Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's a wrap

It's evening in Rice Lake on New Year's Eve 
and I'm getting ready to watch the ball drop in Times Square, as I do most years on this day.

I'm thinking back on a year that brought unexpected events that will forever change my life, 
and I know that the coming year will be a good one. 

It has been a couple of cold Wisconsin winter days, 
but with sunshine, it's just not that bad.  
The birds have been so busy at the feeder, 
I can't imagine what it takes for them to maintain in this weather, 
and I'm glad that I can help a bit by keeping them fed.

Life is Good.

Monday, December 29, 2014

December 29, 2014 - A Christmas Letter

(Below is a copy of the Christmas letter I am sending to friends and family in the next few days.)

So, this is about my third try at a Christmas letter. 
I find it almost impossible to write a note recapping the year, without starting at the end and working backwards.  This makes it not a cheery start to my letter, so forgive me & brace yourself if you do not know all this news.  (And for those that know, bear with me.)

This Christmas as we were gathered to see the little ones enjoy the wonder of Santa 
and all that is Christmas, 
our hearts were heavy.

On 12.13.14, we said goodbye to Dad with a Memorial Service & burial at West Denmark Lutheran Church in Luck, WI.  It was a beautiful service in the church followed by military honors at the cemetery.  Dad was 92.  His death came unexpectedly on 11.2.2014, just days after gallbladder surgery.   Even now it seems like it cannot be true, he was doing so well before his gallbladder acted up.  Although, doing well wasn’t what you may think.  He was recovering from losing his wife of 26 years.  Ev died on 9.5.2014 after a massive stroke and 5 days of hospice care.  This was a terrible blow to Dad and he missed her so much.  Their 26 years of marriage had been filled with laughter, dancing, travel and family fun. 

On 10.25.2014, we celebrated Ev’s life with a party (at her request) in Luck, and the hall was full of children laughing and the sound of voices remembering how much fun we had all had with Ev in our family.  We placed her ashes in the West Denmark Cemetery on a sunny fall day, with the leaves crunching under our feet.  The headstone Dad selected is a park bench.  The inscription “Keep a Song in Your Heart”, (something said at the end of each Lawrence Welk Show) and an image of a ballroom dancing couple makes this bench a very special spot to rest.

Just 54 days between.  You hear these stories, you wonder at how that can happen, and you never want to be in those stories, yet here we are.  Without dwelling on what could have been, although it is such a temptation, it is better medicine to think about what was.

In August, I drove to Iowa and picked Dad up for a poker weekend in Wisconsin with his son’s and grandsons.  I was the chauffeur.  We took the back roads on our way North and we both enjoyed seeing some parts of Iowa that we had not seen before.  The weekend in Baldwin was a blast for Dad.  He and ‘the boys’ played cards all day on Saturday and then, after a Sunday brunch, I drove him back to Iowa

Before leaving Iowa, Dad & Ev and I enjoyed dinner at their favorite Cancun Mexican Café, and drank marguerites and laughed and laughed.  It would turn out to be the last time I would see Ev, but I find myself thankful for such a wonderful memory of our last time together.

For a couple of weeks at the beginning of July, Dad & Ev came to Luck to attend Family Camp at West Denmark.  This had become their annual trip and they enjoyed the fellowship at camp as well as a chance to see the Luck families.  I even talked them into a week in Rice Lake at my house which included July 4th at Glenn’s lake cottage on Big Moon Lake.  

Dad & Ev always enjoy seeing the family and watching the parade of decorated boats on the lake.  Dad and Ev both loved patriotic events and the 4th of July was no exception.  And seeing the rest of the J family, brought a smile.

Summer was so nice this year, not too hot and not too dry.  I spent some time hauling old wood home from Luck as my cousin Paul was dismantling an old barn on the land where my Grandparents Ansgar & Frederikke had lived.  The barn held a few old artifacts that he generously gave to the Johansens and I hauled it all home.  The barn wood I used to build a miniature replica of the old barn and I am so pleased with my Ansgar’s Lille Barn, complete with silo.  Dad gave me building advice, over the phone, as I finished this fun project.  Here it is on this crisp December 29th morning.  The silo is hidden in this view, but it is there, as is the chute between silo & barn.

