Over the Missouri and Across the Plains to Grandmother’s House We Go

At night, I sometimes love South Dakota. The majority of the tacky tourist signs have no lights, so they just fade away. . . .It’s nothing but empty highway surrounded by wide open prairie under a starry black sky. 

Thanksgiving for us means loading up our van and heading 950 miles west to Broadview, Montana. Instead of making the trip in two days, we crank it out in one long blur of a night. We load up the kids, luggage, snacks and coffee, and hop on I-90 west.

The kids get “comfy,” which means arguing about foot placement, head space, blankets, heat, and noise, then laugh giddily, yell in tired frustration, listen to several rounds of “shh….it’s time to go to sleep,” and then finally drifting off one by one to a mediocre at best night of sleep in the van.

And then we drive, and drive, and drive…over the Missouri River and across the plains, to grandmother’s house we go.

It’s a long way from SE Minnesota to SE Montana, but we make this trek at least twice a year to see family. Our trek used to start in Montana and end in Minnesota, and for the last year and a half since moving into our new home, we’ve swapped starting points.

As exhausting as it is to make an over-the-road trucker trek with four kids in tow, there is also something exciting about it all. Our home is now in Minnesota, but heading to Montana feels like heading home. After living there for about 12 years, I just get excited when we start heading west. I love the change of scenery, wide open spaces, and the fresh perspective that comes from time hitting the road.

Granted, sometimes that excitement is pretty covered over in exhaustion of packing up a family of six to be gone for a week.

It’s a never ending packing list, combined with four anxious kids that keep asking “Why can’t we just leave NOW?!”, completely oblivious to the fact that we can’t just let the supper dishes and milk sit out on the table for a week or so until we get back.

And by the time we pull in to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Montana, we’re mostly just a shell of our usual selves: fried, edgy, tired.

In the midst of the all-night road trip, though, there is a period of “golden hours” that I really do love.

The golden hours are when we hit South Dakota. Now, if you’ve ever driven across South Dakota, you’d probably agree with me that it’s generally not a state to be excited about. On I-90, it’s a 400-mile stretch of grass land at varying elevations, interrupted with an excessive amount of road signs suggesting you visit a reptile garden, or a pioneer something or other, or a drug store-turned tourist attraction.

At night, though, I sometimes love South Dakota. The majority of the tacky tourist signs have no lights, so they just fade away. It’s nothing but a long stretch of mostly straight highway. At 2 AM, the traffic is almost non-existent. Driving along at the 75 mph speed limit, I sometimes go six minutes before I see a car on either side of the highway. And while the kids and my husband sleep, it’s nothing but empty highway surrounded by wide open prairie under a starry black sky. It’s so peaceful.

That’s when I love South Dakota. It’s when I think I’d be quite content to have a house plunked out in the middle of all that nothingness, where as far as you look, you can’t see a single light but your own headlights.

South Dakota at 2 AM is my thinking time. Driving along at night is one of the few times that I am completely alone with my thoughts. Nobody else is there (awake, anyway), and there are no other distractions to fill my head.

Almost invariably, it makes me think of the very first time I headed west to go to college. Just barely 20, I loaded up my Buick that I bought from money earned working the night shifts over several summers at Lakeside Foods. I drove alone to Bozeman, Montana to start my junior year of college.

When the Buick and I arrived safe and sound in Bozeman, I didn’t know a single person in the state of Montana.

It’s amazing to me to ponder how that trip out west for college started a whole sequence of events that lead me to the point of today. College, marriage, and four kids later, we now make treks to Montana as a family of six.

As I drive along, my head sorts through six months of life since our last trip. If I had some sort of device to convert mental thoughts to words on a computer, I’d have about six weeks of articles all completed. As it is though, by the time the night ends, my mind is fried and I can’t remember all the thoughts I had in my head.

Maybe my mind is slightly fried because we’ve had five cases of strep throat at our house in the last ten days.

The bad news: five of us had strep throat in the last ten days, just before a big road trip.  The good news: my daughter has great imagination and coordination to arrange empty medicine syringes to look like rockets, telling me "One, two, three...blast off!"

The bad news: five of us had strep throat in the last ten days, just before a big road trip. The good news: my daughter has great imagination and coordination to arrange empty medicine syringes to look like rockets, telling me “One, two, three…blast off!”

In the time before I get too tired and switch off driving with my husband, I’m thankful for the fullness of my life. I can’t say I’m thankful for strep throat, but I’m grateful that the sickness in my house is an easy fix with basic antibiotics.

And on this nearly thousand mile road trip, I’m thankful for clear roads, no deer on the highway, and most of all, the families that continually give us a wonderful reason to make road trips back and forth to Montana and Minnesota. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

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My Friday Night Happy Hour: Pizza, Popcorn and a Pig Pile

Of all the routines in my life, one of the most important to me is Friday night. That is my Happy Hour, although it involves no bar.

