Thursday, December 30, 2010


I took this photo from my front porch this afternoon. Right after the weather man said, and I quote, "Folks, its going to be bad."... and he was talking about tomorrow.

It was balmy here (well, balmy for Minnesota in December) last night, the precipitation came down  as rain and Mother Nature graciously glazed every surface with ice before turning a cold shoulder and polishing it with snow.  She then proceeded to throw a tantrum.  And as any self-respecting woman knows, a good, thorough, hell-raising tantrum must last a minimum of three days to be taken seriously.  Not that I've ever thrown one or anything...  just sayin'.

So, we've been snowed (iced) in all day, and the worst is yet to come...with two more days to go.  Every major highway within 75 miles, interstate and otherwise, is closed.  Its officially a blizzard, no travel advised, we are taking it seriously... and I love it.

This is the stuff legends are made of, what separates the wheat from the chaff.  As we say here in Minnesota... it keeps the rif-raff out.  Its when we hunker down, watch movies, take long(er) winter naps, read, write, plan next year's garden, play crazy rummy, create homemade-from-scratch soup from the homegrown beef in the freezer and let it simmer on the stove all day.  Its when I shrug into my winter gear and trudge out to the barn through snow over my knees to let the livestock in, then spend a few moments just listening to them appreciatively munch the fragrant hay I stacked in there for just this day, months before.

We don't have anywhere to be, the freezer and pantry are stocked (and failing that, we could probably live off our "reserves", especially after the gluttony of Christmas, for quite some time.  Probably until spring, God forbid but truth be told). The livestock are sheltered and fed.  This is what we plan for (and secretly look forward to) the rest of the year.  It is why I keep plenty of food and candles, batteries and blankets and toilet paper on hand at all times. Tonight, and possibly for a few days yet, there will be no driving to the convenience store.

Granted, we are blessed with the technology and experts to forecast such events... far enough ahead, in fact, that we went to town yesterday to stretch our legs and pick up last minute items such as milk and produce.  Once in the store, however, I realized there was really very little we needed to purchase, because I've stashed  everything from bottled water to beans to band-aids.  So instead of going home empty handed, I bought more books and pens and journals.  My girls bought more books.  My husband bought sidewalk de-icer, and was nice enough to refrain from complaining about us buying more books.  We all came home happy.

I can't think of a better way to ring in the new year than safely hunkered down at home with my family, nowhere to go, plenty to eat, the livestock contentedly buttoned up in the barn, a stack of books and a stash of new pens. Well, and a bottle of brandy... its medicinal, you know.

Let it snow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Freedom Isn't Free

Today is Veteran's Day, a day in which we pause to reflect on our freedoms, to honor and thank those who fought for them, to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives so that ours may be free.

I write this as a woman who, just days ago, exercised my right to vote.  I am blessed with the right and the freedom to bear arms, in order to feed my family if I so choose, and to defend them if necessary.

Unlike so many others the world over, I have, and exercise, the right to freely assemble with like-minded associates, and the freedom to worship my God... or not.

I have the opportunity to sit here this evening, writing my opinion and sharing it with the world, without fear of persecution.

My daughters will receive an education and grow into adulthood with the knowledge and confidence that they are free to achieve, to publicly express their opinions, to be whatever and whomever they want to be in life.

My gratitude to the men and women who fought and sacrificed so that my family is able to enjoy these freedoms, is beyond measure.

Thank you.  To those young and old, to those who march proudly with the VFW and to the others who are private about their service, no matter how you served or where, how recent or long-ago... I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

My family lives free because of your service and sacrifice.  Please know that we remember you with deep gratitude not only on Veteran's Day, but all year long.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It starts... and stops... at home.

Last night, my husband came home from work with a sad story to tell.

It seems he spent part of his day visiting a farmer near Cooperstown, North Dakota.  As they talked about seed, weather and markets, a hearse drove by on the country road and past the farmer's house.  The farmer shook his head, and proceeded to tell my husband about a young girl, sixteen years old, who had been bullied incessantly at school. Early that same morning, she wrote one final post to Facebook... and then took her own life.

There is talk now in North Dakota, about passing a law which would address the problem and make bullying a crime.  The video which follows is part tribute to the young woman who took her life, and part rallying cry to the people of the state, in order to gain support for the legislation now being drafted.

