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You might call it “the sticks” or “the toulies”. You might even call it “terra incognita”. Whatever you call it, we live in the country, and we love it, but it is changing. The other day, I had to wait for three cars to go by before I could turn south and be on my way to work. Three cars is a lot around here, unless it is fishing opener or hunting season. Since it was 6:30 a.m. on a cold winter’s weekday, I wondered what was going on. After living for years in larger cities or towns with their crowds, traffic jams, and stoplights, it is nice not to have to worry about the traffic or finding a place to park. Yesterday, things were really hopping here in the north woods. Heading towards home, I was in the middle of a line of traffic seven cars long. That is the most traffic I have seen here in months. We were following a guy in an old pickup, who drove ten miles per hour BELOW the speed limit in the no pass zones and ten miles per hour ABOVE the speed limit in the passing zones. Since I was smack-dab in the middle, I was determined not to let it irritate me and turned up the radio, adjusted the rear view mirror, and settled in for a long drive home. Car number seven, at the end of the line, must have let it irritate him, so decided to pass. He didn’t pass just one or two cars, but all six of us that were ahead of him. Since we were driving in an area with hills, curves, and deer who run across the road at regular intervals, I thought that he must have had more bravado than brains, but since I tend to drive only a wee bit faster than a Farm Woman’s grandmother, that probably doesn’t mean much. I prepared to slam on my brakes, but he made it by a hair. Perhaps there were so many on the road yesterday because we are expecting a snowstorm today, and it is a holiday weekend, to boot. I’ll bet dollars to dumplings that the only one on the road this morning was the snowplow driver. I’m going to stay in, put another log on the fire, and hope the boondocks will be plowed out by morning.

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I am the oldest and least flexible member of my Saturday morning yoga class. Our instructor, who happens to be my very flexible daughter, asks us to set an intention to concentrate on during each class. I usually choose something like “I will eat healthy” or “I will practice more”. Intentions help to bring you back into focus, should your mind start to wander. My mind tends to wander a lot, especially when I am intent on not falling into a twisted pile of sweaty limbs or wondering how in the HECK I’m going to do what she’s doing. I usually keep my weekly intention to four or five words, and try to follow it throughout the week. Some folks believe that yoga is somehow not a practice for Christians. I’m not here to argue theology with anybody, but find it quite the opposite for me. My intention today was “I will honor God.” This intention was to help me have less judgemental thoughts about Facebook users who can’t differentiate between there, their, and they’re, along with my snarky thoughts and comments about politicians both right and left. Besides, it sounded better than “I will shut my mouth.” So I stretched and I honored for an hour and truly plan to keep up with both the intention and the stretching throughout the week. After class, I cuddled and exchanged about a hundred kisses with my grandson, who will soon be five. The trick to getting that many kisses from a nearly five-year-old is to tell him that kisses are icky. Five-year-old boys like icky things. He also whispered in my ear that when he turns five next month, he will not be too big to kiss his grandma. Dear God: You got it mixed up. It was my intention to honor you, but instead you honored me with this moment in this day in this blessed life. I wonder if that was your intention all along? Namaste.

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” Vincent van Gogh

I am not someone who is anywhere near the van Gogh of household painting. That would be my sister. But, after eleven years of the same tired old guest bathroom, I decided it was time for a change and bought a new shower curtain, rugs, and paint to match. It is actually time for a change in my entire house, and luckily, my sister and dear friends who LOVE to paint have offered to help. I hate to paint, nor am I good at it. This is a small bathroom, however, and hard to fit more than one person and a ladder in there. Tempted, but too ashamed to ask them to do it for me while I made the lunch, I decided to tackle it myself. How hard can it be, anyway? A small room with sink, medicine cabinet, tub, and surround should only take one quart of paint and a couple of hours, in my rather naive estimate. I also had some good paint brushes that I had used with my last project, which had been carefully cleaned and stored away. Thinking I’d be done shortly, I started in with a cheerful whistle. Unfortunately, the whistle stopped immediately when I discovered that the old paint brushes were stiff and unyielding to soaking up paint, requiring a trip to the store in my old paint clothes to purchase more. Starting once again, I soon realized that whatever type of paint that I had applied those eleven long years ago was not going to be easy to cover. I am also not as agile as I was eleven years ago and found it nearly impossible to reach those high corners while standing on my tippy toes on top of the toilet tank. I also needed to lie on the floor to reach some of the corners, which made it necessary to sweep and mop the floor first. In yet another blow to my ego, I realized that an old Farm Woman who is pushing sixty does not get up easily from a cold tile floor without having to moan and groan and hug the toilet for assistance. Barney the Chihuahua, ever my hero, sensed that I was in trouble and jumped on my back to help. I noticed that he had stepped in a dribble of paint, so I cleaned his paws so he wouldn’t leave little green prints all over the floors like he did on my back. Thankfully, by that time I was out of paint had to wait until the next day for another quart and round two. Here I am, four days later, and don’t have the heart for the third and final round. Yes, three coats. I will take another day of rest before I pull up my van Goghs and start in once again.

