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.

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A Series of Fortunate Events

Normally, milking a goat for the first time would be a pretty memorable event for me. But this past week, I almost forgot I even did that. It’s really spring and life is running at full speed at our house.

The to-do list started while driving home in the evening on the Sunday after the big May snow storm. I noticed that the final patches of snow melted in the fields. I pointed it out to my kids, reminding them how we still saw plenty of snow around at noon that day. As I contemplated feeling confident enough to finally pack snow pants and mittens for the season, my six-year-old said, “We need to get our crops planted, Mom.” That’s what he calls our garden.

Wait a minute. He’s right. What?! Snow pants…garden…I’m sorry, but I just have trouble wrapping my head around a garden when I helped my kids build a snowman two days earlier. I just haven’t allowed myself to get excited about a garden this year when every time I look at seed catalogs, we get a snowstorm. With summer vacation just a few weeks away, it’s finally sinking in that the time is now to get all of our projects in high gear.

New Kids on the Block
The goats living at our place have been quite busy themselves.

 Our kids holding the new goat kids, with their little sister impatiently waiting for a turn.

Our kids holding the new goat kids, with their little sister impatiently waiting for a turn.

Right now we’re hosting four “foster goats” at our place. They belong to my brother and his family. On Tuesday, I looked out at the goats in the pasture and wondered when my husband put our little lamb in with the goats. Then I noticed the “lamb” was the wrong color and half the size he should be. We had a new baby goat!! I wandered into the barn, and discovered Big Momma (because that’s her name, of course) had not one baby, but twins. In this age of instant communication, I snapped a picture with my phone and sent it to my brother and sister-in-law to share their new baby news.

Then I noticed that Big Momma had a big swollen udder on one side and a teat swollen like a water balloon. I’m no goat whisperer, but I am a mom, and I know from experience that that sort of thing hurts, a lot. I called my brother, Mike, and we talked about it, and I decided I’d try to milk her by hand to relieve some of the pressure.

Now, before you get the wrong impression about my animal skills, let me tell you about my previous goat experience: Once, when I was in third grade, I saw pygmy goats at a petting zoo while visiting my sister in Oklahoma. One of the goats nibbled the corner off of my paper bag from the gift store, which bothered me enough that I still remember it to this day.

I remember that many of the goats at the zoo were hugely pregnant. Somewhere, there is a picture of me from that day sitting on one of those pregnant goats. Because when I saw a big heavy pregnant momma, I thought it would be fun to take a picture riding her. Now isn’t that, um, sweet? So, that is my experience with goats. Yep, I’m a regular James Herriot.

Between my husband (who also has never milked anything) and I, along with the assistance of four kids, a billy goat who bumps you when you bend over, and a curious dog, we managed to get about a pint of milk in a bucket, and probably another cup on the floor. We fed the goat milk to our bottle-fed lamb, who at first had no interest, and then decided the milk was quite tasty, and he sucked it up.

We took the edge off for Big Momma, and Lamba Lamba Ding Dong (Lamby) had some milk that came from a live animal, not a bag of powder. It was already past bedtime for the kids, so we called that a success, or good enough, anyway.

Sand Mountains
Before the little goat kids stole the show at our house, the big attraction of Tuesday was a new mountain of sand. My husband ordered two truckloads of sand for the base of what will eventually be a concrete floor in our shop. For the short term, though, our kiddos play in sand pile heaven.

We topped the sand pile with a child-sized wooden bridge, a free find from the curb in Utica. The bridge is meant to be a landscaping feature, but temporarily on a sand pile, it makes a perfect spot where the kids can dig a tunnel. Everyone, of course, needs a little spot to dig and hide.

A New Herd of Grass Mowers
Automatic, self-guided grass mowers were another addition to our springtime projects. On Wednesday, we added ten ewes to our list of random farm animals that we are collecting. Seeing sheep in our pasture is nothing new, since last year our neighbor rented out the pasture for his sheep. This year, however, we actually bought the sheep. After the sheep arrived, I looked at my husband, Jarred, and said, “We just bought livestock for the first time.”

Next project on the list? Fencing off more land for the sheep. They want plenty of grass, and we don’t want to mow everything. Win, win.

A Herd of Kindergarteners
Friday was a big day at our house: a birthday party with a slew of kindergarten boys, and a brand new play set for the yard.

