Field Trips from Kansas Wheat Fields to Alaska Tundra

“We’re going on a field trip!” I announced breathlessly to my mother. I was a fifth-grader with braces on my teeth, too-short bangs, and long brown braids. After attending school in a small Alaska village and on a Montana Indian reservation, I was now in Tulare, California, at Wilson Elementary. School. The field trip was to a lumber mill.

So, what is a field trip? A field trip is an outing by a group of people away from their normal environment. The purpose is usually observation or participation for education.

This is my 2015 calendar of field trips and what I learned, or anticipate learning:

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

California: Joshua Tree National Park (March)

A lizard can wear two different kinds of camo at once, and blend into both the sunny and the shady part of a rock. There really is a San Andreas Fault. Palm Springs can be 90 degrees and at the top of the tramway behind and above it, 50 degrees – with snow.

Santa's House at the North Pole

Santa’s House at the North Pole

Alaska: Business trip with drive to/from Anchorage/Fairbanks (early May)

I’ve been to Fairbanks many times, but never to North Pole, only 20 miles away. Yes, there is Santa’s House. No, there is not much open outside tourist season.

A long haul from Toronto to Denver.

A long haul from Toronto to Denver.

Michigan to Colorado: Relocating family members from Canada (late May)

I can still drive a stick-shifting 4-Runner. I wanted to see more of Iowa, but it rained most of the way. I did notice white barns with large cupolas on top. I need to research the “why” of this repeated size and design.

WWII Bunkers

WWII Bunkers

Alaska: Dutch Harbor/Unalaska in the Aleutian Chain (August)

I have never explored this part of Alaska, located in “The Deadliest Catch” waters. I will prepare for 40 degrees with wind and rain. Besides Pearl Harbor, it was one of the few US locations to be bombed by the Japanese in WWII. I anticipate seeing military and Aleut sites and artifacts,


'A' is for Alaska: Teacher to the Nunamiut Eskimos -- Anna Bortel's story.

‘A’ is for Alaska: Teacher to the Nunamiut Eskimos — Anna Bortel’s story.

Kansas: Newton (Faith and Life Bookstore – September 17, Hillsboro – September 18)

People who live in this area may not consider this to be “field trip.” For me, it’s a step back in time to re-experience where my Mennonite parents’ people re-created home in America. At Tabor College, I will be presenting slides and reading from my book, “’A is for Anaktuvuk: Teacher to the Nunamiut Eskimos.” This teacher took a very big “field trip” – and changed Alaska history.


Alaska Marine Highway ferry

Alaska Marine Highway ferry

Washington: Bellingham to Alaska: Skagway (October)

On a no-frills Alaska Marine Highway ferry, I want to learn about the WWII Aleut Relocation camps near Juneau, where the US government sent people from Alaska’s Aleutian Chain; Sheldon Jackson’s establishment of an early Alaska educational system; and the Gold Rush at Skagway.

Rocky Mt Mennonite  Relief Sale

Rocky Mt Mennonite Relief Sale

Colorado: Rocky Ford – Mennonite Relief Sale (October)

I love the excitement of the live and silent auctions, quilt sales, eating as much pie and ice cream as I can hold, buying German sausage, and stuffing myself with Mennonite New Year’s fritters; all with the good conscience that the proceeds go towards relief, development and peace work around the world. The “educational” part is seeing purchasable crafts that empower artisans in developing countries and hearing what the Mennonite Central Committee is doing to help people develop a sustainable lifestyle.

After my fifth-grade field trip, I returned home bubbling over about my first-time bus ride, the over-look platforms alongside the machines, and the smell of wood. Wood shavings and chips spilled out of my jacket pocket.

5th grader

5th grader

  1. What field trips have you taken in 2015?
  2. What did you experience? Return home chattering about? Gather in your pockets?
  3. What field trips are you contemplating? What is holding you back?

(This article was first published in the Kansas “The Country Register,” Aug/Sept 2015 issue.)


Mom’s Moose – Immigrates from California to Alaska

A number of years ago, I wanted to send Dad’s polar bear back home – to the family homestead in Alaska. Dad had shot the bear in 1958 when we were living in Tanana, Alaska, where he was a physician at the Alaska Native Service Public Health Hospital. He’d gone to Point Hope with an Inupiat Eskimo employee and guide. After Dad died, the bear had come to live with me – in Colorado.

I thought I could just have the bearskin hitchhike on one of my brother’s driving trips back north. At the last minute, I’d checked with the Canadian border crossing. They didn’t care if it was driven through Canada – as long as it didn’t remain in Canada. The United States customs was much stickier. They immediately hyperventilated because it is illegal to shoot polar bears – now. They demanded proof of when it was shot, where, and by whom. I replied that I could send them my book, “Alaska Bush Pilot Doctor.” They required extensive paperwork – which would take six months to approve – if it was approved. I gave up. The polar continues to live with me.

