A Mom’s Life Before 9 AM

We do more before 9 AM than most people do all day.  A few years back (ok, maybe 25 or so) that’s what the Army proudly announced on their commercial, showing rugged paratroopers jumping from an airplane as the sun rises.  For some reason, that phrase always stuck in my head.  That catchy slogan didn’t ever inspire me to join the Army, but sometimes I wonder if maybe they borrowed that line from a mom.

I don’t jump from airplanes before breakfast (or after), but as a mom, I do perform all sorts of amazing maneuvers all day long.  So often a day goes by and I can’t hardly remember where it went.  All we did was eat breakfast, and it’s already 9 AM…where did the time go and why can’t I get anything done?  I didn’t sit on the couch all day, but why didn’t that laundry get folded?  Or just plain washed?

This morning I decided to take stock a little bit and document just where that time goes.

Today, my day started at 6:30 AM (not counting my sleep being disturbed 3 times by restless babies).  When I peel my eyes open, my first thought is that it looks like a beautiful blue sky day in the making.  With the windows open it feels refreshingly cool after last week’s horrid heat.  Then I notice that we apparently forgot to close the blinds last night.  I roll over and I’m completely blinded by the sun, which rises in line with our east bedroom window this time of year.  It sends a welding torch beam of sunlight directly into my retinas to greet me first thing in the morning.

I then realize I woke up because I hear the new kitten hungrily meowing, the chicks peeping downstairs, and the rustling of one of our kids up, no doubt holding the new kitten. I climb out of bed, over our almost three-year-old boy who likes to sleep next to me in the morning.  My less-than-graceful bed dismount wakes him up, so he starts crying.

One door over, my daughter comforts the noisy kitten, and tells me our baby is awake and wants to get picked up. My little boy then stumbles out of our bedroom into the hall, and rubbing his eyes, asks if he can hold the kitten.  I pick up our baby girl, and we all head downstairs.

The insistent kitten gets the first attention.  She (he?) showed up just yesterday evening at our house.  As our neighbors were moving their sheep into our newly fenced-off windbreak, they heard a loud screechy yowl that scared the sheep.  And there she was, a little kitten in the windbreak.  I couldn’t find the mother or the rest of the batch of kittens, so we decided to keep her.

Anyway, after a night in her new luxurious little bed of doll blankets and old towels, it is time to feed her again.  A few droppers of milk later, she is happy. That means our little human baby gets next priority, and I sit down and nurse her on the couch.  Meanwhile, I notice the sagging nighttime diaper on her older brother, and I give him a hand taking it off, and send him upstairs for some daytime underwear.

As I nurse my baby girl and my big girl snuggles the kitten to sleep, I see two chicks wandering into our dining room.  We’ve got six laying hen chicks that are just big enough now to be bored with their cardboard box near the kitchen, and they wandered in just to see if maybe we had some delicious bugs in need of consumption.  At this point, we decide that the little feathered girls are ready to graduate to the chicken house outside.

By the time I finish nursing our baby, the chicks left several presents on the floor and the kids began fighting over the kitten.  Time for breakfast!

I get my baby girl in a new diaper, give her high chair tray a wipe, and pop her in with a few Cheerios to tide her over while breakfast cooks.  My husband, Jarred, already mixed up the eggs and milk for French toast, so I slice up the leftover French bread while he hunts up a chick transfer box.  By the time I dip the bread in the batter and lay it on the lefse griddle to cook, we have half a dozen chicks in an old diaper box, chirping noisily and ready for transfer outside.

Dressed in his favorite uniform and ready to take off across the yard with a diaper box full of chicks. Little farmers are busy before breakfast.

Now clad in some underwear, our little boy is ready and willing to take on the chick hauling task before breakfast.  He hoists the box, and begins trekking across the yard to the chicken house.  After crossing the driveway, he decides the box is too heavy, so I haul it the rest of the way.  I hoped to just turn the chicks free in their fenced chicken yard to frolic (or whatever chicks do) on this beautiful morning, but a hole in the fence, roughly the size of, oh…maybe lets say a sheep, perhaps, makes the fence not quite ready for chicks just yet.  We take the chicks out of their carrying box and place them inside their new chicken house digs, with plans to spruce up the place with a little new bedding after breakfast.

Just about this time we realize that nobody flipped the French toast yet, so we head back to the house hoping that breakfast isn’t burned.  A few flurried minutes later, the table is set, and kids circle around like sharks ready to strike.  They settle into seats and begin some sort of kid bellering, obviously very hungry.  Jarred comments on the noise level, and I jokingly respond with a Moooo!!!” like a hungry cow waiting for some hay.  Of course the kids pick up on this, and all begin mooing.

Within a minute or so, they’ve all got fresh, hot French toast on their plates.  Next follows a flurry of frenzied requests:  Can I have more milk? More French toast, please!  Can you cut it?  I need more syrup.  Hey, stop that.  You already got syrup.  It’s my turn, and it’s almost gone.

I produce another bottle of syrup from on top of the fridge, and appreciative murmurs of Mom’s amazing powers follow. Then, in the middle of mouthfuls of French toast, they blast out a song from one of their favorite kid shows on PBS:  “Dinosaur traaaaaain….gonna riiiiiide…the dinosaur train.”

With the kids taken care of, I fill up my plate and eat a few warm pieces of French toast.  Right before I’m done, our baby girl makes it known that she’s had quite enough high chair time.  I take her out and wash the syrup out of her hands and hair.  The older kids put their plates in the sink, and wander off to play a little before chores.

Right about then is when our potty training almost three-year-old calls from the toy room, “Mom…I pooped…and I peed on the carpet, too.”  I come in and see the characteristic bow-legged walk of someone carrying a bit of a load in their pants.  Off to the bathroom to clean up the mess we go.  As we finish up the strike two on potty training for the morning, a tired baby girl wanders into the bathroom, fussing and dragging her blanket behind her.  Obviously, it’s time for a nap.

I send her brother upstairs for his second pair of underwear for the day, and get her a fresh diaper again.  I loudly announce that I’m putting the baby to bed, which often, but not always, eliminates other kids wandering into her bedroom looking for me just as she’s falling asleep.  Then I carry her upstairs and help her brother slip on his underwear.  At 8:45, I lay down with our baby to nurse her, and just before 9:00, after 15 whole minutes of quiet to ourselves, I tuck my sleeping baby in her crib and I head downstairs.

A napping baby: one of the simple joys of motherhood.

At 9 AM, there is a temporary quiet in the house and I take stock.  Four kids fed, two girls dressed, two boys semi-clothed in underwear, a baby girl napping.  Ahhh….success.  With those things completed, I can finally “start” my day.

Now, where to start?  The kids are getting antsy, there is an article to write due by noon, kids need direction on chore time, the house needs attention, the kitten needs another feeding, and the chickens need more feed and bedding.

I think I’ll be begin by making some some coffee.  This Momma’s gonna need it.

