Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

May your days be merry and bright, 
And may all your Christmases be white. 
Merry Christmas from Farmer Fred and the gang in GriggsDakota.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Road of December

 Life in GriggsDakota includes the road.
We drive miles to get anywhere. 
We haul grain. 
We travel to sporting events. 
We travel to cultural events. 
 The road in Greater Dakota also includes view to the side of the road.
It includes the sky. 
Occasionally it includes pheasants by the side of the road. 
More often, it includes homes and barns. 
We often notice stockpiles of hay. 
We look at the cattle.
Cattle on a snowy stubble field is one of my favorite views off to the side of the road. 
 This December the views have been well coated with frost.
It makes the season bright.
And it makes the afternoon sunset sparkle all across GreaterDakota.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom 2012

Today is my Mom's birthday.
She is the baby pictured with her sister. 

In 1993 I was asked to write a poem for a Mother-Daughter Banquet at our church. It was a big congregation and quite an honor to be asked to be on that program. My friends had learned that my heart could sing in an iambic pentameter of sorts when I was the Mistress of Ceremonies at the birthday party for our pastor's wife.
 We dressed up in clothes and hats of a bygone era.
Every line I spoke that day as Mistress was written in rhyme. So later, I was challenged to write a poem for our mother-daughter banquet and didn't dare refuse. 

I was raised in GriggsDakota, with a kind and patient mother. It was from that perspective I wrote the following poem all those years ago. Of course, I dedicated it to Mom and invited her to attend the banquet with me and my daughters. The introduction that evening was  the same one I have written here. And Mom, I hope we laugh as hard today as we did that night in 1993.
 Happy Birthday!

"Mom, for all the times I've embarrassed you in the past, I just want you to know...I am about to do it again."

Thoughts on the MD Relationship

"On Mothers and Daughters they've asked me to speak,
And I have been thinking for nearly a week
Of what I could say that would catch your attention
And what parts of this topic I should now mention.

My mother's a mother, her mother is, too.
And I am a mother, and so, most of you.
And we are all daughters of mothers of course,
So really, all women could be a source

Of info and topics for this evenings rhyme.
But to interview all would take too much time.
You know how it is for a mother these days,
We're so pressed for time, life goes by in a haze.

But, as I considered this particular task
I decided to simply pull off the mask
And give my impressions, though silly or straight,
For daughters and mothers and grandmas turned great.

So, back in my memory I started to travel
To find recollections and let stories unravel.
Of mother-relationships, generation to next.
Before long, I began writing this text.

When I was a little girl, long before teens, 
My mother did house work in her blue jeans.
" Mom, while you're cleaning the house, I'd like to see
You wearing a dress, like the Moms on TV!"

My mom is a pleaser:  The next day I was greeted
By Mom in a dress, with a skirt, long and pleated.
I pretended that I was the star of a show,
With Mom looking gorgeous, till what do you know? 

The floor need washing and as she cleaned up the trail
The skirt of her dress wound up in the pail.
She wrung out the skirt, the end of my dream.
I never discussed it for fear she would scream.

Being a teen girl is sometimes a pain,
With hormones and heartaches and monthly weight gain
When I was that age any little anecdote
Could put me on a real panic note.

Teen troubles kept me going round in a tizzy!
Hair, clothes, important stuff, kept me so busy!
But Mom was there, stable and strong,
She just calmly urged, pushed, or pulled me along.

When you are little, you never guess,
The love in Mom's heart, she can't always express.
But teen years convinced me about mother-love.
Of strength and endurance sent from above.

Then I grew up, how quickly time passes! 
Soon I was taking parenting classes. 
Natural childbirth now was the rage,
My daughter arrived and we turned the page.

I now was the mother of a daughter so small,
It all started over, and as I recall
Us together and wondering where time had gone.
It flies by so quickly, life doesn't last long.

I'm looking forward to Grandma-hood, someday.
I'll bake cookies, make doll clothes and take time to play.
When you are a mother you must be a constable, 
But, Grandma has fun without being responsible 

For all of the practical matters of life
That complicate mother-daughter days and add strife.
Her patience is longer, her duty list, short.
She never has anything bad to report.

Now, my final thoughts and contemplation
To share with you, this congregation:
You must remember, part of a mother's charm
Is that if her daughter has need of it, Mom cuts off her arm!

As a result, the relationship's built
On compassion and love, and a lifetime of guilt!
But as you get older, perspective to gain,
You realize, for mother, this isn't a pain.

