A Christmas Letter

Dear Readers: In the olden days, Lillian and I used to write a summary of what we did during the year, take it to United Printing, have a hundred or more copies printed, bring it home, write personal notes at the end of each one to all our friends and family, address and stuff the envelopes, affix postage, and haul them to the post office, completing our Christmas letter experience at the cost of a couple hundred dollars and dozens of hours of our time. Then, along came the Internet and The Prairie Blog, and we finally succumbed to the easy access to all our friends electronically, and decided to just post a letter on this blog for anyone to read who wants to. So if you’re not our personal friends or family, you might not get much from this 2016 Christmas Prairie Blog post. Carry on with what you were doing. But to friends and family, we now use this to greet you at year’s end. One role reversal—usually Jim writes and Lillian edits. We turned that around this year. We learned, we think, that Lillian’s a pretty good writer, and Jim’s a pretty good editor. But you be the judge.


Christmas, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, this is the time of the year for reflection, and we’re working hard to find the silver linings this year. The Chicago Cubs did win the World Series, and many American men and women made us proud in the Summer Olympics. We heard there was an election in America, but we haven’t zeroed in on the results of that yet. The aches and pains of growing older increase, as is natural.

We’d have to say that the highlight of 2016 for us has been helping Lillian’s daughter Rachel move into, and get adjusted to, her new apartment in Dickinson—Independent Living once un-thought of, and unheard of, for that precious child whose ever-cheerful demeanor and eternally smiling face belie the difficulties she has overcome to reach this stage of her life. Rachel, who has cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities, now gets up each morning in her own bedroom, in her own apartment, and with help from an incredibly talented and caring ABLE staff, gets dressed, goes to work, comes home, helps fix supper for herself and her roommate, and spends quiet evenings watching movies on her couch. We are so proud of her, it makes the buttons pop on our shirts. There are plans for her to go to Camp Grassick again next summer, thanks to the coordination between ABLE Inc. and the Elks Organization. This past summer Rachel also enjoyed her time at Camp Recreation in Richardton. Thanks to the folks that make that happen.  We visit her as often as we can and try to keep her communication skills sharp by writing and calling and visiting when we go west. We exchange postcards and e-mails, and look forward to that evening phone call from her that always begins with a cheerful voice saying “Hi, Mom!” and “Hi, Mr. Jim Fuglie.”

Another highlight from 2016: With friends and contacts, we took on a crusade to lobby the ND National Guard to keep the ND Veterans Cemetery from being fully lighted at all hours of the day and night, keeping it more like the model cemetery of reverence, Arlington National Cemetery, a place we’ve both visited several times (including taking Lillian’s daughter Chelsea, Rachel’s twin sister, there as a teenager on her DC trip). The public response was pretty overwhelming, allowing the good Adjutant General, Dave Sprynczynatyk, to veto the project as his last official act before retirement.

While taking down last year’s Christmas decorations, we became captivated by the hot new musical “Hamilton,” having attended many Broadway shows both in New York, with and without Chelsea, and watching Chelsea in her musical education, as well as attending Broadway shows at the Bismarck Civic Center. What a fascinating multicultural musical by the enormously talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, justly honored at the Tony Awards this year. Chelsea is now the proud owner of the CD set of the musical. Who knows, maybe one day it’ll come to Bismarck and we’ll get to see it right here in our hometown.

Lillian began work on family genealogy, something she was hoping to get to because of her interest in history and her desire to build on the knowledge of previous generations who have done the work, utilizing her research skills and resources available at area libraries and online. She spent lots of time with her elderlys, whose minds are still so very sharp after a lifetime of reading. Reaching out to friends and family worldwide, she filled in some missing pieces and enlightened some family myths that were borne out of innocence and lack of connectivity. Crook is an old English name, and her mom’s maiden name, Silbernagel, has Germanic origins related to “silversmiths.” Lillian also finally found the time this winter while she cared for her nephew Ryan to complete the girls’ childhood scrapbooks, with the assistance and advice and loan of tools from her sister Beckie, and has given those to our girls for their keepsakes.

The whole Crook clan of kids and grandkids try to help Lillian’s 92-year-old father, Garland, and his wife Cheryl, as they navigate an increasingly fractious and interconnected world in their retirement years. When we think we have it tough, we remind ourselves that Garland survived on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—and he is still kicking, and fishing when he can. He was sure happy that the Cubs won the World Series and so was Lillian’s brother Thomas, who is now working for the Transportation Safety Administration in the Norfolk area.

