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Remembering the BOOM: Mt. St. Helens 35 Years Later

17 May

This is a slightly updated version of a post from two years ago…because it seemed appropriate for today.

A fine day for an epiphany


I remember the boom that Sunday morning, May 18th, 1980 – 33 years ago this week – as we were getting ready for church on Orcas Island, Washington. It was 8:32am – or however long it takes for sound to travel 300 miles. My oldest sister was off at college, my Dad was down in Oregon at work with the Air Force, and my other sister, our Mom, and I were slipping on our Sunday shoes and just about to head out the door when we heard it.

“Oh, they’re dynamiting on Buck Mountain,” Mom said dismissively.

But Jenny and I said, “No! It was Mount Saint Helens!”

“No,” Mom disagreed. “We couldn’t hear it this far away.”

“It was the mountain, Mom,” we said again. “Turn on the radio.”

Sure enough, Mount Saint Helens – which had been steaming and belching and threatening to explode for weeks – had…

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Where were you the night the Berlin Wall fell?

10 Nov

Ok, so I got a huge surprise yesterday night when I discovered that my Berlin post had been freshly pressed! Horray! I’ll write more about that tomorrow but for now I wanted to reblog this other freshly pressed post that is also about Berlin. Enjoy!

British Museum blog

Sabrina Ben Aouicha, project curator, Germany: memories of a nation, British Museum

Wach auf, Sabrina! Du musst dir ansehen, wie Geschichte geschrieben wird!

‘Wake up, Sabrina! You have to witness this; history is being written!’ These were the words my father woke me with, on a cold November night 25 years ago today. Although I was 8 years old (nearly 9) at the time, I still remember them today.

I think there are just a few events in recent history that are shared by people all over the world and become part of the human memory. I even dare to say there is one memory shared by every German over the age of 30. This can be summarised in one question: ‘where were you the night of 9 November 1989, when the Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall) fell?

So, where was I? I would love to say I was on…

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I May Live on the Prairie…But my Heart is on the Beach

4 Jun


So I’ve been thinking about Orcas Island lately, and it dawned on me that I never posted a whole lot of photos that I took there last summer. There are many things I love about Orcas, but the beach and the view of the ocean is definitely one of the biggest.

So – I give you a typical Orcas Island beach, filled with stones and tide pools, seaweed and shells – except that this one is even better in that it has a cave and a waterfall. I adore this place.


What is it that I love, you ask? The salty tang in the air. The polished driftwood, worn down by days in the briny sea, so smooth it’s splinter-free. The limpets and hermit crabs, sea anemones and tiny Dungeness crabs that inhabit the tide pool worlds. I even love the barnacles that mark the high-tide line along the rocky cliffs (if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll see this in one photo). Even I must admit, however, that don’t like falling on the barnacles and getting my knees all bloody – I’ve done that plenty in my day. I love the stony beaches of Orcas Island – no sandy beaches for me, thank you very much! (There are a few sandy beaches on the island, but not many.) I love the tide, rolling ever onward – or outward – free of human concern and worry, simply obeying the order of the moon. In and out, in and out, in and out, twice a day forever and ever, amen.

I love the order of the tides…and the disorder of the shore.


I remember that I loved the way my feet inside my socks inside my wet Keds (wet because a kid can never go to the beach and remain dry) would squelch all the way up the beach and along the dirt road to my house, 90 feet above the crashing waves. By the time I reached home, my socks would be all smushed beneath my feet and my toes would be raisiny and cold and I didn’t care one bit.

I loved the “Whoosh” of the Orca whales breeching off the shore – the giant exhale of their breath which we could hear from our deck and we’d come running to watch the pod pass by. How could a person not love that?


I loved the screech of the seagulls as they dive-bombed the Bald eagles – and the patience of the eagle as he put up with it. And then, with a sudden swoop from his cliff-top perch, the eagle would leave the old, dead snag and drop to the ocean, coming up with a fish in his talons to grace his family’s table.

I loved the splash of the ocean’s spray against our windows in mighty winter storms – even that high above the sea, we’d have salt on our panes to wipe away in the following days. I loved the constant company of the waves – lulling or roaring, it was never silent in our yard because the ocean was our constant guest.

Our constant guest: and yet, really, it was we who were the guests, we who were the brief interlude between other people, other guests, other visitors to that ocean-side spot, where smoking mountains greeted us across the water on clear mornings, reminding us that we were not in charge of anything – not really. We were merely caretakers for a short time, of that little piece of magic that was ours. That little piece of Orcas I called home.

This is me, in the empty field next to our house.  That's Mt. Baker in the background and yes, it would steam and belch smoke sometimes.  My father took this photo and called it, "Bouquet for Mommy".

This is me, in the empty field next to our house. That’s Mt. Baker in the background and yes, it would steam and belch smoke sometimes. My father took this photo and called it, “Bouquet for Mommy”.