As we are all shocked and saddened by this tragic loss of a young, beautiful life, it understandable that we want to band together and DO SOMETHING.  Passing a law is symbolic and important... but the problem goes way beyond what a law or the enforcement of it could do.  We cannot depend solely on the government to fix it, because


Somehow, somewhere along the line, bullies get the impression that the only way to be someone in life, the only way to shine brightly, is to cut down the competition or attempt to blow out the flame which outshines their own.  To say people like that are jealous, pathetic losers with a twisted view of what it means to succeed in life would be the understatement of all time... and yet, it doesn't really help the situation.

What would, then, help the situation?  Paying attention to our kids, and to what is going on in their lives.

Getting our own heads out of the clouds, or out of the bottle, or off the computer, or out of the casino or shopping mall, or away from the career, and truly listening to them.

Having the courage to stand up in defense of those who are mistreated, to address the issue, and to quit worrying about what the neighbors might think if we do.

Teaching empathy and compassion to our children, that human beings mean more than stuff or status.

Also, teaching our children self-respect, along with self-defense.

The problem is two-fold.  On one hand, we have the winner-take-all crowd, for whom little more matters than  how they are perceived by society, and who will do whatever it takes to be top dog.  On the other hand, we have the pacifist, nothing-matters-but-feelings crowd, the be-nice-so-people-will-like-you club.

As parents, it is OUR responsibility to raise our children to be decent human beings.  We need to instill confidence, promote self-esteem, encourage and applaud achievement.  But bullying ENDS in the home as well...we need to trim our kids' wings if they become aggressive little monsters.  Throwing up our hands and saying, "Well, that's just how she is, I don't know how to control her..." isn't good enough, nor is pleading ignorance.  It's OUR job to raise that child to be an upright member of society, and no one else's.  Not the daycare provider's, not Grandma's, not the government's, not the church's, not the school district's, not the penal system's... ours.  You'll sure as hell brag and take credit if your kid wins a State Championship of some sort... are you willing to take that same credit should they end up in the penitentiary?

On the flip side of that... parents also need to arm their children against bullies.  Expecting the school to take notice when there is a problem and do something about it is naive. Children need to be supervised, taught social skills and proper hygiene, provided with adequate clothing for their needs (no, not designer duds... I'm talking about clean clothes that actually fit them)... and they need to be taught how to defend and stand up for themselves.  These things are not the responsibility of the school system or the government, but of the parents.

My husband and I have two girls, one in high school, one in elementary.  We have often been amazed by how aggressive, demanding and yes, mean-spirited, other little girls can be.  More than once I have found myself in the position of backing a daughter away from a so-called friendship, until she could better learn to stand up for herself.  I've had to explain that being a friend doesn't mean caving to every demand, or going along with the crowd if it doesn't feel right... and that its okay to have your own interests and follow the beat of your own drummer.  We teach our girls that its okay to tease a little, in fun... but its never okay to taunt or intentionally hurt the feelings of another.  That requires discussing which subjects are acceptable to laugh about, and which are not.  And yes, it is an investment of time.  We seem to find that time during family meals, eaten together at the kitchen table with the television OFF.

Having said that, however... both of our girls are enrolled in martial arts.  I've told them repeatedly that while its never okay to start a fight, it is okay to finish it.  That if someone physically harms them, they must defend themselves without giving any thought whatsoever to the sort of trouble they might get into.  It gets back to the worry, "What will the neighbors think".  Frankly, I don't care what they think, as long as my daughter is alive, safe, and well.

Girls, especially, often have the "you've got to be nice to be liked" mantra drilled into their heads.  Nice just for the sake of being nice, however, is dangerous territory.  They begin to believe that because they are nice, nothing bad would or could or should ever happen to them.  That's a lie from the pit if ever there was one.  Even Jesus opened up a can of "not-so-nice" on the moneychangers in His Father's temple.  He demonstrated that sometimes, its necessary to stand up against what is wrong, in order to defend what is right.

