Your Friendly Local Wicked Stepsister

Written August 8, 2013.

Feather boa, fake mole, lace gloves, crazy hat, mismatched socks, blue eye shadow…all just part of my Tuesday morning this past week. Oh yes, and did I mention that I’m going to be a MOVIE STAR?

That’s right.  I’m going to be on the big screen.  Well, I’ll be on a big screen in a park in Lanesboro, anyway.

The stepsisters aghast at seeing the lovely Cinderella enter the ball. Emily Spende, Stela Burdt, Tom Flaig (not allowed to see Cinderella), and Kathy Mosdal. Photo courtesy of Lanesboro Community Theater.

The stepsisters aghast at seeing the lovely Cinderella enter the ball. Emily Spende, Stela Burdt, Tom Flaig (not allowed to see Cinderella), and Kathy Mosdal. Photo courtesy of Lanesboro Community Theater.

For the second year in a row, the Lanesboro Community Theater is creating a series of silent films for “Silent Movies in the Park After Dark.”  Local people with little to no acting experience (that’s me) get to be in a movie, with no pressure of rehearsals or memorizing lines.

For me, it all started with a simple email from Barb Benson Keith asking if I’d like to be one of Cinderella’s stepsisters.  My first acting gig was this spring as Jessie the waitress in the play “Leaving Iowa,” where Barb directed.  I have great respect for her optimistic, organized, energetic style, so getting an email invitation to be in a silent film that she’s directing put a big smile on my face in an otherwise rather “blah”day.

I showed up the morning of filming not quite sure what to expect.  When all was said and done, the whole experience felt like getting to play pretend in the dress up corner at preschool, except I played with adults who lead fairly ordinary lives most of the time.  We threw on some costumes, listened to a few quick stage directions, and started pretending…I mean acting, while Barb Keith filmed.

It was all fairly simple, with no rehearsals, two takes maximum, and then on to the next shot.  We completed all the necessary filming to be crazy stepsisters in just two hours before lunch, and that included a costume change to dress up for the ball.

As an added bonus for me, my two other fellow stepsisters are moms whose children attend the same ECFE class as my own kids.  We’ve become friends as we’ve spent two hours a week together over the school year.  That made spending a morning together as wicked, crazy stepsisters all the more fun.

Without a doubt, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time.  Picture absolute silliness on the order of things that you usually don’t do once you leave elementary school.  Truly.

I can’t think of the last time I got in a mock fight with two other lovely ladies who gave me a fake punch and tried to put me in some sort of wrestling move.

I certainly can’t remember the last time that happened while I wore a lovely floral print dress with shoulder pads.  It’s also been ages since I wore a feather boa and a leopard print hat and had instructions to paw at a prince.  Really, it’s been such a long time since I’ve done any of those things.

My oldest daughter also added to the fun in this whole movie experience.  My seven-year-old asked to come along and watch the festivities.  I happily brought her, knowing I could trust her to not be an intrusion.  On the way in that morning I joked, “You can tell the kids in your class that your mom is a movie star!”  But then even better, and much to my daughter’s delight, Barb Keith asked if she’d like to be a dancer at the ball.

You can probably imagine the answer.  On the way home I told her, “Well, now you can tell kids in your class that YOU are a movie star!” And then we both giggled.

Thank goodness Grandma Cheryl, who was visiting from Montana, styled my daughter’s hair into a fancy French braid before we left that morning.  She had just the perfect hair for the ball.  Thank goodness, also, for Grandma Cheryl’s willingness to babysit my other three kids at home while I was gone.  Her help made it possible for me to leave the house and do something completely out of the ordinary.

That morning filming “Cinderella” was a total change of pace from the entire summer and from my ordinary “be a resonsible adult” mode.  Everyone needs a chance to cut loose once in a while.  It really made my whole day, and probably my week.

More than anything, I can’t wait to see the final result.

With the filming complete, Barb Benson Keith will turn it all into what looks like a classic silent movie: black and white, complete with captions between scenes and old time music.

“Cinderella” will be part of “Silent Movies in the Park After Dark” in Lanesboro on September 14th and 15th.  They’ll be played at Sylvan Park, the city park on main street in Lanesboro.  If you are interested, just mark it on your calendar and bring some blankets and lawn chairs to cozy up for an evening outside watching locally made movies.

It’s a free, family-friendly event.  Maybe I’ll see some of you there!