Having this drama as a historical backdrop to relocating animals, dead ones, from the Lower 48 back to Alaska, I was concerned about relocating Mom’s Moose head, which over the years had wandered from Alaska to Kansas to California.

Mom's Moose

Mom’s Moose

I mentioned this to my California cousin, Don Gaede, because Mom’s Moose was presently at his mom’s house. He happened to mention it to our relative, Jim Gaede. Jim Gaede suggested the Doerksen fruit truck that goes to Alaska every summer. Don relayed the suggestion back to me. I contacted Matthew Doerksen, Ben Doerksen’s son, in Alaska. He thought the predicament of traveling across the borders with a moose head was amusing – and actually a non-issue. He said to contact his Uncle Dan Doerksen.

I emailed Dan and Wanda Doerksen. “This will work,” they said. (Nothing like Mennonite connections.)

Who are the Doerksens and what is “the fruit truck”?

“Over 30 years ago, my brother Ben lived in Alaska and got hungry for some fresh California fruit. We sent him a box of peaches. His friends and neighbors found out about the fruit and wanted some too.

Ben's Logo

Ben’s Logo

That’s how Tree Things was born. We now deliver to 9 various locations throughout Alaska in a 4-day period, five times each summer. We sell fruit only in Alaska. We do not have a nation-wide business. You indeed are special to us.”

After several years of sending a few boxes of peaches to Ben and his friends, Dan and Wanda were taking 50 boxes of peaches to the San Francisco airport and putting them in a container heading to Anchorage, Alaska.  Before long, Ben’s business had expanded to several towns. In 1982, he died unexpectedly. Dan and Wanda continued the business, but with driving an 18-wheeler up the Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway five times over the summer, with driving times of four to five days.

That’s a brief history of the Doerksen fruit truck.

Here’s more of the current history-making story

May 6, 2015, Wanda:

Dan is finally really looking at the size of your moose. It is not so much the weight but the size it takes: W-57 inches, L-65 inches, H-51inches. It is the equivalent of 1 ½ pallets.

May 25, 2015, Don:

Great news, Dan came here this afternoon with his trailer, and with the help of Justin, we got the moose crate up on the trailer.

The Moose delivered to Dan and Wanda

The Moose delivered to Dan and Wanda

June 3, 2015, Wanda:


Dan loaded the box with the forklift into the truck and off they went. He was heading to Kingsburg to get berries and somewhere else for peaches. I heard the moose sigh with relief to make the long trip home. 🙂

(late morning)

Dan goofed. He discovered he did not have enough space to take the moose. He drove back to Reedley and brought the moose to the truck yard. He is shocked for miscalculating but we figured the moose was dead and would not mind a little more warm rest. He will leave Wed June 24 and arrive in Anchorage Monday June 29.

On June 29, 2015, Dan and his sister Nadine headed north with Mom’s Moose, surrounded by cherries, berries, oranges, and other fruit. On July 6, my brother, Mark, met the crew in Anchorage, loaded the crate onto his utility trailer, and hauled Mom’s Moose back to the Gaede homestead.

Mark Getting the  Moose Crate in Anchorage

Mark Getting the Moose Crate in Anchorage

Fifty-seven years later, the moose is back in its natural habitat – but most likely needing to reacclimatize after being in warmer climes for decades.

The Moose arrives back home -- on the Gaede-80 Homestead

The Moose arrives back home — on the Gaede-80 Homestead

Oh, and there’s a bit more to the story. When Ben Doerksen first arrived in Alaska, around 1969, he looked up my father, Dr. Elmer Gaede. Within short order, Mom had him sleeping under our Gaede-80 Homestead roof, rather than in his pick-up, and she was feeding him tender moose roasts and cauliflower straight from her garden. In November 1974, Dad delivered Ben’s son, Matthew, in Soldotna. The Doerksens and Gaedes go way back, helping each other out. Those are the stories that bring the true smiles.

Dust Storms, Stock Tanks, and a Sticker Patch


The Three Boys

The Three Boys

My husband, Bryan, had two close-in-age brothers: Rod and Duane. These three boys generated an abundance of stories that were retold at family gatherings and re-laughed by everyone. When Bryan died, I didn’t want my children to lose these memories, so I turned the oral tales into a written history in The Three Boys.

