Face Time: An Interview with my Kids

Summer’s perfect for quality time with kids, but I’ve got to say, sometimes I think I’m getting a little more quantity than quality. We eat three meals a day together, but the current favorite meal-time discussion topic for my kids? “Tooting.” That’s edgy language to my two-year-old, and when she says it she always gets big laughs from her siblings, so it’s her favorite word these days.

In a quest for a little different line of discussion, my mind drifted to the set of interview questions I’d asked my kids in the previous summers. Looking back, I realized I haven’t done this interview in three years.

That makes enough time for my little #5 to have been born and then develop enough language skills as a two-year-old to participate in this interview. As for our baby, I’ll just have to wait on hearing his words.

In previous years I asked the last questions with Mom as the subject, but since Father’s Day is upon us, it seemed appropriate to switch the subject to Dad this year. I’m not sure how many more years my oldest kids will be willing to do these interview questions, but I do enjoy seeing the personality snapshot of each child right now. My oldest daughter cracks jokes about politics, and my youngest daughter cracks jokes about, well…cracks.

I sat down with each child individually, and they each had my full attention for about ten minutes. So much of the time, life around here runs en masse. Sitting with my kids one on one and talking to them was a great reminder of how much I enjoy each of my kids’ individuality.

DSC_1104

Happy Father’s Day to that big guy in the middle from the whole crew. (Photo taken at a lovely rest stop with “Poisonous Snakes,” somewhere in South Dakota.) 

If you have a few minutes and you can find a willing (or at least semi-willing) child, give them an interview! If you have a toddler handy, definitely do this. Little toddler minds are just the best. You never know what you’ll get…

Here are the questions I used and the answers I got from my kids, with each child labelled by age.

What was the happiest day of your life?
11: Having a sleepover with my friends.
10: There are a lot of good days, but probably when I rode on Thomas the train the day Thor was born and coming home to see a new brother.
7: Probably when I met Isabelle (his friend).
6: Me being born. Because otherwise I wouldn’t exist.
2: My mom got me a sweatshirt.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
11: Either world peace or not have Donald Trump be the president. Either one would result in world peace. (laughter)
10: Instead of running things on coal, oil…things that emit pollution, change things to running on solar, wind, use energy like that.
7: It can be anything? Oooh. Shelby.
6: I would change that in our house, even if someone made a mess, it would just go right away.
2: My dress.

When were you most afraid?
11: When Donald Trump became president (cracks up laughing).
10: There haven’t really been many instances where I was really afraid.
7: When I went rock climbing at Eagle Bluff, 30 feet high.
6: I was the most afraid of that “America’s Got Talent” video where they were doing dangerous things.
2: Bad animals, that bad dog eat me all up. And my doll has eyeballs and makeup.

What do you want to do for a job?
11: Be an elementary teacher.
10: Be a computer technician.
7: Do the Mosdal Scale System business.
6: Two things: I want to be a mom and a masseuse.
2: I want to do this much and be taller (stretches her arms big).

What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
11: Any other president. Mom and Dad.
10: Water, or food. Computers.
7: Hooks.
6: Food. Because of course you can’t live without food. And you can’t live without a mother.
2: I can’t live with no shirt on. (Actually, she often does.)

Describe your perfect day.
11: A day where I could do anything I wanted and have lots of slushies and ice cream and stuff.
10: I would get a Nintendo Switch, there are a lot of things, but not enough time for a day. Wisconsin Dells, pancakes for breakfast, pizza for lunch, supper would be salmon.
7: If Shelby diappeared.
6: Go to a castle.
2: Silverware. I farted.

Who are your friends?
11: Lauren, Lindsey, Sophie, Indy
10: Grant, Kyle, Holdyn, Rowan, Ryan and Daniel
7: Isabelle. That’s it. She’s my best friend ’cause she’s my only friend.
6: Eliza, Elin, Ellie, Isabelle, Cassie
2: Tillie and Mom.

What was Dad like as a child?
11: He was probably a little stinker.
10: Reckless.
7: I don’t know.
6: I think he had lots of friends.
2: He was like this tall (holds hands close together), and he was a baby.

What does Dad do when you’re not around?
11: Watch TV.
10: Pretty much the same things he’d do when I am around.
7: Makes oatmeal cookies for himself.
6: Normally in the shop.
2: Dad is supposed to not have me wash windows. Just Isaac.

