When I turned 40 and my dad was nearing 75, I started asking him a lot of questions about his ancestors. I knew most of my cousins well, and a few of them not so well, but what I yearned for were the stories of the previous generations. The immigrants. The pioneers. Those that came before and after them. Since Dad didn’t know a lot himself, I started searching the internet for relatives known and unknown, dead and alive. I sent letters around the country and much to my surprise, received answers to my queries. Many people who were not even related sent me a response and a “good luck with your search” reply. I was hooked. When the search for my own relatives would slow down, I started researching HIS relatives. Mine were pretty much what you would expect: Solid Norwegian/Finnish/Danish Lutheran farmers. Pretty tame folks. The only scandal was one I already knew. Great-aunt Clara divorced, left her children, and moved to California. It was something nobody talked much about. HIS family is much more exciting with connections to Lewis and Clark, Revolutionary War heroes, and the Trail of Tears. He couldn’t care less about his heritage, however, and if you ask him his nationality, he will say “I am an American”. With those ancestors, I would have to wholeheartedly agree. Most relatives and friends with whom I share my information are interested, but have not been overly enthusiastic…until Cousin Deb. She gets it. She is a writer also, and has been working diligently to find out the details and the stories of our family with countless hours spent poring over papers and microfilm. About once a year, we get together and pull out our information to share. My data now fills a large storage tote and Deb isn’t far behind, although I must admit that she is much more organized than I am. We pour the wine and spread our papers and photos out across the entire dining room table, discussing each branch of the family tree, down to the tiniest twig. I’ve learned that even though we may not have Revolutionary War heroes in our family, America’s foundation was built on the strength of farmers and church-builders and women like Great-aunt Clara, who wasn’t so scandalous after all. It must have been very hard for a divorced woman trying to feed her children during the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, and jobs for women were scarcer. When the war started, she left them with her mother and became a defense worker in California, where she had relatives. Our very own Rosie the Riveter, who kept America going on the home front while the men went off to war. She must have missed those children terribly, but as her strong ancestors before her, she did what she had to do. Someday, Clara’s story will be told from beginning to end, but for now, we will just continue our work in her memory.

Just in case this story reaches any other genealogists:

I love Fall. I love the changing leaves, pumpkins, harvest time, and the Highway 38 garage sales. The sales are a yearly event in which half the county cleans out closets and sells piles of their stuff and the other half of the county drives around unfamiliar neighborhoods trying to find the best bargain. If it sounds chaotic, it certainly is. This year I went with the usual crew, minus my sister, who had to work. We are old friends who have known each other for years and can still giggle like the young neighborhood girls we once were. We use the driving time between sales to catch up on each other’s lives and discuss important things like where we will eat lunch. Something we noticed this and every year is that everyone has way too much stuff. Garages, yards, and attics full of stuff. Boxes and tables full of stuff. Pay-by-the-month storage units full of stuff. If you read this and think I am judging you, think again, because I have just as much stuff as you do. We had a large sale during the summer, and I sold lots of my own stuff and lots of my mother’s stuff. What was left was donated to the church for their big sale two weeks ago. I found some great stuff there, too! At several sales this weekend, I saw my own stuff being sold again. This is three times over the course of three months! After that, I came up with an idea: How about we all pack up a large box of unwanted and/or unused stuff and pass it on to the house on the left…or the right. We’ll have to pick one and stick to it or we’ll get own stuff back next week. Do this once a month, and no money passes hands. We’re all exchanging the same few dollars back and forth anyway. Admit it. You earn $100 at your garage sale and spend the summer trickling it away at the other sales in the neighborhood. You use it for a year or two, then sell it again at your own sale to another neighbor. This method of getting rid of things would not only clean out our attics and garages, it would give us an opportunity to get to know our neighbors and save us a lot of time. If you don’t like the stuff you get, you can put it in the box for next month’s exchange or wrap and re-gift it to your brother-in-law for Christmas. Just think of the money we could save on gifts! Now comes the fun part: In about 45 years, after crossing numerous county and state lines, your children will get their old toys back! It will stop all of that “I used to have that when I was a kid but my mom got rid of it, so I’ll buy this one at the antique store for $95″ type of mentality. The only unhappy people would be the antique dealers and the IRS. Please don’t tell the IRS this was my idea, or they’ll be auditing me for the next 40 years. Ready? Set? Go!


