In with the new…

The family — that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to. ~Dodie Smith

It is the week for taking personal inventory, isn’t it?

We are the only creatures who do this. Dogs live in the here and now, and while cats appear to hold more grudges, I doubt that they spend a lot of time beating themselves up about it. Only humans make mental checklists of their successes and failures as one year ends and a new one begins.  It’s kind of our thing. I read this week about a festival in Peru called Takanakuy, which translated, means “when the blood is boiling.”  It is an annual ritual that allows residents of the community to solve differences by beating the holy hell out of each other once a year on December 25th.

I read this and was fascinated. You can’t make this stuff up. Well. You could, but I didn’t. Google “takanakuy” if you don’t believe me.

On the day of the festival, men, women, and children gather in bullrings and engage in bare knuckle fist fighting refereed by local officials.  It is an indigenous tradition intended to really clear the air with family and friends before the new year begins.  There are only two important rules. You don’t kick an opponent when he or she is down. And once you’ve fought, you forgive and forget.  You hug it out and move on.

I guess that’s one way to settle scores. I can’t see it catching on here, but you never know.I suppose it depends on how many people you’ve had around at your house for the past week using your towels and eating all of your food and watching football and just generally being in your business.

They will all go home soon.  I promise.  And then, you will miss them. You will.  If you have young adults home visiting, they will have to go back to work. If you have college students, a new semester will begin. If you have kids home on Christmas break, they will eventually go back to school, too. And if you have grandchildren, you will clean up the mess their parents let them make in your house and be sad a week from now that there are no more sticky fingerprints to wipe off of anything.  You will take down the tree and pack Christmas away for another year. Then, you’ll collapse with a cup of tea or something stronger, proud that you didn’t punch anyone for anything.

So take a deep breath this week and count to ten. Or twenty. Or a hundred, if you must.  Count your blessings and love your dear ones.  Step away from the bullring.  You’ll be glad you did when a new year dawns, fresh and bright and full of promise.

Happy New Year!








It seemed like a simple enough question.

If you could only have ONE type of pie for Thanksgiving, what kind would you want? 

In asking it,  I hoped to reach a  pie consensus.  Instead, I got the following requests:

Pecan….no wait!   Pecan Fudge!!

Blueberry! Strawberry Rhubarb!

Pumpkin…no wait!  Jameson Pumpkin!

Frozen Peanut Butter! Cherry! Raspberry!

Pumpkin Cheesecake!!


I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner for twelve people.  I am pretty sure that if they had it their way, there would be twelve pies cooling in my back porch right now.

Clearly, we are pie zealots.   In fact,  if there was an organized religion we could all  join that had pie as one of its central guiding principles, we’d never miss a Sunday.  Our patron saint would be in an apron holding a rolling-pin.  There would be a smudgy spot of flour right in the middle of his forehead.  On Thanksgiving, we would light a pumpkin spice scented candle in his honor.

Okay, so maybe I’m overstating it.  But I do think that the world would be a kinder, gentler place if people baked more pies.

Cookies are a ridiculous waste of time.   Spending all that time dropping spoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheets and then waiting for each dozen to bake isn’t my idea of how to spend my life. Besides, about fifty percent of the cookies I bake are either too hard or too soft. And cakes are just kind of dumb and fluffy. How hard is it to open a box,  crack a couple of eggs, add oil and water and bake?  If I had a monkey, which I don’t, I could teach IT how to bake a cake.

But pies? From scratch?  Now pies take time, and effort, and creativity.  Every slice of pie is a flaky little fruit-filled wedge of love.

Last summer, I spent one glorious August afternoon picking wild blueberries with a dear friend. She was the perfect picking partner, and we spent hours squatting in an enormous bog picking some of the most beautiful berries I’ve ever seen.  I will remember that day for the rest of my life.  I froze a couple of bags of the berries, and this week when I made my blueberry pies, I thought of her and that day in the bog with the sunshine on our necks and was thankful for her friendship, the memory, and those berries.

On Thursday, once the dinner dishes are cleared, I will sit at the table that first belonged to my great-grandmother with most of  the most important people in my life eating my pies and be thankful for the noise and the laughter and those everyone-talking-at-once-between-bites moments  that never come often enough in any family.

