You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say. ~Martin Luther
There are three stones at the bottom of the tote bag that I carry with me almost every day. There’s nothing special about the stones, they are typical Minnesota rocks probably picked from the church parking lot by my pastor a couple of years ago. He is the kind of pastor that likes to use visuals when he speaks every Sunday, and be it stones, water, or footballs, we’re often surprised but never bored. He gave each of us the stones and asked us to think about three places where we saw God that week. The stones stayed in the console of my car for a long time, and I can’t explain why I tossed them in the tote bag instead of out the door, but they are there to this day. My pastor probably never dreamed how important those rocks would become someday. It is easy to see God in life’s beautiful things such as sunsets and gardens and newborn babies. It is not so easy to see Him during the difficult times and sometimes it feels like there is more ugliness in today’s world than good. I pull a stone out of my bag if I am having a stressful day at work, or if I worry about the world’s latest crisis. Sometimes I reach in for something else and grab one by mistake. Except God doesn’t make mistakes. On a couple of occasions, I carried one in my pocket all day. Touching the rough edges with my fingers always reminds me that God is here with me and with each and every one of us, in all situations. I have never been particularly religious, and over the years did my Christian duty and attended church every Christmas and Easter. Moving back to my home town, going to church on Sunday became as comfortable as slipping into an old pair of shoes. Not that I would call the pastor an old shoe, but he gets it. He gets us. He gets me. Recently, I added responsibility to the collection plate and became a church council member. In our church and our community, everyone must do their part. If you live in a small town like I do, you will understand the impact of losing cheerful and motivated community members like Pastor Dwight and his wife Lisa. Yes, he has taken another call in another town, and although they are happy and excited with anticipation, they are sad to be leaving a community that has been their home for 20 years. In their honor, I ask all of you to do the following: Pick up a stone (any old stone will do) and keep it in your pocket or purse. Use it as a reminder that you are not alone. You may think it will be too heavy for you to carry around, but take it from someone who knows. Your burdens will be a lot lighter and your days a lot brighter. Godspeed, Dwight and Lisa. Godspeed, and thank you.
Barney the Chihuahua doesn’t like winter. Not one bit. His gene pool is from warm and sunny Mexico, while mine is from the almost endless winters of Scandinavia. Funny about those gene pools, though. I don’t much care for winter, either. We really don’t need a thermometer around here. If it is 80 degrees, Barney digs in his heels and doesn’t want to come in the house. At 65 degrees, he’ll still want to walk around sniffing every bush and tree and marking his territory. Barney thinks the entire county is his territory, by the way. At 50 degrees, a few quick sniffs and a brief er…whizz… will do, and he prefers to guard his territory from the window seat in the warmth of the house. At 30 degrees, a quick in and out is it. When it is below zero he doesn’t even make it off the porch. No way, no how. Ten steps and he becomes a cowering shivering bundle of misery, lifting each paw off the ground and looking so pitiful that he needs to be picked up and taken inside or stuffed inside your parka. Barney’s antics make me think of my Minnesota ancestors, and how they answered the call of nature. If you are wondering why in the HECK I am even discussing this subject, just know that I have a writer’s brain that often takes off in all kinds of strange directions, and believe me, it can be a curse as well as a blessing. My own grandparents probably didn’t have indoor plumbing in their youth, but how about going back even more years? How did people “go” in Victorian times in the middle of winter? I can’t imagine walking to an outhouse at 10 below zero in a January wind and actually shudder at the thought of sitting down on that freezing cold seat. There were also the indoor chamber pots, which would be a bit warmer, but the women had to deal with petticoats, pantaloons, or for the Farm Women, scratchy woolen long underwear. Chamber pots are actually quite small, too, and if you look at the pictures of my ancestors, you will understand just why I am wondering and why I am not a size three. Our biffy, as my dad always called them, is located not far from the house, between the back door and the chicken coop. Whoever put it in decided that it should have a place of honor, smack dab in the middle of the back yard. We don’t use the outhouse, but it is there just in case our septic should ever freeze over some winter or if we should ever decide to throw a big, wild, outdoor party. I can only hope that neither of these would happen. In the meantime, it’s time to take the dog out.
