Have you entered the storehouses of the snow...Job 38:22

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I’m in an odd mood today. I’m not sure it is a good mood or bad mood.  It is probably neither, it just is odd.  I had an odd dream about people I used to know in CT.  He was a leader at the Senior and Disabled Center in Newington and she was British.  She was the first one to suggest my youngest daughter’s name.  I knew the name, but she was the one who suggested it for the child I was carrying.  I could recall her name but couldn’t his.  Finally, it came.  However, their last name still escapes me.

It started me thinking about the past.  I am thinking about loss.  I was thinking about people I’ve known who still matter to me but who have gotten so busy that they’ve forgotten me.  It seems that the human plight is to forget.  We forget so quickly people who loved us, worked hard for us, cared for us and prayed for us.  People like a former pastor.  Or friend who I gave my heart and soul to that never bother to answer an email or keep in touch.  I guess that’s the way life is – people move on.  I told my grandson the other night that friends come and go and occasionally, if you are lucky, you’ll find a lifelong friend.  It is family that usually will be there for you.

However, that’s not completely true either.  I have two brothers.  When we had our last angry parting, one of the brothers said something like this: “I don’t think we want to be the type of people that down the road say I once had a sibling but I don’t know anything about them.”  I said I didn’t care.  I still don’t really care.  It’s just I am still hurt and angry about how they treated me.  I still want to scream at them.  This Christmas as money was so tight with food and presents scant I thought how the chain goes back to their greediness for money that didn’t belong to them.  I thought of the terrible things they did to my mother and to me. I thought of lying to my mother that they cared and their presence was there. But there is nothing I can do about it.

But we never were destined to be close.  I came when they were half grown.  They moved on in their lives and never had time for me.  It’s the same with some of my own children.  The eldest ones hardly know the younger ones.  I hope and pray that they do always remember that they are their siblings and treat them right though.

I guess I’m feeling sad about losses today.  There have been a lot of them.  My life has been turned upside down and rearranged so many times.  There have been too many moves and no opportunity to have roots.  There have been too many friends that I have loved that have forgotten me-too many family members who forget.  A career that fell on the rocks because of evil vindictive people and so many missed opportunities – they do take their toll.

Yet, I have hope for the future.  I’ve lost all hope at times.  I know the depths of despair and depression.  I know how it feels to be cast-off and abandoned.  But I’ve learned to stop.  To stop and reflect rather than react so you can choose.  I still need a lot of practice in stopping.  In my sadness today I am stopping and saying I can choose.  I am not powerless.  I can choose.  I can choose to believe the truth.  I can choose to have hope. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tennessee Christmas

It’s Christmas morning.  Overnight, God took his sifter and dusted the trees and ground with white snow.  It’s pretty.  Snow and Christmas just go together.  Here are some of the views from my windows in Tennessee.

It’s nothing like the snow that falls in South Dakota.  It isn’t like the snow that falls in Connecticut or the snow of my youth in New York City.  Truly South Dakota is a storehouse of snow.

I will probably never know all the reasons God sent me to the storehouse of snow.  I am sure that years from now, I’ll still be pondering this experience, trying to make sense of both its pain and occasional joys.  As hard as I tried, when ultimately we leave and return south, I will miss some people very deeply.

We had a good Christmas.  It could have been very slim.  A “savior” stepped in and saved us.  We were able to shop and have a meal.  Last night it was ziti, sauce, and meatballs, simple food to get us to the main event of reading the Christmas story and opening presents.  Everyone had plenty to eat.  A few cookies, a slice of julekake, a cup of coffee before the fun began.

I guess I like tradition.  When I was a young mother with two small boys, I decided that we needed them.  There was never any doubt that we’d open presents on Christmas Eve.  I am Norwegian.  That’s an absolute.  I wanted my children to hear the Christmas story as part of their festivities.  Every Christmas Eve the tradition is that the youngest child who can read, reads the story.  My youngest daughter is so glad there are some grandchildren around; she had that honor for many years.  This year we deviated, I had my 17 year old grandson read Luke 2:1-20.  I video recorded it.  It is such a testimony to God’s faithfulness.  You can read more about this here.

Sometimes I pray, sometimes I don’t.  That part of the tradition never stuck.  Then the youngest child opens a present.  In turn, youngest to oldest each person gets a chance to open.  Each one waits their turn.  Some people may like mayhem but I always wanted to see the look on each child’s face as they opened their present.  It was like savoring a fine meal.  I can still see my children when they were young as their eyes burst open and the squeals came out. 