Other Thanksgivings will come to mind, too.  The ones when there was always a custard pie for my grandfather, baked by my grandmother.  Holidays when it was me coming home,  not my grown kids.   I’ll look at the faces around my table and remember the babies that the set of young adult cousins there used to be.  And for another year,  I will be grateful that all five of them are happy, healthy, and whole.

The faces at my table will remind me that time passes.  That chairs left empty by the passing of one generation in a family are filled by the next, and then the next.  That life is a circle.  Like a pie.

It takes some effort to bake a pie, raise a kid, make a marriage last.  When one has been blessed with the gifts of family and health and enough of what’s important in life, it is easy to take all of it for granted.  My prayer today is that I never do.

Some day, hopefully a long time from now, someone will write my eulogy. I hope when the time comes, that I will be remembered for more good things, than bad. But if they can’t think of anything else to say, this would be enough:

“She was grateful for her many blessings.  Oh,  and that woman could bake one helluva pie.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

City geese, country geese

At dusk, they congregate in the field across the river close enough to the shore to make a quick get-away if a fox comes around. At dawn, they make their way back to the water  and swim in long, straight lines, one parent in front and the other taking up the rear. In mid-July, the goslings are nearly as large as their parents.  It has been a good summer to raise goose children on the Bowstring river. The kids are strong swimmers with large, healthy bodies and long necks. Most of the day, the families parade back and forth in front of the dock, pecking at vegetation beneath the surface.

A decade ago, we lived in an old house that fronted a small lake right in the center of a town on the prairie. In the summer, we’d walk around the lake and see families of geese there, too. Most of the geese who bred there had lousy attitudes. They honked and squawked and chased small children. If a dog on a leash got too close, they’d lose their minds. By late summer, every blade of grass on the shore had been eaten and the ground was bare. Some of the geese appeared to have either broken or deformed wings.  They fought with each other and left their droppings in yards. By autumn, we were glad to see them leave with all their relations.

I was thinking about those geese this morning while I picked wild blueberries on a ridge where there was just enough breeze to keep the deer flies away. It’s a good year for berries, thanks to all the heat and rain we’ve had. I love to pick. Mostly, I like the solitude and repetitive nature of picking. Walk, stoop, gather. Walk some more, stoop again, gather some more. I like the sounds the birds make when they don’t know a human is around and the smell of ripe blueberries in an ice cream pail. I don’t think I’d enjoy picking blueberries at a farm the way some people do. Too easy. Too many people walking where they shouldn’t crushing perfectly good berries would make me crabby. Give me a Sunday morning on a ridge alone with my thoughts and the deer flies any day.

There are blueberries, and then, there are blueberries.

There are geese, and then, there are geese, too.


Lost and found

There are not many absolutes in this world.  In fact, there are really only three.  We are born.  We live our lives.

And then, we die.

Oh, wait. There’s one more.

If you are the last woman to leave a pot luck dinner, you always bring the orphaned crock pots and spoons home with you to wash and reunite with their rightful owners. That’s what women do.  We can’t help ourselves. We’d want someone else to do it for us.

That’s what I am doing this week. Eventually, my counters will be cleared of the items that don’t belong in my drawers and cupboards. As a class, we’ll figure it out together. We always have.

The other thing I’m doing this week is looking through all the photos that were taken during our fortieth class reunion last weekend at the golf course. My smile muscles are sore as I scroll through them on our Facebook group page.  Each face holds memories of when we were young. Who we were then.  By your fortieth, that is all that matters when you gather. Those memories. Not what you “do” for a living, or where you live, or who you voted for. Thank goodness.

Those memories are more precious than gold.

For the reunion, we made a list of the ones we’ve lost. We placed flowers and candles. This is risky. First, you always worry that you’ve missed someone. And then you joke that you hope nobody on this list shows up and says, “what am I doing on this list?” That would be awkward, to say the least.

Well, here’s some good news.  He didn’t show up, but Fred’s not dead.

Thank goodness.

Crock pots, after all, are easily replaced.

Old friends? Not so much.


Civic duty

Back when the high school had a lawn and a canopy of large trees instead of a parking lot, we’d walk there and wait for the big yellow school bus to arrive, swatting at deer flies and each other with beach towels. Ours was the generation whose mothers never asked whether we wanted to participate in an activity. We just got signed up if they thought it would be good for us. Like it was their civic duty, or something. Every summer, that meant swimming lessons.