In April, Laila flew into Minneapolis and the two of us drove to Iowa to help celebrate Dad’s 92nd birthday.  We all stayed at a nice motel in Garner, Glenn & Kathy joined us and good friends Jim and Janette also came.  (Gus and Lois were home welcoming yet another grandbaby into the family, but they were with us in spirit.)  We spent time visiting, Dad & Glenn played some cribbage and Glenn & Kathy even brought ӕbelskiver for breakfast on Sunday morning!

It was a very fun weekend filled with lots of time to relax and visit with the folks.  As I am typing this and see these pictures, I cannot help but smile remembering how much fun we had just being together in honor of Dad’s birthday.  Ev really loved to see Dad in the limelight and this weekend was fun for her as well.

We Johansen kids are lucky to have had so much fun with Dad and Ev over the years; they made us smile and laugh time & time again.  I know that they wouldn’t want us to be too sad, but to say we miss them is a massive understatement. 

So, in their memory, as we say goodbye to 2014 and farewell to both Dad and Ev, it is my hope that we might all find smiles and laughter enough to share in the New Year, and always.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Busy feeder

I've been catching up on my rest, both physical & mental, over the past week.

Today, it snowed most of the day and it was very pretty outside.  The birds were so busy at the feeders most of the day I had to refill by mind afternoon.
We are coming up on Lille Jule Aften on December 23.
The custom is that the livestock and barn animals get a special treat.
I better find something for all these birds!
I'm swamped.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

He would have liked it

I found this cross stitch in among Dad's things.
I stitched it in 1987 but it holds true.

We gathered on Saturday to remember Dad and to honor his life.
The West Denmark Lutheran Church in Luck, Wisconsin was beautiful with a wreath where the oak cross normally hangs.
Such a beautiful setting.

The box holding Dad's ashes was handmade by Kris.  He used wood from the beams salvaged from the old Johansen house on County Trunk N.  The lid was secured with brass screws, Dad would have been proud of the workmanship.
A homage to a hero.
Dad was so proud of his military service and we paid proper tribute.

As the church began to fill, we took a quick photo of the Johansen kids.
Laila, Ralph, Glenn & Wanda

After a lovely church service, we traveled to the cemetery.
Military honors followed a short service.

Two sailors were standing at attention at Dad's grave when we arrived at the cemetery.

After a salute to the flag, one soldier marched to the side and taps were played on a bugle.

Meanwhile, the flag of the United States was held to the heart of the other sailor.

Then, the flag was unfolded slowly and with precision.
For a split second, the flag is snapped to full open over Dad.

Then, in tribute to the veteran, the flag is folded precisely into a triangle.

In accordance with tradition, the flag is presented to the oldest son, Ralph.

A couple of mementos were dropped into the ground and we covered Dad's ashes.

The service was over, friends drifted off, but Dad's family stood close for just a little longer.

Coffee and bars were served by the church women at the parrish hall following the cemetery.
Many friends and relatives were there and we spent several hours visiting.

Dad would have liked the singing of America the Beautiful as part of the service and I know he would have been delighted to see those USN Sailors fold that flag.

But it is so hard to say good-bye to the man who will always be our special hero.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Somethings are just too beautiful to believe.

Late Thursday night I got a tip from a birder friend about the sighting of a snowy owl not too far from Rice Lake.  Laila and I had hoped to have a day to have a little fun today before tomorrow's memorial service for Dad.  I suggested that we go on an adventure to see if we might see the snowy owl.  

We had a nice breakfast with Gus in Rice Lake, ran a couple of errands, and then took a drive.

We had directions and, on the second try, found the location where an owl had been spotted.

I spent all last winter hunting for a snowy owl, 
so my hopes were not very high that we would see anything.

We were slowly making our way down a country road when I saw it.  
Laila thought it was a garbage bag on a fence post, but I did not agree.  
I am so glad that I was right!  

There she was...I have no idea if it was male or female, but she was beautiful.  
I was speechless to really see such an amazing bird.

The weather was white, the air was white, the sky was white, the snow was white, 
and of course, the Snowy Owl...white.  

So, photography was tricky and I have no experience shooting white on white.  The owl was a ways off too, beyond the range of my zoom lens, but I did manage to get a few photos.

I'm convinced this was a sign from Dad.  
We two daughters could not have been more excited.  

We each managed to take a photo with our cell phones & binoculars.  
That is a crazy technique that produces some pretty surprising results.
Laila's cell phone & binocular shot of our Snowy Owl.

Wanda's cell phone & binocular shot.
I also took some photos with my camera.  
They are not award winners, but I am pretty excited anyway.