As parents, we also need to remember that bullying is not only confined to swirlies and locker room altercations.  As we have all seen on the news, bullying is beginning to take on new and ever more vile forms... stalking, harassment via social media, secret recording of private moments which are then shared via the internet or cell phone, even the parents of kids who are in competition with each other are getting in on the game.  Its disgusting, horrifying, and real.

We need to open our eyes and pay attention to our kids... to where they are, what they are doing and with whom, and to what they are saying.

We need to pay attention to what is going on in their lives, catch the problems early on and DO something about them, before they spin out of control.

We cannot sit back and wait for someone else to take care of the problem, or bury our heads in the sand in hopes it will go away on its own.  It will not.  I'm not advocating "helicopter parenting" here... we cannot dip our kids in sanitizer and cocoon them in bubble wrap before sending them off to school.  They need to visit new places, try new things, experience life... its all a part of growing up... and we need to let them.  But we also need to pay attention.

My heart is breaking tonight for a family in North Dakota who lost their beautiful daughter unnecessarily at the age of sixteen.  I implore each and every parent out there to step up to the plate with me and shoulder some responsibility... to stop bullies in their tracks, to open our eyes to what is going on in the lives of our children, and do whatever it takes to prevent further tragedy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


These are my boots.

I purchased them at Sears more than ten years ago, before the start of one of my first sugar beet harvest campaigns.

You have no idea how difficult it was to find steel-toe leather work boots in women's sizes, back then... comfortable ones, anyway.  I hit the jackpot.

This past decade, I've worn them more days than not, and if given the opportunity, they could tell quite a story...

These boots have worn out four sets of insoles and countless pairs of laces.

They have stood on concrete slabs out in the elements for twelve-hour shifts, in every sort of weather imaginable.

They've operated the control pedals of tractors, boom trucks, service vehicles, ATV's and quite a few farm pickups... with varying degrees of success.

These boots pushed my daughters' strollers, and escorted them to the school bus stop on their first days of Kindergarten and many days since.  They've fetched the mail a thousand times over.

I have worn these boots while bringing life into the world, and while escorting it out again... while imprinting foals, building fences, butchering, throwing hay bales, cleaning stalls and burying the dead.

They have been coated with mud, dust, chaff, grass clippings, barn lime, wood shavings; baptized with Jack Daniels, barn paint and tears.

These boots have been soaked in morning dew, April slush, manure, motor oil, and blood.  They still bear the the stains.

They have protected my feet from dropped hammers, heavy corral panels, scrap metal, grass fires, brush and more errant hooves than I can remember. Their heels have snuffed out spiders, mice, snakes and cigarette butts.

I've watched more sunrises, sunsets, frolicking foals, bonfires, wildlife and shooting stars while wearing these boots than some people take the time to notice over the course of an entire lifetime.

These boots have skimmed just inches over sun-baked asphalt at eighty miles an hour, serenaded by singing pipes, 600 miles in one perfect day... then worked to set up camp after that... a few times over.

They have leaped in joy, danced under the stars, slid into stirrups, shuffled in crushing sorrow, paced outside hospitals and scraped their toes on concrete while kneeling in desperate prayer.  My boots have gone to the landfill, the grocery store, the feed mill, the lumber yard, and to Sturgis... they've gone fishing, often, and sometimes a little crazy... occasionally they have stood  their ground in heated debate, though have run to the aid of others quite often.

Once, after an accident in which they were soaked in blood, I decided to never wear them again, thinking they were bad luck.  I didn't, for a long, long time... even going so far as to buy another pair of boots, though I could never bring myself to throw this pair away.  Those new boots just weren't made for my feet like these are, however; they rubbed until my feet were blistered and bleeding.  I suffered and doctored my feet for weeks afterward.  It made me think that maybe these old boots still had a purpose, even if they were stained and worn  and carried some bad memories.  Finally, I decided that the good in them, far outweighed the bad.

Why?  Because some of my greatest accomplishments were earned by walking countless miles and working countless hours in these boots, and sometimes just by putting them on and showing up.  I met some of my dearest friends while wearing them.  I've endured some of the most difficult, some of the most heartbreaking, and certainly the most exhausting days of my life with these boots on my feet... but also experienced the most joyful.

