When Life Hands You a Puffball…‏

Written October 7, 2013.

If I look out in the sheep pasture and see something strange on the ground, generally speaking, “maybe we could eat that” isn’t the first thought that comes to mind.

However, there are exceptions to every rule. Last Saturday happened to be one of those exceptions.

Freckles the sheep helps show off the puff ball discovery in the pasture.  (When did sheep and puff balls enter my life?!)

Freckles the sheep helps show off the puff ball discovery in the pasture. (When did sheep and puff balls enter my life?!)

We originally set out for the Great Apple Harvest of 2013. With four long-established apples trees on the back corner of our land, I had happy visions of bags full of apples. I would bake them into all sorts of things that would fill our house with the aroma of fall and make everyone swoon with homey contentment.

As it turned out, the apple harvest was pretty much just that: AN apple. Okay, realistically we maybe found 30. And, they certainly were, um, “organic.” Of the 30 apples, Asian beetles and bees inhabited at least half. I could almost hear the bugs drooling in sheer ecstasy, “Oh…I’m living in a house made of food…nom nom nom….”

A few weeks ago, my husband mentioned it was time to pick the apples. At that point, I really was in denial about fall setting in, and I told him I just wasn’t ready for apple picking. Funny thing, apple picking isn’t really like making a dentist appointment, where you pick the time that works for you, and maybe put it off for a month if things just don’t fit in the schedule.

By the time we moseyed back to pick our apples, we found most of them on the ground, already turning into compost. I had visions of apple sauce, apple butter, apple pies… Compost is all well and good, but nobody comes into a house and says “ooh, is that compost you’re making ?” and if they do, it’s probably not a compliment.

After strike one on the wimpy apple harvest, I thought “Hey, we’ll just add the last of the rhubarb, and make apple rhubarb pie!”

A few weeks ago, we discovered that the rhubarb rejuvenated itself and we had a whole new crop of crisp stalks ready for the picking. When I saw it that day, I just wasn’t ready to tackle a pile of rhubarb, and figured I’d come back another day. (Are you noticing a theme?)

And…strike two, rhubarb. Thank you to the goats and/or sheep who escaped and munched off my last good batch of rhubarb for the season. All we found were a few trampled stalks and some telling raisin-like droppings. Why, goats and sheep, why?

They didn’t even add brown sugar or oatmeal. It couldn’t have tasted good. It’s also apparently slightly toxic for them, according to the internet. I never noticed any animals with ill effects, so they must have all eaten just a little, sharing nicely. Polite sheep and goats. That’s the silver lining.

The other silver lining? Tomatoes! With no killing frost, our tomato plants are troupers. They are out there in the weed patch garden, just making tomatoes like crazy. My husband and a collection of kids picked off the last of the tomato bounty. It is a beautiful sight to behold.

Tomatoes, glorious tomatoes!  Doesn't it look so farm-y with the barn in the background?

Tomatoes, glorious tomatoes! To me it looks like a little slice of country heaven with the barn in the background…

Our best harvest of all, though, happened to be the one thing we had no plans of finding. A day or two ago, looking out across the yard, I thought an ice cream pail must have blown into the sheep’s pasture. On closer inspection, I discovered a volleyball-sized mushroom that I swear just showed up overnight. A puffball!

Way back in the recesses of my mind is a memory of one time coming home from the Fall Festival at St. Aloysius with a giant puffball mushroom that my mom then fried and we ate. It was such an oddity that it stuck in my head.

Heading online once again, I checked various websites to find out about our amazing pasture fungal growth. Turns out, if the inside is creamy white and uniformly smooth with no gills, it is indeed edible.

Oh yes, we are in puffball heaven. We hunted down five puffballs total. That makes four more puffballs than we could ever really consume in a reasonable amount of time.

The Great Puff Ball Harvest of 2013.  Holy puff balls!

The Great Puff Ball Harvest of 2013. Holy puff balls!

And that’s kind of how it is in life. Sometimes, you think it’s apples that you’re going to find, but it’s really puffballs. And puffballs aren’t apples, but they are pretty amazing.

