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Couple of Thoughts on St. Nicholas Day

6 Dec

Okay, it’s been ages since I posted on a non-Tuesday! But I realized that it’s ST. NICHOLAS DAY!! So here’s my tiny recollection of that day while living in West Berlin in the ’80′s.

We came home the evening of the 5th of December, walked up the two flights of stairs to our apartment (one of four in the building) and as we reached our floor, there on the usually pristine doormat were three boots of various sizes. No, not three pairs of boots. Just three boots. Three unmatched boots. With some holly as decoration festooning the laces.

“Ummm…what’s up with that?” I asked Mom.

Her face broke into a grin and she clapped her hands in delight. “It’s St. Nicholas Day tomorrow!” she exclaimed.

“St. Nicholas Day?” I asked, knowing vaguely that St. Nicholas is the pattern for Santa Clause, but having no idea that he had his own day.

“Yes, the day when German boys and girls put out their boots on the doormat and wake up to find them filled with goodies!” Mom explained.

“The luckies,” I said. “Boots and stockings, too?”

“I’m not sure they do stockings here,” Mom said.

“Oh,” I said, entering our apartment and considering this new tradition. “I’d hate to do without stockings,” I finally said. “But can I put out my boots tonight?”

“No,” Mom replied, hanging up her coat in the wardrobe. “Nice try, though.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “It was worth trying,” I said, grinning. “Now I just wish we could see what St. Nicholas brings them! Wouldn’t that be fun to see?”

I never did see the boots filled. But I love the idea.

Happy St. Nicholas Day, everyone!

My second thought: I posted over on my other blog today – a re-post from two Christmases ago when I lamented my lack of creativity in shopping for my brothers-in-law. Check it out if you have the time! Here’s a photo to entice you…

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My Stint As A Journalist

22 Oct

For the past several weeks I have been filling in at my local newspaper, the Daily Globe. They’ve been a little short handed so they called in their second string. I’m okay with this moniker. I don’t want to be first string. First string would mean that I have to get up and go to work every day and, as I told my husband, bringing home a paycheck is hard work!

Ah, but it is rather nice to get paid for one’s writing.

On the other hand, I’ve had zero time to work on my book. Which to this point is showing no signs of generating a paycheck whatsoever. So I guess I’m okay with the occasional stint as a journalist.

I started out at the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS!) as a Journalism major. I planned to study Russian as well, and then go to Moscow as a foreign correspondent and uncover fabulous spy stories of the Cold War.

Only the Cold War pretty much ended before my career started. But, really, that’s not what ended my journalism career. It was J101 which did that. Grammar For Journalists – the class that every journalism major had to take – and pass with a “B” – in order to be accepted into the J School.

And so fall term of my freshman year began. I leaped into J101 and Russian 101 full of confidence, a smile firmly upon my face.

Four months later I waved goodbye to my dream. I didn’t pass that stupid grammar class – oh, I passed…as far as the University was concerned – but not as far as the precious J School was concerned. It was, in fact, the worst grade I ever got in my entire educational life: K-12, college and graduate school combined.

I could have taken it again. But I’d discovered something else during that term. I hated journalism.

I wanted to write creatively, free as a bird, with no strings attached, no rules, no horrid grammar police breathing down my neck.

Plus, I stunk at Russian, which, after failing to enter the coveted J School, seemed kind of like a waste of time anyway.

“I’m not competitive enough to be a journalist,” I told people when they asked me why I’d switched majors from Journalism to English.

Which possibly was true. But, the real truth is, I’ve learned a thing or two since then. One thing is that a major which actually provides a job when you graduate is a nice thing. Another is that forcing oneself to do something difficult in order to reach a goal is actually a good thing in the long run – and maybe, just maybe, majoring in English was a cop out. I tell people it’s a good thing I married an engineer ‘cause otherwise I’d be the proverbial starving artist living in a drafty garret somewhere.

Mostly what I’ve learned, though, is that I don’t actually hate journalism. Especially when I’m filling in and the expectations upon me don’t include me knowing when to say, “He said” or, “He says”. I have frequently heard writers thank their editors…now I totally understand why.

