Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2012!

(photo by Xuan Che)

Year in review, resolutions, and goals. If that's what you're looking for, click the links, because that is not this post!

This post is about looking forward with happy anticipation. Here's what I look forward to in 2012 (in no particular order:

-Connecting with friends, near & far, and making new friends
(photo, Kangaroo & girls by Sam Hood)

-Time with family
(photo by Shiny Things)

-Events--concerts, plays, movies, festivals, sports, art shows, vacations, and whatever else is offered in the region
(photo © Copyright David Lally and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

-Writing and meeting with area writers
(photo by Julie Jordan Scott)

-Reading books newly published and older ones I've missed. A link to popular authors' 2012 releases is here.

-Nature--plants, animals, landforms, climates, ecosystems, forces, wonders
(photo of Madeline Island, WI, copyright 2009, Jane Heitman Healy)

That's just for starters. 2012 looks to be full of promise!

What do you look forward to in the year ahead? I hope it is wonderful!

(photo of St. Croix Falls, WI, fireworks, copyright 2011, Jane Heitman Healy)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Stories New & Old

(photo by Enokson)

Though there's no snow falling here yet (and that's more than fine with me!), books are always calling! This time of year, it's time to dig out the old Christmas favorites and find some new favorites, too.

Some Christmas stories are standards based on songs or poems, such as "Rudolph" and "Frosty." Some are classics, such as Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Clement Moore's A Visit From St. Nicholas.

Two new Christmas books for children (which really means "all ages," don't you think?) popular in my region reflect the heritages of many of my area's residents. Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, a South Dakota author, brings us a memory from her childhood on the Rosebud Reservation. The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood takes us into the not-so-distant past on the plains. Virginia really needs a new winter coat, but so do the other kids she knows. When charity boxes arrive (called "Theast boxes" because they come from "The East"), a beautiful fur coat tempts her. But Virginia knows that, as the minister's daughter, she won't get first choice. Read the book to see how things work out for Christmas joy. The illustrations by Ellen Beier provide accurate detail of the times and situations to complement the story.

(photo by triplezero)

Jan Brett's new Christmas book, Home for Christmas features Rollo, the runaway Swedish troll. Brett's signature border art and depiction of the action make this a fun story for young and old. Rollo has adventures with many different animals before he finds that home may be best after all.

For more Christmas book ideas, see this list from Horn Book magazine.

(photo by Theresa, cheekycrows3)

We love stories of Santa, elves, trolls, and other magical creatures, but for me, Christmas magic is best told in the original Christmas story from the book of Luke. See Linus, of "Peanuts" fame, recite it in this 2 minute clip:

What stories are you delighting in this season?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Winter Wonderland

I intend to do an actual blog post soon, but in the meantime, here's something to tide you over--the Winter Wonderland at Falls Park in my city. It really does make me ooh & aah! Enjoy the video and find some wonder in your own neighborhood this season.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankful Thanku Challenge

(photo by happy_serendipity)

Thanksgiving Day has just passed, but I try to be thankful every day. Poet Esther Hershenhorn invented a poetry form called "Thanku." Yes, it is based on the haiku, with the 3 line, 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables pattern, and the focus is on giving thanks. Here's my example:


Communication 2011
(A Thanku)

Ways to stay in touch
Email, letter, Facebook, phone,
Postcard, blog, smile, hug

(photo by Fer Kazalz)

Now it's your turn. Give it a try in the comments section below! And thank you for staying in touch!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thank You, Veterans

World Map and Flags (photo by Justin Cozart)

Imagine you are a young man, raised on a farm in South Dakota, USA. Imagine you are sent to countries you have barely heard of to fight during World War II. You train with guys from states that previously meant nothing more to you than an outline on a map.

(photo Don O'Brien: "Okinawa September 1945, After 58 days on a troopship from France, we landed at Okinawa.The trip took that long because we stayed anchored for 3 weeks at MogMog awaiting orders after VJ Day. This photo was, as I recall, taken on the first day."

You and those guys ship out, and you rely on each other for your lives. Imagine being caught in a battle on a jungle island in the Pacific. Soldiers around you--guys you know--fall dead or injured. You could run to save yourself. Or you could try to help one of your own. What would you do?

(photo from Otis Archives. World War 2 - combat battle scenes (Pacific theater). A cavalry weapons troop moves from the beach past splintered trees and fires caused by the heavy bombardment preceding their landing on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Selected by Kathleen.