Puffball pie, anyone? Just kidding. We did eat them sauteed with onions in plenty of butter. On top of our Saturday night pot roast they tasted utterly delicious. (That’s just how Martha Stewart would say it.)

And for dessert, we did manage to whip up a fabulous apple rhubarb crumb pie with the last pickings of the season.

Pot roast with wild mushroom and apple rhubarb crumb pie. Not bad for some stuff we found laying in the yard.

A side note:
Completely unrelated to anything about puffballs, on Sunday all of my sisters and I attended Les Miserables at Rochester Civic Theater. Ordinarily, sisters getting together isn’t that big of a deal, but there are six of us, so it does become a big deal. By our best count, it’s been 18 years since we last did anything together with just the six of us sisters together. That makes this newest photo of the six of us all the more special.

The six sisters together: Karen, Deb, Mel, Kathy, Vicki and Sues.  For the record, I also have seven brothers. : )

The six sisters together: Karen, Deb, Mel, Kathy, Vicki and Sues. For the record, I also have seven brothers. : )

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A September Wedding

Written September 23, 2013.

As I write this, my family’s still in that tired-out-yet-happy mode from our main event last weekend: my nephew Mark’s wedding.

Most people my age don’t have a nephew that is old enough to get married, but I am one of the lucky chosen few who comes from a family with a dozen siblings. With a 26-year age spread between the oldest and youngest siblings, we get unique family dynamics because of that age range. For instance, my sister Deb (Mark’s mom) got married exactly one month after I was born. Her son Mark is just a few years younger than me.

 Mark the groom and my son, looking like Mini Mark.

Mark the groom and my son, looking like Mini Mark.

And even more interesting, he’s actually older than my youngest sister. Somewhere, there is probably a photo of my nephew Mark holding his brand new baby aunt. Now that’s a scenario that doesn’t happen every day.

During the summer that Mark was about 12, he stayed overnight at our house about once a week. He played with his uncle Matthew and aunt Victoria like most kids play with cousins. Over and over that summer, Mark, Victoria, and Matthew set up a card table in the living room and played late night Monopoly until the wee hours of the morning.

Fast forward many years, and we all gathered for his wedding. Getting together to celebrate such a happy family event is wonderful.

Here are some highlights in numbers:

1967–The year my mom wore a classic little black dress for her 10-year reunion. My sister Victoria dug it out of the attic about a year ago and tried it on. We decided the dress looked timeless, and Victoria decided she would wear it to Mark and Sheila’s wedding. Forty-six years later, it still looks as classy as ever.

Victoria, decked out in our mom's 1967 class reunion dress.

Victoria, decked out in our mom’s 1967 class reunion dress.

1000–(Or more) photos taken. My little ring bearer son asked, “Mom, when are they going to have enough pictures?” when he’d had enough of standing nicely and smiling.

111–Miles from our home, to the wedding in Kellogg and reception in Wabasha, and back home again. Worth every mile.

65-– Degrees on a beautiful September day of sunshine for the wedding. It was warm enough to stand outside, but nobody sweated to death in a poufy dress or tuxedo. Why does everyone think June is the perfect time to get married? September seems pretty ideal to me.

12–Midnight, when we finally turned into a pumpkin and went home. Even when feet hurt and legs are tired, and it’s hard to want to leave such a fun occasion. Our kids managed to stay up and dance several hours past their usual bedtimes.

6–Year old ring bearer, my son. Normally, I have to beg my first grader to put on a simple polo shirt to go to church. And as soon as church is done, he takes that “fancy shirt” right off. I have to say, it was awfully fun to play dress up with him and see him fully decked out in a tuxedo. He looked quite dashing. With his red hair, he looked like a little mini version of the groom Mark, who had red hair as a kid.

5–Lovely bridesmaids, including my two nieces, Kristina and Nicole.

Sheila and her bridesmaids share a laugh.

Sheila and her bridesmaids share a laugh.

