Sticky and Confusing

By Karen Van Fossan

Here I sit on the east-bound Em­pire Builder, next to a scowling woman whose duffel bag is en­joying an angry portion of my foot space. She pretended to be asleep across two entire seats – hers and poten­tially mine – before I politely exclaimed, “Excuse me,” and claimed one of the only available seats in this crowded train car. I could have chosen a place by any number of groggy men; I could have awakened other disingenuous female sleepers. But this one I chose simply be­cause her face wasn’t hidden behind one of those popular blankets with the tassels tied together.

I trust that this sighing sour puss will not go down in history as an Amtrak-dis­covered spirit sister – unlike Maggy and Penny of journeys past. My only small revenge for her elaborate unfriendli­ness is to scribble these private, illegible words in this private, illegible journal. To think, she and I will spend the night to­gether shortly.

I’d delight in all the reading time this acridness will offer me – if only I’d re­membered to bring my book. But the only books in my life tonight are this private, illegible journal and my GRE study guide.

I need plenty of GRE practice for a cross-your-fingers scholarship. And practice, I will do – but not yet. In­stead, I’m going to sit and ponder lefse, a Norwegian-American flatbread made of potatoes.

Nearly 60 pieces of it are thawing above my head. Well, not my head. My laconic (GRE word) seatmate’s head – as she’s been blessed with the window seat, of course, above which the luggage rack supports a wealth of belongings – or, in my case, a wealth of lefse.

It’s a cross-your-fingers holiday gift for my family. In a not-so-convincing impression of a Norwegian-American baker, I spent a full day toiling (and I mean toiling) over a batch – or two or four – of hard-earned lefse.

It all began with red potatoes.

If my Norwegian-American friends could read this private, illegible jour­nal, they’d cry, “No! You can’t make lefse with red potatoes!”

If only they’d read my illegible jour­nal sooner!

Have you ever noticed how moist a red potato is? Or how much flour is needed when there’s unexpected mois­ture in a recipe? Or how flour and moisture are two of the key ingredients in glue?

Julie and I sprinkled scoops upon scoops – upon scoops! – of flour to my batter, to the rolling pins, to the rolling boards, to the skillets. Julie even ended up adding a decorative bit to her face (maybe even on purpose).

The thing is, as sticky and confus­ing as this lefse trouble was, I never re­member laughing so hard while mak­ing a batch – or two or four – of lefse. It’s not the kind of fun I want to repeat, detail for detail – but the kind that, even now in this pettish (GRE word) environment, reminds me of the cheer in Julie’s home.

As Julie declared on that lefse day: “How hard is it to do what you’re sup­posed to do? It takes a lot of skill to do things different!”

May my faraway family appreciate the skill.

May the woman sitting next to me be a silent sleeper.

May I ace the GRE.

And more than all of that, may I find ways to work with others through sticky, confusing problems.

Mine or those of my neighbors.

On the Amtrak or anyplace else.

(Karen Van Fossan lives, hikes, and works for peace in Bismarck, ND. She is a first-year seminary student at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, preparing for ordination as a Unitari­an-Universalist minister. She blogs at and can be reached at

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