We spent last Christmas at home with family and friends. In honor of what we have absorbed in a lifetime of cooking, we hosted a Winter Solstice Soul Food meal for our close circle of friends.  “Love People, Cook Them Tasty Food” is a good motto and, as it happens, comes from the company Penzey’s, introduced to us by Jill Power.  Another bit of good Bismarck news is that the Bismarck Mandan Food Co-op finally opened in downtown Bismarck and we are charter members.

We camped and hiked this year, and took Chelsea and Rachel to the Bad Lands when we could. We still go birding, and Jim mentored Chelsea in improving her photography skills. We continue to work together with like-minded compadres to protect the few remaining wild Bad Lands places. Thanks to our friend Valerie Naylor, Lillian got to share in a Burleigh County sighting of a Ruff, an Eurasian “accidental visitor” bird to North Dakota.

Another highlight: Watching the Summer Solstice Full Moon (something that hasn’t happened since 1967, and won’t happen again until 2062) rise over the Missouri River at Cross Ranch State Park. We camped there with Chelsea, and were reminded that sleeping on the hard ground gets harder and harder as we all age, but we are determined to keep on camping as long as we can — we certainly have lots of camping gear. Chelsea was able to use Lillian’s kayak on the Missouri River for a short unsupervised jaunt. Later in the summer, Lillian tried out paddleboard yoga at Harmon Lake.

Our friends Terry Tempest Williams and her husband Brooke Williams were in Medora this summer for her book launch The Hour of Land and we were able to spend some time with them and to meet her remarkable father, who gave us very good personal advice about our upcoming trip to the greater Yellowstone area.

Lillian concluded her service to the board of the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. After all, retirement is supposed to be about NOT going to endless meetings, isn’t it? Badlands Conservation Alliance is growing and thriving and you can follow the activities of this important organization (of which Lillian is one of the founders) through an online newsletter at badlandsconservationalliance.org. We attended the public showing of BCA’s new film “Keeping All The Pieces” at the Bismarck Public Library.

We scored rare and valuable tickets for the Centennial Event of the National Park Service right there under the Roosevelt Arch in Yellowstone National Park in August, and attended this big event in our national history, starring John Prine and Emmy Lou Harris, with good old friends Jeff and Linda. At the concert Lillian was able to connect with her cousin Val Jorgenson and their Bozeman family and finally meet Val’s husband. Great people! Val went to high school with MT Gov. Steve Bullock.

Then, dodging forest fires, we were able to take Jeff and Linda to areas we know well in the west, including an early morning hike in the newly opened Laurence Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park. At Jackson Lake Lodge, we sat through a real earthquake, Jeff and Linda’s first. Fortunately we were surrounded by the granite of that area of the Rocky Mountains and it was a “minor” event. Chelsea house-sat and dog-sat for us while we were gone, as Bismarck has become her home base. Lizzie, our Springer Spaniel, is getting older too. She loves to hunt, run, and try to figure out just what is coming next.

We’re still tending our garden to grow our own food and use as little water as possible in doing so. We recycle as much as we can. Clean water is life, and we try to keep our carbon footprint as small as we reasonably can.

The other big Crook/Fuglie/Walby/McLaughlin relocation news this year was getting Lillian’s Mom through her second knee replacement surgery, sorting through her lifetime of possessions, and moving her into assisted living at Edgewood Vista Mandan, where she is adjusting well to her new life and looking forward to the arrival of her newly ordered motorized scooter.

We began plans for a Fuglie multi-generational family reunion in Medora next Labor Day weekend in honor of Jim’s 70th birthday.

Lillian and her sisters had some May hiking time in TRNP in a “secret” place none of them had gone to before, and capped it off with some carrot cake in the parking lot. Chelsea got to spend some time with her aunts interacting with the ND Bad Lands Horse folks and got to “name” one of the feral horses in the TRNP “Arizona.”  Both Rachel and Chelsea are very attached to the pets in their lives and Chelsea has a particular love of horses as well. No surprise that both girls are big readers of books and like to use the new technology tools – Rachel has an iPad and Chelsea, of course, a smart phone and laptop. As for Jim and Lillian’s technological advances, we’re using our walking sticks more when we hike.

Lillian and her girlfriends Jan and Val were able to do a spring getaway in the Devils Lake area that included Lillian’s first visit to Sully’s Hill National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Totten State Historic Site and some birding here and there.

Our trusty yellow canoe sat unused this year. Seems to be getting heavier as it ages and harder to find wild undeveloped rivers nearby. The Little Missouri State Wild and Scenic River is not what is once was, with more fences and bridges and crossings and….well….you get the idea. Jim and Lillian hiked in the wilderness of TRNP, where we learned that Jim’s Facebook account had been “Spoofed” and Lillian’s phone did a factory reset causing her to start all over with her contact lists. The lesson in this might very well be to not take a phone into the wilderness or at least to turn it off except for emergencies.

