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“Well, we tried the lutefisk trick to keep the raccoons away and it worked, but now there’s a family of Norwegians living under the front porch!” ~Author unknown, from an Ole and Lena joke

My Swedish mother made the best meatballs this side of Stockholm, but that was everyday food. Her special Christmas Eve dinner was lutefisk, and to me, it is the stuff of nightmares rather than Christmas dreams. Lutefisk is a white gelatinous odiferous fish, served with boiled potatoes and cream sauce. Everything on the plate was white, except for the melted butter and an occasional peppercorn from the cream sauce. Dessert was another tradition, risgrynsgrot, or rice pudding. The pudding was cooked slowly on the stovetop like a risotto and was also pure white, as nothing was added except sugar, vanilla, and milk. Sometimes, we added canned wild raspberries on top for both color and flavor. If you ever get a chance to try risgrynsgrot, don’t pass it up, as it is every bit as heavenly as Christmas Eve itself. Apparently, my dad’s Finnish mother also made lutefisk on Christmas Eve, so each and every year, my parents would go on and on about how delicious that lutefisk was, and each and every year, made us try a small bite. I could never stomach it, but would manage to fill my belly on REGULAR fish (because Mom felt sorry for us), potatoes, and that wonderful pudding. In our family’s tradition, an almond would be buried in one lucky person’s bowl, and that person got to open the first present. Over the years, my sister went to the dark side and now enjoys an occasional lutefisk meal, but I honestly think she eats it for the tradition rather than the taste. With parents gone and a busy Christmas Eve church schedule, we now make our own traditions, and those traditions don’t involve smelly fish. Sometimes we all go out for dinner, and sometimes we share appetizers at home. Sometimes, we have something white on the menu, just for old time’s sake. A couple of years ago, we blended up a concoction of Malibu rum, coconut cream, and ice called “Sex on a Snowbank”. It was white, all right. My strict Lutheran lutfisk-loving ancestors would probably have disapproved, but it was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that the family of Norwegians would probably have crawled out from under the front porch and joined us for a cup of Christmas cheer.

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We were planning a two-day getaway. The conference was to be a casual one, ending with a nice banquet for which one could dress up or dress down. I am a simple Farm Woman with not too many dress ups in my event calendar. For those that do require something a little more formal, I have recycled the same two general outfits through the last five years, adding a scarf here or a jacket there. Nobody cares, especially me, and when you get to be 60, just staying up past nine becomes an event in itself. For this trip, my packing was simple: Yoga pants and long-sleeved tops, old faded yoga pants and tee shirts for sleep, and yoga pants that can easily disguise themself as dress slacks if one adds the right sweater. A zippered kit that holds minimal makeup, medications, and toothbrush. An extra pair of shoes. These things would fit easily in my small suitcase with a little room to spare for a book and bag of salted cashews. All of this was planned in my head the morning we left because I tend to think about things before actually doing them. All of that thinking went to waste when HE came into the room, carrying a stack of clothes. “Here,” he said, handing me blue jeans, shirts, shorts, and a hoodie, along with a shaving kit and another zippered bag. “See if you can fit these few things in your suitcase, and if you can’t, we packed too much stuff.” Did I mention it was a SMALL suitcase? I squeezed HIS things into 2/3 of the suitcase, leaving a measly 1/3 of it for my own things. Now, I could have swapped out for a bigger suitcase, but we don’t have one. I could have added a second suitcase, but I needed to prove something. I did what few woman in this world would have done, but I’ll do just about anything to avoid an argument before a nice weekend away. I left out the extra shoes and I zipped it. Both the suitcase and my mouth, I mean. Luckily, my winter jacket has lots of pockets, so there was plenty of room for a couple of books and a bag of salted cashews. Oh, and I almost forgot this part: They lived happily ever after…