It's simply a joy God puts in our heart,
So, from Mother's love, we never need part.
Listen girls, even if Mom continues to bug you,
You can be your own person and still let her hug you!"

copyright: J K Huso Lukens All rights reserved. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bringing in the Christmas Tree

It's time to bring the Christmas tree into the house. We put up a fresh tree and we want it smelling fresh for Christmas. I let the tree seller pick out the tree. He had time for special attention to detail as Farmer Fred and I were his only customers on that pleasant December afternoon. It looks perfect and he was very proud of our tree.
First, Farmer Fred saws an inch off the bottom of the tree trunk with the saw that we bought to use on our first Christmas tree when we were college students. The price tag is still stuck to it, $4.23 and made in usa. It was a long time ago. 
The tree stand that we use is relatively new and a good one. My flash conceals that it is made in Waconia, Minnesota. 
It is sturdy and holds big trees securely. 
Although it is fully assembled, it takes some doing to get the tree into the stand and the wing nuts securely tightened. It is a two person job, which is much more fun anyway. The man that ran the tree stand, also from Minnesota, told me to mix a drop of bleach with a gallon of hot water and a can of 7-Up to start the tree, then water it every day keeping the base in water all the time.  I understand that Myth Busters have proven that nothing does a better job of keeping a Christmas tree fresh than water. I, however, followed the advice of the Minnesota tree seller.
Around the corner and up the steps Farmer Fred brings the tree to the house. 
 The stand is in place. Funny how much bigger the tree always looks inside. The porch is cooler than the house and helps to keep the tree fresh.
The tree will stand in the center of the pan braced by the curved steel between the trunk and the inside edge of the pan. It is secured by tightening wing nuts on the threaded rods.
It takes some patience, but Farmer Fred is an old pro. Now we need lights, decorations, and Christmas in GriggsDakota.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We Still Need The Nice Bank

This post, published in 2010, is like going home for me. My parents still live in the home that Grandpa built, where Dad was born, where we grew up. 
How very lucky we are. 
Grandma came to our house on Christmas Eve. The house her husband had built, where they had raised their family. Her son, Sonny to her, dad to me, had picked her up at the nursing home where she now lived. She always recognized her only son, and was happy to be with him. 
She came through the door and had no idea where she was. The people around her were familiar, or were they? Another farm seemed a stronger image in her brain that night. Mama, the warm kitchen, the cold night. Everyone is friendly, welcoming her. They are happy to take her coat, find a chair, help to remove snowy boots. 
She walked through the kitchen as  directed, stopping as she noticed the familiar foods of Norwegian Christmas Eve:  Lutefisk, lefse, flatbread, American cranberries substituted for the lingonberries of Norway. 
When she stepped into the dining room, she noticed her old table and the lights switched on in her brain. Pure happiness flooded her bewildered face as recognition dawned. "Why this is my house!" she exclaimed, "This is where I lived! This is Sonny's house now." She looked around. "And it looks so clean and so nice. The table (in the house since it was built, familiar and loved) is so nice. I thought this place would go to wreck and ruin with all those kids!"
And there it was, whatever it may be. Honesty born of dementia? My grandmother was well into her final illness on that Christmas Eve. As a frail old woman, she seemed to have accidently spoken her mind to us for the first time. There were too many children. I can still remember the electric shock that shot through me as she spoke those words. 
She continued talking and looking at me, completely forgetting that I was one of the too many. "Poor Sonny, it was too much."
The words were barely uttered before the laughter began. Grandma smiled and nodded without really getting the joke. No word spoken by this woman would shake her too many grandchildren. We keep accounts in The Nice Bank. 
The Nice Bank is where all the good deeds and kind words that grace our daily lives are deposited. When we hurt someone that we love, we withdraw from the Nice Bank and expect forgiveness. And forgiveness is granted, eventually. Everyone has an account in the Nice Bank and tries to be good, cooperative, helpful to increase the account balance. We make withdrawals when we need to. No one kept close track of accounts, but we knew when a deposit was necessary. It is part of being a family, part of every enduring friendship. We can acknowledge our imperfections while striving to overcome them. If you trust a person would never deliberately hurt you, then forgiveness can be granted and reciprocated.
 It's The Nice Bank that keeps us together. 
 The Nice Bank allowed the jokes to begin as soon as Grandma left for the nursing home and though this happened many years ago, the laughs have not stopped. We never really had to forgive Grandma. Her account in the Nice Bank was overflowing. She had filled us with love while she was able. Because of that, I know this:  Love is what people need. Include kindness, respect, understanding with it. The more we receive, the better we are able to pass it on. Love through hurt, through the generations, through disease and disappointments. It allows forgiveness to happen and happiness to endure.
Make generous deposits in the Nice Bank every chance  you get. That way, there will be plenty in your account for treasured memories.
As imperfect as we are, The Nice Bank provides true wealth in GriggsDakota

