to handle the rest of the voluminous paperwork that will allow Pacific Bliss to berth here.

Later, a navy officer boards our ship to direct Günter to a berth inside the harbor. As we enter, we note that it’s entirely roped off, except for one small lane for fishing boats and yachts. The officer presents us with three choices: to tie up to a black buoy in the center, where we’d have to use our dinghy to get to shore; to Med-moor to a floating dock, consisting of wobbly plastic sections with no handholds; or to raft to one of the monohulls along the sea wall. We choose the third option and raft to a small monohull flying an Italian flag. Now we can walk across the monohull and from there, onto dry land.

“Well, we’re finally safe,” Günter declares with a sigh. “But we’re not going to do any serious touring until we graduate to a berth directly on the sea wall. Tomorrow, we’ll just walk around Galle and mingle with the locals.”

That first night, cradled by Pacific Bliss and swaying with the current, I fall asleep feeling like we are still at sea. KA-BOOM! I jerk awake. I hear and feel the thunderous boom right through the water and the hull. Oh my God! What have we gotten ourselves into?

Günter pulls me over to him and hugs me tight. “It’s the depth charges, remember? They told us this would happen.”

Talk about encountering the unexpected!

“It feels like we’re in a war zone!”

“We are. It’s the price we pay for taking refuge from the storm.”

How has serendipity worked in your life? When you travel, do you make allowances for expecting the unexpected? Please add your own comments.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Sometimes a family heritage search uncovers the most amazing stories!

My cousin, Debbie Miske, has been working on our family history since she retired. She’s recovering long-lost information every week and passing on her findings—an exciting treasure trove of family secrets. Recently, Debbie passed on the genealogical history of my great-aunt Rose—along with a wonderful Christmas story.

Rose KrugerRose Kruger was born in 1894 in Mendota, Dakota County, Minnesota. She passed in 1978. I remember her visits to our Wisconsin farm when I was a child. Although short in stature, she conveyed a powerful presence of authority. I cringed and shrunk behind my mother’s skirts; I kept my mouth shut, fearing I’d blurt out the wrong words. Rose was working in St. Paul by age 19. The story was probably written in that 1909-1912 time period.

This Christmas story was passed on to cousin Debbie along with my aunt Gertrude’s belongings after she passed. It was in booklet form with the painting on the cover and the nicely typed story inside. Debbie thinks the painting was of the original log building housing the St. Johannes Kirch in Eagan, Minnesota.

For writers, especially, it’s always a blessing to discover another storyteller among our ancestors. Has your family unearthed any treasures like this one?

Christmas Memories by Rose Kruger

Original painting by Rose KrugerOur Christmases shone in our drab existence like diamonds set in rusty iron. For days and days the house was in a turmoil of joyous bustle. Mother baked stacks of coffee cake, delicious coffee cake, such as only she could make thickly dotted with raisins, and an abundant coating of cinnamon flavored sugar. Bertha baked crocks of spicy cookies, and the day before Christmas she scrubbed the soft board floor of the kitchen to an unbelievable state of whiteness. Then, too, all the litter of utensils which were used for feeding the stock and which seemed indispensable in the ordinary routine of everyday living were cleared away, giving us room for our tree.

On Christmas Eve there was always a program at church in which we participated. Emma, who was already working in St. Paul, always came home to spend Christmas with us, and usually she came on Christmas Eve, laden with magic gifts and goodies. What wonderful evenings those Christmas Eves were! The very woods and fields seemed hushed in holy contemplation. Upon the white plush lining of the world the winter moonlight tossed a million glittering gems, and from afar we could see the lighted windows of the church, shedding a soft rosy glow upon the pure snow, which seemed a benediction from out of the holiest of holy places.

At church a giant tree, magnificently trimmed, filled up a corner. The children sang the age old carols with joyous abandon. Sometimes I paused to listen to the joy and hope in the other childrens voices. Almost like the heavenly host which sang, “Peace on Earth”, I thought them. Toward the end of the program the candles on the tree were lit, revealing its loops of tinsel and popcorn, its multi colored baubles and blond angels. The sparkle a little dimmed by the many seasons of use, the angels a little frayed by handling in awkward toil worn hands, but more beautiful than any crown jewels. Then bags of cheap candy, nuts an apple an orange were passed among the children. It was somewhat sticky, but our holiday would not have been complete without it.

The program over our father called us to him; not with words but with twinkly eyes and crinkly smile, either to tell us that the Christ Child had visited our home or that Emma was there. But one very blizzardy Christmas Eve it was to tell us, that even though the Christ Child had made his customary call, Emma had not managed to fight through the blizzard. But our joy was multiplied when upon our arrival at home we found that she had come and brought Cousin Louise!