Sadly, our home town newspaper is closing its doors. When I was a teenager, my parents and everybody else’s parents subscribed to The Western Itasca Review. Inside this small town publication were the stories of our lives: The weddings, the funerals, who was in the service, and who was having a garage sale. It was also filled with columns from the local smaller communities in the area. I am embarrassed to admit that my friends and I used to laugh and make fun of the news from Ball Club, Suomi, and Bowstring, to name a few. We snickered over who was visiting whom, who stopped in for coffee and cookies, and who “motored” in from out of town. Yes, we laughed and made fun as naughty teenagers tend to do, but we read each one, and with few exceptions, we knew each person. As we grew up and moved near and far, each article was no longer something to laugh about but something to bring us a little closer to home and each other. For me, Kentucky and Florida didn’t seem so far away from home when I had my paper to read and reread each week. Pictures of school activities, home town celebrations, and awards filled each page. Friends got married, had children, and even started having grandchildren, and most of us looked for familiar faces or beamed with pride as we got out the scissors to cut out a picture to tape to the fridge or send to a relative. People rarely announce engagements, weddings, or babies any more. The internet, smart phones , and social media give us immediate news at our fingertips. People don’t stop in as often for coffee and cookies with their neighbors, and there are no more folksy, home town columns from Ball Club, Suomi, or Bowstring…or maybe there are. Belle Johnson wrote the news from Bowstring for many years. I didn’t know her, but learned through others that she loved visitors and always had coffee and cookies to serve friends and neighbors when they dropped by, and she shared these comings and goings in the paper every week. Belle was in a wheelchair in her later years, and you can see the scars from the wheels on her kitchen cupboards as she wheeled in as close as she could to get her chores done. Her house was small but welcoming, and her basement was damp. How do I know these facts about the grand lady who kept readers in this part of the county informed? Because, in one of those strange coincidences of life, I live in her house. The stories and misadventures of The Minnesota Farm Woman that you read in this newspaper column each week are actually a modern typed-on-my smart-phone version of the news from Bowstring, except that I don’t bake cookies. I don’t have the time or the energy to refinish the scarred-up cupboards, either. Belle’s basement is still damp, and there are chickens in the stable that once housed goats. Until the paper closes its doors at the end of the year, I will spend a few more Sunday afternoons racking my brain to come up with a column that is interesting and enjoyable, just as Belle did all those years ago. Oh, and if you stop by for a visit, I may or may not write about you, but don’t expect any homemade cookies. It is not THAT much of a strange coincidence.

Barney the Chihuahua and I are usually awake around 4:30 a.m. He is usually a chipper, tail-wagging bundle of energy at that time of the morning. No, not that HE. I am talking about the dog. I am somewhat less chipper until I have my first cup of coffee. Last night, we were supposed to turn our clocks back. Changing our clocks back and forth every six months keeps me in a perpetual state of confusion. Just when I get used to the time, it has to be changed again. HE always changes the clocks in our house because he stays up later than I do, but unfortunately, is not amenable to questions at 4:30 a.m. asking whether or not he remembered to change the clocks. There is a very valid reason for my confusion. Last spring, when we were supposed to move our clocks forward, my phone, which is supposed to go with the flow, didn’t change automatically until noon. My fitness tracker didn’t change because it needed to be manually synchronized with the phone. (It took me two days to figure that one out!) This morning, I stumbled to the back door to let Barney out for his business. It didn’t matter if it was 4:30 or 5:30, because it was dark:30. The clock on the stove said it was 4:30. My phone said it was 4:30. My fitness tracker said it was 4:30. My brain said it was 5:30. Was it really 4:30…or 5:30? Did he change the clocks last night or did he forget? Did my phone adjust itself properly this time? Since I now have a new fitness tracker, did it change automatically, or would it require a syncronization like the old one did? It is enough to drive a Farm Woman insane. Out of desperation, I Googled it. Don’t laugh. I Google all the time, and it is a much better alternative to driving myself crazy or waking HIM up. After another cup of coffee, I will get dressed and figure out how to change the timers on the outdoor security lamp and the lights in the chicken coop. Or, maybe I will just go to church and see who showed up an hour early. I shouldn’t joke about it, though, because the early bird could very well be me!

