Kilkenny, proud of its Irish heritage, maintains a twinship with Kilkenny County in the Old Country. And each September, the community celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with Half-Way to St. Paddy’s Day complete with parade and, in the past, toilet bowl races. I’ve never attended, but need to and document this event.
Three years ago while out and about on one of those rural drives I so enjoy, Randy and I passed through Kilkenny, marked by a signature silo style light green water tower decorated with a shamrock. There was no doubt we were in an Irish proud small town.
At the time, Murphy’s Pub centered the core of Kilkenny, which, as I recall, is about a handful of businesses. Today that Irish-tagged pub with the memorable ale drinking leprechaun signage is closed, replaced by The Toy Box Saloon. That doesn’t quite hold the same Irish appeal as the name Murphy’s Pub. But you will still find Irish brew, like Finnegan’s Irish Amber.
In Scott County to the north, in unincorporated St. Patrick, I discovered a strong Irish enclave centered around a church, cemetery, ballpark and tavern. St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church and its surrounding cemetery sit high atop a hill across from St. Patrick’s Tavern and next to the ball field. The ballpark, St. Patrick’s Bonin Field, is named after Father Leon Bonin, a strong supporter of local baseball.
That this rural place is proud of its Irish heritage is clear. I need to return to St Patrick, perhaps pop into the bar for a brew. Make that an Irish stout.
During my one and only visit in the summer of 2015, I mostly wandered the cemetery. I find cemeteries historically and artistically interesting.
Back in Le Sueur County, I meandered through the St. Thomas Church Cemetery in the unincorporated settlement of St. Thomas. During my March 2018 visit, I found plenty of Irish buried here.
Down the road a bit, I spotted an apparently abandoned Callahan’s Bar.
And then I saw Derrynane Town Hall, Derrynane being a small village in County Kerry, Ireland. Ah, yes, Irish roots run deep in pockets of rural Minnesota.
This St. Patrick’s Day I celebrate Kilkenny, St. Thomas and St. Patrick. What a delight to have found these backroad places of Irish heritage in rural southern Minnesota.
A NUMBER OF YEARS BACK, I banned potato chips from our house. Not because I don’t like them. I do. But rather I banned them for health reasons. We don’t need all that salt and extra empty calories. This marked a notable change, especially for Randy, who packs his lunch for work. Instead of potato chips, he now eats almonds, albeit the salted variety. I had to compromise.
There are times, though, when we still buy the occasional bag of chips. Usually I can talk myself, or Randy, out of purchasing potato chips. And then there are the impulse purchases that go unnoticed. Like Randy’s grab of Bratwurst Flavored Potato Chips, which I only saw upon our arrival home from the grocery store recently. How did I miss those in the grocery cart?
Before I even opened the bag to accompany our usual Saturday lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup, I predicted that Randy, who loves brats, would not like these chips. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t. I don’t like brats and will eat them only when no other option is offered.
Yet, I had to try these unusual chips tagged as “YUMMY” on the bright yellow packaging. So I opened the bag and took a whiff. Yup, they definitely smelled like brats. Next, I tasted one. Yup, they definitely tasted like brats. I ate another and another and another. At that point, Randy had to wonder what was wrong with his brat-despising wife. I wondered myself. I determined that the coarse texture has a lot to do with why I dislike actual brats. Or so I told myself.
I asked Randy for his opinion of the brat flavored chips. He initially said they tasted like hot dogs, then changed his evaluation to tasting like brats.
After our meal, I found the taste of those chips lingering for way too long. And not in a good way. With ingredients like spices (hmmm, what spices?), onion powder, garlic powder and natural smoke flavor, it’s no wonder I experienced such a long-lasting aftertaste.
The 9.5-ounce bag is in the cupboard now, clipped shut and still more than half full. I have not been tempted, not even once, to dip into those Bratwurst Flavored Potato Chips again. But I sure do have a craving for Dill Pickle Chips.
TELL ME: Have you eaten, or would you eat, bratwurst flavored chips? Is there an unusual flavor of potato chips you like? Please share.
WITH TWO DAYS until St. Patrick’s Day, there’s still time to pull off some leprechaun magic. The type of magic that will bring joy into someone’s day, just like it did mine eight years ago.
Let me explain by first qualifying that I am neither Catholic nor Irish. But I do like the color green. In fact, it’s my favorite hue. And I do have some really loving friends.
