A Girl, a Book, a Place

If you regularly surf the internet via Google you’re familiar with its colorful logo, which changes on occasion to commemorate bits of historical interest, often the birthday of someone long dead to note how old they would be if they were still alive. On Feb. 27 that person was John Steinbeck who would have been 112. To commemorate the day, each of Google’s letters was replaced by an image related to one of Steinbeck’s books.

I think I’ve read all of this Nobel Prize winner’s books and reflecting back on them, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I read one book in particular. It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college when I read East of Eden lying by a lake near Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. My roommate Diane was with me, and I remember remarking to her how much I liked the book. All these years later, if I close my eyes I can be right back on that beach lying on a towel in the sand. I can smell the suntan lotion, feel the hot sun beating down on me and hear the waves lapping against the beach and the roar of motorboats going by. I remember that the book got a little sandy as I turned the pages reading about Adam and Cathy and Caleb and Aron, and I had a tough time tearing my eyes away from it at the end of that sunny day on the beach.

I can’t remember where I was when reading each of the many books I’ve read over the years, but I do remember some specific locations. When I was in college I went through a phase of reading authors from the John Steinbeck era. I read books by Irwin Shaw, Herman Wouk, Theodore Dreiser and Wallace Stegner, some while working in my Dad Fast Eddie’s dry cleaners when business was slow at night. Fast forward a decade and one December I was on a train cruising along the Australian coastline when I finally decided to tackle Charles Dickens and read Great Expectations. When I lived in the DC area, I was part of book club and living in my small apartment in Falls Church when I read Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. When I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Poisonwood Bible I was living in an apartment in Denver that had a giant bathtub, and I spent a lot of time soaking in it and reading that book. I also read parts of The Poisonwood Bible during a plane trip, one of many books I’ve read on planes, and left it on the plane requiring me to purchase another copy.

Yet to be read. Alice in Wonderland was my Grandma B.'s book. It was given to her one Christmas around 1915.

Yet to be read. Alice in Wonderland was my Grandma B.’s book. It was given to her one Christmas around 1915.

Lots of books were read sitting in the backyard of my house in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, including The Time Traveler’s Wife, one of my favorite books of all time (the movie, not so much). My introduction to the funny and laugh out loud Janet Evanovich series marked the first time I listened to a book on tape. Over the years I’ve listened to many of Stephanie Plum’s bumbling adventures as an inept bounty hunter while traversing the miles between Colorado and North Dakota. During my long stretch of unemployment in Colorado not that long ago I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I also read The Help with reading at the time being a free and much needed escape from my pressing money woes.

I could go on and on – so many great books and so many varied and interesting places where they’ve been read, providing fond memories of not just the book but the unique reading location and related life experiences.

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Midwest cuisine gets a boost

I enjoyed canning pickles with Fast Eddie during my year in North Dakota.

I enjoyed canning pickles with Fast Eddie during my year in North Dakota.

During my recent year long stint in North Dakota I enjoyed many things after being away for so many years, including quality time with my family and foods generally only available in their particular form in North Dakota and neighboring states. These foods include homemade lefse, available for sale at many of the craft fairs, gigantic caramel rolls, chokecherry jelly, knoephla soup, Indian tacos and taco pizza. I also savored my brothers’ fish fries with fresh-caught fish from the waters of Devils Lake, veggies from my Dad Fast Eddie’s garden and also his canned pickles and beets. And I occasionally snacked on some guilty pleasures in the form of my favorite regional junk foods such as Old Dutch Sour Cream and Onion potato chips, Nut Goodies and Twizzlers chocolate licorice.