Over the last few years, our Christmases have had a hollowness to them.  Too many of the family is missing.  I still have allusions of massive family Christmases.  When the children were little I would imagine all 8 of them home for Christmas.  We’ve swelled to a small tribe of over 20 but we only had eight last night.  But there was joy.  There was a joy in the family I haven’t experienced for a while.  Maybe it’s me.  Maybe the long days and nights in the storehouse of snow have changed me.  I know they have and like Mary, I ponder them in my heart.

I miss my mother.  I sat in the chair she normally sat in at Christmas.  She’d say with each gift, “oh, I don’t deserve this.”  After a box of tea, a new shirt, new pj’s, perhaps some jars of jelly, she’d go off to her room for the night with tears in her eyes.  Yet, I know that she is in heaven with my dad, with her best friend Marguerite who joined her a few months after she got there.  She’s there to hug the child I lost, the grandchild I lost and all the others who have gone.  She’s happy.  She’s very happy.  She’s a peace.  Most of all, she’s seen Jesus.

It’s another Christmas.  In a few days we’ll head back to the storehouses of snow for more lessons.  I’m a better student now.  I’m ready for the snow.  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holding Your Nose

When I was a kid, most medicines were not flavored.  Like the old Little Rascal’s series where Alfalfa has to take medicine and he puts a clothes pin on his nose, I wished for a clothes pin.  I would occasionally hold my nose.  I remember taking aspirin.  I think you could buy children’s flavored aspirin, good ol’ St. Joseph’s.  I don’t know whether it was because it sounded Catholic and we avoided all things Catholic as a child or if it was that it just cost unnecessary money but we never had it.  Instead my mother would take an aspirin, break it in two and then two again.  The ¼ aspirin would then be crushed between two spoons.  A few drops of water were added along with some sugar.  My mother would come with the spoon saying I needed to drink some sugar water.  It did mask the aspirin taste a little bit.  It was a good day when I finally learned to swallow a pill.

My experience in South Dakota is a bit like taking medicine that tastes bad.  I have always known deep in my soul that God was in control and He had a purpose in sending me to South Dakota.  I don’t much get into discussions of God’s perfect will.  I don’t know if this was “His will.”  I do know that God is with us where ever we go and that He does work all things for our benefit. 

While it is true that I came kicking and screaming up here, I’ve never doubted there was a reason, a purpose to it all.  I’ve experienced a lot of pain in this South Dakota crucible.  You’ve read about it here on these pages.  There will be more pain.  There is always more pain in this life.  Anyone who tells you different is delusional or just not honest.  I am not saying all pain is good either.  But pain tells you something is wrong.  Pain demands you deal with it.

I’ve been dealing with pain I had neglected for the last few years here in this frozen desert.  I have feared for my sanity and my life.  I have cried many tears.  I have asked many questions.  I have come to the brink of despair and even death.  My emotions have been raw.  I experienced another dark night of the soul.  I found that in one’s life you can experience this more than once.  I begged God for relief.  I sought help and prayed even when I couldn’t pray. 

I’ve survived.  I’ve not only survived but I’m better.  Not better in the sense that a flaw has been righted but in the sense that I am a better person.  I have chased demons that have haunted me all my life in this wilderness of snow.  I have slayed a few and learned how to fight the others that still occasionally show their heads.  It’s not been easy.

I’ve learned so many things about myself, Joyce has been uncovered.  Joyce has been found once again.  She is ready to live the rest of her life.  She has hope once again.  The crucible always refines you.  I’ve held my nose and taken my medicine.  There was no spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down.  But I’ve swallowed the medicine and it has made me whole. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Norwegian Chapati's

There is snow on the ground.  More is expected today.  A scant 2.4 inches is what the forecast says.  Nothing to get excited about in the Storehouse of Snow here in South Dakota.  I have Julekake proofing in the kitchen.  Plan to make some stew tonight for supper.  Just wish I had some good lamb to make lamb stew.  That was my favorite as a child and seem fitting when I think of Julekake and all things Norwegian.

I just finished listening to Jeg er så glad hver julekveld.  If you want to hear it, you can go here. It has such a haunting melody.  It reminds me of my childhood in Norwegian Brooklyn.  When the Julekake goes in the oven and the fragrance of cardamom fills the air, the memory will blossom further.

When I first came to South Dakota, other than seeing Mount Rushmore for the first time, the thing I was most excited about was reconnecting with Norwegians.  I remember my father and how he would seek out other Norwegians.  He loved connecting with his homeland and roots.  One time he somehow or other found some girl who was from Sweden who was attending William Woods College in Fulton MO.  I have no idea how he found her.  I do remember having to meet this striking blonde beauty.  She was a bit snobby.  However, my father just wanted to welcome her and make her feel comfortable. His father was Swedish.  Something we rarely talked about - but for my dad, Sweden was Norway's neighbor.  Living in Missouri that was about as close as he could get.

