Goats, Grace and Golf Carts

Written August 19, 2013.

Good neighbors make good fences.  (Robert Frost had it backwards.)  That’s just one of things I learned this past week.  Another lesson learned: 13 people can ride a four-person golf cart.  Well, at least 13.  We’re not quite sure that is the maximum.

Vacation at its finest: mini golf in a swimming suit with bare feet.

Vacation at its finest: mini golf in a swimming suit with bare feet.

Greetings, everyone!  I’m back from a mini-vacation last week.  Life’s so busy I don’t really know where to start, so I’ll start with the object of much of my attention lately: a billy goat.

Goats

The billy goat, making plans for another escape.

The billy goat, looking innocent while making plans for another escape.

While my husband, Jarred, made a trip to Arkansas to service two of his feed cart scales, the billy goat decided he really needed a change of scenery.  Of course, the time he likes to roam is just at that time in the evening when I want to take one last peaceful glance at the yard and call it a day and put the kids to bed.  That’s when the Spanish billy goat says to himself (in his Spanish goat accent): “You know, I wood love to geeve my ladeez and myself a lovely new place to graze.  I think I shall start with dee corn field and a bit of dee baby lilac bush.”

And so, he tore a hole through the sheep fence, and led his harem out to graze on tender shoots of all sorts of forbidden fruit.  Normally, at bedtime, I’d pass the goat issue off to Jarred and I’d get the kids in bed.  With my partner in crime off in Arkansas fixing scales and eating catfish, I had to take care of it.  Fixing a fence posed a small problem because A) I didn’t know where to find the fencing supplies and B) I’ve never fixed a fence before.

I managed to find fencing wire and wire cutters (in my two-year-old’s tool kit from grandma).  I called my neighbor, Bernice Gathje, and she told me to just weave in new wire to repair the tear in the square grid of fencing.  I put my crochet skills to use in wire, and began to cut wire and weave, sort of.  About halfway in, her son, Bill, pulled in the driveway.  A short time later, I had a mended fence, and he had a frozen chicken to bring home.  I’m very thankful for good neighbors that make good fences.

However, billy goats have plenty of free time on their hands.  The next morning, he busted a new hole in the fence.  This time Larry Gathje brought down a fence panel they hadn’t been using, and helped repair the latest damage on the fence.  That early morning repair gave me just enough time to get ready for my morning destination, which, unfortunately, was my cousin’s funeral.

Grace
My cousin, Sarah (Siebenaler) Hackenmiller was just a year older than me, 36 years old.  Diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis as a baby, she lived twice as long as her original projected life expectancy, but just the same, the time was all too short.  Growing up, she was one of my favorite cousins.  I remember swinging with her and hanging out in the back yard at Grandma’s, and playing with her in the pool during a family reunion.  Sarah was kind, sweet, and fun.  As a child I often felt shy at big gatherings, but she had a quiet demeanor that drew me in.

As an adult, Sarah created beautiful artwork with vibrant colors.  She possessed what her family described as a gentle strength, which she exuded throughout years of treatments, hospitalizations, pills, and surgeries.  She saw beauty in the world around her, and loved her family above all, and she will be missed greatly.

Sitting there at her funeral, honoring a truly good person’s life that was all too brief, felt all too familiar.  Hearing Sarah’s pastor sing a  solo of “Amazing Grace” made my mind drift back to seeing my niece singing the same song at my brother’s funeral a month and a half ago.  Looking at photo displays of her life, and reading the beautiful program with her life story…it was all a wonderful tribute to the her, but so hard to see.  I don’t want to attend another funeral for someone too young any time soon.

On the morning of Sarah’s funeral, just as I rounded up the kids to head out the door, my four-year-old threw up all over the rug and even on computer.  I attributed it to coughing too much, and cleaned him up and loaded him in the van.  Just before Utica he said, “Mom, I don’t feel good.” I slammed on the brakes, found a plastic bag, climbed back to his seat, and held it open below his mouth just as he began another round.

I ended the day of a puking son and a funeral with another hour’s worth of fence repair and reinforcement.

Sarah, though, put it all in perspective.  She wrote not too long ago, “Some days I mourn that I will never be that full time career woman, or the ranch wife in Montana (I know, completely different paths there), or the mom whose little blond daughter will go with her to the grocery store like I did with my mom.  But I also sit and thank God for all I do have and for still being here on this earth with the ones I love.”

I felt completely wiped out, but grateful for a puking child, which means I am a mom.  I have a little blond daughter to take to the grocery store, along with her three older siblings.  I lived in Montana for about 12 years, long enough to know I didn’t want to be a ranch wife, but I did marry a Montana guy.  Fence repair at the end of the day means I am living out in the country with a few animals. I don’t want to take that for granted.  I get to live some of the dreams that Sarah never got to fulfill.  I get to enjoy my family every day.