4–hours dancing. Everything from a polka to the Chicken Dance to 80’s rock, the Kramer family maintained a solid presence on the dance floor the entire time. At the end of the evening, my tired two-year-old insisted on being held AND being out on the dance floor. She fell asleep in my arms while I danced to lullaby favorites like ACDC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

DSC_0286

3-Weddings for the ring bearer pillow. My sister Deb used the pillow for her wedding 35 years ago, wih my brother Mike as the ring bearer. Her daughter Nicole used the pillow for her wedding, with my nephew Nathan as the ring bearer. Now her son Mark used the pillow, and my son was the ring bearer.

2-Pint-sized slow dancers. My four-year-old held hands and danced with his three-year-old cousin on several occasions during the night. Two little kids dancing together is precious. It’s just the sort of thing that makes the tantrums and messes all worthwhile.

Two little cousins dancing.

My 4 yr old dancing with his 3 yr old cousin.

1-Happy couple. Wishing you many great years together, Mark and Sheila Manemann!

Pie and Two-Year-Olds: Yes, You Can

Today, I made pie with my two-year-old. Martha Stewart would probably not approve of the non-exact nature of our baking. We stopped mixing crust because my daughter needed to set a cricket trap by the refrigerator.

Smiling at her very first little pie.  Seconds later she poked her finger in the big pie and stacked her little pie on top like a pyramid.

Smiling at her very first little pie. Seconds later she poked her finger in the big pie and stacked her little pie on top like a pyramid.

I have a love/hate relationship with Martha Stewart. My new favorite guilty pleasure is watching Martha Stewart Bakes on PBS in the evening after the kids are in bed and the dishes are (usually) done. I watch with a little bit of reverence and a little bit of disgust.

The woman truly is undeniably talented, and undeniably pretentious. For me, one of the highlights of watching the show is listening for new pretentious names she uses for common objects and ingredients.

Just last night, she used her “pastry cutter” to cut some dough into a circle. Now, I don’t think Martha would appreciate this, but her so-called pastry cutter looks exactly like what average people refer to as a pizza cutter.

I understand that “pizza cutter” conjures up images of some guy with a beer belly throwing a frozen pizza in the oven and watching a little football. And of course, that association is unacceptable when one is doing serious baking. Wanting to be like Martha, the next time I need to cut up a pizza, I’m going to call out from the kitchen in very crisply pronounced words, “Has anyone seen my pastry cutter?”

When I receive confused looks, I will count that as a success. One step closer to Martha.

And in some ways, Martha has even outdone herself. In years past on her cooking shows, I recall her referring to “confectioners’ sugar.” That name, apparently, has become far too commonplace. I notice that she now uses a product called “10X sugar.” Oh, Martha. We all know it’s just plain old powdered sugar.

I just keep waiting for her to find a new name for eggs.

On the positive side, watching Martha does inspire me to bake. My approach, though, is often decidedly un-Martha Stewart, because I welcome kids, and by extension, chaos into the mix.

With fall in the air, I felt the need to bust out the pumpkin pie again. This is a recipe that’s simple enough that you can employ a two-year-old to do much of the work. In fact, I do.

There are few things more satisfying to a child or a parent than letting someone little take part in a real job. When you eat a pie, and the tiniest person at the table says, “I made it,” there really is no greater pride than that.

For pumpkin pie filling, I use my mom’s time-honored recipe. It’s actually quite famous. You will find my mom’s recipe printed on the back of every single can of pumpkin, so I won’t reprint it here.

The recipe I want to share is for pie crust. Crust is the hard part of pies. It’s the part that usually makes people nervous enough to head to the freezer section and buy something in a box that comes from a little dough boy in a baker’s hat.

Homemade crust, though, tastes so much better. This crust is easy. No rolling pin required.

I originally found this recipe on the internet. When 178 people give this recipe give this a recipe a very good rating, I count it as a pretty safe bet.

No Roll Pie Crust

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ice water
1/2 cup oil

Directions: Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Place dough in the pie pan, and press it out evenly with your fingers. Fill with favorite pie filling and bake. Makes one pie crust.

