Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Merry Memories

(Originally written 2009)

(You may reprint this only with permission from the author. Please, contact me via this blog or facebook.)

Oh the joys of growing up in Michigan. That statement might sound like it’s dripping with sarcasm but I truly mean it. I was fortunate enough to be born into the Hungarian neighborhood of Delray in Detroit where I was introduced to European cuisine at a very young age. I teethed on Kolbasz, a kind of sausage similar to the Polish Kielbasa. However, my true cravings were for Pinkelwurst and Hurka. A true passion developed for chicken paprikash, a Hungarian style dumpling dish. Christmases were filled with Lebkuchen, a German ginger bread, and my mother’s delectable homemade fruit cake. People that state they don’t enjoy the pastry and would rather regift it or use it as a doorstop have never tried my parents' recipe. After having delivered the Christmas cakes to neighbors and friends, we would open our gifts on Christmas Eve, German style, and eat more ethnic goods like Eastern European cheesecakes or Kolache, a poppy seed roll.

My neighbors, German like my mother, loved to hunt. One occasion they cooked up some venison, which I enjoy. This time it was greasy which was unusual but nevertheless, very tasty. Then I was informed it was bear meat. I didn’t want to even touch it after that. I’ve since learned, according to one book I read, that bear meat is a Cherokee’s favorite food. That explains why I liked the taste, I guess, because my papa is Scots-Irish and Cherokee.

As a preschooler when we first moved Downriver, my Arabic neighbor Amelia who lived next door, served my family flatbread and lamb. She was born in Lebanon. I soon learned to call her “Grandma”. More than the unfamiliar taste of Kibbe I enjoyed sneaking out of my house before my parents woke up to enjoy a breakfast of coffee and donuts at Amelia’s. Of course, my drink was mostly cream with just a dash of coffee to warm it up!

Despite my childhood protests, my mother made me try a little of everything. If at first I didn’t like a flavor, if not pressured into tasting it, I’d eventually grow to love it. I grew up with Chinese, Italian and Southern cooking, in addition to many other styles, due to the varied cultures that had settled in Detroit. I listened to Rock-and-roll, Mariachi, Polka, Country and of course, Mo-town.

While some people dip into ice cream or grab chips for comfort food, I heat up a jar of sauerkraut or drown my tears in Southern Beans, my American Grandmother’s recipe. Also handed down for several generations is what my Grandmother’s family called biscuits. They are actually called “scones” in Scotland. Grandma also made a true cornbread from white cornmeal. It is unlike the sugary cake-like bread made from yellow cornmeal. It has an almost popcorn taste and is not sweet, but comforting to me nevertheless. I absolutely love Asian food too! My sisters are of Japanese descent (as a result of my mother’s first marriage). My oldest sister taught me how to make wontons, Korean style. Additionally, my mother taught me how to make Japanese fried rice. As an adult, living part-time in the southwest, I’ve come to love Tex-Mex cooking. I actually can do these recipes in my home kitchen as the ingredients are found in abundance at my local market, unlike most other goods I need to make European fare. I guess I can chalk that up to supply and demand?

I have Scots-Irish, Cherokee, German, Polish, Hungarian, Arabic, Asian, Filipino-Creole friends and relatives. Is it any wonder why I love all these fantastic flavors and foods? I can talk to virtually any ethnicity or culture and for the most part I love them all with few exceptions. Whatever cultures are not in my family will most likely marry into it in a generation or two. What we like about each other comes from the heart. What we dislike stems from petty grievances and past mistakes that are, as yet, unforgiven and have nothing to do with our ethnicity nor religion.