My boots are not fashionable, not trendy, certainly not pretty.  They are heavy, they collect and hoard mud like its Halloween candy.  It takes time to lace them in the morning, far longer than it would to just slip into  a lighter pair.  Some days, after wearing them for particularly hard work, they feel like anvils tied to my feet.

But, they are comfortable. Safe. Well-made. Dependable. Functional.  They have character. And every time I lace them up, the memories come flooding back, both good and bad.  My boots are a reminder to keep going, keep fighting, keep believing, to never give up; they are a daily reminder of who I am, where I've been... and where I intend to go.

Think I'll keep them around awhile longer.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Angels on Earth

David James

David James grew up in my hometown.  

He was a few years my senior, liked and respected by many.  I had the honor of playing in the high school band with him, in the trombone section.  

Back then, I was a pipsqueak freshman and he was every freshman girl's idea of McDreamy... an accomplished athlete, confident and handsome with a thousand-kilowatt smile, and nice to boot. While I don't recall visiting with him one-on-one very much, what I do remember is that he was kind and always carried himself with such class.  It was no surprise to hear that he went on after high school to serve twenty years in the Air Force, both in the Gulf War and Desert Storm.  He really was the kind of guy that would make a career of serving his country with honor.

So the news two weeks ago that David was gunned down in a public park in front of his eight-year-old daughter, while defending some skateboarding kids from an idiot on a rant (you can read the news article here)... it was one of those things that hits you square in the chest as being such a senseless, horrific tragedy.  

David and his family have been on my mind a lot these past couple weeks.  I've been praying for his wife and children, that God grant them peace and comfort... and especially for his little daughter Danielle.  She was at the park that day with her dad to play basketball, a game they both loved.  Even as I write this, long-forgotten memories of David playing basketball for our high school rise to the surface; I have an image in my head of him smiling out there on the court, enjoying the game.  One can only imagine the special bond that David and Danielle shared, for love of the game.

Cledus T. Judd

It seems I'm not the only one whose heart was touched by this sad story.  Today, a friend posted to Facebook an audio in which the musician/comedian Cledus T. Judd read, on the radio, the most incredibly touching letter to Danielle James.  He has never met her, but wanted to reach out to her in the spirit of compassion and friendship.  One can hear the tears in his voice, the true feeling behind his words, and I feel compelled to share it.  Please listen here.

There will always be tragedies and losses in this world; some of them close to home.  It is so difficult to make sense of them... but I thank God for people such as Mr. Judd, who step up and step out in the face of such tragedy, to lift up those who grieve.  While such acts cannot bring back loved ones lost or turn back time, they do bring comfort and restore our faith in humanity.

Thank you, Mr. Cledus T. Judd... and David, may you rest in peace knowing there are angels here on Earth, too.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This Is Your Life.

This was posted on the blog and I just had to share it.  I may just have to frame it to hang in my kitchen... especially love the "All emotions are beautiful." So true.  There is beauty in tears, in anger, in love... they are what make us human.

Help Me God

Sometimes things happen in life which leave us bereft, lost, hurting so deeply and so afraid, that even a believer cannot form the words to pray.  Challenges seem insurmountable, the night so black and without end.  We've all been there, at some point... every single one of us.  Probably more times than one would care to admit, as being strong and self-reliant is what's valued in this society, after all.

A friend posted this beautiful video to Facebook today, and it literally brought me to my knees.

Sometimes all we can say is, "Help me God.  I'm lost and hurting, I can't see You, but I know You are there. Help me."

I share this for all those who are lost and hurting.

"Help Me God"
    by Kathy Troccoli

Help me God I'm scared
And I'm unprepared to face the night alone
Hear me, hear my prayer
My soul it aches and I've nowhere to go
Help me God

In this dark hour
I know only the power that made the stars
Can mend my heart
Oh I've tried on my own but I'm not that strong
You're all I've got
You're all I've got
Help me God

Sometimes, people leave
And I can grieve cause life's not always fair
help me to hold on
though I can't see you, I believe you're there
I know you're there


Monday, October 11, 2010

Haying in October

In all my years as a farm girl, I cannot recall ever putting up hay in October.

So, this would be a first.