Golf Carts

I especially enjoyed them all during our mini-vacation.  After goat adventures, fencing, and a funeral, our planned trip to Jellystone in Warrens, WI seemed all the more appealing.  Twenty-one of us hung out together in two adjoining log cabin condos.  They threw in a golf cart with our cabin rental, and we filled that poor little thing far beyond capacity time and time again to shuttle ourselves to and from the water park area.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the overloaded clown car, but I can assure you, we drew surprised glances everywhere it went.  I also can assure you we traveled at reasonable speeds…I mean, really, floor a golf cart on a hill, and it only goes at walking pace when loaded with that much weight…

By day, we hit the water slides, lazy river, pools, and mini golf, ate, and then ate some more.  By night, we hung out, kids took moonlit cruises on a golf cart and played card games, and we roasted marshmallows over a big fire.

Cody, Katie, Thor, and Justin: Four cousins floating on the lazy river.

Cody, Katie, Thor, and Justin: Four cousins floating on the lazy river.

For me, it was a complete break from my continual mental to-do list: no laundry, no re-organizing, no extra chores, no cleaning.  While my kids napped, I sat and watched a show about cooking wood-fired pizzas and felt completely guilt free.  I hula hooped.  I played some mini golf in my swimming suit with my nieces and nephews.  I took a late night ride through the woods on a golf cart to get cappuccino with my sisters.

After a few days of hard core family adventures and outdoor pool fun, we appreciated coming home again.  And in the words of my cousin Sarah, “I sit and thank God for all I do have and for still being here on this earth with the ones I love.” I am thankful for all of it. Although, billy goat, I’m not sure that includes you.

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Your Friendly Local Wicked Stepsister

Written August 8, 2013.

Feather boa, fake mole, lace gloves, crazy hat, mismatched socks, blue eye shadow…all just part of my Tuesday morning this past week. Oh yes, and did I mention that I’m going to be a MOVIE STAR?

That’s right.  I’m going to be on the big screen.  Well, I’ll be on a big screen in a park in Lanesboro, anyway.

The stepsisters aghast at seeing the lovely Cinderella enter the ball. Emily Spende, Stela Burdt, Tom Flaig (not allowed to see Cinderella), and Kathy Mosdal. Photo courtesy of Lanesboro Community Theater.

The stepsisters aghast at seeing the lovely Cinderella enter the ball. Emily Spende, Stela Burdt, Tom Flaig (not allowed to see Cinderella), and Kathy Mosdal. Photo courtesy of Lanesboro Community Theater.

For the second year in a row, the Lanesboro Community Theater is creating a series of silent films for “Silent Movies in the Park After Dark.”  Local people with little to no acting experience (that’s me) get to be in a movie, with no pressure of rehearsals or memorizing lines.

For me, it all started with a simple email from Barb Benson Keith asking if I’d like to be one of Cinderella’s stepsisters.  My first acting gig was this spring as Jessie the waitress in the play “Leaving Iowa,” where Barb directed.  I have great respect for her optimistic, organized, energetic style, so getting an email invitation to be in a silent film that she’s directing put a big smile on my face in an otherwise rather “blah”day.

I showed up the morning of filming not quite sure what to expect.  When all was said and done, the whole experience felt like getting to play pretend in the dress up corner at preschool, except I played with adults who lead fairly ordinary lives most of the time.  We threw on some costumes, listened to a few quick stage directions, and started pretending…I mean acting, while Barb Keith filmed.

It was all fairly simple, with no rehearsals, two takes maximum, and then on to the next shot.  We completed all the necessary filming to be crazy stepsisters in just two hours before lunch, and that included a costume change to dress up for the ball.

As an added bonus for me, my two other fellow stepsisters are moms whose children attend the same ECFE class as my own kids.  We’ve become friends as we’ve spent two hours a week together over the school year.  That made spending a morning together as wicked, crazy stepsisters all the more fun.

Without a doubt, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time.  Picture absolute silliness on the order of things that you usually don’t do once you leave elementary school.  Truly.

I can’t think of the last time I got in a mock fight with two other lovely ladies who gave me a fake punch and tried to put me in some sort of wrestling move.

I certainly can’t remember the last time that happened while I wore a lovely floral print dress with shoulder pads.  It’s also been ages since I wore a feather boa and a leopard print hat and had instructions to paw at a prince.  Really, it’s been such a long time since I’ve done any of those things.

My oldest daughter also added to the fun in this whole movie experience.  My seven-year-old asked to come along and watch the festivities.  I happily brought her, knowing I could trust her to not be an intrusion.  On the way in that morning I joked, “You can tell the kids in your class that your mom is a movie star!”  But then even better, and much to my daughter’s delight, Barb Keith asked if she’d like to be a dancer at the ball.