Old bones of a giant squid?  Nope.  Just tree roots.

Old bones of a giant squid? Nope. Just tree roots.

The tide was coming in - all of the tide pools were filling up and I was close to being stranded!  Not really - I'm smarter than that.

The tide was coming in – all of the tide pools were filling up and I was close to being stranded! Not really – I’m smarter than that.


The islands off in the distance are Matia, Sucia and the tiny one is Puffin.  Matia and Sucia are entirely parks.

The islands off in the distance are Matia, Sucia and the tiny one is Puffin. Matia and Sucia are entirely parks. Did you notice the high-tide mark of the barnacles?


I love driftwood.

I love driftwood, all scoured by salt and sea.

Tanker and tug boat

Tanker and tug boat


High tide line.

High tide line.

Told you there was a cave.

Told you there was a cave.



Bull kelp.

Bull kelp.






Behold the bounty in my daughters' hands.

Behold the bounty in my daughters’ hands.

Beach glass, collected over the years, now holds a place of honor in land-locked Minnesota.

Beach glass, collected over the years, now holds a place of honor in land-locked Minnesota.

A few nostalgic photos of our actual beach – just up the shore from the photos above. 🙂

I believe my sister threw in a large rock so as to splash me and get me even more wet than I already was.  All part of the beachy fun!

I believe my sister threw in a large rock so as to splash me and get me even more wet than I already was. All part of the beachy fun!

My grandma, cooking burgers on our beach - probably 1972 or 3.

My grandma, cooking burgers on our beach – probably 1972 or 3.

The walk home from the beach was along this road. I have always had a fondness for forgotten dirt roads.

There was an old orchard at the end of the road.  Yum!  I'm the smallest one, holding my grandma's hand.

The dirt road, coming up from the beach. There was an old orchard at the end of the road. Yum! I’m the smallest one, holding my grandma’s hand.

26 Feb

Here it is – a taste of Audrey’s blogging!

Minnesota Prairie Roots

I REMEMBER BEING ONE of the skeptics.

Build a ship in the middle of nowhere, haul it to Lake Superior in Duluth and then eventually sail across the Atlantic Ocean to Norway.

Who thinks that is possible?

Robert Asp.

Thirty years ago the Hjemkomst, a ship built by this Moorhead, Minnesota, junior high school counselor, with the help of family and friends, accomplished that 4,700-mile feat, proving the skeptics wrong.

By then, Asp had died, passing away in December 1980 at the age of 57 from leukemia. But his family pursued his dream, launching the ship on May 11, 1982, for the journey back to the Asp family Motherland on the Hjemkomst, which translates from Norwegian into English as “homecoming.”

Hearing the Hjemkomst story many years ago is one thing. Seeing Asp’s ship permanently docked in the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead is another. Only by viewing the ship and…

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2 Jan

I don’t think I’ve ever reblogged anything before. But I MUST post this. It’s absoutely wonderful.

In Which we Are Accosted by Scimitar-Wielding Melon-Salesmen

20 Nov

This is post #3 about my high school trip to Kairouan, Tunisia. See the previous two posts for the full story!

Our last day in Tunisia was our most exciting. But not necessarily for a good reason.

We headed out to the camel market on our final morning. No, we were not looking to buy a camel, but we were searching for an authentic experience in Tunisian life – for this market, or bazaar, was a place of vast proportions and numerous opportunities.

Picture dusty rugs on the desert ground – aisle after aisle of them – with vegetables, fruits, trinkets, pots, pans, pottery, spices, leather goods, and drinks for sale. There were animals, too: goats and sheep and, I suppose, camels, though I think they were in a different part of the bazaar. I bought a baggie of saffron for my mom. I knew it was supposed to be the most expensive spice in the world, but here it was dirt cheap! I wish I had such a good source of saffron now.

It was hot in the open-air market, and aromatic. Cinnamon and peppers and sweat filled the air. And it was full of noises. Bleats and baas, the sounds of goat milk streaming into metal cans. The call of merchants selling their wares, the din of old and wrinkled women gossiping, of young men jesting, of children laughing and crying and playing in the aisles.

We walked down row after row, being jostled and beckoned to, and then, almost as if we’d planned it, all of us stopped – after being persuaded to by the vendors – to admire something that looked like cantaloupe.

My best friend and I stood at one rug, talking with the vendors. I say “talking with” but really it was more “talking at” – they didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand them. I think the phrase “James Bond” might have arisen. Other than that our communication was by smiles and gestures and thumbs up.

The rest of our group stood not two feet away from us at the neighboring rug.

We watched as the vendors cut into a melon with a scimitar – using that long, curved blade to slice through the melon as smoothly as if it were butter. We laughed and they laughed and we did our bit to promote good will and international peace.

