About My Uncle Wayne

Wayne Stenehjem was well-known to a lot of people for different reasons. Many only knew him as a politician, first as a local representative in the North Dakota House of Representatives, then as a Senator, and then as the Attorney General for the state of North Dakota. He served the people of this state almost as long as I have been alive, and I think it is profoundly unfair that he never got to enjoy his hard-earned retirement next year. But I’m not here to talk about Wayne Stenehjem, the politician.

I’m here to talk about my uncle who, by some coincidence, was also Wayne Stenehjem.

Uncle Wayne was extremely intelligent, genuine, kind, supportive, and caring. His love for his wife Beth, his son Andrew, and the rest of his family was obvious to anyone who knew him. When he asked you how you were or what was going on in your life, it was because he genuinely was interested, and he would always listen intently to your answer. He was also a talented writer and public speaker, with a quick wit and sharp sense of humor. His warm smile and his laugh were infectious; it was hard not to laugh along with him. He was also an enthusiastic traveler, and I loved seeing the photos and hearing about his worldwide voyages with Beth and Andrew. He truly lived life to the fullest.

Uncle Wayne had a generous and welcoming spirit. He never hesitated to open his home to visiting friends and family. I remember the first time I had to take an overnight trip to Bismarck without my parents, I planned to get a hotel room because, well, um, asking for stuff from “grown-ups” is awkward, and I didn’t want to impose. I mean, yes I was a whole adult at the time (with two kids of my own) and therefore technically a grown-up myself, but Wayne was my dad’s brother and therefore an adultier adult than I was. So, you know. I thought asking to stay with them would be presumptuous and rude. Anyway, Uncle Wayne heard about my plans and pointed out that it was silly to spend money on a hotel room when there was plenty of space at their house, so of course I would be staying with them instead right? I could hardly argue with that.

Oh, and the annual holiday celebrations that Wayne and Beth hosted were legendary. My kids still talk about the epic July 4th water balloon battles with the neighbors.

Uncle Wayne and my son preparing to launch a water balloon at the neighbors, circa 2009

He was also kind of competitive.* One of my personal favorite Uncle Wayne stories involves a little game called Words with Friends. You may have heard of it?

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Arepas con Queso for the Culinarily-Challenged

Listen friends, I’m sure you all know that I’m rubbish in the kitchen but I cooked something last weekend and it was so good and so easy, I wanted to blog about it for posterity. I know we all hate having to scroll through a whole-ass blog in order to find the actually recipe so I’m going to start by dropping the recipe FIRST and explain later.*

Arepas con Queso à la TikTok

(Makes about 12 large arepas)

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs shredded chihuahua (or mozzarella) cheese
  • 3 cups masarepa (white meal PRECOOKED corn meal) [DON’T use regular cornmeal or corn flour, it will not work as well]
  • 3 cups warm water
  • Salt (about a teaspoon, or more to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup queso cotija (or queso fresco)
  • Oil, for pan frying

Instructions

  • Add 3 cups warm water, butter and salt to a large bowl
  • Add 2 cups masarepa and begin to mix with your hands
  • After the flour has been somewhat mixed with the water and butter, add the rest of the flour and 1/2 of the shredded cheese (1 lb), and fold them in a couple of times with your hands
  • Add the cotija cheese and continue to mix for about 5 minutes.
  • If it becomes too dry, add about a teaspoon of water and continue mixing, as often as needed until it reaches the right consistency
  • On a separate cutting board, knead remaining shredded cheese so it sticks together in a sort of log shape
  • Take a ball of the dough about the size of your palm and flatten it, forming a small crater in the middle with your fist
  • Add some of the cheese to the crater and close up the dough like a dumpling, then hand press into a rough patty shape, about 1″ thick. Repeat until you have used all of the dough and cheese.
  • Add a drizzle of oil to a pan and turn he burner up to medium (I used 5 on my electric stove, not sure what a gas stove would be)
  • Pan fry about 5 minutes on each side, medium heat (I used about a 4-1/2 on our electric burner knob)

Now a brief explanation.