Since my life is an open book, most people know that I am frugal, logical, and almost a hoarder. Not quite, but almost. When it comes to buying things on sale, the frugal part of me says “Yay! A good price!” The logical part of me says “Don’t buy that gigantic bottle of shampoo that is buy-one-get-one-free. That is way too much shampoo for just the two of you.” The hoarder part of me says “How many can I buy at that price?” I only bought two, but technically only bought one, since it was buy-one-get-one-free, otherwise known as BOGO. We now have enough shampoo to last us well into 2015, unless someone runs it on sale for $.99 a bottle, in which case we will have enough to last us until next Christmas. Those of you raising teenage girls will only have enough to last about a month. The grocery stores try to trick us frugal logical hoarders. They may call it ‘marketing strategies’, but I call it trickery. Last week, canned green beans (HIS favorite) were $.75 a can. We have been eating green beans from the garden, but I didn’t can any because I ran out of time, energy, and green beans. This week, there were big signs and advertisements in the newspaper and grocery store saying “Special! 12 cans for $9.00!”. Now, let’s just say that my grades in creative writing were much better than my grades in math, but even I can figure that one out. People were loading their carts, though. There is something about a cold snap that makes people want to stock up on supplies as if the Zombie Apocalypse was just around the corner. Why is there never BOGO on things like Parmigiano Reggiano cheese ($15.99/lb on a good day, but don’t tell HIM) or the four-roll packages of good toilet paper? The cheap toilet paper lasts only about a day and a half, and the only way to save any money on the good stuff is to buy 20-roll packages. My linen closet has more shelves for toilet paper than sheets and towels. I have a suggestion for the Grocery Store and Product Advisory Board, if there really were really such a thing. Stop offering BOGO and make the product 50% off instead. Stop spending money on glitzy advertising and coupons. In fact, do away with coupons altogether. That alone should save trees, money, and calories. We don’t need “$1.00 off two megasupersize packages” of cereal that will be stale before it is eaten, except for those of you who are raising teenage boys or preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse. Use the millions of dollars you will save to decrease food prices all over the country. Charge us a price that is fair to you, the farmer, and the customer. Stop the gimmicks, the unnecessary extra packaging, and although this is still done at a few stores in small-town America, could we please have our groceries carried out to the car again? Exhausted parents of wiggly toddlers and tired old Farm Woman everywhere will thank you.

I got a message from an old friend the other day who asked if I would email her “idiot-proof” directions to our cabin. She thought she might find it by relying on her memory, but the last time she was there she and her two small children (now young adults) slid down the mile-long driveway in the dark, during a downpour complete with lightning and thunder. I’ve been going to that cabin since I was a baby, and never once actually looked at the county or township road numbers. Besides, if she relied on her over-50 memory, she could perhaps get lost in the middle of nowhere, looking for a cabin that is already in the middle of nowhere. Who knows where she might end up? There is one fire number for three driveways, so I’m not quite sure if it is ours or belongs to the neighbor. It is not that I don’t care about these things, but if God forbid there ever were a fire, the nearest volunteer fire department is about 15 miles away, so we know there wouldn’t be much left of a small old cabin and the outhouse next to it. My directions went something like this: “Turn right at that old place where we used to get ice cream bars when we were kids if we didn’t pinch each other and tattle about it on the way there. Go down the road a couple of miles and take a left where that falling-down old farmhouse used to be. The barn is still there but the house isn’t. Drive a few more miles, going up the big hill that Mom got stuck on. (An event that happened in 1967, but the poor woman never heard the end of it.) Go a few miles more, turning right until you get to the spot where that holocaust used to be but now there are a couple of nice lake homes there. (Yes, holocaust. I typed “resort” and Autocorrect decided for some reason it should be “holocaust”, which of course I didn’t notice until I had pushed the send button.) Turn left and follow Oluffson Road past the intersection. Here the road gets a little sketchy, but you should be OK because you only need a 4-wheel drive in the spring when it is really muddy after the snow melts. Bear right at the Y, and we are the driveway immediately on the left. There is a red gate with a hand-painted sign which reads “Crazy as loons” in red, white, and blue. That’s to keep the riffraff out.” No, these are not the real directions to our cabin. (With apologies to Oluf of Oluffson Road and any loons who might be offended at being called crazy.) Not that we don’t like company, but unexpected company just might catch us emerging from the sauna, and I wouldn’t want to scare anyone too badly. My friend said she wasn’t sure she could make it or not, and she never did show up. Either she changed her mind, is lost in the middle of nowhere, or she caught a glimpse of us coming out of the sauna. After all, it was Saturday night, and everyone knows that Saturday is sauna night in northern Minnesota.