Here’s a measurement of the easiness: About two years ago, when my oldest child was five and the youngest was a baby less than a year old, I made this with my kids AND two of my sister-in-law’s children, ages four and two. That’s right, six kids ages five and under helped make a pie for a bedtime snack. Granted, it was a little chaotic, but it was doable. They all helped pat the crust in place.

Six kids ages five and under helped me bake a pie for a bedtime snack.

Six kids ages five and under helped me bake a pie for a bedtime snack.

Today, I made pie with my two-year-old. Martha Stewart would probably not approve of the non-exact nature of our baking.

We stopped mixing crust because my daughter needed to set a cricket trap by the refrigerator, “I need to catch him. I’ll be very nice to him, Mom.”

She also tested the texture of the crust by wrapping some on her arm. I have not yet seen that technique on cooking shows, but I’m not Martha, so I may be mistaken.

Concentrating on mixing up the pie crust.

Concentrating on mixing up the pie crust.

I let my daughter shape her own pie in a tiny toy pie pan. She added crumbled popcorn and sugar powder from a pixie stick to the crust. I also noticed she added almonds and cashews to the pumpkin filling while I wasn’t looking. I’ve got a real innovator, one with pumpkin pie filling all over her mouth.

We didn’t bother with trying to emulate Martha’s perfectly fluted crust edges. Neat and orderly also went aside with a flour explosion on the table and little fingers dipped in pie filling.

In the end, imperfect crust still tastes good. Germs will bake away at 350 degrees, and happiness and accomplishment from making a pie is long lasting. That’s why I do my baking with a two-year-old.

Grandmas Are My New Laura Ingalls

The obvious hit me…why am I not reading rural pioneer life bedtime stories to my kids about their own great grandmas?

This week as I perched on a step ladder and worked on painting the posts on our porch before the bus pulled up and my little kids woke up from their naps, it hit me. It’s that very same time of year.

Something about the cool temperature, the smell of the air, and the afternoon sunshine all felt very familiar. It felt just like two years ago, when on a September afternoon, we first pulled into this yard that we now live in to check out a house for sale.

This house and that fall weather are always connected in my mind to my grandma, Olivia Siebenaler. When she passed away at age 98, we came to Minnesota from Montana to attend her services. During that same trip, we found what became our new home. I like to think she had a hand in it.

Thinking of my grandma reminded me of how she wrote a book for her family, filled with stories of her childhood and her life raising their 13 children. It’s been ages since I read her stories, and I’d love to sit down and read them again. And more importantly, I want to now read the stories to my own kids.

Olivia and Alex Siebenaler, my maternal grandparents.

Olivia and Alex Siebenaler, my maternal grandparents.

My husband’s grandma Grace also wrote a book of her stories growing up. The two women never met, but I have a feeling they would have enjoyed one another. Both had a simple rural upbringing: My grandma, Olivia Siebenaler, grew up in rural Southeast Minnesota, and my husband’s grandma, Grace Mosdal, grew up in Eastern Montana.

As I think of both women, they share many of the same pioneer character traits as Laura Ingalls Wilder, who is our current bedtime story favorite. I admire both grandmothers immensely.

And then the obvious hit me…why am I not reading rural pioneer life bedtime stories to my kids about their own great grandmas?

So, I have a new plan. Once we finish By the Shores of Silver Lake, we’re going to take a break from the Ingalls family and start reading Grandma Stories.

We’re going to start with Grandma Grace’s stories, since I have that book in my home already. I’m going to head up to the attic and unearth her binder of stories from the moving boxes. Then we’re going to settle in for the winter reading Grandma Grace’s stories at bedtime.

I think it will be an easy fit for my kids that are hooked on stories of pioneer life. Grace McCaskie Mosdal grew up on the prairie of Montana. Her adventuresome spirit, love of life, learning, and story-telling in many ways make her much like a Laura Ingalls in our own family. She had a story or joke to share with nearly any situation that arose.