When we moved here a year ago, we left our swing set in Montana, with a promise to the kids to get a new one here in Minnesota. Our kids reminded us fairly often of that promise. A Sunday conversation led to a great solution to our play set dilemma. My brother’s kids were outgrowing theirs, and we needed one…perfect!

The play set that is now in our yard is the same one that I remember playing on with my nephew and nieces while I babysat them back in high school. The wood set is about 15 years old, but my brother’s an engineer, so that sucker still looks just as sturdy and as good as new. With a new colorful canopy in place and the slide still a bright yellow, it’s a hugely exciting addition to our backyard.

On Friday afternoon, my kindergarten boy, along with ten buddies and a few cousins, all played on it for the first time. Our kids had no idea that my husband was getting that play set, so when they hopped off of the school bus and spotted it in the back yard…well, I bet you can imagine the excitement… I have to say, I love it, too.

As if a birthday party and new play set weren’t enough, the goat named Baby also had a new baby that day. Little kids at the party got to see a brand new goat kid, play in an enormous pile of sand, climb on a new play set, and play with Lamby, who roams around the yard like a second dog. We capped off the night with a bonfire, and called it a great day.

On Saturday, I was pretty much worthless after wrangling a busy party, but my husband had the energy to make a new tree swing for the giant oak tree in our backyard. He built it big enough for an adult, so we all took plenty of turns on it. The kids declared that it was a Mother’s Day gift for me, and so, it was. I do love tree swings.

Mother’s Day Queen
On Mother’s Day, my cup runneth over with little kid presents: a paper locket necklace, a decorated picture frame, toast in bed, and a paper crown declaring me “Mother’s Day Queen.” I wore my crown, ate specially made toast, and read to my kids the Mother’s Day letter I wrote for them, the one printed last week in the paper.

Wearing new my crown and  locket, reading a special letter to my three-year-old.

Wearing my new crown and locket (and my pajamas), reading a special letter to my three-year-old.

My kitchen floor is a muddy disaster and I could give you a mile long list of imperfections around here, but all that aside, when we have four kids running around chasing a lamb, holding baby animals, playing on sand piles, and swinging from a tree swing, sometimes I feel like we are permanently on vacation out here in the country.

Putting a Little Spring in our Step

I do believe it takes living with -30 wind chills and knee deep snow to fully appreciate the first 70 degree days of spring. Minnesotans get it.

Our Saturday of soaking in 70 degrees prompted the biggest flurry of outdoor projects we’ve had in a long time, and made what was quite possibly, our favorite day this year. Sometimes, days slip by and I wonder what I accomplished, but then there are days like last Saturday, where we suck every last drop out of the day and knock out more projects than ever seemed possible.

It all started a few nights before. I woke up at 2 AM, not able to sleep with a long list of spring projects in my head. Of course, it made me mad to be awake. No kids are up crying or puking, so why am I awake thinking about putting the sleds away? Finally, I just got out of bed wrote down a spring to-do list. The stupid sleds then stopped plaguing me, and I got back to sleep.

Saturday morning, with sunny skies and a predicted high in the 70s, felt like the perfect time to start checking things off that list. It also helped that we had a pressing project to complete: the day before we picked up 55 shrubs and trees from the Soil & Water Conservation District.

The first project of the day was a chicken run. Our chickens spent the winter in the shed across from our house, and judging by their impatient squawking, they were quite ready to have a little more room to stretch out their wings. Our shed already had a little hinged chicken door, so my husband spent the morning using some old fence panels to build a little access route from their contained pen to the chicken door. By lunchtime, a rooster and his harem strolled around the yard snatching up shoots of green grass and and a few bugs.

I think I’ve written this before, but I’ll say it again because it still takes me by surprise: I completely love watching chickens wander around in the yard. I never imagined having any interest in chickens, but I’m becoming quite taken with them. There is something hypnotic and soothing about watching them go about their industrious business of hunting bugs and grass shoots. Sitting on the porch and seeing chickens wander in the yard just gives me that feeling that all is well. I rank it up there with watching bonfires and snow falls. I can’t quite explain it, but I do like those buggers, and their eggs.

Chicken access to outside? Check.

Our chickens enjoyed their new freedom outside.

Our chickens enjoyed their new freedom outside.

Before lunch, my birthday boy (who turned six on Saturday), cleared our sleds off of the porch making room for our summer porch table. Sleds away? Check.