Western Kansas Farm

Western Kansas Farm

One Sunday, on the country road home from church, ominous blackness shrouded the car. The three boys, ages three, five, and seven, were terrified of these dust storms that plagued Western Kansas in the ‘50s. The storms could be seen on the horizon, and as they moved closer, they darkened the sky at midday, roared around outside, seeped into the house, and clogged the air. On this occasion, the boys couldn’t imagine how Dad could see to drive. They looked at each other, wide-eyed and speechless; then crowded together in the backseat and shut their eyes tightly. They knew they’d never see home again.

It seemed Dad derived some strange enjoyment from teasing the boys about the “Rollers,” as they were referred to. Dad would say, “Ahh, those dust rollers! Kids go in and never come out!”

Dad had a stock tank in which the boys learned to swim. The tank was situated across the yard, and had a fence through it so the cattle could drink on one side and the boys could swim on the other. Cow slobber mingled about and the bottom was so slippery from green slime-stuff that it was impossible to stand up. Of course the three boys tried, and naturally this was a source of amusement to watch one another fall and splash about. Besides the fascinating flora of green slime, there were occasional glimpses of cow faces beneath the water.

Now, between the tank and the house lay a sticker patch. Although the three boys were tough farm kids and constantly ran around barefooted, this sticker patch was to be avoided at all costs.

On this particularly afternoon, Bryan and Rod deviously devised a plot against their unsuspecting, younger, and gullible, brother. At the decided moment, the older boys looked to the west, in the direction of the dust storms, and Bryan yelled loudly, “Oh! Look! It’s a roller!”

Duane, popped up out of the water, tried to gain footing on the mossy tank, and screamed in fright. In a flash, he bolted over the tank edge, and headed straight for the house – not in the safe and circuitous pathway, but right through the sticker patch! Pain was added to his mental anguish. Shrieking, he stumbled into the house. Bryan and Rod laughed and laughed, then merrily claimed the tank for themselves.

When Mom questioned Duane as to the source of his wild panic, he was unable to articulate the harassment of his brothers. Consequently, with no punishment and with much hilarious gratification, the two older brothers continued to taunt their little brother throughout the summer. They took no care that someday he’d grow up, become more articulate, less gullible, and ready for payback. They were only kids. Their thoughts were of the moment.

  1. What are your summertime memories of childhood?
  2. What pranks did you play on your siblings?
  3. What consequences did you experience?

This was first printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), June/July 2015.)


Mom’s Moose – on the Loose and Returning Home

Mom the Huntress

Mom the Huntress

(Elmer E. Gaede, September, 1958, near Tanana, Alaska)

 I suspected the bull was around the bend of heavy brush, about 100 yards ahead. We edged forward, hugging the brush along a large cornhusk-colored meadow. I could smell him. Standing up and leaning forward, I broke cover. There he was, looking right at us. Without delay, he tossed his antlers and lowered his huge head. He was going to charge! The ground shook as he pounded toward us. I backed up and nearly knocked my wife, Ruby, off her feet.

“Get ready!”

The moose picked up speed. Ruby froze.

“Shoot, Ruby! Shoot!” I yelled.

She stood paralyzed in his path. By now he was only 50 yards away. Too close for comfort. Franti­cally, I focused my gun on the monster. Just as I pulled the trigger, I heard another shot ring out. Only 37 yards away from us, the moose crashed to the earth. I didn’t know what was trembling more, the ground from the impact, or Ruby as she turned to me with terrified eyes.

We both stood gasping for breath.

“You did great,” I encouraged her. “Now finish him off.”

She managed to lift the rifle and with two shots stilled the quivering animal. My heart pounded and I could nearly hear Ruby’s. She had every reason to be panicked.

I immediately went to work gutting the 900‑pound hunk of meat. Ruby had never seen this stage of moose‑hunting, although she had cut up and packaged pounds of meat after they had been hauled home. She appeared to have recovered her sense of speech, along with some curiosity, and commented about the innards of the moose.

“He’s like a camel,” she said in amazement. “Just look at all that blood and liquid. And look at his heart – the size of my head.”

I knew she was comparing him to the cows and pigs she’d seen butchered on her family’s farm in Kansas.

The evening darkness and gnawing mosquitoes hurried us; and I decided we couldn’t complete our task at that time.

“We can let him cool down overnight, and then tomorrow morning Roy and I will skin him and pack out the meat.”

I hated to leave her trophy so abruptly, but she didn’t want to spend the night in the wilds.

Within five minutes of a sandbar takeoff in my PA-14 tail-dragger, we were back in Tanana. I was jubilant and raring to re-talk the hunt, but Ruby walked home silently, wearily. We put the children to bed and she crawled into a hot bath. She needed some time alone – and to warm up. If I ever wanted her to hunt with me again, I knew I’d better grant her that opportunity.