My husband's grandparents, Grace and Thelmer Mosdal, in their hometown parade in Montana a few years ago.

My husband’s grandparents, Grace and Thelmer Mosdal, in their hometown parade in Montana a few years ago.

As a young lady, Grace spent her very first school teacher paycheck on a .22 rifle. Many years later, when my husband was a kid, she used that same rifle to shoot a bobcat off of a telephone pole near their yard. She dropped it dead with one shot. Did I mention Grace is a tiny woman who barely tops five feet and 100 pounds? Oh yes, and her cinnamon rolls are legendary.

Our kids need to know things like that.

I appreciate those stories more as I understand that time isn’t unlimited and things won’t always be as they currently are. These days Grace has dementia. She no longer has the same spark and ability to engage in lively conversation.

Letter writing also used to be one of her trademarks. She wrote letters and notes for everything. “Thank you for the thank you note”. Everything. Her letters were so commonplace that I didn’t save many of them. My two oldest kids each have a letter or two in their sock drawers from Grandma Grace.

By the time my two younger kids came along, her letter writing ended. My oldest is only seven, so the time span from letters being commonplace to no letters at all happened very quickly.

It makes me all the more thankful that she took the time to write down her stories when she did. She isn’t able to tell her stories any more, but this winter, I’ll read her stories out loud to our kids.

And someday, when the situation arises, my kids will be reminded of a story from one of their grandmas, and they will say, “That’s just like when Grandma…” and the stories of these pioneering ladies will go on, as our own personal Little House on the Prairie stories of our family.

Beware the Purple Footprints

I knew it wasn’t good when the first thing I saw was a purple footprint on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. I followed the purple footprint trail to the bathroom, where I could hear running water…

On the first day of school, I sent a ready and fairly willing first grader and second grader off on the bus. When the bus pulled away, my four-year-old son went peacefully back to watching Sesame Street. Meanwhile, my two-year-old daughter still slept upstairs.

7:15 AM: First day of school, two kids ready for a great new start to the year, heading off to 2nd grade and 1st grade.

7:15 AM: First day of school, two kids ready for a great new start to the year, heading off to 2nd grade and 1st grade.

It was so quiet.

My husband and I had a cup of coffee at the table and grinned at the silence. By the time we finished our coffee, my daughter woke up and wandered downstairs. Once she had something to eat, I headed upstairs to get the shower I’d been meaning to take since 6 AM.

I left my two kids happily watching Elmo and Big Bird, which generally means they are fully engrossed for at least long enough for me to take a shower.

In the shower, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. After a long summer, the new school year felt like a fresh start. It’s been five years since I taught in a school, but every beginning of the school year still gives me that excited feeling of fresh beginnings, learning, and new activity.

Standing in the warm water, I pondered a more peaceful existence and a more organized routine. I thought of fall coming, and cozying up to Friday movie nights and Saturday night pot roasts in the dining room. And feeling a little breathing room, I let my head roam to all of the projects I might get done this fall. In the short time since the bus pulled away, I already felt refreshed and ready to take on the world.

I should have known better.

It seems that my two-year-old had far too many creative juices flowing to just sit and idly watch television.

Soon after I stepped out of the shower, my four-year-old came in, casually telling me that his little sister was painting downstairs. Uh oh. I asked, “What’s she painting?” He shrugged his shoulders and wandered off. I don’t know if he wasn’t sure, or if he was too busy to answer, but either way, it didn’t ease my fears.

Still wrapped in a towel, I headed downstairs to inspect. I knew it wasn’t good when the first thing I saw was a purple footprint on the floor at the bottom of the stairs.

I followed the purple footprint trail to the bathroom, where I could hear running water. In the bathroom, purple hand and footprints covered the toilet and went up across the bathroom counter.

The trail ended with a two-year-old, wearing fleece pajama pants while sitting in a sink. Water filled to the brim and sloshed over the sides as the faucet continued to flood still more water into the sink. My daughter sported a shirtless purple tummy as she diligently scrubbed purple feet with her purple hands.

