Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gobble, Gobble

Norman Rockwell's classic Thanksgiving painting
Happy Thanksgiving to all my wonderful family members, friends and all you dear blog readers.  I'm so grateful  you are in my life.  I'm looking forward to a terrific Thanksgiving Thursday, complete with turkey and all the fixings. I hope you are too.

I'm especially looking forward to it because I don't personally have to prepare anything!  Huzzah.

You see, I've been invited to my neighbors for the holiday.  The Thanksgiving meals they fix usually look like the above painting, without the grandparents, or maybe even something like this:

It's true!  My neighbors are delightful cooks!:
I'm dreaming of a plate that looks something like this:

Or, perhaps like this:

Times about three...  with rolls and butter and probably some PIE.  Because Thanksgiving is as much about eating as it is about getting together with people you love.

What about you?  What's your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal?

For me, I think it's pumpkin pie.

I just wanted to take a moment and say I'm grateful for the blessings that are in my life. I live in a great country, I have a loving family, a kitty who loves me, good friends and a job I enjoy.  These are tremendous blessings.

Thanksgiving just seems to evoke Norman Rockwell paintings, so I'll throw in another:

.. Each according to the dictates of his own conscience
That is the freedom that we enjoy in America.  It's truly something to be grateful for.
So please have a very happy Thanksgiving, wherever you may be in the world!

Look for my next post on Monday, December 2nd.  Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

John and Gayle at Pembroke College

The boats all ready for punting on the Cam
I have a dear friend whom I've known since we were practically babies.  His name is John and he's one of those wonderful guys who has made a big difference in the lives of many, many kids through his work as a high school counselor, mentor, coach, Boy Scout leader, and heaven knows what else.  He and his beautiful wife Gayle were able to take a lovely trip to England and France recently, and have graciously let me share their photos with you!

John and Gayle and their crewman Derek
Punting on the Cam
The University of Cambridge, located in Cambridge, England is the second oldest university in the English speaking world.  It is located on the River Cam - get it?  Cam - Bridge.  There, you learned something and you're only a couple of paragraphs in!

Okay, maybe you already knew that.  Never mind.  I'll try to curb my enthusiasm.

A punt is a shallow, flat-bottomed boat that is steered with a long pole.  Kinda like the gondolas in Venice.  I assume the weather is better in Venice, but Fall in England can be lovely, too.  My friends were lucky to see quite a bit of sunshine on their trip and enjoyed their punting experience on the River Cam!

Derek, the boatsman, is actually getting a Master's Degree at Cambridge.  He says that he's up to giving free tours and punting on the Cam to friends who visit as long as he doesn't have a class or a big project due that day!  Good fellow! Really cute, too.  John writes, "It's always nice to have an insider show you around!"

Pembroke College
John and Gayle's visit to Cambridge included a meal at Pembroke College.  Pembroke is one of the 31 colleges that constitute Cambridge University.  Pembroke is the third oldest college in the university and has over seven hundred students and fellows.  It is named after the Earl of Pembroke, whose widow, Marie St. Pol, was given a license to found a new educational establishment by my ancestor, King Edward III on Christmas Eve 1347.

Yes, you heard me: 1347.  Sailing to America wasn't even a gleam in Chris Columbus's eye in 1347...

Notable Pembroke alumni include poet Edmund Spencer, Prime Minister William Pitt the younger, and Eric Idle of Monty Python fame.  (Now, those are 3 names you don't see grouped together often! Ha.)

The college is large, with buildings from almost every century since its founding, as well as extensive gardens.

Pembroke College Dining Hall
My friends dined at the college dining hall.  John writes, "No owls delivering mail on this particular day..."

Dinner at Pembroke
Their meal consisted of lamb meatball casserole.  Looks pretty good!

Then on to the colorful village of Lavenham.
Lavenham, England
"I didn't build these houses in Lavenham," John writes, "but I think they used my tools!"

Ahem!  We're not THAT old, John!

Hope you enjoyed this little tour of Pembroke at Cambridge, England.  There will be more posts of John and Gayle's trip in the future.  Stay tuned!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Livia at the Petting Zoo

Meeting Mr. Bunny
There are very few things I like better than photos of kids with animals.  These of my little grand-niece Livia at the petting zoo are just precious.

