Our little house has five doors leading to the outside. That’s five doors for my OCD self to check every night to make sure they are locked. When HE is out of town, I check and double-check each door. We just replaced three of those doors, and by WE I mean HIM, with a little help from his friends. Living in a construction zone is hard, and I won’t even bore you with more complaints about not having a washing machine. There is the noise. There is the dust. There is Barney the Chihuahua who barks at everything, tries constantly to slip out the door(s) to see what’s going on and in my opinion, sure to meet certain death from an eagle snatching him up or crushed by falling sheet rock. He also still has to be taken outside to do his business, on a leash, of course, and through a maze of construction materials and demolition trash. In the winter, our county road is fairly quiet, but in the summer, the traffic increases due to fishing, resorts, and campers. This morning was no exception, even at six a.m., as Barney and I stepped outside for a brief morning stroll. We usually do this unobtrusively, out the back door, but right now, there are no back steps. If you drove past my house and happened to notice a woman dressed in yoga pants with uncombed hair and a neon green tee-shirt two sizes too big which read “Minnesota: Gone Loony”, it was not a burglar, an escapee from a psychiatric facility, or a lost tourist. It was just me, a Farm Woman who realized a millisecond too late that she accidentally hit the lock button on the new front door. Even more frightening, and I am perhaps giving a little too much information here, but that outfit, or a similar one, is what I sleep in every night. Now, if you knew how hard HE has been working on this project, you would understand just why I didn’t want to wake him up at that hour by pounding on the door. The door to the dining room was locked securely, of course. I could have walked around to the side of the house to the French doors that lead into our bedroom, but there are no steps built yet and only the skeleton of a new deck, so I couldn’t even get close. Besides, that door would be locked up tighter than Fort Knox because I checked it before going to bed last night. Thankful that I was wearing slippers and even more thankful that it wasn’t January, I walked around to the back door as a last resort, almost forgetting that those steps are gone and the door is three feet off the ground. I was amazed to find that door unlocked, thankful and yet wondering if I had forgotten to check it in my nightly security rounds. I managed to crawl inside and into the construction zone with no injury except to my pride and none the worse for wear except a little dust on my backside. There is one thing I happened to notice, though. Each door now has two locks, so now I have TEN locks to check every night. I think I have finally succeeded in driving myself loony. It’s a good thing I already have the tee-shirt.
In the past few days, I have found a couple of teeny tiny eggs in the chickens’ nesting boxes. Being a former City Girl and not the world’s expert on chickens that some of you might think I am, I tend to Google a lot, and in this case, found a wealth of information on this tiny egg phenomenon. It happens when there is a little glitch in the hen’s reproductive system that day. Sometimes the small eggs are yolkless and sometimes they’re not. They are also known as faerie or fairy eggs. I knew it! I knew there had to be a fairy around here somewhere. Folklore tells the tales of tiny mischievous creatures who are always up to something Tinkerbellish. Around here, things have been disappearing for years. Where are the scissors? I KNOW I put them back where they belong. Who moved my keys? Why is there often a missing sock on laundry day? It’s not just me. Just today, HE lost his money clip and we searched high and low for it. To think I was beginning to worry that we were getting old and a little bit forgetful, when it’s been the fairies all along. Now we can blame the naughty little rascals on other things that happen around here such as: Who ate all the ice cream? Who used the last of the toilet paper and didn’t put out a new roll? Unfortunately, if I start asking all these questions out loud and talking about fairies, people will begin to wonder about me, as if they don’t have enough to wonder about already. Before you know it, my daughter will start getting phone calls, and as much as I hate to say it, she probably has the nursing home on speed dial already. We did find the money clip, by the way, and it wasn’t a fairy who hid it, but another naughty little rascal named Barney the Chihuahua. He figured out how to jump up on the windowsill so he can better guard us from the squirrels, and apparently knocked it off and it ended up underneath his toy basket. Wait a minute….UNDERNEATH his toy basket? He is too small to lift the toy basket, and besides, he has paws and not hands! I wonder….oh, never mind. My lips are sealed.