Let me just say, for the record, I'm okay with it.  
When you're looking at six months of snow up to your derrière...

and temperatures plunging, at times, to -40F...

and herds of horses and calves looking to you as their sole means of survival...

hay put up at any time of year is good.  But hay put up in October is an unexpected blessing.

As is having kids now old enough to help!

Dad giving instruction to the new driver.

She's twelve.  Going on twenty.  
And driving a five-speed, four-wheel-drive, turbo-diesel pullin' truck.

Daddy does the baling, and he stacks the bales I pitch onto the trailer.
The little one helps too.  She fetched my camera for me. And keeps us in stitches.

Oh, and Grace keeps an eye out for varmints.  

Life is good.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Another Creative Outlet...

It was almost a year ago when my oldest daughter contracted the H1N1 flu, and was hospitalized with life-threatening complications. My husband and I took turns staying with her around the clock; one was at the hospital at all times, while the other would be at home with our younger daughter.  We took 24-hour shifts and the arrangement worked pretty well, considering the gravity and stress of the situation.

During one of my shifts at home, however, I was feeling particularly restless and felt the need to DO SOMETHING.  Hoping to share my daughter's story and send out a plea for people to pray for her recovery, I spent a few hours learning the ins and outs of video slideshow production. Quite pleased with the results, I then posted it to YouTube and Facebook.  The video got a lot of positive response... and as a result, I found a new creative outlet in the midst of very unlikely circumstances.

In February, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and I wanted to create a tribute to them.

This is the result:

Of course, it was only fair to include my youngest daughter in the mix...

For my 20th wedding anniversary, a retrospective was in order:

And then, there is my most recent project, a video of some of the horses and scenes from around the farm:

I truly enjoy producing these videos.  When my daughters ask about what they should do or be when they grow up, my answer is always the same: they should do whatever it is that when they are in the midst of it, they get so absorbed that time flies by and they lose all track of it.   I am so fortunate to have a number of passions, and to have to opportunity to devote much of my time to them... my horses, my writing, and now this new creative outlet as well.  Its amazing to see how they are all coming together to work in conjunction with one another... and proof positive that keeping an open mind to the possibilities in life really does open up new opportunities.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Of Teddy Bears and Pixie Dust

Six years ago tonight, I was nesting.  Folding and re-folding tiny onesies and sleepers while watching television, something I've done relatively little of in the years since.  I was excited, restless, and yet... content.  Looking back, I realize now that I should have been sleeping.

The next day there was to be a routine check-up with my doctor... then grocery shopping, and after that, a relaxing weekend with my husband and seven-year-old daughter.  There is a saying, however... if you want to make God laugh, just make plans.

The next morning was rushed; I learned early on in my first pregnancy that if one does not wish to spend hours in the waiting room of a busy OB-GYN practice, its wise to make your routine appointments for early in the morning.  So, it was hurry-up-get-my-daughter-on-the-school-bus, then jump in the vehicle for the seventy-mile trip to the doctor's office.  I remember it being the most beautiful of September days.  Little did I know, I would not return home for a week.

As is the case at every late-term prenatal appointment, the doctor took my blood pressure and then checked my "progress"... and I will never forget the look of grave concern which crossed her face.  Nor will I forget the speed at which I found myself suddenly placed into a wheelchair and pushed to the other end of the building to the maternity ward, checked into a room and hooked up to an I.V. which would drip labor-inducing drugs into my system.

For a pragmatic woman like myself who likes to do things by relatively natural methods, the whole scenario was stressful and disappointing... yet when your baby's life (and your own) is at risk, ideals tend to quickly get thrown out the window in exchange for the most technologically advanced medical intervention possible.  My labor was induced, I was given an epidural early on (as the baby was in a bad position and the pain excruciating), and we narrowly avoided a c-section.  We found out days later that the baby had broken a clavicle (collarbone) during delivery; she was jaundiced, I was severely pre-eclamptic, we were both very ill, and we both spent the next two weeks in and out of the hospital before things settled down and we could just be a family.

But, despite our stressful introduction, one which would make any natural-childbirth proponent gasp in dismay (me included)... we survived.  We bonded.  We looked into one another's eyes (hers, rimmed with the most beautiful eyelashes to ever grace a human child) and fell immediately, totally in love... and have, until a few weeks ago, been apart very little in the years since.