My daughter and I have been moderately obsessed with Encanto since we saw it in December. We saw this TikTok demonstrating how to make arepas con queso like in the film.

Via TikTok user mr.cilantro https://vm.tiktok.com/TTPdhJd6AE/

I said to myself “¿Arepa con Queso a la Encanto? ¡Sí, por favor!” Then I said “…actually that looks like something even *I* could do.” And friends, I was right. It WAS something I could do. The recipe is very simple and difficult to screw up.

I even made a video of the process myself, as evidence that I actually cooked:

Mind you, we have no Columbian heritage so I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the recipe, but they certainly LOOK like the arepas Julieta makes in the movie and they were even more delicious than we thought they would be. Unfortunately, mine do not have magical healing powers but eating them did make us happier so.. that’s close enough.

A plate with two arepas con queso - one arepa is pulled apart into two pieces with melted cheese oozing onto the plate between the pieces

The hardest part of this entire recipe was finding the Masarepa. This is a special pre-cooked cornmeal, different from from other cornmeal and corn flours. One recipe I found online specifically said not to substitute regular cornmeal or masa harina, so I had to go shopping. We have a pretty sizable Hispanic population in my city so I really thought I could find this at our local grocery store but it turns out I was very wrong. I went to two of our largest local grocery stores and neither one had it. Fortunately we have a Mexican market in town so I was able to find it there. However, if for some reason you can’t find it in your hometown, I did see it was available with 2-3 day shipping on a certain major online shopping website that I will not name (I’m sure you know the one I mean).

I couldn’t find Chihuahua cheese (not even at the Mexican market) so I used mozarella instead and it worked perfectly.

Of course, being me I still managed to make mistakes anyway.

  • I left the water on the stove too long so it was too hot for my sensitive hands and I had to use a spoon to mix it until the flour was mixed in enough to bring the temperature down to a manageable level.
  • I forgot to add the cotija cheese until after the dough was already mixed, but I dumped it in at the end and remixed and was totally fine. Since the masarepa is precooked, there’s no weird gluteny bonding stuff happening so you don’t have to worry about over-kneading.
  • I couldn’t find any recipes that actually said what temperature to use when frying them so I had to guess. Our rental house has a crappy electric stove so I started at a 6 (medium-high). That was too high so my first arepas we’re starting to burn a little before they were cooked all the way though. I eventually settled on somewhere between 4-5 (medium/medium-low).**
  • I didn’t do a great job with evenly portioning the “stuffing” cheese so I had a lot left at the end. I just opened up the balls I had already made and added some cheese to the smaller ones, then sealed them back up before smashing them into patties.

But none of that mattered. They still turned out great and were a huge hit with everyone in the family.

I also discovered that this recipe makes A LOT of arepas. I made 12 large arepas from it, but I thought the ones I made were too big so in the future I would only make them about half the size, which means this recipe would make about 24 arepas. That is too many arepas for our family of four to eat at one meal. In the future I will probably cut the recipe in half and make 12 smaller arepas instead.

However, since we had too many arepas we were able to experiment a little with storage. We cooked half the leftovers and put them in the fridge, then put the other half in the fridge uncooked. The cooked ones were still delicious the next day when reheated. The uncooked ones were fried on demand throught the next week and were just as delicious as the first time.

So in conclusion, this recipe has been saved and WILL be made again many times in the future.

___________
* Fair warning, I transcribed this recipe from a TikTok and filled in a few details from other recipes I found onling so I apologize for any imperfections (I will also link to the TikTok below because I personally find video guides very helpful)

** Sorry to any gas stove cooks, I have never used a gas stove in my entire life so I don’t know what the equivalent heat setting on would be for you folks.

My Grandma Donna

This Saturday afternoon my beloved Grandma Donna passed away at the impressive age of 93 after a long battle with cancer. She was an exceedingly kind and generous person, who was devoted to her family and always put the needs of others before her own.