8:30 AM: Painted toilet. Not exactly what I had in mind for a great start to a new school year.

8:30 AM: Painted toilet. Not exactly what I had in mind for a great start.

This was not quite how I envisioned my peaceful school year.

I cleaned off my artist, the toilet, and sink.

Then heading into the toy room, I discovered her primary “canvas,” our Hoosier cabinet. On the white cabinet door I found an impressive abstract finger painting in purple, pink, and green. It looked like the sort of thing someone young and industrious might accomplish in, oh, the length of time of a shower (once they climbed the cabinet and retrieved the paint from a high shelf).

I also discovered she used some of the “good” paint that doesn’t easily wipe off. Glittery purple paint apparently has an excellent pigment. When wiped with a damp rag, it “fades” to a neon fuchsia pink.

It’s episodes like this that make me think the universe has a little sense of humor. Just when I send two kids off to school and get a feeling like “Ah, life will be easy,” there is my two year-old, stepping up her game with a painting on the cabinet and purple footprints across the floor.

Granted, it could have been worse. It wasn’t ponds of chocolate syrup swirled all over the carpet. It also wasn’t an iron turned on and then left face down on the carpet until the smell of melting carpet fibers filled the house. No, it wasn’t as bad as other episodes I’ve seen with her older brother.

Looking on the bright side, the girl IS ambitious, and what a self-starter. While I showered, she engaged herself in experiential learning, used large motor and fine motor skills, studied the fine arts, and honed her problem solving skills.

Theoretically, that sort of learning activity is a teacher’s dream come true. But on the first day of school, when hopes are high for children’s future achievements, I just wish my daughter had a little less drive and creativity…at least while I’m trying to take a shower.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Written September 3, 2013.

Have you seen those containers of parched, bedraggled flowers baking on the sidewalks outside of stores?  Sometimes I feel a little like that.

At the beginning of summer, the flowers looked bright and fresh, ready for sunshine.  And now, they just look a little shriveled and tired.  I get it.

I don’t want to be dumped into the garbage after the first hard frost, but I am ready for a bit of a change.

Just another peaceful summer day on the porch, leisurely petting the cats.

Just another peaceful summer day on the porch, leisurely petting the cats.

This summer’s been a roller coaster of fun intermixed with losses in our family.  It’s been so much more and so much less than what I anticipated our summer might be.  It was the summer that I wrote thank you notes for memorials for my brother and laid rubber on Grandma’s driveway with the kids’ princess bike on the same day.

Traditionally, people sing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” around Christmas, but right now, I think I’ll sing those words for the big yellow bus pulling into the yard on the first day of school.

First day of school, 2012.

First day of school, 2012.

I’m ready for a little more quiet, a little more routine, and a little less heat.  (Yes, I realize that a school bus will not reduce the outside temperature.)  I’m ready for a little less cooking.  I’m ready for earlier bedtimes for kids.  I’m ready for a little less free ranging and a little more order.

This year, my four-year-old will head to preschool a few mornings a week.  On those mornings, I’ll have my three “big” kids, 7,6 and 4, all climbing on the bus. And that means I’ll only have my two-year-old daughter at home on those mornings.

What is the sound of one child playing?  (Isn’t that how the Zen question goes?)

I really can’t even imagine it.  It sounds really fun to just hang out with my little two-year-old sidekick for a little while.  And it also sounds so lonely.  What will she do when all of her favorite playmates climb on the bus?  She’s never been the only child in the house, ever.  And then as soon as I think of that, I just want to take back saying that I’m so excited for school to start again.

One of my very favorite parts of motherhood is watching the ways in which my kids interact.  I love watching the games they invent together.  All of a sudden, they are building a fort or a pirate ship or playing family.  Then someone’s pulling someone else on a makeshift trailer behind the trike.  Then it’s beauty shop time.  Then they are all kitties.

And then, of course, they fight.  Then they annoy each other, followed by bickering over insignificant things.  They are real, live kids after all.  It’s definitely not all Mary Poppins life around here, but we did have some triumphs and successes in the course of the summer:

-Potty Training #4.  For the first time in seven years, diapers and pull-ups are only worn during sleep.  Hallelujah.