A Chicken Birthday Update
On my 35th birthday, I got up at 5 AM and loaded up the whole flock of squawking birds.  My sister-in-law, Tricia, was nice enough to let us borrow Mike’s pickup which has a topper, making it perfect for hauling a load of chickens.  By 6:15, my daughter and I headed to KB Poultry just outside of Utica.  Sun shining, early morning dew…it was a fine birthday morning to be Kathy the Farmer, driving a load of chickens in a pickup.

Mission accomplished: Sixty-seven chickens loaded up on my birthday.

Mission accomplished: Sixty-seven chickens loaded up on my birthday.

Note to self for next time: Put down straw in the back of the pickup ahead of time.  In the short time it took to load them and then drive seven miles, 67 chickens made an absolutely terrible mess on the floor and all over themselves in the process.  Thank goodness for a pressure washer and a nice husband at home.

Mess aside, driving home after dropping off the chickens, I just had a smile plastered to my face.  Driving Mike’s faithful pickup that he’s had for about 20 years, listening to his cassette of twangy Australian classic country music, early morning and a job already done…it just felt like Mike was smiling at all of it.

As an unexpected surprise, we actually had 67 chickens!  I only ordered 60, but the hatchery throws in a few “bonus birds” just in case of loss in transit.  We never actually counted them until that day.  That many chickens completely fill our upright freezer and then some.

This weekend I fired up the grill and we had a little chicken barbecue after a day on the Mississippi.  Thank you chickens, you are delicious.

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The Beauty of a Snow Day (I Just Hope Winter is Almost Over)

Via my seven-year-old daughter, I relived that delicious, wonderful freedom of an unexpected day off.  Ah, the glorious power of mother nature.

Written March 2013

Hello again, everyone!  I’m happy to be writing again after taking some time off during the winter doldrums.  Right now the knee-deep snow in our yard suggests that winter may never end, but I’m not fooled.  Winter, you are on the way out, old man.  Longer evenings, more daylight…  Spring really is on the way, and I am so excited.

In the time while I’ve been off “on vacation,” busy life continued.  Here are a few of the highlights of our life during the interim:

Leaving Tennessee: My brother and his family moved from Tennessee back to our hometown in Minnesota.  They happened to move in on the coldest night of the year.  Our extended family turned out in big numbers to help, unloading two packed-full trailers in -25 wind chills.  Frigid weather, but lots of family…welcome to Minnesota, y’all!  Amazingly, that makes three of us siblings (and our families) moving back to MN from other states in one year’s time.

Leaving Iowa: I am an ACTRESS!  Well, kind of.  I performed in my very first play, “Leaving Iowa,” with the Lanesboro Community Theatre.  For that brief time, I was Jessie, the overly talkative waitress with a little attitude.

Jessie the Waitress. Photo by Pete Keith of Laneboro Community Theater.

Jessie the Waitress.   Photo by Pete Keith of Lanesboro Community Theater.

I had a blast.

I always secretly wanted to be in a play in high school, but I didn’t have the guts to try out.  I’m so thankful for community theater which makes it “never too late” to try something new.  I’m also thankful for meeting such a fun group of people in the cast and crew.  About ten of the 26 cast members were first time actors, so I got to experience the thrill (and butterflies) of the new experience right alongside many of my fellow cast members.

Truthfully, just walking into the audition almost took more guts than what I thought I had, but I am so thankful I summoned up the courage to do it.  I felt butterflies in my stomach for the first time in perhaps years, and I’m thankful for that, too.  I know I’m still alive and kicking.

Living in Minnesota: Most recently, what’s on my mind is the joy of a good, old-fashioned snow day. I realize a snow day for many parents means a stressful scrambling to figure out alternative plans while kids have no school and parents still need to head to work.  In that regard, I’m grateful for a work day that occurs right in our home.  Snow days just mean our two school age kids are home to play all day with our two younger children.

I will admit, though, on a recent snow day, I didn’t exactly start out the day with jolly good cheer.

Just before 6 AM, I checked online and then left a note in the bathroom for our kids announcing the two-hour school delay.  I headed back to bed hoping for a few more minutes of sleep after a restless night.  I got up for the day at 8:00, after a rare morning of sleeping in.  (Ten years ago, I never would have called 8 AM “sleeping in,” but my perspective has changed a bit.) And still, I was exhausted and crabby.  Four rambunctious kids, housebound in a snowstorm, didn’t sound very appealing.  I was not exactly in fine parenting mode, that I know.