© 2012

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Berry-Stained Fingers and Firefly Nights

If I could freeze time, I would capture these summer evenings.
Evening is when everyone in our house becomes alive.  With no central air, we flee outside to soak up whatever breeze we can glean from the humid air.  Pretenses of work inside get turned off for the day, or at least paused momentarily.  Supper is on the porch, usually something off of the grill with fresh fruit and veggies on the side.  We tame the hungry beast in our bellies and fill our eyes with long, straight rows of corn fields.
After supper, already outside, our kids naturally drift to the yard and we follow.  Our evenings, from after supper until dark, slip by all too quickly in the slow, easy way of a summer evening in the country with kids.   Weeding and checking the garden, heading to our windbreak to pick black raspberries, shirtless kids climbing Maple the Maple (yep, they came up with that all by themselves), sweaty ponytails, berry juice dribbles on our baby’s belly, making grassy nests for the snoozing baby chicks, sand scooping and flinging, legs pedalling bikes with increasing strength and confidence, “race ya” barefoot running across wide open lawn…these things fills our evenings.

Bandit the chick snuggled into a soft grass nest made by her 6-year-old caretaker.

Then as the evening cools, the sun sinks behind the trees and the fireflies emerge.  We run on firefly time.  After catching a satisfying amount of fireflies, we head into the house for the evening, often capping off the night with a bowl of ice cream.  After that, we shoo the kids upstairs to the claw foot tub to wash off the sweaty heads and dirty feet.  They put on the bare minimum for pj’s, and migrate to the sun room, turning the ceiling fan on high and throwing open the windows to catch the breeze.
Lately, our kids settle down for a bedtime story from the unwieldy, thick yellow book of The Complete Collection of Curious George.  Jockeying over position on the guest bed (just a mattress on the floor, but oh so cozy), trying to be close, but not so close that we get sweaty, and taking in a little monkey’s adventures with my little monkeys caps off the evening before goodnight hugs and kisses.
Last evening was a rarity in that I actually had two kids in bed before the sun went down.   Our tired baby girl went to bed early since she passed on her afternoon nap, and then I tucked into bed her almost three-year-old brother, who got into a patch of nettles and wanted to call it an evening.  After a full day of holding kids and nursing, I then headed outside to the windbreak all by myself to pick black cap raspberries.
 
As I left the house, I caught a glimpse of the sunset between the thick pine trees, so I walked to the road to get a better view.  I stood alone on the warm pavement looking out into slowly fading pink-orange sky and rich green corn fields.  After a strong wind all day, I was struck by the sudden calm and utter quiet.  Just before nine at night, there was not a car on our road, and the world seemed at peace.

I headed to the windbreak where the bushes are covered in berries: deep purple and red against verdant green leaves.  It’s the kind of lushness that you drink in and store away to pull out in the dead of winter. The gnats stayed away long enough to pick a big night time snack that I meant to share, but it didn’t quite happen.  I meandered past the neighbor’s sheep who are industriously munching away the overgrown weeds on our land.  In the fading light, too dim by then to pull weeds in the garden, I did a little side saddle hop over electric fence.

When I looked out, the fireflies were everywhere, a profusion of gentle blinking of warm lights across our entire yard.  I don’t know if it’s a particularly good year for fireflies, or if they’re always like this, but they’e magical to me all over again.  Fireflies don’t live in Montana, so I haven’t seen them much in the last 14 years.  Standing in the fading light, throwing berries in my mouth by the handful, contented sheep busy munching, life just felt surreal.  All by myself (also magical), the soft glimmering of fireflies blinked in such an abundance that it looked like the kind of scene from a Holywood movie depicting an imaginary glittering land, only this is all the better because it is real.
And that’s the reality that I want to live in for the summer.  Right now I can’t tell you about the latest of the news headlines, and I don’t really care.  I know that terrorists, wars, arguing over politics, and discussions about the economy and who is to blame will all be there waiting for me whenever I feel like going back to them.
What I do know is that this is summertime, and we are in the midst of the golden years of childhood in our home.  I feel completely blessed to look across the yard and see four small children playing together, inventing games, and watching out for their baby sister.  I also know this doesn’t last.  As quickly as our lives became bustling with children, they are just as quickly going to grow up.  Thirty years from now when my kids grown and long gone, I won’t care one bit about the stresses and messes inherent in the life of a family. Those things fade away. Summer nights of seeing my children grow and flourish amongst berries, fireflies, and running under the sheets on the clothesline are the things I want to etch in my mind.
So, the latest headlines will have to wait.  I’ve got four little kids that aren’t going to be little forever and warm summer days that will quickly fade into fall.  We’ve got a whole lot of living to squeeze into our endless summer days that are all too short.
Written July 2, 2012.

© 2012

I ♥ Love Child Labor

Morning chore time for our young kids creates a cheerful, productive air to our mornings.  It’s now my favorite time of the day.  It simply feels good to all be working together to get jobs done and make our home a nicer place to be.  

For the last few months since we’ve moved into our house, I’ve been a fool. I thought sleeping even less and working even more was the solution to making progress on unpacking our things and managing the ordinary tasks of being a mom to four.  I felt like I was too busy to direct our kids in productive directions. Who has the time to make kids do chores when there is so much work to do? Hey, wait a minute…

When summer vacation started for our kiddos, I had a small revelation: our kids need to have daily chores.

This concept of daily chores for children isn’t exactly a new phenomenon I just invented.  As commonplace as the concept is, it just didn’t occur to me to assign regular chores.  No, putting our kids to work for the greater good of the family, that’s an idea that came from my friend. At a BBQ, my friend since forever mentioned that using “chore sticks” has been extremely helpful in preventing disputes over chores with her own two children.

A chore stick sounds like some sort of punitive device employed when someone needs a little extra encouragement to do chores, as in, “If those dirty clothes aren’t picked up in the next minute, I’m going to get out the chore stick…”  But no, a chore stick is simply a Popsicle stick with a specific chore written on it.  Her kids draw chore sticks to determine their daily chores.  Drawing sticks prevent disputes over division of labor, and gives an easy visual of what needs to be done.  When I heard her describing her two kids, similar in age to our own, productively helping around the house, it wasn’t just a light bulb that lit up in my head, it was more like fireworks.  Eureka!  What we need is some good old-fashioned child labor!

So one morning over a cup of coffee out on the porch at the beginning of summer vacation, I sat down with our three oldest kids and we made a list of 12 daily summer chores.  The chores ranged from the quick and easy, like Feed Spot (the dog) to more daunting tasks, like Clean Living Room and Clean Toy Room.  I created chore cards out of summery orange construction paper, with words for the readers and simple pictures for the non-readers, and stored the cards in a clear plastic bag in the dining room.

Each morning, our new kid routine is have breakfast, get dressed, and do chores.  Our oldest, a six-year-old event coordinator and manager by nature, took charge of dividing up the chore cards each morning.  She flips the cards over and randomly divides them among herself, and her five- and two-year-old brothers.  Each child has an envelope with their name on it, and she lays the chore cards on the respective envelope to make an easy distinction of who has what chore. Our oldest gets the most chores and our two-year-old gets the least, and they all are ok with that, because they understand that being older means being able to do more things, work included.

Getting water for Spot is one of the coveted “easy chores” around the house.

