Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shakespeare and Lefse

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

You may not have noticed this, but the stuff that Shakespeare and I have in common is uncanny.

A quick review:

William Shakespeare and I both...
A) Have ancestors who were lured to North Dakota in the 1870s (or so) by promises of its Norway-like mountains.
B) Have an age-old family tradition of making lefse with our Norwegian ancestors here in North Dakota.
C) Grew up knowing what "lefse" was, that it existed, and that it's pronounced, LEFF-suh.
D) None of the above.

(See what I mean?)

Much like William Shakespeare, I spent years and years of my life completely ignorant of lefse.

What I didn't know was:
A) Lefse is a flat bread, much like a tortilla.
B) Unlike tortillas, lefse is made with potatoes.
C) Also unlike tortillas, lefse came to America from Norway.
D) All of the above.

So, while preparing for the lefse extravaganza at Julie's, naturally I had some questions:

Q: Do we really have to peel this mountain of potatoes?
A: Yes.
Q: Is it fun to put potatoes in a great, big, giant garlic press (AKA "ricer") and squeeze them out like spaghetti?
A: Yes.
Q: Are there lefse-making songs?
A: No.

I didn't tell Julie this, but as far as I'm concerned, lefse cries out for lefse-making songs. Something familiar, something popular, something everyone can sing. Here's what I have so far:

A) Bridge Over Troubled Lefse.
B) I've Been Working on the Lefse.
C) From This Lefse They Say You Are Going.
D) Star-Spangled Lefse.
E) I Wanna Hold Your Lefse.

And my personal favorite:
F) Girls Just Wanna Have Lefse.

Anyway, back to Julie's. For some reason, in spite of William Shakespeare's total ignorance of lefse, we decided to watch Shakespeare at the lefse extravaganza. Before long, after boiling, peeling, ricing, chilling, flattening, cooking, flipping, and storing lefse -- William Shakespeare's words got kind of jumbled with the potatoes. Even William Shakespeare was all about lefse.

Shakespeare's most famous quote:
"All the world's a lefse."

Shakespeare's most famous play:
Romeo and Lefse.

Shakespeare's most famous character:
Lady MacLefse.

All in all, after toiling in the kitchen with my lefse-making friends, even though I didn't learn a whole lot of Shakespeare, I did learn a little something:

Potatoes get peeled faster with many hands.

Happy Lefse!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Legalize Love. Protest H8.

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

A string of good luck leads me to Minneapolis on Saturday. To a protest of California's Proposition 8. To a banner that reads, "Legalize Love," and a sign that says, "Shall I vote on your marriage?"

My good fortune:

1) My aunt Janet rescues me at the train station in St Paul (has a little trouble finding me, as I snap pictures of graffiti in the bathroom).

2) This nice couple, Dennis and Brian (together for 27 months after falling in love at a volley ball game -- opposing teams, of course) open their hearts and car and let me hitch from St Paul to Minneapolis.

3) The protest grows so large that even though we arrive an hour late (long story), we make it in time to join the burgeoning march.

In chorus with hundreds of marchers, I chant:

Out of the closets and into the streets! (A classic.)

1-2-3-4. Love is what we're fighting for!
5-6-7-8. End the violence, end the hate!

Gay, straight, black, white --
Marriage is a civil right!

What do we want? Civil rights!
When do we want 'em? Now!

I peruse the signs and posters:

No more Mr Nice Gay!

Shall I vote on your marriage?

Legalize Love

Focus on your family!

Marriage = Heart + Heart

Stop H8!

Marital Status --

Love Love Love

(This one is Brian's sign...)
So you want me to marry your daughter?

As the march snakes along Nicollet Avenue to Loring Park, I watch people watching us. Construction workers, speechless. A cab driver, cheering. Passers-by, waving and honking. A homeless man, shaking his styrofoam cup in time with our chant.

