From one prairie to another: Happy Canada Day!

What a fun week this is for our family! With the Fourth of July falling on a Thursday this year, we have decided to close Sarello’s for the entire week so that we and our entire crew could enjoy a real summer holiday.

Last year we closed this week for the very first time, ever, and set off on our great 9-day Western Odyssey across North Dakota. On July 4th, we took in the Mandan Parade (unbelievable “Americana” experience), and later that evening we laid a blanket at the Capitol Mall to enjoy a terrific concert and fireworks display. It was a great experience, and such a memorable Fourth of July for us – I know we will do it again in the future.

This year we have family coming for a visit later this week, so we wo’t be venturing out too far, but I’m sure we’ll still have a great time in our corner of North Dakota. Our plan is to   work on some new recipes, eat well, sleep well, play well, and just have fun together.

Today is Canada Day, and we’re celebrating Tony’s heritage with a breakfast of French Toast and Pure Maple Syrup, followed by a tennis match with Gio, some work in the yard at home and then we’ll probably grill something for dinner. The forecast for this week couldn’t be better, and we are grateful to have this time to relax and renew ourselves.

We hope to do some strawberry picking early next week, and then it’s back to work before our annual family reunion in Delaware later this month.Come July 20th, and the Nasellos will be back out on the prairie, looking to discover new places, people, and food, and taking time to get lost along the way. Our focus this season in North Dakota is going to center around food: where it comes from, where it goes, how it gets to our table, and where to find it!

We’d love to visit some farms and learn more about the agriculture of our state, and we look forward to sharing these experiences with you. We’d love to hear from you, if you have ideas, suggestions, connections, recommendations – please let us know! You can reach us by posting a comment in the section below, or send us an email to dine@sarellos.com.

We’ll also be sharing our ideas for great summer foods all week (like Easy Potato Salad, Sicilian Granita & Mojito Chicken) at our blog “Home with The Lost Italian,” and would love to hear from you about your favorite Fourth of July foods and traditions. What do you do? Do you go someplace special, or stay at home? What do you like to cook/eat?

We wish you and your families a wonderful week and look forward to seeing you this summer, either around North Dakota or right here on the blog!

Opera on the Prairie?

I had a wonderful time last week in Bismarck at the ND Writers and Bloggers Workshop, and my mind is spinning with ideas for upcoming stories. I joined a great group of creative North Dakotans, who are all passionate about our state and eager to share their passion with others.

However, tonight Tony, Gio and I are hosting the 8th Annual “Sarello’s Dinner for the Opera,” and we’ve been so busy preapring for this event that I have not yet had time to sift through my thoughts and notes from the Workshop. I hope to get some photos and notes up on the blog soon to share with you. In the meantime, I’ve posted some photos from last year’s Dinner for the Opera below, and hope you enjoy them.All of the pictures were taken by Dylan Jacobson, who generously donated his time and talent for the evening.

This is our biggest fundraising event of the year, and in the past seven years this dinner has raised over $325,000 for the Fargo-Moorhead Opera. And because everything is donated, right down to the printing, every single penny goes directly to the Fargo-Moorhead Opera. It is truly a collaboration of people who are committed to the arts in this region.

We donate the venue, labor, service, and six-course dinner, Dave and Denise Akkerman donate all the wines straight from their personal collections, as well as their time and talent, the performing artists generously donate their time and talent, airline tickets are donated to fly the artists to Fargo, Schmitt Music donates the piano for the night, and Mathison’s donates all the printing.

Last year, thanks to these efforts and the generosity of our guests, we raised $62,200. We look forward to another successful evening and hope to see you next season at the opera!

Heading to Bismarck for a #NDLegendary Experience!

It’s hard to believe that almost nine months have passed since my last post here at Lost on the Prairie. An entire winter has come and gone – well, that’s not entirely true. Theoretically it has, but our current weather needs a hearty push (or a swift kick) to qualify as spring.

What an amazing adventure our little family had exploring North Dakota last summer. We spent all but two weekends traveling to a new and different place in our beautiful home state, and our travels provided so many great memories to help sustain us through the long winter. We canvassed a great deal of the state, but there are still more adventures to enjoy together. Some of our very best experiences last summer came from the recommendations of our readers, so if you have any suggestions for us, please let us know.

Due to work and school obligations, our ability to travel in the winter months was extremely limited and we’ve hardly gone farther than West Fargo since my last post in September. Life has been hectic, but good, and always full of surprises. As of last November, Tony and I are now writing a weekly food column for The Forum called “Home with The Lost Italian,” and we really enjoy this new creative endeavor.

Now, with school out and summer on the horizon, we look forward to more North Dakota exploration over the next three to four months, and can’t wait to hit those gravel roads again.  We made so many wonderful connections with people all around this great state, and are eager to continue making new friends.

We’ll also be seeking out new adventures right here in our own backyard, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted. I’m leaving for Bismarck today to attend a workshop for North Dakota Writers and Bloggers, and I am really excited to meet fellow writers and share in their enthusiasm for this legendary state.

I had great success using Twitter for our summer travel campaign last summer, and will be tweeting from the event under the hashtag #NDLegendary. The event begins with a dining tour around Bismarck with North Dakota’s very own Marilyn Hagerty, and I can’t wait for the fun to begin.