Through the windshield as she sat on top of a power pole.

Thanks Dad, we believe.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

For those who may not know, 
we will honor our Dad, Valdemar "Wally" Johansen, 
in a memorial service 
internment of ashes with military honors on 
December 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm 
at the West Denmark Lutheran Church in Luck, WI. 

Coffee and fellowship will follow at West Denmark Parrish Hall.

This photo was taken when he was a proud US Navy Seabee, stationed on Oahu.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It's an honor

Last week I headed for Luck on Friday to tie up loose ends for Dad's Memorial Service,
 planned for 12.13.14
After meeting with the Pastor and then the florist, I headed off to see Jack play basketball.  Jack is on the JV team this year, and while this game was not a winning effort, Jack played hard.  I hope he had fun, but it gets harder and harder for these athletes to stomach a loss, so it might be a while before he realizes he was having fun.

Jens isn't as interested in basketball as Jack, yet...

I had planned ahead to sleep over in Luck at Kyle's.  It's so nice that I feel an open invitation there.  When I mentioned to Stella that it had been a long time since I had slept over, she told me it was two years ago on Christmas.  I suspect she is right.  Last winter was so miserable, I rarely left Rice Lake.  It's really fun and a delight to be the honored sleep over guest.

These Badger fans, Stella and Ruby, are just too cute.

Saturday morning I got a little Jude time.
He's growing up fast, he's a happy guy, especially after a nap on great auntie's shoulder.
It's a sweet honor to hold a sleeping baby, that is for sure.

It is always fun to be at Kyle and Heather's.  
They are good hosts and the kids are so glad to have company.  It's really nice.

Jens had a sleep over at Grandma's, so when I got there Saturday morning, to pick her up, he gave me an introduction to his pals, The Seven Dwarfs.

Lois and I were going to head to a few craft sales, but first, we got to chase Abby, the wild puppy, around the golf course.  Kids on sleds is an invitation to fun for a puppy.
Lois was at the bottom of the hill, and Abby was racing up and down and all around.
Finally, I drove to the top of the hill and some kind folks up there helped me snag the pup.

Finally Lois and I headed off to the sales.  (The pup was happy to be in her kennel, she was worn out from all that fun!)  West Denmark was having a cookie walk and art sale.  We snagged a couple of the last of some sweet Danish hearts wall hangers and some tasty cookies.
The Dane School was decorated with the biggest Danish Heart Baskets that I have ever seen.

A great craft idea of a birch bark ornament 'tree' gives me one more idea for my 'to do' list.

As always, the Danish Christmas Tree is my favorite.

It was a fun day.
I think it was more than my recovering ankle was used to, but once I got home, I did some ice/elevate remediation and that helped.

The rest of this week is all about wrapping up the details for Dad's Memorial Service.
It's an honor to plan the farewell for our Dad.

Monday, December 1, 2014

This makes me smile

Scanning a box of old photos of Dad's, some of which I have seen, but many are new to me.
This one really made me smile.
Brother Glenn, feeding the left overs to the cats.
I remember lots of cats and I don't remember any cat food, I guess they ate what we ate.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lots of memories to share

As I am sorting through the boxes that came from Dad's apartment, I am finding so  many memories.
Old photos and memorabilia that had been tucked away.
The beauty of the internet is how easy it is to share images of these items with friends and family.

Here are a couple of photos of The Johansen kids with Dad.

As time goes by, I'll be scanning more and more to share, but for now, this is a nice start.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Who's to say

An eagle flew over our heads at the West Denmark Cemetery as we said goodbye to Ev in October. 

 The morning after Dad passed away, an eagle did a fly-by the window where Kyle and I sat eating breakfast as we struggled with our emotions.  

A male cardinal lands at my bird feeder to remind me of my good friend and other mother, Betty Rosenow. 

 As I sat sorting through Dad's personal effects in my living room the other night, two raccoon showed up on my front deck, where there have never been raccoon before.  They look at me as if they thought they should come in the house (I of course knew that they should not!)  But they made me smile with their cuteness.

Sometimes these events seem to be just too specific to be random acts of nature.  
I prefer to think of these happenings as messages from a loved one, sent via Mother Nature.  
And after-all, who's to say.

Nephew Kyle sent a text on Monday morning from the woods.

Nephew Kris sent me a text on Tuesday morning,

Lora followed up with an email last evening.

