Monday, Monday, so good to me


our sunset at 5:30 p.m.

I guess that is a song, or the start of one.  I’m glad it was a good Monday of classes and then meeting up with people at noon and then office hours.  I have much to be thankful for especially after a very warm weekend where my husband and I could get much work done with moving things around at the Carnegie.  We need the carpenters to start work on the fire proof vault to have the old newspapers stored there.  Archives with newspapers that are as old as 1880s and 1890s.  They have all been scanned on microfilm. I don’t think we have the money to get them digitized.

My husband and I also went to the movie theater across the street from the Carnegie to see the movie “13 Hours” which is about Benghazi and what happened to people trapped there.  Grueling two hours watching how the brave ones did all they could to hold their ground, it was like a little Alamo with the acreage they had to cover.  They were ready and one of the stars of the team did get hit and died.  The movie makers knew how to go back and forth with these fierce men battle ready but they also had families they had been talking to by Skype or whatever when the bullets were not flying.

All in all, I would recommend the movie to show the lead up of why messed Libya up as a nation and how it affected many people on the ground.  What we were doing over their is a bit baffling, there had been too many years of dictatorship for the warring factions to have any kind of decorum about them.  They were heavily armed and were willing to use it against Americans.  Most of them got out alive but the ambassador Christopher Stevens did not fare so well. He had been in country only a couple of days before 9/11 and things were sealed off in anticipation of something happening. There were people giving those who were trained to defend the “Stand down” order.  That is also very, very perplexing.

So, I told my students about it and maybe a few will go. I told them that I held my husband’s hand the whole time as we watched the movie. Especially difficult was the aftermath as they were picking up the pieces, dead bodies and trying to get their lives back together.  Yes, on a Monday evening, I have a LOT to be thankful for because of what others before us have sacrificed for our freedoms.  I do NOT take that for granted.

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What I remember of Astana, Kazakhstan, THEE coldest capital in the world…almost

Yes, we just experienced Astana cityscape

40 mph winds this past weekend and I was reminded what it was like living in Astana. It has the recognition of being the SECOND coldest capital in the world…after Ulan Bataar, Mongolia.  I thought it was THEE coldest some days I was out in it.  Wearing fur helped, having cuddle duds on under pants also provided the necessary warmth. Owning a good pair of boots that only Canadians know how to put together and wearing mittens instead of gloves was the key to staying warm in the onslaught of merciless winds.  In any case, as I listened to the wind howl around our house, I thought of those who live and work in Astana and what they have to put up with for almost 5-6 months.  I understand coming from Minnesota.

What most of us do is look at seed catalogs and think about our spring planting. We look at summer pictures with blue skies and green trees and grass. We tell ourselves that “soon and very soon, we will  have warmer temps again.”  The people on the East Coast from New York passed Washington D.C. just had about 2-3 feet of snow dumped on them.  They don’t know how to handle that sort of thing.  Best to just hunker down and do what I suggested above…or read a good book.

Anyway, green grass will be back soon and then there is the mowing of the lawns that happen all too frequently.  Enjoy each day no matter what the temperature or weather…it is a gift!



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Taking credit for someone else’s work

Those who know me well, or even if they are only acquainted with me, know that I work hard.  I go after causes and find other people of like minds to join me.  That is true of battling the human trafficking issue as well as anything having to do with preserving history. I have pursued Ukraine’s sad stories of the Holodomor (forced famine of 1932-33 where millions died of starvation) or North Dakota history, my grandparents’ history, my students’ grandparents history, etc. Of course, I am also very interested in Kazakhstan’s history but I can only skim the surface of that now that I am far away from living there as I did for 3 1/2 years.  I did collect plenty of my composition students’ stories that are waiting to be put in book form.

Many others who currently live in Kazakhstan, especially those of you who are expats, hopefully will pay attention to the stories you hear from your neighbors, colleagues, students and anyone else who offers up what they know.  Kazakhstan has an oral tradition that is foreign to us westerners because if we were to compliment someone, we would say, “He is an excellent writer” or “She knows how to express herself beautifully.”  They would mean in the latter case in writing and not in speaking.  Strange to our American ears to hear someone being praised with, “She was a beautiful story teller.”  They meant that that person knew how to knit a tale together that kept the listener spellbound until the end. I heard this comment from a Ukrainian woman who was remembering her grandmother’s talent of storytelling.  We might say that someone knows how to tell a good joke and I truly believe that is a gift that no one in my family possesses.  My husband used to tell many jokes, more than he does now. He would give credit to the person he heard the joke from…as if re-living the moment he heard it and giving them due respect.