The first time we visited Brookings it was the weekend of the bi-annual Fjordland Sons of Norway Waffle Feed.  I really didn't expect authentic Norwegian waffles at a waffle feed.  Commercialized Belgium Waffles were the offered fare.  Sadly, I don't think they've ever tasted a true Norwegian waffle with lingonberry jam.  But I have.  I make them too - they are awesome.  I'll stack mine up against any Norwegian bakers.

My husband and I walked in to stares and glares.  I realized it was a small town but still, if you want to make money, you could be more pleasant.  Little did I know that this is just culture here.  I realized that yesterday as I walked the aisles of HyVee trying to be pleasant.  It's just how they are...

My husband feeling very magnanimous and over paid them.  He said this is a donation. He asked about membership. I'd love to know what was going through their heads as this Pakistan was asking to join Sons of Norway.  We asked to see the president of the lodge.  She was the only really pleasant person that day.  This trend has continued unfortunately.

We joined Sons of Norway.  I was rather excited.  I had never been a member of SONS.  I think when the eventual move back to Tennessee happens I'll try the Music City Vikings.  They look like a fun bunch.  My experience with Fjordland has been like everything else in South Dakota, very disappointing.  

The first year I was here in SD I decided to bake.  I made cookies and lefse.  I have always tried to do a bit of Norwegian baking for the holidays.  Nothing like my mom would do, but still an effort.  Here is a picture of a platter from that first year:

I was shocked to find out that here in SD they know nothing of Julekake or Fattigman.  I don't think they've ever heard Jeg er så glad hver julekveld, they've probably never been to a Juletrefest - and yet, somehow, they've never believed I was truly Norwegian.  How odd?!

Oh well, as they say, it's there loss.  I may have had a bad attitude in moving here, but I did try with things like Sons of Norway.  Really did want to connect with Norwegians here.  But the upper Midwest plains I guess took it's toll on them as well.  I'll enjoy my Julekake all by myself - oh and my Pakistani husband will be happy I made it too.  He even knows what it is.  And lefse?  He refers to them as "Norwegian Chapati's." I'll take mine with butter and sugar, no curry, thank you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Are you a senior?

I'm in TN.  It's cold.  Not as cold as the freezer I normally abide in, but nevertheless, it is cold.  My daughter was shivering yesterday as she asked me if it was as cold in South Dakota as it was here.  She of course knew the answer. She's been to South Dakota.  She was there last January and told me that it was the coldest she had ever been.  She hasn't been back since.

I am here because I have class on Saturday.  My last class of the semester will include the first introduction to our Statistics teacher.  I'm dreading that.  I'm dreading that more than the snow that will fly while I am taking that class.  I keep telling myself that I'm reasonably smart and that although math has always been my nemesis, I can do this.  I have panic attacks at the sight of an equation that includes a square root symbol, an x or a y.  I have glaze over every time we talk of research methods in class.  I think it's going to be a long hard winter, in more ways than one.

Hopefully the winter in Tennessee will be mild and I will find a reprieve from the weather here often.  I may have to be here for the month of February as I have two classes that month. And it's a short month!  Maybe I'll have more experiences like the one I had last night.

Rather than tell you again about my experiences in the grocery store or at Wal-Mart in South Dakota, let me tell you about the experience at Publix last night.  For those of you not familiar with southern grocery chains, here we have several.  One is Publix which is probably my favorite although a bit more expensive.  We also have Kroger and Harris Teeter.  Nashville is fully blessed to have Trader Joe's and Whole Foods as well.  I used to think shopping at Whole Foods was too expensive, that was until I went to Pomegranates in Sioux Falls the other day. YIKES!!!

I didn't want to go to the store.  I was tired.  I had things on my mind.  But we needed a few things and needed to eat at home instead of out.  I picked up eggs and veggies and bread.  Standard fare.  I was turning an aisle by the frozen food and it happened.  While it wasn't a near collision, it was close.  This very pleasant woman pushing her "buggy" (a southern term for a grocery cart - a term I refuse to make part of my vocabulary).  She smiled!  She smiled so nicely.  I smiled back.  We went on about our business.  I called my husband at home and said you'll never guess what happened.  This woman and I had a brief exchange of pleasantness in Publix.  It was such a big deal to me that I had to share it.  Just like I'm sharing it with you.

I got to the check out.  The young man, looked like he was still in High School had evidently been taught manners.  He asked the standard, did you find everything you needed?  I said yes, thank you.  He said EXCELLENT! and smiled.  He went on to ask me how my day had been.  This was 9:30 p.m.  He must have been up at 6 a.m. to get to school on time.  He'd no doubt dealt with the hassles and stress of High School algebra - yes, I'm thinking about math again.  Nothing could be more stressful than Algebra - you know I managed to even get out of taking College Algebra but there's no getting out of statistics.