You can probably imagine the answer.  On the way home I told her, “Well, now you can tell kids in your class that YOU are a movie star!” And then we both giggled.

Thank goodness Grandma Cheryl, who was visiting from Montana, styled my daughter’s hair into a fancy French braid before we left that morning.  She had just the perfect hair for the ball.  Thank goodness, also, for Grandma Cheryl’s willingness to babysit my other three kids at home while I was gone.  Her help made it possible for me to leave the house and do something completely out of the ordinary.

That morning filming “Cinderella” was a total change of pace from the entire summer and from my ordinary “be a resonsible adult” mode.  Everyone needs a chance to cut loose once in a while.  It really made my whole day, and probably my week.

More than anything, I can’t wait to see the final result.

With the filming complete, Barb Benson Keith will turn it all into what looks like a classic silent movie: black and white, complete with captions between scenes and old time music.

“Cinderella” will be part of “Silent Movies in the Park After Dark” in Lanesboro on September 14th and 15th.  They’ll be played at Sylvan Park, the city park on main street in Lanesboro.  If you are interested, just mark it on your calendar and bring some blankets and lawn chairs to cozy up for an evening outside watching locally made movies.

It’s a free, family-friendly event.  Maybe I’ll see some of you there!

A Chicken Birthday Update
On my 35th birthday, I got up at 5 AM and loaded up the whole flock of squawking birds.  My sister-in-law, Tricia, was nice enough to let us borrow Mike’s pickup which has a topper, making it perfect for hauling a load of chickens.  By 6:15, my daughter and I headed to KB Poultry just outside of Utica.  Sun shining, early morning dew…it was a fine birthday morning to be Kathy the Farmer, driving a load of chickens in a pickup.

Mission accomplished: Sixty-seven chickens loaded up on my birthday.

Mission accomplished: Sixty-seven chickens loaded up on my birthday.

Note to self for next time: Put down straw in the back of the pickup ahead of time.  In the short time it took to load them and then drive seven miles, 67 chickens made an absolutely terrible mess on the floor and all over themselves in the process.  Thank goodness for a pressure washer and a nice husband at home.

Mess aside, driving home after dropping off the chickens, I just had a smile plastered to my face.  Driving Mike’s faithful pickup that he’s had for about 20 years, listening to his cassette of twangy Australian classic country music, early morning and a job already done…it just felt like Mike was smiling at all of it.

As an unexpected surprise, we actually had 67 chickens!  I only ordered 60, but the hatchery throws in a few “bonus birds” just in case of loss in transit.  We never actually counted them until that day.  That many chickens completely fill our upright freezer and then some.

This weekend I fired up the grill and we had a little chicken barbecue after a day on the Mississippi.  Thank you chickens, you are delicious.

35: The Chicken Birthday

Written July 29, 2013.

This Friday is a momentous day at our house.  It’s my 35th birthday and Chicken Day.

Eight weeks ago, 110 peeping balls of fluff arrived at our place, 60 meat bird chicks and 50 laying hen chicks.  When I ordered that many, I probably was in a bit over my head: no experience raising that quantity of chickens, no experience raising meat birds.  I knew I’d be fine, though, because just 15 miles away I had the seasoned resources of Mike, my brother, and his wife, Tricia.

Back In June I excitedly wrote about the day the chicks arrived. I now count the day as one of my favorites.

When I pulled in the driveway with my load of chicks and excited kids, lots of helpers were ready and waiting.  Mike and his family came out to help, along with my sister, Karen.  Later in the day my sister, Sue, and her kids came out to see the chicks, too. Mike helped get our little chicks off to a good start, putting up tin around their little pen, adjusting the heat lamps, and mixing molasses in their water to give them a little boost.

As my niece, Katie, helped dip each chick’s beak in water to give them a first drink, I snapped some pictures of baby chicks cuddled by kids.  With a flock of kids, a few adults, and 110 chicks all squeezed into the small pen for the occasion, we were teeming with life and activity.

If I could go back in time, I would take more pictures of that day.  The only pictures I have of Mike from that day are his hands helping my daughter hold a chick.  It’s a reminder to me to take pictures not just of the kids in the family, but the adults, too.

Mike reaching out his hands to help my excited daughter hold a broiler chick.

Mike reaching out his hands to help my excited daughter hold a broiler chick.

One morning a few weeks after our chicks arrived, my two-year-old helped me with the morning chores.  We fed the chicks and then moved on to the sheep.  Instead of my usual “on to the next thing” mode, we stood there for a while that morning just hanging out in the barn.  I leaned on the fence while my daughter stood in the feed trough to peek over the fence and watch the sheep getting a drink.

We stood there, quiet and peaceful, until my daughter was done watching.  That was one of those moments where I stood still long enough to feel overwhelmingly grateful…grateful to have a sweet little girl who made me stop and appreciate what I have.