It’s supposed to be sunny today, but I’ll believe it when I see it. When it comes to the weather, lately I’ve resorted to the typical North Dakota response: “At least it isn’t snowing.”  Let’s just hope I haven’t spoken too soon (after all my years sailing the high seas, you’d think I’d know better than to talk about the weather). Have a great weekend and we’ll see you here on the blog and hopefully around North Dakota!

Reasons to Celebrate: Birthdays, Christmas, Powwows & New Friends

What a fun week it’s been! Giovanni turns Eight on Friday (8!), and we’ve had a fun time preparing for the weekend celebrations. Birthdays have always been a big deal in my family, and I enjoy trying to find ways to make my loved ones feel special. I have some very fun surprises planned for Giovanni’s big day, but this week our blog has generated a few surprises for us as well.

If you follow our blog, you already know that earlier this week we received a special package from Santa in Norway, or rather, Julenissen (that’s Norwegian for Santa Claus). For Giovanni, a boy who has dressed up as Santa nearly every day of the Christmas season since he was two years old, this was a wonderful surprise on the week of his eighth birthday.He will never forget the gifts he received, and we are all excited to call the famous Man in Red our Friend. All thanks to our visit to Jamestown – how cool is that?

As I’ve said before, our best experiences from our summer adventures are the ones we have had with others, whether they are friends of ours from various parts of North Dakota, folks we have met along the way, or people who have reached out to us through the blog to help us along our journey.

Our experience at the United Tribes International Powwow two weekends ago was a real cultural highlight of our summer. With over 70 tribes represented from around America, the Powwow was a beautiful, and at time mysterious, celebration of their culture. The dancing, singing, drumming, and Native American dress regalia ignited our desire to learn more about North Dakota’s Native Americans culture – both in history and today.

I’m still working on my description and details of that event, and am waiting to receive some more information about the dances and rituals so that I don’t mangle their significance here on the blog. But, I did post some photos of the Powwow in between our two days in Bismarck, along with a short post to let you know what we were up to that weekend.

From tracking the anaytics of the traffic on our blog, I’m able to see a lot of information that helps me understand our audience better. I can see what search terms helped them find our blog, which pages were viewed each day and how many times, and any sites that may have referred the reader to our blog, such as Area Voices on www.inforum.com, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

I’ve enjoyed seeing that the photos from the Powwow have generated a good deal of traffic to our blog, and much of it seems to come from people searching for information about the United Tribes Powwow. I have suspected that the bulk of it is coming from participants of the Powwow, or their families.

As I’ve watched the traffic, I have found myself wondering how the photos are being received.  We were total “newbies” at this event, and I have held my breath, hoping that I didn’t make a breach in protocol during my somewhat constant photo-snapping (I came home with over 400 photos). But, I have to say that viewing the photos over the course of a few days has helped us to see and better understand the stories of some of the dances, and to appreciate our experience that much more.

As you will learn in an upcoming post, I have a valid reason for my fear of breaching protocol, but we did try our best to make sure that we were respectful and mindful guests at the Powwow. I have also learned that you just don’t know what you don’t know, and I do my best learning through experience (isn’t that true for most of us?). But still, the fear was there.

So it came as a nice surprise earlier this week to find a comment on the blog from a member of the Spirit Lake Nation, Duane Jackson, who wrote that he enjoyed our photos very much, especially the ones featuring his sister and young son. When he told me which ones they were, I was delighted – the photo of his sister, Lonna, is one of my favorites from my photos of the women. And while all the Junior Dancers captured our hearts, his young son, Jonah, was our very favorite dancer in the Junior Boys Traditional category. Jonah dances with such spirit and passion and he commanded our attention, which is evidenced by the several pictures of him in our collection.

In his email, Duane asked if I had more photos of his son or sister, and if so, he would love to see them. I am sharing all of them below, and will also be sending copies to Duane via e-mail so that he may enjoy sharing them with his family.

I was so glad to hear from Duane, and happy that I could share our photos with him, both online and via email. I love the personal connections we have been able to make with others all summer, even just right here on the blog. Which made me realize that I should extend this courtesy to anyone who has appeared in photos on our blog.

I am a rank amateur when it comes to photography, so I won’t be offended if the requests don’t come pouring in, but I have managed to take a few good ones throughout the summer. If you’d like me to send you a copy for your own use, please feel free to contact me here on the blog or via e-mail to dine@sarellos.com.

We’ll be celebrating Gio’s birthday with friends and family in Fargo this weekend, which leaves us the last weekend of September before we will probably wind down this summer’s “Lost on the Prairie, 2012″ adventure. In spite of all our travels this summer, we still feel as if we have just scratched the surface of this great state.

Remaining true to the organic nature of our adventure, we haven’t yet decided where to go and what to do next weekend, and we’d love to hear your ideas. Fall seems to offer a plethora of events around North Dakota, and next weekend is no exception – there are almost too many options. Giovanni is out of school next Friday, and we’ll have a coveted three-day weekend to get out and explore North Dakota. So, if you have a suggestion, OR an invitation for us, please fire away! :)

(No, Mom, I didn’t just invite myself somewhere – I just nudged the universe to have someone extend an invitation!)