-Growth.  I love seeing how much kids grow in the summertime, except when none of the pants in their dressers fit anymore.  My four-year-old son ate two eggs with cheese and a bowl of oatmeal on some mornings.  I can only imagine what I’ll have to cook when they are all teenagers.

Four cousins on a beautiful night at the fair.  (Always take pictures early on at the fair, while the kids are still smiling.)

Four cousins on a beautiful night at the fair. (Always take pictures early on at the fair, while the kids are still smiling.)

-Bountiful Tomatoes and Zucchini.  The rest of the garden is a big weedy mess.  It’s awful.  We planted a massive garden, and then in the midst of everything, it sat unattended.  Our tomatoes and zucchini are amazing, though.  I’m not really sure what else is in there and still alive at this point.  But hey, we have great tomatoes!  And zucchini!

Garden tomatoes

Garden tomatoes

-Homegrown Chicken in the Freezer.  For a first time project, we had great success raising chickens for meat.  And by next spring, we’ll should have over 50 laying hens making eggs for us.  Wow.  Uh, anyone have any empty egg cartons?

-Family Time.  More than anything, the best thing we did this summer is hang out with our family…a lot.  Bonfires, pool time, days at the Mississippi, a trip to Jellystone, Sunday meals, sleepovers, and impromptu gatherings of all sorts filled many of our summer days. In the midst of hard times, there is safety in numbers.  There is also plenty of laughter.

My sisters, Karen Davis and Sue Kramer, taking the mini golf world by storm this summer.

My sisters, Karen Davis and Sue Kramer, on the Fuchsia and Black Team.  Taking the mini golf world by storm during our vacation at Jellystone.

-Acting in a Movie.  Speaking of laughter, my daughter and I have our “big” movie debut in “Cinderella” is coming up soon!  “Silent Movies in the Park After Dark” is on September 14th and 15th at dusk at the city park in Lanesboro.  Just to refresh your memory, ordinary locals star in these locally produced family-friendly films, and the event has free admission.  Just bring a lawn chair and blanket if it’s chilly.

Happy back-to-school season, everyone!  Thanks for watching out for children as you drive the roads.

Community: Blessed Be the Tie that Binds

Written August 26, 2013.

On the surface, I just bought a few cool drinks at The Fremont Store and watched the Gladiolus Days Parade while my kids loaded up bags with candy.  It was just typical summer stuff.

But The Fremont Store isn’t just any store.  It’s the country store where my grandparents bought groceries when my mom was a little girl, and it still looks almost exactly the same as it did back then.  And the parade wasn’t just any parade, because it’s is my hometown parade.  It’s the parade I watched surrounded by my family on the curb; the parade where my mom and three of her grandkids were actually in the parade itself.

 The Fremont Store: Our stop for a cool drink and a little slice of community history.

The Fremont Store: Our stop for a cool drink and a little slice of community history.

Those two events brought to mind the importance of a connection to community and family, and the phrase “the ties that bind” popped into my head.

Wondering where the phrase “ties that bind” came from, I headed to the internet.  I found John Fawcett, a Baptist pastor in the 1700s, wrote a hymn titled “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.”  According to Wikipedia, he apparently wrote the hymn to commemorate a time in his own life, when instead of moving to take a higher paid position elsewhere, he chose to remain in the community already lived.  Reading the lyrics of the hymn, Fawcett expressed more elegantly than I can some of the thoughts I had in my head.

I’m not going to reprint the whole hymn and make people’s eyes glaze over, but I will give you a snippet.  To me, these lines exemplify what it is to be connected with others in the community:

Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts and our cares.
We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

Even though everyone has their own personalities, agendas, and political leanings, in so many ways we all want the same things.  When things are good, we celebrate one another’s accomplishments, and when times are tough, the burden is shared by many.  That is community.

