Thursday, June 30, 2011


On Monday, I accompanied Sister Josue Behnen to St. Cloud Hospital, where she was giving a "lunch and learn" presentation on prayer. Sister Josue spent most of her working life as a nurse, including 17 years on mission in Taiwan, before joining the staff of the Spirituality Center and heading up the spiritual direction program.

When we got to the hospital, S. Josue told me that she learned the route from the monastery to the hospital from Sister Mary Jude Meyer. S. Josue was just back from Taiwan in the 1980s and going to begin working at the hospital. S. Mary Jude drove her and, at the first turn, a stoplight with a granite monument business on the left, she said, pointing: "When you see that tree, turn left."

The same thing happened at the next turn. "When you see that tree," she said, pointing to a good-sized tree and not the gas station or school on opposite corners, "turn right."

For S. Mary Jude, there were no street signs or landmarks more recognizable than the trees. Isn't that a wonderful way to see the world?

The photo above is of the monastery catalpa tree, currently in bloom. I don't remember these trees before I moved to Minnesota -- probably just because I wasn't paying attention. They only bloom a few days each year.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Snow Pea Season

This week marked the beginning of snow pea season. Snow peas are the crop where I feel like I'm starting to get my money's worth from the garden. Snow peas are expensive, and there is nothing like them. My other success in the garden is the appearance of a large head of broccoli. It's the first time I've successfully grown a head of broccoli, either from seed or seedling (I started these in the basement on a whim). Of the two other plants that survived, small heads have emerged, with little to no sign they plan on enlarging. I'll cut them off in a day or two and have them with pasta.

Tonight we had a bounteous stir fry with the last of the spinach (a good-size bag that filled the wok), the broccoli, an early onion and the first of the snow peas. I like this variety, Sutton's Harbinger, which I see looking back at the catalog is not actually a snow pea. That explains why it starts swelling when the peas are not very long. I've been eating them at only about two inches long, when the pods are still tender. I would like to have regular peas, however, so in a week or two I'll let them fully develop.

I planted Green Arrow peas in what is now officially "the dead zone," a quarter of one bed where nothing will grow. I planted the peas twice, then tried edamame, and finally tried Hidatsa beans. Nothing sprouted there, despite a profusion of growth on the potato plants opposite and peas at the other end of the bed. I'm going to leave it for the summer, now.

I'm almost finished with the early garden. Next year I won't bother with arugula or fancy lettuces (my endive turned out more like romaine). My early garden will be lettuce, spinach, radishes and kale (which started nicely inside). I'll plant more onions so I can harvest some green, and garlic bulbs in the fall to have scapes and then bulbs.

In this middle season, I'd like to have planted more potatoes so I could be digging up baby reds along with the peas. I won't bother with beans other than green beans next year. It would be nice to have some Swiss chard coming in (I planted that later) with the potatoes and peas.

It seems like all summer, all we do is wait on tomatoes. They have their run of three full beds, and they're so unhappy with the wind and the rain. Still, they hang in there, although they sulk and whine and flop around, leaning on the cages.

The other wonderful thing I saw today was a real ladybug. Not the smelly orange ones that clog the windowsills and walls, but a bright red, black-spotted ladybug. I can't remember the last time I saw one, and there it was, sitting on a leaf of a pea plant. The Colorado beetles have disappeared after I sprayed some organic stuff on the plants, and now here is this beneficial insect. It's heartening!

The ads for strawberry picking have begun to appear in the paper. Friday I will go to Willenbring's in Cold Spring to pick a flat. It will be nice to have some local fruit with all this vegetable bounty. And then it will be the 4th of July, which means the parish festival and the Joe Burger stand. Which means, of course, summer is really here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Eucharistic Minister

I have been a Eucharistic minister at my church for about a year. It is always a wonderful and moving experience. I was first trained as a Eucharistic minister in Southern Caliornia, by a wonderful woman who took the time to tell us what it was all about. In addition to the reverence factor, and how to shuffle a host back into the dish if someone dropped it, she told us, "Don't deal 'em out like cards. Present the host to the person and look the person in the eye. It is a joy to present the Eucharist to another. Don't be too serious and solemn about it." It is not a matter of distributing a bunch of communion wafers as quickly as possible so we can get out of there, it is a sacramental experience. And we are the ministers of this sacrament.

People do genuinely respond when you present the host to them, and generally they approach with a smile. It is a joyful experience for everyone, from mumbling, awkward teens to mothers and fathers with children on their hips to older people. It is also a full experience of community. Our whole community, most of whom you don't ever see, approach the front of the church for communion. What first surprised me, and now continues to gladden my heart, is the number of older farmers. Their hands are grained with dirt, some of their fingers are misshapen or even, occasionally, missing. The act of them putting out their hands and me placing the communion wafer in their palms is, truly, art.