I wonder how they did it? I mean Ma Ingalls, my great-grandmother, and other Pioneer Women and homesteaders. HE is in the process of remodeling our laundry room/breezeway/mud room and I have spent an entire week without a washing machine. Yes, I know there are laundromats, but there is only one in the area, and it would involve me staying after work for a couple of hours, (No!!) or driving sixteen miles back to town on a Saturday (Double no!!). So, I did the next best thing and used my bathtub as a washing machine. I filled it with warm water and soap and added a load of “lighter” clothes, tee shirts, socks, and the like. I agitated the water with a long-handled scrub brush, then left them to soak. After a while, I drained the tub and added rinse water. On my knees, I drained and squeezed each item dry. There was a crick in my back after the first five minutes. As much as I complain that our new energy-efficient washing machine spins the clothes too dry and causes wrinkles when I line dry them, there is no way a middle-aged Farm Woman with a crick in her back can be as efficient. This was WORK! Since I only use the dryer in the winter, hanging clothes on the line is not a big deal for me, but now the laundry basket that I had to lug outside weighed about 30 pounds more than usual. Complicating matters, there are no back steps anymore, so I had to go around the house the long way. After two loads, I called my friend and invited myself and my dirty laundry over to her house for the afternoon. Ma Ingalls probably would have beat the clothes on a rock in the stream and laid them on the prairie grass to dry. My great-grandmother would have pumped and hauled her own water, boiled it in the washtub, then used a washboard to scrub everything clean, something HE was making jokes about as he carried the second load of heavy dripping clothes outside for me. How did the two of us manage to get so many clothes dirty in seven measly little days? Both Ma and Grandma and everyone else back in the day probably wore their clothes more than once before washing them. It is a hot and humid summer, and in our spare time, he’s tearing apart the laundry room and I’m working in the garden, so we change clothes a couple of times a day. Although we don’t mind working hard enough to break into a sweat, neither of us particularly wants to smell like perspiration, chicken coops or damp old insulation. Our friends and acquaintances are most appreciative of that, I’m sure. Although I’m hoping for a speedy renovation, things don’t always work out that way. As I hung out the heavy wet clothes, I noticed my old laundry sink sitting in the back yard amid a pile of lumber. It is nice and deep, and even has what looks like a molded washboard on one side. Thank goodness I have a hose in the backyard and don’t have to prime the pump or haul everything down to the creek like those strong women before me. I’m just a middle-aged Farm Woman with a crick in her back who would have probably lasted three days as a Pioneer Woman before dying of exhaustion.
Some people have the impression that chickens are dumb. I disagree. Not only are they smart, they know exactly what they are doing. They know that someone carrying a bucket means they will be given food or water. They know when an eagle soars overhead they need to take cover. They know when the sun starts going down and a tired old Farm Woman is ready for her bath, it is time to go into the coop for the night. At least most of them know that. The naughty girls like to stay out past their bedtime. At first it was just one, then two, and now THREE girls have gone bad. I don’t know if the problem is caused by peer pressure or if it is that sweet-talking rooster from the neighboring farm and all of his cockadoodledooing. The chickens need to be safely cooped up because around here, there are plenty of nighttime predators such as foxes, wolves, and coyotes. Last night I made plans to go out with friends. I showered. I fluffed my hair. I hunted for, found, and dusted off my eye shadow. Heck, I even changed my earrings! The chickens were outside for the entire afternoon for some free ranging. Thirty minutes before my ride arrived, I whistled for them, carrying a bucket of leftover popcorn, and they all followed me like I was the Pied Piper or something. Popcorn is their favorite. One by one, in all shapes, sizes, and colors, they jumped up on the single step and into the coop. All except one, that is. She looked me straight in the eye, turned, and ran off into the woods. The woodticks-are-everywhere woods. The fox-wolf-coyote woods. Yes, those woods. Two of her cohorts followed. I cajoled them out of the woods and they ran around and around the coop. I was not far behind, and was using all the forms of bribery I knew. I shook the bucket of popcorn. I called out “Here, chicky chicky”. I whistled. The other chickens all came out of the coop, thinking I had more goodies. I shooed them back in. My ride was due in 15 minutes, my face was beet-red, and I was dripping sweat from all the running around and calling those chickens everything but a son of a rooster. If it weren’t 85 degrees outside with 100% humidity, I would have seriously considered cancelling my night out and making a nice pot of chicken and dumplings. If I could catch a chicken, that is. Instead, I locked the coop and opened the door to the shed, hoping they would find their way inside before dark. I brushed a couple of crawly things off my shirt and checked for ticks. I had just enough time to wash my face with a cool washcloth. Ready or not, my ride was at the door. Later that night, I tiptoed through the dewy grass with my flashlight and checked the shed, finding two of the naughty girls sound asleep inside. Figuring the third one was either roosting up in a tree somewhere or a coyote’s midnight snack, I’m ashamed to admit that I felt only a tiny bit sad about the latter. I repented early the next morning, and went outside to look for her. There she was, eating worms for breakfast and not looking the least bit guilty. As I opened the door to let her into the coop, she looked me straight in the eye, turned, and ran off into the woods.
My sister recently asked the question on social media just what we have done to prepare for the coming Zombie Apocalypse. She plans on leaving her toilet seat up so her beloved empty nest dog has water to drink every day. One friend claimed that she actually was a zombie and wasn’t quite prepared to apocalypse anyone just yet. Another friend mentioned the importance of wearing clean underwear. My cousins are like me and think about food. One is stocking up on canned goods and the other decided she would go with a smile on her face and eat ice cream every day. My food thoughts turn to my garden. Everyone knows that when harvest time arrives there is usually enough zucchini to feed an entire nation, even a nation that is being overtaken by zombies. This year, my friends, I am a failure. I have lovely tomato and pepper plants covered with blooms and it looks like there will be enough cabbage for a batch of sauerkraut, but my zucchini crop is a bust. I planted several seeds, which usually burst exuberantly through the soil without any work at all, but this year, none of them came up. I opened a new package of seeds and soaked them for a couple of hours before planting them, but that didn’t work, either. In desperation, I’ve been to two different nurseries looking for zucchini plants, only to find out the season for buying plants is over. I am almost afraid to mention the zucchini situation out loud, though. You know how it is…mention just once that you need zucchini, and well-meaning gardeners from all over the county will drop off zeppelin-sized squash on your front porch. If the Zombie Apocalypse arrives and you see a middle-aged Farm Woman chasing them down the road while wielding a zucchini the size of a baseball bat , just step out of the way. I’m rough and I’m tough, but even more important, I’m wearing clean underwear.