On St. Patrick’s Day 2015, I opened my living room curtains to a field of shamrocks planted in my yard. I dashed outside on that sunny March morning without an inch of snow on the ground (yes, unbelievable in Minnesota) to solve the mystery.
My route took me through the garage and past our van parked in the driveway. Tucked behind a windshield wiper was a shamrock. Onward I went toward that field of green, centered by one oversized three-leaf clover. I’VE BEEN SHAM ‘ROCK’ED read a printed message on that central shamrock.
Immediately I suspected one of two young families. It didn’t take long to determine that Jesse and Tammy and kids had undertaken this St. Patrick’s Day surprise. Young Jack signed his name with his words, “You are smart.” Oh, Jack, you little leprechaun.
The happiness I felt, the overwhelming love I felt for these dear, caring friends touched me in a way that left me smiling all day. That they would craft these paper shamrocks and then volunteer Jesse to sneak into our yard before daybreak, before he commuted to his job in the metro, to plant these clovers impressed me. What kindness. What love.
I realize the time remaining until St. Patrick’s Day is short. But if you have the time and inclination, I encourage you to “shamrock” a neighbor, a friend, anyone in need of a little joy. Personalize the shamrocks with messages that uplift. I assure you, the recipient will feel gratitude for your loving act of kindness. I did. Eight years later, that March 17 remains memorable. I was gifted not with the luck of the Irish, although shamrocks symbolize good luck, but rather with happiness by a friendly family of leprechauns.
ON THIS, PI DAY and the International Day of Mathematics, I openly admit that I dislike math. I’ve never been good with numbers, never got the early intervention in grade school to help me with the dreaded fractions and other math challenges. And let’s not even discuss how much I disliked word problems. Reflecting as an adult, those problems seem particularly useful in everyday mathematics application. But back in the day, I could not wrap my brain around solving them. And back in the day, my school did not offer extra help to students struggling in any subject.
Moving into junior high school, my dislike of math only intensified. One particular math teacher, who shall go unnamed, scared me to death. He would call students to the blackboard to solve math equations. Talk about intimidating, terrifying and humiliating for those of us who were not good in math, but which he expected to be good in math because, hey, he was. I hope teachers no longer do that—call students to the front of the class to solve math problems.
Then came high school and the dreaded, required algebra. That I made it through that class without failing is still almost incomprehensible. Again, my brain could not understand what letters and exponents had to do with numbers. To this day, I don’t get it and I’m all too happy to leave algebra back in the early 1970s.
Thankfully, the next generations have not inherited my math deficiencies. My son holds a math minor to supplement his computer science degree. And my two grandchildren excel in math. The first grader is in an advanced math class. I can ask Isabelle to solve a math equation well beyond what a nearly 7-year-old should know and I can almost see her brain spinning as she pops out the answer, boom, just like that.
Isaac, who recently turned four, shows the same developing math strengths. When he stayed with us last week, he was writing digital time in squares across sheets of paper. He started with 1:00, finished at 1:59 and then started with 2:00, reaching 2:59. Early on, he was fascinated by my wristwatch, which I often removed from my arm and slipped onto his. He also liked my vintage alarm clock collection and our wall clock. But mostly, Isaac simply loves numbers.
That their dad, Marc, holds a math degree and works as an actuary likely factors into the grandkids’ math interests and skills. I am grateful they won’t struggle with math like their grandma did all through school.
And then there’s my sister-in-law Rosie, a retired math teacher. No questioning that she loves math.
But me? Nope. Math-lovers may be celebrating Pi Day today (what does “pi” even mean?), but not me. I’d rather have the pie you can eat, thank you.
TELL ME: Are you good in math? Do you like math? Did you have any experiences like mine in school?
SHE WAS NOT QUITE 33 years old, this young mother of five living on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm in March 1965. It was an especially harsh winter, documented in a spiral bound notebook she kept.
She filled page after page with several-line daily entries about everyday life. She wrote about crops and household chores and kids and food and the most ordinary daily happenings. And, always, she recorded the weather—the wind, the precipitation, sometimes the temperature.
This keeper of prairie history in rural Redwood County was my mother, who died in January 2022 at the age of 89. I am the keeper of her journals, which she kept from 1947-2014, from ages 15 to 82. Sixty-seven years of journaling. Several years, when she met and fell in love with my dad, are noticeably missing.