Happy Hour for me is Movie Night: pizza, popcorn, and a pig pile of kids on the couch.

We started Movie Night a year ago. I think it all began with sheer exhaustion. Without fail, every single week I am completely wiped out by Friday night. All I want to do is just sit on the couch and zone out. I don’t want to make a fancy meal, I don’t want to have a discussion about table manners, none of it. I just want to sit and not feel obligated to do anything.

All I want is to just throw a pizza in the oven and watch a movie…

Hey, why don’t we don’t that…

So, out of that weekly exhaustion was born one of the routines that our whole family looks forward to the most: Movie Night. Turns out, at the end of a week, we ALL just want to sit and hang out and do nothing.

My four-year-old has a calendar with simple labels so he can keep track of days. School days are marked with “S” and on Fridays, I drew a little picture of our television to show Movie Night. Every time he sees that day, he cheers. Our two-year-old reacts the same way: she says “Movie night!” in the same excited and relieved way that she says “You’re home!” when someone returns.

We all need a mental break, snuggle time on the couch, and easy food. It’s the one meal a week that we don’t eat at the table. We make popcorn and pizza and head to the living room.

Three kids in a flurry of gobbling olives and making pizza creations.

Three kids in a flurry of gobbling olives and making pizza creations. (Groceries still not put away from the afternoon trip to the store.)

Pressing out the dough

Relaxing on movie night is special enough that my kids often dart upstairs to put on their “movie night pants:” soft, fuzzy pajama pants that feel so comfy after a long week. Then we turn on a movie. Sometimes, we just pick something from Netflix that is family friendly (keeps the kids entertained, but doesn’t drive Jarred and me crazy with boredom).

My favorite nights are the times when I find a classic, something we watched as kids. It’s so much fun to share E.T., The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and The Andy Griffith Show with our kids. I love watching something familiar, but seeing it with new eyes from an adult perspective while at the same time, getting the joy of watching our kids see it for the first time.

Just last week, we watched Swiss Family Robinson. Growing up, that movie was a family staple. We watched it over and over and over. We quoted lines. Seeing it again after about a 20 year gap, I see lots of flaws in the storyline. But through the eyes of my kids, I can suspend disbelief. Of course it is perfectly reasonable (and totally fabulous) for a little boy to snare a wild baby elephant and make it a tame pet in the next scene. Why couldn’t a clever family fight off a band of pirates?

Watching the opening scene at the kids' picnic table as the pizza bakes.

Watching the opening scene and munching popcorn at the kids’ table as the pizza bakes.

And best of all, my kids completely cracked up at my very favorite part. During the pirate attack, the lead pirate picks up a coconut bomb, and examining it, says something that sounds like “coconut” in another language, “Doydoynut?”. Then, dismissing it as nothing “Eh…” he tosses it behind him, where it explodes right in front of another bad guy pirate, who gets blasted back. In true Disney style, there is no blood shed, just comedy.

My seven-year-old read Swiss Family Robinson and then watched the movie last year at school, so she prepped her siblings ahead of time to watch for the “doydoynut” part. My two-year-old excitedly acted out the coconut scene and giggled. She told us that was her favorite part, which is impressive, since she hadn’t even seen the movie yet when she announced that.

So last Friday, when we got to the coconut scene, we backed up the movie three or four times to fully appreciate the “doydoynut” and laugh hysterically.

And that’s why I love movie night.

My kids sit in a big pig pile all over us on the couch. They fight over who gets Mom’s lap (a precious commodity). We hang out for two hours, and have no agenda other than just to be together. I sit and hug them and feel their cozy, warm smallness. My six-year-old who often tells me “I just can’t ever get enough of your hugs” fills up his hug bank on the couch.

Movie night...picture Mom wedged into that little open spot on the couch.

Movie night…picture Mom wedged into that little open spot on the couch.

And while we sit, the kitchen full of dishes just sits and waits, and so does the big pile of laundry upstairs.

Downstairs on the couch, I get to snuggle with my kids and teach them a few inside jokes from my childhood. So now I can say “A doydoynut? Eh…” and make them crack up, just the way I did with my siblings growing up.

I think that’s important. Sometime, I’m going to be a very old lady in the nursing home making a joke about a “doydoynut” and cracking myself up. And that’s when I’ll need my kids to step in and tell the nurses that I’m not crazy. Or maybe they’ll say that I’ve always been that crazy. That would be fine, too.

Movie Night Pizza Crust
On movie nights we started out just throwing frozen pizza in the oven, but one night I decided to make pizza from scratch.

