Grandmas Are My New Laura Ingalls

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

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

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

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

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

Olivia and Alex Siebenaler, my maternal grandparents.

Olivia and Alex Siebenaler, my maternal grandparents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our kids need to know things like that.

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Sunburns, Easter Eggs, and Amazing Grace

What in the world?!  There’s an antelope standing out there on the street!

If I can say that and it sounds believable on the morning of April Fool’s Day, I’m either A) in Montana or B) surrounded by people that could use some morning coffee.  Both A and B are correct.  We headed off to Montana the week before Easter to fill up on a dose of our Montana family that we’ve all been missing.

When left our house in MN to head off on the trip, I cautiously left behind our kids’ snow pants.  Leaving a yard completely covered in white, taking no snow pants felt a little risky.  As I drove across western South Dakota on an I-90 thickly covered in a sheet of ice, I again questioned my decision.

Snow-covered mountain plateaus in the distance and sweeping views on our drive on the snowy Hwy 212 in south-eastern Montana.

Snow-covered mountain plateaus in the distance and sweeping views on our drive on the snowy Hwy 212 in south-eastern Montana.

By the time we pulled into the driveway at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Broadview, Montana, though, our kids were wondering why I didn’t think to pack their spring jackets.

We all know the heady rush of joy of feeling a 50 degree day for the very first time in the spring.  Imagine, then, what a few 60 degree days with blue sky and sunshine did for our kids (ok, and Mom and Dad, too).  With new kid-sized garden shovels in hand from the bargain bin, they struck out for Grandma’s perennial garden, making dirt fly.  I believe no tulips were harmed, but I can’t be certain of that.

Then they headed to the West side of her house where the grass never grows, and spent an afternoon cooking mud pies.  My three-year-old  gave me his detailed “recipe” if I wanted to try it later.  That evening, our kids came in with rosy cheeks and a fresh sprinkling of freckles on their cheeks.

Our oldest daughter even had a light sunburn.  Here I wondered about snow pants, when I should have packed the sunscreen.

The next day we met up with a friend (and former neighbor) to catch up over coffee while our kids ran around playing.  The temperature soared to the mid 60’s, and that, of course, is cause for shorts early on in the year.  Our two littlest kids shed their shirts as they played in the dirt pile out back behind my friend’s house, rubbing their bellies in the sunshine when the shirts came off.

Temps in the 60s: No shirt needed when digging in dirt while in MT.

Temps in the 60s: No shirt needed when digging in dirt while in MT.

After endless piles of snow and cold temps, I felt like we’d headed off on a tropical vacation.  We just headed to Montana to see our family, but the unexpected warm temperatures and sunshine?  Just what the doctor ordered.

In the melee of cousins, friends, and playing, a more somber note intermixed with it all as my mother-in-law made countless phone calls and trips to town to help organize her mother’s funeral.  After many years of painful illness, we all believe Grandma Carol is now at peace.  On Saturday, tucked right in between Good Friday and Easter, we attended her memorial service.

It was a touching moment to see my husband, his brother, father, and uncle stand together up front to play guitar and sing “Amazing Grace” and “Children of the Heavenly Father” during his grandma’s service.  The second song had special meaning as a song that was also played during Grandma Carol’s mother’s funeral (my husband’s great-grandmother).

Funerals are gathering places of family, and we caught up with my husband’s extended family, held his cousin’s new baby girl, heard about an engagement, and just reconnected with family that we never get to see often enough.

After the funeral, we gathered at my husband’s brother’s house on Mosdal Road.  Yes, the road has the family name.  We had amazing homemade pasta.  Most importantly, our kids learned a valuable lesson from their older cousins:  a package of Mentos candies shoved into a 2-liter bottle of pop make a terrific fountain.  The 10-foot geyser of pop on the gravel road was, no surprise, a definite crowd pleaser.

Mentos candies plus a bottle of pop and some cousins equals lots of fun.

Mentos candies + a bottle of pop + cousins = lots of fun.

Easter Sunday came with all the usual: clean, new Easter outfits, chocolate candy that streaks Easter outfits, church, loads of ham, a full house of family, and of course…THE hunt.  The Easter egg Hunt is a big deal in this family.  Like ripping open presents on Christmas morning, it’s a 10-minute event that kids wait for all year.

My sister-in-law and her husband live on “the home farm” where his grandparents used to live.  Hiding the Easter eggs used to be his grandfather’s favorite thing all year.  My brother-in-law told how he and his brothers used to find well-hidden eggs all summer long when they were kids running around on the ranch. That said, I’m sure as this new generation of pint-sized kids tore around the yard on the hunt for eggs, his grandpa, Carl, would have been quite pleased with it all.

Surveying the egg hunt on the ranch.

Surveying the egg hunt on the ranch.

Today, Easter candy mostly gone and leftover ham in the fridge, we are heading back home to Minnesota.  We will attempt to find and pack the stray socks and shirts that our kids scattered throughout Grandma’s house.  My three-year-old hook-obsessed son packed up his new treasure box: a small cardboard box filled with new key chain and carabiner treasures gleaned (with permission) from his grandparents.

We’ll head out on I-90 East hauling our crew back home.  Our kids are also picked up some souvenir coughs and runny noses from the latest germ bug in Montana.  We’ll leave behind their baby cousin, although my five-year-old did wish we could bring her and maybe just keep her little and cute forever.

With some luck, creative parenting, and a whole lot of patience, we’ll trek across 1,000 miles.  Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, we will pull into our driveway in Minnesota.  Our own beds will never feel better, and we’ll hopefully be filled with enough Montana family time to last us until the next trip west.

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…”