My toddler grandson slept until 10:00 a.m. yesterday. On a Saturday. That is not fair at all. For generations, has been every mother’s fervent wish that her children will have children who turn out to be just like them. Most mornings, my daughter got up around 5:00 a.m. Even as a teen, when most of her friends were sleeping until noon, she barely slept past 8:00. I remember a sweet little sing-song voice whispering in my ear one weekend morning at 4:45: “Kriiiispies……Rice Kriiiiispies….” Shortly after that, I moved the milk down to a lower shelf in the refrigerator where she could reach it. Don’t judge. There was no mother of the year award for me that year, nor the year I accidentally sloshed her out of the water-bed. HE tried to explain to her that weekends were made for sleeping in. Her answer? “Daddy, I just don’t want to waste the day!”. When I was a kid, I didn’t sleep late, either, but would stay in bed and read, hiding my book under the covers and pretending to be asleep if Mom came in to ask me to do my Saturday chore of cleaning my room. I had the messiest room in town, too. Unfortunately, our daughter took after me in the worst way, and her open bedroom door, with clothes and toys oozing out into the hallway, was a constant source of consternation for me while she was growing up. When my mom would visit, she would sometimes open that bedroom door and smile, making comments about her prayers finally being answered. Very funny, that mother of mine. I ignored the smarty-pants remarks, since when she visited, she did the laundry and cooked us a wonderful meal every evening, and I didn’t want to put a stop to THAT gravy train. These days, I would love to sleep late, but be it from the snap and crackle of my creaky joints or Pop’s snoring, I just can’t. I still can’t seem to keep my room spotlessly clean, but it certainly is a lot neater than when I was a teenager. (The rest of the house isn’t too bad, either, as long as you give me a few minutes notice before you stop over.) My daughter’s bedroom? I don’t know, because when I go to visit, the door is always shut. I like to think that she took after her father’s side of the family and it is sparkling clean in there. Whether your house is neat as a pin or has that “lived-in” look; if you’re a late sleeper or up at the crack of dawn, take some advice from the little girl with a messy room who turned into a successful woman anyway: Don’t waste the day!
You are probably wondering why I always write about gardening in the winter, when everything, including my feet, are a solid block of ice. Truthfully, it is to keep myself from going stark-raving mad when I am surrounded by this never-ending season of Frozen, which in real life is NOT a cute little Disney movie. There is nothing cute about a temperature of six below zero, which is supposed to be the high today. I don’t even want to tell you the low. Days like this take me to my own personal happy place, a Disney Fantasyland of sorts. When we moved back to Minnesota from Florida a few years ago, I carried my vegetable seeds and seed potatoes in the car with us, and thanks to the help of an old friend who tilled a medium-sized garden spot before we even got here, I started planting before the moving boxes were unpacked. The next year, HE asked me how big of a garden I wanted, and I paced out the area for him to till. It was big. Bigger than big. He also erected a lovely high fence around it to keep the deer out. For the first time in my life, I had a garden as big as I wanted, and then some. Truthfully, it is way too big, and the weeds get away from me every year. The next spring, he tilled and fenced a garden in the back field. “I want to plant a few strawberries and pumpkins”, he said, and made a garden nearly the size of a football field. I tend to exaggerate, but should have been suspicious at the time, because nobody hates gardening more than HE does. In fact, I think there is something in our marriage vows “in sickness or in health but not in the garden”, or something like that. What he really wanted was to purchase the strawberry and pumpkin plants, then eat lots of strawberry shortcake and pumpkin pie. The stuff that came in between needed to be done by either waving a magic wand or waiting for me to do it. It is my own fault because after all, I do kind of promote myself as a Farm Woman. A sow it, plant it, hoe it, weed it, harvest it, cook it, and preserve it kind of Farm Woman. A tired and “What do you mean those weeds grew back? I just pulled them last week!” kind of Farm Woman. When I dreamed of this northern beauty of a garden, I was knee-deep in my Florida plot in 90 degree heat, trying to conjure black loam out of white sand, dodging snakes, (I don’t care if it was a “good” snake, any snake that is two feet long and meets me while I am on my hands and knees, nearly causing me to have a heart attack cannot possibly be “good”!) and slapping vicious mosquitoes. Here, the season is shorter and cooler. I am knee-deep in good black dirt, dodging snakes (they are a little smaller, but can still potentially cause a heart attack), and slapping mosquitoes which are even more vicious. Things don’t change much, do they? Except that it is probably going to be 75 degrees at my former home today. That’s ABOVE zero. I think I’ll just grab my seed catalogs and a hot cup of coffee and crawl under the electric blanket to dream of summer gardens to come. Weedless, snakeless, mosquitoless gardens. My Fantasyland. It is truly a happy place.