What’s Dad’s favorite food?
11: Steak.
10: Steak, a T-bone.
7: Oatmeal cookies.
6: Spaghetti.
2: He loves to eat his food.

What’s Dad really good at?
11: He’s really good with tools and stuff.
10: His job.
7: Making scales.
6: Working with metal.
2: He’s good at doing work in the shop.

What’s Dad really bad at doing?
11: Hmm…putting us to bed.
10: I’ve haven’t really witnessed him doing things badly.
7: Not getting work done.
6: Doing his homework, because he doesn’t have any. (giggles)
2: He’s supposed to not go to hospital. That’s why my dad’s not sick.

What’s Dad’s favorite place?
11: His shop.
10: Oshkosh.
7: On the couch watching TV while eating oatmeal cookies.
6: His shop.
2: He likes to live in a house by me and you and everyone else.

How do you know your dad loves you?
11: He hugs me, because that’s what dads do.
10: Because he has me come out and help him with his work.
7: By saying thank you for coming out and helping him.
6: Because he has said it multiple times.
2: He loves me and you and…(lists all family members multiple times)…and I love him.

Go find a willing kid, and take a few minutes and ask a few questions. Their responses become like a little time capsule into their personalities if you repeat the questions over the course of a few years. Maybe it could be a Father’s Day tradition…

Wishing a happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there, the ones here on earth and the ones we miss up in heaven.

Written June 12, 2017

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New Year’s UnResolutions

Sure New Year’s was a few months ago, but as you may notice, none of my resolutions include posting my columns in a timely manner.  Maybe next year for that one.

Written Jan 2, 2014

Happy 2014! With every new year, as soon as the kids stop blowing those noise makers in my ears, I start hearing people talk about the “R” word.

Resolutions.

By definition, “resolution” means firmness and determination to take a course of action. But as soon as you tack on the words “New Year’s” in front of resolution, it all becomes a joke, as in “Oh ha ha…yes, of course you are going to work out more this year…for about two weeks…” Aren’t New Year’s Resolutions those plans that you make and then just completely discard by Valentine’s Day?

So this year, I’m making some un-resolutions. (And no, that is not technically a word…yet.) I hate to say I’m resolute, because well, plans change, and things come up. And when it comes to unresolved, I’m quite good at that. I have plenty of unresolved projects in my life. In the last month alone, I’ve created an astonishing number of unresolved projects all over the house while Christmas took a priority.

Theoretically, when the holidays end, I’ll have all sorts of time to start fresh and tackle a few projects in the new year. Here are some of my Wintertime Unresolutions:

Paint the Kitchen Cabinets
The first time I walked through this house, I thought “If I bought this place, I’d paint the kitchen cabinets white right away.” We’re sneaking up on two years in this house, so I think I’m finally ready to take on that “right away” project.

I actually did start painting the cabinets about a month after moving in, starting the project at about 11 PM, when I finally had some quiet time. Obviously, I was way overtired if I thought I should drag out the paint to start a home improvement project two hours past my bedtime. I did paint for an hour or so before bagging the project for months on end.

This past spring, I primed a few more cabinets one afternoon. But when that winter snow finally melted (at the end of May, I believe), all the indoor projects ended and all attention went to outdoor projects. Make hay while the sun shines…or paint the porch, in my case.

Currently, when people look at my cabinets with about 1/4 covered in the streaky primer coat they tentatively ask, “Is that how you are going to keep them?” Um, no. I just thought it’d be nice to really drag out the ugly transition stage for a really long time.

Currently, my cabinets are a classy mix of half streaky paint and half dark wood.  Be it resolved that the cabinets will actually get painted this year.

Currently, my cabinets are a classy mix of streaky primer and dark wood. Be it resolved that the cabinets will actually get painted this year.

With a frozen world outside and my youngest kiddo sneaking up on three, that seems like the ideal time to tackle that kitchen.

Paint the Girls’ Room
When I moved in, I also thought, “I’ll paint the girls room ASAP.” And of course, you can guess what’s happened. The girls’ favorite colors are blue and purple, but the current walls are orange, brown, and dark green sponge painting…pretty much the opposite of those favorite colors. For an added touch, the room also sports a wall paper border that is partially missing due to an industrious baby who liked to help out with home improvement while stuck in her crib. Apparently, she didn’t want the border, either.