So basically, each kiddo finds his/her name, looks at his/her chore cards, and gets busy.  After completing a chore to Mom’s standard, the child puts the card away in the bag with great satisfaction.  “Ah…done.”

It doesn’t take a degree in child psychology to make it all work, it just takes knowing each child and how they operate.  I use the same chore cards for all of them, the chores just evolve to an age appropriate level.  “Laundry” for our two-year-old means helping me load or unload the washer and dryer.  For our very capable five-year-old, “Laundry” means collecting all the dirty laundry upstairs and hauling it downstairs to the laundry room, sometimes proudly making four trips down the stairs with a wash basket of clothes.

Proudly showing off the collected laundry.

I also vary the amount of guidance I give to each child, depending on abilities and temperament.  My six-year-old daughter loves being in charge of things, and does almost all of her chores by herself with just a little verbal guidance here and there.  My littlest helper, not quite three, gets lots of guidance with me by his side.  He also prefers to clean as a robot, so I heavily use robot voices on his morning chores.  In my drone, monotone voice I’ll say, “Put. the. shoes. on. the. shoe. shelf. Beep. Boop.”  And he’ll respond, “Ok. Mom. Beep,” and off he’ll scamper to put the shoes away. We do what works.  Beep. Boop.

And the results of our new daily chore routine?  In one word: fabulous.

Morning chore time for our young kids creates a cheerful, productive air to our mornings.  It’s now my favorite time of the day.  It simply feels good to all be working together to get jobs done and make our home a nicer place to be.

I especially love that the chore cards create a visual, tangible guide of what needs to be done.  Even our two-year-old can tell what jobs he needs to do by a quick scan of the pictures.  The cards help eliminate Mom as Task Master, and enable the kids to be independent and self-guided in getting their work done.  I’ve even heard some work management skills going on, like “I’m going to do my hardest/easiest ones first” and “I’m going to feed Spot, and then water the plants while I’m already outside.”

The work our kids do isn’t particularly fast or efficient, but the sum total of a morning of chores means a much more livable house for all of us.  We all feel less stressed in a tidier house, and when someone shows up unexpectedly at the door, it’s great to not have that sense of embarrassment when scanning the living room before opening the front door.

My husband noticed that after a morning of chore time, our kids are more pleasant through the rest of the day. Laying on the couch too much makes anyone sluggish and irritable.  Our bodies are meant to be used, and we feel better when we use them.  Working, and the sense of accomplishment that goes along with it, feels good at any age.

Our children are also learning life skills, like good old cause and effect.  If you make a big mess in the toy room, it takes a long time to clean it up.  If you mess around instead of working, the chores don’t simply go away.  Man, I still struggle with that as an adult.

Finally, our new child labor…ahem…morning chore time, ties in with the ultimate goal of parenting: planned obsolescence.  The best thing we can do as parents is to give our kids the skills they need to eventually not need us around.  Chore time is just one more step in raising kids that are self-sufficient, independent, and capable.  As my daughter describes chores, “They make me sweat, and they’re sometimes a little fun.”

So there you have it.  A little child labor is kid-approved.

Written June 18, 2012.

© 2012

For Richer or Poorer: A Love Affair with the Library

The true glory of the public library is that everyone who goes there is rich, but it has nothing to do with money.

When we lived in Montana, one of the most anticipated days of the week was Thursday. That was the day we took my husband’s grandparents to the weekly Senior Citizens’ Dinner at the Community Center.  And twice a month, when we pulled into the parking lot for the Thursday noon meal, our kids would spot a large bus and excitedly shout, “Jerry’s here! Jerry’s here!”

Jerry, of course, is the librarian/bus driver for the Infomobile that makes regular Thursday stops in Broadview, Montana.  Jerry is a kind, soft-spoken man nearing retirement age, but for my kids, Jerry and his book mobile were greeted with the excitement of spotting a rock star.

Twice a month we had a routine of climbing up the tall bus steps, heaving a bulging bag of books to return on his counter, and heading to the long bottom row of the bus shelves where all the children’s books are stowed.  Our two-year-old even knew the routine, and would make his selections and plunk the books up on the counter on our stack to check out.

After watching her siblings read books, our baby heads to the shelf to find a book, too. Just over a year, she loves “reading” a good book.

Next, our kids eagerly watched Jerry scan the books, making them officially “beep,” stamp them all with a date, and most fun of all, when the books were all stamped, the kids presented their hands.  If they asked nicely using “please,” which Jerry sometimes reminded them, they received a highly sought after date stamp on their hands.

Then we loaded up our once again bulging bag of books, climbed down the steps that are waist-high on small kids, and headed home.  A library bag full of new books to read feels like amazing wealth.  Usually, the next step involved dumping out the books all over the living room floor to fully check out the new selections. I’ve even on occasion seen a kid or two happily roll in the book pile, like the familiar movie scene of rolling in a pile of money after a big night in Vegas.  (Please don’t tell the library that my kids roll in books.)

After that, we’d pile on the couch, settle book selection disputes, and read as many of the new books as we could before it became obvious that afternoon nap time had arrived. Thursday Infomobile library days were always good days at our house.

Libraries to me are amazing places.  I’ve frequented libraries enough to know how just they work, but it still amazes me every time I visit that I can just pick any book I want, have as many books as I want, and take them all home.  For FREE.  No matter how many times I go to the library, there is always a little fleeting moment in my mind where I feel like this whole public library system can’t be for real.  It’s a little moment of awe.  Isn’t the librarian going to chide me and say I can’t really have all of these books?  As I grab the bag of books and walk away, isn’t someone going to stop me and ask me for some cash or a credit card in exchange for all this book bounty?  I really get to just walk in and take these books home, for nothing?

The true glory of the public library is that everyone who goes there is rich, but it has nothing to do with money.  Simply enter the doors, and everyone has full, complete access to everything inside.  In an age of tightened budgets, many libraries are forced to reduce hours and cut staff, but they still remain available to all, with free books, free computer access, free magazines to read (with no guilt of speed-reading an article in the store checkout line), free DVD rentals, and on and on.  The library provides wealth in knowledge beyond compare, and it doesn’t cost a single dime.

What an amazing equalizer to live in a country where personal income has no bearing on one’s access to a world of information via public libraries.  I’m particularly awestruck by the New York City Public Library.  I’ve only seen it in pictures, and it’s an impressive beauty to behold.  Made of stone with columns rising up in the front, and intricate gold inlays in the ceiling, it looks more like the European cathedrals I’ve toured than a library. What really strikes me is wondering what it would be like to be a child growing up in the projects, walking into that place of awe, and getting to check out books there just like everyone else.  What would that feel like?  What kind of impact does that have on a child to have that library access?

Libraries and books resonate deeply with me.  I often heard my mom tell stories of how poor she was growing up as the oldest of 13, but almost always in the same breath, were stories of how she’s always loved books, had a library card, and always had a book (or three) to read.  In books and their opportunity to learn, she always had wealth.  And now, my mom is a librarian, her dream job.

For me as a kid, walking out of the library on a summer afternoon with a gluttonous armload of books gave me a giddy feeling of utter abundance and richness.  Settling in with a book on a summer evening and not going to bed until the sun started to come up in the sky was not an uncommon activity in our house growing up.  Getting lost in a book feels like the essence of summer.