Friday, December 14, 2012

Same tune, Another Season

Sung to the tune of "Christmas is Coming and the Goose is Getting Fat" with apologies to the English, and every one who loves this beautiful melody.
Originally Published in December of 2009, but ever true.
Christmas is coming and I am getting fat,
But I'll eat another cookie, cuz I can deal with that!
If I drink a little eggnog, I'll never feel blue,
Munch Candy Bars,
A Bowl of Nuts,
A Popcorn Ball or Two!
It's time for making merry, and food is everywhere,
I'll wait till January, before I start to care.
With parties in the evening, and feasting every day.
I've thrown away the scale, so jolly I will stay!
Things are cookin' in GriggsDakota!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to: Microwave Caramels Recipe

This microwave caramel recipe uses heavy cream, which I think makes a more authentic caramel than either sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk. Making caramels is tricky. The length of time that you cook the caramel mixture determines the firmness of the candy. If you don't cook the mixture long enough, it won't set up, but can be used as ice cream or waffle topping. My family likes their caramels just hard enough to hold their shape in the wrapper. If you cook this recipe longer, it tastes like Mackintosh's Toffee. That is a Canadian treat, I think. We used to buy it at the snack shop when we attended music camp at the International Peace Garden.
Tis the season, I digress. 
The point is, cooking this a bit longer makes it firmer, but still delicious. I have made this recipe countless times and it has never failed. The microwave is a candy makers friend. No scorching on the bottom. But let me just remind you that this mixture gets extremely hot. Your bowl will be hot, so use potholders.
Do not use a plastic bowl or spoons. 
This is not a recipe for children. Be careful to avoid splashes or spills. 
Microwave Caramels
1 Cup Unsalted Butter 
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
2 Cups Dark Corn Syrup
2 Cups Heavy Cream (divided into 1 Cup additions)

In a large (3 or 4 quart) microwaveable (I use Pyrex) bowl melt the Butter in the microwave. Stir the Sugar, Corn Syrup and 1 Cup of the Heavy Cream into the melted Butter.
Microwave on high heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until the mixture reaches hard ball stage. (245-250 degrees Fahrenheit)
Slowly stir in remaining 1 Cup of Heavy Cream.
Return to the microwave and cook on high for another 10-15 minutes until hard ball temperature is reached again.
Pour into a buttered Pyrex baking dish and allow to cool for three hours. 
Cut and wrap individual pieces.
And now a few notes from my kitchen. 
Be careful if you are just learning to make candy. 
The reason that you need a big bowl is that the caramel boils up as it cooks and especially as it is stirred. 
In fact, I don't stir the mixture every five minutes. I just let it cook for twenty minutes uninterrupted and then stir in the cream. Unless you have a very old microwave, I think this method will work.
Invest in a candy thermometer. It is tricky to determine what is a firm ball until it is too hard.
 I usually make two batches of caramels at Christmas time. I have two different sizes of Pyrex pans. That is fine. The smaller pan makes thicker pieces, but as long as you can cut through it, it works.
 To cut the caramel, I use a scraper which is available here. I have also used a wide knife and pressed it through the caramel.
One of these, which I think is a cake decorating tool, is handy for removing individual pieces once they are cut. 
Size is personal preference. Some caramel makers make tasting size which is about 1/4 of my pieces. I don't want to spend that much time wrapping. 
I wrap in Parchment Paper for several reasons. It doesn't stick to the caramels and I can buy it at my nearest grocery store. I have found that plain waxed paper doesn't  twist as well and I am afraid of foil getting into someone's mouth. You can buy precut caramel wrappers, but I cut my own.
I start with a long sheet of Parchment. I fold the length in fourths.  
Slide a knife along the folded edge to cut the sheet. 
 Cut into appropriate sized squares.
I use rectangles, so I cut rectangles.  
Place a piece of caramel on each piece of Parchment.
Roll the narrow width around the caramel.
I use a twist wrap, but use what works for you. 
Twist both ends the same direction, "with the roll." 
 If you want to keep them for Christmas, you will have to hide the caramels.
An sturdy plastic box works in GriggsDakota.