I feel fortunate that I grew up in metro-Detroit and met all these wonderful people from a variety of cultures. Simply put, we all have the ability to live with each other peacefully. That is, after all, the mission of a tiny baby that was sent to us over 2000 years ago. May your family be blessed with peace, may your home me filled with traditions and may your table be laden with delicious foods. Happy eating and Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Peace begins in the neighborhood and grows to fill the world. It's a movement that begins with YOU and ME. WE are the team. -Liesa Swejkoski

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

What is Thanksgiving? It is supposed to be a celebration of autumn, gathering in the food we labored to grow and harvest; showing gratitude for it. One of this holiday’s first incarnations was when the tribes of North America's east coast shared their corn and venison with the starving Europeans that had recently landed upon the Atlantic Ocean's western shore. Many of these newcomers feared the possibility that a state religion might impose its beliefs on what they hoped would become a free thinking society where a variety of faiths and tenets could be expressed in many ways. Several groups coming to the “New World” had only just escaped religious oppression. Additionally, in the 1600’s one of these assemblages decided that gluttony and gift giving on the commemoration of the Lord Jesus's birthday was not appropriate for humble people.

They believed a non-sectarian Holiday where a person may give thanks to the one true creator of our existence was more appropriate. They chose a day in the early fall to celebrate a festival that the Native Americans were already accustomed to.

In the 1800’s President Abraham Lincoln encouraged the citizens of the United States to enjoy their Autumn Feast and give thanks in the month of November, much later than harvest time. By the early twentieth century, Thanksgiving was observed just about any time in November, usually the last Thursday of that month, although some communities still held festivities at other times during the autumn season. In fact, some American towns in states bordering Canada celebrated the holiday in October, which was when our neighbor to the north holds a similar feast. During the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, there was much confusion as to the exact time when Thanksgiving should take place, due in part to Roosevelt moving the date to accommodate retail businesses that hoped to gain more shopping days before Christmas.

On December 26, 1941, an act of Congress officially named Thanksgiving as a holiday that would take place the fourth Thursday of each and every year. Now, in the twenty-first century, there is barely a distinction between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They’ve become a huge two-month long celebration of excess and materialism that climaxes during a bacchanalian tradition known as New Year’s Eve.

These days, the real history of why there is a Harvest Holiday is clouded by an onslaught of advertisements used by corporations encouraging individuals to purchase objects assembled by foreign labor; things that could have been made by American citizens. Kids spend endless hours before, during and after a gluttonous feast, playing video games and texting each other while they sit in the same room. Families that could have been spending quality time together are instead separated by a gender gulf where the men watch hours of football in lieu of playing with their children and the ladies are grouchy because they fought with their neighbors in big-box stores trying to snatch the latest electronic gadgets. This latter activity takes place during a riotous mob-gathering called “Black Friday” --an event that in recent years begins on the very day of Thanksgiving itself. It is sad, and I will have no part of it.

I just want to thank my Heavenly Father for another year of life and enough healthy food to get me through the seasons; for a husband with a strong back and healthy heart; intelligent children with morals; and a profession that provides a little extra money to help us enjoy life. I give thanks for another year of bountiful blessings and the Harvest.

Thank you Heavenly Father. I am blessed and I am grateful. Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Born Again

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the day I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’d graduated from high school earlier in the year, 1982, and my parents graciously allowed me to make whatever adult decision I felt was important to my life. I hadn’t grown up with any particular religion, creed or dogma although I was richly blessed with friends who invited me to their churches throughout my school years. After looking into several religions, I decided to look more closely at the “Mormons” more out of curiosity than anything else.

I’d heard so many rumors and wanted to discover the truth for myself. I was pleased to find that this religion was: A. Not a cult B. Answered all the questions I had and C. Most of all Jesus, the son of God, my Savior is at the head of the Church.

Detractors may want to twist the truth and put a spin on the history of the Church or skew what we believe versus the styles of modern reasoning, but for me, this is where I want to be. I admit, I’m not perfect. No human being is. That’s why we have repentance and forgiveness. This is why Jesus is our Redeemer. We are here to serve one another with love, politely and kindly. Jesus Christ wants us to “feed His sheep”. If any people ask me what the Church is all about, I’m happy to tell them and I do not expect to convert them. That’s between each individual and the Holy Spirit. I am proud to tell everyone that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It’s been a wonderful, blessed thirty years. I’m so happy to share the news with you!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oh how I Wish Again, that I was in Michigan

I’ve lived half my life in the desert and the other half in Michigan.