And then, suddenly, one of the laughing and smiling salesmen at our rug jumped up and grabbed my friend around the neck. He held his scimitar to her throat – the tip just millimeters from her skin – and, unbelievably, laughed.

No one in the souk looked up. No one worried or noticed or troubled about the gullible Americans and the scimitar-wielding melon-salesmen.

I stood, immobile, terrified, tongue-tied. The man smiled on and on, his gold-toothed grin so wide that I could see where his molars ought to have been. His friends, too, grinned and guffawed.

It felt like minutes passed but I suppose it was only seconds. Next to us, our traveling companions were unaware that anything was wrong, so mesmerized were they by a slick little melon-cutting exhibition going on at their rug. Bits of sweet, orange flesh flew in all directions.

And then, all of a sudden, the man released my friend. Spewing out words we did not understand, he pulled away his sword, still laughing, still flashing those golden teeth. So much laughter! So many broken melons.

It wasn’t until we headed back to the hotel, sometime later, that my friend’s aunt realized her wallet had been stolen.

It was all a diversion. And we fell into their trap perfectly.

But it makes for a great story.

Tomorrow: Thanksgiving on foreign soil…a pilgrim in a very unfamiliar land.

Kindlingsfest 2012!

17 Aug

I recently spent a week back on Orcas Island, Washington, where I grew up. My main purpose in being there this time, however, wasn’t to see family or to wax nostalgic or even to take photographs – though I fortunately got to do all of that as well. No, my reason for going to Orcas was to attend a marvelous “conference” called Kindlingsfest. which takes place at the church I grew up in, though is independent of any church or denomination.

Kindlingsfest, the biggest event each year sponsored by The Kindlings, styles itself as a place to cultivate the “creative, intellectual and spiritual” side of a person. Here’s their web address for more information: Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among others, whose group, “Inklings” met frequently in a pub to discuss their writings as well as be encouraged intellectually and creatively, the Kindlings group strives after the same things. Through pod casts, two “fests” a year, and other smaller events, its impossible to leave the group without a vision for how believers in God fit into the world today.

This year, the fifth annual Kindlingsfest, was the second time that I have been able to attend. As was the case two years ago when I first went, I was not disappointed. We got to hear intelligent and provocative speakers, be challenged in our faith, hear fabulous music of all styles, and schmooze with like-minded people (“schmooze” is a much more fun word that “network”, don’t you think?).

The church I grew up in, which hosts the event. My grandfather was actually a pastor in this church, many moons ago!

The Episcopal church on the island also hosts a bit of Kindlingsfest. It’s a gorgeous site and a lovely building!

Every evening there is a bonfire around which people have the opportunity to sing, read poetry, dance, etc. I read aloud a blog post from a couple of months ago, which was very fun. It’s not often that I get to read my work out loud and I love to do so!

Many different artists/singers/writers/dancers took part in sharing their craft “around” the campfire. It’s a really great part of the event, both to get to know the artists a little, but also just to enjoy yourself! Graham crackers, marshmalows and chocolate bars were provided as well…of course!

Nigel Goodwin – a unique and fabulous character – is a vital part of the Kindglings group. He heads up the “Bag End” time around the campfire each evening…and yes, he sometimes breaks into dance just because.

On the other side of the campfire – a tent to eat beneath, chat, or just hang out.

A closer shot of the campfire by day – it’s a wonderful spot.

I came away encouraged as a writer, excited for my creative future, and inspired to work in my local church to achieve some of the things we spoke about. And, of course, as always, it’s wonderful to visit Orcas Island – an inspiration in itself.
As with all such conferences, it’s always a bit of a down-fall to return to reality. However, I have at least had The Music Man performances to help soften the creative blow. Here are a few photographs to help understand the extent of Kindlingsfest 2012.

These belong in Narnia, yes?!

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis present a kind of an overarching theme of the Kindlings. This, in case you were wondering, is Farmer Maggot’s corn field.

Malcolm Guite was the main speaker – and yes, he also played guitar a wee bit! He spoke on the topic, “Crabbed Age and Youth Cannot Live Together?” He was not only inspiring but also just plain fun.

Jason Carter was one of the featured musicians. He plays the Harp Guitar…fascinating and fabulous.

My daughter – who plays french horn – was thrilled to see a french horn in a rock band!

Time Out for a Minnesota Moment…

10 Jan

Can you believe? Three posts in one day! I promise not to do so again! (I don’t want to bug you all…that’s why I just post often enough to remind you I’m here…not to fill up your inbox!)

But I couldn’t let this TUESDAY go by without mentioning an exciting thing! I’m in a magazine! Ha! How fun is that?!

Minnesota Moments, “A Unique, Creative & Informative Lifestyle Magazine” just came out with its Winter edition and there is an article about ten Minnesota bloggers and I’m one of them!