He then helped haul the table legs upstairs from the basement, and by lunchtime, we had our first outside lunch of the season on our porch. That table is a freebie find from the curb during Citywide Clean-up last year, and it provided countless outdoor meals and project space last summer. After a winter packed away, seeing the table again made our porch feel like it’s open for summer business. Porch table set up? Check.

Our 6-year-old celebrated his birthday playing outside with his little brother.  He later helped set up our table in this spot.

Our 6-year-old celebrated his birthday playing outside with his little brother. He later helped set up our table in this spot.

We ate our first watermelon of the season outside on the porch at lunchtime. Granted, we needed jackets on in the breeze, but as Minnesotans with cabin fever, we felt completely happy to finally be outside.

After lunch, our three-year-old with glazed eyes and our inconsolable two-year-old both told me they weren’t at all tired. I went against their, uh, logic and tucked them in for a nap. That gave me three hours to work outside. That, my friends, is a little slice of heaven.

My husband, my oldest daughter and I spent the afternoon putting 25 June berry shrubs in the ground, along with 30 spruce trees.

To the untrained eye, those little spruce trees just look like an ordinary line of saplings, but they are in fact our Christmas Tree Farm. Some day when our kids are teenagers, we’ll go tree hunting right in our yard at Christmas time. Our kids will saw the tree down and drag it into the living room, leaving needles everywhere.

Then we’ll say to our oldest son, “Remember when we planted those trees on your sixth birthday? Look how big they are now!” And then we’ll repeat that again the next year and the next. It’s a long term plan, but I’m excited already. Who wouldn’t like to have their very own tree farm?

Someday, these little saplings will be Christmas trees in our living room.

Someday, these little saplings will be Christmas trees in our living room.

Working outside on a gorgeous day, doing something completely out of the usual routine…I had a blast. Maybe it felt fun because I didn’t do the hole-digging part, but best of all is the excitement of imagining what eventually will become of our afternoon’s labor. Someday we’ll have Christmas trees, and some day we’ll gobble up June berries by the handful. I can’t wait. Berry bushes and spruce trees planted? Check. Check.

Just before supper, we whipped up two pumpkin pies for my son’s special request birthday meal. My six-year-old birthday boy shaped and crimped one pie crust all by himself, and his big sister did the other one. While we accomplished a lot outside, our kitchen looked like we’d had a bomb go off. Ignoring the mess for the short term, we headed back outside to cap off the afternoon with supper on the porch.

And for birthday dessert, we ate warm pie topped with ice cream. Birthday supper? Check.

Our three-year-old told us the day was the best birthday of his whole life.

I laughed. No, it was not his birthday. It was his brother’s. But I had to agree, it was one of the best birthdays ever.

Happy spring, everyone! I hope you all enjoyed last weekend’s sunshine as much as we did.

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.

Say it with me: “At this time last year…”

You certainly heard someone say it this past week.  Maybe you even said it yourself.

Looking out at our sea of snowy white, below zero wind chills, seemingly endless Monday snowfalls, you probably took comfort in A) Your winter escape trip to a warm, sunny location or B) That memory of what our area looked like just one year ago at this very time.

No signs of spring around here, where the road signs are still up to their necks in snow.

No signs of spring around here, where the road signs are still up to their necks in snow.

Cue that springtime bird-chirping music.   Let your mind drift back to last year at this time, with record highs, sunshine, and green grass.

Last year at this time…
-Day lilies peeked out of the ground.
-Crocuses were blooming.
-Snow blowers already had a layer of dust on them.
-The sound of lawnmowers filled neighborhoods.
-Spring lambs played outside on green grass.
-Kids ditched their snow pants and boots, wearing shorts when they played outside.
-First sunburns arrived extra early on MN winter white skin.

The memory of last year at this time is permanently planted in my mind, too, but for other reasons.  March 25th marks one year in our home in Minnesota.

One year ago we said our goodbyes to our family and friends in Montana and pulled out onto the highway, moving out of my husband’s hometown.  We drove all night.  One year ago we showed up at Mom’s house just in time for Sunday brunch.  Surprise!  Nobody in Minnesota knew we were coming that day.

One year ago, on that warm, sunny, blue sky Sunday afternoon we pulled into the yard of our new home and I said to our kids, “We’re home!”  It had been six months since I’d seen that house, so it was like seeing it again for the first time.