I recently returned to the desert, for many reasons. One justification is I’ll be signing my books at several locations in the southwest. I keep asking myself why I returned to the desert. I absolutely love the Great Lakes, woods, songbirds and green grass. Okay, I realize there are some of you old folks out there who enjoy retirement living in Arizona, but let’s be honest; your summers are spent on cruises or at some casino. I’m so glad you enjoy the air conditioning. I have to be out there, moving and doing, enjoying fresh air.

You might argue that sitting in your living room with a cold beverage beats dealing with snow and ice. Believe me, the few months a year that the desert becomes somewhat bearable, I’m missing a hike in the woods or a good snowball fight.

I can always put on more clothes. You can only take off so many layers before you’re stark naked! (Please, I don’t want to see that!)

I could have been taking part in a “Pure Michigan” commercial campaign this weekend. Instead I’m living in what I can only describe as the closest thing to Hell on earth.

Let me give an example of my Welcome Home:

Day one – Drove down I-15 toward Las Vegas. The air in Utah was so thick from forest and brush fires I couldn’t see the mountains!
My husband later showed me a scorpion he caught in the house. I hoped that would be the only one I’d see.

Day two – Wanted to have a romantic evening with my husband once things ‘cooled’ to the low 90s, only to discover there were black widows all over the porch swing. That night, we had the air conditioning on but the bedroom stays a constant 85 degrees no matter what we do. Even with the fan on, I was having killer hot flashes. Guess who woke up grumpy?

Day three- Stepped on a scorpion in the kitchen and screamed so loud that both my husband and daughter came running! Wanted to go home to Michigan right then.

Day four- Went to church and was having hot-flashes-from-Hades until I got into the building. Once I stepped out a few hours later, I was swimming in sweat inside my dress. Went home and hid in the basement where it was only in the upper 80s and watched the cats chase sun spiders.

Day five- Walked into the garage to get something from the deep freeze. Wandered into a black widow nest and startled its occupant. She startled me as well and I went screaming up the stairs.

Day six – Got the house sprayed. Didn’t even know there were roaches around. That evening we had dead roaches all over the porch and walk. Another night of tossing and turning.

Day seven- Wanted to go on a walk since it was only in the 90s. It was also humid, which didn’t bother me, but that should have been an indication of things to come. It isn’t called “monsoon season” for nothing and we had a flash flood in a matter of minutes streaming down the street. The neighbor was even stacking sandbags! His yard still flooded. Spent another evening suffering through what can only be described as my own personal trip through an oven. I slow roasted all night. No matter how I set the fan I could not get cool enough to sleep. Every couple hours I was up and down, up and down. At least I got some exercise.

Day eight-Today, I finally took that walk. I was beginning to get cabin fever. I put some cold water into a bottle and set off. I watched kids at the park surrounding the fountains and running in the water feature. That made me smile. I walked down a sidewalk for a few blocks and thought a little girl was saying “Hi!” Instead she was hopping up and down in bare feet screaming, “Hot! Hot! Hot!” Her toes could find no respite. A little farther up the road, I took a sip of my water. It was as warm as soup.

As I write this my family is asking me what’s for dinner. The kitchen is closed. I don’t know about the rest of them, but I think I'll eat a salad (or a gallon of ice cream).

Please, tell me why I’m here? I miss Michigan.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Woman, who art thou?

What makes a woman, a woman? Is it her beauty? Then what is beauty?