That gets me back to getting credit for the hard work that I do.  I have scanned 1,000s of photos in the last ten years.  I scanned many photos from Ukraine when I had my students tell their stories from their grandparents’ past.  We had two presentations where the expats were invited along with the old babushka women to our university’s auditorium. The second presentation we gave in the spring of 2007, the American ambassador and his wife came to listen to my students reveal their history.

I have scanned 1,000s of photos from our local museum and gathered up other photos from old postcards so that I could get two books published with Arcadia press out of South Carolina.  I enjoy sharing these pictures on Facebook with people from my hometown.  However, our museum needs money and now we have launched into using Internet with imagekind website out of Oregon to show off those photos of our town.  What I am dealing with is letting someone else get the credit for putting up the photos that took time to scan.  He put all the photos I scanned up on the website but it would seem to anyone else that he also did all the scanning.

At the same time, I and another volunteer have gone through about 700-800 pieces of vintage clothes that our museum was storing.  We took photos of every item and also wrote the tag number on each and described the item.  We have about 20 pages of the listings and I have the 700 photos of the clothes that we could potentially sell to vintage clothes people.  It is BIG out in the East and West coasts, not so much in our locale.  So, the other night at our board meeting, one of the members who wanted to take over to sell these items on her own terms said something incredible.  After my friend and I had spent many Saturday mornings over the course of about four months doing this mammoth job, she had a potential buyer in a town about 150 miles away.  This board member, who has done NOTHING of the work, said in front of everyone, “Have her come to me to ask about selling to this vintage clothes dealer.”  I was shocked that she had the audacity to claim something that she had not worked on yet and take it out of my friend’s hands who knows a LOT about clothes.  That is taking credit for something she didn’t work on.

What are my feelings when others want to take the glory for all the work that I do?  I have another example that recently happened.  One person at my university has wanted me to talk about our town’s illustrious past.  I have done many presentations on this topic and I have 100s of photos that I have scanned to show with stories to tell.  It didn’t work out last semester because she dropped the ball and didn’t have the advertising set to go.  I bowed out and said I would do it the following semester.  That semester is HERE!  She had been e-mailing me about doing this history presentation in March.  I thought, that is fine, I will do it but then she started sending three insistent google scheduled messages where I had to accept, maybe or deny her scheduling requests.  Even though she had said that we could meet when it was convenient for me, she pushed three times with setting a day and time.  I finally wrote to say I was not interested in doing a presentation for her AT ALL!  Why?  Because she has a reputation of having other people do all the work but she would get the credit.

After what I had just gone through with scanning 1,000s of pictures and going through 700 pieces of vintage clothes, I have HAD it with people stealing the show.  Others want to get the glory for things they haven’t done. I am not a volunteer who wants to be walked all over.  I am a volunteer who wants to help others and promote causes.  So, what do people in Kazakhstan do about those who “steal” stories and tell them as if they are their own?  What would be considered “plagiarism” from an oral tradition point of view?  Just wondering?  The concept of taking from others, even ideas should have a penalty of shame attached to it, right?

Well, I will have to figure out how to work with the person on the photos, he is my friend.  The other person who wants to do all the clothes selling with the data that we collected, she will probably fail because noone will be wanting to work with her.  It will probably end up back in our laps.  In any case, I am venting right now about how I feel.  Has this ever happened to you where others claim the glory for things that YOU have done?

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New Year…New Resolutions…HOPE!


Snow lady

I wrote something here last night but apparently my battery ran out so I didn’t get a chance to recover what I had written.  I think I will show photos of what I hope to see more of this year.  Happy New Year in 2016. Enjoy the snow lady and the snow angel! I’m also adding an open pit copper mine!