The flu is running rampant this year, and from the doom and gloom on the news, it is a bad year. Being a nurse, I have always used preventative measures to avoid it. I get my flu shot, wash my hands with soap and water, and avoid people who are sick, which can be hard, since I work in a hospital. This year, I brought out the big guns. I stopped hugging people, except for one, and she really needed it. This is a hard one for someone who is a hugger, but perhaps the recipients might thank me in advance, since I have been eating lots of garlic, which is supposedly a potent antiviral. Potent is the perfect word for it, too. I diffuse germ-fighting essential oils in the bedroom at night, which makes the room smell nice and spicy. I rub a different oil on my feet every morning before getting dressed. This particular oil makes my socks smell like Italian salad dressing. Why on my feet? Because I read it on Pinterest so it must be true, right? I also use an organic olive leaf extract throat spray twice a day as another preventative measure. A few days ago, I quartered a big onion and placed it in bowls around the house. Apparently, onions have been killing viruses in households for more than a century. I’ve been out of nursing school for nearly that long, and I don’t remember learning that one, but I read it on the internet, so it must be true, right? HE hasn’t even mentioned any of this, or perhaps he is just turning a blind eye. Strangely enough, lately he has developed a craving for Italian food. Seriously, friends. Stop the spread of the flu. Wash your hands often with soap and water and stay home if you are not feeling well. Plus, if everyone ate a lot of extra garlic, No one would even notice. You read it right here, so it must be true, right?

Growing up in a family where our hunter/gatherer father brought home a wide variety of local wild foods, we never knew just what would be on the dinner table. Would it be plain old green beans, steamed cattail stamens,  or wild asparagus? Beef, venison, duck, or partridge?  Once or twice a year, we shared a wild  dinner with another family where everything except the salt and pepper was obtained from the wild. At one of those dinners, Mom said we were having “real” porcupine meatballs, and we ate without question, as she was a wonderful cook. I really don’t remember if those meatballs tasted good or bad, and I’ve asked the others, but their memories are a sketchy as mine.  I thought about the REAL porcupine meatballs the other day when a REAL porcupine took up residence under our front porch. Every night he slept there and every day he would head to the top of the pine trees near the garage. Maybe it was vice versa, because except for one sighting, all we saw were tracks back and forth in the snow.  Porcupines do not have any natural predators around here, and although they won’t bite you, they can be destructive creatures, chewing on wood and killing trees, and we all know what happens when they are disturbed. I tried to warn Mr. Porky by stomping on the porch every day  and yelling “Go away!” while standing underneath the pine trees. When he didn’t leave, I knew his days were numbered. We are all for sharing our world with various woodland creatures, but you can’t have an irritated porcupine living on your doorstep. At least I can’t. One day, HE and Barney the Brave Chihuahua ran an errand, leaving the garage door open for a few minutes.  I’m sure you can guess what happened next: Mr. Porky took advantage of the open door, headed inside, and hid behind the woodpile. When they got home, I heard wild barking from the garage and ran out to find HIM between Porky and Barney, holding Porky back with one hand on an axe handle and holding Barney back with the other. This is not our seven-pound Chihuahua’s first argument with a porcupine, either. I’ll admit to shedding a few tears while pulling quills out of Barney’s nostrils, and HE managed to pull his own quills without any tears. Porky  is now in porcupine heaven. I would have rather had him live out his days killing pine trees in the Bowstring State Forest, but it was not meant to be. Porky’s life was not in vain, however. My sister wanted the quills for the baskets she weaves, so I put the frozen corpse in a cardboard box and carried it into her garage.  Just like our mother, she is good at both crafting and cooking, and is married to a hunter/gatherer. I doubt if she will make REAL porcupine meatballs, but just in case you are invited over for dinner, you might want to tell her you are a vegetarian. 

 