We discovered, like many things, homemade tastes better. I don’t know if I’m clever for making my own pizzas or an idiot for turning the one brain-dead cooking night into a cooking event, but we now make our own pizza. I mix up dough in the Kitchenaid mixer, and then each kid gets a dough ball and creates their own personal pizza while I make the big pizza.

Sometimes, you need a big brother to help flatten out your dough.

Sometimes, you need a big brother to help flatten out your dough.

It turns the table into a pizza topping mess and health code inspectors would arrest me for how often the spoon gets licked and then returned to the sauce bowl, but it’s really fun. It makes more work for me, but I love that my two-year-old can make her own pizza. I also noticed that when they make their own pizzas, they almost always clean their plates when eating.

The pizza crust is a make and bake recipe…no rising involved (no planning ahead needed). Once you’ve had a little practice, you can start completely from scratch and have a hot, baked pizza in about 35 minutes, which is not all that much longer than it takes to cook a frozen pizza. If you have lots of little helpers adding their own unique flair to the cooking process, it will take slightly longer.

This recipe makes enough dough for one thick-crust recipe, or one thin crust recipe plus four mini pizzas.

No-Rise Pizza Crust

1 cup hot water
1 pkg. yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil
corn meal

1. Add yeast and sugar to hot water, stir, and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, mix flour and salt. Add in the yeast mixture, which should be bubbly. Add oil. Mix well.

3. Mix with dough hook attachment on mixer or knead by hand for 5 minutes until dough is soft and pliable. (You can skip this part, but your crust won’t be as tender.  Five minutes of kneading is the secret to making dough that’s so soft and nice that you just want to roll in it.  We discovered this by accident when I left the mixer on and walked away, and it made the best crust ever.)

4. Sprinkle pizza pan lightly with corn meal to prevent sticking. (Do not skip that, you’ll regret it.) Roll out dough and add desired pizza toppings.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Makes one pizza.

I like to use 1 cup of whole wheat flour with 2 cups all-purpose flour to give the dough a little more heft. I also often make Cheese-Stuffed Crust: Roll out the dough a good inch past the edge of the pan, sprinkle mozzarella around the perimeter, fold over the dough and seal it in. It makes a cheesy bread stick at the end of your piece of pizza…mmm…

Now, go forth and make pizza! Have a movie night!

Of Sheep, A Dog, and Monday Morning‏

It’s a cold, windy, drizzly November morning. This is the sort of weather that really just makes me want to trade lives with Spot the dog.

My day began slightly before 5 AM, when my two-year-old woke up for the day. Her own internal clock, still stuck on daylight savings time, tells her it is 6 AM and time to be awake. Fifteen minutes later, her four-year-old brother with the same internal schedule also woke up for the day.

I also struggle with the time conversion. My trouble is that my internal clock is set to the Hawaiian time zone. At 6 AM, my internal clock says, “No, this is about 2 AM. You really should sleep for another four hours.” And then every day I wake up and find myself somewhere far from white sandy beaches, and four hours lacking in sleep.

I’m still waiting for that extra hour of sleep that we’re supposed to get from the clock conversion of “falling back.”

So today, I considered it a great triumph to get out of bed and get three kids ready for the school bus on time. Three kids dressed in clean clothes, combed their hair, ate a good breakfast, and left the house wearing shoes, warm coats, and backpacks. I strove to maintain the delicate balance of directing them to the tasks at hand “Honey, it’s breakfast time” without overly stressing them about the time crunch “AND THE BUS IS COMING!”.

At 7:30, after three rounds of hugs and “I love yous,” the bus pulled in the yard and they went off to school.

At times, I’ve seriously considered home schooling my kids. There are days like today, though, when the school bus in the yard is a colossal relief. I am truly thankful for an established public education system. In some ways, it’s amazing to me. I simply make sure my big kids are dressed and fed, and a bus pulls up and safely brings them to and from school. All day long, they learn, and I am grateful that it I don’t have to do it all.

Those thoughts were in my tired head this morning as I stood at the door and watched the bus pull out of the yard.

Then I glanced over at the couch and saw Spot, and I have to say, I instantly felt envious. Stretched out on a soft leather couch, he had just come downstairs after his peaceful night of sleep. He decided to start the day off with a nap.

Another day, another nap to take.

Another day, another nap to take.

He glanced up at me with a decidedly guilty look on his face. The look said, “Yes, I am a total free loader. But could I just stay here on the couch anyway?”

I want Spot’s winter job.

In the summer, he stays fairly busy. He lives outside, chases the UPS man, pees on tires, rolls in sheep poop, and acts as our security alarm by barking at every vehicle that pulls in the driveway. That job doesn’t really appeal to me.