It was those experiences that made me thrilled to see a new show last fall on the Food Network called “Heartland Table” featuring Amy Thielen. A Minnesota native and chef, Thielen was born and raised in Park Rapids, Minn., which she left in her early 20s to head to New York City. There she attended culinary school and spent about six years working as a chef before she returned to her roots and her family’s Minnesota cabin. “Heartland Table” is set in the cabin, where she reinvents some family and regional favorites, gathering ingredients from the land and the small communities nearby. Many of the show’s recipes are part of a cookbook Thielen also published last fall called “The New Midwestern Table.” I bought the cookbook for my sister for Christmas and got one for myself as well. I recently spent some time perusing it and find it to be an interesting read as it’s not just a cookbook. It’s also part memoir and part education about Midwestern foods and their origins and has gorgeous photographs of not only Thielen’s culinary creations, but also the Minnesota landscape, family gatherings and local food establishments such as the family business Thielen Meats.

All the chapters and nearly all the recipes include meaty introductions explaining the relationship of the recipe or food group to the area or herself. The chapters are truly indicative of Midwestern foods with one chapter solely devoted to Lake Fish, with twists on recipes for walleye and pike and the traditional fish fry. There is another chapter devoted to Potatoes and Onions, where she says “it’s hard to find good ole’ Midwestern hash browns in New York City.” Another chapter called Projects includes a mish mash of concoctions such as pickles, chokecherry nectar and an explanation on how to make birch tree syrup. In the chapter Early Day Baking, Thielen’s recipe for Peanut Maple Fudge Bars emulates the Nut Goodie candy bar.

Thielen mentions South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska multiple times throughout the book, however, the only reference I have found so far to North Dakota is in the Sides chapter where in a recipe for Milk Cabbage she mentions that a friend’s mother was from North Dakota where she used to bathe her garden veggies in milk while still in the ground. If you’re in the market for a new cookbook and looking for some new ideas for traditional Midwest dishes, I highly recommend “The New Midwestern Table.” Also, it appears “Heartland Table” returned to the Food Network in March airing on Saturday mornings. Check it out!

The taco pizza with hot sauce from Abo's Pizza in Bismarck, ND, is fantastic!

The taco pizza with hot sauce from A&B Pizza in Bismarck, ND, is fantastic!

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Curl it

My 100th blog post!

(This column appeared in a recent edition of my hometown newspaper the Devils Lake Journal in Devils Lake, North Dakota)

I love the Olympics, along with many folks around the world. I enjoy it for lots of reasons, including the opportunity to watch sports for a couple of weeks that you only view every four years such as curling.

curlingWhen I was growing up in Devils Lake, we used to go curling as part of our high school physical education class. I enjoyed it, partly because it was an opportunity to do something a little different outside of the gym even though most of us didn’t really know how to curl. One of my classmates remembers during these PE curling outings some of our fellow students flinging the rock down the ice as if it was a bowling ball and going a little crazy with it. And then there was the whole sweeping the ice to make the rock go faster (if I remember right that was the idea). I know we also had curling teams but I am not sure if they were affiliated with the high school.

Even though curling has received more exposure since it became an Olympic sport in 1998, I think it’s safe to say that a relatively small percentage of Americans can say they have ever curled. I used this to my advantage some years back when on a business trip Austin, Texas, several co-workers and I got stuck in traffic for hours on the freeway due to a bad accident. To pass the time, we decided to play a game of “guess what thing I am thinking about.” I am not sure if that’s the official name of the game, but it’s where you think of a word and people ask you yes or no questions until someone figures out the word. I asked my two co-workers to guess what sport (curling) we did in high school PE in North Dakota. My co-workers asked lots of questions but they never did guess curling.

There was recently an article in the Wall Street Journal that was, believe it or not, called “Curlers: They’re Not So Fat Anymore.” It was about how the sport of curling has changed in recent years. Apparently back in the day it was typical for curlers to be rather out of shape and often a little on the chubby side, chain smoke throughout the game and for the winning team to buy the losing team a round of beers. Now a days more and more curlers are healthier and take pride in staying fit to improve their game and are forgoing the cigs and suds. In fact the name of the Canadian men’s curling team, who are expected to take gold at the Sochi Olympics, is The Buff Boys.