Back to the grocery store --- as he made a little bit of small talk with me - not a lot, just enough to let me know that he saw me as a human being, I thought how different is this?  Then he asked the question that no one wants to hear.  He said, are you eligible for our senior discount?  They give a senior discount on Wednesdays.  I said how old do you have to be?  He told me.  I sighed a sigh of relieve and said, no I'm not,.  He gave it to me anyway and I saved 5% on the order.  Maybe it won't be so bad and I'll get used to just saying yes, I am eligible.  I have put in the years after all.

What was strange about the whole thing was that I wasn't the least bit offended or upset at the question.  The kid was so nice and polite.  He was right, I am close to that age.

As I left the store, I clicked on the radio to listen to Dr. Asa On Call.  There was this man calling about his wife.  It was the sweetest thing I'd heard in a long time.  A gruff but very southern sounding truck driver was calling about his 47 year old wife who was fainting.  He said it scared the crap out of him.  He said he was "fixin" to do something and she just falls over.  He used every colloquial southern phrase and it was delightful. What was most delightful was his concern for his wife.  In it's own way, it was another southern experience of care and concern.  It warmed my heart to know that a Bubba can really show a soft side

So is this just another rambling of Joyce about the wonders of Tennessee compared to my angst about living in South Dakota?  No, I have a point here.  It's Christmas time.  It is a time where the difference between pleasantness and politeness verses rudeness and refinement can make all the difference in your day.  I am going to remember MY manners even when people don't show any and make my own happiness and pleasantness the next time I meander the aisles of the Brookings HyVee or the Brookings Wal-Mart.  Maybe you should do the same.  We'd all be happier for it.

Friday, December 3, 2010


As the first real snow in Brookings SD is falling, I should be reading and annotating, working on my powerpoint, or my chapter two outline.  I am in pretty good shape but I still have a lot to do.  Nevertheless, I have so many ideas floating around in this head of mine and the itch to write.  And I don’t have the itch to write the boring dissertation stuff.  I could probably write ten blogs about different themes and still find something else that is on my mind.  My brain is like that.  It seems to never stop.  I sometimes wonder if that is a diagnosable mental disorder… My brain is fertile, too fertile sometimes.

South Dakota friends… and others, You will be happy to know that I get it… at least I think I do.   I get a few things finally.  I was peddling away on my exercise bike listening to praise music, jammin’ with Jesus, sweatin’ and looking at the snow fall.  I thought Okay, I think I get it.  If I grew up here, not only would this be home to me, but I’d have lived my life with fairly harsh conditions.  I’d be a product of my environment.  Now before you react and say “Oh there she goes again!”  Listen to what I’m trying to say.  I think about how this time in South Dakota has affected me.  It hasn’t been pleasant.  Largely it’s been a shock to everything about my life.  For me the changes were rapid and harsh.  But like the wind, rain and snow that slowly erodes and changes the land, so the weather erodes the spirit.  I was thinking this a.m. “How would I be if this was where I grew up?”  I’d probably have never learned that it is polite to say excuse me when you run people over with your cart at Wal-Mart.  I’d probably smile less.  I’d probably never say “God bless you” when someone sneezes.  These things are important to me.  But they aren’t to others.  It doesn’t really make them rude.   It just makes them different.  On the other hand, I’d probably value hard work over sentimentality.  I’d probably be less relational and more self-reliant.  I’d probably enjoy the wide open spaces..

You’ll be happy to know I finally have figured out why 4-H achievement days are important.  I have figured out why livestock takes priority over people.  I don’t like the fact that the roads won’t be cleaned in a timely manner, but I still get why it’s not a big deal here.  Yesterday I was in Sioux Falls and shocked to see that the 1” of snow they had on Monday was still covering some side streets.  I thought WHAT???? I shouldn’t be slipping on snow after 3 days… but I also get why it’s not important or a big deal.  It’s just how people live here. 

I’ve stopped fighting with South Dakota.  It was a battle I could never win anyway.  Someone asked me yesterday if when I leave here I’ll miss South Dakota.  I thought for a moment.  The expected answer is Heck, NO!!!  I am sure that is the answer some of you expect too – you figure this woman is going to party and shout when she leaves here.  She’ll be screaming hallelujah as she crosses the border for the last time.  And while I probably will be happy when I leave, I will miss South Dakota.  Oh I won’t miss snow and rude people, but I will miss many things about South Dakota when the time comes to finally leave.  South Dakota has changed me.  It’s harsh realities have actually made me a better person.  For that I am thankful. 

Okay, time to work on the important stuff like school...