Later that morning while I was upstairs doing laundry, I got a call from my mom telling me there’d been an accident with Mike’s helicopter.

In the weeks that followed, I continued making treks out to the chicken house to take care of the chicks.  Some days, my eyes got too blurry to scoop the chicken feed.  Every single time I go there, I think of my brother.  I see the work of his hands on the pen.  And all the time in my mind, when I look at those chickens,  I do what I think Mike would do.  Through his years of education, years of farming, he did so many things the right way.  He took care of animals the same way he took care of people.

And so, every morning in the last eight weeks I headed out to the chicken house to feed and water the chicks.  Now that they’re bigger, I’m out there three times a day.  In the chicken world, broilers (chickens grown for meat) are what Mike described as race cars.  Their growth is fast, reaching full size in just 6-8 weeks.  Like a high performance vehicle, meat birds need optimal conditions for a peak performance.

I’ve been working hard on my race car birds: feed, clean water, dry bedding, access to outside.  In eight weeks, we only lost one broiler, very early on.  I’ll call that a success for a first timer.  As they grow, I keep wishing Mike could see my chickens.  The kid in me wants my big brother to see them and be proud.

Eight weeks later, my daughter feeds the now full-grown broiler chickens.

Eight weeks later, my daughter feeds the now full-grown broiler chickens.

My broilers hit the finish line on Friday, Chicken Day (and my birthday).  We’ll load them up and make the short drive to Utica to have them butchered.  And soon after, I’ll have a year’s worth of chicken in my freezer for my family.

I grew up on a farm with beef cattle and pigs, but I never really involved myself in any of the farming.  This summer, then, is my first time raising meat for my family.  I have to say, there’s a certain amount of pride in raising food to feed your family.

I also have a very real and genuine appreciation for the effort and care involved in raising an animal for food.  It’s easy to give very little thought to picking up a package of skinless, boneless chicken breasts at the grocery store.  As a package of frozen food from the store, the image of a chicken on a farm seems awfully distant and disconnected.

This year, though, “farm to table” is very clear to me.  I know that every single time I pull a whole chicken out of the freezer to cook for my family, I’ll think about how I raised that chicken this summer.  I’ll know just where that chicken spent it’s days, and I’ll know just how much effort it took to raise that little fluff ball into a big meaty bird.  I took care of them, so they could feed us.

And while raising a few chickens isn’t anything momentous in and of itself, in the bigger picture it’s just a part of how I want to live.  I want my kids to grow up in the country where they know where food comes from, they know how to work, and they know how to appreciate the simple joys of life.

So on my 35th birthday, I’ll celebrate the accomplishment of raising my first set of meat birds, and celebrate getting to live a life full of blessings.  I’ll celebrate getting the chance to spend time with my brother this year, and learn some of his farming wisdom.

While I certainly intend to live to about 100 like my grandmas, the reality that my brother’s entire life was only nine years longer than my current age is a real reminder of the preciousness of every day.  I don’t know what exactly it is that I’m supposed to do in life, and I don’t know if what I do is “enough.” I do know, though, that I’m thankful to be alive and 35.

A Popsicle Week

Written July 22, 2013.

With colored tongues to prove it, our kids slurped down most of a brand new box of 100 freeze-and-eat popsicles in the past week.  Four kids, a few popsicles a day, times a week…yes, the math checks out.  That box that looked like it would last “all summer” barely made it through the heat wave.  We have no central air in our big old farm house, so popsicles on the porch are really just a requirement for survival.

Cooling off with a popsicle on the porch makes a hot day a little bit better.

Cooling off with a popsicle on the porch makes a hot day a little bit better.

With P.O.P.S.I.C.L.E on the mind, it’s been that kind of week…sticky, messy, and a little sweet.

P is for Panting Chickens.  I do not know the sound of one hand clapping, but I do now know the sound of 110 chickens panting.  On the hottest days, they drank gallons of water, rested in the shade of their breezy shed, and panted.  And panted.  And then panted a little more.  I’m happy to report that they all made it through the heat.

Our chickens don't eat popsicles, so they cooled off by panting.  Being ladylike, the chickens did not pant in this photo.

Our chickens don’t eat popsicles, so they cooled off by panting. Being ladylike, the chickens did not pant in this photo.

O is for On the Banks of Plum Creek.  If our kids get ready for bed on time, I read to them a chapter from Laura Ingalls.  We are now on our fourth book.  This week, we read the chapter about the grasshopper infestation.  I read aloud about how just before harvest, droves of grasshoppers devoured everything green, including the Ingallses’ entire wheat crop.  The family planned to pay off their newly constructed home with wheat money, but instead had absolutely nothing, not even grass for grazing their cows.  Without fail, reading about the struggles of pioneer life puts our own relatively cushy life in perspective.  Feeling hot and sweaty suddenly seemed quite manageable by comparison.