Recently, I pulled the tote holding her collection of writing from the closet. This snowy winter of 2022-2023 in Minnesota prompted me to filter through Mom’s notebooks from 1964 and 1965. That winter season of nearly 60 years ago holds the state record for the longest consecutive number of days—136—with an inch or more of snow on the ground. We are closing in on that, moving into the top ten.
Mom’s journal entries confirm that particularly snowy and harsh winter on the Minnesota prairie. From February into March, especially, many days brought snow and accompanying strong wind. Two photos from March 1965 back up Mom’s words. Her first March entry is one of many that notes the seemingly never-ending snow falling on our family farm a mile south of Vesta. She writes of the weather:
March 1—What a surprise! Snowing & blowing when we got up & kept on all day. No school.
March 2—Still blowing & started to snow again. Really a big drift across the driveway. Mike came & opened up driveway. No school again. Milk truck didn’t come so Vern has to dump tonight’s milk.
Let me pause here and emphasize the hardship referenced in Mom’s March 2 entry. My dad had to dump the milk from his herd of Holsteins. That was like pouring money down the drain. I can only imagine how emotionally and financially difficult that was to lose a day’s income. But if the milk truck can’t get through on snow-clogged country roads to empty the bulk tank, there’s no choice but to pour away milk.
On March 3-5, Mom writes the same—of snow and blowing snow and efforts to keep the driveway open and no school. Then comes a respite from the snow. Dad was even planning ahead to spring, receiving a delivery of DeKalb seed corn on March 15. But then snowfall resumes on St. Patrick’s Day in this land of wide open spaces, where the wind whips fierce across the prairie.
March 17—Snowing & blowing. Got worse all day. Good thing the milk truck came. No school.
March 18—Quit snowing, but is really blowing. Huge drift across driveway & in grove. Almost all roads in Minn are blocked. No school. Cold, about 10 degrees.
March 19—We all went outside & took pictures of the big drifts & all the snow. Mike came over through field by gravel pit & started to clear off yard. Clear & cold.
Mom’s March 19 entry is notable for multiple reasons. First, my parents documented the snowdrifts with their camera. They didn’t take pictures often because it cost money to buy and develop the film. Money they didn’t have. That is why I have few photos from my childhood. That they documented the huge drifts filling our driveway and farmyard reveals how much this snow impacted their daily lives. In the recesses of my memory, I remember those rock-hard drifts that seemed like mountains to a flat-lander farm girl. That my Uncle Mike, who farmed just to the east, had to drive through the field (rather than on the township and county roads) to reach our farm also reveals much about conditions.
In the two days following, Mom writes of a neighbor coming over with his rotary (tractor-mounted snowblower) to finally open the driveway. But when the milk truck arrived at 4:30 am, the driveway was not opened wide enough for the truck to squeeze through the rock hard snow canyon. The driver returned in the afternoon, after Dad somehow carved a wider opening.
The weather got better in the days following, if sunny and zero in the mornings and highs of 12 degrees are better. At least the snow subsided. On March 23, Mom even notes that they watched the space shot on TV. I expect this first crewed mission in NASA’s Gemini Project proved a welcome diversion from the harsh winter.
In her March 27 journal entry, hope rises that winter will end. Mom writes: Sunny & warmer than it has been for days. Got to 45 degrees. Minnetonka beat Fairbault (sic) in basketball tournament. I almost laughed when I read that because Minnesotans often associate blizzards with state basketball tournament time. I also laughed because Faribault would eventually become my home, the place I’ve lived for 41 years now.
So much for optimism. On March 28, snow fell again. All day.
But the next day, Mom writes, the weather was sunny and warm enough to thaw the snow and ice and create a muddy mess. I stopped reading on March 31. I’d had enough snow. I expect Mom had, too.
I NEARLY STOPPED READING the book several chapters in. The content weighed on me, so emotionally heavy that I wondered if I could continue. But then the story line began to unfold in a more hopeful way. And I read on.
By the time I reached the final chapter of A Man Called Ove, I was so invested in this book, the characters and relationships that formed, the way lives intertwined to save a life, that I wondered why I ever considered not finishing.
This 2014 international bestselling novel by Swedish blogger and columnist Fredrik Backman now ranks as a favorite book of mine. It made me cry. Correction. Sob. I struggled to read the final pages as tears blurred my vision. It’s been awhile since a work of fiction has spawned such a heart-wrenching emotional reaction.