A quiet Sunday afternoon, relaxing in the sun room and enjoying a new book from the library.

The glory of a summer trip to the library hit me all over again last Saturday.  We haven’t been to a library in two months with the busyness of settling into a new house and a new routine.  Visiting a new library for the first time after not visiting any library at all for two months made the whole experience new again for my kids.

Instead of their usual library mode of assertively choosing books off of the shelf, they were cautiously asking, “Mom, can I get this one?”  “Is this one ok?” “Can I have this one, too?”  I realized my kids were in their “store mode,” where they tentatively ask for something and then expect to hear “no” as the response.  When I recognized what was going on, I reminded my six- and five-year-olds that books in libraries are free, and they can in fact choose any books they like.

And that’s why I love the library.  As a parent, saying “no” and setting limits to unending requests when we’re out and about is big part of my job.  Saying no means we don’t come home with a van full of popsicles and trinkets on every trip to town, but on the negative side, sometimes I feel like my main job title is Chief Rejector of All Requests.

I love that the library is the one place where, when I walk in with my kids, I get to say “yes.”  They don’t get to fling books off of the shelves or swing from light fixtures, but when it comes to picking out any book that strikes their fancy, the answer is a big, fat “YES!”

And best of all is what happens with the books at home.  Just this morning, our five-year-old boy was conspicuously absent from our breakfast table.  I looked into the living room and I didn’t find him in front of the tv, so I yelled upstairs.  From long down the hallway in the sun room upstairs, I heard the boy who hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet, lost in another world yell, “I’m just looking at this book.  Is it lunch time already?”  And in that moment of morning breakfast melee, I was deeply pleased that my son who never misses a meal was oblivious to time and hunger because of reading a book.  That’s my boy.

Written June 11, 2012.
© 2012

Operation Garden: Full Speed Ahead‏

Little hearts filled with dirt and sunshine and the promise of amazing things that would someday soon be growing in the garden.    

The dirt’s been flying at our place lately (sometimes even in a productive direction), and aside from another 15 minutes of daylight to throw a few more seed packets into the ground, the garden is planted!  And like a garden probably should be, the whole thing has been a community effort.

This whole garden process started before we even moved in, when we had conversations about the best spot to make our garden in our new yard.  It wasn’t until we actually moved in that we discovered there already was a garden plot, and a massive 5,000 sq. ft. one at that.

It’s funny, but it never dawned on us at first or second or even third glance that the giant weed patch north of our chicken coup, the one full of forbidding-looking adult-sized weed stalks, was the garden.  After being left to its own devices last summer while the house sat empty, it looked like the kind of place where a kid and dog wander in, and then they emerge somehow three years older.

We set out to reclaim it.  My husband, Jarred, knocked down the dead stalks and then we burned the entire garden to get rid of it all.  On the night of the burn, we lit the garden on fire a little before sunset when the wind died down to the right amount.  Our five-year-old boy didn’t come into the house until well after dark, hands streaked with black ash and a grin glued on his face, happily helping out on a job that involved hanging out with Dad and lighting things on fire.

Then, a few weeks later, we had a neighbor chisel plow the whole thing for us, as a trade for use of some shop space.  Plowing doesn’t make the soil as smooth as tilling the garden, but we knew it would get the job done, so a few days later, we started planting with our pumpkins.  The day we started planting the garden was one of those days that I could happily take repeated all summer long: clear blue sky and sunshine, warm but not too hot or humid, and calm.

Sometimes pesky balls of dirt get stuck between pudgy little toes. Remove said pesky dirt balls, and eat them.

As we were out there in the sunshine, another set of neighbors noticed us as they drove past our place, and later they pulled into our yard and offered to bring a tractor and their tiller, and turn it all into that smooth, crumbly black goodness that’s so great to plant in.  We could hardly believe that our neighbors were offering to till up our garden for us, not exactly a small undertaking.

We accepted their offer, and half an hour later, just as I was pulling the ol’ pot roast out of the oven for supper, sure enough, there was a tractor in our yard, tilling up the garden and carefully avoiding the far end where we already put in pumpkins.  Sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief that we’ve stumbled into an area with such friendly, helpful neighbors, and we only hope that over the years we can return the kindnesses, as well.

With the garden now tilled, I put some meat in the bellies of our four ravenous little kids, and then we turned them loose on the garden.  I don’t think any of them have memories of what a freshly tilled garden is like, so tearing into that pristine, gigantic, smooth pile of blackness was brand new and pure ecstasy for all of them.

They tore all over the garden, leaving little sunken foot print trails on our big black tabula rasa.  Then our oldest two, setting the proper example, began digging like dogs.  Heads down, using their hands to burrow some holes, they sent rivers of dirt flying up between their legs, and took turns digging and flinging the dirt piles on each other.

When digging in a freshly tilled garden, it’s important to fling dirt with optimal height and distance. Always thoroughly cover your sibling with the dirt spray.

Meanwhile, our two-year-old made dirt fountains that launched up over his head, and our baby took her bow-legged just-learned-to-walk steps across the soil, frequently landing on her back side, which made convenient opportunities to stop and sift the dirt in her pudgy fingers and sample enough to leave a dirt goatee around her mouth.

Then, of course, it was time for business.  The kids got out the shovels and hoes, argued over who got to run what, and dug up all sorts of vitally important random holes in the garden.

During planting, we added a few kid-friendly features to the garden.  We trimmed our smaller maple trees earlier that day, and the cast off branches became the interwoven stakes for what is going to be a bean tent, once the beans grow in and wind themselves up the stakes.  Right now it’s still fun as a maple-tree-branch-tent, and it’s been strong enough to withstand a few raging thunderstorms unscathed.  (That’s what happens when an engineer whips up a little 5-minute branch tent for his kids.)

Four kids hanging out in the shade of what is going to be the Bean Tent.

We also took our package of mammoth sunflower seeds and planted them in a large square, so that when those 10-foot buggers grow in, the kids can tuck themselves inside and have a secret hiding space, which of course, is extremely important.  One can never have enough secret hiding places.  Our kids officially named it the Sunflower Garage, because it’s next to the Bean Tent.  It’s also important that secret hiding places have names.

In the midst of our playing, Jarred managed to actually plant several things and I got some seeds in the ground, too.  For the record, and for Jarred’s mom’s benefit, I must state that Jarred did the majority of the planting.  His mom told me on several occasions that back in high school, when she asked him to help with planting potatoes, there was an extreme amount of protest about gardening from her son.  But this year, he was planter-in-chief.

By the time our kids finished their garden free-for-all, they had just enough energy to help sprinkle a few seeds, and then I decided bath time was the next order of business.  A fine powder of black dirt coated their ears and stuck to all of their scalps, not to mention their clothes.

The dirt river heading to the drain after they’d all been cycled through our claw foot tub was nothing short of impressive.  We were all happy that night as I sent them off to bed nice and clean, their little hearts filled with dirt and sunshine and the promise of amazing things that would someday soon be growing in the garden.