The article said the need for buff bods doesn’t sit well with some of the old time curlers, who claim a high level of fitness isn’t necessary to curl well. I disagree. I think no matter what the sport being as healthy and fit as you can be makes you a better athlete. So you go Buff Boys. I’ll be watching.

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Move More, Eat Less

(This column appeared in the Jan. 28th edition of my hometown newspaper the Devils Lake Journal in Devils Lake, N.D.)

The Doty Pond walking path that I need to start frequenting more.

The Doty Pond walking path that I need to start frequenting more.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column that listed 10 ways I would like to live a better life in 2014. Reading over them now I have a couple of thoughts. First, what the heck was I thinking?! They are such lofty in some ways unrealistic goals.They are not bad ideas, and I certainly in some ways would like to live my life more in that manner, so I will keep them posted on my fridge and at least try to move more in those directions. Another thought I had is the one gaping item I left out. If you remember the list was all about doing some things more and at the same time other things less, such as laugh more, frown less. What I can’t believe I left out is move more, eat less.

Years ago, I worked several holiday seasons at the now defunct Border’s Books. It was unbelievable how many diet and fitness books flew off the shelves starting immediately on Dec. 26. This went on for weeks, but then sales would gradually slow down. The same can be said for gym memberships and weight loss groups such as Weight Watchers – both see a large influx of people Jan. 1 who come in all gangbusters with enthusiasm only to usually a short time later abandon their workout gear and weight loss goals and return to their old habits.

In spite of all the many diet and fitness program options, the concept is simple – move more, eat less. However, while the basic premise is just four short words, putting them into long term, sustainable action can be for many deceptively difficult. Why is that? Well changing habits, even if they’re bad ones, can be tough. You have to get some enjoyment out of eating what you like, when you like and however much you like or you wouldn’t do it. You also wouldn’t plunk yourself in front of the TV at night for hours on end and not exercise if you didn’t get some pleasure out of it. I can be guilty of all the aforementioned habits. However, I wasn’t always that way. For many years, I worked out on a regular basis and ate fairly healthy. Sadly in recent years, I’ve fallen out of those healthier habits and getting back into them has been like pulling teeth.

In the end I think the key is you have to want the healthier lifestyles and the resulting outcomes – weighing less, being more fit – more than you want the less healthy ones. A jolly, laugh more, frown less kind of a guy visits the newspaper office here on a semi-regular basis. One day he was sharing with me how he quit smoking years ago. It wasn’t easy, he said, but the key is you have to really want it and – and this a BIG and – willing to put in the work, including overcoming mental obstacles into the necessary changes in order to produce the desired outcome.

I can’t write a column Super Bowl week without putting a plug in for my Denver Broncos. In the spirit of move more, eat less I think every time Broncos quarterback Peyton Panning says Omaha I should do 10 jumping jacks, and when he says hurry hurry, 10 sit ups. Go Broncos!

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Love Me Some Football!

Although stereotypes about men and women are not as prevalent as they used to be, they’re still out there. For example, the general thinking for many is that all women love to shop and this is simply not the case. I do not enjoy shopping, and I also know quite a few other women who don’t. Most times I find it to be a chore. I particularly don’t like shopping malls – they’re just too big and cavernous with throngs of people and involve too much traipsing around. Don’t get me wrong, I like to have new things, particularly new shoes, but I don’t like the process of acquiring them. Even if you love to shop, many people don’t enjoy grocery shopping. When you really think about it, it’s a pretty inefficient system. You have to peruse aisles of products, put your items in your cart, then onto the conveyor belt, then into bags, then into your car, then out of your car and into your house, then out of your bags and onto your shelf or fridge. I’m exhausted just describing the process! I mean honestly you think by now we’d have figured out some Jetson-esque way to make it a little easier and less cumbersome.