Well, that’s about it. I hope you enjoy the new photos of Jonah, and would love to hear from anyone else who either participated in or attended the United Tribes International Powwow. And please send us your suggestions for next weekend!

 

 

 

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

We had a wonderful surprise at our house on Saturday night. Giovanni and I had just finished making dinner – homemade turkey burgers, french fries and chocolate malts – when I realized that I hadn’t brought the day’s mail inside.

Expecting the usual fare of junk mail, bills and ubiquitous political flyers, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large package waiting for us. We have an unusual mailbox at our house; our mail is received in an old-fashioned milk cupboard, which can also be accessed from inside our house. It is one of my favorite features in our house, as I also use it to cool cookies during the holiday baking season.

Giovanni and I studied the package: the size of a large shoe box, it was wrapped in lightweight, brown parcel paper, and addressed to “The Masellos.” This piqued our interest even more, since our last name is actually Nasellos, with an ‘N’. There were several foreign stamps on it, and as I turned the package over, I saw a return address with the word ”Julenissen.” Smiling, I told Giovanni that I knew exactly who had sent us this unexpected package.

“Who?” He asked, barely able to contain his excitement. “Santa,” I said, still smiling.

Gio’s eyes grew wide as he tried to comprehend what I was saying. I placed the parcel on our kitchen table and told him to study the pretty foreign stamps for a clue about its sender.

“Nor-eg?” he said, puzzled, then looked at a different one. “Norge? What the heck is that?”

“That’s Norwegian for “Norway,” I said, and his expression switched instantly from confusion to delight.

“Ooh,” he said with glee, “This is from our Norwegian Santa!”

If you’ve been reading our blog this summer, you might recall our encounter with the Norwegian accordion players in Jamestown. We met a wonderful couple from this group while dining at the Buffalo City Grill, Jan-Erik and Wenche Knudsen, from Lillestrom, Norway. Jan-Erik shared that he was an official member of the Julenissen, also known as the Norwegian Santa Association (which made a lot of sense since he looked just like Santa). We learned that the Lillestrom Accordion Orchestra would be in Fargo later that week, and Giovanni and I knew we had to attend their concert.

Before going to the concert that Tuesday, we decided to bring the Knudsens some small gifts to help them remember their visit to Fargo, and hopefully the new friends they’d made here. I wanted to find a set of note cards featuring John Borge’s “Four Cities” theme, and figured downtown Fargo would be the best bet to find some fun Fargo gifts. After visiting several local merchants with no success, we had almost given up when we arrived at Boerth’s Gallery on Broadway.

Boerth’s had a special section showcasing all of their Fargo and North Dakota signature items, which made it fun and easy for us to put together our gift bag. We found the John Borge note cards, and also included a copy of Marc de Celle’s book, How Fargo of You, as well as a nice magnet of downtown Fargo.

The concert was at the Sons of Norway, where a turkey dinner was being served prior to showtime. Gio and I thought this sounded like a treat, and we invited my grandmother, Sunny Mathison, to join us.

My grandfather, Don Mathison, was 100% Norwegian-American, and very proud of his ancestry. He passed away in January of 2004, and I miss him dearly. Meeting our new Norwegian friends had me thinking about him a lot that week, and I was glad we could share this experience with my grandma.

We picked her up and proceeded to the Sons of Norway, located near the post office in downtown Fargo. I’d never been to “The Sons” before, and was surpised by how large it was. There was a gracious entryway with a bar/lounge just to the left. The entry led into  a large dining room which was somehow made cozy by the red and black decor – something only Norwegians could accomplish with style.

I was transported back to an earlier time, a time when people still belonged to social clubs like this and gathered together frequently. Does anyone remember the good old days with clubs like the Elks Lodge and the Eagles? Ah, nostalgia. I was very glad to see that the Sons of Norway is still thriving.

We enjoyed our turkey dinners (very delicious, I must say), and had a cup of coffee with our chocolate cake before the show. Soon it was time for the show to begin, and we proceeded to the ballroom.

I spotted our Norwegian friends at a table on the far right side of the venue, and we headed over to say hello. They were happy to see us, and I could tell from their reaction that they hadn’t really expected us to come. Giovanni presented our gift bag to them, and this was an especially good moment, for many reasons. How often can you say you gave Santa a gift? From Jan-Erik’s reaction, we could tell he wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of gift-giving.

Another reason I loved this experience was that we actually did it. How many times in our lives do we get a good idea, and fail to act on it? Life is busy, and it would have been easy to let an excuse get in the way of attending the concert. Certainly, there was no need to bring a gift, too. I often get these kind of great ideas, and then let them pass me by, too absorbed in my own little corner of the universe. These wonderful Norwegians somehow motivated me to function at my best level, which enabled me to teach my son another layer in the art of hospitality.

Jan-Erik and Wenche thanked us profusely, and then he left to take his place on the stage with the other accordion players. We found our seats a few tables away, and sat back to enjoy the sound of the dozen or so accordion players and musicians that made up the Lillestrom Accordion Orchestra.

I could see Wenche at her table from where we sat, and when the first song ended, I watched her passing around our gifts to the rest of her table-mates. She was smiling brightly, and her friends kept stealing glances toward our table. They waved at me, and then Wenche blew a kiss. It was evident that our simple gesture of friendship had brought them joy.

