Wednesday, December 30, 2009


After a concerned voice mail and the following text message from my sister:

So do you need a personal injury attorney, domestic violence report form, ballet coach or therapist? Pix  piqued my curiosity. Hope you're on oxycontin or similar substance. Love V

I will explain that last photo:
I had a mole removed from the back of my arm the Monday before Christmas. Perhaps not one of my better decisions.Tuesday Sam put on a new bandage. Wednesday afternoon I removed the bandage to find the area looking like this.

And wondered if had time to clean my closets, make a video diary for my children and write a will in the hour before my certain death. 

I decided to call the doctor's office and talk to his nurse. She put the doctor on the phone who thought it was probably caused by having the bandage on too tight but without seeing it, he couldn't say for sure.

"Could I have my husband take a picture of it and email it to you?" (According to my sister, this is a common practice in third world countries)

"That will work, here's my email address," he replied.

Sam was in the garage and I told him the plan. He retrieved the camera from his pickup and we took the photo right there in the garage.

"It's blurry," I said, "Try again"

"That's because the camera is cold from being in my pickup all day and the lens is fogging up."

I've moved on to picking out the hymns and wondering what to have for my funeral lunch.

We managed to get a decent photo and I sent it off immediately.

Maybe I have time to clean the frig. Cremation or burial? Memorials or flowers?

The phone rang and it was the doctor, "It doesn't look like it's infected. I think it's just accumulated blood from where the tape was too tight."

I'm going to live. So, I'm going to have to make dinner after all.

The doctor commented on the good picture, "I was able to get a really good look."

I told him I'd pass the compliment on to my husband--the over-zealous first-aid rookie.

He also said, "This was a new experience for me--I don't usually diagnose by email."

I modestly explained that I'm a fairly resourceful person. It comes in handy in life and death matters.

And Minnesota in a blizzard could be considered a third world country.

Monday, December 28, 2009

It's been awhile

since my last post. Please bear with me. What a memorable Christmas this has been.

Deep Snow


Don't Ask

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Catching up

It's Christmas Eve Day and Sam and I are comfy and warm at home. After the past frenzied days of shopping, computer glitches, errands, work, computer glitches and what felt like a food hoarding compulsion, it feels so good to be here. Gifts are not wrapped but we will tackle that sometime during the day.

Zac, Amber and Olivia were here for dinner last night. It was snowy so Zac dropped Amber and Olivia off and then went to get the snowmobiles. He brought Sam's machine here and it was fun to see the funky purple running lights pull up in front of the house. Amber even took it for a quick drive before they went home. Dinner was a rather gummy hamburger rice casserole, salad and sugar snap peas.

I've been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster--feeling frustrated, disappointed, angry, discouraged, uncertain and anxious.

For today, I choose to be content and blessed. 

And here are a couple reasons to feel that way--Olivia opened her two of her gifts from my brother and sister-in-law and Addie tried to get a picture for their Christmas card.

If the medical career doesn't work out

She will have her impeccable fashion sense to fall back on

While August and his mommy seek out a therapist

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mustard Dip for Saurkraut Balls (or Pretzels)


1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup prepared yellow or Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon ranch salad dressing mix

2-1/4 teaspoons prepared horseradish



In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, onion, salad dressing mix and horseradish. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve with pretzels. Yield: about 1/2 cup.

Status report and Saurkraut Balls

  • Shopping--not done
  • Baking--not done
  • Decorating--DONE and looks great if I say so myself
  • Cleaning house--on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a 2. The bathroom rugs are actually in the dryer but the contents of my silverware and utensil drawers are on my counter. Don't ask.
  • Laundry--you can see the floor of the laundry room. And that my friends is truly a Good Thing
  • General Health and Wellbeing--Remarkably upbeat and happy, even after having my second cold in less than two months on my birthday,but could change in a heartbeat if Sam tears anything else apart--so far we're in the putting back together mode.
  • Technical Issues--New wireless internet connection at home for my birthday from Mom (thanks Mom!) kicks me off every 60 seconds so have to keep re-connecting. Previous bulleted point sorely tested over this situation but should be resolved tomorrow. Probably deserves its own post as we've been working on getting DSL for over a month now. There was even trenching involved. And a totally new phone line. And the realization that for the past three weeks we haven't been receiving  any local phone calls: "software issue" they called it. Umm, this subject is making me cranky, lets get back to the reason for this post.