My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to food. My side of the grocery cart may have things like organic milk, almonds, kale, and gluten-free non-GMO corn chips. His has something sweet, some sort of deli meat for his daily sandwich, and potato chips. I like to eat ethnic food and stir fry, the spicier the better. HE prefers simple cooking, canned vegetables, and a bowl of ice cream every night. Now, due to a diagnosis of gout, he needs to limit certain foods like whole grains, legumes, and beer. Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say. You can guess which one he hasn’t completely cut out of his diet. Since many of his relatives lived well into their 80’s and even their 90’s, and many of mine died by 60, I’m not the one to cast any stones. For the most part, his diet is healthy and besides, I’m his wife and not his mother. This week, he is planning to stay at our cabin to mow, split wood, and fish. He spends more time working than cooking while he’s there, so he asked if I could pick up some canned beef stew and hot dogs so his meals could be both quick and filling. My treat while he is away is something he detests: Fresh salmon, and glory be, it was on sale, too. Waiting my turn at the fish counter, I visited with Mrs. Nice (but too skinny) Customer who was explaining to me how much healthier the wild-caught salmon was than the farmed salmon. I don’t know why she thought I needed to know this, except perhaps it was because I am kind of pleasingly plump and was dressed like I just jumped out of the rutabaga truck in jeans with stains on the knees from gardening. I hadn’t noticed until it was too late to change. I had just that moment snatched away a fresh green pepper that my grandson was trying to chew on, telling him it was icky. Of course “icky” simply meant that it hadn’t been washed, so I didn’t want it in his mouth, but in trying to keep those little hands busy, I had handed him a package of his grandpa’s hot dogs instead. While chatting with Mrs. Nice Customer about healthy foods and explaining that I was a Cardiac Rehab nurse who knows these things, I noticed that she kept looking in my shopping cart. The fresh fruit, salad greens, and organic dairy products were buried under potato chips and processed cheese (HE loves it!) with a loaf of non-gouty soft white bread balanced on top. The cute toddler seated in the cart was happily sucking on a package of hot dogs. She just looked sadly at me and walked away. I’m sure she had a tale to tell her husband at dinner. Me? I’ll probably still be dressed like a country bumpkin at dinner time, because after all, it is my day off and I’m eating alone, but I’ll be eating the same thing. Really, I will.