Some holidays are better than others. We have a small family, and our Christmases, past and present,  are a lot of fun but celebrated in a low-key and quiet way. Being the predictable family that we are, we can rest assured that our future holiday celebrations will probably be the same. It is nice to visit the Christmas traditions of others, though, if for no other reason than to celebrate the joyous holiday and gain a  new appreciation of your own family. One of our most memorable holidays comes to mind, from a Christmas of long ago:  Our only child had been invited to spend Christmas Eve with her boyfriend’s family, first at an elaborate Italian feast and then attending midnight mass. Since we had no family living close by and needed something to do,  we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner. HE really preferred a quiet evening at home and said as much, but I was feeling our empty nest and needed a little Christmas cheer.  I volunteered to make my special Minnesota wild rice hotdish that was a tradition in our family and promised HIM we wouldn’t stay long. We arrived right on time, and my friend answered the door with a panicked look on her face. She was not ready. The Christmas tree looked great, though. It had to be eight feet tall with so many twinkling lights that I’m sure the electric meter was spinning like a top. Her husband had perhaps sampled the Christmas punch a few too many times, because he had a lopsided silly grin on his face and had somehow forgotton to replace all the couch cushions that he had vacuumed under in a feeble attempt to get rid of the cat hair from their five indoor felines, who were (thankfully) nowhere to be seen. The table was set beautifully for a holiday feast. Since her hubby had also forgotton to peel the potatoes, I rolled up my sleeves  and started in, because that’s what friends are for. My own  beloved hubby gave me the first of many looks that I would receive that night. I know you married folks know THE LOOK well…the one that says, “time to go”, but since the fun was just beginning, I pretended not to see.  The guests were as varied as the ornanents on that lovely tree: Her daughter, son-in-law,  and their four children, three of whom had been eating sugary Christmas goodies all day and were bouncing off the walls…and the furniture. Mr. Punch Drinker started tossing presents to them right and left and there was a cacophony of  squeals, tearing paper, and flying couch cushions. At one point, the tree was close to toppling. They blamed the near-disaster on the kids, but I’m fairly certain it was a cat or two, trying to stay out of the way. As a side note, the mother of this crew was dressed in a fairy princess gown, complete with a jewel-encrusted  tiara. She dropped off the kids and came back with her friends, one of whom had been in an unfortunate accident and was wearing a halo brace to protect his head and neck. Despite wearing a halo, he was no Christmas angel.  He couldn’t stand, so they put him in the recliner in a supine position, which took up much of the living room.  He started in on the Christmas punch immediately, using a straw.  His wife, who appeared to be in better shape than he was,  had been smuggled out of the local hospital and arrived wearing her hospital gown and robe,  along with a functioning (and beeping) IV pump on a rolling pole. I wondered to myself how a person dressed like a Disney princess could possibly  sneak a patient and a beeping IV pump past hospital security on Christmas Eve, but maybe I tend to overthink things. Another friend,  who was supposed to supply the dessert, arrived with one pie for fifteen guests, a can of sprayable whipped cream, and a whole bunch of whipped cream stories not appropriate for mixed company.  Another relative arrived, this one dressed in a three-piece suit, gaudy gold jewelry, and topped off with a fedora hat, which was never removed. In this family-friendly story, I cannot tell you what I think he looked like, but I can say that I am almost certain  he was coming down with the flu, as he kept wiping his nose with his hand and reaching for the sliced turkey with his fingers. I did tell my friend, and when she didn’t remove it from the buffet line, I whispered to HIM to not take any turkey. HE whispered back that it was REALLY time to go. I pretended not to hear. The Pie Lady interrupted her bawdy stories, some of which she claimed to be true, to inform me that I should fix that @#%!$ beeping IV pump since I was a nurse and should know these things.  When I told her that I wasn’t comfortable taking care of the life-saving medicine that was being pumped through a  stolen IV pump and into the vein of a person who was SUPPOSED TO BE UNDER CONSTANT MEDICAL SUPERVISION from the same hospital that employed me, she took care of it herself.  Good Lord. I finally convinced Princess Tiara to drive her back to the hospital and to take Halo Guy along for the ride.  Out of both patience and Christmas cheer,  HE finally just put on his coat and waited for me by the door. As we said our goodbyes, my friend gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “You’re never coming over for another Christmas with us, are you?” I hugged her back and whispered, “Nope.”

Joy

Thank you very much to all of my friends who still send Christmas cards. All ten of you. I don’t send them out any more, either. Between email, cell phones, and social media, I keep up with everyone throughout the year. For years, my mother carefully hand made each Christmas card, enclosing the latest family photo and  a hand-written letter in each one. That was in her spare time between making a dozen different batches of Christmas cookies and her usual six loaves of bread a week. Although I never made my cards, I used to send a hand-written letter and photo in each one, writing with one hand and stirring my umpteenth batch of cookie dough with the other. Yes, I tend to exaggerate a little bit. I would do the shopping and wrapping and decorating and carol singing and candy making until Christmas became more work than fun, and I came to the realization that I WAS NOT MY MOTHER. That brought me to a screeching halt, and right in the middle of the season of joy, too. Guess what? Christmas still came with only one batch of homemade cookies baked. Presents were still opened, this time out of gift bags and not fancy wrappings. Black Friday was no longer a necessity in my life, either for shopping or for decorating. The season of joy became joyous once again. These days, there’s even less to do, and truthfully, that brings a little bit of sadness along with the joy. Our daughter is hosting the family on Christmas again this year.  She is not her mother either, and the day will be wonderful as they make their own traditions. This year, I bought a batch of cookies at a local craft fair, because if cookies don’t make HIM joyous, they at least put him in a better mood. We took an overnight family trip to Duluth’s famous Bentleyville to see the lights and watch our grandson visit with Santa. There is nothing that can make you happier than watching the excitement of a four year old talking to Santa. In fact, HE was so filled with holiday joy that he actually stopped at the mall and told me to take all the time I needed. Really, without meaning to, I think I just wrote a Christmas letter! I will share an embarrasing vintage family photo along with a wish that you will also feel the joy of the season. (By the way, I am the angelic-looking sibling).  Merry Christmas from The Minnesota Farm Woman, HIM, Barney the Chihuahua, and sixteen chickens, all named ‘Mama’. Peace on earth.