My husband's uncle, Howard Johnson, chose to help a fallen comrade, and in doing so, sustained injury himself. His wartime service earned him a Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, Bronze Service Arrowhead, and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon.

(photo Carl Malamud)

When Howard's family went through his things after his death this summer, they found and displayed his Army uniform. In the pocket, all these years later, was his ticket home.

Howard went on to work, marry, and enjoy the freedoms he helped earn, as so many veterans have. Across the United States are men and women who served in the Armed Forces with the desire to preserve that freedom and to come home to experience it. On Veteran's Day, November 11, we honor them and remember those who did not come home.

Thank you, Howard Johnson, and all who have served and who are currently serving in the US Armed Forces.

(For more family history and WWII connections, see this blog post.)

If you have a veteran's story you'd like to tell, please leave it in the comments below.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fairy Tales Fire the Imagination

Our imaginations are running rampant this weekend with Halloween, All Saints, and Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

A recent solo fall hike turned my imagination to fairy tales. The best known fairy tales and folk tales began as stories told hundreds of years ago and retold to each new generation. Many fairy tales, especially the ones from Europe, take place in a forest. Maybe Hansel and Gretel dropped bread crumbs in a place like this:

Will the Billy Goats Gruff's troll give me passage across this bridge?

Does a gingerbread house or big bad wolf lurk around this corner?

Is that La Llorona I hear weeping?

The Wizard of Oz is not a true fairy tale; still these trees remind me of the scene where Dorothy and her friends were attacked by the enchanted apple trees:

(Here's the scene, in case you forgot:)

Fairy tales hold some universal appeal to us as human beings in a world we can't control or fully understand. What is your favorite fairy tale or folk tale?

For more on fairy tales, see SurLaLune, the fairy tale website and my book, Once Upon a Time: Fairy Tales in the Library and Language Arts (or see my blog sidebar).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jasmine Pickner, Hoop Dancer: Happy Native American Day!

Jasmine Pickner, world champion hoop dancer.

While many in the US celebrate Columbus Day on Oct. 10, South Dakotans celebrate Native American Day. South Dakota is home to more than 62,000 American Indians, many of whom live on nine reservations within the state. Most belong to the Great Sioux Nation and are also identified by their tribal band and dialect.

I was fortunate to see world champion hoop dancer Jasmine Pickner perform recently at the SD Indian Education Summit. She started at age 7, taught by her grandparents. In this male-dominated field, Pickner uses her hoops to portray the balance of male and female. With her hoops, she creates figures such as dragonflies and eagles.

Before her dance, she talked about her background. At one point in school, she had to choose between basketball hoops and dancing hoops. By then, the dancing hoops were part of her, and she continued to dance. Hoop dancing keeps her true to her culture and herself. When she has to make choices, she thinks about the hoops' representation of balance and life cycles. She says that her hoops keep her on the right path.

In addition to dancing, she now teaches others to hoop dance and gives presentations across the country about native culture where she answers school children's questions such as "Do you eat pilgrims?" and "Do you live in teepees?" Jasmine beautifully sets the record straight.

Enjoy her work in this video from the St. Joseph Indian School Pow Wow video from 2009:

What keeps you on the right path?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Late Summer Swan Song

Geese, ducks, and this swan let me visit them this Labor Day morning at Arrowhead Park, not far from home. This is Sioux Falls' newest park on an old Sioux quartzite quarry site, donated by Dale and Dorothy Weir. The intent is to preserve the land's natural state, while enhancing it for visitors. Other birders, walkers, and photographers were out to capture the natural beauty of the end of summer. Trails lead walkers beside ponds where quartzite was quarried and across prairie grasses to picnic tables and benches. From there, the valley below displays its rural riches.
Swans aren't all that common around here, but aerated ponds, abundant food and protection must appeal to this bird. I always think of The Ugly Duckling tale by Hans Christian Andersen. A classic German tale is The Swan Maidens, who are also the subject of Russian tales and Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake. In cultures worldwide, swans represent luck, grace, and healing. What swan stories do you know? I'll leave you with a segment of The Muppets adaptation of the famous ballet. This one is called "Swine Lake," of course:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mmmm, Maple--another Wilder connection

(photo by Rain Rannu,

One sample of Wisconsin pure maple syrup, and we were delightfully surprised! We knew that our usual "table syrup" was not real maple, but had no idea how good--and how much better for us--the real thing is. As one commenter on this blog said, it's like the difference between the sun and a florescent light bulb!