Another stereotype is that women don’t like sports, particularly football. Old school thinking is that come football season husbands abandon their wives or girlfriends every Sunday to sit on the coach to watch football, drink beer and eat Doritos. However, that has changed drastically over the years. Now more likely than not women are on the couch right next to their guy and maybe upgrading the Doritos to something a little more fancy – like margaritas and nachos. You won’t find me planted in front of the TV screen for every football game no matter what the team, and I can be a fair weather fan and sometimes only watch when my favorite team is winning. However, I’ve been watching the Broncos most Sundays this season and cheering them, sometimes loudly, along. So it’s quite exciting that they’re headed for the Super Bowl in their first appearance in some 15 years. I’ve got several friends, female I might add, who live in the Pacific Northwest who have already started trash talking on Facebook about the big game.

And I’ve got my Dad Fast Eddie on board to cheer for them as well. I’ve given my Dad quite a few Broncos t-shirts over the years, including a new one just this last Christmas. I texted him after the Broncos big win and told him he better get the shirts ready for the Super Bowl. He said he thinks he has one for each quarter and for overtime as well.

denver-broncos-wallpaper,1366x768,58623 So Go Broncos! And it you’re not a big football fan, well there is always the commercials.

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2014: Make It Count

(This column appeared in the Jan. 7th issue of the Devils Lake Journal, published in my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota.)

I recently wrote an article about a lifelong resident of Brush who made a plethora of contributions to the community and also was a devoted family man. He was involved in just about every organization in Brush from the Chamber of Commerce to Rotary to the school and hospital boards and more. He was active in his church, serving, as his daughter said “in every possible capacity there.” He worked with the Colorado Historical Society to get historical designations for downtown buildings and money to restore them and formed the Brush Museum and Cultural Center. He raised three children and was involved in all of their activities. He and his wife traveled to each of the 50 states and throughout the world. When I interviewed his wife and two of his children they shared a letter he had written to his wife when he was serving in the Korean War. The deep love for his wife came pouring through in the letter and brought tears to my eyes.

As we embark on a new year learning about this incredible man’s life made me think about my own. Although I don’t make formal New Year’s resolutions I do use the approach of a new year as an opportunity to reflect where I am in my life, consider changes I might want to make and think about goals for the future. I don’t know that I could ever achieve what this man in Brush did, nor do I really have the desire, or energy, to do so. However I would like to make my mark on the world, be of service to others and also lead as fulfilling as life as I can. Here are 10 ways I hope to live my life in 2014 and beyond, in no particular order:

1) Laugh more – frown less.
2) More face time with friends and family – Facebook less.
3) Read more – TV less
4) Travel more – homebody less.
5) Volunteer more – me, me, me less
6) Write more – social media less
7) Clean more – bad feng shui less
8) Be positive more, whine less
9) Church more, not to church less
10) And, in the words of Ellen, be more kind to other people – judge less

I think if I can better abide by these ways of living, they also will lead me to achieve goals I have for myself, both personally and professionally and maybe also be a more valuable member of my community. Also, by putting them in writing for all who read this, I hope it will make me more accountable. I’ll review these from time to time and let you know how I’m doing.

Happy New Year!

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2013 Annual Report for My Blog

Hello blog followers! I can’t seem to figure out how to make my 2013 annual blog report appear in full in this post, so I’ll have to settle for a link to it. Some interesting stats about my blog for 2013 including the most popular blogs, who is visiting my site, etc.

I’m also adding a link to one of the favorite interviews I did in 2013 at my newspaper job. I interviewed a man who lives in my small town in Colorado named Ken Kenny, a former film editor, who was a friend of Jack Nicholson going to back to when they were boys growing up in New Jersey. Kenny collaborated with Nicholson on some of his early movie projects and even had a small role in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Kenny lives in a retirement home and has Alzheimer’s. I wasn’t sure what to expect during the interview, however, his memories of his time with Nicholson could not have been any clearer!


I’d love to hear from other bloggers on how to increase visits to your blog and getting more blog followers.

Happy blogging and Happy 2014!


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