The next morning, my friend, Roy, and I flew to the hunting site. Seven hours later, all four quarters of Ruby’s moose were back in Tanana. This part of the hunt was familiar to her. She and I would be busy for many a night picking hair off the meat, cutting it into various cuts and sizes, and wrapping it for the freezer.

I was mighty proud of Ruby’s hunting adventure. Since I hadn’t taken my movie camera along to document her story, I decided we should mount the head.

Mom's Moose

Mom’s Moose

This was Ruby’s first, but not last moose hunt. She had proven she could bring home the moose and cook it, too. After this, she never really took to hunting with the airplane, but later, when we relocated, she was more than willing to get up early or drive at dusk, with two guns between us.

The head mount was sent to Ruby’s parents, in Kansas. Later, it was transferred to Elmer’s parents in Reedley, California. In a third move, it resided at Elmer’s brother’s, in Fresno, California.

(Naomi Gaede Penner, March 2015)

Several years after Dad’s brother died, his wife, Marianna, decided to move to a retirement community. The moose would not be moving with her. She and her family decided it should be returned to the Elmer and Ruby Gaede family. We siblings agreed – it needed to migrate “home,” to the Gaede-80 Homestead, outside Soldotna, Alaska.

California Acclimatized Moose

California Acclimatized Moose

All four generations of the Harold and Marianna Gaede family were distraught. The moose had been a part of their lives – for decades – and every Christmas it was decorated with ornaments. Knowing their pal would no longer be a part of their celebrations; they each had their picture taken in front of the moose at their annual Christmas get-together in December 2014.

The re-transplantation could not happen with a quick trip to UPS, a Large Priority mailing box, or Fed Ex at the front door. In fact, nothing about this process would be easy – but it would be a story-maker.

Here’s how it went:

Step #1: Remove the moose from the wall.

Tackling a Moose

Tackling a Moose

The head mount weighed approximately 100 to pounds and was bolted into the wall. Don, Ken, and Paul Gaede, along with friends, tackled the project with ladders and humor. After 15 minutes of unscrewing the bolts and holding onto the antlers, the moose landed – on the floor.

The Moose has landed

The Moose has landed

Step #2: Figure out how to crate the moose.

Don contacted a packaging company and got a bid for just over $500.00.

Steps #3: Haul the moose to the packaging store.

Don’s son had an F-150.

Justin's truck

Justin’s truck

Step #4: Crate up the moose.

How to crate a moose

How to crate a moose

Not only did the moose get crated up, but during the packing process for Aunt Marianna, the cousins found a briefcase monogrammed with EEG (Elmer E. Gaede), which we siblings readily accept for our archives. This got packaged with the moose head.

EEG Briefcase

EEG Briefcase

Step #5: Haul the moose to temporary storage.

“FYI, I’m having trouble transporting the moose head to the packing company and thence to my garage; Justin’s pickup bed is too small.  Will keep you apprised.” Text from Don to Naomi.

This project kept growing...

This project kept growing…

Don rented a U-Haul truck for $95.00.

During the loading process, a community security guard stopped by. He’d never seen a moose before, much less one that large.

Step #5: Replace Mom’s Moose with a companion moose for Aunt Marianna.

I did a search on amazon for “toy moose” and found a furry-faced smiling moose head.

Mini Moose

Mini Moose


Step #6: Transport the moose from California to Alaska

(To be continued)

Who’s Trailing You?

Father and Son

Father and Son

When I asked what he thought of his father’s job as a handler of bomb-sniffing dogs, the 12 year old said proudly, “I want to be just like him.” That was my take-away after I’d interviewed the man. The 8 year olds’ brown eyes were enthusiastically determined. He took a gulp of air as he ran past me after his dad, a muscled ex-Marine. “I do this every night. I’m going to be strong like him.” I kept walking as the sun settled over the Rocky Mountains – and I kept smiling.

“My dad and I fixed that.” “We’re going to the shooting range.” “Everyone else is leaving for the weekend, but I’m staying home with dad.” These weren’t unusual comments from the teenager. He thought his father was the best.

“We have to interview someone for speech class,” said the middle-school student. “I want to do it on you.” She was a social and inquisitive child with a warm heart. She’d accompanied me on visits to a rehabilitation with my therapy-dog-in-training, flipped and sugared deep-fried spicy pumpkin doughnut drops in my kitchen, and divulged things that were “only for our family, but you’re part of our family.” For some reason, she liked hanging around me.

Good therapy -- for everyone!

Good therapy — for everyone!