I would however, like his winter job. Spot moves back in the house, and he goes on the dole. Other than outside bathroom breaks, he spends his days lounging for hours on end. He sleeps on the couch. He sleeps tucked away in the secret hiding place under the table in the sun room. Sometimes, he mixes things up and sleeps on a pillow that fell on the floor. If Spot and I could just trade jobs for one day, I’d be so happy.

While Spot the dog lives like a king (an inbred mutt king, I suppose), we model our sheep after the White House.

Apparently, during World War I, Woodrow Wilson kept 18 sheep on the White House lawn. The sheep saved man power by trimming the grass, and even earned money through the sale of wool.

At our house, we didn’t get around to mowing our kids’ fenced in play area that one last time for the winter. Looking at sheep that still wanted to graze but didn’t have much fresh grass, we added the kids’ play area to the sheep pasture for the time being. The sheep trim down the grass by the tree swing and play set, and hopefully, by spring, all the free fertilizer will be worked into the ground.

It’s very presidential of us.

It’s also pretty amusing. There’s something very entertaining about looking out the kitchen window and seeing sheep graze just a few feet away, plucking up grass by the washline or tree swings. Every time, for a split second I think “Oh no, the sheep are out!”

Sheep grazing by the swings and playset...a sight I never would have predicted two years ago.

Sheep grazing by the swings and playset…a sight I never would have predicted two years ago.

And then of course, my mind wanders to the sheep I see in cartoons. In my head, I picture the sheep sneaking up on the trampoline when nobody is watching, four skinny legs and fat woolly bodies bouncing up in the air. I picture a sheep snickering as she shoves her buddy down the slide, four legs sticking straight up in the air with a woolly back going down the yellow slide. Someday, maybe I’ll catch them in the act.

So, that’s life on a Monday morning. My oldest kids headed off to school, the sheep are doing who knows what at the playground, and the dog is gearing up for a full day of napping. I’m pondering a cup of coffee, but from the bathroom, I can hear my two-year-old asking for help with toilet paper. And so, my week begins.

Shared this story on The Prairie Homestead.

Trick or Treating with the Pig Farmer‏

Childhood Halloweens are pretty well etched into my memory, but the one that stands out in my mind is the year that my brother Mike dressed as a pig farmer and took us trick or treating. That was the infamous year of the Skeletor and Cactus Incident.

Normally, Mom drove us on a long winding loop “around the block,” about ten miles looping around to our neighbors out in the country. We spent most of the time in the car and made less stops in our night of trick or treating than kids living in town, but most neighbors loaded us with a treat bag, so we always hauled home heavy bags of candy by the end of the night. Just the same, every year we wondered if maybe kids in town were collecting more than us, and every year, Mom assured us that they indeed were not.

That particular year, I remember standing in the kitchen ready to go, probably waiting for Mom who was trying to get a few more things done. I’m guessing I was decked out in some combination of a costume and a winter coat, like most Minnesotan kids trick or treating.

Just off of the kitchen was our utility room, where everyone came in and out when doing chores. While I was impatiently waiting to go trick or treating, my brother Mike came in from doing chores in the hog barn. I think he was about a junior in high school at the time.

I don’t remember the particular conversation between Mike and Mom, but looking back, I’m guessing I was impatiently waiting in the kitchen to go trick or treating, and Mom had baby Victoria and about ten kids at home and a million things on her plate and didn’t know how to make it all happen. Mike offered to take us younger kids trick or treating.

I’m sure Mom was relieved, but to me, this immediately was a problem.

Mom ALWAYS took us trick or treating. How could Mike possibly do it the exact same right way that Mom did it? And what was his costume? Halloween only came once a year, this had to be done right.

Mike smiled and told me, “I’m going to be a pig farmer!”

He definitely looked every bit like a pig farmer. Mike, fresh from the hog barn, still had coveralls on and his olive green chore boots, commonly known as “shoot kickers,” well, something close to “shoot,” anyway. To keep warm, he might have thrown on top a green Pioneer Seed Corn hooded sweatshirt, full of holes and covered in grease.

Then he reached up above the cereal cupboard to the cabinet where we kept the garbage bags. He pulled out a gigantic black garbage sack, and said he was all ready to go and fill it up.

That’s when I began to protest. I was young, but old enough to know something embarrassing when I saw it.

“Oh no, Mike, you can’t wear that. It’s not a REAL costume. And you can’t take a garbage bag. That’s not a real trick or treating bag.” Halloween has to have a certain mystique, and that wasn’t what I had in mind.

Acceptable costumes came from our big cardboard box in the attic of musty-smelling costumes. Like the Gene Simmons Kiss mask that repeatedly tormented grandkids in later years (sorry, Jason). Or the homemade Indian costume made from a sheet. Or the stained ghost costume made from some other sheet. Or maybe one of Mom’s rumpled wigs from the era when wigs were the thing for a while.