I challenge you to pick up this book and read about aging Ove and his grief and grumpiness and outspokenness and how the edges of his hardness begin to soften. I laughed. I cried. I worried. I felt hopeful. I cheered. I wanted to give Ove a kick in the pants. I pondered. I related.
The mix of emotions elicited by A Man Called Ove tells me one thing. This is a remarkable book. The writing. The way mental health weaves into the story. There’s no avoidance of hard topics—of bullying and trauma and loss and grief and obsessive compulsive behavior and suicide and the way the mind wraps and detours and struggles and copes.
Into all of this, the author brings hope. In new neighbors. In a mangy cat. In a teen with sooty eyes and a determined journalist and a friend with dementia. I appreciate how, in the end, differences matter not. It’s that kind of book. Real. Honest. Heart-breaking.
I did not see the American movie, “A Man Called Otto,” based on the book. I’ve been told it’s good by some, advised by others to watch the Swedish version instead. Usually I’m disappointed in film adaptations. I haven’t seen a movie on the big screen in many years.
This Sunday evening, movies will be front and center in Los Angeles as “best of” awards are presented at The Oscars. I didn’t find “A Man Called Otto” (or any of the actors/actresses) on a quick scroll through The Academy Awards nominees list. Tom Hanks stars as Otto. I’m not into Hollywood events like this, although certainly they are important to honor those who do outstanding work in their craft. Rather, I prefer books, where I can read and then visualize people, scenes, interactions. My imagination unleashes, prompted by the writing of creatives passionate about the written word.
TELL ME: Have you read A Man Called Ove and/or seen the Swedish or American film based on the novel? I’d like to hear your reactions to either or both.
Thank you to readers Ken and Colleen who suggested I read this book.
DECIDEDLY NONTROPICAL MINNESOTA seems an unlikely place to find wild or captive flamingos. And it is…with the exception of the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley and Como Park Zoo in St. Paul and their resident flamingos. While those two zoos are not all that far from Faribault, we have our own flock right here. Not real, of course, but fake flamingos, which are good enough for me in the midst of a particularly long and snowy Minnesota winter.
In the storefront window of Fashions on Central, a fashionably-dressed headless mannequin grips the leashes of five plastic flamingos wading in a sea of gauzy fabric. With two fish among them and a starfish to the far left, I recognize this as a tropical scene. Yet my imaginative snowbanked mind drifts to snowdrifts enveloping those warm weather birds.
Enough of that thinking.
I appreciate the creative efforts at Fashions on Central, a women’s clothing store owned and operated by Buckham West. Proceeds from the sales of gently-used clothing, shoes and accessories go directly back to the local senior center. I love this environmentally-friendly mission of recycling donated, used clothing. I’ve shopped here and, in fact, found a like-new gray wool pea coat for a bargain $7. It’s kept me warm for multiple Minnesota winters already.
While I’m not in the market for beach clothes like those worn by the store-front mannequin, I know others may be as they plan spring break vacations. No matter, this tropical scene gives me a visual respite. If I focus hard enough and long enough, I can imagine myself ocean-side, hot sun warming my skin, leis layered around my sweaty neck, fish swimming, flamingos flaunting.
And then, if I walk several blocks south from Fashions on Central to Division Street and aim straight ahead rather than turn right to Buckham West, I can escape, too. Inside Buckham Memorial Library, books set in tropical locations await me. Yes, there’s always a way to flee winter in Minnesota, even when you can’t leave.
DURING ONE OF SOUTHERN MINNESOTA’S recent cold snaps, I pulled out my camera to photograph some particularly intricate art. Not artwork in a public gallery exhibit, but rather art displayed in a private space—my upstairs bedrooms.
I live in a 90+-year-old house, built sometime in the 1930s. Locally, it’s the Swanson house, although Randy and I have owned this 1 ½-story structure since 1984. But it will forever be the home of its former owners.
Although we’ve made many improvements through the decades, including installing a new furnace and central air conditioning that included additional duct work, the upstairs remains notably cold in the winter and hot in the summer. A single heat vent opens to both bedrooms. Updated replacement windows installed some 30 years ago also did little to improve cold weather heat retention on the second floor.