Our visit to Glenna Farms, between St. Croix Falls & Turtle Lake, taught us a lot about maple syrup. First, pure maple syrup is 100% natural and has no additives. Compare that with the ingredients of your usual table syrup.

Second, even though Glenna Farms is fewer than 100 miles from Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace, the modern maple syrup farmer has a much easier process than in Laura's day.

In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura describes the process as Pa explained it to her. Grandpa made wooden buckets and troughs out of cedar and white ash trees because those trees won't give the syrup a bad flavor. Pa tells her that when the weather warms in the spring, sap rises in the trees and Grandpa put a tap on each tree and hung a bucket on it. "The sap, you know, is the blood of a tree. It comes up from the roots, when warm weather begins in the spring, and it goes to the very tip of each branch and twig to make the green leaves grow."

(photo by jsorbius,

Pa goes on to tell how the sap drips into the buckets, and Grandpa goes out on his sled everyday to check them and gather the sap into a barrel on the sled. Then he hauls it to a big iron kettle in the woods,where he lights a bonfire under it, and lets it cook. Every few minutes, Grandpa skims the boiling sap's surface with a wooden ladle so that it doesn't cook too fast. Grandpa cooks the sap until it condenses into syrup. Obviously, this is a very labor intensive process!

Glenna Farms uses a less labor-intensive method, letting gravity do the work. Each tapped tree is connected to tubing that allows the sap to flow through the tube and into a holding tank where it is filtered. From there, it is transferred to a vat, where an evaporator boils it down more quickly than using traditional methods. Let Ashley's field trip experience show you the process.

Here's our photo of Glenna Farms' sugar bush. Look closely toward the lower part of the trees and you will see the tubing from one tree to the next. The green shed on the right, the sugar house, is the tubing's destination and the place where the sap is cooked down to become syrup.

The result is nothing like the stuff most of us buy in the stores. No wonder it was the main source of sweetener for Laura Ingalls' family. They did not have to buy sugar and sometimes traded maple syrup or maple sugar for other necessities. The family ate it on corn cereal, hasty pudding, pancakes, and other foods.

(photo by Robert V.

Here are a few fun facts about maple syrup:

-The Sugar Maple is Wisconsin's state tree.

-Maple Syrup Month runs from mid-March to mid-April in Wisconsin.

-Thirty to forty gallons of sap=1 gallon of syrup.

-Wisconsin is the 4th largest producer of maple syrup producer in the country.

Read more about maple syrup here, and pass the pancakes and French toast, please!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On the Wilder Side

(Image Copyright Paul Beaman. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence. To view a copy of this licence, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.)

Sometimes it pays to get off the interstate and take what William Leat-Heat Moon calls "blue highways." We did just that recently, which took us into Spring Valley in southeastern Minnesota.

Driving through town, I saw a sign that said, "Wilder Museum." If you know me or follow this blog, you know that I'm a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, and my antennae went up. "Wilder Museum? WILDER MUSEUM?" I said as I passed the sign. Luckily, there was another sign. This time, the vehicle turned right, and took us to the Wilder Museum, housed in the old Methodist Church. A sign in front of the church let us know that, yes, it was THAT Wilder.

(click on the picture and click again to enlarge)

Almanzo's parents, brothers, and sisters, and Almanzo himself helped build and attended that church. Almanzo and Laura attended this church from 1890-1891. Almanzo's sisters, Eliza Jane and Laura, were both married here. (You may remember Eliza Jane from Laura Ingall's books. Laura did not include Almanzo's sister Laura in the Little House books, as Laura Ingalls thought it would confuse readers to have two Lauras.)

Almanzo's brother, Royal, had several businesses on Main Street, but he was not the only well-known merchant in Spring Valley.

The museum holds items from another famous citizen, Richard Sears, founder of Sears Watch Company. When Alvah Roebuck joined the business, it became Sears & Roebuck. Almanzo and Richard Sears were friends back in those days.

This site is on the National Register of Historic Places, along with other Ingalls & Wilder sites.

How did I not know this? What a delightful stop! Though we didn't have time for the entire tour, a young lady showed us Wilder family photos in the first room and told us a few stories about their lives in Spring Valley. As a stroke of coincidence would have it, the young lady was born in the town where we live. We left feeling richer for having driven off the beaten path and making these discoveries.

