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.

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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. : )

Shiny Red Bicycle Adventures

As a kid, I remember wanting so badly to finally be an adult and do whatever I wanted.  Like every kid, I knew that adulthood would be the life equivalent of a sweepstakes shopping spree:  go anywhere, do anything, any time, and nobody says no.  Ever.  Because you are an adult, and adults don’t answer to anyone.

No one tells grown ups what to do.  Nobody even tells them when to go to bed.

Grown ups could just hop on their bikes anytime and ride anywhere they want.  Without even asking.  Except, they don’t want to, because they’re old, and they don’t even like to have fun anymore.

Shiny and red, this little lady loves a nice, smooth stretch of paved bike trail.

And now, firmly wedged in the grown up phase of my life, I sit here wishing somebody made sure I went to bed at a good time every night, because part of me is still a reckless kid.  When the actual kids go to bed in our house, suddenly I feel unleashed.  And then I stay up way too late doing things far less productive than I imagined when I wistfully dreamed of that “after the kids go to bed” time of day.

On the plus side, as a grown up, I do always get to pick my own bedtime stories.  Riding my bike, though, is a different story.  I don’t need to explain to anyone that a mom with four kids (ages six and under) doesn’t just hop on her bike and head off for parts unknown at any given time.  So much for that Grown Ups Just Do Whatever They Want notion.

Much of the time, my shiny red bicycle sits patiently waiting in our shed.  Sometimes I take it for a spin around the yard for a few times until one of my kids needs something urgent, like help with tying my kitchen utensils to the back of a toy tractor to make a trailer.

On Saturday, however, something magical happened.  My kindergartner had a birthday party to attend at the city park in Lanesboro, MN.  Suddenly, I was stuck for an hour and a half in the town that everyone else in the world drives to for scenic bike rides.  Eureka!

Minivans, in addition to being great kid haulers, are exceptional shiny red bike haulers.  I loaded up my red-headed boy and my red bike, and we headed to town.  I dropped him off in the capable hands of several sets of parents, where the birthday girl’s dad informed me that in addition to lots of playground time, he would be filling the kids with all sorts of sugar before sending them home.  I told him that sounded perfect, and I went back to unload my bike.

I hopped on my bike, and suddenly, I was free.  No, FREE!

Turning after the cool restaurant with the colorful chairs, then heading over the old railroad bridge, I was off on the trail all by myself.  Well, by myself, along with every other person who, like me, wanted to cram in as much outside time as possible on a nice Saturday in late October.

The only thing missing was a shiny silver bike bell to ring.  I have an overwhelming desire to come up behind others on the trail and give them a friendly but affirmative bring! bring! as I pass.  In fact, I’d ring my bike bell all the time until I’d either annoyed everyone or my thumb got too sore from bring-bring-ing.  Yes, I’m like that.  Maybe Santa will bring me my bike bell, but I digress.

Someday, you will be mine, shiny bike bell.

I pedaled down the narrow paved trail, a mini highway of happy bikers.  A canopy of trees formed an arch over the path, the branches now mostly naked without their leaves.  Passing by a family stopping for a snack, I asked the dad to take my picture.  I needed a photo of myself, the mom on her freedom ride.  Apparently, though, this bike ride was meant to be private.  Something was wrong with my stupid smart phone, and while it courteously made clicking noises indicating pictures being taken, no photos remained in the memory.  I guess the day was for my eyes only.

I came to an intersection with a gravel road,  and looking down the road, saw the Root River crossing below a cement bridge.  I pedaled over, and looked down at the water.  In the last month, I twice paddled under that bridge in a canoe, first with friends and then my family.  Now I stood on top of that bridge on my bike.  Not bad for a stay-at-home mom.

I headed back down the trail, smiling to myself as I overheard a conversation with heavy Minnesotan accents, “Oh, I doon’t know how you can watch a cat eat a mouse.” “Well, ya, but that’s what cats dooo.” (I do believe he should have added the obligatory “don’t cha know” for emphasis.)

After a few more minutes on the trail, I turned around and went back to the gravel road.  Too many friendly folks on the trail smiling and saying “hi” as I passed actually became a social burden, and I wanted some solitude.

I turned onto the gravel road and instantly felt better.  For a crazy minute I actually wondered if it was ok to be on the gravel road, since nobody else was doing it.  Then I felt ridiculous for thinking that.  I used to spend hour upon hour riding my bike around gravel roads, tooling around home here in SE MN, and then later in Montana.