When I get that kitchen done, the long-neglected girls’ room is next on the list.

Read Three Books
In the course of the year, I fairly easily read 500 books. Sounds impressive, right? And of course, many of those books are the classics. Classics, as in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Harry the Dirty Dog, Green Eggs and Ham, Goodnight Moon…you get the picture. When it comes to adult literary selections, though, I’m really lacking.

I hate to say this, but in some ways, majoring in English partially killed my desire to read. I regularly cranked through 100-200 pages of intensive reading a night. Remembering all details, characters and plots while making inferences and identifying underlying themes burned me out for quite some time. Just when I really started liking reading for enjoyment again is about the time that babies arrived on the scene. And no surprise, sleep deprivation and increased work load aren’t really conducive to reading novels.

My modest goal this year is to read three books. (I won’t say “adult books” because that leads people to thinking that I shop for my books in that run-down store on the wrong side of the tracks.)

Three books in a year seems like a laughable amount when I’d read that much in a week in college or in the summer during high school. However, three books is a vast improvement to the half of a book that I read on my own this year. How embarrassing.

I found some new reading inspiration, though, on the latest trip to Montana. I brought home a small stack of books from Grandma Grace’s collection, and seeing them makes me want to sit down and curl up with a good book at night. And best of all, I won’t rack up any library fines.

A new little stack of books from my husband's Grandma Grace is the inspiration for reading books for myself again.

A new little stack of books from my husband’s Grandma Grace is the inspiration for reading books for myself again.

Looking at my list, I realize my un-resolutions are pretty minimal. That is the point. In my head are easily another 20 big projects that I’d like to take on in 2014, but for now, I’m starting fairly simply. If life taught me anything in 2013, it’s that things don’t always go as planned. So I’m starting with just paint and books.

Throw four young kids into that mix, and that seems like plenty of opportunities for un-resolutions for the start of the year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

12 Days of Christmas, Crammed into 7‏

Written December 2013.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I’d like to wish you something about visions of sugar plums, snow flakes gently falling, silent nights, all is calm, sleigh bells jingling…blah, blah, blah…but I’m just not seeing that at my house.

Here are my own “12 Days of Christmas.” Life is moving fast around here, so the reality is, I’m cramming 12 days worth of activities into just a week. So I guess it’s really…

“12 Days of Christmas, Crammed into 7”

(Go ahead a sing along to yourself…)

In seven days before Christmas, here’s life in this family…

12 Eggs a Day
11 Hungry Sheep
10 Loads of Laundry
9 PM Skate Time
8 Smart Carts to Build
7 Frozen Waterers
6:30 Cub Scouts
5 Christmas Trees!
4 Dozen Norwegian Cookies
3.5 Hours of Christmas Pageant
3 Dentist Visits
2.5 Hours on Bleachers
2 Trees Cut Down
and a Check-Up Before Insurance Changes.

12 Eggs a Day: Our young hens are just getting started on their production, and we now get about a dozen eggs a day. This makes enough for our family and enough to share with Mom who makes brunch for a crowd. By spring, we’ll be getting 40 a day. Hooeee!

11 Hungry Sheep: This really isn’t a surprise, but sheep are much easier in the summer. They just wander around and eat green stuff and they’re happy. This whole feeding hay bales business in the winter is so much more work. I wish they could just climb up in the hay mow and throw down a bale themselves.

10 Loads of Laundry: This was my goal for the week. The reality: I think I washed about four and folded maybe two. The whole trip to Montana thing really did throw me off, although I cavalierly assume every time that I can just suck up the exhaustion and get right back in the groove of life again. January…now that will be the time that life gets all in order. I’m sure of it. Probably.

9 PM Skate Time: My second grader has a skating party on Friday night from 7-9 PM. I don’t even go out that late anymore. The thought of driving to Harmony at that time of night so she can repeatedly trip and fall on the skating rink and then cry in frustration because she’s learning to skate two hours past her usual bedtime…let’s just say I’m more of a Sunday afternoon skate kind of girl.

8 Smart Carts to Build: My husband, Jarred, is swamped in the month of December with eight Smart Carts to build. Smart Carts are cart with a box that can hold feed or small animals (like litters of pigs), with a scale for weighing whatever is in the box. Normally, he gets orders of one or two at a time. He recently redesigned the carts to simplify the construction, but eight at once is sort of a beautiful burden.