What discoveries have you made lately? What delights have you found off the beaten path?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Declaration of Independence

Happy Independence Day! Thanks to all those who work to keep us free.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Reading

(photo by Enokson,

The calendar is still a few days away from summer, and where I live, the temps have been more like spring, but as soon as school's out, everyone thinks "SUMMER!" In my world, that means "SUMMER READING!"

Libraries across the country collaborate on themes and materials, with posters by famous book illustrators, to offer summer reading programs for all ages. This year's theme is "One World, Many Stories." Prizes and special events abound to celebrate reading. See what your library has to offer!

(photo by Cloned Milkmen,

I have written about what to read, but this year I'm more interested in how. Print? Downloadable electronic books? Downloadable audio? Audio discs? Reading on the computer? New devices and programs make all of this possible. As one librarian said, "If it gets people to read, I'm all for it!"

Should we care in what format people (especially kids) are reading as long as they are reading? Stephen Abram, library futurist and trend follower, uses the term "format agnostic."

I do most of my professional reading on the computer. I don't own any fancy portable electronic devices--yet--so my fiction reading is old fashioned paperback or hardcover. Sometimes an ereader would be handy--for reading what a librarian friend calls "sternum crushers" in bed or for easy travel toting.

(photo by Liz Henry,

Here are some summer reading suggestions:
For kids: Nick's Picks
For kids and teens: from Horn Book
For adults: Seth's picks, fiction & nonfiction and Beach Reads

What are you reading in which format on which device? Why do you choose the format you do? In any case, happy reading!
(photo by US Mission Canada,

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Headliners and Role Models: Happy Memorial Day

My husband gave a beautiful eulogy at my father-in-law's recent funeral. It described well the man's joy of life and his love of family, friends, and God. Gentle jokes about his mania for the Green Bay Packers, fishing tales, and golf gone bad brought smiles from those of us attending. A life well-lived, well-loved.
Jim Healy, 1918-2011

As I sat there, I thought, "What a contrast to today's headlines." More politicians and financial leaders made the news for cheating on their families and allegedly committing crimes. Entertainment and sports celebrities continued to get attention with their addiction and behavior problems.

Decency doesn't make news, so people like my father-in-law and my dad never made headlines. But they never wanted to. They just worked hard, served their countries, and raised their families like thousands of others before and since. My dad passed away a few years ago, but the way he lived and loved me is a big part of who I am. He was a hard-working, ice-cream loving, honest, helpful man. Like my father-in-law, my dad served his God, family, friends, community, and country.

Alton "Bud" Anderson, 1924-2007

My dad served as a signalman on the U.S.S. Ludlow during WWII. Dad said that if he'd gone through the Suez Canal, he'd have been around the world. He never talked about it much, except to say how happy he was to get ice cream when they were in port.
Alton G. Anderson, U.S. Navy

(U.S.S. Ludlow, US Navy photo)

After dad read Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation, and my brother and I were adults, he told us about his war years, as if the book gave him permission to talk about it.

Similarly, my father-in-law didn't talk much about his service days in the Philippines and Japan. He did tell about his experiences with typhoons--all negative.
James W. Healy, U.S. Army Air Corps

This Memorial Day, I'll think of these two kind, decent patriots, and the thousands of others like them who serve their country, live decently, and go quietly about their business as role models, not headliners. Who will you remember?

Friday, April 29, 2011

What's Your Favorite Poem?

("Ulysses' Dream", 1893, Nicolae_Vermont_-_Visul_lui_Ulise.jpg‎ (382 × 275 pixels, file size: 24 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)

Though National Poetry Month is nearly over for 2011, I hope you continue to appreciate poetry year 'round.

I like many different kinds of poetry from many different poets, old and new. When I consider what I would call my favorite poem, though, "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson is still the one I choose. I'd like to think we all have a heroic heart within us that keeps us seeking, striving, and finding at any age. Here's the last part:

...Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are---
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Read the whole poem here

or listen to Sir Lewis Casson recite it:

Alfred Lord Tennyson - Ulysses - Lewis Casson by poetictouch

What's one of your favorite poems?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter, Happy National Poetry Month!