That was back when I was that adult that hopped on my bike and rode anywhere I wanted, without needing to ask.  I’d regularly hop on my bike and ride for a few hours, quietly pedaling along, discovering new back roads and all sorts of things that I never noticed in a car.  That “no time constraint, no destination,  no problem” kind of bike riding came to a halt, though, with our first baby.

I have no regrets with my current life.  In fact, I quite like it.  But I certainly do appreciate all the more a long bike ride all by myself.  It’s a small epiphany to rediscover something I love that I haven’t done for a long, long time.

After my ride, I returned to the city park to find a happy boy on the swings.  I gave him a few pushes, then we picked up his candy-filled goody bag and headed home, both of us sucking on candy and feeling quite content with the afternoon.

All told, my excursion was only two hours away from our house, with commuting time.  But as I pulled into our driveway again, the enormous mental break made me feel like I’d been gone for a full day, a world away.  I came home hungry and happy, excited to cook and then devour a steak and potatoes meal with baked apples and ice cream for dessert.

What I didn’t really understand as a kid is that adults still have to listen to all sorts of people, and you are never your own boss, even when you are your own boss.  On the bright side, I used to be sure that adults barely even liked to have fun, but I am more and more pleased to realize I was completely wrong.  There is no automatic shut-off valve on the fun pipe of life.

An adventure on a shiny red bicycle will always bring great joy.    Brrring! Brrring!

To All the Blankets I’ve Loved Before

With fall in the air, the nip and chill makes everyone turn toward all things cozy, warm, and snuggly. It’s a deeply instinctual homing device. Something inside us says get inside, eat something warm, and get a blanket. What’s better on a fall night? In honor of the chilly season, I specifically salute you, warm cozy blankets. You make Minnesotan falls and winters so much better. If blankets had ears, I’d serenade them in a Spanish accent like Julio Iglesias, “To all the blankets I’ve loved before…”

Our two little ones wrapped up in the afghan made by my grandma, watching early morning Sesame Street.

My first blanket love was my blankie. Someone gave it to me as a baby gift, a rainbow of soft pastel rectangles on the front, a layer of fluff in the middle, and light yellow on the back. As far back as I can remember, that blanket was my everything: my rock, my shield, my fortress against every danger, especially the ones that lurked in the night.

Scared of the dark at night, I always brought along my blanket on the midnight bathroom trips. I held it up next to my face, and blocked the view of the open stairwell, so I couldn’t see the monsters and bad guys that lurked on the landing waiting to get me. My blankie protected me, because everyone knows that if you can’t see the monster, it can’t reach out and grab you. During the daytime, if I held my blanket, the spiders under the basement steps wouldn’t get me when I walked up.

When I was sick, my feverish state made my bedroom ceiling grow gigantic, high, and ominously confusing, but my blanket made it all ok. On numerous occasions, my mom wrapped a hot water bottle in my blanket to press against my ear in the long nights of ear infections. And on those completely disorienting childhood nights when I woke up and found the wall was on the wrong side of the bed after doing a 180 spin in my sleep, as long as I could pat around and find my blanket again, I would be ok, even though somebody had inexplicably moved my wall in the middle of the night.

In the mornings as a kid, I’d haul my blanket downstairs. When I was done with it, I hung it on the post at the bottom of the stair railing until bedtime, because that’s where blankets go. And I have to say, I was thrilled to see that the stair banister in our new house is identical in style to the one in the farm house growing up. I know just where to hang my kids’ blankies when they drag them down the steps in the morning.

A typical sight at our house, two favorite blankies hanging on the steps.

I used my favorite blanket far beyond the acceptable age to have security blankets, but I didn’t care. It’s role just changed as I grew up. In high school, I wrapped my good old blankie over my head to keep the sun out of my eyes as I slept until noon on Saturday mornings.

My beloved blankie is still around, up in my mom’s attic. After years of love, the puffy batting in the middle evaporated to just a few clumps in the corners, the cheery yellow on the back faded to off white, and if held up to the light, the blanket is but a thin, gauzy remnant of what it used to be. But a blanket like that is like the Velveteen Rabbit from the classic children’s story: it becomes much more as it dwindles to less. The most pitiful looking baby blankets are the most beloved. I remember a friend’s little sister proudly hugging her ratty baby quilt with missing strips of fabric, and announcing that the holes in her blanket were “full of love.” I believe they were. So many blankets are full of love.

On a similar vein, I often hear the expression that “food is love.” Making food to feed the ones you care about certainly is one of the highest forms of showing you love someone. I get that. Minnesotans don’t go around babbling “I love you” all over the place, that’s just a little too much. But making food to fill up someone’s belly, now that’s love. With that same line of thinking, I’d also add that making a blanket is love, too. A homemade blanket is the Minnesotan hug–warmth, comfort, love, and security against the harshness of the world outside.