“Send me to Grandma Leppke,” I pleaded. Our family had just moved from the Kansas wheat fields to Alaska tundra, and I wasn’t happy about it. The small living room was crowded with boxes; one of which my five-year-old body fit nicely inside. I longed to return to the Peabody farm and follow Grandma with the tin can bucket she’d made me for gathering eggs. I wanted to sit beside her on the bench seat when she drove the bulky-fendered truck to the wheat co-op – and we’d share a tall glass bottle of Nesbitt’s orange pop. I imagined watching her milk cows and then squirt milk across the room to a loud meowing cat crouched in the barn corner. I yearned to shadow her.

Following Grandma

Following Grandma

In a Career Guidance class I taught, I asked the students, “Who is your role model for growing older? The students looked at me blankly. Most of them were in their 20s. What would older have to do with them now? I prodded them to reflect on whom they wanted to follow, emulate, and learn from – and why. Grading those papers was like reading mini-stories – some funny, some sad.

My Aunt Marianna is someone I follow

My Aunt Marianna is someone I follow

Looking ahead, whom are you following? What is it about them that holds your attention and compels you to trail after them when they disappear over a hill? Looking behind, who is following you? What kinds of ripples are in your wake? IMG_0494

Following Papa

Following Papa

(This was first printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), Dec-14/Jan-15)

Tasting a Memory

Memories & Meals -- Cookbook, History, Stories

Memories & Meals — Cookbook, History, Stories

“My mother made potatoes that were boiled and then fried. They were so crisp!” He describes the food, and then shares the memory of his mom whistling hymns while she bustled about the kitchen.

My daughter tells me, “Mom, I made Flat Pancakes for supper.” I can hear her smile through the email. We’re both thinking the same thing: my mom/her grandma, brightening our kitchen during her visits each January; flour-dusted hands, wispy hair, and a flowery apron.

Food memories journey across oceans and generations. In 1996, I toured the Molotchna Colonies, in the Ukraine, where our Mennonite, Gaede family had lived until the late 1880s. We were served Rollkuake with watermelon. The fried fritters tasted as flat, and familiar, as those I’d eaten during my childhood in Kansas and Alaska. In 2014, I still enjoy them, with watermelon juice squishing out my mouth, and flashbacks to my young daughter in her apron, wanting to flip the sizzling dough strips.

How does one separate food from memories? It’s as slippery as separating egg yolks and whites. And why try? Not unscrambling these elements, adds to the flavor.

I have three books that make me salivate – and reminisce.

• My Grandma Agnes Gaede’s cookbook, from Reedley, California. Grandma collected recipes in a brown spiral Golden West theme book with narrow rule, purchased for 49 cents. Pasted and taped inside are recipes cut from magazines or handwritten. I find icebox cookies, sponge cakes, coffeecakes, chiffon pies, meatloaves, and casseroles. Nothing is gluten-free, salt-free, fat-free, lactose-free, or sugar-free.

• Memories & Meals, which I edited, is the history of Deer Creek Christian Camp near Bailey, Colorado. The history is mixed generously with recipes. There’s Hot Chicken Salad served at Ladies’ Retreats, Sloppy Joes at Kids’ Camps, and Norwegian Coconut Cookies for Ski Camps. When Deer Creek recipes are served at gatherings of previous camp attenders, laughter and reminiscing burst out between mouthfuls.

• The Three Boys. This book was drafted during a family Pheasant Festival. For decades, Penner men and boys (now young women) have flocked to the Penner farms in Western Kansas for November pheasant hunting. Within the Colorado Penner group, no one has wanted to prepare the birds. Since I grew up with wild meat in Alaska, all fingers have pointed at me.

Saving and re-telling the stories

Saving and re-telling the stories

During one such event, I recorded stories repeated by my late husband and his two brothers about their childhood in Kansas and Colorado. We didn’t want to lose the comical recollections of the three boys in a stock tank looking at cow’s faces under the water, rolling their over-sized Dachshund down the stairs – to see if he’d land on his feet, and bicycle crashes with trombones. The final chapter featured the last meal my children had with their Grandpa Penner – when he ordered pie – first.

As dessert to the main course of stories, at the end, I added The Three Boy’s mother’s recipes for German Chocolate Cake, New Year’s Fritters, Cream Cheese Brownies, and so on. Some of her handwritten recipe cards were copied directly.

What can you do with food memories and recipes? You can use them for amusing holiday conversations or for collecting into your own memory-and-meals family or friends book.

Questions to ask around your holiday table. (Include all the generations for a spicier blend.)
– What is your favorite friends/family homemade food? Why?
– Who makes it? Only grandma? A group of the women? The men at the grill? _______who always experiments?
– Where did the recipe come from?
– Have ingredients changed over the years? Or due to availability? Or because of preference?
– What’s the story around the recipe? Where were you when you first tasted it? Who else was there? What was the occasion?
– When is it typically made? Holidays? Camp-outs? Ski trips? When _____comes to visit?