Some men like soft features, an elfin-like waif with fine bones. Other men like a muscular, athletic, healthy-looking female. Some cultures have worshipped robust, full-figured females, the ones with large hips, full breasts and bellies, in hopes of having many children, ensuring their way of life for generations to come. Is it her breasts? So what happens when time and motherhood ravish this beauty, or disease takes them? So is it fertility? Then why do so many men stay in love with their women past the child-bearing years? How about when these ladies no longer have a uterus because of a “routine” hysterectomy? Is it taut glowing skin? What about when wrinkles appear?
Is it blue eyes like a summer sky, brown eyes like fertile earth, green eyes like a lush meadow? What if the woman has cataracts or no eyes at all; and what about the old men who likewise cannot see, yet love their women dearly? Is it the amount of children she bears or the acts of kindness she does for the people around her? What if she is childless, yet wherever she walks, miracles follow? Dear Mother Theresa never carried a baby in her belly, but she carried many of God’s children in her heart.

(Excerpt from the book "A Sideshow Journey" by Liesa Swejkoski copyright 2012)

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Lighthouse

The summer of 2010 I began to paint a picture of the Grand Haven Lighthouse and pier as seen from the north beach. I intended to finish the painting this summer since it was missing the cat-walk. Off and on I’d look at pictures, or go out to the lighthouse and observe the structure so I’d be more inspired to recreate it on canvas. Last week I decided it was time to complete my artwork. I gathered up my brushes and paints, taking the portrait off the wall and removing it from the frame.

My daughter, Marie insisted that the painting was already perfect. I said, “Anyone looking at it will see right away that it’s missing the cat-walk.” I was very concerned what people would think!

Squirting a little steel grey and black paint into a small plastic bowl, I mixed them, leaving a little of the grey and black at the edges for shade and highlights.

I began to make fine lines and brush strokes. The smaller ones were at the end of the pier and I made them larger and larger as they got closer to the lighthouse. I soon realized that I was making a mess! All I could see was black, ugly lines all over my artwork! I was becoming sick with dismay. How could I undo this? How?!

I ran to the sink and grabbed some paper towels. I soaked them and applied the water expecting that my art would be completely ruined. I continued to rub away the blackness and little by little, I saw my picture emerge. There is was! The lighthouse after the storm, just as I’d painted it! The next day I learned that the cat-walk was added to the lighthouse in 1922, so I re-dated my painting and put it in the frame. Now it is a portrait of the lighthouse circa 1919.

Last week at this time I thought I was in a muddle that I could never undo. Today, it is beautiful again. There is hope!

Is your life a mess? Is there a situation that you think you can never make right? Do you see nothing but black?

You can have a change of heart and want to do better for yourself and treat others with kindness. You can choose from this time forward to wash away the darkness from your heart. The Lord Jesus Christ, the artist of our creation, is reaching out to us. We can think that the blackness that we’ve put in our lives, the ink that others have painted us with can never be undone. The truth is, we can be baptized and cleanse away the sin that is darkening our souls. The son of God lived and died for us, His artwork.

If we can see we’ve done wrong, we can pray for guidance. Next we have a change in attitude. Then we are able to wash away the dirt of the world. This process is called “repentance”.

Now is the time to get the paper towels out and run to the “kitchen sink” to get baptized. Today is the day to reach out to the greatest artist that ever existed and let His teachings guide us like the lighthouse on the pier, to the harbor of our Heavenly Home.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


My father always said he believed a person should have his or her own name and identity. For generations the men in his family were named William or George. He was the first to be named David. After our neighbor in Delray bore several children, she ran out of names for boys. She named her last son David. Apparently we were her favorite neighbors.

I grew up and dated a David. I went to college and during open house at the dorms, three young men named David visited me in one evening! I dated more Davids. Up until about a year ago, my bishop in Utah was a David, and my bishop in Michigan where I have a summer home is a David !

My publisher's name is David Smith, I have a few more friends named David and I'm married to David Swejkoski. The last OB-Gyn to tend to me when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter was named David. He was out of town when I went into labor. The doctor who delivered my baby? You got it: David! If I'd had my son, his name would have been Thomas David.