7 Frozen Waterers: Jarred also designed a new low-maintenance winter-proof chicken waterer, but he hasn’t had time to finish it yet (see above). In the mean time, we deal with frozen water for the chickens, which means watering twice a day. If I could just teach the chickens to enjoy ice cubes, life would be much easier.

6:30 Cub Scouts: I realize there is no 6:30 in the song, but this is just one of the events in our week of something going on every single night. In the busiest month of the year, we let our six-year-old join cub scouts. He’s pretty excited about obeying the law of the pack.

Wielding a saw, ready for some serious tree cutting business.

Wielding a saw, ready for some serious tree cutting business.

5 CHRISTMAS TREES! That’s the total in our house these days. We cut down a big old beauty from Van Normans’s Tree Farm, and then each of our kids also has their own little artificial tree that they set up, too. But wait, we also have one in the toy room. That makes six. For song purposes, though, we’ll just stick with five. It’s more glorious sounding that way.

 Part of our Christmas tree cutting crew at Van Norman's.

Part of our Christmas tree cutting crew at Van Norman’s.

4 Dozen Norwegian Cookies. First of all, I would like to state that I am not a single drop Norwegian. I am primarily Luxembourger. However, I married into the Norske culture, so when surrounded by Norwegians, learn Norwegian things. Last Saturday night, I spent a wild night of three hours rolling out four dozen Berlinerkranzer cookies for the Norwegian Festival at church. My kids looked at the cookies and said, “Where’s the frosting and sprinkles?” I told them in my serious low voice “There was no Betty Crocker frosting on the cold, frozen fjords of Norway. These are the stark cookies of a rugged, independent people.” And then they asked, “Could we just put sprinkles on them anyway?” They’re only part Norwegian, after all.

3.5 Hours of Christmas Pageant. I love nothing more than seeing little kids dressed up like sheep and wisemen singing “Silent Night,” but as anyone who’s ever helped with a Christmas program knows, those cute little programs don’t just happen by themselves. It took an hour of practice and some tasty brunch to keep everyone’s energy up for the hour-long church service. All told, three and a half hours…plenty of opportunity for practicing patience.

A shepherd, a disgusted sheep and a donkey waiting for the Christmas Play.  The donkey is spitting at the sheep, as donkeys often do.

A shepherd, a disgusted sheep and a donkey waiting for the Christmas Play. The donkey is spitting at the sheep, as donkeys often do.

3 Dentist Visits. Of course, I scheduled these visits back in June, when December seemed forever away and easy…

2.5 Hours on Bleachers. (Yes, this song goes on and on, just like real life.) Last night at school we enjoyed the delights of another holiday performance for 2.5 hours. The first hour was pleasant. Then my two-year-old daughter in a long red holiday dress wanted to leap off the bleachers in exhausted boredom. Not tripping and getting a bloody nose: a Christmas miracle.

2 Trees Cut Down: The highlight of my week was heading out in the frigid cold to Van Norman’s Tree Farm. I grew up just a few miles from there, and even got a plane ride from Willis Van Norman as a kid. I think this was the first time in about 20 years, though, that I’ve been out to their place. It was great to see a former neighbor. Heading there felt like the real Minnesotan tree hunting experience: trees, farm fields, and quiet.

And A Check-Up Before Insurance Changes: I figured the simple thing would be to get a routine check-up before the end of the year. I incorrectly assumed it would be quick. Ninety minutes later, I walked out. That made me a half-hour late to our kids’ dentist appointments (see above). I’m quite healthy, but that routine checkup gave me high blood pressure.

Bonus alternative song ending: And a Frozen In-Floor Heating System. (That’s for my husband, who’s enjoying that in his shop while he’s out their welding.)

All light-hearted Christmas griping aside, may your Christmas be a wonderful one. May your belly be full of delicious food and your heart full of the spirit of Christmas (the silent night kind, not the stuck at a traffic light kind)…and your eyes not too sleepy from staying up too late wrapping presents or being out on the town “spreading good cheer,” yes, that’s what I’ll call it. Happy holidays, everyone! Wishing you all the best.

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.

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.

Beware the Purple Footprints

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

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

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

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

It was so quiet.

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

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

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

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

I should have known better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Written September 3, 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First day of school, 2012.