Even one of those creepy masks that was supposed to look like a little kid or the disturbing red-nosed clown would be ok. Also acceptable was a vinyl store bought costume from Henry’s Variety, like my awesome Tweety Bird costume in kindergarten.

Now, those were REAL costumes. That’s how it was supposed to work.

My protests were fruitless. Mike knew he was a farmer, and that was that. Off we went, three young kids and our pig farmer big brother, off for a night of trick or treating in Mom’s Bonneville. In hindsight, my embarrassment about Mike’s chore clothes “costume” seems pretty pointless, considering almost every stop was at a neighboring farm.

Our first stop without exception was Grandma’s house, right next door. Grandma Kramer always had a beautiful yellow banana ready for every trick or treater that stopped by. Unfortunately, Grandma’s bananas often looked a little worse for the wear after getting banged around, scrunched, smushed during the night of trick or treating.

After Grandma’s, we made our way around the neighborhood. Mike stopped at all of our usual stops, and added in a few extras, too. Mike was a talker, and he was more than happy to spend an evening making little social calls at all the neighbors in the name of taking younger siblings trick or treating.

I remember being impressed by how easily he talked to everyone. As I kid I felt shy every time the door opened and I had to talk to a someone that I only saw a few times a year, but Mike loved every minute. Our routine that night became saying “trick or treat,” collecting candy, saying “thank you,” and then waiting, and waiting just a little bit more while Mike talked to the neighbors.

At Jerry and Mary Connelly’s house, we stopped in and collected our candy, said thanks, and then stood around and waited while Mike talked and talked. Which brings me, then, to the Skeletor and Cactus Incident.

That was the era when He-Man and Masters of the Universe were very cool, so my younger brother, Matthew, was dressed up as Skeletor, He Man’s evil nemesis. That Skeletor costume was one of those vinyl ones, the kind that made loud noises when you moved and often ripped by the end of the night.

This is just what the costume looked like.  Thank you, internet.

This is just what the costume looked like. Thank you, internet.

Matthew was maybe just four or five at the time, but he faithfully wore the cheap yellow Skeletor mask for hours. You can imagine the type of mask, it’s the kind that they now recommend you avoid because it impairs your vision.

Well, little Skeletor, standing there at Connellys and waiting quietly while Mike talked, shuffled and stumbled backwards, and landed right in Mary Connelly’s cactus plant collection. Real live fully intact cacti. Feeling shy and embarassed, he got up quickly and didn’t say a word about it, and probably worried that he wrecked one of the plants. And then we all waited a little longer while Mike talked a little more to our neighbors.

When we got back into Mom’s car and started to head back out onto the gravel road, Matthew finally shared his predicament: the poor kid had cactus spines stuck in his back side. He had stoically stood there the whole time, and never said a word about it.

I clearly remember sitting in the dark night on the gravel road with just the dome light of the Bonneville for light. With a cumbersome shuffling of costumes and candy bags and coats, Mike laid Matthew across his lap and opened up the Skeletor costume. He then plucked the cactus spines out of Matthew’s poor little “biscuits,” as Mike called them. I felt so bad for Matthew. Cactus spines are tricky things, tiny and hard to see in low light, so it took a bit of doing for Mike to make Skeletor ready for more trick or treating again.

Imagine a costume just like this, with a few cactus spines added in the back.

Imagine a costume just like this, with a few cactus spines added in the back.

Cactus free, we rounded out the night. Just before heading up the hill back to our house, we made a stop at our aunt and uncle’s house, where Donna always had the cutest little paper Halloween bags ready for us, and always made us feel special. The last stop of the Halloween night was always Elsadie Hansgen, then we headed home.

I’m sure we ran into the house and gave Mom the full report of the highlights of the evening, while dumping out our candy into cake pans so we could see it better and sort through it all. Then came a little giddy gorging followed by hiding the cake pans of candy in our bedrooms so nobody else would steal the precious loot.

All in all, it was a fine Halloween.

Lessons learned? Never under estimate the pain tolerance of a little boy dressed as an action figure. And sometimes, the real super heroes come dressed in s*** kickers.

No photo exists of my long ago Halloween night with a pig farmer and Skeletor, so you have to use your imagination.  As a substitute, here are my kids this year: Iron Man, a Witch, Elmo and a Skeleton, Spot the dog as himself.

No photo exists of my long ago Halloween night with a pig farmer and Skeletor, so you have to use your imagination. As a substitute, here are my kids this year: Iron Man, a Witch, Elmo and a Skeleton, Spot the dog as himself.

Back 40 Adventures

I do believe that to grow up properly, every kid needs to spend a little time on exploring adventures. My favorite playground growing up was our “Back 40:” about 240 acres or so of cropland, CRP, woods, rolling hills, ponds, and ravines on our farm.