The Fremont Store 
I saw it in The Fremont Store last Friday.  We really just pulled in to the store on a whim on our way to the Mississippi after after my daughter asked, “Can we stop at that really old store?”  Since we hadn’t been there in a year, I altered my route to make the stop.

I snapped a picture of my kids on the porch front of the little country store, standing in their swimming suits ready for a day at the river.  I told them my mom went to that store as a kid, and the store looks pretty much the same as when their grandma was a girl.  Every time I go there, I can’t believe the store really exists.  It feels like stepping back in time.

I let each of my kids pick out a cool drink from the cooler and then we paid.  If you’ve been to the store, you know that means I pushed the button to open the cash drawer, and made the change myself.

Instead of moving along on our way, we talked for a few minutes to Martha Johnson.  In no time flat, she made the family connection that Barbie Baer, who lives just down the road, is my aunt.

While standing there, my little daughter held up her fingers to show that she is two.  I laughed in disbelief when Martha counted out her own age on her hands.  I guessed 70-something, was impressed that she continued to 80, and then she finally stopped at 97. Wow.

I left the store with a cool drink and such a huge sense of awe about that woman who’s 97, still sharp and telling stories and running a quiet store in the country.  She mentioned in passing, “People today say things are bad.  They don’t know what they’re talking about.”  If anyone can be an authority on knowing about good and bad, I’d say it’s a 97-year-old.   That cool lady made my day.  I need to stop in Fremont more often.

The Parade
On Sunday the whole town of St. Charles looked alive and bustling as we headed into town to see the parade.  Passing the fire station, we saw all the trucks lined up, sparkling clean and shining in the sun and decked out with gladiolus flowers.  For some reason, seeing that sight just flooded me with a sense pride for the town.  Knowing that the fire fighters in St. Charles are all volunteers made the sight all the more impressive.  Trucks look immaculate in the parade, and more importantly, fires are put out, because people take time out of their busy lives to serve the community.

After watching the parade, I have to say the best part of the parade was seeing my mom dressed in character as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother riding on the library float. Yes, I am entirely biased.

My mom, Mary Kramer, waving her magic wand during the Gladiolus Days parade.

My mom, Mary Kramer, waving her magic wand during the Gladiolus Days parade.

First of all, I’ve never seen my mom in a costume before.  Ever.  But just to do something different, when the library held a character costume contest, she decided to dress up.  I headed up to her attic and unearthed my long-unused homecoming attendant crown for the cause.  A great dress find in the clearance rack and some dollar store sparkles and fluff completed her costume.  And lo and behold, my mom the librarian won the “13 and over” category for her costume, thus earning her a place on the library float for the parade.

Prior to this year, the last parade float she rode was in the 1950’s when she was an attendant for Lewiston Heartland Days.  Yes, it’s been a while.  My mom had a huge smile as she waved her magic wand to the parade crowd.  Her favorite parts were all of the people spotting her and saying “Hi, Mary!” as she rode past, and seeing the sheer number of people along the entire parade route.

I also watched two nieces go by with their sports teams, and a nephew pounding the bass drum.  There’s a comfortable familiarity in watching a parade that I marched in when I was in school, and seeing family doing the same.

After the parade my family headed to my mom’s house.  There I noticed her Reader’s Digest magazine folded open to an article that caught my eye.  The article described a study that questioned children’s knowledge of their family history.  In the study, they found children who scored highest in resilency also knew the most facts about their families (such as where the grandparents grew up, or where the mom went to high school).  They suggested that knowing those facts signified a strong connection with family, an inter-generational connectedness that helps children face the onslaught of life’s troubles.  Knowing some history gives them a place in the world.

Reading that article just felt like a confirmation of what I already believed.  The connections of family, and by extension, being connected to a community, give all of us a resilience to handle the trials of life.

Following that line of thought, it’s good to dress up like a fairy godmother and wave to friends in the local parade.  And retelling “remember when Grandma dressed up” during subsequent years of Gladiolus Days will actually help make the grandkids more resillient in life.  There really is magic in that fairy wand…it’s a tie that binds.