The best advice I ever got from anyone in regard to parenting was to "enjoy every single moment.  They grow up way too fast."  I took that advice to heart, and stayed home with my daughters; it was a decision I will never regret.

That does not mean it was an easy road, however.  The "date nights" were few and far between.  We ate, at times, a lot of potatoes and venison.  I learned to cook creatively out of necessity, rather than real culinary talent or desire.  If I wanted Mexican or Chinese food, I learned how to make it myself.  The telephone and computer were often my only social outlet.  February usually lasted three months.

But oh, the joy.  Of being there when my baby took her first steps, babbled her first words, cut and then lost  her first tooth.  Of walking the floor with colic/earache/strep throat, of the thousands of miles she and I put on our hand-me-down rocking chair.  Of watching her personality develop, and her character and confidence blossom....

Three weeks ago, she started Kindergarten.  It was an emotional day for me, but we were both ready.  This daughter has always been an adventure-seeker, one who lives to see what's over the next hill, and had no trouble whatsoever walking on that bus and into her future.  There were no "I miss Mommy" tears, no regrets, and there was no looking back.  And now every day at 4:15, I do a "3-2-1" countdown before the hurricane of enthusiasm that is my youngest daughter, blows through the door to tell me all about her day.

As I tucked her into bed tonight, she was squirming with delight in the knowledge that tomorrow is her birthday, her first "friends" birthday party, that there will be gifts and cake and oh, yeah, gifts.  It is also her "V.I.P." day in her classroom.  Her joy and excitement is something I wish I could capture in a jar, to save on the shelf and savor in years to come.  While she said her prayers in a sweet little voice, I found myself wishing for the ten-thousandth time that time would just... stop for awhile.  That it would just let me squeeze out every last drop of her at five years old.

But as my friend Gladys would have said, "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."  And so I sit here tonight, having wrapped my daughter's birthday gifts, baked the birthday treats for her class and packaged the party favors... savoring the moment.  She'll not be five years old again, after today.  Gone are the days of diapers and pacifiers and that sweet, fuzzy, sweet-smelling head nestled against my shoulder.... of teddy bears and pixie dust... but that's okay.  I savored them, drank them in, wrung every last succulent drop out of them.  Those days are now replaced by ABC's and 123's and the occasional eye-roll.  Much to my surprise and delight, they are every bit as joyful.

Oh... and and after six years, I am actually... finally... catching up on sleep.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Service With a Smile


The small town nearest to my farm now has two convenience stores.  

Big news, I know! But bear with me here for a bit... this is a teachable moment... 

I frequented the first store every few days for a couple years, and while the faces grew familiar, they rarely were anxious to smile, converse, or thank me for my business.  It often seemed as if they felt they were doing me a favor in taking my money, of which I gave them plenty (being one of those evil, die-hard SUV owners and all).

So when the second store opened, I gave it a try.  Much to my delight, the staff is friendly, helpful, accommodating.  They once tore the place apart attempting to find a stamp for me when the post office down the street changed its hours and I needed to get a letter in the mail.  Tonight, while waiting for my "Friday Family Night" pizza, one clerk with whom I've chatted a few times suggested we should get together for coffee (she and I realized we are neighbors), and we most likely will do just that.  I actually look forward to visiting that store, which is probably high praise for a gas station.

These two stores are similar in many ways.  Their pizzas and prices are comparable, though the first store carries a larger selection of products.  And, of course, gasoline is just that.  But here's the kicker... to patronize the store I favor, I must go out of my way and cross a busy four-lane highway.  This girl does not generally go out of her way, nor am I much of a shopper.  I tend to visit the most convenient location, get what I need and get out, even if the convenience costs a few cents more.

Unless, of course, it feels good to go out of my way... and in this case, it does.  By simply acting as if my business matters to them, by building a relationship and offering pleasant customer service, the second store earned my willingness to make the extra effort to cross the highway and spend my money at their establishment.  

If that seems inconsequential, consider this:  I drive a large SUV (a necessity), live fifteen miles from my daughters' school, twenty miles from the town in which those same daughters attend tae kwon do classes four nights a week, and eight miles from our church.  That adds up to a whole lot of miles and a whole lot of gasoline most weeks, and does not account for the couple times a month I drive into the city, or to my parent's house an hour away, or the occasional family road-trip.  We buy gasoline for my vehicle, more for my lawn mower, and diesel fuel for the farm pickup and tractor.  And of course, we occasionally purchase a pizza, or case of soda, or some paper towels... 

