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