Family and Heritage


You’ve already taken your big summer vacation, but now, towards the end of summer, your family may be asking what’s next. Many small towns across the USA tend to hold special celebrations towards fall, just as the temperature begins to drop. These festivals feature a wide variety of themes and often include parades, entertainment, and lots of food. If you take the time to attend one of these events, you won’t be disappointed.

Here in Wisconsin, we are in the lull between the county and state fairs. State fairs tend to be huge events that span a week or more and sprawl over many acres. You end the day with aching feet, too tired to think about the long drive home. So why not attend a county fair instead? That’s what my husband, Gunter, and I did this year. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed the home-town flavor of the local Polk County Fair in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. This fair brought back thrilling high school memories of walking the midway hand-in-hand with my boyfriend’s ring around my neck. We were going steady and sat dangerously close on the Ferris Wheel and crushed tight on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Later my steady hit the jackpot and, with a flourish, he handed me the huge teddy-bear he won as his prize.

I pointed to the grandstand, “Wow, that looks so much smaller now!” I explained how, as a pre-teen, I’d modeled in front of those bleachers as a participant in 4-H, an organization country kids joined. I wore tight white slacks made of “white duck” and a red-and-white handkerchief blouse I’d sewn myself. The day Gunter and I went to the fair, the “demolition derby” was the main event; we sat on wooden bleachers cheering for drivers to destroy their opponents’ cars by crashing into each other until they could run no more.

DSC00458 Salvage Cars Being Delivered for the Demo Derby.JPG

On the trek back to the field where our car was parked, we stopped every so often along the livestock buildings to pet a calf, a llama, or a goat.  The top winners would go on to the State Fair.

DSC00440 - Copy Llamas in a 4-H exhibit..JPG

During the summer and fall seasons in Polk County, one can find a celebration of something almost every week-end. With a lake every four miles and many rivers between them, concerts at the overlook,” usually a village park, are common. You can search the local papers to find fishing tournaments; tractor and lawnmower pulling contests; soapbox derbies; car, truck, motorcycle and tractor shows; brew fests, wine tastings, rib fests, and fish fries; art exhibits; movies under the stars; Monarch festivals; quilting shows; and so much more.

My favorite celebrations are the annual town festivals, replete with marching bands, parades and coronations of all sorts from Cheese Queen to Pumpkin Queen. Amery has the Fall Festival; Centuria, the Orchard Festival; St. Croix and Taylors Falls, Wannigan Days; Osceola, the Pig Roast; Milltown, the Pumpkin Festival; Luck, Lucky Days; and Clayton, Cheese Days.

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Next year, consider celebrating America’s birthday in a small town, the kind of place where everyone knows each other as a neighbor, not just on social media. We celebrated in unincorporated Wanderoos, where the main street is only six blocks long. We stood to watch the parade until a resident offered us chairs he took from the village park! I’ll bet you that won’t happen in the city.

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Layering a buffet table works well for many reasons. This technique makes the best use of limited space—ideal for a condo, apartment or yacht. It establishes an inviting “come-to” zone where guests can freely help themselves again and again. Besides, we all know that three-dimensional buffets are always a better way to display yummy foods, condiments and desserts!

For many years, I considered using this approach for our annual Parade of Lights holiday party; this year I finally took the plunge. First I researched the subject by surfing YouTube, where I found professional chefs and party-planners dispensing advice. Then I scaled it all down to suit my needs.

Here’s what I learned:

Take a good look at the table or surface you will use. Does the location allow for walking around or past it without guests bumping into each other? Can you move it to a better location? I decided that I didn’t have sufficient room in my condo for walking around the dining table, so I decided to push it near the wall, leaving a milling-around-and-line-up area for guests.

Buffet table with tablecloth and tree skirt over risers.

Determine a party theme and color scheme and for your venue. Because my party is held in mid-December, an obvious choice was a Christmas theme. I chose shades of red and green, with a little white for contrast. I love flower arranging! Using fresh flowers and greens purchased at Wholesale Flowers, I made six bouquets, all using the same basic scheme.

Search for items to use for layering; you probably have them in your home. I selected a riser from my linen closet and used stacks of books for the rest. This was a good solution for me—I always have to find somewhere to stash books during a party! Then I selected a large green tablecloth and used a burgundy-red tree skirt for contrast. 

Table set-up.