The music continued, and Giovanni lit up the dance floor with his best dance moves. For someone with the name of Giovanni Paul Nasello, it isn’t too often that he gets to celebrate his Norwegian heritage. But watching him that night, dancing to the accordions and waving a Norwegian flag in his hand, his last name might as well have been Knasella!

The evening came to an end for us long before the music did, and we said our good-byes to one another during the intermission so we could get Giovanni home to bed. In a matter of a few short days, these people had become important to us, and I wondered if we’d ever see them again. I was glad that we’d made the effort to let them know how happy we were to have met them.

Well, back to the parcel from Norway. We decided to wait until Tony came home from work, so we could all be together when we opened it. Since it was already after 9:00 pm, Giovanni called Tony and told him he had to come home right away. Tony arrived home just before 10:00, which was good because Giovanni was fading fast.

He cut through the strings and unwrapped the layers of brown parcel paper to find a package wrapped in red and gold wrapping paper, with lots of matching ribbons and hearts attached. Inside was a large shoe box, covered with a beautiful rosemal design. There was a gold heart sticker on the top of the box which said, “To Gio, From Santa.”

Giddy with excitement, Gio opened the box to find a red t-shirt which says “Jeg tror på Julenissen” on it, with a picture of Santa in the middle. Translated into English, this means “I believe in Santa Claus.”

Also included in the package was a beautiful Santa doll, and a CD called “Nisser og Troll,” which I suspect is in Norwegian. Our Julenissen had also sent two personal notes to Gio, and some brochures about Savalen, Santa’s Norwegian homestead. Jan-Erik was even the featured Santa on the cover of one of the brochures.

Giovanni was really moved by these items, and placed the doll in a position of prominence in his room. I told him that he can pass this treasure down to his children some day, to which he replied, “Um, yeah, that won’t happen ’til I’m dead. No way am I giving this away.”

We hope to continue our friendship with the Knudsens. Giovanni will be sending them a thank-you note this week, and then I think he’ll probably write to Santa again after Thanksgiving. The community the Knudsens live in, Lillestrom, is about 25 km northeast of Oslo, and we would love to visit them someday. But for now, we are happy to keep it simple and correspond the old-fashioned way – through the mail.

I have to remind myself that none of this would have happened had we not decided to get Lost on the Prairie this summer. Our discovery of North Dakota has become much more than just a travel experience for us, and this is just one of the many gifts we’ve received from our adventures. By stepping outside our norm and doing something different, we have changed. And in some ways, we’ve become better versions of ourselves. At least, better enough to get gifts from Santa, months before Christmas. Do I believe in Santa Claus? Ja, jeg tror på Julenissen!

 

 

Hello from THE Powwow!

Happy Sunday from Bismarck! I’ve got my new laptop with me and it’s great to be back on the blog. This weekend we’re attending the 43rd Annual United Tribes International Powwow, which has been an amazing experience. I’m working on a new blog post with our stories from the Powwow, but thought I’d whet your appetite first by sharing some photos with you today.

We spent nearly all of Saturday at the Powwow, and we’ll return again today for a few hours before heading home to Fargo. This is our first powwow experience, and I hardly know where to begin. The best way I can describe it is as an extraordinary journey of the senses: Our minds are chock-full with new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches…wonderful images that will last in our memories for years to come.

However, it’s actually very early on Sunday morning right now, and I need to get some shut-eye before another big day at the Powwow. I just hope that the beating drums in my head will settle down so that I can fall asleep! In the meantime I invite you to click HERE or on the photo below to view more sights from our day.

Have you ever been to this, or any, powwow? What did you think? We’d love to hear your stories, too, so please feel free to share in the comments section below. Have a wonderful day, and we hope to see you out on the Prairie!

United Tribes Int’l Powwow 2012

Int’l Peace Gardens, Here We Come!

Last Monday we ventured out again, with plans to visit Little Yellowstone Park and Kathryn, North Dakota. As we started driving west on ND Hwy 46, we realized that we would be passing through Enderlin. Tony had orders to contact David and Cathie Lutgen, long-time Sarello’s customers, if our adventures took us anywhere near this North Dakota city, so he called David and told him we would be in the area.

With only an hour’s notice, David put together a wonderful afternoon for us in Enderlin, and showed us why he is proud to call it his home. One highlight of our visit was a tour of the Maple Valley Meats facility, where we got to see the entire processing plant, and also picked up some of the best beef jerky we’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, our spontaneity did not coincide with Cathie’s schedule, as she was in Fargo that day. So, we’ll just have to make a return visit soon – maybe during the third week of September, when Enderlin will be hosting its annual “Sun Fest” from Sept. 12-16, 2012! Many thanks to David Lutgen for a great time in Enderlin!

This weekend we’re planning to visit the International Peace Gardens from Sunday – Tuesday, and welcome your personal recommendations once again. With school starting in just three weeks, summer is quickly passing, and we still have so much left to do in North Dakota!

We are working on plans for a trip to the northwest quarter of North Dakota, and would love some connections in Minot, Williston and Watford City. This is completely unfamiliar territory to us, and if you know anyone who would like to serve as our guide in any of these, or other NW places, please let us know! 

