July 2010

Things I learned on my trip to Minnesota trip last week.

1. When the television crawl line says "Severe Thunderstorm Warning" they aren't kidding. We drove in a down pour so heavy it bounced off the road and made a heavy mist so we couldn't see the white lines in the road. Lightning flashed constantly around us and the thunder was loud enough we could hear it over the pounding rain. It was like driving in a pinball machine. I know understand what they mean by "rain wrapped tornadoes" and I also know why a 90 year old man here in Oregon last month drove into the John Day River during a downpour. He survived thank goodness, thanks to a state policeman and the man's constitution, but when we turned off highway 52 onto county road 9 on the way to my brother's, we nearly drove off the road because we just couldn't see it for the downpour. But we made it thank the good Lord and we did! There was also this serendipitous connection with my work in progress: Clara once lived in Yellow Medicine County, MN and the thunder storm and tornado warnings went out for that county too!

2. Jerry doesn't look 80 years old. He says he's just a day older than he was the day before his birthday. He weathered the trip well but is taking it slow today. He had many cakes including an ice cream cake and a pineapple upside down cake. I gave him a card of a very sick looking bulldog with cake all around him that read "This is your brain on cake."

3. Chickens will steal each other's chicks. My sister-in-law's laying hens each had their first babies, one each. The brown chicken hovered around the blond hen who didn't want to leave her nest that was too high up for her baby to get back into it at night so the brown hen took the blond chick over. Much ruckus ensued. But by morning, all was well. The blond chicken put herself between her baby and the brown hen who apparently got the message and went back to pecking up worms into little pieces for her baby to eat. My sister-in-law also brought the blond hen's nest down to a level where to baby could get back into it. Barb also picked that baby up and stuck it's little beak into the watering trough. First drink. Sustaining life.

3. It might be less scratchy to walk in a cornfield than through nettles but not after a two inch downpour in less than two hours that made the rich earth grab at our shoes. My new walking shoes captured mud from that cornfield and gave me two inches of extra height by the time we reached a gravel road. My brother and sister-in-law walk every morning. It was quite a hike with their three dogs trailing us or acting as scouts along the creek near Red Wing where they live. It made me miss our dogs and appreciate the dry walk beside the river.

4. The new Winona History Center is a glorious building and we had a great turnout for our event there. Plus...they're interested in The Daughter's Walk so maybe I'll be back! Lots of Norwegians in that area and people who love history and stories of fascinating women.

5. My mother's care-giving (she was a nurse) must be a family DNA code because my aunts and uncle and cousins took such good care of us while we were in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Aunt Corinne found gluten free food to die for and fixed wonderful meals and told more stories. BTW, she says Jessie (her mom) from my books wouldn't have a cat in the house so that part of the book is definitely fiction! My uncle Ron sat in the green room while I did my stint on KARE-11 (you can see last years and this year's interviews on my cousin's YouTube production http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kNNq4K-sQM along with a shot of my grandmother Jessie playing pool in her later years :) Cousin Tom Anderson made the production putting together the Barnes and Noble events from last year and this year. In the green room at the tv station we met The Pines, two young men from Iowa making it big in bluegrass music scenes around the world. Really nice gentlemen. http://www.myspace.com/thepinesspace Another Cousin Ross located five copies of the St. Paul Pioneer Press with an article in it about Jessie and his wife Pat, baked gluten free brownies for me. I might look like a blimp...but it's because there was so much love from Minnesota and Wisconsin people.

6. Met a brand new cousin on my dad's side in my home town of Mondovi, Wisconsin. AND, we got to see another cousin's wonderful home that is filled with color. Linda is a designer and she tells the story of going into Sears as a child and taking the paint chip strips and hiding them in her stockings so her mom wouldn't see (Sears didn't mind, her mother did!). She'd take them home, cut them up and just play with them. She's now a fabulous home designer who flies around the country doing interior decorating. what we love as kids.... Now, I use those same paint chips in my writing classes because I liked the words on them, and not just the color.

7. Age is no determining of the love to read. My oldest relative, aunt Idella, in her 90s and still going strong despite her fading eyesight. I hand-delivered the audio version of An Absence so Great to her.

8. New readers ask great questions at events. Authors love new questions and comments and one man said reading my books was like listening to music. What a lovely compliment. I need to spend more time in the Winona river town with people who love history and because there's another Christian writer living there, Charlene Ann Baumbich, who invited me to share a cup of tea and talk as she puts it "things writerly." We just didn't have time. www.charleneannbaumbich.com to check out her website and she writes humor, too.

9. The reflection on the windows in the tram at the airport made me look tall and thin. I know it is the glass because my suitcase looked as thin as an IPad and it was filled with my sister-in-law's bean dip and two frozen range chickens along with underwear and an umbrella among other things. I'd also just eaten so many gluten free things so I know I wasn't actually tall and thin!

10. My brother let me read his journal entry for when we visited with him this past week for just three days. It was poignant and loving especially his image that our visits (and theirs when they come west) were like pieces of a quilt, our lives being patched together with various threads that keep us warm despite the distance. It's always rushed when we are there: trying to see my nephews, doing book events, dancing around the weather. I've always been grateful that we've made the effort to stay connected often enough that we have things to say, know the stories to follow up with. If we didn't talk at least weekly, we might have nothing to say after awhile and I'd miss that terribly. He is my living link to our parents and sister and to a part of who I am, my moods, my passions, my fears. Losing him would be as great an ache as losing Jerry though in a different way, a different patch on the quilt of our lives. I'm grateful he and his family are there.

Those are a few of my lessons learned in Minnesota. You might consider your past week and see what you can come up with as new learnings. The year is half-over. I have so much more to learn.

Warmly, Jane