First day of school, 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garden tomatoes

Garden tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neglect: The Latest Innovation in Gardening

Written June 3, 2013.

My kids are highly innovative horticulturists, despite a lack of any formal training.

Last week I wrote about a few of my researched plans for the garden this year, but who needs to read books or chit chat with gardening pros when you have kids around?  This week I learned a new planting technique from my kids that’s sure to take the gardening world by storm.

Regretfully, I do not have any photos of my wonderful sprouted seed packets in the plastic bag.  I was so moved that I forgot to grab my camera to record the amazing new gardening technique.  My daughter, however, is quite happy to apply her advanced gardening techniques to a variety of plants.

Regretfully, I do not have any photos of my wonderful sprouted seed packets in the plastic bag. I was so moved that I forgot to grab my camera to record the amazing new gardening technique. My daughter, however, is quite happy to apply her advanced gardening techniques to a variety of plants.

I call our new technique “sprouting in the seed packet.”  And if you are one of those people that sees something about gardening and just groans because you have absolutely no interest, you can still read this, I assure you.

Step One: Plant a few rows of seeds just before bedtime.  Crucial procedure: Lay plastic grocery bag containing 6-8 seed packets on the grass next to the garden.   Then, when it’s time to go in, ask kids to “bring the stuff in.”  Do not verify completion of assigned task.

Immediately engage your mind with a million other projects that need attention.  A few distraction options: a sink full of dishes, a cracker smashed onto the living room carpet, a pile of dirt left on the floor in the bathroom, four wild and tired kids upstairs dancing on the extra bed instead of putting on pajamas.

Step Two: Apply rain, lots of rain.  Repeated rainfall intermixed with cold and wind for seemingly weeks on end works best.  Forlornly look at garden from living room window.

Step Three: Realize June arrived and the garden really needs to be planted.  Realize also that the plastic bag of full of seed packets disappeared.  Wander over to check out the garden and discover the plastic bag laying in the grass near the garden.  (It will be in the exact location where you left it weeks before.)

Step Four: Cautiously peer into bag.  Observe mass of congealed paper seed packets, adhered together in an amorphous mix of paper goo, melting ink, and myriad sprouting seeds of several varieties.  (Hanging head in gardening shame is appropriate at this point.)

Step Five: Haul bag of sprouting seed packets and paper goo to porch.  Set bag on porch with good intentions for something, but you are not sure quite what.  Let bag rest on porch for 1-2 days.

Step Six: Relocate said bag to kitchen window where it is sure to get some “proper attention.”  Allow to mature here for an additional 2-3 days.

Step Seven:  After supper, when the wind picks up and it’s sure to storm again, it’s cold, and it’s nearly bedtime, you have found the optimal time to care for the sprouted seeds.

Step Eight: Sift through sprouted seedlings and shredded packets, separating plant species, more or less.  Dig haphazard holes and rows to plant seeds.

Step Nine:  Allow children to plant seedlings.  What lacks in care will be made up for with zeal and enthusiasm.

Step Ten:  Rest.  Tomorrow is another day, with more plants to kill (oops) I mean grow.

While this technique of sprouting seeds while still in the packet may seem laborious and cumbersome, in actuality, it is quite carefree.  The technique presents several advantages over conventional seed planting:

1.  Easy Open Packets.  How many times have you fumbled with the pesky paper seed packet, trying to open it ever so carefully?  When seeds are allowed to germinate while still in the seed packet, the spouted seeds will actually burst open the packet for you.  Now that’s convenient, very convenient.

2.  Eliminates Gardeners’ Biggest Question: Will it Grow?  With the “sprout in the packet” technique, you know the answer is YES!  You most assuredly chose hardy seed stock.  When left in the rain for a few weeks, seeds can germinate in the seed packet, even while in a plastic bag.  Now carefully peel away the gooey paper, pick up those delicate little seedlings with teeny fragile roots, and plant with confidence! You are growing things already!  Germinating seeds in dirt is so old-fashioned.

3.  Companion Planting is a Breeze.  Master gardeners devote entire books to companion plantings, sharing which plant thrives best when planted near another.  The sprout in the packet technique, however, allows for spontaneous combinations of plant species.  No more stressing over “proper” companion plantings, it’s already been done right there in the bag!  Spinach mixed with radishes will surely be a garden hit.  They’re already growing together in the bag, right?