P is for Pools.  At our house we have a kiddy wading pool and plenty of pools of sweat.  Neither one of those really satisfies on a hot day.  A visit to the pool in St. Charles to play with cousins made life all better again.  This week we even swam in a Harvestore silo on two occasions.  Our neighbors ingeniously converted the base of a silo into a great pool with the help of a pool liner, and we got to be the lucky guests swimming at their house on those hot nights.   For the record, we did shower off before jumping in the pools.  While I generally encourage sharing, some things (sweat, for instance) just don’t need to be shared with others.

S is for Slumber Party.  When walking upstairs felt like entering a giant oven, our kids took refuge from the heat with a slumber party downstairs.  We installed our window air conditioner in the toy room, shut the doors, and made it feel like a little slice of cool heaven.  With a few makeshift beds on the floor, four kids slept in cool comfort during the night.  The added bonus?  The loud noise of the air conditioner drowns out any chatting, so they all went to sleep quickly.  Note to self: if the kids are too loud,  just make a louder noise.  Maybe we’ll start turning on the blender or vacuum at night in their rooms.  Well, maybe not.

I is for Ice Cream.  Once in the middle of a hot afternoon when the kids were napping, I just had to take a few spoonfuls of ice cream straight from the container.  The cool, sweet goodness of chocolate and marshmallow had magical restorative properties.  With just a few bites, I could face the rest of the day.  For any of you that recently had ice cream at our house, this was after you left.  I promise.

C is for Caps, Black Caps.  The season is short and sweet for black cap berries, so we are braving nettles, thorns, and those annoying gnats to collect the little jems from our windbreak.  One evening as I came in the house shiny with sweat from heat to toe and carrying a bowl of berries, I told my daughter that we’d eat those berries in pancakes in the middle of the winter and think of summer.  She said she’d like to have a little winter snow to play in right now.  I agreed.

L is for Loving Lightning Bugs.   Instead of sleeping with a stuffed animal at bedtime, one night I noticed my seven-year-old daughter sleeping with a jar of lightning bugs in her bed.   She also excitedly told me a few days later, “A lightning bug just peed on me!” She said it with amusement and almost a little bit of pride.  I told her she was very lucky, because I’m much older than her, and I’ve never had a lightning bug pee on my hand before.  In fact, I didn’t know anyone that ever had a lightning bug pee on them.  What a lucky girl, indeed.  With a few loose lightning bugs now roaming about in our house, I’m sure I’m greatly improving my odds of being just as lucky.

E is for Energy (or Lack Thereof).  In the middle of the heat wave, I began wondering if maybe I had some sort of vitamin deficiency or something.  I just felt like I didn’t possess the energy to make things happen like usual.  Everything just looked like too much work.  Then Sunday morning came around, and cool breezes rolled in along with a few drops of rain.  Suddenly, on the walk out to feed the chickens, I felt like I could actually work.  Perhaps all I need is fall, or maybe a swimming pool in the back yard.  In the meantime, I’ll just have some more iced coffee and maybe a popsicle or two.  I think I’ll skip panting like a chicken.

Kids Still Say the Darndest Things

Even though I’m with my children 24/7, they still have a way of taking me by surprise. Just the other day, my three-year-old proposed.

He first asked me about the plan for the day.  I said it was just a day to stay at home. He saw that as an opportunity and casually responded, “Okay.  So why don’t we just get married today, you and me?”

I have to say, I was surprised and flattered.  Nobody has proposed to me in quite a while.  I told him that sounded nice, but then he went off to ride his trike and the whole wedding never happened.  It’s probably for the best, since I already married his dad.

I love to hear the thoughts and ideas that come out of kids’ heads.

A year ago, I interviewed my three oldest kids, asking them each the same set of questions in a personal interview.  A few nights ago, those interviews popped into my head again as I sat next to my two-year-old girl’s bed, holding her hand so she could settle down to sleep.  I looked at her little self, and I realized that in a year, she progressed from a few baby babble words to commanding her siblings with the oratory skills of a tiny part-time dictator.

I wondered what she would say if I asked her that same set of questions, and then I wondered how the responses of my other kids would change as they grew and matured during a year’s time.

Part of a "perfect day": heading to the pool in St. Charles.

Part of a “perfect day”: heading to the pool in St. Charles.

This morning, I dug out those interview questions again.

Remembering interviews from last year, my kids eagerly took turns receiving 10 minutes of Mom’s undivided, fully engaged time.  Below are their responses: the sweet, the silly, and the surprisingly perceptive.  For simplicity, I listed each child by age.