Over the past month I have learned more about insulation than I ever hoped to know. I have learned that not everyone will return a phone call, and not everyone wants attention brought to themselves or their situation. I have also learned that people are eager to thank others in print – which is lovely – and that they’re eager to share their story if it’s something they think others will benefit from. I have smiled during interviews, and shuddered (to myself) and marveled at the human spirit.

And I have to say, I really liked it when a person who makes his living off of speaking in front of vast crowds said to me, “You’re the writer. I trust you to make me sound good.”

“I’m a writer?” I thought to myself as I hung up the phone. “I’m a writer!”

The next day I introduced myself in a meeting as a writer. And my lovely friends in the crowd smiled and patted me on the back, and whispered, “Yes, you are.”

That was actually a rather marvelous moment in this flunked-out-of-J-School student’s life.

I have learned one other thing. I have learned that just as I tend to talk too much, I tend to write too much. There is beauty in brevity.

I’m still working on that one.

PS – Yesterday I posted this same basic post over on my other blog The View From My Window, which is connected with the Daily Globe, and is more local in focus. Audrey over at Minnesota Prairie Roots – who is a lovely friend and encourager – commented on it and said, “I find it difficult to believe that you would not do well in a grammar class when you went on to major in English. That’s pretty contradictory.”

This made me think (I love that about Audrey) and here was my response: I think that my problem with that grammar class was that it was so technical – it took the joy out of writing and made it stressful. I think I truly am a bit Bohemian in my approach to writing and all the rules and regulations were horrid. I have never liked or known the technicalities of grammar – I just use it properly and don’t care what it’s called! Taking apart sentences to name all the different parts just seemed – still seems! – sacreligious! But as an English major I just had to read and write – all of the technical stuff was left behind!

To that I add this: ever since 9th grade English class, when we had to diagram sentences and suddenly my “A” in English was threatened, I have found grammar to be irritating and suffocating. Yes, it’s vital that the basic rules of grammar are followed…but why do I have to know what a gerund is when I can use it properly without knowing the proper definition?!! (I know, I know, it’s an “ing” word…I do actually remember that one!) Here’s the deal: as a kid I read and read and read…and that taught me my grammar. Not Mr. L in 9th grade, and not professor whoeverhewas in college. If you want to be a writer, read, read, read. It’s that’s simple.

One more thought: I am NOT advocating not teaching grammar in our schools. American’s are bad enough with grammar already and it IS being taught. (If I see one more person on Facebook write, “I like that to,” for example, I am going to scream!!) I guess I’m just venting. Can you tell that I really, really, have issues with grammar?!!

Oh, and also this: I know that I use too many commas.  And also that I’m not perfect, grammatically speaking.  I figure, that’s what editors are for.  :-)

Buckle Up! Summer’s Heading Out.

6 Aug

A friend asked me last week if I’d bought my kid’s school supplies yet. I stopped. Turned. And stared at her. “Umm, excuse me, but what did you say?”

“I was just wondering if you’d bought your school supplies yet,” she repeated, looking a little defensive. “I mean, they’re already being picked through….”

I walked away from that conversation feeling a little ill. How is it possible that summer is almost over and I need to buy school supplies already? I guess I was in denial.

But then I went and spent $150 on supplies and reality hit home.
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But enough about that. I have to say that it’s been a great summer and a lot of the greatness is due to all the hard work that many, many willing adults put in to making a ton of great activities for my kids to participate in. Kids need summer activities. Yes, they need to relax and just hang out but they can’t do that for three solid months. If they did, they and I both would go insane.

And so we signed them up for a few things. Not as many as some years, mind you, but a few, well-chosen things. My oldest two did Summer Band at the middle school and they both loved it. I have never seen my daughter so excited about her band instrument, as she was able to begin playing a “Frumpet” because French Horns simply aren’t marching band instruments. Along with my son on his marching band tuba (read Susaphone), we had several marvelous duets in the evenings and loved every minute of it. Thanks so much to Mr. Anderson and all of the band teachers and helpers involved with that program.

A little Frumpet action.