Near Bisbee, Arizona


Open pit copper mine


Snow angel

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Little bookstore at the ends of the earth



Good to go with what people tell you to do when vacationing in Arizona over Christmas break. My friend from Peace Corps days, from the early 1980s, has been a wealth of information about what to do around the Tucson area.  We were intending to go to Bisbee and she remembered that there was a little bookstore where she had gone in the middle of desert and cattle country, near Benson.  She gave us the address and off we went a couple of days ago. I’m glad we had the address to put into GPS and even though we had all the details to reach the Singing Wind bookstore, we still got a bit lost. That’s how “ends of the earth” this bookstore is.  Yet people from ALL over the U.S. and even the rest of the world have heard about it by word of mouth. It has been in operation for over 33 years.

Once we got to Benson, what was ominous off the highway and onto a dirt road was a black mailbox that was shot through with bullets…part of the charm perhaps? Then we saw a big iron sign that read something like “Books from the Southwest” and I wish I had taken a photo of that.  That was ALL we had to go on to know we were on the right road.  Then, we saw a gate to our left but the GPS said that it should be on the right, it had S W like a brand for the cattle.  We overshot that gate and went more south to what was probably a LOT of parking spaces in the dusty area with barbed wire fence all around.  We backtracked when we saw that the house that was in the distance was like the picture in the newspaper article referring to this little gem of a place.

We went through the gate and were greeted by a donkey. One of the passengers of the car started sounding like a mule or donkey and the animal responded in kind.  It didn’t seem too happy with us and kept bellowing out its not too welcome response.  Then we parked by several other cars that we thought might be other customers to this bookstore.  We went to the main door on the west side and knocked, then someone of our party looked back to see there was a bell that we were supposed to ring.  So we did several times.  Apparently the buzzer at the door was not getting our hoped for response.  Then after ringing the big bell and no motion of interest, my husband opened the door and found a customer sitting and reading a book by the many shelves.

Signs posted about not bringing in any food or drink and we wandered the rooms full of books sitting on mesquite shelving. There was one room dedicated to just children’s books. I had found one of the books “Three Little Javelinas” while in Kazakhstan and there it was sitting on the top shelf. I had given it to one of the grandkids several years ago.  It was written by a Tucson author.  We looked at all the sections that were marked with different topics such as history, native American Indians, cooking, crafts, etc.   There was also a section where there were LOTS of Arcadia history books.  That was a good sign.

We met the 81 year old owner of the place, her name is Winn Bundy and she was formerly from Minnesota. She told me from Lake of the Isles area and I knew that she came from some money to have grown up there, close to Loring Park in the Twin Cities.  Her dad had worked for General Motors. She had gotten three masters degrees, one in library science, another in history and I forget the third.  She was an impressive and spunky lady. She had a surgery recently so she was wearing a neck brace.  I told her I wanted to write a book about Ukraine’s sad history during the 1930s. She seemed knowledgeable of that. I bought a book about writing family history but I am more interested in the country’s history. She wrote in it and encouraged me in my writing.

In fact, she is willing to buy five of my history books, I just have to mail them to her and she will send me a check.  She said something about 60/40. I’m not sure if I get the 60% of the $22 book or if she does.  I don’t care one way or the other, I have boxes of my history books about my hometown and I see that she lives frugally and cares about books. She even cares about authors and will have a big shindig the end of January where many authors will converge on her ranch and she will host the chili party.  This might be simultaneous to what they have going on in Tucson with authors meeting up there the end of January. In any case, she promotes authors and she has quite a following.  She does NOT accept credit cards because she doesn’t want to be bothered with the paperwork. She prefers checks or cash.  Fortunately, we had cash to do our shopping.

I hope she lives a long life, she has had two husbands and several children. The two former has passed away on her, the children have produced grandchildren for her.  My husband and I plan to come back next year to visit the ranch with the little, out of the way bookstore. She has energy, charm and vision to do something big like this.  More people need to be like her, I hope others will go visit the Singing Wind bookstore as a result of this post.  Just know that it is hard to find and VERY out of the way!  Their guestbook at the front of the store betrays that many people have heard about this place and have signed in, as we did several days ago.  Good to go with what the people here know as true gems and almost secret!





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What are friends for?