Written June 4, 2012.
© 2012

Our Summer Sand Pail List

In the course of unpacking some boxes, I came across a “Bucket List” that I’d made in high school, back before Bucket Lists were called Bucket Lists.  The movie by that name hadn’t come out yet, so my list was just “Things I’d Like to Do” (with the implication “before I die,” but at 17, who wants to write “die” on an inspiration list).  Anyway, of the 45 things I thought of that day, I’m happy that I can now put a little “x” next to 16 of those things.  I’ve gone skydiving, but I haven’t been to Australia.  Yet.  Seeing that old list makes me think that it’s time for me to update my Bucket List with some new life goals.

In the short term, though, summer is on my mind.  Judging by the weather, it’s definitely time for summer vacation to start.  And strangely enough, it’s not my kids that are itching for summer vacation, it’s me. I’m sick of putting the kids to bed when there’s still plenty of daylight.  The responsible parent in me says “get the kids in bed, they’ve got school tomorrow and need some good sleep,” and the irresponsible kid in me says, “but I don’t want them to go to bed yet.  We’re having too much fun playing outside.”

This is our first summer living in our new place in Minnesota, and that opens a whole new world of fun possibilities.  There is a freshness and excitement that comes with living in a new place and having new things to discover.  And even though I grew up in St. Charles, our new house 15 miles away is just far enough to be a new territory for me to explore.  With all these possibilities swirling around in my mind, I decided to take the suggestion I found in some magazine, and create a “Sand Pail List,” the summer equivalent of the Bucket List.  None of the things on my list are particularly earth-shattering or profoundly life-changing, but they all add up to living the kind of life that I want for myself and for our family.  It’s easy to forget the big picture in the sea of diapers to change and cereal bowls to wash, so this is my start on making sure we fully take advantage of the joys of summer.

12 Things to Do in the Summer of 2012 

1.  Less Screens–My smart phone is my vice.  I way too frequently grab it, and suddenly 20 minutes disappears, and then I’m mad at myself.  I gave up facebook for Lent, and I want to do something similar with my smart phone in general for the summer.  Our television also might go on vacation for at least part of the summer.

2. Lots O’ Gardening–This year marks our first time planting our very own family garden, and we’re all so excited to play in the dirt and see what we can grow and eat from our own  piece of land.

3. More Books–In the mess of moving, I got sidetracked from reading nap and bedtime stories, and I plan to go back to that.  Reading to our kids is one of my very favorite things, and I plan to make regular trips to see Grandma at the library to keep a fresh supply of books around.  We’ve got two emerging readers in our house, and it thrills me to see them learning new words.

4.  Streamlined for Summer–I want “less is more” for summer.  We’re still living in moving clutter, and I want all the extra clothes, toys, and stuff put away so we have more room and time to breathe, play, and create.  The last thing I want to do is hang out inside the house cleaning when there are so many fun projects outside to tackle.

5.  BBQs and Bonfires–Yes, lots of these.  Gazing into flames is a satisfying caveman television, and wood smoke smells like good times.

Our curly-haired boy gazes into the bonfire well past his usual bedtime. Item #5 on our Sand Pail List: Check.

6.  “Mom Cave”–We have a sun room upstairs currently filled with moving boxes.  At some point, the grand master scheme is to make it into a laundry/guest/sewing room, my “Mom Cave.”  We need room for friends and family to come and stay, and I finally have a spot where my sewing machine can live relatively undisturbed.  It’s been over a year since I’ve sewn a thing, and I want to teach my kids how to sew, just like my mom did for me.

7.  Playing Farm–Growing up, I loved living in the country, but my contribution to help on the farm was pretty much zero (my siblings will confirm this).  But now on our own place, playing farm sounds fun.  We’ve got the neighbor’s sheep munching away weeds in our pasture, and we’ve got plans for chickens and who knows what else once we get more settled.  We really just need more hours in the day to execute all our schemes and dreams with our new land.

8.  Porch Swing–My life will be complete once we have a big ol’ porch swing for our porch.  I’ve fantasized about porch swings my whole life.

9.  Date Nights–As far as I can remember, we last went out for a date night over a year ago.  Our last date night included a two-week old baby along for our anniversary dinner and movie, but I think this summer we just might actually get a babysitter for all of them and go out, all by ourselves.  I can hardly wait to eat my food while it’s still warm.

10. Kayaking–For whatever reason, kayaking is on my mind.  I’ve gone canoeing, but I’ve never been in a kayak, and it’s high time that I took that plunge.  I want to feel like a waterbug gliding through the water, and now that we live pretty close to the Root River, I think this summer is the time.

11. Run Baby Run–Somehow, between moving out and moving in and driving cross country time and time again, I just haven’t had time to go running lately.  Before kids, I ran a few times a week, then it went to maybe once a week, but lately it’s been more like once every month.  This summer I want to get back to running once or twice a week, and do a few local races.  Running for me is a colossal stress reliever and now with four kids, it’s one of the few times that I ever have complete solitude.  That is priceless.

12. Learning by Doing–If the school year is the time for desks, papers, and pencils, summer is the time for hands-on learning by doing.  I want my kids to garden, build stuff out of wood, get confident enough on their bikes that I get nervous, start learning to swim, and be active, busy little creatures figuring things out for themselves.

Another item on the summer list: share cold treats with friends. Enjoying Hawaiian shaved ice in Lanesboro, MN on Memorial Day weekend.

If at the end of the summer I see lots of dirty feet, scabby knees, no propane left in the BBQ, permanently dead grass under the fire pit, fines racked up at the library from stacks of books getting checked out, piles of grass to sweep off the floor at night, and counter tops buried in garden bounty, I will definitely call Summer 2012 a success.

Written May 28, 2012.

© 2012

Road Trippin’ Just Isn’t What it Used to Be

Written May 14, 2012

Back in college, hearing the words “Road Trip!” instantly evoked a rush of excited emotion.  The freedom of the open road and the promise of new discovery lured me like the Sirens’ call.  Something about blue sky, sunshine, a long stretch of open highway, and good driving tunes made life feel limitless and free, and love of a good road trip was partly what drove me to attend a college far from home in Bozeman, Montana.

While going to school out in Bozeman, road trips were a standard part of my non-classroom college life curriculum.  With many long stretches of road between towns in Montana, driving long distances is the norm.  In my social circle of Montana natives and farm kids from a few other states, it felt pretty normal to spontaneously hop in someone’s pickup and cruise back roads if nothing better was going on.  Friends, music, a cold drink, jerky, and some gravel roads always felt like a perfectly fine way to spend a Saturday night.

Most of those late night cruises had no destination, just ample time squished together to hash out all of life’s details.  Somewhere, somebody has a “Dead End” sign in the back of their garage as a momento of one of those evenings, but what I mostly took from those nights is good memories of a time when I lived with four of my best friends and our lives were wide open with a world of possibilities.

In addition to the those late night meanderings, we embarked on a few Big (with a capital “B”) Road Trips.  Stored away in the college section of my memories are the trips with a car full of friends on spring break travels to Southern California, Las Vegas, and a Thanksgiving trip to Denver.  Broke, with just enough money to split the gas, we scouted out the cheap hotel rooms and food, but were utterly happy with the heady taste of freedom, fresh and new, all around us.