Around 5th grade, my Saturday afternoon jobs were to vacuum the den and haul everyone’s clean clothes from the utility room up to the bedrooms upstairs. I particularly hated vacuuming the den. Usually, I made it an all day affair stalling to avoid the 15 minutes of vacuuming, and often enough, everyone tripped over the vacuum for a week because I never actually vacuumed.

My biggest motivation, though, to complete the torture of vacuuming for 15 whole minutes was going out exploring afterward. Once I had my afternoon jobs done, I was free to head outside.

I’d grab my jacket, and head upstairs to get my special survival gear fanny pack off the hook in my closet. My “survival pack” was a bright red fanny pack with the Kool Aid man on the front. I’d ordered it after carefully saving Kool Aid Points from the back of every drink packet all summer long.

Inside I had all the survival essentials: matches that I’d waterproofed in melted wax, a short candle, an emergency poncho, a jack knife from my brother, a lighter, fingernail clippers, a candy bar, a space blanket and even a toilet paper packet from an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) that came from one of my siblings in the military.

I’d tell my mom I was headed out exploring and promise to be back by supper. Then I’d call Sparky or Bandit or Buck to come along, and the dogs and I headed out on a walkabout to the back of the farm.

I’d round the corner at the silos, go past the yellow shed and hog unit, and past the windbreak. When I climbed over the gate, leaving the farm yard and entering the open fields, that marked the official start of exploring, just a girl and her dogs.

After a few trips, the dogs knew the routine, and eagerly took off ahead of me down the field lane, zig-zagging back and forth, following any scent trails that crossed their paths and marking their territory with a seemingly endless well of “marking spray.” I walked down the dirt path of the field lane and passed the corn, soybeans, and hay, and usually headed out toward the pond.

On the way to the pond I’d usually avoid the big stand of pine trees that my family planted before I was born. I was fairly sure someone would be hiding behind one of those trees. In hindsight, the possibility of a “bad guy” randomly waiting behind a pine tree on the back of our farm, ten miles from town seems awfully remote, but at the time they seemed dark and scary.

When I reached the pond, I’d throw a few rocks in, watch the splashes, and let the dogs walk in the mud and get a drink.

Most of the time, I’d then head to the woods. On the back end of the farm, past the pond, we had rolling tree-covered hills which connect to the Whitewater Valley. I’d crawl on my belly to get under the barbed wire fence, and then follow along animal trails.

I’d walk along logs, climb up steep hills, and make my way through thick underbrush. I’d flip over rocks to check out the bugs and dig in mud with sticks. I’d collect little treasures and sometimes find secret hideouts. I’d imagine where I would sleep if I was stranded out there all night, and what I would do to survive.

Periodically, when I hadn’t seen the dogs in a while, I’d whistle and call them back. They’d circle back within sight to check in, and head off again on their adventures. As long as I had the dogs along and my survival pack, I knew I was safe.

Once I plucked a little white daisy-like flower with a yellow center, and had a sick feeling in my stomach seeing that it began to “bleed” after I picked it. Slightly afraid I’d done something bad, I told Mom about it later, and learned first hand about the blood root flower.

Another time, I brought home a dried out weed with a large swollen round bulge near the top. That’s when my brother, Greg, taught me about wax worms. I believe we later smashed open the bulge on the weed to check out the wormy contents inside.

Mostly, I just wandered…because I could. That was the era when I loved books about dogs and the outdoors, and read through everything I could get my hands on by Jim Kjelgaard, the author of Big Red. In elementary school, I spent a lot of time doing what other people wanted. Out exploring, though, I had independence. I could wander anywhere I wanted as long as I stayed on our land.

I loved the smell of wet dirt and damp fall air. I liked the sound of the wind rustling through the trees. I crunched on crispy old leaves and felt the soft squish of thick piles of pine needles on the ground. I loved the thrill of being off alone on an adventure, relying on myself to remember my paths and get back home again before suppertime.

Pine cones, bark, and little branches: the latest treasures collected from my own kids' exploring adventures.

Pine cones, bark, and little branches: the latest treasures collected from my own kids’ exploring adventures.

I was always struck by the world apart from our house. Inside our house was all the business and busyness of life, projects, things to do, TV, noise, people. Outside exploring, the world was nothing but wide open fields, woods, and quiet.

As a kid, my Saturday afternoon exploring was the favorite part of my week, and I couldn’t imagine what kids did in town when they didn’t have their own farm to explore. When looking at my watch told me I needed to head back in time for supper at six, I always felt a little sad that my exploring was done for the week.

I think that little explorer in me is partly what lead me to head to Bozeman, Montana for college, to Seville, Spain to study abroad, and to still have a need for new adventures. The explorer in me is also what sent my kids outside today to go play in what I jokingly call our “Back Four,” the windbreak of tall pine trees on the east side of our land. I’m fairly certain that trees, dirt, and burdocks are essentials for learning.