My father was a veteran of World War II and drove a bomb truck to the front lines of France and England. When my sister and I were little girls, he told us many stories, which I’m sure were cleaned up versions of the horrors of war from someone who was in the midst of it. When we would ask him to “Tell us about when you were in the war, Dad, ” we would almost shiver in anticipation that the story would be a good one. One somewhat dubious claim to fame was when a young soldier he was training ran Old Blood and Guts, aka The Bandito, aka General George S. Patton off the road while driving the bomb truck. He also told us that he traded his chocolate rations once for warm hand-knitted wool socks, which I’m sure were a welcome relief for a shivering soldier in the damp English winter. His paychecks were sent home to his parents, and there is one much-read letter saved by his mother in which he instructed her to buy Christmas gifts for his younger brothers. Our favorite story was about the day the soldiers each got an orange, which I’m sure was a rare treat for them, also. The local children gathered around, fascinated by the colorful fruit which they had never seen before. He told us how he peeled the fruit and gave each child a section. They thought it was the best thing ever, savoring each bite and making it last as long as possible. One of the mothers gathered up the peel, too, as nothing ever went to waste in a country torn apart by war and hunger. Stories like this almost became parables, making us realize how lucky we were to be able to eat an orange every day if we wanted to, and to think about those hungry children and appreciate what we had. We never forgot them. Years after Dad died, I was paging through his photograph album when I saw the snapshot. I don’t know how I had missed it, since I had paged through that album many times before. There it was, folded and torn, but showing a soldier who looks very much like Dad on his knees, surrounded by children. It appears that one of the boys has an injury to his leg. I have often wondered how many of those children he talked about survived the war. If they did, they would be in their 70’s or 80’s now. I hope, as they tell their own war stories to their children and grandchildren, they remember a kindly young soldier with twinkling blue eyes who shared a special treat one day and hopefully, brought a slice of sunshine to their war-torn world.
Yesterday was Sauna Day in Embarrass, Minnesota. Had I known, and had it not been right smack-dab in the middle of the planting season, I might have gone. I’m sure nobody in Embarrass was embarrassed by pronouncing it wrong. The correct pronunciation is “sow-nah” and not “saw-nah”. The sauna is a Finnish invention and has been around for generations. As the Finns immigrated to northern Minnesota, many of them built smoke saunas in small buildings without chimneys, called savusaunas. I have heard local lore that these were built until the family could afford a regular sauna stove, but perhaps since the savusauna was the traditional sauna, that is what they knew. Large smooth rocks were heated over an open fire or in a fireplace, and when they were hot, the soot was cleaned from the interior of the sauna before bathing time. Nobody wants a dirty bath house. This was done by strong Finnish ladies who scrubbed everything with lye soap and probably also hauled many buckets of water from the lake. Don’t tell HIM, please. I am not a strong Finnish lady. It must be that bit of Norwegian blood in my veins. At our cabin, which has always been off the grid, (mostly because running electrical lines out to the middle of nowhere is too expensive) we have a real sauna, complete with a wood burning stove, specially made to hold rocks on top. Since there is no running water, we haul buckets of water from the lake. By we, I mean HIM, and before that, the elder HIM. My mother, being 100% Swedish, wasn’t a strong Finnish lady, either. One bucket is placed on top of the wood stove surrounded by rocks to heat the water. More buckets of water are placed near the stove to heat to lukewarm. When the sauna is hotter than heck, you sit on the bench and place your feet in your bucket, adding more hot water as needed. Naked, of course. Then you sit and sweat, splashing water on the rocks to create steam. You sweat some more, wash with soft melty soap, and if you honor tradition, slap yourself with leafy birch branches to stimulate the circulation before dumping your bucket of water over yourself to rinse off. Honestly, you will never feel cleaner. To cool off and close the pores, some people have been known to jump in the lake afterward for a skinny dip or a chunky dunk. When I was a kid, I actually stood naked in the snow just to say that I did. Years ago, people would sauna in groups. First the kids, boys and girls separate, of course, then the ladies, and finally, the men, many of whom carried a cold beer in with them to prevent dehydration, or at least that is what they told me. Sauna on Saturday was as much of a social time as it was a bath time. There is an old Finnish saying “saunassa ollaan kuin kirkossa,” which means that folks should behave in the sauna just as they would behave in church. That’s exactly why I sauna by myself. For me, just as church can be, it is a time of cleansing, contemplation, and rejuvenation. Watching a bunch of soapy people slapping themselves with birch branches and running naked down to the lake? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in a savusauna of keeping a straight face.