However, I unexpectedly came downstairs to find hot coffee, a homemade quiche, AND a cherry pie, baked in the oven by my husband, Jarred, and his four willing helpers.  Warm food, good coffee, and kids so excited to surprise me jump-started my attitude adjustment.

After breakfast I checked school closings again online and discovered school switched from delayed to the big “C.”  CLOSED.

I beckoned my first grader to come upstairs and read the announcement on the computer screen.  She double-checked with me to be sure.  Then she was gone.

A few seconds later, I heard the rapid thuds of excited steps down the stairs and the triumphant yell: “NO SCHOOOOOL!!”

In an instant, my surly attitude evaporated.

I was a kid again, sitting in front of the radio listening to school closings.  I was pondering the likelihood of a cancellation, weighing the odds by the number and proximity of the other school closings.  “Ooh, good! Dover-Eyota’s cancelled!!  That HAS to mean we’re closed, too!” I remember the agonizing wait for the announcer to work down to the “S” portion of the list.  “St. Ansgar, closed! They’re always closed, so that doesn’t count.  But ooh, we’re next!”  And finally, the words I longed to hear, “St. Charles, closed!”

Via my seven-year-old daughter, I relived that delicious, wonderful freedom of an unexpected day off.  Ah, the glorious power of mother nature.  A big whopper of a storm, so powerful that even school didn’t stand a chance.  The joy of a full day to relish and squander greedily.  A snow day is indeed glorious.

The decibel level of my kids told me that they felt just as excited as I did when I was little.  One of the best things about being a parent is getting to see that some things never change.

Just before lunch, the snow ended and I poked my head outside.  Inside was mess, melee, and noise.  Outside, the world was silent and bright with deep, powdery snow on the windless day.  It reminded me of Bozeman, Montana, where I went to college.  Bozeman is nestled in a sheltering valley between mountain ranges, so time after time I saw a gentle snowfall pile up six inches of powdery snow, followed by a bright, windless, pleasant winter day.  It was a Bozeman kind of day.

Riding on a sled over knee deep snow.

Riding on a sled over knee deep snow.

I rounded up the kids and we headed outside into the powdery goodness.  I remember that as a little kid, the snow always seemed so deep.  Looking at our 23-month-old wading in snow over her knees, it suddenly made sense why the snow used to be so much deeper when I was young.

The kids meandered through the yard, playing on the snow-covered wood pile and pulling each other around in the sled.  They slid down the only hill in our yard: the piled mound of plowed snow.  Fluffy with new snow on top, with a frozen sheet of ice covering hard-packed snow beneath, the mound is just right for sliding and MN-style surfing.

Building a secret fort in the wood pile.

Building a secret fort in the wood pile.

I pushed our kids in the tree swings, their feet kicking up sprays of white powder with every arc.  Under a big snow-covered oak tree, watching smoke curl up from the wood burner, surrounded in a powdery quiet blanket interrupted only by the sound of kids in play, all felt right with the world.

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Eventually, we headed inside and heated up some leftovers for lunch. And for dessert, snow cream.

Snow cream is a simple ice cream-like delicacy that I never heard of in all my snowy Minnesotan upbringing.  Ironically, I learned about the treat from my North Carolinian roommate in college, who had a giddy excitement over snow the first year we both went to Montana State.  The fresh powder from a new snowfall is ideal snow for making snow cream.

Ice cream made from snow.

Ice cream made from snow.

SNOW CREAM
bowl of snow–6-8 cups
1/2-3/4 cup cream or milk
4 T. sugar
1 t. vanilla

Stir together until it looks like soft serve ice cream, and eat immediately!  I provided measurements for people who like exactness, but in all honesty, I don’t measure anything.  I just sprinkle sugar, drizzle in cream, add a dash of vanilla and then stir and tweak as needed.  Chocolate syrup is also a great addition.

So, if we happen to get yet another snowfall this March, take some of that four-letter “s” word, and go make yourself something yummy.  Enjoy!

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!

Are You Settled Yet?

The peaceful view from the front porch makes it easy to feel like we’re home.

“Are you settled yet?” Ever since we moved into our new place in late March, people every so often ask me that question. I never really know how to respond. What exactly does it mean to be “settled”?