These two stores are an apples-to-apples comparison; the difference is in the small details.  Relationship building and customer service are not rocket science.  Its pretty simple, really. 

Smile.  Ask about your customer's day.  Be helpful.  Be authentic.  

It makes a difference.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lazy Pork Roast

Its hot out today... and in all my infinite wisdom, I have been wielding a manure fork in the barn for the past few hours.  In an effort to justify some time inside my beloved, air-conditioned home (and still feel productive), I thought I would share one of my not-so-secret recipes.

Each year in the late fall, we purchase a hog from an Amish family.  They are kind enough to do the less-appealing work of raising and slaughtering it, and we take it from there... cutting, wrapping (well, vacuum-sealing), and eventually, eating the whole darn thing.  First to go generally are the chops, as there is no finer gastronomical pleasure than a perfectly grilled pork chop. In cleaning out my freezer and doing an inventory a few days ago, I was thrilled and amazed to discover a few beautiful, precious packages of chops and ribs left to use up this year... along with around twenty roasts.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy roast pork!  But with a whole hog, you do tend to get a lot of roasts.  While the butt roasts usually are tender and juicy no matter the method of preparation, shoulder roasts tend to be a bit tougher cut.  I have, however, found a (ridiculously easy) method of preparing them so they turn out juicy, flavorful and mouthwatering, no matter which corner of the hog from whence they originate.

The crock pot.  I love my crock pot.  All I do is throw the roast into it, top it off with a sliced onion, a couple minced cloves of garlic, 1/4-1/2 cup of water, salt and pepper... put the lid on, and let that baby cook.  All day.  Until it is falling apart, and has tormented my family with its mouthwatering aroma to the point of mutiny if I don't feed it to them. Immediately.

From there, I pull the meat from the crock pot, shred it with two forks, and toss it back into the juices in the pot.  It makes awesome sandwiches, particularly on buns (and if they are homemade buns, prepare yourself to loosen your belt a few notches, as you won't be able to eat just one).  I like mustard on mine, but barbecue sauce is very good, as well.  My husband bastardizes his with ketchup... but to each his own, I guess...

A couple things to remember.  Do not trim the fat from the meat before you cook it... you can always drain or separate the fat later, but the fat is important to the flavor and moisture of the meat while it cooks.  Also, be sure to start the roast early enough to give it time to cook to the point of falling apart or shredding easily... it makes a *huge* difference in the tenderness of the meat.  The water, even though it is a small amount, is important as well.  It seems to facilitate and speed up the cooking process, and also improves the tenderness of the meat.

I've been known to throw all caution to the wind, and put the roasts in the crock pot frozen, cooking them on high... they turned out great, and none of us contracted food poisoning or trichinosis.  But more often, I don't think about whats for supper until after lunch (great foresight, I know)... so then defrost the meat in the microwave and cook it on high.  It works because we generally don't eat supper around here until dark... which, in the summer, means late.  The best way to do it, however, is to do as I say, not as I do, and start the previously-defrosted roast in the crock pot, in the morning, and cook it on low all day so it is ready for a reasonable mealtime of say, 6pm.

Give it a try... pork shoulder is an inexpensive cut to buy, and with few other ingredients and little prep time, you can have a tasty meal, and the leftovers reheat well for lunch the next day.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Every Rose Has Its Thorn... That's What Makes Them Interesting

I love roses.

Wild roses, shrub roses, hybrid teas... and I love rose patterned china and wallpaper and rose-scented perfume and the Jackson & Perkins catalog.  My youngest daughter's middle name is Rose.  During the college years, I actually worked in a shop that sold only roses... and never tired of being surrounded by them.

I love receiving roses, love arranging them and love growing them.  My daughters gave me two rose bushes for Mother's Day... both hybrid teas, a challenge to my horticultural ability.  They are both actually still alive.  I'm not sure how to gently suggest that if, in the future, they decide to bless me with more rose bushes, that blessing might live longer if they choose the hardier "shrub" variety.  Particularly those bred in Canada.  But I'll do my best with these, and hope they prosper for years to come.