March 2012: Tree climbing weather, no jacket required.  Our son climbed "Maple the Maple" for the first time at our new house.

March 2012: Tree climbing weather, no jacket required. Our son climbed “Maple the Maple” for the first time at our new house.

That afternoon one year ago, a lawn full of our kids and their cousins christened our new home by playing in the yard for the first time.  My brother-in-law spent the afternoon mowing our lawn that already looked overgrown at the end of March.

One year ago, I walked around our new house in dazed amazement.  In an exhausted stupor from driving through the night, I took in walls freshly painted by my family, beds set up, and furniture already arranged.  Our family here put in countless hours while we were still back in Montana.

I remember people asking me where I wanted things, but I really didn’t have any answers.  The whole scene felt surreal.  After years of searching for “the place,” and months of headaches with realty arrangements and banks, we finally arrived to stay at our new home.  One year ago on that day, I didn’t roll on the grass, or kiss the ground, but I certainly felt like it.

A year into our new home, we still love it here.  We are thankful for the many neighbors and new friends who welcomed us into the community, and made it easy to be a part of our new hometown.

A few days ago, my husband said he was once again struck by it all as he walked back from the barn one evening after feeding the goats.  Yes, we have goats now, that’s another story.  Looking across the quiet yard in the country, seeing a warm house with a snow-covered landscape all around, all silent and peaceful at dusk, it struck him all over again how much he loves where we live.

We both agreed, though, as pretty as the snow is, we’d love to look out across the green grass that greeted us one year ago at this time.  The groundhog said spring should be here by now, right?

On a related note, as winter (hopefully) wraps up, I just want to say thank you to everyone that drives snow plows, helping keep the roads clear this winter.  While all Minnesotans love to discuss and sometimes grumble about how bad the roads are in the winter, the truth is, I’m usually amazed by how bad the roads are NOT.  As tired as we all are of winter, I’m guessing snow plow operators are just as tired, if not more, of our hefty late winter snows.  Thank you for what you do.

I’m thankful that when a snowfall comes along, or when the wind picks up and makes new drifts, I never wonder if the roads will be taken care of, it’s just done.  I can’t tell you how many times I saw or heard a big orange snow plow going past our house this winter.

Thanks for those before dawn snow plow runs that got the road clear for my sister to get work at Mayo early in the morning so she can be the nurse during someone’s surgery. Thank you for making Minnesota winters easier and safer for all of us.

And finally, happy birthday, Mom!  Thanks for all of the Sunday meals!  Love you.  Kathy (AKA “Number 10”)

Written March 28, 2013

Spring is Keeping Me Awake at Night

Written April 9, 2012.

It’s 2 AM and I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s the full moon. Maybe it’s the mediocre cup of instant Folgers I brewed and drank at 10 PM. Maybe it’s the fact that my husband, Jarred, will be here tomorrow after spending the last two weeks back in Montana working on loose ends. Maybe it’s the landscaping plants sitting outside the Rushford Hardware Hank that beckoned me on the way into the store this evening, and now leave me laying in bed making landscaping schemes and dreams.

Maybe it’s that my 2-year-old keeps getting out of his bed to come and snuggle up next to me for reassurance in this new house, with his giant hard plastic hippo flashlight in tow. Maybe it’s that all the creaking in the hallway from late night foot traffic is waking up the baby, making her cry and then keeping me awake. Maybe I can’t sleep because there are two people sleeping in our king size bed right now, and neither one is my husband nor me…and even though neither one is waist high, the whole bed seems to be occupied.

I don’t know what it is, but I can swear can feel an energized humming all around. The florescent lights under the kitchen cabinets make a soft, slightly annoying hum, but I don’t think that’s it. I think the humming is coming up from the ground. I think it’s spring. It’s soft grass, crabapple trees in full blooming pink, tractors industriously crisscrossing up and down our road, and leaf buds opening on trees, practically glowing in the fresh green.

All of it makes me just too excited to sleep. Living in a rental house for the past year felt a little like suspended animation. We spent a big part of that year in a holding pattern, wondering where and how were going to land. But now, we’ve landed.

Our kids were thrilled to discover a gigantic evergreen in our windbreak, perfect for climbing and complete with an existing tree fort.