This morning one of the other Eucharistic ministers was a man whose house was foreclosed on several months ago, after a long battle. He had told us about a recent experience when his car broke down. He was walking home from where he'd had to abandon the car and a man from the parish picked him up. Together, they made arrangements for the car, and then this man drove him home. About a half hour later, the man showed up at the apartment and gave the man whose home had been foreclosed on $300 in cash. Knowing what I do, about how this man has struggled with his own business and his wife has been downsized, I found this story quite affirming. This morning, I watched the man who had given the money receive communion from the man who received that earlier gift, very matter of fact and as it is done each week. It only caught my attention for a moment, then I turned and offered communion to his wife, a woman I used to work with and whom I admire very much.

There are times when you feel the privilege of being part of a community, and this was one.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


As my vegetable gardening ramps up, I'm less and less interested in flower gardening. We have terraced beds along the side of the house and the first year I stuck in a bunch of oriental lily bulbs which have been dramatic every year. I fill in other spaces with annuals, the customary border of alyssum, and have gradually been adding other perennials like lilies. In the really shady space, since I don't like hostas, I put in some columbine this year, which will probably take over...

I did transplant some of my favorite flowers from my garden in Cold Spring when I moved, including my absolute favorites, the siberian irises. I am not in general an iris fan, since they seem more leaves than anything, and I find their "beards" somewhat lewd. But the elegance and vibrance of the siberian iris, even before it blooms, and its thin, spiky leaves, always make me happy.

This year, I also had these three giant dianthus plants come back. I still can't quite believe it, but there they are. Everything I've read says they're an annual, but as soon as the ground thawed, their green leaves were visible. They made it through a Minnesota winter! So I don't have to wait until August for them to be big and full of blooms. Next year I won't pull out any of my dianthus at the end of the season-- we'll see if they make another encore.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Police Blotter June 2011

It's been a while since I've posted any of the always amusing entries from our local police blotter. I still don't know who writes these, but that person really should be submitting his/her work to "instant fiction" contests.

May 26
1:34 p.m. Property damage accident. CR 121 and Jade Road. A 43-year-old St. Joseph male was heading north on CR 121 when a deer came fromt he west side of the road, running into his vehicle. There was some damage to the vehicle including the driver's side mirror breaking off and being thrown into the vehicle. The mirror hit the driver's face and made a small cut. Male wanted deer so officer issued a permit. Officer assisted with loading the deer and cleared the accident.

June 2
7:37 p.m. Neighbor dispute. Iverson Street W. A 34-year-old St. Cloud male and a 44-year-old St. Joseph female both called police stating the other party was yelling at them and threatening each other about getting kicked out and taking care of the kids. Officer received two different stories about how it started and what was said. Officer adviced they should stay away from each other and each other's kids or citations might be in order so a judge could take care of it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Jayhawks and Me

Reunited Jayhawks Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg, Mark Olson, Gary Louris and Tim O'Reagan
Last night a friend and I went to hear Gary Louris "and friends" play in St. Cloud at the Paramount Theater. It turned out to be a Jayhawks minus Mark Olson show. The friends were Karen Grotberg, Tim O'Reagen, Marc Perlman, all members of the Jayhawks since the late 1980s,and Jim Boquist, who played with Louris in the band Golden Smog and also plays with Son Volt. I'm thinking since the Jayhawks with Mark Olson are putting out a new album in the fall, they didn't want to bill under that name and give people the expectation that they'd be playing early music by that band. However, they did focus on the three albums made by the Jayhawks after Olson left, Sound of Lies, Smile and Rainy Day Music. Perlman, O'Reagan and Louris were at the heart of these three albums, and Grotberg played on many tracks even after she left the band in 1999.

Before the show, I had a drink at the White Horse Bar with my friend Nancy, who loves music and plays music in a folk band (there seems to be nothing she can't play, but flute and mandolin are her strengths), and who has six children ages 5-16. Although the night was billed as an "accoustic set," I told her to expect lots of amplification and maybe even a few electric instruments. Indeed, Louris played an accoustic guitar and Grotberg a grand piano, but the lead guitarist and bass were electric. I then began telling her how the Jayhawks fit into music history and my own.

You see, it all began with Gram Parsons. He brought country to the Rolling Stones and the Byrds. Then he died and they set his body on fire in Joshua Tree, California. He was discovered by some guys, The Jayhawks, who began this sort of movement in the 1980s in the Midwest called Americana, Alt Country or No Depression. The Jayhawks went as far as they could nationally, but by the time they hit it big, they were in massive debt to the record companies for the promotion and touring costs necessary to get them where they got, and thoroughly disillusioned with it all.