A little Frumpet action.


My daughter also was able to participate in Summer Orchestra and she enjoyed that very much, remembering what it is like to pick up a viola after quite a few weeks of…I admit it…not doing so. The students were even were able to take a field trip to the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD, which definitely is a place our whole family needs to check out, from the sounds of it. Thanks to Mrs. Loy for a great couple of weeks!

Most recently my two oldest kids enjoyed Kid’s College out at Minnesota West. For four days they experimented, learned, played, created, and soaked in the atmosphere of the college and many willing and capable instructors. Too bad it couldn’t be longer, says this mom!

Not his Susaphone, but you get the idea.

Not his Susaphone, but you get the idea.


Not to be forgotten, our youngest, too, had weekly fun at the Summer Library Program at the Nobles County Library, thanks to all the hard work of Jackie Van Horsen, the children’s librarian. Three Hershey’s kiss gnomes, a caterpillar, an ant, and something that I’m a little unclear as to what it is exactly – still grace our family room with their smiling faces. Her crafts are all smiling, according to her, because she was having a great time making them with her friends at the library.
Library gnomes.

Library gnomes.


There were other activities our kids did – and other activities they should have done (read swimming lessons) – and somehow, all of a sudden, summer is winding down and there is very little I can do about that. Okay, there’s nothing I can do about it, I just like to pretend that maybe there is.

One thing that was very different for us this summer was not being involved with the summer musical at the Memorial Auditorium here in Worthington, as we were for the past two summers. Instead, we were able to sit and RELAX in the audience and enjoy the hard work that the cast and crew of SHREK THE MUSICAL put in over the summer to entertain us all. I intimately understand how much effort it takes to put on such a show, and I appreciate their time and commitment so much. I can’t say that we didn’t miss doing a show a little bit, but mostly, we were just glad to have summer evenings at home. But yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m sure the stage will lure us back one of these summers, if not more than one.
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Summer has been lovely, but all good things must come to an end. School is important, and I guess I’m ready for it, at least as far as my kid’s supplies go. Mentally, though…I’m thinking I’d rather cuddle with my six year old a little longer, savor my coffee on the deck with a good book, watch the kids catch lightning bugs, and have just one more day to sleep in.

But this is my life, at least for a few more years. School supplies, alarm clocks, homework…. Someday I’ll miss all that, they tell me.

For now, I’ll buckle up for the ride.

Didn't catch him flashing, but here is a lightning bug...in all his non-glowing glory.

Didn’t catch him flashing, but here is a lightning bug…in all his non-glowing glory.

One got caught in Boo's hair!

One got caught in Boo’s hair!

Wa Hoo! They Like Me, They Really Like Me!

5 Nov

I have a confession to make (it’s been awhile since I’ve confessed anything on here, so it’s about time): My e-mail inbox has 4042 messages in it.

Now all of you efficient/non-procrastinating/tidy people can pick yourselves up off the floor (or pat yourselves on the back) and know that I wish I was you.

It is possible that, were my inbox emptied on a regular basis, I’d have noticed the lovely e-mail hidden in all the clutter much sooner. As it was, upon checking my blog on Saturday morning, I noticed something rather extraordinary: I’d had over 50 views already that morning and it was only 9:00.

“What does this mean?” I asked myself. “How can this be?”

I “refreshed” the page again. Just to make sure.

“Yes! It’s true! And I have a bunch of “likes”, too! What’s going on?” I said not a word – barley even acknowledged the thought – as I clicked over to WordPress’ homepage.

“Could it be? Really?”

YES! IT IS!

I shouted to my husband, sitting not two yards away, “I’m FRESHLY PRESSED!”

His blank look did nothing to deter my happiness.

“That means that I‘m featured on WordPress’ homepage! It means they like me! They really like me!” (Yes, I was channeling my inner Sally Field.)

(By the way, I’m on page two now, if you want to joy of seeing my photo and link in person.)

THANK YOU SO MUCH and WELCOME to my new readers. I am so glad to have you along on the journey! I am still working on visiting all of your pages so thanks for being patient!