While “sprouting in the seed packet” is our most innovative gardening technique this year, I can assure you that my children do not rest after that sort of success.

Truly, I could go on and on about innovative gardening methods generated by my children, but I’d hate to brag too much.  I didn’t even tell you about the merits of removing pepper plants from their plastic containers, digging a shallow grave for them in the flower bed, stacking the plants in a pig pile, and then allowing the roots to “sun” for a few days.  The results are nothing short of spectacular.

The Tale of the Missing Chicken Foot: A True Story

The feather-covered chicken leg, complete with a foot, laying near the welcome mat on the front porch one Sunday morning a few months back barely caught my attention.

It wasn’t until my husband questioned the chicken leg’s presence that it occurred to me that it wasn’t quite normal to have a stray leg just laying on our porch.

That’s how I know I grew up on a farm.

As a kid, we had pigs, beef cattle…and farm dogs. With farm dogs around, it was never especially surprising to see a random animal part laying on the lawn. Some of my best anatomy lessons came from deciphering what exactly it was that Buster hauled up on the lawn to chew. Disgusting? Yes. But it is honest. Farm dogs find the best chew toys in the least desirable places.

With that in mind, a stray chicken leg didn’t seem like any cause for alarm. Once my husband mentioned the leg, however, I had an epiphany, “Hey wait a minute, WE have chickens.” Generally speaking, that shouldn’t be much of an epiphany. In my defense, my mind was racing between getting kids out the door to church and then heading to Grandma’s.

Pondering the rightful owner of the chicken leg planted a sinking feeling in my stomach. Our dog is just naughty enough to not really be trusted to leave chickens alone. Gulp. While my husband loaded the wood burner, I headed to the shed to do a little animal welfare check.

Walking into the shed, a quick scan revealed our three chicken ladies were missing from their usual hangout on the gate railing.

Oh no.

I kept looking, expecting to see bits of chicken feathers or some sort of evidence of chicken destruction. Finally, my eyes found some relief. The three chickens were all standing close together on the floor.

Instantly, though, it stuck me as odd. They all seemed closely huddled together, were hanging out in a corner where I’ve never seen them before, and they were on the floor. Usually they prefer sitting up on a higher vantage point.

Then I saw it.

The middle chicken was standing on only one leg.

My heart sank. My mind raced in a million directions. What in the world do I do with a one-legged chicken? Do I have to put her out of her misery? And how should I do that? I really should know how to butcher a chicken. Can chickens live on one leg , like dogs can live with three? Could she maybe just hop from here on out?

As I pondered my predicament, I looked for blood spots on her and the floor. I couldn’t see anything, and surprisingly, she didn’t look like she was in pain. Perhaps she dropped the leg as simply as one of those lizards that can lose their tail? She seemed to adapt so quickly to the loss.

Soon enough, I had my answer.

When the two other chickens shifted slightly, she stirred and moved. As she shifted, she uncurled her leg that had been tucked up and placed it on the floor, as normal as ever. Yep, normal. Two legs, fully functional and intact. My life suddenly felt much easier.

 Beware of missing feet: Ideally, chickens should have two feet at all times, like the hen pictured above.

Beware of missing feet: Ideally, chickens should have two feet at all times, like the hen pictured above.

Turns out, she just tucked up her leg to be cozy on a chilly day.

As for the chicken leg on the porch, a nice man in a large blue truck relocated it to a more suitable long-term resting place.

We may never know the full story. All of the forensics experts seem to be occupied with other investigations. A coyote is a “person of interest” in the case. Last fall, a chicken disappeared on the very day that a neighbor spotted a coyote in the field next to our house. Neither the chicken nor the coyote have been seen since.

RIP Chicken foot. Long may you scratch in that big chicken coop up in the sky.

Round Beads in the Nose: A Full Circle Moment

It seems that I’ve passed on a genetic predisposition to shove beads in one’s nose. Don’t ask why. I can’t explain it.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those full circle moments as a parent. At bedtime, I tucked in my three-year-old son, and very plainly told him to stay put until morning. About ten minutes later, he crept out of his bedroom and into the hall.

“What are you doing?” I whispered in my accusing, angry voice.

He timidly whispered back, “I want you to get these out of my nose.” And in the darkened hallway, I saw his little nostrils flared wide with a colorful pony bead wedged in each nostril.