More suggestions for gathering memories.
The Three Boys

(This was first printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), Oct/Nov. 2014)

Adventures of a Barn Quilt Tour


Naomi by one of her favorite barn quilts.

Naomi by one of her favorite barn quilts.

Barn Quilts. I’d never heard of them. I knew I about fabric quilts and had an assortment from two grandmothers, one mother, and many Mennonite Relief Sales. Grandma Leppke preferred appliqued, embroidered, and hand-painted quilt blocks. Grandma Gaede chose pieced blocks. I would love to know the story behind the friendship quilt with a middle block that says, “God Is Love 1937.” The women who stitched embroidered their names: Minnie Cornelsen, Mrs. Ben B. Funk Mrs. Barthel Reiswig, Mrs. Henry Seibel. I wondered why Minnie used her first name and not her husband’s. Even if she were a widow, most likely she’d still carry his.

In June 2014, four of us Colorado women packed up an ice chest, homemade cinnamon rolls, print-outs from and headed to northeast Colorado. Morgan County has a reputation for hail and tornadoes. We watched the skies. We were excited. It was like a treasure hunt.


Oops – are we lost? Cattle Feed lot —-and buffalo.

No problem finding the first one.

Okay…found our first one.

Our barn quilt adventure took us down dirt roads. We got lost. We didn’t know barn quilts could be found on silos. We reveled in nostalgic old barns against broad blue skies. We accidentally ended up at a buffalo feedlot. We saw cornfields shredded by recent hail. We stumbled upon cute ranchettes and bet that the next-generation saw dollars in grandpa’s farm, so sub-divided. We experienced local dining where we were the obvious non-locals. And, we ended up at a deteriorated house with paint-peeled outbuildings, old cars on cinder blocks, and something shroud-like on the clothesline. Curtains fluttered in open windows. Was anyone home? No quilts anywhere, even though the tour map indicted so. We figured it was part of the Bates Motel Chain. We locked out doors, rolled up the windows, and got outta there!

This was a surprise!

This was a surprise! was this!

….as was this!

This is more like it.

This is more like it.

What we learned:

  • The Barn Quilt tour offered an up-close view of a part of Colorado we knew little about.
  • Weather reports of tornadoes at Ft. Morgan and Wiggins have more meaning now.
  • We all want a Quilt Block hanging on our house or garage!


  • Take a map. Your GPS might not work in off-grid areas where Barn Quilts may be found.
  • Don’t expect absolute directions and destinations. Wandering around happens.
  • Don’t be afraid to get dirty.
  • Take along binoculars for barns that may not be accessible on very private property.
  • At least one person in the group needs to be familiar with quilt block patterns. I was not. I was familiar with driving on dirt roads, identifying what was growing in the fields, and I had a sense of direction.



– Website we Ft. Morgan, CO:

Every Barn Tells a Story by Ann Zemke and Diane Entrikin

We left Ft. Morgan and drove home to black skies and rain. That evening1 to 2-inch diameter hail pounded Morgan County. The farms were no longer a vague space on the map. We visualized smashed cornfields and remembered the farm folks we’d talked to.

Check out barn quilt tours in your state. Gather friends or like-minded quilt enthusiasts and take a field trip. Anticipate adventures.

(This was printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), Aug./Sept. 2014)





Masculine Kindness, Respect, and Chivalry

Mt. Sherman - 14,036 ft.

Mt. Sherman – 14,036 ft.

I raced him across the campus in my high heels and suit. My teaching colleague was determined to open the door for me. I didn’t need a man’s help. “My mother taught me to open the door for a lady,” he said as my nose met the extra-heavy door.

Some women stop and take notice.

Some women think discussions about chivalry are silly.

Others claim it is an insult to their strength, personhood, and equality.

I’ve softened a bit over the years. I no longer race in high heels (too dangerous.)

I now recognize and appreciate simple and grand gestures of male chivalry, attitudes of respect, and masculine kindness:

Men at the post office and the recreation center who hold open the door – and not because they view me as incapable.

Male classmates from years past who pick up the lunch tab when they’re in town. “I’ve got it,” they say – even when I argue.

The auto service repairmen who do not laugh when I want to show them an issue – but can’t feel where the release lever is beneath the hood. “If you don’t do this every day, it’s easy to forget,” they say matter-of-factly.

The men at the gas station at a crossroad of “Nowhere,” Oklahoma who pulled out a map, assured me I was only slightly off-course, and directed me onward to my destination. “Have a great trip!” They waved.

Men who remove their cap in church – no matter if it’s a casual Friday night, “come as you are” venue.

Men who remove their cap when the National Anthem is sung.