I recently befriended an actor named David Scott Diaz and he was named after his father. I think I'll just call him, "Hollywood".

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother's Day Tribute

Saying "Goodbye," to my mother was very difficult for me. Although I knew she had lived a full life I felt her passing would leave a void in my world. I learned so much from her that I still recall today. These are lessons that I still use in my life: how to cook my own meals and eat out less to save money, to carefully balance a budget, to take care of myself and my children and husband, but most of all she showed me how to have compassion for others.

Many times I would visit widows with her. She would go to their houses and cheer them up. Yes, she had much to do at home, but she always had time for these elderly women, especially the ones who most recently lost their husbands.

She showed me the value of classic things in her interest for jewelry and antiques. She had her own business and sold collectables every weekend. Many times I was bored as she dragged me, her youngest child, along to garage sales but I eventually learned that better made items hold their value and mass produced objects are of lesser worth. She showed me that well cared for pieces are held in high esteem. It is the same for relationships and life. Take care of yourself, maintain your body and soul, never cheapen your character.

My mother's life wound down faster than the doctors expected. Once the diagnosis of cancer was announced, the physicians gave her six months. She only lasted six weeks. Every several days she lost another skill, first her balance, then her walking, but she had a sharp mind and a fragile wit until just before she lapsed into a coma.

I knew I had to let her go. She had a full life, one with adventures and compassion. She had suffered enough but how could I say, "Goodbye," now that she was at the end of her mortality?

I said, "Mom, when you're up in Heaven and you're thinking of me, send a dove." My sister joined us and sat on Mother's bed. She began to gently brush the hair of a dying woman.

Suddenly, our mother just let go. Our cousin, who was also the attending nurse, said, "She's gone."

It's been more than six years. I am watching my daughters grow, graduate from school and get married. I hope I can teach them all that my mother taught me.

Sometimes I hear a dove cooing or see one resting on our barn roof. I look up into the Heavens and say, "Hello, Mom," because I know, goodbyes aren't forever.

-Liesa Swejkoski

(Originally Written 2010)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Does a Bear Crap in the Forest?

From the warped mind of Liesa Swejkoski

Philosopher: If no one is in the forest to hear it fart, does it really make noise?
Liberal: Use taxpayer money to buy it some toilet paper.
Republican: Looks like it's thriving. Get it off the endangered species list ASAP.
Libertarian: Let it crap where it wants and leave it alone.
Russian Communist: Shoot its family and capture it. Make it dance in circus !!!
Buddhist: Let it be.
Beatles: Let it be.
Theodore Roosevelt: Awe, he's cute !!! (Puts gun down, eats sandwich.)
Green Party: Do we count bears crapping in our greenhouse emissions study???
Housewife: Damn bear !!! That's another mess I have to clean up!
Peta: It is suffering! Man made it crap in the forest ! It is living there in fear for its safety!
Child: Bears go potty in the zoo.
Chicago Bears fan: Crapping in the forest? He's wasting time! Get a helmet on him!!!
Perez Hilton and TMZ: Can you get this on today's show?
Boy Scout: I did that too, when we were camping !
Jamie Lee Curtis: That bear ate my Activia Yogurt !!!
Facebook User #1: Think I'll add him as a friend !!!
Facebook User #2: Presses the like button.
Twitter User: Jst saw bear crp in woods
Bill Clinton: I never had relations with that... um hold on, are we talking about an animal?
Barak Obama: So, you ate a camper. Then you crapped. We can settle this over a beer.
Dog: Sniff, sniff!
Ted Nugent: There it was crapping, so I shot it and ate it.
Al Gore: Yes, they are crapping as they are perilously trapped on an ice-flow.
Sarah Palin: I can see polar bears crapping from my kitchen window !!!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Restaurant review for Mad Pita Express, Saint George, Utah

What can I say? This restaurant experience is like a rollercoaster for the tastebuds! If you want the exciting thrill of well blended flavors and ingredients, this is the place for you. The gyros are the best I've ever tasted and I haven't had any one flavor assault my senses yet. Everything is just perfect. The only drawback is there isn't enough lamb on the menu, which I for one would pay extra for.