On street corners and city benches, the homeless guys watch us, study us, discuss us as we march. One man smiles broadly, toothlessly, marveling with a friend. Another jostles a shopping cart, crammed with his worldly goods, toward the street to let us pass. Many men beg with empty cups.

As we watch each other, I wonder, what is the meaning of love?

"Legalize Love," the banner reads.

I wonder, if we legalized love, how would my life be different?

How would yours?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Blizzard Conversations in Bismarck

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

Conversation One:

A birdhouse changed me. Months ago, I paced the sidewalks of Bismarck, rehearsing the reasons to leave this place. And then I saw it. Up there, hanging from an evergreen. Made by loving hands, no doubt about that. The walls, maybe, were pieces of a long-ago barn. The roof, almost thatched, sloped to keep the snow from piling up, come winter. And you could peek inside, that was the thing. As if the hands that made this house, the hands that hung this house, were ready to love whoever might move in.

Then came today. Jasmine, honorary coyote, loves a blizzard. So we walked those same sidewalks, Jasmine stretching the leash to its furthest reaches, me doting behind. And there it was. The birdhouse. I peeked up, up. A creature had built a nest in there. And what was nestled inside? No! A squirrel?

Up ahead, I spotted someone tinkering with a snowblower, turning cranks or screws to get it to work.
"Does your squirrel have a name?" I asked.
He twisted around to face me. "No." Big smile. "I haven't given him a name."
I said, "Looks like a pretty good buddy."
He stole a glance toward the birdhouse. "Yup."

Conversation Two:

Young guy shovels the longest sidewalks you'd ever care to see: Getting there.
Me: Yep.
Guy: It's not so bad out.
Me: It's beautiful really...
Jasmine approaches the Shoveling Guy, sniffing, curious.
I nod toward Jasmine: Especially to her.
He scratches her like dog lovers do: Yep.
Then Jasmine and I head east again.
Shoveling Guy: Have a good one.
Me: You too.

Conversation Three:

Ferne's friend, Marilyn up at the nursing home, is eager to meet my mother ASAP. It started a few days ago, as we peeked out the window for signs of the rumored blizzard.

"If there's a blizzard, nobody'll come and see me," she said.
I grinned. "Someone will."
She looked at me uncertainly. "Who?"
"Oh, no. You're so cute and sweet, you'll fall over. Stay at home with your mother. She needs you."
(How I wish I could stay at home with my mother!)
Today, Marilyn asked, "How's your mother?"
"She's good," I said.
"Is she clearing away...? You know."
I clarified, "Is she shoveling the snow?"
Marilyn nodded. "Yes."
This line of questioning led me to explain, "You said you used to live in Rockford, Illinois? My mom lives in Homewood, Illinois."
"I want to meet her... I'm so fond of her daughter."
"Thank you! I'll tell her you said that. That will make her proud."
"I'm proud... I want to meet her!"
"Yep, that's a good idea."
Marilyn nodded vigorously. "I'm in love with it."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

99-Year-Old Woman Lives to See It: Barack Obama to the White House

That's Ferne at age 21. She remembers 1920, and her mother's fierce pride over casting her first ballot. She remembers the mid 50s, when children of all races could sit in her classroom. She even remembers hearing of this person, Barack Obama. As a matter of fact, she thought I'd said his name was Iraq Obana.

A presidential candidate named Iraq? Didn't bother her. Neither did Hussein. Neither did the notion he's a Muslim. Many times, Ferne has said, I'm glad I grew up in a family where there wasn't any discrimination. Today I asked, Did you ever think you'd live to see this day? Ferne said, No, and laughed.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"Sarah Palin" to Liberal Voters: "Just Don't Vote!"

"Sarah Palin" just came out with a short, sweet video. It's addressed to you and me. Her message to peace-minded voters: Just don't vote!

You can click on the YouTube video link to the left. Or you can see us (I mean, Sarah) at

See you at the voting booth, if you haven't been there already...