Father and Mother often peered out into the mad swirling white world that Christmas Eve. “Such weather!” they exclaimed. That was the only time in my childhood when they by any word or action betrayed that they were not completely lost with us in the Christmas wonder land, and that the adult world of work and care stood waiting just outside the magic circle of the two glorious days.

Christmas morning we again went to church. It seems to me that Christmas days were always ideal winter days—clear, cold, sparkly. I can still feel the thrill the reading of the gospel gave me. The voice of the minister made music out of the world’s most treasured poem. In particular he read the part about the shepherds thrillingly.

We came home to a Christmas dinner—I have forgotten of what. For the Christmas dinners were not important factors in our lives. The religion which gave color and meaning to our celebration, the love and generosity which bound the family together and the deep feeling of joy, security and peace—those were the things which made my early Christmases memorable.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

You may think you had your fill of pie during the Thanksgiving but wait! Christmas is coming, and New Years awaits. And what would the holidays be without pies on the table?

Many of those pies aren’t pies at all because they only have a crust underneath. Pumpkin pie is really a tart, as is pecan pie and all those scrumptious cream pies. “The pies baked by the English settlers in the 17th century would have been fully encased in a layer of pastry called a coffin, which was often too thick and hard to eat,” writes Bee Wilson in a recent column for the Wall St Journal. “The coffin’s role was simply to protect the ingredients inside as they cooked, like a casserole dish.” She explained that pie wasn’t just a dessert, but a substantial dish filled with dried fruit and lots of seasonings.

The word pie is derived from the Latin word pica, meaning magpie, a bird known for her habit of collecting an assortment of odds and ends in her nest. Not so very different, the thinking goes, from the way medieval cooks assembled ingredients for their pies. Early recipes also call for an astonishing range of anatomical bits and pieces to be minced together with suet, oats and vegetables. The word haggis turns out to be an alternative name for magpie. In fact, haggis, a mixture of sheep innards—heart, liver, and lungs—mixed with oatmeal, fat, and spices and ideally cooked in a sheep’s stomach, in so much a part of Scottish tradition that the poet Robert Burns wrote an Address to a Haggis in 1786.

Haggis

Haggis

Did you know that a haggis is a bird with a strange gait and vestigial wings—like an ostrich—found on the highlands of Scotland?

Haggis, a bird of the Scottish Highlands

Today, a pie isn’t just any dessert. When you bring a pie to a holiday event, it shows you care. The crust is all buttery, flaky goodness and it’s special crimping depicts time, attention, and talent. The ingredients inside are carefully selected and placed into the rolled crust for maximum effect. “Rest for at least an hour,” say the instructions. Does that mean that the cook gets to rest too? You should. You deserve to rest on your laurels!

Happy Holidays to you and yours,

Lois Joy Hofmann

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


You might drive right through the town of Red Lodge, Montana on your way to the northern gate of Yellowstone Park. That would be a mistake. Because Red Lodge is more than a mere gateway town: this historic town of  2300 souls is a destination in its own right, one you don’t want to miss if you’re headed out west.

During the first week of September, my husband, sister, and brother-in-law flew into Billings, Montana, rented an SUV, and drove into Red Lodge where we had reservations at the Pollard Hotel for two nights. Friends of ours who live there—even though they travel all over the world—had invited us to visit their charming hometown. We arrived at lunchtime and weren’t due to meet them until that evening. It was a sunny fall day, with rain expected the following day, so we decided to take the acclaimed Beartooth All American Road (Highway 212) to the famous Beartooth Pass. After all, Charles Kuralt from the television show On the Road had called the route “the most beautiful drive in America.” Why not check it out for ourselves? We purchased a Styrofoam cooler and sandwich fixings at a local supermarket and headed out to explore.

Taking the Beartooth Highway.

We’re climbing, and climbing, and climbing…! After stopping at a turnout for a photo-op at 8000’ elevation, we enter a series of switchbacks that take us over 1,500 feet in seven miles. Lush forests and pristine vistas rapidly change to twisted gray trees and alpine tundra. There’s a story behind those massive chain-link fences we’re seeing. In May of 2005, a week before the highway was scheduled to open, nine inches of rain fell in three days, causing a massive mudslide that tore down the canyon, dislodging more than 500,000 cubic tons of rock. The reconstruction effort that summer cost $20 million, the same amount (adjusted for inflation) that was spent to build the road in the 1930s.