Place one table covering flat on your table, then add stacking materials.  Cover with the top cloth (or tree skirt in my case), bunching it up like the professionals do. I scattered a few evergreen branches to peek out of the “valleys” between the risers, added three matching small arrangements—short so they won’t obscure the view of the food—then placed a tall bouquet back by the wall. Voila! I was all set.

To eliminate last-minute chaos, place a note on each dish that describes what will go into it.  I placed another stack of serving dishes in the kitchen, for use by those bringing appetizers. I placed a three-tiered stand on the counter, to fill later and replenish the buffet after the parade of boats had gone past our balcony.

Buffet table set against wall.Lois with guest at buffet table.

The layering plan worked out well. I would use it again! Layering made good use of limited space and I thought it made the table more appealing. Of course, I did need some “muscle men” afterwards to put the table back in place!

Have you used buffet layering techniques? How did they work for you?

In continuing my “generations” blog theme, I wanted to share a personal story pertaining to “The Greatest Generation.”

Every year now, families mourn the passing of those who belonged to what Tom Brokaw coined “The Greatest Generation.” These were “the good warriors,” born from 1909 to 1928. The experiences that bound this generation together, however, did not begin with World War II. Before they fought, they grew up watching their parents lose jobs, scrimp and save during the Great Depression. And that frugal mentality stuck.

Last year, I mourned the passing of my Uncle James. Lester, my father, and the eldest of his siblings, had a warm spot in his heart for James, his only brother. He waited a long time for him to be born, because his four other siblings—Carol, Gertrude, Mildred and Agnes—were girls. James had a sunny, quiet disposition, and I could tell that he adored Lester.

Growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I didn’t see much of Uncle James, who lived far away “in the cities” and serviced organs for a living for Schmidt Music. I was surprised that such an occupation existed! James always drove his family to the farm to see ours during the holidays.

What I remember most about my uncle was how he and his wife Marion, along with my father and my mother Sigrid, took off on an adventure to far-away Florida during the cold Midwestern winter of 1955. I had just turned thirteen the month before.

My dad wanted to check out the new humped-back Brahma beef cattle newly introduced to Florida. He dreamed of moving south to warmer weather. He yearned for the freedom of not being tied down to dairy cows. My mother was bogged down with children to raise. She had never traveled beyond the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  She looked forward to the first vacation she’d ever had.

In my family, tales begin and end with the year and make of a car. This one is no different.

1949 Nash. Photo Credit: Google Images

1949 Nash
Photo Credit: Google Images

My younger siblings and I watched Uncle James and Aunt Marion pull into the dirt driveway of our farm in a 1949 Nash. We all gathered around to take a look.  The front seats could lie flat, fitting into the rear seats to make a bed. Marion and James would sleep in there, and Sigrid and Lester would pitch a small pup tent each night. The Nash was stuffed to the hilt with all manner of food staples. The four planned to purchase fresh food and picnic along the way. They would cook outside on a small camp stove most nights.

My mother talked about how difficult it was to sleep in a pup tent alongside the road; one night, they climbed back into the car to take refuge from the cold. The next night, they checked into a motel, but that was the only time. They may have stopped at a restaurant once or twice.  Frugal to the max, the four drove for about 4,000 miles on $45.00. That Nash averaged 25 mpg. My mother bragged about buying tangerines for ten cents a dozen, grapefruit for seventy-five cents a bushel, and carrots for five cents a bunch. Wieners cost 29 cents a pound.

The four travelers were awestruck by images of the south: vibrant roses blooming in Georgia; gray moss choking shade trees; tobacco fields stretching as far as the eye could see; and finally, lush Florida farms full of winter vegetables, pineapples and peach trees. But what I remember them talking about the most was how they were shocked to see separate restrooms for the colored folks, even separate entrances at drive-in theaters. Living in the rural Midwest, they had never seen nor imagined such blatant discrimination!

That Nash was a real trouper! It limped home the last four miles with a second flat tire—and without a spare. After business hours, no service stations had been open. There was no way to repair the tire. The four tired passengers stumbled into our farmhouse at midnight. I heard a ruckus, but being a teenager, promptly fell back asleep. The next morning I found that, finding all the beds full of sleeping children, Aunt Marion and Uncle James had simply crashed on the floor.