Where did I get this love of roses? Honestly, I don't know.  Maybe I'm just fussy... but think its more likely the contrast between the delicate beauty of each rose, and its thorny backbone.  To me, something is truly beautiful when it has a bit of an edge or a challenge to it.  One cannot frolic about picking roses as you would daisies, without receiving a fistful of thorns.  They command respect.  Admire their beauty, inhale their fragrance, and pick them if you wish... but carefully, or risk being scratched...

A bouquet of roses from the bushes my daughters gave me sits on my table at the moment... the first of many (I hope).  The flowers are a bit faded and droopy from the heat we've endured lately. In my eyes, however, a more beautiful bouquet does not exist.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The County Fair

We've been working hard.  Like, for a long time.  

It was time for some fun.... so we went to the county fair.

We rode the carousel...

...played a few games...

...rode some more rides...

She scored the #24 car... atta girl!

Keeping her eyes on the... road?

"Don't text and drive... call when you arrive... don't talk to strangers..." 

Here we go!

Hang on!!!

Then it was time for some fair food...

 She doesn't like corn dogs (my fair food of choice) and wanted to buy her own lunch.
A pork chop on a stick.
How a child who doesn't like corn dogs could have sprung from my loins, is a mystery to me.
Its heresy.

I'll bet this gentleman's mother raised him right, and that *he* likes corn dogs.
(I love seeing the seniors at the fair.  Especially old farmers in John Deere hats.)

YUM! Corn dogs!
(We are having more success indoctrinating this child. Guess practice makes perfect.)

The prodigal daughter.  I love her anyway.
And she did eat most of my deep fried cheese curds.
There may still be some hope for her.

With full bellies, it was time for more fun...

Shaking a leg.
Yes, they are shy and reserved.... until you cue the music.

Taking a bow!

The crowd loved it!

With the show over, it was time to check out the livestock exhibits...

Milking a cow!
They made us sign a liability waiver, and dispensed hand sanitizer afterward.
I told the guy with the hand sanitizer they needed it more over at the carnival rides, than in the cow barn.
He laughed.

She earned her stripes... er, stickers!

The DNR had a baby fawn on display...

So precious and beautiful!

The day was a hot one, and all that fun wears a girl out, so we finally headed for home...

All that singing and walking and riding and dancing and corn-dog eating just plumb wore her out!

...and we went back to work...
sort of...

(Gotta love a man in a tool belt. Be still, my heart.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Ten days ago, I wrote about Stripey, the Monarch caterpillar who came to live in my kitchen.

This is what he looked like then, just before he shed his skin and turned into a chrysalis:

But, a lot can happen in ten days.

In ten days, we've had lots of rain, and seen lots of rainbows like these:

We've had a visit from the Tooth Fairy...

...and welcomed a new foal into the world...

...and watched baby barn swallows do what baby barn swallows do. 

That is, eat.

They live above the foaling stall, and announced... "The new Prince is here!"

My baby bird likes to announce things and eat, too... 

though here she is pleading for a brownie, rather than a bug.

But, back to bugs.  Er, I mean, butterflies.

Ours made his appearance this morning, amidst a house-shaking, nerve-wracking thunderstorm.  

We let the heavy weather subside, but then my little bird decided it was time for 

Stripey to fly free (noting that he has to get ready to fly to Mexico soon)...

He let us admire him for a few moments...

 ...then flew up...up...up to the tops of the trees.

Just because he could.

Have a good time in Mexico, Stripey... don't forget the folks back home!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dancing Under Rainbows

When you are five years old (almost six!), a perfect summer Saturday includes:

A story with Daddy (in the middle of the day!)...

...a mission... or five...

...a small discovery...

...a BIG discovery...

...and dancing under rainbows!

When you are five (almost six!) you get to be silly...

...and introspective...

...and totally self-confident in your sister's hand-me-downs, 
smeared with Fudgesicles.

You can dance, and laugh, with total abandon...

...stop to smell the flowers...

...appreciate natural wonders...

...and go to bed knowing that the world is a 
wonderful, magical place.