What was the happiest day of your life?
7: Days when I go shopping with you.  And next year when you give me an interview, I’ll say when I got my ears pierced.
6: It’s hard to say.  Like maybe the Christmas when Santa put up the train track in our log house.
3: My happiest day is hooking things together and unhooking them, and tying knots together now.
2: Cody.  I love Cody.  (her cousin)

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
7: Make Spot not roll in sheep poop.
6: Christmas to be in the summer everywhere, on our side of the world and the other side.
3: I could be mad.  And I don’t know how to fly.
2: My brother’s bed.  (New bunk beds arrived today.)

Spot, sporting a coating of green muck, received dishonorable mention for his new hobby.

Spot, sporting a coating of green muck, received dishonorable mention for his new hobby.

When were you most afraid?
7: I was kind of afraid to move, and going to kindergarten.  The night before the first day of kindergarten, I was really afraid.
6: When a blackout happened and the TV just randomly shut off.
3: Bed and monsters…and tigers.  That’s what I’m always afraid of.
2: Tractors scare me one time.  Go home, tractor!

What do you want to do for a job?
7: I want to be an artist, and I also want to be a veterinarian because it looks like fun and every day you get to see an animal.
6: I want to be a lifeguard.  Can lifeguards be a grownup?
3: I just don’t like doing my chores.  I just like to play.  Chore time is just stupid.  I just want to play, play, play.
2: Cody.  Hold him.  Hold me also.

What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
7: My family and cousins.
6: Having a toy or a few toys.
3: I can’t live without my teddy bear.  I just can’t even live without it.
2: I need girl.  Girl, girl, girl.

Describe your perfect day.
7: I would go to the park, go to the Mississippi, go to the Hawaiian shaved ice place, maybe buy a girl puppy and get my ears pierced.  And I would eat dumplings for dinner.
6: Have ice cream for breakfast, go to the St. Charles pool, have corn dogs for lunch and go back to the pool.  Go home and have brunch for supper, and then stay up until midnight.
3: Hooking hooks onto my ropes and pulling trailers behind my trike with my hooks.
2: Cody.

Who are your friends?
7: Claire, Julia, Audrey, and Indie.
6: I have lots.  It’s hard to say just a few.
3: Katie. (his cousin) And sometimes I see my friends at Early Childhood.
2: Cody, my friend.  Nathan.

What was Mom like as a child?
7: Um, fun?  Wild!
6: I don’t know.  Can you give me a hint?
3: You liked to do the same stuff that I like to do.  Did you like to do that stuff when you were my age?
2: Like me? Slide down.  Hold me!

What does Mom do when you’re not around?
7: Types her articles and goes shopping sometimes.
6: Do the laundry or clean the dishes.
3: Usually you need me badly and you don’t know where to find me.
2: Mommy wake me up.

What’s Mom’s favorite food?
7: Dumplings!
6: Tacos.
3: Stuff that has ketchup on it like hot dogs.
2: Crackers.
(all sound suspiciously like their own favorite foods)

What’s Mom really good at doing?
7: Being a mom.  A good runner, too.
6: Taking care of the kids and making meals like Chinese.
3: Cooking and giving me anything I want for breakfast.
2: Eating.

What’s Mom really bad at doing?
7: Not being a mom.
6: I don’t know…but I think you’re not very flexible at doing stretches.
3: Getting stuff right or wrong.  Knowing which way to go in the car.
2: Making clean table. (She’s right.)

What’s Mom’s favorite place?
7: Grandma’s.
6: St. Charles pool and the ice cream shoppe.
3: Grandma’s.
2: Upstairs.

How do you know your mom loves  you?
7: Because she gives me hugs and kisses every night and gives me breakfast.
6: She kisses me and hugs me goodnight.
3: Because I love her by giving kisses and hugs.
2: Seven.

If you have kids around, please just sit down one-on-one and do this.  For me, I realize all over again how much I love seeing how my kids’ minds’ work.  The interviews are also my reminder that the simple act of truly listening makes anyone just light up.

Part of me wishes I could fast forward and interview my kids in ten years and see how much they change, and how much of their personalities remain just the same.  Will my curly-haired boy still happily ramble on indefinitely about any subject?  What will they recall as the happiest day a few years from now?  Will they still want hugs and kisses every night?  I’m not sure, but I am pretty sure that my son will no longer want to marry me.  I’m okay with that.

“Chicken Day:” 110 Hot Chicks on the Farm

“Chicken Day” is now one of my favorite memories of the summer and my brother, Mike.  On June 6th, our chickens arrived.  I wrote the article below for the paper the following week.  Less than two weeks after Chicken Day, we lost Mike.  I’m so thankful and happy that we had this day together, where I got to “play farm” with my brother and learn some of his farming knowledge.  I wasn’t at all done learning from him, but I’m so grateful for the time we had together.  