We are omnivores and ambiverts and progressive Catholics in this, The Year of Mercy. Bless you Pope Francis. We often wonder where is the line of civil discourse in an unfiltered world where words are stated publicly, online and otherwise, in places we would never have dreamed in our lifetimes, by our leaders and candidates. We pray for a world with fewer guns and more harmony. Politics . . . the fractiousness of this election has jangled the nerves of even of some of the steadiest people we know. We were able to vote. Our elderlys were able to vote. For whomever. A woman ran for President for the first time in the history of our country. We both personally have known women who were not allowed to vote or were not allowed to vote without their husband accompanying them. Lillian’s father’s grandfather was a soldier in the Confederacy. Please let’s not have another Civil War. One multicultural nation, indivisible, “with liberty and justice for all.” If you are so inclined, read an important message from Pope Francis.

Our house is decorated for a simple blessed Christmas. We’re sorting through a lifetime book collection to give away that which we’ve read and no longer need. Like everyone, we are in the midst of the transition from print to digital, but we still value the printed word as a break from the blue screen for our brains. We’ve been organizing our house to better accommodate aging parents and people with various disabilities and/or injuries, and winterizing in preparation for a quiet winter here in North Dakota where snow will give us some needed moisture, and Jim gets in some ice fishing. Incidentally we are getting ready for a spring rummage sale that will include plants, and flower pots, and books, and who knows what else. Watch for the notice of that next spring.  There’ll be some real “treasures.”

We pray that the younger generations of an educated world figure this all out whilst heeding the wisdom of the elders. Education is everything. Don’t trust fake news, whether in print or online. We wonder, what is the zone of privacy that might be gone forevermore because we all have cell phones and videos and interconnected lives and social media? Does it make us safer whilst also making us more vulnerable to hacking?  We, too, juggle multiple devices in our pockets and backpacks, much like the “diaper bags” we juggled when we had babies in our lives. We live in the Google and PokemonGo world.

We drive slower and we ignore our devices and even sometimes the news and music when we drive, to model that behavior for young drivers and lessen our carbon footprint. We drive a hybrid vehicle. We look forward to visiting more national parks, thus making more progress on our National Parks Passport book, and to attending fewer protests in our retirement.  Doing is learning is education. We both love music and its value to heal the brain and keep us interconnected.

We’re saying prayers for Chelsea as she embarks on a new journey of vocational counseling and rehabilitation in her Bismarck/Mandan life. She is young. Education is everything. And prayers for Rachel as she continues in her life with ABLE Inc. of Dickinson.

A new age of enlightenment is needed.  As to any other future predictions, it is looking good that there will be a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Dickinson, ND, and we hope that the Elkhorn Ranch site is protected for future generations.

We end this letter with the words of our friend and inspirational and brave writer, Terry Tempest Williams, one of our nation’s wisest elders, who penned these words the morning after the 2016 election.

 November 9, 2016, at 9:41 a.m.

It is morning. I am mourning. And the river is before me.

I am a writer without words who is struggling to find them.

I am holding the balm of beauty, this river, this desert, so vulnerable, all of us.

I am trying to shape my despair into some form of action, but for now, I am standing on the cold edge of grief.

We are staring at a belligerent rejection of change by our fellow Americans who believe they have voted for change.

The seismic shock of a new political landscape is settling.

For now, I do not feel like unity is what is called for.

Resistance is our courage.

Love will become us.

The land holds us still.

Let us pause and listen and gather our strength with grace and move forward like water in all its manifestation: flat water, white water, rapids and eddies, and flood this country with an integrity of purpose and patience and persistence capable of cracking stone.

I am a writer without words who continues to believe in the vitality of the struggle.

Let us hold each other close and be kind.

Let us gather together and break bread.

Let us trust that what is required of us next will become clear in time.

What has been hidden is now exposed.

This river, this mourning, this moment — May we be brave enough to feel it deeply.

God Bless you, Terry Tempest Williams. And God Bless all of you, and Merry Christmas.

Lillian and Jim

One thought on “A Christmas Letter

  1. Well, alrighty then. That was a mighty good read, Lillian! You and Jim and the girls packed a lot into 2016. And you gave a lot of deep thought to everything you witnessed, read, and experienced. You have spent your days this year wisely and meaningfully and thoughtfully. Better than just lettting time pass! And fewer regrets to come when time inevitably stops for each of us. Luckily for all of your friends and family, you also manage to throw in a good bit of fun and humor always and everywhere! A good rule for 2017, indeed: “Let us hold each other close and be kind.”


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