The mouse is in the breezeway, which is technically not in the house. The connecting door between the two stays closed, unless I am carrying groceries/laundry/etc. or I forget to close it. The old breezeway has shifted, leaving a gap between the back door and the threshold large enough for Mrs. Mouse and her large extended family to move in….and out….and in again every night. At least that’s how I picture it in my mind when there is the tiniest noise out there. I see the evidence of their family reunions every morning. It needs more than a simple repair, and I am somewhere around the third from the bottom on my carpenter’s have-to-do-before-winter-but-maybe-next-spring list. We set a mousetrap, for whatever good that does. Perhaps I should say I set the trap, since I got tired of reminding HIM to set it every night. There’s another problem. HE sleeps later than I do every morning, which means that I have to check the trap. This morning, I picked up Barney the Chihuahua to save his nose in case there was no mouse in the trap and checked where I had put it last. No trap. I checked behind the dryer, under the table, and inside a rolled-up rug. No trap, no mouse. That meant that there was probably a live mouse in a trap somewhere. Ick. Since I had to leave for church and HE was still asleep, I quickly scrawled a note and left it on the counter: “I set the trap but it wasn’t there when I checked. Eek!” By the time I got home, the problem was taken care of. My hero. I am being not the least sarcastic here, unlike my usual style of writing. I was planning on telling you about the 27 golf shirts in HIS closet, but will keep that story for another time. Happy anniversary to my mousetrap-finding hero who literally keeps the home fires burning because I can’t start a decent fire. Thank you for loading the boat, getting the bait, and filling the gas tank so all I have to do is step in and fish. Thank you for wiring the chicken coop so I wouldn’t have to go out there in the dark and get eaten by wolves or coyotes. Thank you for snow-blowing a path through the thigh-high drifts so I can get to my girls in the winter. Thank you for feeding them when I have a late meeting because you love me more than you hate chickens. Thank you for tilling my garden that I let go to weeds every year. Thank you for not saying “I told you so” about the turkey poop in the back yard. Although I would really like a few goats to add to our menagerie, I know you really don’t want them. So on this, our 37th anniversary, I just wanted to tell you that I love you more than I love goats, however cute and cuddly they may be.

The ten sweet fluffy chicks that I got this spring have turned into a bevy of clucking screeching teenage girls. As with human teens, this can be a difficult age. Earlier this summer, I had to crawl into the bushes where they had hidden themselves, getting a wood tick bite with a classic bullseye rash which bought me ten days of antibiotics. Later, when HE lit a fire to burn the tree trimmings, they were frightened by the flames and ran cackling into the woods. It took both of us to cajole them into the safety of their coop. Yesterday, I spent the morning cleaning the house. I don’t know why I bothered, since we were expecting a visit from Max, our 1 1/2 year-old grandson, who can spread pots, pans, and crumbs from one end of the house to the other in no time at all. Despite the fact that I desperately needed one, Max was determined NOT to take a nap, which reminded me so much of his mommy, whose first short sentence was “No nappy!” and as she grew, had a discussion with her kindergarten teacher in which she told her she would lie down during nap time if she had to, but she certainly wouldn’t sleep. I’m digressing, though, so I’ll get back to the chickens. After the cleaning, cooking, toddler chasing, and dinner, I was ready to put the girls to bed. In other words, I wanted to lead them back into the coop with my handy-dandy broken fishing pole chicken guider so I could relax and fall asleep in front of the TV like normal people do on a Saturday night. The older chickens obligingly went into the coop, but the teenagers saw me coming and ran off into the corn field, scattering in all directions. I managed to get through the maze and chase them back into the yard, but I was more than a little worse for wear, being covered with corn pollen, dust, and quite a few icky spider webs. I must have looked like some sort of scarecrow when I emerged, still carrying my broken fishing pole, because I managed to scare most of them into the coop except for two, who ran flapping and screeching into the swampy woods near the coop, otherwise known as the land of wood ticks and foxes and bears, oh my. Not my favorite place, by any means. By the time I chased them out of the woods, the others had all come out of the coop and were heading back for the corn field again. I threw down my fishing pole in disgust, needing an icy-cold bottle of hard cider to revive myself and not caring at that moment if the real or imagined wildlife ate every one of them for dinner. Chickens always come home to roost, though, and once the sun started going down, they all headed back to the coop, taking their sweet time, I might add. I did a head count, safely latched the coop door, and headed back to the house, which was all picked up and much too quiet. I’ll bet little Max fell asleep before they got out of the driveway. Grandma needs a bath to wash away the spider webs and wood ticks, along with a good night’s sleep. Hopefully tonight I’ll dream of rocking my grandbaby rather than chasing my chickens through a maze of maize.


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