Though I am very sad that I will never get to see her or talk to her again, I am so very grateful to have had her in my life for as long as I did. I am also so glad that my children got to have her in their lives for so many years. I don’t remember how old I was when my last great-grandparent passed away but it was certainly well before my 20s. I remember how she loved thay they called her Greatma Donna, and how much she loved to hear stories about my kids.

This is one of my favorite photos of Grandma Donna. The first time she met our second child. The absolute joy on her face whenever she saw her grandchildren and great-grandchildren never faded. 💜

I still think of her whenever I hear “Memory” from Cats, and I hope that never changes. I hope I can always remember her lovely singing voice.

Once on a recent visit to my grandma, I took a wrong turn on my way home. When I pulled over to look at the GPS, I noticed a bald eagle circling in the sky above me. I turned off the radio and sat in my car just watching the eagle until it eventually landed in a tree on the side of the road. When I left Grandma’s, I felt incredibly sad because she was so frail and weak, and I could tell the illness was taking a heavy toll. But as I sat in my car and watched the eagle circle, I felt all of my sadness melt away and all I felt was peace. I know it was only a coincidence, but I like to think the eagle was there at that moment just for me because my heart needed it.

I only recorded a few seconds of the eagle’s flight but even this short clip helps me remember that feeling and lightens the weight of the sadness for me.

Goodbye, Grandma Donna. You made the world a better place. You were loved beyond measure and will be greatly missed.

My Brain on ADHD, a Short Story

Once upon a time this morning, I started a pot of coffee this morning at 8:45 but then I remembered I had a zoom meeting at 9:00 and I didn’t want to forget about it so I logged into the meeting early and then I saw I had an email so I answered it and started working on a project to keep me busy until the meeting started and then the coffee timer went off (yes I always set a timer for my coffee so I don’t forget about it, doesn’t everyone have to do that?) and then the zoom meeting started so I just shut off the timer and went back to my desk for the meeting and an hour later the meeting was over so I went back to the kitchen to make my coffee during which my son came downstairs and while I was talking to him I gestured a little too widely and accidentally knocked over the coffee pot, spilling it all onto the cupboards and the kitchen floor so I grabbed a towel to clean it up but then I had to wash the towel right away so the coffee wouldn’t stain it but I didn’t want to wash just one towel so I walked around and picked up some other towels to wash and then my son couldn’t find his work hat so I helped him look for it and then he went to work so I went back to my desk and about 2 hours later realized I hadn’t taken my ADHD meds yet (shocker) and realized oops I don’t have a drink but then I thought “wait a minute, didn’t I make a cup of coffee earlier?” and that’s when I realized my cup of coffee was still on the counter, so I went back to the kitchen to get it and surprise, the carton of milk was still on the counter next to it.

Oops.

The coffee was cold (because it had been sitting on the counter for over an hour after all) but I drank it anyway, and I finally remembered to take my pills at the same time.

The End.

If You Think This Blog Is too Long to Read, It Might Be for You

Before we get started, did you just scroll down to see how long this post was so you could decide whether or not to read it? If so you might be interested in the TL;DR summary I wrote for you at the end of this post.*** I know I would be, if I were you. Feel free to skip ahead.

Hey friends, for those of you who are still here with me, I’d like to talk to you about my brain.

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Rediscovering an Old Love

Hi friends! I’m sorry that I have made such a habit of not blogging for months and then lamely apologizing for not writing in such a long time. I start writing now and then but it’s just so easy to get distracted and never finish. Usually by the time I get around to it again, the post isn’t even relevant anymore. Well, friends, NOT TODAY.

Because I recently became reacquainted with one of the great loves of my youth, and I want to introduce them to you.

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How I Spent My Afternoon Off

Hey friends, it’s been a while since I told you a story, hasn’t it? Well, would you like to hear about how I spent my afternoon?

Last time I went in for an oil change they said all my tires were pretty worn so I should get them replaced sometime before winter. And then one of my tires developed a slow leak, so last week I made an appointment to get four new tires.

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