My father never fulfilled that dream of heading south until he moved to Texas upon retiring! Living so far away, he wasn’t able to see much of Uncle James in his later years. Aunt Marion was always very sweet to my mother, who was trapped on that dairy farm and eventually raised nine children there. Sigrid didn’t get out much, but she often talked about that Florida escapade. Who knows? Perhaps those tales of adventure fueled my own lifelong dreams of traveling! 

I’m furious. I’m angry. No, I actually want to cry. Why? Because I’m feeling left out yet again. Over our morning coffee, Gunter pointed out to me yet another article about the baby boomers, “The Generation that Changed the world.” By the end of 2014, every boomer will be 50 or over. This time, the article is in AARP, that magazine that arrives mysteriously in the U.S. mail when a person turns 50, at the height of his or her earning power, barely thinking about retiring. The magazine is the voice of the American Association of Retired Persons. Always and forever, the attention is placed on that huge generation that began in 1946, at the close of World War II, and ended in 1964.  Last Sunday, Parade magazine carried an article about Jane Pauley’s monthly TV special and her recently released book, “Your Life  Calling, Reimagining the Rest of Your Life.”

I grab the AARP article and read it voraciously, searching for any mention of my generation. Of course, there is none. The article blithely skips from The Greatest Generation—who was “lost all the time” with no GPS in their cars and having to understand the Dewey Decimal System to look things up—to speculating how Generation X and the Millennials will run the world.

It is as if my generation, 1929-1945, never existed! Leaving us out is more insulting than not even having a name! A few have named us. They call us “The Silent Generation.” Apparently our voices were overtaken by all those screaming babies! In a scholarly study published in 2008, we are called “The Lucky Few.”

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Some of us gained international fame: Elvis Presley, Neil Armstrong, Martin Luther King, Sandra Day O’Connor, Colin Powell. Others of us broke through glass ceilings to allow the big rush of baby boomers to storm through. I remember sitting in the main conference room of a Fortune 500 corporation, the only woman, waiting to present the business strategy for my department. I had to endure the slow slide of the foot of the V.P. sitting next to me inching up my leg. I pretended not to notice. He didn’t believe in women in the Board Room and wanted to throw me off my game.  While attending a conference in Washington D.C., the only woman in the audience, the speaker joked that “women belonged in the kitchen.” Overcoming adversity, we businesswomen took it all in stride and marched forward, paving the way.

Perhaps we are indeed lucky. We “silent few” have always been the scouts, the forerunners. It is we who were the big brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles who showed the way to this huge crop of baby boomers! When I retired from business as CEO of a publicly held company, I reinvented myself by sailing around the world with my husband on a 43-foot catamaran.  During our eight-year circumnavigation, I noticed that many fellow cruisers were paving the way for a new, less-consumptive lifestyle—one that values the great outdoors, yet leaves a clean, pollution-free wake. With my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” book series, I have reinvented myself yet again, so that I can share that rewarding lifestyle with those who follow. And because I’m of that “lucky generation,” I can demonstrate that it works. I’ve already “been there, done that.” And I vow to be silent no more!

When I awoke this morning, there was an autumn chill in the air and this poem in my head, along with visions of pumpkin patches and maple sugar trees. I remember reading the poem by James Whitcomb Riley as a child in a Wisconsin school room. You can hear it recited here or read it below:

WHEN THE FROST IS ON THE PUNKIN

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and the gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’; of the guineys and the cluckin’ of the hens
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O it’s then the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock

They’s somethin kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here –
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny monring of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock –
When the frost is on the punkin and fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries – kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A preachin’ sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below – the clover overhead! –
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it – but if sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me –
I’d want to ‘commodate ’em – all the whole-indurin’ flock –
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Pumpkin Field

Pumpkin Field

Riley’s poems depict country life in rural America, circa 19th century. Heralding from Indiana, he was known as “The Hoosier Poet.” The whimsical nature of this poem reminds me of my own youth, growing up on a farm.

The pumpkin was quite useful to U.S. pioneers and is still valuable to third-world farmers because it is so easy to grow: just drop a few seeds into a small, shallow hole.  The pumpkin’s thick rind would allow them to keep it indefinitely.  I found that out when sailing the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu.  We were given a huge pumpkin by villagers as a “thank you” for giving them a propeller for their fishing boat. It rode in the cockpit of Pacific Bliss for weeks until I finally used our pressure cooker on board to transform it into a tasty pumpkin soup.

(see Sailing the South Pacific, page 284).