We all had such a great time that we didn’t want the day to end.  Mike and Tricia and their kids, along with my sister, Karen, ending up staying for supper.  We made homemade pizza and popcorn and had a bonfire that lasted until we were too tired to stay up anymore.  A great day on the farm…

When we first moved in here a little over a year ago, a neighbor stopped by to visit. Looking at an empty barn, shed, and chicken coop, she said, “Why, you could have all sorts of animals here.”  I thought to myself, “Animals?  Nah, too much work.  Well, maybe I’d get a cat or two.”

At the time, we owned a dog.  That’s it.

By my count today, 144 animals reside on our little acreage:  the same old dog, along with goats, sheep, chickens, cats and kittens. Sometimes I’m still surprised that they’re here.  Did they just sneak in when I was doing laundry or something?

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Mike helping my two-year-old hold a new fluffy chick.

The biggest batch of little critters arrived here in our minivan just a few days ago.  We headed down to Rushford and picked up an order of 110 balls of fluff from the Farmers Co-op.  In the days leading up to the chicks’ arrival, the kids kept mentioning them, wondering, and asking if they could maybe name a few.  I said yes, you can each name 27 of your very own.  Is that enough?  Eyes got pretty big at that point.

When I walked into the Co-op, four kids beat me inside.  They made a bee line for the little stack of peeping cardboard boxes, and my kids had the lids popped off before I even got inside the door.

It was Chicken Christmas.

My two-year-old had absolutely no need for instructions about proper chick handling.  Sure, I mentioned phrases like “be gentle,” “don’t squeeze it’s neck,” and “that chick can’t breathe when you do that,”  but she was far too busy doling out intense chick affection to be bothered with my ramblings.

Currently, four days after the chicks’ arrival, all chicks are alive and well.  I do count that as a fairly major success considering the amount of loving attention they’ve received over the last few days.

My nephew and son each snuggle a pile of chicks on their laps.

My nephew and son each snuggle a pile of chicks on their laps.

Our kids do recognize, though, that life is fragile, especially for baby animals.  On the ride bringing the chicks home, my very practical seven-year-old instructed her siblings that sometimes a little chick might die, but it would be okay because we would still have plenty of other chicks.  I believe she might have been coaching herself, as well.

On Chicken Day (because such events get names when you have kids), we even picked up fried chicken from the grocery store for lunch.  Perhaps that is in poor taste considering we carried a load of baby chicks home at the same time, but the kids giggled with excitement over fried chicken AND baby chicks, all in one day.  One of them even said, “Someday some of you little chicks will be delicious chicken, too.”

When the chickens arrived home, we had a full entourage of family here to take part in the excitement.  My brother, Mike (our resident farming expert), along with his family, came out and helped set things up in the coop for the chicks.  Two of my sisters came out, too, and a slew of cousins all spent some time helping out with the new little chicks, holding them, and picking out favorites.

A flock of cousins play with the new chicks.

A flock of cousins play with the new chicks.

We set up feeders, waterers, and heat lamps (hence the title “Hot Chicks,” of course), and soon after lunch, 110 busy peeping chicks hopped around in their new home.  We now have 60 fluffy yellow broilers, 25 Production Reds that will someday give us brown eggs, and 25 Americana chicks that will lay the kids’ favorite: blue-green eggs.  The most-loved chick in the bunch is a mix-up: one rogue all-black chick that somehow arrived with our delivery.

And what, exactly, do we plan to do with that many chickens?  Our oldest two kids possess some grand ideas about eventually selling the eggs and making “lots of money.”  We did big math in simple terms, and told them if they kept selling eggs, they could earn enough to buy their very own car when they reached driving age in 9-10 years.

Again, they had wide eyes.

They’re pretty helpful little kids, but I’m fairly certain the person that will actually be heading out to check on chicken welfare, especially when the wind chill is -30, is someone who earned the money for her first car a long time ago.

As if the excitement of 110 fluff balls and future earnings wasn’t enough, the day after the chicks arrived our kids discovered yet another surprise.  In the corner of the shed, in the hay where Lamby likes to sleep, I heard the mewing sound of a new batch of kittens.

In awe of the brand new baby kitten.

In awe of the brand new baby kitten.

All of the kids left the chicks to go check out the new surprise.  We headed to the corner of the shed and found the mother cat with five kittens, a few still wet.  As we crouched around her, I noticed that one was being born at that very instant.

Number six was black with an orange star on its head, which is just what my red-haired boy wanted on a chick of his own, but none had those markings.  It turned out that his request was answered in a baby kitten instead, and one that he got to see be born.

And then, just to blow our kids’ minds completely, our other pregnant cat had kittens the following day.  We now have two mother cats who curl up in the same nest of hay and share nursing responsibilities of the two batches of kittens.   Looks like I’ll need to readjust the animal count that I mentioned earlier.