Men who invest time and affection in their grandchildren.

Men who enjoy baking cookies.

Men at the Gun & Ammo store who never laugh when I bring in a shotgun for them to examine, or I ask questions about a handgun with an easier trigger-pull or slide.

The neighbor, who after inviting a group of us to his house for dinner, walked me home – across a small park. I’ve driven cross-country by myself and climbed two mountains over 14,000 feet. I wasn’t helpfulness, but his mother taught him that’s what men are suppose to do.

Men who honor their mothers by practical helps, fix-its, lunch-out, flowers, or a phone call. “I miss you Mom,” touches a mother’s heart.

The neighbor man who tosses my newspaper onto my porch when he walks his dog.

Men who lift my carry-on into the overhead airplane bin. Texas men are particularly good at this.

Men who extend a hand when I’m balancing on rocks to cross a stream on a canyon hike.

My Alaska bush pilot doctor father who saw life as an adventure – and beget my curiosity.

My brother who lets me tag behind him on Alaska mountain hikes, knowing he can reach the summit three times faster without me.

SkyLine Trail, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

SkyLine Trail, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

My son who fully engages in parenting his two preschool boys.

Cookie Bakers

Cookie Bakers

I appreciate:

Mothers who taught these values to their sons,

fathers who modeled them,

grandparents who insisted on them,

and other significant people who made an impact.

Thank you….men, fathers, brothers, friends, and neighbors. You’ve put a smile on my face – and I trust you’re doing so for other women in your life or who cross your path.

(First printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), June 2014)


I Carry my Mother In me: I am Strong


Ruby Leppke Gaede driving a snow machine on the Gaede-80 Homestead, Soldotna, Alaska

Ruby Leppke Gaede driving a snow machine on the Gaede-80 Homestead, Soldotna, Alaska

I carry my mother in me. I am strong.

She carried her mother in her, she was strong.

My grandmother carried her mother in her, she was strong.

My foremothers who migrated from Holland, to Poland, to the Ukraine, to America were strong.

I am strong.

The air was unusually warm and the Alaska sky was blue as the June lupines. Two generations of us sat on a quilt at Memorial Hill where my parents were buried. Four of us were grown women; one a young woman; two were girls.  We grieved the loss of a mother and grandmother. We were angry. We were bewildered. We were orphaned. We needed to heal and move forward. “How do we carry Mom/ Grandma’s character in us? How do we emulate her?” I posed a question that led to a slow conversation.

Mom was a Mennonite girl who had been uprooted from Kansas wheat fields to Alaska tundra; then to an Indian reservation in Montana; then to California – and back to Alaska. She knew about packing and unpacking with four kids. And, she knew about raising children with a bush pilot doctor who was often on-call for days and nights – and years.

She fashioned home along the Yukon River where she baked bread daily, made homemade ice cream from river ice, and thought a hot dog roast at minus 20 degrees would be “fun.” Later, on our 80-acre homestead, she used a chainsaw, shoveled feet of snow, and carried a ladder – that dwarfed her 5-foot 2-inches – so she could repair the back porch and the chicken coop. Alongside Dad, she shot a moose, field dressed it, packaged it on the ping-pong table, and cooked it for supper. On an artic Christmas night, she took her cassette player and a holiday treat, and went on a solo outdoor caroling ministry.

I emulate her by baking and taking. Most often it’s cinnamon yeast bread, baked in a round can –like Mom baked her molasses brown bread. I’ve taken to neighbors, friends, and shut-ins.  Not only do I imitate her in the things I do, but when I am in difficult situations I wear either her black diamond (hematite) ring or a garnet ring I bought with money she gave me at her last Christmas.

I carry her in me when I shovel snow and chop ice on my sidewalk and driveway. I carry her in me when I relocate (23 times) –and I pull out my rolling pin and pastry cloth and bake round bread. I carry her in me when I drive cross-country and the roads are slushy, it’s dark, I’m alone, and I have hours to go.  I am strong when I lug my 10-foot ladder to check a clogged gutter. I am strong when I fly in a small plane into an isolated Alaskan village – and know no one. I was strong when at age 40 I was widowed.

I carry my mother in me. I am strong.

She carried her mother in her, she was strong.

My grandmother carried her mother in her, she was strong.

My foremothers were strong.

I am strong.

How do you carry your mother, or another family member, inside you?

Who are the people before you that were strong?

How are you strong?

(First published in “The Country Register” (Kansas), April/May 2014.)

Where were you When….?


Devastation of the  Great Alaska Earthquake at Seward

Devastation of the Great Alaska Earthquake at Seward

At 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, the Good Friday Earthquake changed Alaska’s landscape. Its magnitude, 9.2, made it the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded. I was there.