So, because my friend Barb needs this recipe, I'm going to publish another favorite from the family cookbook, Louise's Saurkraut Balls. Denise, Lukas and I made a quadruple batch of these after Thanksgiving when there was still grease in the turkey fryer (well...technically the grease is still in there..after the 10 inches of snow...wait..focus...recipe) Anyway, I now have a stash of these in the freezer ready for a yummy hot appetizer. They are messy and tedious to make but sooo worth it. We deep fried ours but they can also be baked in the oven.  We like them with a mustard dip--I'll be back to post that in a few minutes.

Sam took a picture as I was packing them up for the freezer--if I had the time I should crop out the counter clutter and the burnt balls to the far right. But as my friend Pioneer Woman says, "just keepin' it real"

Louise is Sam's mom. She still uses a typewriter.Grease spots and all, here you go.

Christmas Interrupted

While looking for last years Christmas letter in my computer, I came across this article I wrote for Womeninc magazine two years ago. Thought I'd post it here--and find out if anyone else has had similar experiences

Early last Christmas morning I awoke with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. It didn’t take long to realize that my queasiness was more than just a manifestation of holiday anxiety. Exiting the bathroom, I nearly ran into Sam who was waiting for me to come out. No words were exchanged but I had a hunch that I was not alone in my misery. I walked into the kitchen when I heard our son Lukas come out of the downstairs bathroom and from the bottom of the stairs utter the words no mother wants to hear on Christmas morning, “Mom, do you have any Kaopectate?”

My nauseous mind quickly shifted into survival mode. Three people ill, two bathrooms, two more still asleep, oblivious to the dire circumstances that awaited them. I didn’t like the odds. I went to the closet and slipped a coat over my pajamas. Sam was back in bed. “I’m going to my office,” I mumbled to the huddled form under the covers. A groan and a long sigh confirmed that he had heard me.

I managed the short drive to Huntley and passed the next hours between a blur of fitful sleep on a lumpy couch and trips to the bathroom. But at least there was no waiting in line—an option that was unthinkable.

Sometime in the afternoon, Sam called and announced that the coast was clear and whenever I was able, I could come home. Lukas had sufficiently recovered to go back home. Realizing that they were in the middle of an epidemic, Addie and Tedd had loaded up and hit the road also. Amber, Zac and little Olivia had arrived mid-morning expecting a leisurely brunch but didn’t even have their coats off before being shooed away lest they become contaminated.

Arriving back home, I sat on the couch sipping ginger ale and gazed at the pile of unopened gifts under the tree. All of the shopping, planning, and anticipation leading up to this single day seemed to be acts of futility. I consoled myself at the thought that we at least been able to attend Christmas Eve candlelight services. Thoughts of the prime rib dinner I had prepared were less than pleasant.

My disappointment was temporary. Within a few days, we were all fine and had a perfectly wonderful Christmas “do-over.” We gathered and delighted in each other’s company—especially Olivia, who had by this time become an experienced gift-opener.

This experience was yet another lesson in the danger of assuming that I had everything under control. It reminded me of another Christmas when I was faced with another type of challenge:

It was somewhere in the early to mid 1980s. We awoke on Christmas Eve morning to heavily overcast skies, frigid temperatures and radio announcements of deteriorating weather conditions throughout the day. By mid morning silver dollar sized snowflakes began falling.

The kids went outside to play in the snow and I used the few moments of solitude to take an inventory of the gifts. Thinking back, I realize how much easier shopping was when the kids were small. It was Barbies for Addie and GI Joes and Legos for Lukas and Zac. The challenge was to hide the gifts in our small home. I thought I had done well until a few years ago when my grown children collectively confessed to a lifelong history of snooping and gift tampering.

Around noon, Sam returned home from work. He was immediately sequestered in our locked bedroom with a dozen rolls of wrapping paper, my sharpest dull scissors, and a large pile of gifts. One problem: there was only a partial roll of scotch tape so it was up to him to stretch it as far as possible. When that was gone, all we had was duct tape—which was just fine with him.

The wind came up and the snowfall intensity increased steadily over the next few hours. I baked a batch of cut out cookies and the kids frosted and decorated them. Their happy chatter centered around their great fortune that all of the snow would make it so much easier for Santa. Sam and I exchanged worried looks—concerned more about the possibility of a power outage in our totally electric home.

Christmas carols playing on the radio were interrupted frequently by a growing list of cancellation announcements. When I heard that our Christmas Eve service had been cancelled, I felt a mixture of relief and sadness. Every memory I have of Christmas centers around attending a very traditional candlelight service. However, as a church musician there is also an element of added stress and responsibility associated with the holiday. With that burden lifted, I sensed an opportunity to create a completely new experience for our family.

Living so close to both sets of parents, we were accustomed to spending Christmas Eve with my parents and Christmas Day with Sam’s family. Great food and a large assortment of goodies were laid out for us. All we had to do was show up. I looked around my house and all I saw were faces looking expectantly at me.