The CDC recently made an announcement that it was all right to dress up your chickens for Halloween. That was a real news flash for me, as I didn’t even know that there were costumes for chickens. In keeping with their tax-funded goal of disease prevention, the CDC also cautioned Americans not to kiss their chickens and to wash their hands after handling them. Another surprisingly strange American pastime is goat yoga. Now, I can hardly hold a yoga pose by myself and would certainly fall over if a goat was climbing on my back while I was doing the cat-cow pose. Apparently, it is helping small farmers make a little extra money, and although I probably won’t participate, I’m all for helping out small farms, so I won’t make fun of anyone but myself. Some farmers are also making extra money by charging city folk to cuddle with their cows. It is not exactly cow yoga, but is supposed to help them get back to nature and relieve stress, at least according to the internet, so it must be true. I don’t claim to have a real farm, but if anyone wants to get back to nature and help out a Farm Woman, I will only charge a small fee for you to cuddle with my chickens. You are more than welcome to relieve stress and save gym fees by raking dirty straw and hauling in 40 pound sacks of feed. My chickens will not be dressed in costumes and won’t be hard to recognize because they are the only chickens in the county who don’t lay eggs. Unfortunately, I am the only Farm Woman in the county who has to purchase both 40 pound sacks of chicken feed and eggs. You may cuddle or practice yoga with the chickens, but please don’t kiss them on the lips. Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to wash your hands!

You know how it is. In the late summer and fall, we stock up for winter. People have been doing it for generations, but I sometimes wonder if I once lived another life during the Great Depression. I canned and froze green beans. I picked spaghetti squash from the garden. There are only three, but since HE won’t touch it, there are plenty of meals there, because they are the biggest I’ve ever seen. I shredded, drained, and froze many bags of zucchini for soups and baking. HE won’t touch that, either, but what he doesn’t know can’t hurt anything, right? I bought a quarter beef, raised by a local farmer. I cleaned my three small freezers, stacking it neatly in the space I had upstairs and in the small deep freeze in the basement. I was gifted many packages of venison, which we love, so I found room for that. I peeled, cored, and sliced apples for winter crisps, frozen in zipper bags. I bid on two halves of a pig at a silent auction, and won them both. I picked up the pig at the local butcher’s last week, all 202 pounds of him. As I lugged the boxes in, I started to panic. How in the HECK was I going to fit 202 pounds of meat into my limited amount of freezer space? How was I going to pack it so that when HE reaches in the freezer to take out his favorite ice cream, it all won’t come tumbling down like a house of cards? Ingenuity, I tell you. Farm Woman ingenuity, organization, and a few naughty words thrown in for good measure. (That happened when I dropped a package of frozen pork chops on my foot.) I managed, through creative stacking, to get everything in except for half a ham. Fifteen pounds worth of half a ham, to be exact. Guess what we are having for Sunday dinner, and it’s not even a holiday? We will probably have ham for leftovers Monday and Tuesday as well, and perhaps even ground ham for lunchtime sandwiches. Whether sliced or ground, leftover ham freezes well. I’d like to freeze the leftovers, but unfortunately, there’s no more room.

HE and I drove to the big city for an appointment, and I was surprised that he wanted to stop somewhere to buy shoes. Be still my heart! I eagerly offered a suggestion as to where to stop, anticipating that I would do a little shoe shopping myself. Did I need shoes? The answer to that question is that I ALWAYS need shoes, and since I was born to parents who both had big feet, I am blessed to be a size eleven, so can’t buy them just anywhere. This particular store often carries a few size elevens in styles and colors that weren’t too awful. Those of us with big feet don’t want to stand out in the crowd with garish colors or styles. I quickly browsed, looking for black, low-heeled, air-cushioned insoles, and size eleven. I found a pair and quickly tried them on. Perfect. Now to look around some more…but HE was done. Done in four minutes, and ready to check out. NOBODY is done shoe shopping in four minutes, except HIM. Did he even try them on? Did he look at his feet in the special foot mirror that sits low to the ground? Front, back, and side views? Did he wonder if they would fit with all his socks, or just the heavier socks? Does he perhaps need some new socks, too? Did he check to see if they come in other colors? Did they make his feet look too big? Did he ask a friend or even a random person in the shoe aisle what they thought? Sigh. Men are so simple. I gathered up my size elevens and followed him out the door.