About 20 miles into this adventure, we reach Vista Point Rest Area. As we leave the parking lot, we round a series of curves called the “Mae West curves,” after the buxom star of the 1930s. Reportedly, that descriptive sign was taken down because it was too risqué! After rounding those curves, we’re astonished by the expansive vista to our right called the “Hellroaring Plateau.” The road climbing that side of the valley covers the same elevation gain in half the miles, it’s unpaved and rocky, and there are no guardrails. Needless to say, we’re not going there!

After exactly 23.9 miles on Hwy 212, we spot the Welcome to Wyoming sign, reportedly the highest welcome sign in the U.S. This is also the 45th Parallel, meaning we’re now halfway between the North Pole and the equator. At 27 miles, we reach Beartooth Basin. Here you can ski at 10,000 feet during your summer vacation. Just check beartoothbasin.com for conditions. Thanks, but no thanks! Soon after the basin we spot the Gardner Lake pullout. What an incredible view of stunning cobalt-blue lakes set into undulating waves of rock! It’s an ideal setting for selfies, but you could die if you keep stepping back to get that perfect shot. We decide to take pics of our mates instead, yelling “smile but don’t move!”

 

Suddenly we realize that we must head back from here if we are to be back at our hotel in time to check in and enjoy the evening. On the way back, we stop again at the Vista Point rest area to enjoy our lunch.

Beartooth

Wayfinding on the Beartooth.

Historic Red Lodge.

The Pollard Hotel is fascinating. Built in 1893, this was the first brick building in town, cost $20,000 to build and had 35 rooms. A glass case in the sitting room displays and explains its history. Famous guests include William E. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, and John “Liver-eatin” Johnston. Our friends Don and Rebecca join us for drinks and dinner. We have a marvelous time. Of course, they advise us what to see in their historic town the next day.

We spend the morning walking the town, beginning with the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum. In 1990, this three-story Labor Temple building was gifted to the Historical Society. It had been built in 1909 by the Red Lodge Miners Local No. 1771 and put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The basement level contains an excellent interactive coal and hard rock mine exhibit. Afterward, we take the downtown walking tour, five blocks of Broadway lined with historic brick buildings on both sides: the Carbon County Courthouse, the Blackburn Building, the Red Lodge State Bank, and finally, the Carbon County Bank where Kid Curry and the Sundance Kid were reportedly captured after a foiled bank robbery. Before turning back we stop at a few art galleries and the old railroad terminal.

Broadway main street in Red Lodge

Broadway the main street of Red Lodge.

Driving through the Wilderness: the West Fork of Rock Creek.

We have the afternoon free, so we decide to take a self-guided sightseeing drive until the rain comes. At Gunter’s urging, John turns onto “the road less traveled” past the local Red Lodge ski area, the Girl Scout camp, and up into the wilderness. We have no idea where we are until we see a You Are Here sign. We’re at the West Fork of Rock Creek Trailhead in the million-acre Absoroka-Beartooth National Wilderness—one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states. Yep! Gunter has a reputation for getting us into adventurous “situations.” But we’re here so we may as well…drive onwards. There must be more to see.

We’re all alone back here. We stop, park on the gravel road, and listen to the creek. No-one wants to break the silence, but occasionally we whisper to each other. Please take a minute to see what I saw and hear what I heard:

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Rain clouds are forming and AAA might not want to rescue us here, so we hightail back to Red Lodge. We rest in our hotel while a soft rain drenches this town we have come to love. In the evening, our friends meet us in the hotel’s main dining room where they have made reservations to kick back and experience their favorite local band, The High Country Cowboys. What a way to conclude a memorable stay in this quaint-but-fun mountain town!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


A Guest Blog by Julie Smith.

A few weeks ago, Gunter and I attended a fundraiser for The Polk County Historical Society. This deserving organization is celebrating 60 years of vision from 1959-2019. It runs the award-winning Polk County Museum, which contains three floors of physical, pictorial, and written artifacts from 1842 to 1943. The volunteer-staffed museum contains extensive exhibits of local agriculture and logging, as well as educational information about the Kalapuya tribe that originally occupied Polk County. Also attending the fundraiser was fellow blogger Julie Smith, who subsequently wrote the following story first published in the Amery Free Press about the theme of the evening: Celebrating Wisconsin Supper Clubs. Thank you, Julie, for allowing me to share this cultural icon with my readers.

Polk County Museum

Polk County Museum

Throughout Wisconsin, there are approximately 260 supper clubs…give or take. The number is frequently changing because the clubs change hands and/or close and re-open again later. The restaurant business is fluid and subject to change. Our neighbor to the west, Minnesota, also has supper clubs…but not nearly as prevalent or pervasive on the landscape as Wisconsin.