And Mark Olson met Victoria Williams, a hippie Christian singer/songwriter from Joshua Tree, California, who was hitting her own stride but keeping it small because she had been diagnosed with MS. Mark left the band and made music with her in Joshua Tree under the name "The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers," eventually whittled down to "The Creekdippers."

My heart is with Mark Olson and the Creekdippers. When I got together with my first husband, George, I was a big Victoria Williams fan, and he introduced me to The Jayhawks. It seemed a culmination of our own relationship when the two of them got together. We went to small, late-night shows in Chicago to see them and played their music all the time. George bought a boxed set of The Byrds and started "encoding it in [his] DNA," to get deeper into the heart of this kind of music. He bought the Anthology of American Folk Music assembled by Harry Smith, an eclectic set of 78 tunes also at the heart of this music. We went to hear Lucinda Williams live, and worshipped Gillian Welch's first record, Revival. I was partial to Freakwater and the female vocalists, and of course we filled in our collection with Uncle Tupelo records. They had already broken up, so we went to an early show by Son Volt (really too darn loud) and listened to Wilco. We went to see the Bottle Rockets. One Tuesday eventing we even got to see Bob Dylan in a small venue.

Listening to and talking about this music was a large part of my life then. And at the heart of it really was The Jayhawks. I didn't much like the three albums after Olson left, preferring the truer folk and missing the complexity and harmonies of their earlier work. Louris had a love of 70s rock and roll and a little too much earnestness in his long line of songs about love gone sour. It didn't surprise me last night when he said "Trouble" was one of his favorite songs.

Still, I knew all the words to all those songs. I no longer own the CDs-- I lost them in the divorce. These older, still talented, comfortable musicians making solid music (the tickets were an astonishing $8) moved me. It's been a few weeks of nostalgia, beginning with my 25th college reunion, and this concert was heartwrenching in the places it took me. It was an effect only music can have. That, and the sight of four people on the stage (plus Jim Boquist!), all in their 50s I'm thinking, who have lived in and out of loves, had children, made music with many different people of many different varieties, and come back together now and then.

The last time I saw George was at a Gillian Welch show in Los Angeles. It was a small venue. I was there with friends, and he was there with the woman he left me for-- a woman who, with her husband, had accompanied us to a Wilco show and a Bottle Rockets show. (There's another story of seeing the Creekdippers at The Brown Derby in LA that is too long to tell but really emphasizes how this betrayal go mixed up in the music.) Out of the corner of my eye I could see his new girlfriend working it, facing away from the stage, her arms around his neck as she sang they lyrics to him along with Welch. I didn't feel anything except how pathetic and sad it all was. Shortly after I left California for Minnesota, I learned that Mark Olson and Victoria Williams had broken up, too, and he was wandering around Europe. Eventually he made his way back to Minnesota, too, and now there will be a new album from those early Jayhawks. I'm looking forward mostly to the harmonies.

Last night there were moments of heartache. But also, as there had been all day, as I worked in my lovely garden, bringing in 1000 more pounds of dirt and compost for the final beds (in the end I have the equivalent of 15 raised beds), there was a sense that I have arrived at the place I started out for a long time ago. It is a place of simple living and gardens, of good food and love-- and music. And this music, which I so love, like so much of what I love, is here, still going on.

For an earlier post on Louris and Olson, click here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Blues Salad

With good weather, the mind as well as the body does seem to come alive. I could probably be writing three blog entries a day with all that's going on in my head. I hope to get at least a few thoughts down.

But let's stick to the subject of salads for the moment. Last year when I was editing the weekly newsletter for Common Ground Garden, the monastery's CSA garden, a recipe caught my eye for "Blues Salad." It's a salad served at The Local Blend, the coffee shop in town. I had never thought of making and had never been served a blueberry salad dressing before.

Finally, today, I made it, and it is well worth sharing. I made some changes to the original recipe. The dressing called for 4 tsp of sugar and I also didn't have craisins. I think with those two, you might be approaching Fruit Loops level of sweetness. Really, it's about the feta, walnuts and blueberries: Feel free to add more sugar to the dressing if it doesn't work for you.

Blues Salad

   courtesy of The Local Blend, St. Joseph, Minnesota
1 serving mixed greens
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts or slivered almonds
2 Tbsp craisins (I didn't have craisins and didn't miss them)
1-2 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
blueberries (Instead of craisins, it works well to sprinkle a few blueberries on if they're fresh.)