Westward the Chickens: The Great Roundup, A (Mid)Western

Folks, turn on your deep, gravelly Sam Elliot cowboy voice as you read this today. Go ahead and put in your dip o’ chew. Things are gettin’ a little mid-western ’round these parts. This here ain’t no Louis L’Amour, but it is a bona fide true story.

Winter was a comin’ on the midwestern horizon. As she stood on the front porch sipping her morning coffee, she gazed out upon the land. Miss Kathy felt the chill in the wind and knew the nip of winter was in the air. The steely gray skies on cloudy days had the suggestion that winter indeed was a comin’. Miss Kathy gazed out on the corn stubble horizon, and off in the distance, thought of the herd.

Chicken herd, that is. Well, maybe it weren’t even a herd anymore. Heat of summer and a few careless young hands led to a few losses, but the plucky chickens that survived were a fine lookin’ bunch.

One of the chicken herd surveying her new surroundings from the fence.

One of the chicken herd surveying her new surroundings from the fence.

All summer long, the herd grazed contentedly in the eastern pasture, growing long and lean in the summer sun, spending nights up in the high country of the rafters of the breezy chicken house. But with winter approaching, Miss Kathy knew it would soon be time to make the drive, moving the herd to the wintering grounds of the snug barn by the house.

If left too long in their summer paddock, the trail approaching the chickens would become nearly impassable as the winter snow drifts blew in. The hired help was only waist high, the oldest wasn’t but six years old, and it wouldn’t take much of a snow to make it too difficult fer them to break a trail to water the chicken herd. Why, it wasn’t even a quarter mile to the summer chicken house, but that would be just far enough to leave chickens forgotten on stormy winter days.

And they couldn’t have that. They were depending on those chickens. Well, maybe they weren’t depending on them chickens, but the family was mighty hopeful. Why, some day, one of those hens just might lay an egg.

Preparations were made in the barn for the chicken herd. The little ones scattered in a snug layer of straw, and the trail boss rigged up a brand new window, feeling right proud to make something with his own two hands.

On the day of the roundup, the greenhorns filled their bellies with buttermilk pancakes and sippy cups of milk. The trail boss brewed coffee, preparin’ for the day ahead. When the last pancake was squashed into the floor and the baby had a dry diaper, it was time to head out. Well, maybe not. Turns out, the young crew all wanted to watch Saturday cartoons before gearing up to work.

It seemed to be a simple task. After all, this crew lived in Montana cowboy country for years, where they’d repeatedly seen pictures of John Wayne on display. They’d also watched City Slickers several times, causing Miss Kathy to become an eternal devotee to Jack Palance, the old cowboy. Yes, they reckoned they knew all they needed to know about chicken roundups, but as every chicken rancher knows, sometimes it is the simple tasks that wreak the most havoc on a soul.

They set out on foot, having no horses to ride and knowing horses would just squarsh the chickens, anyway. The roundup began just after high noon, starting off with several minutes of little greenhorns circling around the feathered herd. Plenty of squawking ensued. No surprise, the herd had no interest in being handled. Why, you might say they acted like a bunch of chickens. Indeed, they were.

The trail boss caught one of the plucky ladies, and a few minutes later, wrangled a second bird. The last few, however, proved to be mighty cantankerous. The chicken ranchers backed off, leaving the herd to cool down a bit. Those stragglers retreated to the high country up in the chicken house rafters, and with no fight in them, they were easily caught. Soon after, the entire chicken herd flocked together in their new winter barn.

All in all, it wasn’t a terribly long move, just a couple hundred feet west. Unknowing observers might have said, “Aw, how cute, a kid carrying a chicken across the yard,” not realizing that in fact, The Big Chicken Roundup of ’12 was in progress. Yes sir, that roundup took a solid fifteen minutes, maybe even twenty after helping the ranch crew put on shoes.

Reaching out her fingers fixin' to touch a chicken.

Reaching out her fingers fixin’ to touch a chicken.

With a successful chicken roundup completed, the green horns celebrated with trick riding on their bikes and a little tree climbing on Maple the Maple.

Mighty happy to hold a fluffy kitten after watering chickens.

Mighty happy to hold a fluffy kitten after watering chickens.

That evening, as the sun sank in the west, the family headed out to the barn. Inside, four lively kittens scampered in the hay bales, chickens pecked at the sunflowers left over from the garden, and four half-pint kids ran circles around all of it. Just six months before, when they moved into the place, that building sat cold and empty. And now on that chilly fall night, the lights glowed warmly, and the barn teemed with a fullness of life that made the trail boss and Miss Kathy feel right content with living in the country.