I also have to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you who’ve been along for awhile, too! I love getting to know you all.

Here’s a fun stat: WordPress chooses TEN new blog posts a day to add to their homepage. This is out of 31.7 million new posts a month. Here’s the link to prove that. And here’s another useful link: So You Want to be Freshly Pressed.

But here’s the truth of the matter: This post was not my best-written post, not my funniest or most emotional or most educational, interesting or sentimental. It’s just that it happened to get noticed. They do say that a catchy title is hugely important so I guess I had that going, at least. (Note, however: my previous post had the same title…and it didn’t get chosen! So titles aren’t everything…it’s a group effort!) Interesting photos are good, too. They also say that having links included in the post is good as it emphasizes the fact that blogging isn’t all about you, the blogger, it’s about world-wide connections.

I find this to be both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because ANYONE can be Freshly Pressed. It doesn’t take a perfect writer or an impeccable blog. Discouraging because hard work on a fabulous post does not necessarily equal “success” – if being Freshly Pressed is a measure of success. I think that the encouraging trumps the discouraging in this scenario.

I know that I have found with my other blog – the one that is through my local newspaper – that they are more apt to print (in their physical paper) timely/seasonal/human interest posts. I know I have seen that play out on the Freshly Pressed list, too, which is another thing to remember if striving after such a thing. For the Love of Vinyl wasn’t any of that, however! They liked it because it was nostalgic.

And, in this day of hurricanes and political stress and terrorism, people like to be reminded of simpler times. So, if you have a turn table, “go, put your records on….” You’ll be glad you did.

PS – my inbox now has 4050 messages. Time to get to work.

One Year of Epiphanies!

24 May
I love this. Apples still clinging to a tree in December in Washington State.

One year ago today I began an adventure. One which I was wary of, but also excited to begin. One which I had avoided – being a person who tends towards hearths and comfy chairs as opposed to mountain climbing and exploration.

It’s not that I dislike exploration – on the contrary – it’s just that I like my bed, and my favorite mug and my books all around me, beckoning to me with their promises of entertainment and comfort.

I have always said that, rather than comfort food, I have comfort books.

Okay, some of my favorite pictures from the past year. This is my mom and sisters many moons ago – shot taken by my father.

But I’ve gotten off my topic – which, if you’ve read me much over the past year, you know is not unusual.

Several years ago a friend of mine told me that I ought to start a blog. She said this quite a few times over the following months and each time I told her, “No way. I already don’t have enough time to do what I’m supposed to do as it is. If I start to write more, I’ll be even more behind.”

I sometimes wonder if she questions now just what it is that she unleashed.

Winter a few years back.

Because, finally, I looked seriously into blogging and, on May 24, 2011, I posted my first post!

For many years now I’ve enjoyed writing my family’s annual Christmas letter – and I’ve often gotten nice comments from those who receive it. I look at this blog like a giant, year-long Christmas letter. Like the Christmas letter I never have enough time or space to write. I once met the new husband of my husband’s cousin’s ex-wife – did you get that?!! – and he said, upon meeting me, “Oh, the person who writes novels every Christmas.” Yep. That’s me. And now I don’t have to stuff my novels into envelopes once a year – instead I post them for the world to see!

There is beauty to be found on the prairie.

I began with the intention of posting once a week. “Tuesdays with Gretchen” was my catch phrase. But gradually I began to up that to twice a week. That’s a good amount for me, especially when, in January, my local newspaper asked me to begin a blog for them as well. That blog The View From my Window is a wee bit more local in flavor, though not, by any means, always. It’s really just more of the same epiphanies I have here, just more…Minnesota-centric. So anyway, posting on that blog approximately three times a week makes for five times in all and that’s more than enough for me. It was such an honor to be asked by The Daily Globe to be a part of their blogging world, and they print my articles in the newspaper once a month (or more) which has been fabulous.

I live in a small community and it’s such a hoot to have people comment to me almost every time I go to town about reading my posts in the newspaper or on-line. Today, for the first time ever, a salesperson saw my name on my bankcard as I handed it to her and she said, “Oh, are you the Gretchen O’Donnell who writes the blog for the paper?”