My grandma was a blanket-maker extraordinaire. She crocheted an afghan for each and every one of her grandkids, well over 30 in all. Hours and hours of her day passed with a crochet hook and yarn in her hands, during Days of Our Lives and the news, day after day, always a crochet project in the basket next to her chair. She’s now 100 and her crocheting days have passed, but the afghan she made for me when I was a kid still looks beautiful. My three-year-old now uses it to stay warm in the mornings when he watches cartoons before breakfast, wrapping himself up in a yarn nest in the middle of the floor. It’s just yarn, but it’s love. I know it.

As a mom, one of my very favorite things is tucking my kids into their blankets at night. While they have mounds of blankets, each kid has one special blanket. There is never a question about what blanket is being looked for when we hear, “Where’s my blanket?” For all four kids, The Blanket is two layers of fleece, cut into a fringe on the edges, with the fringes from each side tied together to make a double-layer blanket.

My first daughter received her fleece blanket as a gift, and she loved it so much that I made a tied fleece blanket for our other kids, too. Those blankets are addictive. When brand new, they’re intoxicatingly soft and cuddly. Every time I’d nurse someone for a nap or bedtime, I’d grab the baby’s fleece blanket to keep us both cozy. After repeated use and lots of washings, the fleece blankets pill and lose the magical softness, but by then, it doesn’t matter. Our kids are hooked. Hour upon hour I’ve watched our four babies snuggled up next to me, nursing and holding the fringed edge of the fleece blanket, absent-mindedly rubbing fringes between their fingers until they fell asleep. It’s security and contentment, snuggled together in a fleecy package.

My oldest daughter’s fleece blanket used to be pink on the back side. Six years and a half years later, it’s now barely pink, barely soft, and far too tiny to wrap herself up in it. But like Linus, she still hauls it most everywhere. Wadded up into a ball and tucked up against her cheek, it is the perfect night-time protection against the wolves and bears she thinks lurk around our house at night. Judging by the fact that she loves sleep and loves blankets as much as me, she’ll probably still use her blankie as a teenager, to drape across her eyes when she sleeps in until noon on Saturdays. I understand that kind of blanket love, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So, blankets, I salute you. For all the comfort you’ve given me, allow me to serenade you one last time with Julio Iglesias,

“To all the blankets I once caressed,
And may I say I’ve held the best
For helping me to grow
I owe a lot I know
To all the blankets I’ve loved before…”

Things that Make Life Worth Living…Fall Edition‏


The fall season is easy to recognize in Minnesota: it’s that time of year when Minnesotan Orange Vests stop carrying “Drive Slow” signs while hunting for pot holes.  Leaving the road sides and hot asphalt behind as winter approaches, Minnesotan Orange Vests migrate to the woods.  There, the native Orange Vests take up their rifles, on an eternal hunt for the elusive “tirty-point buck.”

While fall is appealing as that brief span between the end of road construction and the beginning of the snow flying, the beauty of fall extends way beyond the Minnesotan humor.  Fall is a glorious time of year around here.  Red leaves on the maples, yellow school buses on the road, orange pumpkins outside the stores, green combines in the field, and clear blue sky on crisp mornings–it’s those things that make life worth living.


For me, it’s all the little things that add up to a good life.  With that in mind, I made a list of all the things that make life worth living this fall:

–Canoeing down the Root River on the last warm Sunday in September with 15 of my family members.  My favorite moments: Nursing my one-year-old while paddling and successfully steering the canoe, channeling my inner Sacajawea. Hearing my brother burst out in “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” on the river at the mere mention of the band Meatloaf.  On the last stretch of trip, moving the paddle through deep, quiet water with the depth of the river below, trees all around, blue sky above, flanked by four canoes filled with family.  Outdoor time on the water with family is a slice of Minnesota at its best.

–Speaking of meatloaf, Sunday dinner at Mom’s, with a big pan of Mom’s signature meatloaf, with mashed potatoes and squash liberally coated in brown sugar and butter.  It was the quintessential fall meal on a day that glittered with sun in the afternoon and had a shivering chill in the evening.  Family sat around, bellies filled with all sorts of homemade goodness.

–Pulling in the driveway at home on that crisp Sunday evening, to a world of a completely silent, star-lit night with cool fall air all around, that tingling cold that chills and is alive with energy.  If there hadn’t been four exhausted kids, I would’ve suggested lighting a bonfire and sitting there until way past a sensible bed time.