And now, fast forward ten years after college graduation.  (In the movie version of my life, you’d hear that screeching sound of a record player scratching to a stop.)  My college roommates are off in other places, married, all with kids.  And speaking of kids, my road trips these days have a decidedly different flair.

Road trips in my present life involve our four kids, one minivan, and just shy of 1,000 miles to log.  That soaring sense of freedom and a carefree lifestyle that marked road trips in the days of yore, hmm.  I believe we lost all that somewhere on the wayside of having our first child.  But with my husband’s family all in Montana, and my side of the family in Minnesota, road trips are still a common part of life.  The distance between the families is long, but we don’t let a not-so-little stretch of I-90 get in the way of making regular family visits.

My four little road warriors, at our hotel in Belle Fourche, South Dakota…287 miles down, about 700 miles to go with me as the only adult on the trip. Yes, I’m crazy.

Everyone’s heard the “It’s the journey, not the destination,” phrase, but that’s really not the case for us.  It’s the destination.  The journey?  It’s really just something we tolerate and endure.  The journey is the means to an end; we’re driving to visit our family.  More time on the road just means less time visiting the people we love.

Sure, we could stop at one of the many not-so-alluring attractions in South Dakota, but we usually just drive on by with the ultimate destinations in mind.  Ironically, by skipping any fluff along the way, with our four kids in tow we now make the trek between MT and MN faster than ever.  We drive at night.  When the sun starts going down, we load up the kids in their pajamas, fill the tank with gas, stock up on snacks, water, and coffee, and set off.  If the kids are exhausted from a week of visiting with cousins, the trip is all the more peaceful.

Usually we assemble some makeshift beds on the floor of our van and let our oldest kids stretch out a little bit, and the younger two sleep in their car seats.  Yep, we certainly realize that everyone is supposed to be in their car seats all the time, but we acquiesce to comfort in the middle of South Dakota, where in the middle of the night, we are usually the only vehicle on the road for as far as we can see in both directions.

Driving all night long certainly involves a fair amount of self-loathing (and coffee), but we decided it’s definitely worth the sleep deprivation to have a quiet van on the endless miles.  My husband settles in behind the wheel, and I sit in the co-pilot position, on kid duty.  I snooze in between settling whimpers, drink requests, and territorial disputes over foot space.  We stop for gas and bathrooms as quickly as possible.

In the rural west, it’s fairly common to encounter gas stations that close at night, offering only pay-at-the-pump gas.  We’ve adapted by always hauling our own plentiful coffee supply, and I have absolutely no qualms about ducking behind the gas station in the middle of the night, and finding the, um, “alfresco” bathroom facilities that include gravel and shrubs.  In some ways I actually prefer those late night bathroom accommodations, because a patch of grass always look much cleaner than most highway bathrooms, and a sky full of stars over head is much more pleasant than a rusty air vent.

With a few trades on driving duty and a few gas stops, my husband and I can leave our house in Minnesota at the kids’ bedtime, and arrive in Montana shortly after breakfast time at their grandparents’ house.   Everyone has a rotten night of rest, but the nearly 1,000 mile trip is accomplished in fairly short fashion.

While the phrase “road trip” doesn’t really evoke excited emotions much these days, the elements of spontaneity and surprise still appear to be alive and well.  Last Monday afternoon we got a call that Jarred’s brother and family that live up in Fairbanks, Alaska were back visiting their hometown of Broadview, Montana.  We haven’t seen Jarred’s brother’s family in over three years, so with just a few hours of packing and planning, we set off on the road back to Montana to have a chance to catch up with family for a few days.  We got up last Monday morning making plans of getting more settled in our MN life, but by late Tuesday morning, we were far west, unloading our van of squirrely kids in Montana to go play with their many cousins.

And today, I am embarking on what may be an act of insantiy.  Jarred has a week of projects to take care of in MT, but after already being here a week visiting, I’m ready to get back and take on some projects at our new home in MN.  So, I’m heading out on the 1,000 mile trip back to Minnesota with our four kids BY MYSELF.  If the kids were older and more self-reliant, this wouldn’t be that much of a feat, but our oldest is only six, and the youngest is just 13 months.

We will fire up the DVD player and I will placate them with a few new cheap toys and plenty of yummy snacks.  I’ll be pulling off to nurse the baby several times on the I-90 exit ramps, and we’ll stop and sleep at a hotel somewhere in South Dakota.  (Have I mentioned that I often have fantasies of somehow excising South Dakota, making Montana and Minnesota neighboring states?)  My ultimate goal is to arrive home safely with my sanity intact.  I’ll also settle for arriving home safely, sanity can be restored at a later date.

By the time anyone reads this, we will all be back home.  And with any luck, we won’t take on any road trips for a long time.  Well, until next month when we are heading to Montana again to see my husband’s long-time friend get married.  Have I mentioned that when I hear “Road Trip!” I involuntarily cringe and shudder?

© 2012

Marrying my Husband, Again

Special thanks to Bucket List Publications, an online magazine for also publishing this article.  Thank you so much!  Click here to see it.  

—————————-

I’ve always thought it’s a shame that most people only get married once. No, I’m not thinking about trading in my husband for a new model. I mean, really, neither one of us has time to date. We just moved cross country, and we’ve got four kids running around.

What I’m speaking of is weddings. What a shame that if done properly, getting all dolled up and spending a whole day celebrating your love only happens once in a lifetime. Only having one wedding dance to do a few polkas (as required by my Luxembourger/German birthright)? Only one fun party with your friends and family? I do believe that is criminal.

So, in celebration of our tenth anniversary a few weeks ago, Jarred and I got married again.

Ten years ago, on April 20, 2002, we walked down a long, long pier in Indianola, WA, and committed to forever with each other. Our first wedding was a pretty spontaneous affair. We originally planned to have a big, traditional church wedding in June of that year, but after seeing a few friends run off and do the simple, small wedding thing, we decided that sounded more like our style.

Our wedding in 2002 in Indianola, WA.

We gave our family an open invitation but just two weeks notice, and planned an outdoor wedding in April in Western Washington with no backup plan for rain. Our family on both sides amazed us when so many of them rearranged their lives on a moment’s notice and traveled from MT and MN for our wedding. I’m still touched when I think about how much of our family showed up for our wedding and the salmon barbecue and bonfire that followed.

This time around, we got married in our new house, with our kids in the bridal party.

In some ways I feel utterly humbled and unworthy to make any sort of to-do about a 10th anniversary. I see 25th, 50th, even 60th anniversaries in the paper all the time, and I humbly bow down to those couples’ marriage duration. With no question they have far more to say about love and commitment than I do. However, in our defense, we simply haven’t had that much time together yet. The beauty of ten years, though, is that we have had enough time and experience together that we can look back and reflect upon how our life is unfolding together, and of course, celebrate.

I do believe that we need to celebrate the fact that together we lived through six weeks of no running water in a trailer house in Broadview, Montana during the peak of the drought years, and still managed to like each other. We survived an unplanned stay in what turned out to be a pay-by-the-hour hotel in Mexico, four surgeries for our kids, and the challenges and joys of being self-employed.