“Why yes, yes I am.”

Just a cool fall picture from the neighborhood.

I began to blog because I love to write and, as such, I’ve been working on a writing a book for the past four years. It’s hard to get much work done with three children, the youngest of whom is five years old. But it’s coming along and writing for this blog, while perhaps taking time away from the book, has also been a tremendous encouragement to me as a writer.

And so I continue to write – both the book and the blogs – and who knew, one year ago, where I’d be today?! I’m looking forward to what the year ahead holds.

Star Magnolia – my parent’s garden, a couple years ago.

I am thrilled to be a part of your world.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being a part of mine.

Here’s some more of my favorite shots that I’ve posted over the past year…

The Great Amaryllis Experiment.

Two of our kittens – as seen in The View From my Window!

The Sioux Falls waterfalls – on the Big Sioux River in South Dakota – from a post on my second blog.

I didn’t take this shot, but it was part of my story on my knitting fiend friend Sheri Hall…

One of my favorite pictures of all time. Meep washing dolly clothes, several years ago.

I love the angles. Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada, December 2011.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris.

Love the angles. Love the buildings. Paris, February 2011.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This photo was taken by my husband, exactly one year after our trip to my old hometown of Berlin.

There’s nothing like a lucky shot. Hoar Frost (Galaverna!) on the trees and some birds I unknowingly scared up.

Seining in SW Minnesota – a photo from my other blog.

Cascade Falls, Orcas Island, Washington

A brave rose in December. Orcas Island, Washington.

P.S. – I just double checked and apparently I BEGAN working on my blog on the 24th…but actually posted my first post on the 31st. Oh, well. Math never was my strong suit…

The View from My Window

19 Mar

Hey, all!

Just thought I’d mention a few things that you might have been missing over at my other blog…The View from My Window!  http://theviewfrommywindow.areavoices.com

Today I posted about seine fishing on Lake Bella, a mile from my house. Lots of pictures and a story about something rather remarkable.

Last week I posted about my Recurring Dreams…which I imagine a lot of people can relate to!

Beyond that I wrote about Fantastic Photo Ops I have Missed (which still break my heart at their loss), as well as My Year in Footwear…in which I describe all the places my shoes have gone this past year…which, actually, was rather remarkable, compared to my lack of travel in the previous decade

There are a few other thrown in there – some of which I’ve also posted on this blog, but I just thought I’d mention these as ones which you might enjoy!!

The View from My Window is slightly more local in flavor than this blog.  But not always.  I post about 3 times a week over there.  I’m planning to post about the Sioux Falls, South Dakota water falls soon, as well as a walk I took with my kids to Lake Bella when it was dry last fall – and all the animal prints we found there. Fun stuff!

Thanks, all! Happy Monday!

- Gretchen
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Newsflash!

17 Jan

Okay, so you never know what a day will bring, do you?

In the midst of all of the Minnesota Moments excitement last week, I received an e-mail from the local newspaper – the Daily Globe – asking me to be a part of their Area Voices blogging world!

Wasn’t that nice?

I didn’t have to think about it too much before I said, “Sure! What do I have to do?”

Well, I have to start a second blog! This new venture – The View From my Window – which you can find as of today at http://www.theviewfrommywindow.areavoices.com – does not mean that this blog will look any different or be posted any less frequently! The two blogs will be much the same in style, though the new one will probably consist of more local topics. There may be times that I “re-work” posts from here at “Epiphany” that you might have already seen in the past but that I’ve worked on and made better than ever! Ha.

So why, if it’s not going to be that much different, am I starting a second blog? Mostly because they asked me to, which was an honor! But also because this gives me a new way to be heard/seen/read/enjoyed by a very large number of Upper Midwest Newspaper readers – the Area Voices blogs come from all over the region, not just my little town. In addition, if I’m particularly applicable and/or fabulous, they might print me in the paper…which would be fun and gratifying to be sure.

SO…please check out The View From my Window! I’d love your you to follow me there as well, if you’re willing! (Get to the link from the blogroll at the right!)

I’ll see you there!

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