A trip to the grocery store was obviously out of the question. Fortunately, I had a meat in the freezer and a large quantity of home grown vegetables so I prepared one of our favorite meals of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and corn. I set the table with the good dishes and served our plain meal by candlelight. We had chocolate pudding and cookies for dessert.

After dinner, we gathered in the living room and I read Luke’s account of the birth of our Savior. We sang Away in A Manger and Sam said a simple prayer. I would have prolonged this quiet sacred time but my desire was over-ruled by, “Can we open our presents now?”

Perhaps no one in my family remembers this particular Christmas in the same way that I do. But for a few hours that sweet silent night, cut off from the outside world and nestled in our warm house in the woods, Christmas came quietly and profoundly in my heart. As the snow fell and the wind raged, I felt perfectly at peace.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Liz's Slow Cooker Punch


Liz is my sister-in-law, married to my brother Mark. She served this punch to us on a stormy Thanksgiving Day when they were living in Redwood Falls. Although we quickly ate our dinner and headed back home,  a Minnesota blizzard and this punch  made for a most memorable holiday.Since the statute of limitations has run out for any possible child endangerment charges, I think it's safe to tell this story.

Several years ago I decided to serve Liz's slow cooker punch on Christmas Eve. Addie came into the kitchen as I was adding the wine to the punch and said, "There's wine in that punch?!! Did you know that Lukas, Zac and I drank it at Aunt Liz's house when we were kids? You let us drink alcohol?"

Before I could say anything she continued, "No wonder it tasted so good."

Since Addie went on to graduate with honors and obtain a law degree, I think it's safe to say no brain cells were harmed in this unfortunate incident. In my defense, I do believe that the alcohol content has to be minimal after 4 to 8 hours in slow cooker.

A Little Gary Larson to Get Things Started

In 1987 when I put a family cookbook together, Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons appeared in the daily paper. When our family would get together, inevitably at some point we would end up taking turns describing our favorites. Even the kids loved them--I can still hear Lukas taking his turn telling about the deer with a target on its chest standing with a group of other deer and the caption "Bummer Birthmark, Hal."

So it only seemed natural to include them in the cookbook. I used this one for the "Main Dish" section:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Musings and Meatballs

Something just feels different about Christmas this year. Last Saturday I attended a ladies Christmas brunch at our church. During the devotion, we were asked how our perspective has changed over the past year. I realized that there have been some defining moments and encounters that have truly changed my perspective. Bear with me as I'm struggling to put this all into words..
As many of you know, I write about women on a regular basis. Many of them have experienced great sorrow, loss and pain. But they all have one thing in common--they are forever changed in the way they look at life and have managed to find purpose and meaning in their loss. I see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices and feel it in the simplest gestures.

My life has changed. Mom has lived with us for a year now. I am a caregiver. Sometimes I'm really good at it and sometimes I suck.

I haven't done any shopping yet and my house isn't decorated.
It doesn't really feel like that big of a deal.
Because the other night, Mom and I made meatballs.
And it made Mom happy.
And that made me happy.

We used Marie Neslund's recipe. She was sister Verla's mother-in-law who passed away more than 20 years ago. She was beautiful, fun and a great cook. The recipe is from a family cookbook I put together in 1987. I left the recipes in their original form which makes them even more precious now. I think I'll share a few more favorites with you over the next couple days.

Here's the recipe--

Here are the meatballs (obviously I'm not a food stylist) along with a the oyster stew we enjoyed during last weeks snowstorm. I'm not sure if Marie would approve, but I de-glazed the  pan with that Paul Newman cabernet in the photo which made a yummy sauce for part of the meatballs.I  froze the rest.

They could also be baked in the oven--and I didn't have any dried ginger so I substituted about a half tsp of freshly grated ginger.

Mom is at her house with my brother for the next few weeks--I should say I miss her, but so far today I've already talked to her three four times. She just called to find out if I just called her.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tis 12 days before Christmas

... and here is our house. 
 Not a creature is stirring--except for a mouse

Sam noticed the tracks through the new-fallen snow
And quickly decided that old wall had to go

I busied myself and stayed out of sight.
Lest I say the wrong thing and start a big fight.