Mad Pita Express
2376 East Red Cliffs Drive
Saint George, Utah

Mad Pita Express on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Crazy Quilt

June 19th, I'll be celebrating 25 wonderful years with my husband.  Marriage is like a quilt and so many pieces and stitches are in that family quilt that if a part unravels, especially when there are children involved, it's hard to sew up the pieces, so think - THINK before you agree to marry and THINK before you get divorced and THINK before you jump into an affair.  Why is the fabric of our society unraveling?  Because we forget that we are all a part of this crazy quilt.  Put a real good stitch in there, people!  Quilts are a comfort.  Anything else is disposable, like a tissue and once used, just gets thrown away.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Something that I wrote a few years ago.

A Little Appalachian History

In the 1800s, most people in the hills were Baptist and some were Methodist. The culture was Scots-Irish. In the 1600s and 1700s Scotsmen owned the land in Ireland while the native Irish share-cropped. The Scots-Irish did not appreciate the English influencing their freedoms nor did they like the taxes imposed by England. They were against the oppressive Anglican (English) influence in the Irish and Scottish homelands. Some Scots-Irish emigrated to America and joined the newly organized religions when they moved to the mountains. "Missionaries" started churches and circuit preachers rode into several communities to preach every several weeks. (There was a shortage of preachers in some communities so these individuals would ride from town to town like salesmen.)

Sometimes, in the late 1800s until World War 2, when people lived in a community and wanted to worship God with the neighbors, they'd go to the community church building. (School was taught there during the week and town events took place on occasion.) Eventually in a generation or two, the citizens of those small towns became that religion by default and tradition.

 The Scots-Irish fight carried over here when the English wanted to impose their will on the immigrants. That is why we had an American Revolution in the 1700s. The New Americans said "Enough is enough!" Also most Scots-Irish had no hesitation marrying into the Cherokees and other neighboring tribes. It was the English, and their aristocracy that wanted to force out the Cherokee and the mixed bloods.

-Liesa Swejkoski

A Bit of History

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Oh, those crazy 1970s!

Back in the wild and crazy early 70s, my cousin Douglas moved from Michigan to the LA area with his sister and brother. 

One evening, he attended a bizarre beach party.  He woke up in the pre-dawn twilight, face in the sand, only a pair of swim trunks covering his chilled body.  Feeling miserable and hung-over, Doug stumbled, bleary eyed into the bungalow he'd been renting.  Making his way to the toilet, things just didn't look right.  Doug realized, too late, that he'd walked into the wrong beach house. 

Looking up he saw Buddy Ebson (star of The Beverly Hillbillies sit-com) spreading something on toast in the kitchen.  Buddy, startled, gave him a look that meant business, grabbed a large knife and chased Doug out of the bungalow!  They both jumped out to the sand and even though my cousin had played football and was the typical meat-head jock, he had a dickens of a time trying to outrun old Buddy!  Doug screamed and apologized the whole time and finally got away. 

It's been forty years since that incident and I don't think anyone in the family will ever let him forget it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My First Blog

I've never had a blog before.  As if I don't already waste enough time on the computer, here I am, writing my own little column.  Deep down, I know this isn't really a waste of time.  I'm writing books, promoting them and keeping in touch with friends.  You're all friends, by the way.  I love the ones I've had since childhood and all the amigos I have yet to meet.  Here is something you should know:  none of my friends own me or my time.  Sometimes I pull back.  This is due to time constraints and health issues.  This does not mean that I'm ignoring you.  In the months to come, I hope to update you on my books and have a little opinion column here.

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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