We also hope to make it to Walhalla and the Pembina Gorge region before the end of August. And, of course, we must spend some time in the fair city to our north, Grand Forks, which is on the roster for September.

Some other items on our wish list are posted below, but please let us know if there is something we should add. 

Nasello Family North Dakota Wish List
Tour an oil field
Visit a large cattle ranch
Lake Sakakawea and surrounding area
Visit a dairy farm
Visit Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
Tour the Capitol
Visit a farm during harvest time
Visit the ND State Mill & Grain Elevator – In the mid-1930s, my-great grandfather, Jacob Goll, was appointed by Gov. Welford to serve as the General Manager of the ND State Mill & Grain Elevator
Ride on a tractor (Tony)
Find great farmers markets
Buy more sausage
Take a picture with Governor Dalrymple and First-Lady Betsy Dalrymple J

As I’ve mentioned here before, our best experiences have come through personal connections with other North Dakotans, whether it be in person as they show us around their hometown, or via recommendations from email, twitter, FaceBook and the blog. There is no guidebook that can detail a town or area better than a local resident can, and we are grateful to all of you who have helped us along the way.

And now I’ve got to finish writing my story about Ruby Apiaries and our visit to Oakes, ND – as well as the saga of our 9-Day Western Odyssey – so stay tuned, there’s a lot more to come!

 

Milnor Welcomes You!

A week ago Sunday we found ourselves Lost in Milnor and Oakes, North Dakota. As  I mentioned here on the blog, the nature of these particular adventures was personal – we’d been invited to visit these towns and their areas by our Sarello’s bartender, Brandy Buro, and her boyfriend, Dylan Jacobson, of Oakes and Milnor, respectively. How lucky we are to have these two great young people volunteer to serve as our very own tour operators!

We had little idea what to expect, but were anxious to begin our journey. When Tony, Giovanni and I talk about our favorite adventures so far this summer, the ones that included a human connection are always at the top of our lists. The opportunity to see a town or prairie-setting through someone else’s eyes helps give that area dimension – round out the edges, if you will.

We’ve driven through many (MANY) small towns in North Dakota this summer, and they can tend to look pretty similar to one another if you’re just driving through. Nearly every single town and city we’ve seen so far has an old grain elevator located right next to railroad tracks. The downtown area, if there is one, usually consists of one or two blocks of buildings. No matter what the size, there is usually a bar, and a church, and oftentimes an auto body shop.

We’ve visited towns where every storefront is occupied, and parked cars are lined up all along the street, a testament to that town’s prosperity. We’ve also visited towns where most of the buildings are vacant and the streets are empty of traffic. Regardless of its size, in every town we’ve visited there is always, always, something that captures our imagination, often whispering of glory days now past. 

A beautiful old building, now in a state of ruin, surrounded by prairie grass so tall it threatens to devour it. What was it, once? An austere, boxy, old, concrete building, abandoned for years, now with a pretty painted mural on its side and marks along the broken-out windows’ edges where bars might once have been. Could this have been a jail? And how on earth did this gorgeous church land here, in the middle of nowhere? Who built it, and why? Better yet, who are the people who still fill the pews each and every Sunday?

We leave each town with so many questions, each of us trying to imagine what it’s like to live there, both now and back in its heyday. Having someone familiar with the area who is willing to share their knowledge and history with us is a luxury, and so we were feeling very rich indeed in Milnor and Oakes last week.

Our day began in a state of friendly frenzy, as I scrambled to get a blog post written while simultaneously trying to pack for our journey. The laundry was done, but nothing had been organized for the trip yet, and we actually had a schedule to keep this morning. My lovely husband, Tony, kindly volunteered to pack for him and Gio so that I could have some precious, uninterrupted time alone in my office to work on the post. This was another luxury, and so appreciated.

We managed to get out the door by just after 11:00 am, which was our goal. We’d eaten only a light breakfast, and thought we might stop in Wahpeton for breakfast. We’d originally hoped to visit Paula’s Place in Moorteon, but they don’t serve breakfast. However, we had fruit, granola bars and other good snacks in the car, so we decided to head straight to Milnor.

Tony called Brandy when we left to let her know we were on our way. She and Dylan were also driving from Fargo, but would be leaving about 30 minutes after us. She advised us that we were to go straight to Dylan’s parents’ house, where his mother, Lorraine Jacobson, was expecting us.

We hopped onto I-29 and began our journey southward. The outside temperature was already in the mid-80s, and the forecast was set for a sweltering, sunny day out on the prairie. Sunscreen in tow, we were eager to get to Milnor to begin our adventure.

We drove past Mooreton, Barney and Wyndmere, towns already familiar to us from our travels earlier this summer. (Ha! I could not have said that 3 months ago!) As we entered Milnor, we were greeted by its sign which proclaimed, “Milnor Welcomes You!”

We arrived at the Jacobson residence just after 12:30 pm, and were met by Lorraine’s son-in-law, Kelby Sundquist. Lorraine and her daughter, Whitney Sundquist, quickly came out to greet us. Whitney and Kelby live in Milnor, but both work in nearby Gwinner, ND.

Let me tell you something about Lorraine. This was my first time meeting her, and only Tony’s second, but you’d never have guessed it. Lorraine welcomed us with open-armed enthusiasm, as if we were already dear friends, and I immediately knew that I liked this woman. A lot.