For some reason, I have this irrational, nagging fear that if I say yes to the question, somehow people will instantly have x-ray vision into my house, where they’ll scan our rooms with a tally sheet and determine scientifically if we are indeed settled or not.

And when they walk in, they’ll see how I never really got my summer clothes out of the laundry baskets and hung up in the closet, see the boxes stacked in the toy room, notice that our stuff in the attic and basement doesn’t get addressed, and my perennial garden is really mostly a weed patch. Seeing all the “someday” projects, there will be an official woman in a schoolmarm outfit with a tight bun in her hair saying, “Ah ha! It appears as though someone’s NOT really settled, are they!” And then hanging my head, I’d receive my ten demerits.

These guys have many friends up in the attic, all waiting for some attention several months after moving.

If “settled” means life is organized, like a nice, smooth running machine…well, then that answer is no. Not only am I not settled here at our new home, but I’d have to say by that definition, I maybe haven’t been settled in my whole adult life.

Maybe feeling settled means comfortably knowing all the back roads and every nook and cranny of your town. Then the answer to that is no, too. Our house is just on the far edge of the Lanesboro school district, so our kids go to school in a town that is still pretty new to me. Growing up north of St. Charles, Minnesota, the town of Lanesboro,  though just a half hour away, seemed like a quaint little town in a faraway distant land. Turns out, it’s not so distant at all, and now it’s home.

In Lanesboro, my kids now know exactly where to find ice cream, the school there has become pretty familiar, and I’m very well-acquainted with the city park and playground. But I know I’ve got a few years before I have that insider local knowledge of where to find all the really cool things. Someday, I’ll show people around the town and say things like, “Just past the house with the three-legged dog, and right before the crazy lady with 50 cats and a purple porch swing.” (I’m not sure that exists in Lanesboro, but please let me know if it does.)

I don’t mind not feeling settled in that way. In fact, I love it. I’ve both moved back home, and at the same time, to a new place. It’s the best of comfortable familiarity and the excitement of new things to discover. In so many ways, though, I look around and see a to-do list that reminds me that we are long from “settled.”

On the other hand, maybe the question “Are you settled yet?” really means, “Do you feel like you’re home? Do you breath a sigh of relief when you pull in the driveway after being gone?” And then, the answer to the question is a big, resounding “yes.” This is home.

The notion really struck me on Labor Day. During the lunch time downpour that day, our kids sat outside dry and cozy under the shelter of the porch roof, eating chicken noodle soup on the wicker loveseat, wrapped in blankets. We had a quiet, lazy morning, tired from a busy weekend of my sister’s move. I had absolutely no desire for anything or anywhere else but being right there.

Unfortunately, though, our baby girl was sick with a fever and I also suspected a bladder infection. I made the call to take her in, and I headed to Rochester with her.

Sometimes it’s fairly enjoyable to head to Rochester and run errands with my kids. This was not one of those days. Sometimes I hate Rochester. It’s not Rochester, per se, it’s really any big town. And perhaps hate is too strong of a word, but I do certainly enjoy leaving when I’m done. There is something about traffic, continual stoplights, and endless stores that drive me crazy.

Add that usual town tension to carrying an antsy baby into a waiting room with a dozen sick and/or injured people ahead of us, and I really just wanted out. Out of the waiting room, out of town, out to our porch to listen to rain in the rocking chair on the last day of summer vacation.

On the way home, the further I got from town, the happier I felt. Turning south heading out of Utica, I felt my shoulders loosen. I pulled into yard utterly relieved, and it struck me how much this place feels like home. Like a refuge. Three kids lined up on the steps to peek over the railing to see me pulling in the driveway, just the sight I wanted to see.

It was supper time and the bowls of chicken noodle soup still sat on the porch from lunch, but I’d have to say I feel settled into our busy, peaceful life out in the country. It’s nice that we’re alone out here, and at the same time, also feel like part of the community. There are still so many names to put to faces, and faces to put on places along the roads by our house. But after just moving in at Easter, we are thankful to know enough friendly neighbors to have a full night of trick-or-treating stops for our kids on Halloween.

I feel like I’ve planted my feet into the dirt up to my ankles, and I have no desire to go anywhere. It is awfully nice black dirt, after all. So to answer the question, “Are you settled yet?”, the answer is yes. When we pull into the driveway, our three-year-old no longer says, “There’s our new house!” He simply says, “We’re home!” And we are, unpacked boxes and all.