Speaking of family, I know a little bit more about my great grandma and grandpa on my Dad’s side.  Fortunately, I have a friend who has Danish ancestry and has been to Denmark several times, also Faroe Islands.  Last summer I was talking to him about my Danish roots and what my sister had come up with from 1996 when she went to court houses, graveyards, churches in southern Minnesota to search our records and clues about our great grandparents. I wanted all this information before our family’s Century Farm celebration. My friend dropped out of the picture for about four months until several weeks ago. I got an e-mail that read in the subject line “I’m still alive.”

We already knew that my great grandpa had an unusual name and it was changed to be more Anglicized. It would have worked back in Denmark but not in the U.S. His gravestone reflects that change for the good of his children, my grandpa’s Dad. I had been told he was an alcoholic and yet the records state that the cause of his death was gastric intestinal problems.  The question I have is when did he actually die?  Some places I have seen that he died on Dec. 31st 1900 but the gravemarker reveals Jan. 1, 1901. Not sure why the discrepancy?  Maybe it doesn’t really matter.  My great grandma died in St. Peter in 1931 where she had been living with her daughter.  She had been widowed for 30 years.

What I found out from my genealogist friend, who I have known since the early 1980s, is that my great grandmother went by the name of Sena in the U.S.  However, her actual name was Reinsena and that was easier for him to pick up from the Danish records or census that they keep.  I also learned that my great grandmother came by ship to Quebec from Liverpool with her younger brother Soren in May of 1869.  She was 24 years old and Soren was 21. What I could not figure out was Soren was the only boy in the family of five older sisters.  Why would he leave Denmark?  Was it because he was draft age?

My great grandparents got married in Wisconsin across the river from Red Wing, Minnesota in December of 1869. My great grandpa was 22 years older than his bride.  So, from what I gathered the two Danish families originally were about 5-10 miles apart back in Denmark.  My great grandpa’s father was a tanner or shoemaker and they lived in a bigger city Horsens and my great grandma’s family was in the neighboring province and they were rural farmer types.  Did they know of each other’s families and go to the same church?  How did my great grandpa know about Sena and had he been married before?

Family lore has it that my great grandpa had been drafted into the Prussian army and around Civil War time was near New York when he jumped ship.  I heard from another genealogist that that is a common story that is right up there with being related in the bloodline to Pocahantus or some other well known native American woman.  So, the question remains, how did my great grandpa get from Denmark to Wisconsin and then eventually southern Minnesota?

That’s what friends are for…he will continue to search whatever happened to Soren once he got to the U.S.  What happened to my great grandpa BEFORE he came to the U.S. and did he really jump ship close to Cape Cod?  Stay tuned!

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Surprise! My own family member shows up in our campus history

Except for those of my students whose parents or grandparents attended the place where I teach which ended in 1966, few know about the early background of this institution which started in 1906 as an agricultural high school.  I would venture to add that most of these same students and many faculty know very little if anything about the Old Treaty Crossing, only 13 miles away just across the border of our county.

This was not always so.  In his autobiography, Conrad Selvig includes a photo and describes the Huot Park monument that commemorates the treaty signed by the Chippewa Indians in 1855.   And, Old Treaty Crossing is featured most prominently in the top right side of the historical 16 x 22 foot mural located at the front of the campus’ auditorium.

The murals in our auditorium are artwork.  Art is exactly what they were meant to be. History shows that all of us, regardless of our origins, have many things in our past of which we are not proud.   Most people claim that the study of history is to teach us not to repeat our mistakes. However, the murals are not meant to be a lesson in history, but rather they are an irreplaceable artistic expression of the Red River Valley’s agricultural heritage.

Because of the passage of time (and as an introduction about farming!), I believe it is worth giving some background to these murals. The murals do not represent a precise work of history – they do not depict the Indian wars for instance – but they are art, or if you like, poetry emphasizing, in part, new beginnings. The left mural represents Scandinavian arrival in North America, fur trapping, and cooperation with the Native Americans.  The right hand panel depicts the events at Old Treaty Crossing, and then subsequent development of agriculture, last of these, a (perhaps little noticed) farmer on a tractor with a few other farmers.

Little did I know that my very diminutive aunt Eleanor who died just a few years ago, would have some notoriety in the historic presentation of these murals. A November 11, 1942 article of our local paper on the completion of the murals stated they “have been formally presented to the Northwest School by the graduating class of 1932. Eleanor made the presentation at the Parent’s day program Saturday. She read a congratulatory letter from a former superintendent of the Northwest School, who acted as a counselor for the 1932 class.”