When you are 2 years old, the whole world is new and exciting.

I love how the animals are such good photo models!  it makes for great photo ops.

This little guy looks pretty new.

One kid meeting some others...
 Okay, now.  Let's just have one big, "Awwwww!"

Why, I do believe that's me on the right!

Bad Jack

Look at me, Mom!
For many years now, I've appreciated the sanctity of the mantel above my fireplace.  It has been the place to put expensive collectibles - mainly because it was the only "cat free" area of my small apartment.

Well, all that came to an end recently when Jack realized he was a strong enough jumper to get up there.


I tried moving the armchair farther away from the wall, but I quickly discovered that it was a lost cause. He was going to get up there no matter what, now, because he knew he could do it.

I decided the most prudent course of action was to move the most delicate crystal and other breakables out of his way.

Poor Jack.

He just couldn't understand why I didn't share his joy over this new-found skill.  He is, after all, descended from the mountain cats of Thailand (he's part Korat).  It's in his nature to climb.  Now, in the evenings, he will sit up there and stare down at me, just to see if I'm looking.
What's the matter, mom?
I didn't want to encourage him, but he was so pleased with himself I found myself eventually saying (I couldn't help it!), "Why look at you!  What a terrific climber you are!  You have such strong legs!  What a jumper!"

Cat kids.   What do you do with them?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Off to the MTC

Elder Anders mugging for the camera before heading off for the MTC
Serving a mission is a rite of passage for young Mormon men.  I think of a funny song by Lynn Bryson that was popular in my BYU days.  The chorus went something like this, "Every girl would like to marry, a Return Mission Mormon-ary".   Returned missionaries (RMs) are a hot commodity on the LDS marriage market!

My nephew, Elder Anders, took off yesterday in a blaze of glory.  He's got two years before he reaches RM status.  However, I'll bet it goes by quickly.

Christian, Nils, Anders and Mom Kirsti
There were a few photo ops along the way to saying good-bye for two years.

There was also a "traditional" lunch at Denny's restaurant.  Denny's in Provo, Utah, has had a long-standing policy of letting missionaries eat for free. (Good for them!)  So, that's where the family headed for lunch before dropping Anders off at the Missionary Training Center, or MTC, as it's called..

The family at Denny's in Provo
My oldest nephew, Daniel, had his "last meal" here at this Denny's some years ago before departing to the German/Austrian mission.  My second nephew, Nils, also had his "last meal" here before leaving for his service in Mexico.

Many years ago, Dad Jay served as a missionary in Sweden.  There wasn't a family to drop him off, nor an outing to Denny's for him, poor kid. I remember driving him to the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport for his flight to Salt Lake City, and from there he was on his own.  I'm glad he's been able to provide a better experience for his children.

Nils and Anders
Nils returned from his mission in January of  this year and is now attending Brigham Young University.  Now Anders begins his 2-year tour of service for the Lord.  Not a bad tradition!

Not so "Future" any more!
We have time for one last photo op!

And then, off he goes as part of God's Army.

Can't wait to hear all about his experiences!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bon Voyage, Elder Anders!

Our 3 Eagle Scouts: Nils, Daniel and Anders
My nephew Anders is heading for the Mission Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah today, preparatory to serving as a Latter-day Saint missionary to the good folks of Fort Worth, Texas for the next two years.

He follows in the footsteps of his older brothers, shown above. Daniel (in the middle) served in the Germany/Austria.  Nils (on the left) served in Mexico.  All three are Eagle Scouts.

These are great guys.  I hope the people of Texas realize how lucky they are!

Okay, I know they won't.  They won't even care at all.  But being a proud aunt, I can wish for everyone to see how great (and talented and very very smart) Anders is.

Bless you, Elder Anders, as you embark on this exciting journey of service and self-discovery!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Scandinavian Holiday Party

Mr. Johnson watches the Swedish dancers streak by
This past weekend I tried Lutefisk for the first time ever.  You might wonder how an old Norskie like me has avoided that for so many years.  The reason is my family didn't like it and didn't serve it for Christmas! We had pork roast instead.  (Smart people.)