Kris says this one is for Grandpa! He shot it with Grandpa's gun!! He had seen a buck last week and couldn't get a shot and said, "Grandpa always said it's not always about being good, but being lucky." 
He thinks Grandpa Wally brought him some luck today. :-)

Maybe if you look for a sign now and then, you'll see one.
If it brings comfort and a fond memory, all the better.
After all, who's to say.

Friday, November 21, 2014


With Dad and Ev both gone, their apartment had to be emptied.  A job like that is not easy and of course, it comes with a deadline so as to avoid paying rent for 'the stuff' to sit there.

The O'Toole kids really worked hard and all of the housewares found new homes, either with family or local charity thrift store.

I knew I would have to go and sort through Dad's things and haul back to Wisconsin all that we wanted to keep.  My Grandfather's rocker was something we want to keep of course and then who knows what else Dad had saved over the years.

Much to my surprise, my best friends, Rochelle & LeAnna told me that they wanted to fly back here and help me with this process.  They felt that they could help me do this and it would be more important than having them attend the Memorial Service in December.  I still can't believe that they did it, but it was a special gift to me.

I picked 'the girls' up at the airport in Minneapolis on Monday afternoon and we headed South.  We stopped and ate lunch and took our time, which in hindsight, maybe wasn't the best plan.  All was going fine until about Albert Lea, when the snow started, the wind was blowing and the sun was setting.  Once it was dark, driving was pretty difficult.  We were very relieved to reach Clear Lake safe and sound.  The motel was full that night as many travelers had abandoned the interstate in favor of safety and warmth.

Tuesday we woke to better weather, although it was cold and windy.  We headed to Belmond to start on the work at the apartment.  I was really impressed with how much had been done by the O'Toole kids.  After making a quick plan, we got to work.  Jeff, Ev's son, came down and we did a few, post office, etc, then headed back to work.  By day's end, we were sure we could finish on Wednesday, so we loaded the car and headed to the drop off at a thrift store in Clear Lake.  We made a donation of sizable quantity there.  

We met Jim and Janette for dinner that evening.  Dad even bought (with Glenn's blessing)!  The 5 of us spent the evening reminiscing about Dad & Ev, laughing and crying and toasting our good fortune to have had Dad and Ev for so long.   We enjoyed our time together and made plans for future visits, but very sadly we were NOT smart enough to have the waitress take our photo!  

Wednesday morning, we were back in Belmond and finished up the packing up of Dad's items.  The residents of the apartment complex were all so kind and spoke so highly of the folks.  By about noon, we packed up the car with as much as would fit and headed back to Clear Lake.  Glenn will return to Belmond to get the remaining items.

The motel was quiet on Wednesday afternoon, so we sat in the lobby and played 3 handed Bridge until supper time.  LeAnna is just learning and Rochelle & I have played but are also still learning.  It was a nice afternoon with friends.  We decided on Cancun for Mexican food that evening, it was just ok, as we 3 all like our food with more spice.  That evening we relaxed in our rooms with our iPads and visited as we played our silly games.  We experimented with an on line bridge game site and hope to have an online game one of these days.

Thursday morning, we packed up and headed for Minneapolis.  The flight was later in the day, but the plan was for me to be heading East by 2pm so I could make it home in the daylight.

We took a pit stop at Cabela's in Owatonna.  Neither Roche, nor LeAnna, had ever been inside a Cabela's.  (Something the Johansen family finds to be almost unbelievable.)  
I persuaded a shopper to take a photo of us in front of the exhibit of taxidermy.
Cabela's - Owatonna, MN
I arrived home just as the sun was going behind the trees.

Today I hauled everything in from Dad's van and tomorrow I'll start sorting out Dad's affairs.
I'm thinking my tear ducts will get yet another good washing.

I'm so thankful for Roche & LeAnna's visit and all their help, it was good medicine on top of the work we got done!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On Monday, 11/11/2014, it snowed about a foot.
Then the temperatures dropped, so this snow is not going anywhere.
A couple more inches of snow have fallen since Monday,
and the driveway and sidewalks are a mess with ice and snow.
But, today, the sun was out and a blue-jay was busy snacking at the feeder.

 These photos were taken through the dirty living room window.

Blue-jays don't get a lot of love from bird watchers, 
but I've always thought they were a beautiful bird.
 One of the resident cats was on the alert and keeping an eye on the busy bird feeder today.
Slowly, the normal stuff of life is starting to creep back into my day.


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