Exhibit A: A shiny round pony bead.  Perfect for making into necklaces, bracelets, and ideally sized for a preschooler's nose.

Exhibit A: A shiny round pony bead. Perfect for making into necklaces, bracelets, and ideally sized for a preschooler’s nose.

In my head I screamed, but on the outside I was all calm business. I placed my fingers high on the outside of his nose and made a swiping pass down, and the bead on the right side popped out. The bead on the left side remained. It was a toughie, but at least it was visible.

We went into the bathroom for more light, and with a little finagling, I hooked my fingernail onto the bead and pulled it out. Then I asked how many beads he put in there. “Two.” I arched his head back like a Pez dispenser to point his nostrils into the light to confirm his statement. It checked out. He was in the clear.

After that we had a little conversation. I played the responsible, concerned parent. I painted a very grim picture of the dangers of shoving beads in one’s nose. Such dangers included (but were not limited to) trips to the emergency room, large probes held by doctors, suffocation, and death.

I used my low, quiet, deadly serious voice. He listened with big blue eyes staring at me from behind his curly eye lashes. I believe the message sunk in, but time will tell.

And then I sent him back to bed, airways unobstructed.

All in all, I can’t say I’m surprised. This little boy’s eternal quest is to figure out how to make round pegs fit in square holes. He is his engineer father’s son, the little boy who rigs up three makeshift tow straps to pull all varieties of things behind his trike (including his sister on her ride-on car).

He’s forever creating contraptions. One of my favorites is a “fishing pole” he procured from a Lincoln log, a length of ribbon, a full roll of Scotch tape, and a bolt snap hook.

So, a few beads in the nose? Not so very surprising. He saw two cylindrical beads, and his sleepy builder’s mind created the connection that his nostrils looked roughly the same size. Apparently, the first bead went in with success. Having a second nostril available, he saw his project through to completion.

Exhibit B: One highly experimental three-year-old.  Excels in finding new and creative uses for ordinary objects.

Exhibit B: One highly experimental three-year-old. Excels in finding new and creative uses for ordinary objects.

Oh yes, I’m also not surprised because, well, I did the same thing as a preschooler. Except I ONLY put beads in one nostril.

And that little serious speech I gave about the dangers of beads in noses? Stolen straight from my mother.

In my head, however, we had an entirely different sort of conversation. That’s the place where the responsible parent gets to play out all of the less responsible reactions to predicaments like beads in the nose at bedtime.

“I know! You just see those colorful things and want to shove them in your nose?! I don’t know why either, but I get it. I did the exact same thing when I was your age! Ha ha ha! Oh wow, I was in big trouble. You’ll outgrow it soon. I did.”

All of those over-used parenting phrases also popped into my head, “Wait until you have kids,” “What goes around comes around,” “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” You get the picture.

Circle back about thirty years, and I clearly remember sitting on the pink carpet of my bedroom, playing with the mustard-colored Tupperware container full of beads. I believe I had the light off because I wasn’t supposed to have those beads in my room in the first place. It was during my crafting era of making everyone “beautiful” plastic bead necklaces strung on dental floss.

I sifted the beads through my fingers. And as I felt them, I just had the irresistible urge to put them in my nose. The first one I put in came out easily, but the next time (or two) I wasn’t as lucky. It was not my greatest preschool experiment.

Mom was not pleased one bit to find beads wedged in my nose. I heard a lecture about dangers including (but not limited to) trips to the emergency room, large probes held by doctors, suffocation, and death.

The lecture worked. I resisted poking things in my nose from then on. I do recall a time or two when I held a bead or a pea up to my nostril, um, just checking for size. But fearing the anger of my mom and an ER trip, my self-control won out.

So, there you have it. I was one of those kids that wanted to shove things in my nose. And I still turned into a fairly respectable adult. I never developed a snorting habit with strong substances or anything sinister like that. Nope, I just resisted the inexplicable urge, and then soon enough, the urge faded away. Hopefully the lecture does the trick for my three-year-old, too.

Someday when he gets a little older, big enough to fully appreciate the irony and humor of it all, I’ll tell him how I, too, once shoved beads in my nose.

You are just like your mom! Someday, you’ll probably fish beads out of your own child’s nose, too.

Then, give your child Grandma’s lecture.

Full circle.