What is Lutefisk, you say?

Well, it is cod fish, soaked in lye to preserve it through a long, harsh, Nordic winter.  It stinks to high heaven, and it is rather gelatinous in consistency.

Lutefisk with butter
Sunday evening I attended a real Scandinavian holiday dinner lovingly prepared and hosted by the Vasa Lodge #660 at the Trinity Lutheran Church of Whittier, and I had an opportunity to finally try this interesting stuff.

I was surprised that I found it pretty good, once I got over the slimy mouth-feel of it.  It tasted like fish. With butter and potatoes, it really was tasty.  I could see why people preserved the fish and the delicate cod flavor this way.  It would probably keep indefinitely.

The sign says "Welcome" in Swedish
Norwegians call it Lutefisk, Swedes call it Lutfisk.  Same stinky stuff.
The Vasa organization started as a Swedish-American fraternal organization to help Swedish immigrants learn the English language and how to get along in their new country.  Over the past century it has morphed into more of a social group open to all of Scandinavian descent.  It fosters education and a cultural exchange for Scandinavian traditions of all kinds.  That means that a person of mostly Norwegian heritage, like me, is welcome, as are those of Icelandic, Danish and Finnish heritage.

Standing in line for dinner
There are more than 150 local lodges in the Vasa Order throughout the United States, Sweden and Canada.

My neighbors enjoying their meal
The meal served was delicious  I had already eaten most of my beets by the time I realized I had forgotten to take a picture!

Going clockwise from the pickled beets: There was cucumber salad, pickled herring, Swedish Limpa bread, lutefisk in the middle (I just got a small taste), potato, meatballs with gravy and green beans.  There was also a cole slaw salad and a table with wine and spirits, cheese and crackers.  They brought lefse around, and also had risengrot (rice pudding) with raspberries for dessert.  All the food was very good.

My plate
Yummy was its name.
Lefse, by the way, is a thin, potato flour tortilla.

Pickled herring is, well, herring that's been pickled. I know it may look unappetizing, but it's REALLY tasty, and one of my favorite things. My sister-in-law makes a really yummy herring salad for Christmas dinner. You can make it several ways, for example with apples and onions, or in cream sauce, or with mustard sauce.  I once went to a party where there were four different pickled herring salads served with the meal. They were all delicious.

Pickled Herring
About an hour into the dinner service, the Swedish Dancers began performing.

The Accordion Player accompanied the Swedish Dancers who performed
The dancers performed several dances, Danish, Swedish and even a British folk dance.  It was lovely and fun to watch them.  Then, the real fun began!

The dancers wove through the audience, dragging audience members to their feet and forcing them to perform with them!

Just kidding.

They dragged audience members to their feet and gently cajoled them into joining them.

They began gathering at the dance area

People of all different ages participated!  

You can catch a little of the Swedish Dancers' costumes in some of these photos.
I regret not stopping them and just taking photos of their traditional clothing!

A controlled chaos erupted!

My friends Ray and David both got nabbed by the dancers for this tutorial
It's hard to get good photos when everyone is moving!
From what I could tell, the Folk Dance Troupe made it fun for everyone.

This kind of folk dancing is akin to our square dancing.  It's a good way for people to get to know one another.

Ray twirls his partner
The Johnsons sat at our table
The Johnsons sat with us at our table.  They were a lovely couple.  We had a good time talking about our various experiences in Scandinavia.  They shared with me that their name was originally the Swedish Johanson, but it got Americanized by Mr. Johnson's immigrant father when he arrived at Ellis Island.

Christmas gifts for sale

There were several tables set up with Scandinavian Christmas gifts for sale.
Dala Horses

I love these little dolls
The picture on the left shows the boy bearing the lutefisk barrel and struggling with the smell!
It was fun to see all this cute stuff, but my house is already full of these things, thank you!  Ha!

We had such a fun time at this event.  It was a good way to kick off the holiday season - which is coming way too quickly for my taste this year!

I was so grateful my friends were willing to come with me!  Thanks, everyone!

To discover more about the Vasa Order of America, go to

Photos: ME, and R Fry