Article written June 10, 2013.

Neglect: The Latest Innovation in Gardening

Written June 3, 2013.

My kids are highly innovative horticulturists, despite a lack of any formal training.

Last week I wrote about a few of my researched plans for the garden this year, but who needs to read books or chit chat with gardening pros when you have kids around?  This week I learned a new planting technique from my kids that’s sure to take the gardening world by storm.

Regretfully, I do not have any photos of my wonderful sprouted seed packets in the plastic bag.  I was so moved that I forgot to grab my camera to record the amazing new gardening technique.  My daughter, however, is quite happy to apply her advanced gardening techniques to a variety of plants.

Regretfully, I do not have any photos of my wonderful sprouted seed packets in the plastic bag. I was so moved that I forgot to grab my camera to record the amazing new gardening technique. My daughter, however, is quite happy to apply her advanced gardening techniques to a variety of plants.

I call our new technique “sprouting in the seed packet.”  And if you are one of those people that sees something about gardening and just groans because you have absolutely no interest, you can still read this, I assure you.

Step One: Plant a few rows of seeds just before bedtime.  Crucial procedure: Lay plastic grocery bag containing 6-8 seed packets on the grass next to the garden.   Then, when it’s time to go in, ask kids to “bring the stuff in.”  Do not verify completion of assigned task.

Immediately engage your mind with a million other projects that need attention.  A few distraction options: a sink full of dishes, a cracker smashed onto the living room carpet, a pile of dirt left on the floor in the bathroom, four wild and tired kids upstairs dancing on the extra bed instead of putting on pajamas.

Step Two: Apply rain, lots of rain.  Repeated rainfall intermixed with cold and wind for seemingly weeks on end works best.  Forlornly look at garden from living room window.

Step Three: Realize June arrived and the garden really needs to be planted.  Realize also that the plastic bag of full of seed packets disappeared.  Wander over to check out the garden and discover the plastic bag laying in the grass near the garden.  (It will be in the exact location where you left it weeks before.)

Step Four: Cautiously peer into bag.  Observe mass of congealed paper seed packets, adhered together in an amorphous mix of paper goo, melting ink, and myriad sprouting seeds of several varieties.  (Hanging head in gardening shame is appropriate at this point.)

Step Five: Haul bag of sprouting seed packets and paper goo to porch.  Set bag on porch with good intentions for something, but you are not sure quite what.  Let bag rest on porch for 1-2 days.

Step Six: Relocate said bag to kitchen window where it is sure to get some “proper attention.”  Allow to mature here for an additional 2-3 days.

Step Seven:  After supper, when the wind picks up and it’s sure to storm again, it’s cold, and it’s nearly bedtime, you have found the optimal time to care for the sprouted seeds.

Step Eight: Sift through sprouted seedlings and shredded packets, separating plant species, more or less.  Dig haphazard holes and rows to plant seeds.

Step Nine:  Allow children to plant seedlings.  What lacks in care will be made up for with zeal and enthusiasm.

Step Ten:  Rest.  Tomorrow is another day, with more plants to kill (oops) I mean grow.

While this technique of sprouting seeds while still in the packet may seem laborious and cumbersome, in actuality, it is quite carefree.  The technique presents several advantages over conventional seed planting:

1.  Easy Open Packets.  How many times have you fumbled with the pesky paper seed packet, trying to open it ever so carefully?  When seeds are allowed to germinate while still in the seed packet, the spouted seeds will actually burst open the packet for you.  Now that’s convenient, very convenient.

2.  Eliminates Gardeners’ Biggest Question: Will it Grow?  With the “sprout in the packet” technique, you know the answer is YES!  You most assuredly chose hardy seed stock.  When left in the rain for a few weeks, seeds can germinate in the seed packet, even while in a plastic bag.  Now carefully peel away the gooey paper, pick up those delicate little seedlings with teeny fragile roots, and plant with confidence! You are growing things already!  Germinating seeds in dirt is so old-fashioned.

3.  Companion Planting is a Breeze.  Master gardeners devote entire books to companion plantings, sharing which plant thrives best when planted near another.  The sprout in the packet technique, however, allows for spontaneous combinations of plant species.  No more stressing over “proper” companion plantings, it’s already been done right there in the bag!  Spinach mixed with radishes will surely be a garden hit.  They’re already growing together in the bag, right?

While “sprouting in the seed packet” is our most innovative gardening technique this year, I can assure you that my children do not rest after that sort of success.

Truly, I could go on and on about innovative gardening methods generated by my children, but I’d hate to brag too much.  I didn’t even tell you about the merits of removing pepper plants from their plastic containers, digging a shallow grave for them in the flower bed, stacking the plants in a pig pile, and then allowing the roots to “sun” for a few days.  The results are nothing short of spectacular.