The Jacobson’s lovely home a has large yard anchored by a pond behind the house, where Giovanni delighted in watching the active birdlife as we introduced ourselves to one another. Lorraine’s husband, Jay Jacobson, is the Alliance Director for the Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, which is located just east of the residence. The house is owned by the co-op, and it’s the official residence for the Alliance Director and his family. What a great incentive this is to attract skilled personnel to a company.

Lorraine told us that she had made plans for us to visit her neighbors, Dick and Donna Ruby, who live just up the road at the Ruby Buffalo Ranch. We were delighted to learn that Whitney and Kelby would also be joining us. (Can someone please tell me how two of the most attractive people in North Dakota both happen to be from Milnor, and just happen to be married to each other?)

Lorraine directed us back to our trusty Honda CR-V, and we were delighted when she hopped on her adorable white Honda Metropolitan scooter to lead the way. (Especially Tony, since it reminded him of the Italian Vespas which are omnipresent in Italy.) Lorraine is a reporter for the local newspaper in Milnor, and she laughed as she told us that everyone calls her the “Roving Reporter” because of the scooter. In her straw gardener’s hat, with her notebook tucked away for the ride, Lorraine cut quite a figure as she scooted down the driveway. Roving Reporter, indeed!

We were at the Ruby Buffalo Ranch in a matter of minutes, which is also home to Donna’s restoration antique business, Hilltop Primitives. We made the long drive up to the house, and found ourselves in one of the most idyllic rural settings I can imagine. The Ruby house and its grounds are immaculately maintained: gorgeous flower beds with charming garden accents, sprawling, lush green lawns, and a lovely ranch-style home in between.

Down a sloping hill to the south of the home is a small lake and a pond, where we spotted a large number of white pelicans taking comfort from the heat, and a herd of buffalo cooling off at the edges of the water. Dick informed us that he would take us down to the pasture, where we could get a better look at one of the herds.

Donna let us walk around her yard first, apologizing for the state of the gardens. “WIth this heat, I’m thinking of just giving up,” she tells us, fending off my repeated compliments on the beauty of her gardens. I thought of my own garden wasteland at home, and was very glad Donna was not coming to my house. Other than my two robust raspberry patches, and some hostas, the only flowers visible in my yard this year are the volunteer petunias that are graciously adorning the cracks between our patio pavers. But, I have been an active gardener in years past, and I knew what she meant – wandering around the yard, it was evident that Donna’s gardens were a labor of love and artistry, and a gardener is always more content when the weather lives up to her standards.

The gardens were just lovely, in spite of the heat, and we thanked Donna for the tour. Then Dick, Lorraine, Whitney and Kelby got into two of Dick’s trucks and we were instructed to follow them over to the buffalo pasture. We drove down the Ruby’s driveway and over to another, oh, um…yeah, okay, I’ll call it a road.

We bumped along the prairie brush, listening to the cacophony of sounds coming from underneath our car as we drove over vegetation more than a foot high. We had a great laugh about it, as just six weeks before, our marriage was nearly jeopardized while driving on a well-established, albeit unfamiliar, gravel road. I had to stop along the way to commemorate the event with a photo (I really just wanted evidence that Tony was smiling!) Suffice it to say this was another successful step in the treatment of Tony’s Gravel Road Syndrome.

Photo courtesy of Dylan Jacobson

Dick had given us a warm welcome earlier up at the house and, like Lorraine, he was easygoing and eager to tell us about the ranch. When we pulled up to the pasture, Dick was bringing out Norma, his pet bison. He set a bucket of feed in front of her, and she proceeded to indulge as we all marveled at having such a close-up view of this impressive animal. It was around this time when Dylan and Brandy joined us, and they couldn’t have had better timing.

Imagine our surprise when Dick invited us to step up and pet her, gently warning us to watch our feet since an adult bison weighs about 1,400 pounds. Later I visited a website, Your Rancher dot com, which features information about the Ruby Buffalo Ranch and other buffalo farms in the midwest. There were pictures of Dick and Norma together, with a footnote at the end of the article cautioning readers to never approach a bison, or pet/scratch its back, highlighting the extremely unique relationship between Dick and Norma. But Norma was very mild-mannered, and Giovanni was absolutely thrilled with this experience. None of us could believe that we were petting an actual bison.

Up at the house Dick had told us that he was from Kansas, and had grown up on a cattle ranch. For many years before starting the buffalo ranch, Dick had experienced success as a beekeeper with his business, Ruby Apiaries. His son, Doug, purchased the business several years ago, and that’s when Dick launched the Ruby Buffalo Ranch.

The ranch is spread out over about 1,000 acres, and has been successful for the Rubys. At its peak, it was home to over 1,800 bison, but as Dick gets closer to retiring he has downsized to approximately 275 animals. An obvious entrepreneur, I wonder what he’ll get started on next once he retires.

Dick returned Norma to the pasture, and then announced that it was time to feed the herd. He offered seats in the feeder truck to Lorraine and Giovanni, who was more than happy to tag along. There were about 30-40 bison in the pasture in front of us including several calves, and they were scattered about, grazing in the grasses. There was an impressive bull in the herd, with great horns and a huge girth. Dick told us that he has about 25 female mates in the herd, and Giovanni’s eyes grew large with this information. “Mom, can you imagine having 25 wives?” he asked me before falling into peals of laughter.