Blueberry Dressing
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed
2 tsp sugar
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp fresh lemon rind (I didn't bother with this)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Make the dressing in a food processor until smooth. If you like it less thick, add some water. I used sunflower oil and probably more like 2 Tbs.

Serve over fresh salads, steamed asparagus, fresh fruit salads, or grilled or poached chicken.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Salad Days

tomato plants at Heritage Farm, Decorah, Iowa
I officially began eating garden salads on June 1, and that has been my dinner mainstay every day since. (I admit, I was gone three days to Iowa.) I find that not only does food taste better from the garden, but you're much more willing to put in the time washing and preparing it! I now get home just as tired as I always am, but for some reason what I most want to do is go out and pick lettuce, spinach, arugula and the occasional beet green and come in and wash and dry the stuff.

Looking for a way to supplement the lettuces, I cooked up a pot of lentils one day and made a jar of something called John's Oil and Vinegar Dressing (and which I am calling and labeling "Tahini Dressing" from the great cookbook From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce put together by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition. I picked up the book on my trip to Heritage Farm/Seed Savers in Decorah, Iowa, last weekend. This cookbook has absolutely the best collection of simple, few-ingredient preparations for vegetables that grow in Midwestern gardens.

I've had salads topped with salmon with a sweet chili sauce dressing and with potatoes, lentils, artichoke hearts and the tahhini dressing. Radishes, of course. But by far the best meal was the first homemade pizza of the season. It only took slightly over an hour from start to finish and in that time I made the mozzarella, made the dough with the whey, picked and cleaned the spinach, sauteed the spinach, onion and a few leftover mushrooms, put the pizza together and baked it for 18 minutes. It made me very, very happy.

This week we had a 101 degree day (Tuesday) and today was in the low 60s. And the wind has been fierce, continuing to batter my peppers and tomatoes. I brought back two roma plants and an heirloom to replace some of my more wind-battered plants last week, only to submit them to this week's onslaught.

The real bad news in the garden this week is that both pear trees have died and tent worms/army worms have infested the apple trees. I killed them off yesterday, and bought a bottle of spinosad-- just in time because today, I can't believe it, but I discovered Colorado beetles on my potato plants! How can that be? I expected them to maybe show up late in the season, but no! I crushed every bug-- they're insanely defenseless because when you get close they just roll up and play dead. Tomorrow, everything will get a good spraying.

Tomorrow is the Farmer's Market, and I'm hoping there is still asparagus. I'll also pick up some green onions. Even without asparagus, I've got another week's worth of greens-- plus 2-3 meals of kale-- and then hopefully the snow peas that are blossoming now will be kicking in. I'm thrilled to see if I can keep this going...

John's Oil and Vinegar Dressing (a.k.a. Tahini Dressing)

1 cup red wine vinegar (I used white and a little balsamic to deepend the flavor)
1 cup olive or canola oil (I used local sunflower oil)
1 Tbs horseradish mustard
5 Tbs tahini
1 Tbs honey
1 pinch salt
1 pinch pepper

Mix ingredients in a container (I used an empty maple syrup bottle with a good pouring lid) and pour on greens. Also good on lentils and potatoes, beans, etc.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Installation Day

Sunday the monastery where I work installed a new prioress. I was at my college reunion in Grinnell, Iowa, from Thurs-Sat noon, and drove back to be on duty for the event. When someone asked why I had to go back, I said, "The monastery where I work is having the installation of a new prioress on Sunday." She looked very confused. "What's a prioress?"
Before I could answer, someone said, "It's the piece between the queen and the knight."
"That's right," I said. "She can only move diagonally."

The prioress is the spiritual leader of a Benedictine monastery. The Rite of Installation, celebrated with the Sisters of the monastery, the new prioress's family and me, as the communications director, feeling very lucky to be there, makes clear that the prioress is a representative of Christ for the community.

Much is made of treating everyone as Christ in St. Benedict's Rule and the Benedictine way of life. The motto is expressed in a number of ways: "Greet/Welcome all as Christ," "Love all as Christ," and "Treat all as Christ." This last informs the Benedictine health care system, injecting a dose of humility into what can sometimes be a dehumanizing institution. It is probably the most wonderful thing about the monastery: The love the Sisters have for each other. This love is translated as caring and any manner of expression but also as charity for one another. I always think this is the basis for "seeing Christ" in the other and, more importantly, seeing the other as Christ sees us.

So I think that the prioress has a lucky assignment. She gets to see as Christ, to be Christ to the Sisters. That does not mean she isn't called to challenge them or direct and redirect. But I do believe that real joy is loving others, and she is called to love.

I wrote the blog entry today for the Sisters' blog about the installation. For more about what happens during a Rite of Installation, click here.