And so Jack Frost finds our second floor vacant bedrooms a welcoming short-term studio in the deep cold of a Minnesota winter. With the three kids long-grown into adulthood and us empty nesters for 11 years now, he can settle in as an artist-in-residence without notice.
When temperatures drop into that frigid category of frostbite warnings, tires crunching on snow and extra blankets layered on the bed, Jack Frost arrives. It’s OK hosting him as a short-term guest, but anything beyond a few days and I’m ready to boot him out.
He does some creative work on the canvas of cold window panes. Whether he etches or paints or draws or exactly how he crafts his art remains an unknown to unscientific me. But I’m impressed by the primarily nature-themed work he designs.
In his last exhibit, Jack Frost incorporated mostly branches, grass stems, water and feathers. They were beautiful in their detailed intricacy, a Frost signature style.
When sunlight shown on the eastern window in the morning, the contrast of light and dark in the artist’s art sharpened. Dazzled, almost.
Yet, even in diminished light, the graininess of some pieces produced more introspective and moody scenes.
Jack Frost’s art installations in my second story home gallery are typically short showings of several days. Just enough time for me to pause and appreciate his work before outdoor temperatures rise, the sun melts his art and he vanishes. Poof. I can’t say I welcome him with open arms because I really don’t like sub-zero temps. But I can appreciate Jack Frost’s art as more than just frost accumulating on energy inefficient windows.
NOSTALGIA WEAVES into our lives the older we grow, time blurring the edges of memories. But then something comes along to jog the mind into recalling a sweet childhood memory. For me, that’s Faribo Frosty.
Since 2005, the Hoisington family has built my community’s version of Frosty the Snowman. I loved Frosty as a child—the song, the Little Golden book, the animated holiday cartoon narrated by Jimmy Durante. There’s something so compelling about a snowman that comes to life via a magical top hat. And when he melts, oh, the sadness.
But the melting of Faribo Frosty, given his robust size and current height of 17 or so feet, is not imminent. Lead creator Andy Hoisington cares for Frosty with the devotion of a man who recognizes the importance of his snowman. Families and grandparents and couples come to the corner of First Street Northwest and Third Avenue Northwest to see Faribo Frosty in the Hoisington’s front yard. I’ve been there with my grandkids, most recently a few weeks ago. When my granddaughter was two, she stretched her arms wide to hug Frosty. Couples have gotten engaged here and been photographed here to announce a pregnancy.
Ginormous Faribo Frosty, crafted with shaved ice from the local ice arena and from snow by Andy and his family (including adult sons Jake and Josiah and son-in-law Nick), attracts visitors from well beyond Faribault. He’s also been filmed for metro area television features, including KARE 11 Boyd Huppert’s “Land of 10,000 Stories.”
I’ve watched the Hoisingtons work on Frosty, shoveling shaved ice from a trailer, climbing a ladder to pack and shape the beloved snowman. He requires constant maintenance given Minnesota’s diverse winter weather. This is truly a labor of love after 18 years.
I am grateful for this family’s dedication to bringing joy into my community with their version of Frosty. Faribo Frosty makes me happy. He makes me smile with his wide smile, his bright carrot nose, his over-sized signature red scarf and mittens, even his black bucket pipe and his black top hat. Faribo Frosty is, in every way, nostalgically magical.
TELL ME: If you live in southern Minnesota, have you seen Faribo Frosty? If you live in another cold weather area, do you have a similar winter attraction or have you seen one?
Traditionally, Randy and I stop by during this late February opening of the walk-up/drive-up DQ for the bargain Peanut Buster Parfaits. When the DQ closes for the season at the end of October, we’re there, too, for the discounted parfaits.
Typically, we wait in line behind a long string of vehicles for the coveted treat. Last October we pulled up to the drive-up window only to learn that they’d just run out of ice cream and there would be no more with the shop temporarily closing. Disappointed doesn’t quite describe my emotion in that let-down moment. I’d been anticipating the taste of sweet and salty—hot fudge and peanuts atop that sweet, snow white soft-serve ice cream.
And now here it is, March 3, and I missed opening weekend with the $2.49/each Peanut Buster Parfait three-day special. Perhaps this winter of too much snow distracted me. Even if the calendar shows that spring is only officially 17 days distant, nothing feels or looks remotely like spring here. And so, I reason, this is why I missed opening weekend at The Little Dairy Queen of Faribault. My thoughts remain deeply entrenched in this winter of deep snow.