Fodder is food for farm animals.  The tall Indiana corn, when thoroughly dry, was gathered into “Shocks” of corn wigwams tied at the top, and left in the fields to be used as needed

Cornstalks used as decoration in Oceola, Wisconsin

Cornstalks used as decoration in Oceola, Wisconsin

During our autumn trip to Wisconsin, we paid a visit to Glenna Farms, where most of these photos were taken. Their maple syrup is to die for! We packed some into our luggage, but one can obtain their catalog or order products on-line at http://www.glennafarms.com/

We “inherited” a trio of cement garden figurines when we purchased the Wisconsin lake home we call Northern Bliss. Noting their blue-and-white outfits, we assumed them to be of Swedish descent.  We named the couple wired to the wooden bench Ole and Lena.  I proceeded to paint the bench baby blue to match their clothes. We rescued a little boy figurine from the weeds near the lake, placed him on a tree stump, and called him Sven.

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Growing up in Wisconsin, I’d heard plenty of Ole & Lena jokes. My German father Lester liked to use them to tease my Swedish mother Sigrid, so I assumed that they were Swedish put-downs, like the Polish jokes that also circulated in the Midwest.  Last week, soon after repainting that bench and securing the figures, I read a notice in the Amery Free Press about the a play being put on by the Amery Community Theater  called  “Ole & Lena Go to da Lake.”  This would be an excellent opportunity to acquaint Günter, who emigrated from Germany, with my Swedish heritage. Or so I thought.

We went to the play, wonderfully performed by the local theatre group. We thoroughly enjoyed it and laughed at all the Ole and Lena jokes. But I realized then that while Ole and Lena are indeed Scandinavian, they are Norwegians, not Swedes.  And Sven is the Swedish friend of Ole, who is not quite as bright as he is (which is not saying much).  Here’s the description of these characters given in the program:

  • Ole (Jim Thompson): Thick-headed Scandinavian, fond of fishing, campfires, and beer. Loves his wife so much he almost told her once.
  • Lena (Laura Sjogren): Ole’s long-suffering bride. Scandinavian down to her socks, but strangely passionate when it comes to stoic Ole.
  • Sven (Scott Kaml): Odiferous fishing partner and best buddy to Ole. Guileless. Every now and then he stops to think, but forgets to start again.

After we returned, I asked Gunter whether he’d ever heard Ole & Lena jokes in Europe. “No, they only told Polish jokes,” he answered.

So I researched on-line. According to Wikipedia, one would not even find Ole & Lena jokes in Sweden and Norway. That’s because they are an outgrowth of the American immigrant experience. Turning the misunderstandings and mistakes of a learning a new language into jokes enabled Scandinavians to jest about embarrassing incidents.  The primary reason the jokes have endured is that they are quaint and well meaning.  In fact, the core of this folk humor, says Wikipedia, is probably “the strongly egalitarian sense that permeates the cultural code in the Nordic countries.”

Here are a few of the jokes used in the play (paraphrased):

  • Sven goes out one day to use the outhouse, and he finds Ole there. He has his wallet out, and he’s throwing money down into the hole of the outhouse. “Uff da!” Sven says.  “Ole, you’re throwing the ten dollar bill down into the hole of the outhouse! Whatcha doin’ that for?” Ole answers, “Well, when I pulled up my trousers I dropped a nickel down there—and I’m never going to convince Lena to go down into that mess for just a nickel!”
  • Ole and Lena got married. On their honeymoon trip they were nearing Minneapolis when Ole put his hand on Lena’s knee. Giggling, Lena said, “Ole, you can go a little further now if you want to …” So Ole drove to Duluth.
  • Sven and Ole went to the lake, rented a boat and went fishing. They eventually found a great spot and quickly caught their limit. On the way back to the dock Ole said, “That surely was good fishing. How will we ever find that place again?” Sven said, “Don’t worry. While we were there, I put an X on the side of the boat.”  “But that won’t work!” Ole said.  “Why not?”  “How do we know we’ll get the same boat next time?”

New jokes are invented to fit the modern age. Here’s one from the play about using a cell phone:

  • Ole and Lena were so excited to get a new cell phone. Ole was to call when he was on his way home from town. Ole called Lena when he entered the freeway.  “Lena, put supper on, I’m on my way home.”  Lena said, “Be careful! I hear some nut is driving the wrong way on the freeway.”  “It’s worse than that Lena. Where I am, there are a hundred cars going the wrong way!”