A little ways beyond the fence was a long trough, around which there were no bison gathered. None, that is, until Dick drove the feeder truck alongside it, dispensing food into the trough. Then there was an immediate move toward the food, but the animals slowed down as they neared the trough, waiting for the bull to take its place at the head of the trough. I never knew there was such a thing as bison etiquette.

The sun was just beating down on us as we stood out there on the open prairie, and I’m pretty sure I was melting, as redheads are prone to do in excessive heat. Even still, I can’t recall ever having this much fun on any other field trip, and I am so grateful to have these wonderful new friends in Milnor.

It was time to leave the ranch, and Dick offered to take us over to his honey plant before we said goodbye to Milnor for the day. I didn’t know until earlier this summer that North Dakota is the top producer of honey in the nation (has been for over 7 years), and this fact is evidenced by the many white boxes we’ve seen in clustered groups out on the prairie all around the state. Dick’s invitation was simply too good an opportunity to pass up, and we happily made the journey back down the “gravel” road to follow Dick into Milnor.

Photo courtesy of Dylan Jacobson

I’m going to wrap this up for now, and continue later this week with more on our adventures in Milnor and at Ruby Apiaries. But before I go, I’d like to share this with you: as wonderful as our time was in Milnor and Oakes was, none of it would have been possible without the amazing opportunities we had to interact with local residents.

A town is just a town, is just a town, until someone comes along and tells you why it’s their home. As we left Milnor later that day, Tony declared that he wants to own an acre of land in North Dakota, anhd he wants it to be in the Milnor area. He spoke most passionately about this, which surprised me. I didn’t expect to hear this, ever, from my gravel-road-weary City Boy. But something that day affected him in a way that touched his heart, and it wasn’t the bison, or the bees.

It was Lorraine Jacobson, and Dick and Donna Ruby, who opened up their lives to let us in. Their pride in Milnor was obvious and infectious. It was Kelby and Whitney Sundquist, who couldn’t have been nicer in answering my questions about life in a small town. And it was Brandy Buro and Dylan Jacobson, another beautiful young couple, whose excitement about Lost on the Prairie and their own home towns made the entire day possible. Only time will tell if Tony’s desire for land in Milnor will come to fruition. Until then, thank you, thank you, wonderful new friends, for helping us get lost on your prairie.

Photo courtesy of Dylan Jacobson

Coming up later this week:
- The conclusion of our Milnor visit with Ruby Apiaries and downtown Milnor
- Our amazing adventure at the Buro family farm outside of Oakes, ND – it just keeps getting better and better!
- In search of Danzig, our journey to North Dakota’s German-Russian Triangle

Something Old, Something New…

Summer is flying by, and while we’ve managed to visit a new place in North Dakota every weekend so far, I have fallen a bit behind in keeping the blog up to date with our adventures. July is nearly over, and I still haven’t given you our stories from Devils Lake, much less our incredible Nine Day Western Odyssey. “What’s happened?” some of you are asking. Well, in a word: Summer.

After arriving home on July 10th from our trip out west, I had a one-day turnaround before Gio and I were off to Lake Sallie, MN for a 4-day visit at my parents’ cabin. I thought this would be a great opportunity to catch up on our stories for the blog: we had family visiting from Massachusetts (the Bergers), so Gio would have plenty of diversions to keep him occupied while I wrote.

However, the Bergers are one of the “Most Fun Families – Ever!” and if anyone reading this knows my aunt, Peggy Anstett Berger, you know how true this is. The last thing I felt like doing was locking myself in a hot room to sit behind a computer while everyone else was playing and having fun. So, I didn’t. And I don’t regret it a bit. The stories will come, and in the meantime we heartily encourage you to visit Devils Lake when you have the chance. We were wonderfully surprised by our visit there, and look forward to sharing more about our exploits in the (very) near future.

Until that happens, I recommend that you pay a visit to the Devils Lake ND Chamber of Commerce to help you plan your itinerary. Katie Mertens gave us a terrific itinerary for our day in the area, which included visits to Graham’s Island, Fort Totten, Sully’s National Game Preserve and a great dinner on the waterfront at the Woodland Resort’s restaurant, The Cove. And try to make time to enjoy the excellent food and service at the historic Devils Lake restaurant, The Ranch.

This weekend we plan to get lost in southern North Dakota, to explore the areas around Milnor, Oakes, Ashley and Wishek.

We are often asked about how we choose the cities for our adventures. The process varies, and sometimes it’s completely random. However, this itinerary is very people-driven: on Sunday, we’ll be visiting the cattle farm where our Sarello’s bartender, Brandy Buro, grew up and look forward to meeting her family and learning more about North Dakota farm life.

Before we get to Oakes, Brandy’s boyfriend, Dylan Jacobson, will be hosting us in his hometown of Milnor, ND. Dylan is a professional cameraman, and we met him earlier this summer when he generously donated his time, and considerable talent, to serve as our photographer at the 7th Annual Sarello’s Dinner for the Opera. When he heard about our summer plan to get Lost on the Prairie, he enthusiastically recommended that we add Milnor to our agenda, and we look forward to seeing it through his eyes.