–Watching my nephew’s first 7th grade touchdown, replayed instantly during Sunday brunch from his phone, through the crazy wonders of modern technology.

–Our baby sleeping in my arms on Sunday morning in church.

–Seeing my sister move back home to Minnesota again, after 20 years in another state.

–Heading out to take care of feeding chickens on a rainy morning with our two little kids in a running stroller.  I stood out in the drizzle hanging out with kids and chickens, filling the waterer, watching chickens on the hunt for morsels in the grass while kids trying to catch them.

–Having my husband notice this scene from the upstairs office, and open up the window and yell, “I love you!” because he married such a darn amazing woman.

–Crunching leaves underfoot.

–Getting to vicariously relive high school joys by seeing my three adorable nieces’ homecoming dresses.

–The smell of wood smoke curling into the air on a chilly day and a big stack of wood ready for the coming winter.

–“Playing” in Mom’s attic with my younger sister, rescuing some dresses from attic oblivion.  We dug out another sister’s old prom dress, Mom’s 10th class reunion dress, and someone’s prairie dress from the 70’s or so.

–Seeing the vintage dresses put on again:  my niece tried on her mom’s prom dress (amazingly stylish by 2012 standards), my daughter with extravagant dress taste choose that 35-year-old prairie girl dress for her first day of school, my sister tried on my mom’s 10th reunion dress, a classic little black Audrey Hepburn number.

A vintage prairie girl dress: my daughter’s pick for the first day of school.

–Good neighbors…who have kittens.  Four new kittens, one for each of our kids, are the perfect addition to our place in the country.  Softer, friendlier and more cuddly than chickens, our kids are in love, even if they won’t ever lay eggs for us.  The kittens will, however, spend some time in a bike basket and probably have to wear a doll dress at some point.  That’s a cat’s job.

Our kids are so happy to have four new fluffy kittens to hold.

Kittens keep our 18 month old happy for a long time.

–Good neighbors, part two…Good neighbors who come bearing gifts of a trailer full of wood, and then help out with cutting up more for another load.  And the goodness of getting to have those neighbors over for a Saturday night supper of pot roast and steamy bowls of fall vegetables and rhubarb apple crisp dessert.

–Homecoming in our new hometown, watching our kindergartner and first-grader excited and proud to walk down the street in the homecoming parade in Lanesboro, MN.

–Standing next to my first grade daughter during the school song at the pep rally, and glancing over to see her proudly knowing the words and belting them out in support of her new alma mater and hometown.  Seeing her feel completely a part of this place even though we’re still new around here got this mom a little choked up.

A full couch relaxing on movie night.

–Beginning a Friday Movie Night at our house.  Relaxing on the couch after we’re all tired from a week of “the grind” is just what the momma ordered.  A chilly night makes hanging out close to home all the more appealing, so I implemented (yes, our relaxing is serious business) pizza, popcorn and movie night .  The movies?  Until we run out of good ideas, we’re going to show our kids “the classics” from our childhood, all the movies that we loved seeing growing up.  We started with “Charlotte’s Web.” I almost never sit down and watch TV, much less watch something with my kids.  Intentionally watching a movie, snuggled up on the couch with pizza, popcorn made on the stove, and some kids clamoring to sit close, makes a perfect fall night.  It’s just the sort of thing that makes endless dirty dishes and laundry all worthwhile.

What do you love about fall?  What makes life worth living?  Popcorn does it for me.  On a chilly evening, why not take ten minutes and amaze your family with a batch of stove top popcorn.  In the age of microwave popcorn with fake butter, this forgotten delight is nothing but the real deal.

Stove Top Popcorn
(Homemade Buttery, Salty Deliciousness)

3-4 T. oil
1/2 c. popcorn kernels
3-4 T. butter
Salt to taste

In a 2 qt. saucepan, heat oil on medium high heat.  Put 3-4 popcorn kernels in the oil as it heats.  When these kernels pop, the oil is warm enough, so pour in the rest of the popcorn.  Give the pan a shake to coat popcorn with oil, and cover with a lid.   Next, lift the pan off of the burner for 30 seconds, before returning it to the burner to pop the corn.  (Removing the popcorn from direct heat for 30 seconds allows the kernels to come to the same temperature without scorching them.)  As kernels start to pop, occasionally shake the pan to sift unpopped kernels down to the bottom.  When popping ends, pour popcorn into a large bowl.  Melt butter and pour over popcorn.  Salt to taste (a few good dashes will do), and give the popcorn a stir to mix it all up.  Do your best to share.