And here’s a parody of that infamous 3 a.m. phone call:

  • A Norwegian answers the phone at 3 a.m. Wrong number, so the caller apologizes.  “That’s OK,” says the Norwegian. “I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.”

To read more Ole and Lena jokes, click here.

One of the expressions my mother used to say when something went wrong was Uff da. Commonly used in these jokes, it’s a handy all-purpose expression I’d forgotten. It has many uses, such as:

  • Uff da – replaces Charlie Brown’s “Good Grief.”
  • Uff da – walking to the next room and then wondering what you wanted.
  • Uff da – waking yourself up in church with your own snoring.
  • Uff da – when something doesn’t work out, such as trying to pour two buckets of manure into one bucket.
  • Uff da – (for the guys) when your two “steady” girl friends find out about each other.

After checking into their past, there’s no doubt that Ole and Lena will remain seated on that bench I painted for them, watching over little Sven.  All they will need is a couple of fishing poles. We wanted to create a heritage home, and these figurines, I’ve decided, are an integral part. Now for that German garden gnome…

P1060233 Ole & Lena view the lake and keep and eye on Little Sven

After seeing the Lord of the Forest, an ancient kauri tree, while touring New Zealand, I still could not get those kauri trees out of my mind. So when we saw some furniture made of kauri wood in a museum, I made a wish: Someday, if I would have a lake or mountain home, and if I could somehow manage to purchase and ship some of that kauri wood to the States, I would have a coffee table made of a slice of that marvelous wood. Never mind that this is a protected species, like the ancient California redwoods. I put it “out there” anyway.

We walk through the Waipoua Forest to see the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world's largest living kauri tree (Photo from p. 197 of

We walk through the Waipoua Forest to see the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world’s largest living kauri tree (Photo from p. 197 of “Sailing the South Pacific”)

Years later, part of the money from the sale of Pacific Bliss enabled us to purchase Northern Bliss, our family heritage home on a Wisconsin lake. Amazingly, my wish has come true. During the remodeling process of our lodge-style home, wonderfully completed by my son-in-law, Mike Mowers , I googled kauri wood. I discovered that—lo and behold—there was one distributor of kauri wood in the U.S. and he happened to be in Wisconsin! The company is called Ancientwood Ltd, owned by Bob Teisburg. The kauri he sells is pulled out of New Zealand swamps. It’s taken a year, but I finally have a coffee table and fireplace mantle made of that ancient kauri wood.

Coffee table made of kauri wood from New Zealand

Coffee table made of kauri wood from New Zealand

Here’s an excerpt from Sailing the South Pacific:

The Lord of the Forest

I cannot get those giant kauri trees out of my mind.They say that even the redwoods of Big Sur, California, cannot compete with the kauris’ ancient appearance and aura. I must have another look.

We take the West Coast Road (also called the Kauri Coast Road) south. We follow signs posted for Tani Mahuta Track and the Waipoua Forest. There, we have been assured, we will find Tani Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world’s largest living kauri tree, guaranteed to take our breath away. This great work of nature was discovered in the 1920s by surveyors who had been contracted to build Highway 12 through the forest. They called it Tani Mahuta after a god in Maori mythology. Tani was the son of Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother.  Being a jealous child, he separated his parents and then, out of love for his mother, created the living forest to clothe her. As a result, even today, all creatures of the forest are considered to be Tani’s children.

Walking the short track that leads through the cooling shade of the forest canopy, I flush with anticipation. Not far into the walk, we sweep around a corner and I stop dead in my tracks. There he is! Suddenly, I’m brought face to face with the Lord of the Forest. I stand perfectly still. I stare. My first glimpse of this magnificent tree takes my breath away! I can sense Tani Mahuta’s ancient presence and animal strength. He dominates the forest. 

Almost 2000 years old, he, too, is almost 16 stories high, but he has a circumference of over 45 feet.  He is the giant of giants!  An enormous growth that dwarfs everything else. 

A wooden fence protects him. A viewing bench surrounds him. I sit in silence. Awed. I wonder at the centuries that have come and gone under the spreading branches of this primeval forest patriarch. Then, I stand and move back…farther…farther…farther.  I must fit this entire majestic being into my camera lens. I must…I must….And, finally, I rejoice…because I have him!

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