There was hammering and pounding mixed in with some sawing
He really didn't need my hemming and hawing

"I'm going to need you to help in a little while"
We took out the old window and I told him to smile


Visions of sugar plums (cranberries?)
Kept me occupied


Visions of  mouse holes
Kept Sam working outside

For me, I'm still cleaning and decking the hall
While Sam keeps on plugging away at his wall.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Happiness is

If there's one lesson I've learned over the past years, it is to NEVER, EVER take no for an answer when dealing with a "customer service representative." In fact, I can tell within 5 seconds of the conversation whether I'm dealing with someone who is truly interested in helping me or is sitting in their cubicle eating Cheetos and reading Craig's list rants and raves.

In my quest to replace my broken broadband connection, I first called our local Verizon dealer and told him my story. He was busy but promised to look up the options and get right back to me. In the meantime, I retrieved my Verizon "You Qualify for a Free Upgrade" propaganda from the garbage and dialed *611 from my cell:

"Ma'am (BTW I absolutely detest being called Ma'am) I'm sorry. You are not eligible for a free upgrade at this time. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

OK. Called dealer again--that's when I found out that a new modem card cost $199.00.

Time to take this to the next level.

Commonly referred to as begging.

Dialed *611 again. Clicked through automated menu. Clearly ennuciated the reason for my call and eventually talked to a real person. IHer name was Bridget. I like the name Bridget. I felt a surge of hope and launched into a detailed explanation of my plight--and even told her that I had called earlier and been turned down. I also might have even stooped so low as to tell her my 92-year old mother who lives with me had tripped over the cord and knocked my laptop to the floor causing said damage. (Which is, as God is my witness, exactly what happened--but whether or not I should have been so insensitive as to have used the incident to further my case is at best debatable, at worst, reprehensible.)

"Ms Patten, when I hover my cursor over your broadband account, it indicates that you are eligible for an early upgrade prior to your June 30 renewal."

I've heard a lot of responses when people are looking at their  computers while talking to you--and it cracks me up when they provide a running whispered commentary of just what's happening or not happening on their monitors.

But I've never heard anyone talk about hovering their cursor.

I asked Bridget if there was some way I could call her back--and she let me down gently saying, "Ms Patten I will make a note of our conversation on your account and any representative will assist you if your dealer is not able to help you."

Bye Bridget. You will forever remain in my heart.

Another call to the dealer.

And another call to Sam who is on his way there.

And another call from Sam to me--with the voice of a guy in the background saying "Tell her everything worked out just the way she wanted it."

So here I am. The weather outside is frightful, but my computer and I are delightful. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Big Storm Coming

With all that I have to do--year end info not yet to CPA for December 15 deadline, no Christmas decorating done, not one gift purchased etc etc, what did I just spend the past two hours doing?

Talking to Verizon (formerly fondly referred to by me as All-Hell) trying to get my broken mobile internet USB connection device replaced.

Without paying $199.00.

The third call yielded a glimmer of home--but if local dealer can't access the free upgrade deal, I may be forced to wait.

While they mail it to me

It may take a couple days.

Which could mean being snowed in for the next two days with no internet.

(pauses to wipe tears from keyboard and blow nose loudly)

...which means I might actually accomplish something at home

or end up in a thumb-sucking-hair-twisting fetal position.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Coming Clean

I have a problem--and it's in this bag

I've been straight for almost a year now. Except for a brief relapse in mid-September. All it took was one wrong turn in Walmart today and there they were.
Voices in my head screamed:
"Turn around right now"
"You're here for dog food and toilet paper"
Only to be answered by:
"Just one more package, it's no big deal"
"I'm gonna make you feel soooo good lady"
I wish I could tell you that I didn't succumb--that I am strong and determined to overcome my obsessive need for more and more of them. But I'm not. I'm weak. Very, very weak.

When it comes to these little beauties

I love washcloths.We use them for napkins. There's a redwing crock full of them in my bathroom. There are piles of them in the linen cupboard. It was the colors that got to me today--captivating earthy jewel tones.

I'm powerless to resist them

They're simple, functional, pretty and practical.
I even like to fold them
They're perfectly square

Welcome--you'll like it here. You're home

And among friends.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I've been so consumed with editing and work that I haven't had time to blog. Here are a couple pictures of our Thanksgiving

Lukas is frying a turkey and working on a fire in the fire pit

Here we all are around the table (except for Sam who is taking the photo)

After transferring the most recent photos to the computer, I handed the memory card from the camera back to Sam on Sunday and he asked, "Did you notice anything unusual in the picture of the bricks?"
Other than wondering why he took it, I hadn't paid much attention. Here it is, do you see anything?

How about this one?

Me neither

Until Sam explained that something has been burrowing under the bricks and they are heaving up. 
I don't want to think about what's going on down there-

But this is a perfect example of Sam's unusual choice of photography subjects
Anything but typical

Here's are a couple bonus photos from August's visit

Helping Opee get wood