I didn’t exactly wish for it, you know. Our lack of snow, I mean. I didn’t fervently wish like I do to be skinnier/richer/younger/smarter or anything in between those things. If one lives in northern Minnesota, there is supposed to be snow, and lots of it. We know it is coming. We wait for it. Some of us even look forward to it. HE and I have lived here in the frozen tundra about eight years now, and even we expect it. Since I was too lazy to do any research this week, I’ll just tell you that the average snowfall in Minnesota last year was approximately a gazillion inches. Since our vintage snow blower breaks down at least once every winter, enough was enough. We decided to buy an all-terrain vehicle. It was not purchased for fun, but for work, and around here, there’s plenty of that. Hauling things around the farm, snow removal, and (ok, I’ll admit it) a little recreational trail riding. That involved purchasing a trailer to take it places, plus a snow plow to attach to the front. All of these things involve $$$ and more $$$, but I’m not complaining, because HE paid for it. He is the one who does all the snow removal around here, too. All I have to do is sweep a bit of that white stuff from the deck, pour a cup of hot coffee, then write about the adventure of it all and the rest of my very exciting life. Last year, the year before that, and the year before that, the first of the gazillion inches came in November. This past November, the ATV was parked in the garage and ready to go. I think he even washed and buffed her with a chamois cloth. There she sits in all her shiny plow-endowed glory, waiting for the snow to fall. Here it is the end of the year, and we’re still waiting. Oh, we’ve had a few inches of it here and there, which the unusually balmy December breezes melted into puddles and slush, which have now frozen into a bumpy slippery mess. Mother Nature has a great sense of humor. If we had decided to patch together the old snow blower for one more year, she would have probably sent us a gazillion and two inches of snow. If we were to breathe a sigh of relief and think we’re in for a mild, snowless winter, she’ll send a blizzard in late April or even May. For those of you who don’t live in Minnesota, don’t think that hasn’t happened many times before. I hate to admit it, but I am actually looking forward it. Not in April or May of course, but a good heavy January snow would be wonderful. Happy New Year! May Mother Nature be kind to us all.
“You’d better watch what you wish for!” That’s what they say. I like it when wishes come true…most of the time. I have often wished that my chickens would get broody and hatch a few baby chicks. That has happened only on a rare occasion, up until now. At the moment I have two or three broody hens, but unfortunately, the middle of winter is not the time to raise baby chicks. (Those of you in other parts of the country have just had the official first day of winter, which was December 21. In northern Minnesota, we call this time of year “the middle of winter” just to keep ourselves sane. We all know that if we are lucky, winter will end in April, so we’re nowhere near the middle.) Collecting eggs in the coop has become a defensive maneuver for me, since when chickens are broody, they’re mean. One of hens starts making visceral noises like some sort of caged wild animal whenever I enter the coop and pecks at me if I am within a foot of the nesting box. I guess I might do the same if a Farm Woman wearing heavy winter boots and her husband’s large protective leather gloves came stomping in every day and took my babies. HE may call it nagging rather than wishing, but over the years, I have wished for there to be a little more light around my chicken coop. He wired the inside a long time ago, but especially at this time of year when it is pitch black outside, I don’t like that long lonely trek to the coop when I am probably surrounded by hungry wolves and coyotes. Even though I have a bright flashlight and an off-key but cheerful whistle, I know I am being watched from the shadows. These days, if you look far to the north towards my house, it is not the northern lights that you see, but my new outdoor lamp. It has a glow bright enough to light up the whole township and on a timer so we can afford the electric bill. It’s funny how a little bit of light can scare away the wolves, whether they are real or imagined. Since these two wishes came true, I thought I would wish for something else, just in case: Whether you read the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” before you go to bed tonight, I wish you peace. May the light of this peace illuminate the paths you take every day, bring you comfort, and scare away the wolves. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Peace on earth.
Joseph is missing. I am speaking of my friend’s Joseph, whom she wrapped carefully last year after Christmas and nestled him gently with the rest of her nativity set, put away safely for another for another year. She went through each piece of wrapping paper again, but to no avail. Joseph has left the stable. Even though most of the attention has always been on Mary and the baby Jesus, Joseph is an important part of the Christmas story. Important, but kind of in the background, as dads tend to be. I think they like it that way. Joseph wandered around the city of Bethlehem looking for a place to stay, and could only find a stable. I wonder if Mary was urging him to stop and ask for directions? Being in labor, I’m pretty certain she at least urged him to speed up the donkey just a little bit. This time of year, more modern Josephs wander around the Christmas crowds with a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look. Funny, but when they reach for their wallets to pay, they get the same kind of look in their eyes. They rearrange the furniture to make enough room for the biggest, tallest, most beautiful tree they have ever hauled home. They rearrange it again, just to suit HER, because it is a well-known fact that it will be a merrier Christmas for everyone if they do. They haul the boxes of ornaments and decorations up from basements and down from attics. The original Joseph, being a carpenter, probably made toys for the young Jesus to play with. More modern Joesphs put together toys until three in the morning on Christmas Eve, only to be awakened at five by a houseful of excited young voices on Christmas morning. They are awakened again from their after dinner football naps, perhaps by an exuberant toddler taking a flying leap and landing on their belly. Although my own Joseph isn’t usually the holly jolly mistletoe type of Christmas guy, he drove all over town to buy the perfect gift for a very special little boy and always has a big part in making Christmas dinner. My friend tried to insert a few stand-ins to take Joseph’s place in her nativity set, but even the small ceramic Santa of the same size didn’t do the trick. Besides, with all that red and white, Santa didn’t match. Update: Thank goodness for eBay, as my friend was able to find a matching Joseph replacement. Christmas just wouldn’t have been the same without him.