What history-making event did you live through? Where were you when it happen?

We heard a loud thud and then felt a strong jolt, as though something large had run into the house. My mom, three siblings, and I were sitting at the supper table. Dad was at the clinic delivering a baby. We’d had earthquakes before, but when the shaking and noise increased we were scared.

“Let’s get out of here!” Mom screamed. “The house might crumble!

Ruth and I were barely teenagers; Mark and Mishal were grade-schoolers.

We made our way drunkenly toward the front door. Mishal fell down the steps. Mom pulled her up. The driveway was covered with hard-packed snow. Unable to maintain our balance, we collapsed onto the cold ground, without shoes or coats. Trees swayed as if they were feathers. The ground rumbled and split open, emitting swamp gas from the shallow fields beneath our homestead.

“Oh Jesus, help us!” Mom cried out.

Crouched on all fours and several even prone, we clung together.

After over four hour-long minutes, the noise stopped and the ground stood still. Slowly, we staggered to our feet and returned to the house.

“I feel sick,” said Mom. “Like I’ve been on a boat in rough water.”

The only damage we found was water sloshing out of the suds-saver tub in the laundry room and a fallen flowerpot. None of the china or fragile keepsakes had tumbled out of the shelves, nor had sugar bowls or syrup bottles.

Mom tried to call Dad, but when she picked up the phone all she heard was a woman screaming hysterically. “I’m scared, too,” said Mom. The woman remained out-of-control. Then the phone line went dead

The sun slipped away, edging the pink wisps of clouds with gold against the darkening sky. Darkness closed around us. Aftershocks added to our trepidation.

Mom found candles. None of us went to our separate bedrooms, but crowded together in the basement rumpus room. Remarkably, after several hours, electricity was restored. We turned on the radio – to the shocking news from a Seattle station that no one knew what had had happened to Anchorage, Alaska. The nightmare was not over.  The number of people killed would eventually be over 100, with an additional 2,000 homeless.

The Easter church service took on a new meaning. Attendees could identify with the fear and confusion of the guards attending the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. Everyone could certainly under­stand why.

(adapted from Alaska Bush Pilot Doctor, “The Day the Earth Fell Apart.”)


Seward, Alaska after the earthquake

Seward, Alaska after the earthquake

I will never forget that experience.  I will never forget that fear. Several weeks later, a vinyl record was made recording some of the sounds and narrating the events of that Good Friday. When it was played at school, many of my classmates laughed and thought it was funny. I didn’t laugh. Every time they played it, I relived the terror and felt again the earth rumbling and rolling beneath me. Even today I can the black spruce around our driveway bending until the tops touched the ground as the earth moved like a stormy sea.

Turnagain Arm housing area, over-looking the Cook Inlet, which then sheered away in the earthquake

When I’ve returned to Alaska since that time, I’ve found myself subconsciously “holding my breath” until I leave. Then, I sigh with relief that I made it out of Alaska without being in an earthquake. Certainly there have been tremors that have come with a slam, but nothing like the Big One.

My brother, Mark, has tried to comfort me, “Naomi, if the homestead house made it through the Big One, surely it can make it through any other one again.”

I hope not to every experience a Big One again.

 Epicenter of the earthquake:

The old village of Valdez, Alaska -- before the Good Friday  Earthquake

“Fifty years ago, as the steamship Chena was unloading its cargo in the bustling Valdez harbor, the entire town shuddered, the ground at the waterfront fell away, and waterfront structures collapsed, pulling down the people on them. North America’s most powerful recorded earthquake was underway, its epicenter just 45 miles to the west. Tsunamis finished off much of what was left. Thirty-three people in Valdez died, including children on the collapsed dock who had come to welcome the Chena and its deliveries of fresh fruit and Easter flowers…” (read more)

I have been back to visit Valdez and walked in what is left of the old village. That old village is described in ‘A’ is for Alaska: Teacher to the Territory where Anna Bortel taught for three years.

   “There have been instances throughout recent history that generations can point to and say ‘I remember exactly what I was doing at that moment.’.. For some 125,000 Alaskans, it is ar memory they vividly recall on March 27, 1964: the 9.2 Magnitude earthquake that struck Alaska on Good Friday.” Read about the lasting impacts on America’s 49th state and the military and civilian engineering and construction communities, and the people of Alaska…”


Earthquake Museum in Anchorage, Alaska:

The Day Trees Bent to the Ground: Stories from the ’64 Earthquake, compiled by Janet Boylan.

The Great Alaska Earthquake: Pictorial Histories, by Stan Cohen.

Where were you? Alaska 64 Earthquake, compiled by Joy Griffin. (Mini-stories by Kenai Peninsula residents)