So, herein begs the question that keeps on popping up: “So what is a Supper Club, anyway…just another restaurant? Oh Nooooo! Don’t speak of such blasphemy. It is hard to explain, and I had this discussion with my son. We discussed the history of prohibition, the establishment of the speak- easy and how supper clubs, to some extent anyway fit in that part of history. I believe that you just have to experience supper club dining to appreciate them and to know the difference. My son and I did however come to the conclusion that: “A Supper club is a restaurant, but not every restaurant qualifies as a supper club.” Kind of simplistic in nature, but I think it helps to drive the point home: Supper Clubs are in a category all of their own.

I was prompted to write about the uniqueness of Wisconsin supper clubs after attending a fund raiser dinner and presentation by our local historical society: The Polk County Historical Society. The event was entitled: Celebrate Wisconsin Supper Clubs and celebrate I did!  I really enjoyed learning about the diversity and amazing history behind this fabric that makes up the Wisconsin landscapes and in many ways is the pride of many a Wisconsinite.  The two presenters at the event helped to expand those definitions and help to explain what makes a supper club a supper club…and not just another restaurant?

Mary Bergin, a Midwest features writer, discussed the inspirations that led her to publish a cookbook of over 60 recipes from 40 different supper clubs. Mary is the author of several books, many of which focus on adventures in Wisconsin. The cookbook she published is entitled: Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook. The book includes not only tasty recipes, but also interesting tidbits of historical content about particular clubs and why loyal customers help to create each supper club as a local treasure. She explained that the popularity of the supper club has sustained because of their predictability; you know you can expect great service and food when you walk through the door. That predictability gives them lasting quality. Some may call it “stuck in a rut,” but others view it as the comfort of tradition.  Her books are currently available on Amazon and you can follow Mary on some of her adventures at: www.roadstraveled.com

Holly L. DeRuyter, a documentary filmmaker, presented her video entitled: Old Fashioned–The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club. The film took a delightful tour of several clubs at locations throughout the state and portrayed why these iconic clubs have remained popular and a staple in many Wisconsin communities. The video not only highlighted the supper club culture, but also helped the viewer to grapple with the continuing question of how a supper club differs from a restaurant. The supper club patron is welcomed to a slower pace where one can relax and connect with family and friends. One of the club owners summed it up well by stating: “Dine Leisurely, Dine Well.”  Most supper clubs are in rural places and usually open for dinner only. The supper club includes a bar and a separate dining room. Even after prohibition was repealed, many women felt uncomfortable going to a tavern for a drink. (Some taverns were considered “seedy” and not the place for a lady…) However, women felt more comfortable having drinks if the bar was located inside a supper club. This helped to make all the patrons feel comfortable for both eating and having cocktails together. For more information on Holly’s film, you can check out her web site at: http://OldFashionedTheMovie.com

Old Fashioned CocktailSpeaking of cocktails, the classic cocktail of the supper club is the Old Fashioned. The drink itself dates back to the 1700s, but was revived during the Prohibition days. With the preponderance of “rot gut liquors” and “bathtub gin,” these tonics were made more palatable with the addition of fruit slices and/or cherries to garnish the drink. A taste for something sweet just evolved the Old Fashioned into a staple cocktail at many of the supper clubs.

Another staple of the supper club is the Friday Night Fish Fry. Wisconsin is the perfect place for the popularity and success of a Friday Night Fish Fry. First, Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes filled with delicious perch, walleye and trout that provides an abundance of fresh and local fare. Second, there are many religions that abstain from eating meat on Fridays, so the Friday Night Fish Fry quickly became a family tradition for many Wisconsin families.

When I first moved to Wisconsin, my realtor gave us a wonderful gift to welcome us to Wisconsin: a book about Wisconsin Supper Clubs. It is entitled: Wisconsin Supper Clubs, An Old Fashioned Experience by Ron Faiola.  It became a great resource and also soon evolved into a journal for documenting my trips to the many supper clubs in the state. Since there are so many, I added my own entries and photos for the clubs that were not listed. It has been fun to document the memories of special meals, but also makes me feel a little like a restaurant critic. Yet, most of the things I document are about good food and great experiences. I rarely have negative criticisms. Imagine my surprise when a copy of “my” book was there on the bar when I visited a supper club close to us. As you can imagine, that club had “made the cut” and was featured in the book.  Good job guys.

Julie Smith is a resident of Amery and is a freelance writer/blogger and photographer. You may see more of Julie’s writing on her 2 blogs: americantrekkerblog.com and julieetta1982.blogspot.com

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.

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