This post linked to The Prairie Homestead’s Homestead Barn Hop #141.

Happiness Is…

Written October 14, 2013.

Some days, my cup is half empty. All I see are messes, everything grates on my nerves, and I just wish it was bedtime.

It’s those times when I wistfully remember the simplicity of life before kids and daydream about that far off future when we have the freedom of being empty nesters, of days when kids aren’t constantly pulling on my arm yelling “Mom!”.

But the truth is, happiness isn’t when a long off “finally” day arrives. Happiness doesn’t come when everything is finally perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist.

Happiness is the million little things that happen every single day. This is happiness for me, last Sunday:

Happiness is…

-Waking up to a window view of sun shining on orange leaves fluttering in the wind.

-Happiness is kids that dress themselves without being asked a second time.

-A hug and an “I love you, Mom” after helping my four-year-old with his shoes.

-Getting ready to yell at him for messing around on the way out the door, but stopping in my tracks when he says, “I’m looking for my little Bible book.”

-Happiness is hearing your two-year-old chatting on and on with the ladies at church about her sparkly red shoes and plans to be Elmo for Halloween.

-Happiness is starving after a long morning at church, and heading to Grandma’s house where brunch is all ready and waiting when we arrive.

-Happiness is bacon.

-Happiness is a warm cup of tea and a few handfuls peanut M&Ms.

-Happiness is laying down on a soft bed with a tired toddler who needs a nap. Happiness is taking a Sunday nap of my own, too.

-Happiness is a little boy who rediscovered his special collection of linked key chains that had been lost at grandma’s for a week.

-Happiness is when he figures out how to hook a key chain to his belt loop, and repeatedly tells me the rest of the day, “Look, Mom, I haven’t lost my chains because I hooked it on!”

-Happiness is getting out of the house for a walk to the city park with my family.

-Happiness is my little boy pedaling his trike through dry leaves on the way.

Happiness is riding your tricycle through the crunchy dried leaves.

Happiness is riding your tricycle through the crunchy dried leaves.

-Happiness is the sound of crunching leaves that remind me of Coach Arnold and the cross country season back in high school.

-Happiness running into a group of boys at the park that seemed like they came right out of Mayberry: holding nets and pails, wading in the creek to catch crayfish.

-Happiness is hearing the boys describe how they will use the crayfish as bait for trapping season later on.

-Happiness is seeing kids that know how to play outside in a creek.

-Happiness is remembering catching a crayfish as a kid with my brother Mike down at Black Bill’s cabin on the North Branch of the Whitewater River.

-Happiness is hearing about childhood crayfish boils from my Tennessee-born sister-in-law.

And, happiness is…

-Cousins making a train while sliding down the slide.

-Two six-year-old cousins making a secret world under the lilac bush at the park.

-A two-year-old yelling “Hi!” under the highway bridge walking home from the park, and then saying “it echoes.”

-An afternoon of blue sky, sunshine, and crisp fall air.

-The rustling sound wind blowing through the dry leaves of a corn field.

-Watching my adult brother ride a little girl’s bike to the park because that’s what’s in Grandma’s garage, and why not.

-Watching my husband take a turn on the little girl’s bike on the ride back from the park.

Happiness is a husband who will happily ride a little pink bike home from a Sunday afternoon at the city park.

-Watching cool kids stare in disbelief and teenage disgust at the man riding a girl’s bike.

-A mountain of mini pumpkin gourds shared from my sister’s garden.

-Laughter from hearing another sister ate one of the gourds last year.

-Happiness is eating chicken and gravy and cream puff dessert made by my mom.

-Two-year-old and three-year-old cousins having a discussion at suppertime. “I’m three.” “You too little to ride bus.”

-Happiness is seeing my younger brother rediscover his long-lost RC airplane.

-Happiness is reading a book, and then hearing “read it again, Mom.”

-Seeing my 2nd grader absorbed in the Fleet Farm Toyland catalog. And happiness is being grown up enough to resist the urge to snatch the catalog and look at it myself.

-Happiness is remembering the smell of ink and paper of the Sears Christmas catalogs as a kid.

-My seven-year-old daughter’s giggle of delight at bedtime realizing the upcoming week of school is just three days long.

-My two-year-old girl’s delight at catching a lady bug and watching it crawl across her hand (even though she wasn’t brushing her teeth like I asked).

-Happiness is that same little girl darting across the hallway to yell “Mom, we need more ‘washcoffs’ ” while standing with no clothes on and holding a glass vase with a lady bug inside.

-Happiness is my six-year-old son at bedtime saying “I just can’t ever hug you enough, Mom.”

-Happiness is stumbling across family videos after the kids went to bed.

-Happiness is watching those videos and feeling thankful that we no longer have melted carpet from a curious toddler with an iron.

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. : )

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.