On Monday, we hope to learn more about the life and culture of Germans from Russia by visiting Ashley and Wishek. My late grandmother, Florence (Goll) Anstett, grew up in Danzig, ND and graduated from Ashley High School. Her father, (my  great-grandfather) Jacob Goll, immigrated to the U.S. from Russia just before the turn of the last century.

Florence passed away in April of 2009, and I miss her dearly. She was a proud North Dakotan, and would have loved knowing what my family is up to this summer. While Danzig no longer exists as a town, I am eager to explore the area she once called home.

And of course, we’ll be stopping along the way as whimsy dictates, so feel free to share your suggestions with us! This past week we received a comment from a woman who is familiar with the former site of Danzig and informed us that the town was purchased by a couple and turned into private property. (When I tell things like this to my friends and family from other parts of the country, they have a hard time believing it! “How do you buy a town?” they ask.) This kind woman, Dayna, gave us directions to an area where we may be able to view the few remains of the town, and we are grateful for her assistance.

We’ve also received an email from another woman, Jayne, letting us know that her family’s farm is located right in the area we plan to explore, and then inviting us to stop in to say hello if we get the chance. I hope we can find it, because we would love to pay a visit.

We’re leaving in just a few minutes, and I am excited about what we’ll discover in the next two days. I love the personal essence of this adventure, and the opportunity it presents to forge new friendships as we journey into the past.

Oh, yikes – I’m getting “the look” from Gio, which means it’s time to go! Have a wonderful Sunday, and take some time to get lost – wherever you are.

Our Western Odyssey, in a Nutshell

We’re back from our 9-day Western Odyssey and, while it’s great to be home, we already miss the dramatic landscape and five-star hospitality of Medora and western North Dakota. We had an amazing adventure out west, and our knowledge and love of North Dakota has grown exponentially!

I’ll be sharing more about our travels with you in the next few days, but before I can that I still need to get our Devils Lake Adventure published on the blog. I have A LOT of writing to do!

In the meantime, here’s just a snapshot of what we experienced during our Western Odyssey:

Day One – Sunday, July 1 – Fargo to Bismarck
- Depart Fargo at approx. 2:00 pm
- Windsor
- Cleveland
- Medina
- Bismarck

Day Two - Monday, July 2 – Friends & Food – Bismarck & Mandan
- Stopped by ND Tourism to say hello – met Janice
- Lunch at the Peacock Alley with Jim Christianson
- Visit to Corral Sales RV Superstore to say hello to the Helblings
- ND Veterans Cemetery
- Dinner at the Bistro with Helen Tracy

Day 3: Tuesday, July 3 – New Friends – Bismarck & Surrounding area
- Stopped in to meet more staff at ND Tourism - Kim, Cheryl, Mike, Dean, Heather & Sara!
- Visited Gail Hilton at the Barnhardt/Hilton family farm about 20+ miles north of Bismarck
- Hazen
- Beulah
- Hensler
- Dinner at The Walrus in Bismarck

Day 4 – Wednesday, July 4: Mandan & Bismarck
- Mandan Fourth of July Parade
- Art in the Park – Mandan
- Hamburgers at Reza’s Pitch
- BMSO Concert and Fireworks at the Capitol, Bismarck – SPECTACULAR!

Day 5 – Thursday, July 5: Depart for Medora
- New Salem Sue
- Hebron Brick Plant Tour – Amazing!
- Assumption Abbey, Richardton - great breads and handmade soaps
- Enchanted Highway
- Lefor
- Regent
- Belfield
- Painted Canyon Visitor Center – Wow!
- Arrive Medora, check-in at Rough Riders Hotel
- Dinner at Theodore’s – Excellent!

Day 6 – Friday, July 6: Medora & Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Golfing at Bully Pulpit Golf Course
- Pitchfork Fondue
- Medora Musical

Day 7 – Saturday, July 7: Medora & Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Horseback Riding in the Badlands w/Medora Riding Stables: Tony’s 1st time EVER on a horse!
- Scenic drive through Theodore National Park, South Unit
          – Hiking at Coal Vein Trail and other trails
          – 18 wild horses
          - 12 bison, including calves
- Pizza at Badlands Pizza Parlor
- Swimming at outdoor pool
- Walking tour of Medora
- Dinner at Theodore’s

Day 8 – Sunday, July 8: Back to Bismarck
- Depart Medora
- Drive to ND/Montana border
- Beach, ND
          – Visited Prairie Fire Pottery - GORGEOUS North Dakota pottery
          – met Tama Smith (the potter), her husband Jerry DeMartin, toured her studio
- Dickinson
          – Dakota Dinosaur Museum - Gio loved this visit!
          – Joachim Museum: World War I exhibit
- Glen Ullin
- Check in at Ramkota Best Western in Bismarck
- 2.5 hours poolside, Gio loved this feature!

Day 9 – Monday, July 9: Ft. Abraham Lincoln, Homeward Bound
- Ft. Abraham Lincoln
           – Bought Interpretive Tour passes
           – Enjoyed excellent guided tours at On-A-Slant Village and Custer’s House
- Arrive Fargo at approximately 8:00 pm.