The article went on to credit the murals with the efforts of the State Art Director, Clement Haupers, of the Works Projects Administration (WPA). Haupers found unemployed skilled artists and matched them with a place for their work.   In a Fall 1979 Minnesota History article, Haupers was interviewed and said, “The program was predicated on community service. The government paid the artist’s salary, but the recipient of his work was the sponsor who paid all other than labor costs.”

WPA’s artist, John Martin Socha from St. Paul, did the actual large scale painting that was honored on Nov. 11th, 1942.  Socha’s other WPA paintings adorned the walls of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, the auditorium of the Winona State Teachers college, the New Ulm high school, other St. Paul high schools and St. Luke’s Catholic church of St. Paul.

That presentation happened a decade after this gift had been donated by the class of 1932. The granddaughter of Chief Little Boy, a signer of the treaty, had a granddaughter named Myrtle who was present and attending the farm school. They were present at this ceremony honoring the John Martin Socha’s artistic rendition of a time in history.  Native Americans were involved in the NWSA’s early history.  Selvig’s book published in 1951 shows a picture of an Indian chief from the Red Lake Chippewa Reservation who spoke at a commemoration in 1920.

Someone working away daily in an office cubicle may not see Socha’s kind of art on the horizon’s landscapes. They also do not know about the heavy manual labor that was required of those early settlers.  As a farmer’s daughter, I grew up working on the tractor and driving truck, helping with harvest before school started in the fall. It was hard work.  My dad, and uncle and three aunts were all graduates of this farm school.  Both grandfathers were farmers and my Norwegian maternal great grandfather, as well as a female relative, Margit Olsnes, homesteaded.  Homesteading was not for the fainthearted.

However, what we had to do was NOTHING compared to what my uncle, three aunts and dad had to go through during the 1930s.  Here in the Red River Valley the threat of losing the farm and ending up on the poor farm was ever present in my family. Some families DID lose their farms when they couldn’t pay their bills.  I’ve heard of instances where a farmer might sell out his cattle because he couldn’t afford the feed but when shipped down to St. Paul, they were not worth anything and he still had to pay for the freight shipping charges. The 1930s was a very tough time for many people in the Crookston area, businessmen and farmers alike.

All of my aunts and uncles attended this school but they could not board at the school like all the other farm kids. Instead, they had to go back home five miles away to do the chores so that they could pay for tuition for their classes.  At one point, money was so tight that my one aunt who just had her senior year to graduate in 1934 was told by her parents that she would have to stay home and work on the farm instead. The money was not available for my grandparents to pay for her tuition to continue in school, there were two others after her that needed to continue their schooling.

As it turns out, Superintendent McCall got wind of this and telephoned my grandma and told her, “Ethel just HAS to graduate with her class….I’ll find her a job on campus.”  So that is what happened because of the kindness of McCall, Ethel DID graduate with her class in 1934. In fact, she went on to work at a university in the Liberal Arts department in Northridge, California for many decades.  Think if this one man had not stepped in to find Ethel a job in the school’s kitchen to help cover for her tuition?

I think of the many, many hours my Aunt Eleanor spent with the rudimentary equipment that they used in the 1930s. Such as swathing the grain, putting them in bundles, then they were put into rows and then picked up by the latest in machinery. The hours that my uncle and three aunts spent laboring to save the family farm. But it is Aunt Eleanor whom I respect the most because she reminded me most closely of my dear grandpa.

Long may the murals in the auditorium live to be the artwork it was meant to be. History shows us that we, as fallen creatures, have many things that we are not proud of. But the murals in the old campus auditorium are not meant to be a lesson in the history of this area but rather an artistic expression.

Some people may want to have a more inclusive rendering of other nationalities and of women in the auditorium. Indeed, they should raise funds to have a new mural painted in the Wellness Center that is presently being built that would show inclusivity and diversity of nations represented now on this campus.  I believe the “Invisible Farmer” needs to be given his or her due. That is why I will be writing a series on the farmers from the past who started with a small and humble farmstead that has evolved into a 3rd or 4th generation farm or a Century Farm. I hope some of the farmers from the outlying area will come forward with whatever photos of old farmsteads or stories that accurately depict what these early settlers went through.

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