Huge thanks to Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ Minnesota Prairie Roots for her part in this process – with you, this would not have happened! Thank you so much.

What an honor and a fantastic way to start the new year!

Why I Will Never Win the Pulitzer for Photography

13 Dec

You may find this hard to believe – then again, as you’re reading my blog, you may not – but I LOVE writing our annual Christmas letter. Truly love it.

The Christmas card photo my husband thought we should use this year.

I know that there are people for whom writing an annual letter is worse than going to the dentist. Especially in this day of televisions on the ceiling above the dentist chair and x-rays that don’t threaten the lives of all your unborn children. For me, however, writing our letter is like writing this blog: it’s a chance to visit with you, my friends both old and new, it’s a chance to use my sense of humor which is all too often absent from my conversation but crops up in my writing, and it’s a chance to talk about myself. All good things, in my opinion.

The picture we used last year. Because I gave up.

Notice, however, that I said WRITING my letter is all these good things. I did not say that addressing the envelopes, signing the letters and getting the adorable picture of my children is part of the fun. That part is comparable to the dentist visit. Not the present-day visit, either, but the torturous kind of a few decades ago. But, it must be done so I watch mind-numbing TV and get to work.

Items needed for the job:

1) 176 envelopes, non-lick variety (praise Jesus for such an invention) and security-tinted because I hate seeing through envelopes that aren’t meant to be seen through.

2) Self-sticking stamps (ditto on the praise Jesus above).

3) My address book, which is a scribbled-out-mess-with-tiny-addresses-written-in-the-margins-of-every-single-page-junk-yard.

4) The letters themselves (hopefully with some sort of decoration but often not because I’ve talked too long again and covered both sides of the paper) each signed personally with a hand-written greeting included. (Don’t get me started about photocopied signatures.)

One try a few years back.

Some years I MAKE my cards. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. Or at least for praise. One year, when I had two children and only half a brain, I made ones so complicated that it took 15 steps to complete ONE card. And yes, I made over 150 even back then. It was beautiful: a giant white snowflake on opaque vellum with blue cardstock behind it and tiny sparkling snowflakes surrounding it. I was so sick of them by the time I was done that I didn’t even make one for myself to keep. Hopefully my mother kept hers.

I haven’t been that foolish since. Close. But not quite.

5) The photo.

Oy, vey, the photo.

Grumpy baby. Unhappy mama.

One year it took us four tries – of about 20 shots each try – to get a new one. This is because I am too cheap to go to a real photographer and prefer to torture myself after church each week during the month of November.

So far this year I haven’t even tried yet. I would have last Sunday except that I had the stomach flu like as unto the pain of childbirth. ‘nuf said.

So I have set a new photo-taking goal. I plan to “borrow” the Christmas tree at church as a background and wait until the Christmas pageant to capture the kids in all their angelic and wise-man glory. I’m hoping it will take less than 5 minutes. Even with a digital camera that may be optimism way beyond my usual standards.

"Mmmm...tasty shoe!"

I must say one last thing about my Christmas letters. They are NOT brag sheets about the kids. Yes, my sixth grade son tested at a 12th grade level for math, but why must everyone know that? And really, do they care? Nor do they need to know that my fourth grade daughter earned all sorts of Girl Scout badges or that our four year old is the cutest, smartest, most clever child ever born. I mean, really…

What I write about is living. With a few facts about our family thrown in for leavening.

Kinda like my blog posts.

PS – Stay tuned over the next couple weeks for more examples of my Christmas card photos gone horribly wrong.

The one we used this year. Not exactly professional.

Green Beans

22 Oct

I mentioned a few weeks ago that when I was in college I wrote a poem about Green Beans. I know you’ve all been dying to read it. It’s short, so don’t worry. I might change a few things if I were writing it now…but I decided to leave it as-is. Oh, and I must thank Miss Moose who found her copy of it from way back when. She’s taken better care of my poetry than I have. THANK YOU, Moose! So…here you go! A bonus mid-week post. 🙂

Green Beans

Her summer’s in jars,
pickled and processed, sliced,
a woman’s work.
Hours spend feeding her family,
preparing for winter’s freeze.
Her hands toughened, heart
sealed against her family’s complaints:
they don’t like green beans.

She absently tests each lid,
“quality control”, they call it.
They wish all the beans would spoil.
From the kitchen above a loud, “Mom!”
makes her jump,
and the jar she was holding, with the perfect seal,
the perfect “I do”, smashes,
and fills the air with the smell
of hot kitchen, burned fingers, sweat.

“What’s for dinner?” they ask
through the kitchen floor,
while she tries to gather up the glass and beans,
and the hands that picked and washed,
filled and processed,
stacked and dropped,
reach up, cut as they are,
and shove the remaining jars farther back on the shelf.

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