And best of all, it’s spring. It’s my favorite time of the year. It’s easy to fall in love in spring. Eleven years ago I remember hanging out on the roof of Jarred’s house in college, sitting up there with him in the week before finals. The excitement of freedom from school in sight, and looking out from the rooftop vantage point at the town of Bozeman, Montana, where every apple tree was in full pink bloom, and the sun was shining warm in the clear blue sky, made the whole world seem lovable. I was smitten with life and engaged in three months. That’s what spring, and of course the right guy, can do.

The feeling is much the same here at our new home. There’s just so much energy, promise, and new opportunity all around. Coming from dryland Eastern Montana, where our annual rainfall was just 13 inches, I feel like I’ve now been unleashed in Minnesota at the all-you-can-grow buffet. Looking at plants and seeds, I have to rein myself in and practice portion control. I just want all of it. I want to gorge myself on plants and grow everything, until I feel gluttonous on flowers.

Part of me feels like a kid getting to play farmhouse. I get to have my house and yard in the country that is all ours, and stare out at rolling fields of rich, black dirt and have all the fun of seeing big tractors in the field and watching crops grow. And like a kid, watching the farming all around me is just pure fun. I fully realize farming involves the reality of equipment breaks, bankers, ever-changing federal farm programs, uncertain crop prices, and so much more. And that makes me all the more content to simply be an enthusiastic fan on the sidelines of farming.

While I’m just a spectator to the fields all around us, in our own house and yard, we can get our hands dirty with several years’ worth of projects. I look around and I’m just itching to give some attention to countless little projects that need some paint, a little repair, some love, and a little sprucing up. Doing them on our own time, the progress will be little by little. In my head, though, I can run it all at fast forward speed, and see the end product like it’s one of those movie montages.

If life was a Hollywood movie, we’d have this whole place looking pretty as a picture in about three minutes.

You know the kind, the Happy Hollywood Fixing up the Farmhouse Montage. If life was a Hollywood movie, I’d wear overalls and a red handkerchief on my head, the standard “working hard in the country” movie costume. In the background, a happy, hoedown-y song would be playing as you’d see the progress of improvements on our farm. I say farm, because in Hollywood, our 7.6 acres is most definitely a farm because we have a farmhouse, silo, barn, chicken coup, and sheds. Farm, right? No tillable acreage aside from the garden? Eh, details.

Visualize, then, some happy music as the backdrop of the “hard work” montage. I’d have a paint roller in my hand, painting up the outside of the house, and 10 seconds later the house will look all spiffy and new. Then I’d work up a sweat in the garden, wipe my brow with the back of my hand and leave a dirt streak there (you know you’ve seen this before). Next, Jarred and I saw logs with one of those two handled saws (firing up a more practical Stihl chainsaw just isn’t as romantic). Add in some zany hijinks where our kids are chasing chickens, and then the chickens chase the kids.

Then we’d wash the rounded fenders of our 1940’s pickup truck (because that’s what all movie farmers drive). I’d accidentally splash someone else with the garden house, and then a crazy, silly waterfight would break out. By now, the end of the hoedowny song comes, and we collapse on our backs onto the green grass with our arms stretched out, with that satisfied, hard-work-feels-good smile on our faces as we sigh.

And ba-da-bing, the camera pans across the farmyard, where everything is neat and trim and freshly painted, and all the flowers are growing perfectly under the wraparound porch. In the next shot, we sip our lemonades on the porch swing, gazing upon the sunset (even though the porch actually faces east, but that doesn’t matter for Hollywood purposes). All of the improvements would be done in the course of a song.

In real life I’d love to just grab a paintbrush and some perennials and be left to my own devices for days at a time. But if you’ve read any previous weeks of this column, you know my reality is four little kids to take care of, and you can probably guess that making “good progress” on anything often involves either losing sleep or leaving the kids to their own devices for too long, and then picking up the pieces (often literally) of whatever they’ve gotten into.

Our two-year-old was definitely less than thrilled to discover a burdock for the first time.

It’s late. I really should be in bed. Tomorrow morning, I will regret being up for an extra few hours tonight. I’ll feel crabby and groggy and just want to sleep when the kids are clamoring for a bowl of cereal. But yes, I am excited. Spring is in the air. It’s new life, new beginnings, new opportunities, endless possibilities. I can feel it all around me, and I want to go play.

 © 2012