Together, Jarred and I got through the pain of the first two pregnancies being miscarriages. And knowing what it is like to not simply have a baby because you want one, the birth of each of our four children has been all the more joyful. We fully realize the miracle that each child is, and when they are not beating on each other (and sometimes even when they are), we often take note that we are pretty darn blessed to get these kids that rule our lives. They are definitely reason to celebrate.

And appropriately for our life today, our second wedding was really just an event that we managed to squeeze in between the rest of our busy life. In our original fairy tale plans for this party, we thought we’d be living in our new house for several months already, nicely settled, and it’d be a fun way to have a house warming. As real life turned out, I moved in with our kids just three weeks before this planned event, and Jarred was still in Montana working up until a week before this shindig.

We whirled the moving mess upstairs to make the downstairs presentable, had some help from family with decorations, mowing, and food, and we had ourselves a party. My six-year-old daughter picked out a very fancy flower girl dress for herself and her sister (getting to fulfill every girl’s dream), our two boys were ring bearers, and the three oldest kids worked on helping their baby sister learn to walk in the weeks beforehand so she could walk down the aisle for the wedding.

It was a family affair, where moments before we were supposed to be ready, two of my sisters came to my rescue helping get kids dressed and looking presentable. One of my very favorite moments was getting surprised by Jarred’s parents, who showed up just as we cued the music to walk down the “aisle” of our wraparound porch. They made the long drive all the way from Montana without telling us they were coming, and surprised me enough that I screamed when I saw them, and then started to cry. Fortunately, we were running late as usual, and they made it just in time to see our short little ceremony.

My kids and I walked down the aisle, my niece was the maid of honor/junior bridesmaid, a friend’s daughter was an impromptu flower girl, and our dog, Spot, took the liberty to join in on the occasion, too. My brother acted as the minister, Jarred and his dad sang and played “The Wedding Song” from memory on their guitars, and we renewed our vows with a copy of our original ceremony, standing under the columns between our living room and dining room while our kids fidgeted around us.

After ten years of marriage, a little something usually gets in the way of “you may kiss the bride.” photo by Fresh Click Photography

Afterward, everyone headed to the kitchen to fill up their plates, I had the chance to catch up with some long-time friends, and later we rolled up the rug in our living room so our kids could dance. Seeing our six-year-old girl and five-year-old boy dressed in their fancy clothes and dancing together in the living room of our new home, surrounded by their family, is the best gift I could receive ten years after getting married to their dad.

Some days I get overwhelmed by the long, slow grind of unpacking our new home combined with the full-time job of caring for our kids. When I look around, though, and see I’m living in the farmhouse in the country that I always wanted, see four happy kids outside exploring their new yard, and have a husband who is just as excited about our kids and our new place and our life as me, and I know I’m blessed. Ten years ago, we never could have predicted the path of how we got to where we are today, but we’re awfully happy to be here.

© 2012

Our second wedding in 2012 with our very own flower girls and ring bearers. photo by Fresh Click Photography

Celebrating Cornmeal: Three Fabulous Ways to Enjoy that Box in the Back of the Cupboard

Written May 7, 2012.

With Mother’s Day on my mind, I become more and more amazed each year at my own mom’s feat of raising a baker’s dozen. Growing up, I didn’t give much thought to the enormous challenge of raising all of us, but now as a busy mother of four, it is all the more impressive to me to think of being pregnant with and raising triple the number of kids that I currently have. Wow.

My mom did it all with a lot of hard work and plenty of on-the-fly creative innovation. This week’s column is inspired by one of those ideas. Back in the day, my mom did something that amazed the ladies in her Homemakers’ Club. During a meeting at our house when all the ladies in the neighborhood got together, one of those times that we tried to have our house looking like everything is beautifully in order and always clean, my mom deliberately made a big mess on her kitchen island.

Doing Cornmeal”

Taking the container of cornmeal, my mom dumped a pile out on the counter, pulled up a little stool, and gave my then preschool age younger brother a selection of little tractors. While she bustled around the kitchen getting ready for her gathering of ladies, my brother happily farmed the cornmeal, plowing rows, scooping it into wagons, and dumping it into piles.

A pile of cornmeal became a staple on our kitchen island for years. Sometimes we swept the cornmeal and tractor collection into a little plastic container that lived on the island, but much of the time a generous cornmeal pile resided on display on the counter top with tractors in various states of farming and it made a ready play spot that attracted all ages. We all loved “doing cornmeal,” and even adults in the family absent-mindedly smoothed the cornmeal into piles or steered a tractor through a pile while we mingled around the kitchen island during a Sunday noon conversation.

Growing up, my mom let us “do cornmeal” in the least restricted way, as an uncontained pile on the counter. Today, kids in our family still play with free spreading piles of cornmeal on Sundays at grandma’s (my mom’s) house under the helpful supervision of my older brother. He’s an always willing uncle who holds little kids on his lap and helps them with their cornmeal farming (and keeps the pile of cornmeal from dumping all over grandma’s carpet).

A pile of cornmeal, some tractors, and an uncle around to catch any spills is a great Sunday afternoon at Grandma’s.

As for me, I usually contain the piles in 9 x 13 cake pans when we play with cornmeal at our house. Giving each kiddo their own pan and pile prevents jurisdictional disputes, and the Ziploc labeled “Kid Cornmeal” always gets plenty of use at our house.

Cornmeal as a toy has undeniable appeal. It’s cheap, versatile, the grainy, smooth texture of cornmeal sifting through hands is irresistibly satisfying, and it feels just slightly naughty to get to play in a mess. In the middle of the winter, a pile of cornmeal becomes an indoor sandbox. Tractors pulling mini chisel plows and discs make beautiful little trails in the cornmeal, and little skid steers can scoop it up and fill any number of things. Add a few measuring cups and spoons, and a cornmeal pile becomes a pretend kitchen. I really don’t need to over explain it. Dump out a pile in front of a kid. Add a few play things. They will be happy for a long time.

Sweet Cornbread

And as much as we love to play with cornmeal, we also love to eat it as cornbread. Cornbread is one of those foods done poorly way too often. You know the kind, perhaps when you sink your teeth into cornbread, it reminds you of the spray foam insulation you used to seal up your attic. Or maybe when you take a bite, your mind travels back in time to the Civil War, and you wonder if perhaps the soldiers’ rations tasted about like this: a dry, tasteless, grainy belly-filler that could remain in the same miserable state for weeks and still taste just the same.

If you’ve spent a life eating cornbread that shatters in your mouth instead of crumbles, or think it is only an acceptable food product once it has been liberally slathered with a layer of butter and honey, today is the day to try something new. I have a cornbread recipe that is sweet and moist, and so good that you don’t even need to coat it with butter or honey (although that certainly is not against the rules).

I found this recipe on the back of the Albers Cornmeal box. Since discovering it ten years ago, this is the only recipe I use for cornbread. The recipe claims 12 servings, but our family of six (four of which are six and under) eats most of the pan in one sitting.