(photo by Jaypeg21)

It's Easter weekend and National Poetry Month, no better time to celebrate and read the poetry of George Herbert. Herbert, a British poet in the 17th century, was also a priest. He is known as one of the metaphysical poets, who wrote about theories of existence and knowledge. As a priest, Herbert applied Christian themes to his theories and is known as a poet who used metaphor skillfully. His poetry typographically often creates shapes, as in his famous "Easter Wings."

Easter Wings

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
Oh let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine
And feel this day thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
—-George Herbert, Easter Wings from The Temple (1633)

(Portrait of George Herbert (poet) by Robert White in 1674. From National Portrait Gallery (UK))

To see how the printed version appeared and fully appreciate the "wings" imagery, click here.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Play Ball!

(, Creative Commons, Some rights reserved by mistycabal)

Baseball season is well underway, and if you're a fan, you probably have disagreed with the umpires a time or two already. Did you know that the first female baseball umpire was a South Dakotan?

Amanda Clement, now in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, never umped a pro game, but umpired many amateur games and later coached athletes in many sports. At 5 feet, 10 inches, her height was a great advantage in making correct calls, as in those days the umpire stood behind the pitcher

Clement's story caught the interest of Yankton, South Dakota, author, Marilyn Kratz. She turned her research findings into a newly released book for children, Umpire in a Skirt. The South Dakota State Historical Society Press offers more information and an interview with Marilyn here.

(Umpire making the call on a man sliding into home plate during a baseball game between Washington and the Boston Red Sox,between 1910 and 1930,No known restrictions on publication, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division )

It's possible that Clement was responsible for a scenario like that expressed in the classic "Mighty Casey at the Bat." STEEE_RIKE!

Let's wrap this up with the seventh inning stretch favorite:

Who are you root, root, rooting for?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Ordinary Life: Women's History Month

(photo by alexanderward12,

Many people think about writing down their childhood experiences for their children, but few do it. Even fewer are those who publish those experiences and successfully sell them regionally. Ruth Garn Werner is one of those few. I knew Ruth decades ago. She sang in the choir and was a member of the women's circle I joined. The circle was one that made crafts, and here I was with 10 thumbs. Ruth and the other women were patient, kind teachers who taught me a lot about sewing crafts and faith.

I knew from Ruth's accent that she was originally from Germany. Aside from that, Ruth seems like any other middle class woman in the northern plains. Since reading her book, My Journey, I know the rest of the story--and how extraordinary Ruth is.
(Germany 1941,

Ruth writes about her growing up in East Germany during WWII and into the post-war era there. Her father was drafted into the army and was never seen again. Her mother was left in charge of her elderly father, Ruth, Ruth's older brother and baby brother. With Russian tanks and cannons firing, they packed necessities into a wagon and began a trek across Germany. They joined others who were fleeing and faced famine and physical deprivation of all kinds. She had told our women's circle that she never wanted to eat brussel sprouts again, because they stole them and other vegetables out of farmers' fields at night to keep from starving. Their hearts were full of thanks for every bite & every shelter.
Ruth's family traveled for awhile in wagons like this. (Photo Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-W0402-500,_Fl├╝chtlingstreck_in_Richtung_Deutschland.jpg)

Leaving their wagon, they continued on foot, in boxcars, and in army trucks. No one, much less a child, should see the horrors they saw. Ruth and her older brother were able to get papers to emigrate to Canada, and eventually to the U.S.

Through all this their family took care of each other, operating on love and faith. In spite of all those hardships, Ruth's personality remains kind and full of fun. She ends the book by thanking her "precious Mama," who got them all through it, and by advising her daughters "Bete und Arbeit [pray and work], and God will show you the way!"

This book is available at Zandbroz Variety in Sioux Falls. (Full disclosure: I purchased my autographed copy there.)

Cripple Creek, CO, 1893 (

Another memoir, this one set in Colorado's mining towns at the turn of the nineteenth century, tells of the hardships for women in that place and time. Reading The Life of an Ordinary Woman by Anne Ellis will show you that her life was anything but ordinary. Always at the mercy of mineowners; weather; disease and injury, and the mineral veins themselves, Ellis and others like her had to think quickly and creatively to keep food on the table and shelter above their heads. Times were tough, but Ellis was tougher, had a great wit and sense of fun.

Reading either of these two books made me swear off complaining forever and helps me see how extraordinary even an ordinary life can be. What extraordinary women do you know? What's extraordinary about the person you see in the mirror?

(Photo by Doug Waldron,