Cornbread this soft, sweet, and tasty is probably illegal in some states. Go on, make a batch. Eat it warm, and it’s better than cake. (photo from albers.com)

Sweet Corn Bread

(Makes 12 servings)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup corn meal

  • 1 Tbsp baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 1/4 cups milk

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

  • 3 Tbsp butter or margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 8-inch square baking pan.

Combine flour, sugar, corn meal, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Combine milk, eggs, vegetable oil and butter in small bowl; mix well. Add to flour mixture; stir just until blended. Pour into prepared baking pan.  Bake for 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm.

So, it’s time to take that box of cornmeal out of the back of the cupboard. You know the one. You bought it out of a sense of obligation, feeling like you should have cornmeal on hand because that is the proper thing to do as an adult, because your mom always has some.

Then you stuck the cornmeal in your cupboard, and it slowly worked itself to the back where it still sits today, probably years after you first bought it. There is a good chance that the plastic on top is still intact. And there is also a good chance that even if it has been long neglected, that cornmeal is probably just fine.

Blow the dust off the top of your cornmeal box. Give a pile to your kids to play with, and while they are busy, make a batch of corn bread. No need to feel guilty if you eat four of the twelve servings. You can work it off by sweeping up any cornmeal your kids spill on the floor.

Cornmeal + Ants = “Cornage”

Or, better yet, don’t sweep the cornmeal. Most fabulously of all, a little known value of spilled cornmeal is that it is a natural pesticide for ants. Ants take the food back to the nest, but cannot digest it. The cornmeal swells in their stomach until they burst. KERPOW! Goodbye, ant problem. Now, don’t you love cornmeal even more?

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

© 2012

Uff Da! Becoming Minnesotan, Again

Written April 30, 2012.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve called myself a Minnesotan.  The last Minnesota driver’s license I had was ten years, two other state driver’s licenses, four kids, and one name change ago.

But now, here we are, back in the “Old Country,” as my Montana father-in-law calls this far off land of my origin.  We are in the midst of burning up the moving boxes and maybe staying put until we can retire on a tropical island.  So until that far off day when I can pass my time sipping mai tais in my muumuu, Minnesotans we will be.

When I lived out of state, in Montana as well as Washington and Pennsylvania, I always felt happy to say I grew up in Minnesota.  It’s just good to be from here.  People generally have a positive or at least neutral attitude about the land of 10,000 lakes.  If they falsely assume something about people in this state as a whole, it’s often assuming everyone is that homey, quirky, lovable, good-natured Lake Woebegon-like personification of “Minnesota Nice”.  And really, there are certainly worse stereotypes to overcome.

Even though I spent the first 20 years of my life here and came back on regular visits a few times a year, there is something different about once again calling Minnesota home.  And so for the last month, I’ve been once again taking in what it means to call myself a Minnesotan.

I don’t hug trees, but after living in dryland MT where trees are a precious commodity, I am quite in love with this big old oak tree that shades our sandbox and makes great tree swings.

MN Drive-Bys

Luckily, becoming a Minnesotan doesn’t require any sort of ritual gang initiation.  Wearing the wrong colors around here probably just means someone made the unfortunate mistake of being a green and gold Packer fan in Viking country, where everyone bleeds purple.

A “drive-by” in these parts just means the neighbors are driving by, and spontaneously pull into the yard to introduce themselves.  We’ve had several drive-bys.  One neighbor left us with tickets to the local church meatball dinner, which we happily accepted, and another drive-by incident led to a neighbor helping my husband unload some heavy shop equipment.  We like MN drive-bys.

Oooh that Accent

Growing up in MN, I really thought the whole Minnesoootan accent was a farse, or at least something that only existed in far northern Minnesota and in Hollywood movies.  When the movie Fargo came out, I remember feeling insulted seeing Minnesotans portrayed as simple-minded and hokey, speaking with way “oooo”verdone accents.  I mean, really, ooh geez, we dooon’t talk like that.

Or do we?  Living in other states for over a decade suddenly made the Minnesotan accent ring clearly in my ears when we moved back here.  For the first few weeks, especially in talking to people on the phone, that accent that sounded way overdone in the Fargo movie now seemed pretty accurate.  I’d get off the phone with the power company, repeat a few lines to my husband, and we’d both giggle at living in the land of 10,000 “ooos” and “yahs.”  The funny thing is, now a month later, I don’t really notice it as much.  Maybe it’s because I’m already reverting to my Minnesotan speech patterns, dooon’t cha knoow.

Uff Da!  Ya!

And speaking of Minnesotan words, uff da!  On a particularly windy day, the 6:00 news anchor commented, “Boy, it sure was windy.” An emphatic “Uff da!  Ya!” was the immediate response by the other news anchor.  I happened to hear it as I doled out supper, and burst out laughing.  I don’t believe I have heard an “Uff da! Ya!” as official news commentary in quite a while, maybe ever, but I do believe that I’m in my home state again.

I can’t drive 55.

When it comes to driving in MN, I’m not sure why, but my van just won’t drive only 55.  Maybe it started when I was always running late and speeding to high school back in the day.  Luckily, when I lived in Montana, where 70 mph is in fact the speed limit on rural two-lanes, I had a perfect fit for my natural lead foot inclinations.

But back in Minnesota now, heading down Hwy 14, my natural speed is still about 70.  Oops.  If you are highway patrol, please forgive the mini van with Montana plates.  I’m really pretty nice.  Can’t I still drive 70 if that is the legal speed where my vehicle is currently licensed?

Minnesotan Paradise

Speed limit aside, I’m in love with this place in a way that I don’t think I ever would be if I had never left.  When I was twenty, I was itching to get away from the familiarity of my hometown and MN life where I knew all the back roads and most of the people that lived on them.

I headed off to Montana for college because I needed to see what I was made of, and see if I could make a life for myself in an area where every sight, store, and citizen was an unknown.  I loved venturing off out west into the unknown, because I had the stability of a deeply-rooted MN upbringing as my foundation.

And now, after creating a life of my own in Montana and a few other states for the last 13 years, I’m happily back here again, with not just me, but my own family of six.  After checking out the grass in other places, the grass indeed is NOT greener on the side of the hill.

We loved the dry, rugged beauty of the Montana plains, but coming from Jarred’s hometown where we got on average just 13 inches of annual rain, we are both amazed to now be living in this green, bountiful paradise called Minnesota.

Some day, this will all feel commonplace to us, just like it did to me growing up here as a kid.  But right now, it still feels amazing to walk across our grass that is plush and soft and grows with no irrigation or fertilizing, sit under the shade of our massive oak tree that is just one of several hardwood shade trees in our yard, and gaze out at the rich, black soil that the farmers around here are busy planting.  Everything here in MN is so full of life.

Sitting next to our kids in the sandbox, even our sand here is amazing.  Sand that is easily found alongside the road is the softest, finest, prettiest white sand that any kid digging in a sandbox could ever ask for.

So while we’re still living in the chaos of unpacked boxes and we’ve already had a few opportunities to get acquainted with some all-too-friendly wood ticks, Uff Da! we are so happy to be in the process of becoming Minnesotans.

 © 2012