Summer vacation is always longer for moms than it is for kids. All the stinky tennis shoes at the door and the grape soda rings on the kitchen counters sent them over the edge. By the middle of July, our moms were seriously over it and just wanted some peace. Handing us a towel and pointing toward the bus gave them a few blessed hours without any whining or doors slamming. Swimming lessons were a win-win. Moms got their houses back and kids learned how not to drown. And so, from every house in the neighborhood, off we were sent to freeze our behinds in Deer Lake and learn to swim.

Next weekend, in my home town, families will gather. Friends will, too. There will be music and dancing, jingle dresses and drumming. Beer will be spilled. Bingo will be called. Fleas will be marketed. Carnival rides will squeak. The church ladies will serve lovely, comforting foods like turkey, wild rice hot dish, and homemade pie in church basements. There will be a parade, rain or shine. Fireworks will explode in the night sky. The Wild Rice Festival exists only because of careful planning and whole lot of hard work. Money raised by the Lions during the three-day festival goes directly back into the community for projects like the swimming program. It was true when I was a kid riding the bus to lessons; it’s still true today.

And so, if you are one of those kids from long ago who also didn’t drown, thank a Lion for that. Then, buy a button because you might just win some cash. Eat more than one burger. Play Bingo. Throw caution to the wind and go a little nuts. It’s the Rice Festival, after all!

Do it for the moms who are ready for school to start already. The ones scrubbing purple rings off their counter tops and muttering as they trip over shoes in the hall. Really. Just do it. So their kids don’t drown. I think it’s your civic duty. Or something.

It’s a win-win no matter how you cut it.




Lake news

The mama chipmunk didn’t know what in the heck to do. She had come around the corner of the house with her kid, and suddenly there was a dog between them and the only two trees they could reach.

It was early morning at the cabin when I saw her make the decision that separated her from her tiny brown baby.  The dog was in the yard doing what dogs do, and by the time  mama chirped “Run! Quick! To the tree!” to the baby, the dog had seen them both. Most of the time, Lilly ignores the chipmunks at the cabin. She isn’t much of a hunter, and even if she was, trying to chase a chipmunk while tethered to a tree is pretty futile. Unfortunately, the baby had climbed a tree well within beagle-range and the mama was frantic. She chirped. The dog snuffled at the base of the tree. The baby circled the trunk looking for mom.  I called to the dog and put her back in the porch. The chipmunk crisis was averted.

Later in the day, a pair of adult loons on the river began their panicked tremolo call when a boat full of curious fishermen came too close. The male dove beneath the water and surfaced several yards away. Then the female did the same, leaving their black puff-ball baby bobbing and tweeting in the bull rushes alone. They cried out and flapped their great wings as the river churned around them. Suddenly, a large bald eagle swooped down upon the trio in an attempt to snatch the baby.  Luckily, for the loons, the eagle’s talons came up empty. A second attempt was no more successful and finally, the predatory bird gave up and moved on.

It’s tough to be the parent of a small and helpless creature. Whether we are covered in fur, or feathers, or just skin, we know this. We do our best to keep them safe. Sometimes, we can. Sometimes, we can’t.

I am spending a lot of time at the cabin this month. We have internet, but no cable television which means no cable news. This is a very good thing. I highly recommend this way of life. Besides, if I want to understand the news of families separated, all I need to do is look up in the tree where the chipmunks have found each other  or out to the river, where life for a family of loons has resumed.

I watch the beagle at the end of a leash that keeps her from causing too much mayhem in lives of other living creatures.

And I scan the tree line across the lake for signs of the eagle, too.

Real news

From 2017…

The Loon Whisperer

He doesn’t know he’s a hummingbird.  At least, that’s what I think.

We have a pair of piliated woodpeckers who arrived in our woods a week ago. They are enormous. Imagine two black chihuahuas with wings and red mohawks.  I am fairly certain they are married because they sit in separate trees and squawk loudly at each other when they aren’t gorging themselves on my suet.

Most days, the one little hummer we have perches on top of the tall shepherd’s hook surveying his kingdom until one of them arrives to eat. Then, he moves to a nearby branch to watch. He seems particularly infatuated with Mrs. Woodpecker. He does not know that he doesn’t stand a chance with her.  It is clear that while she is often annoyed with her partner, she married for keeps.

In other news, we have a major tick problem around here. Lilly the beagle…

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Tree people

Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is the scientific method of dating tree rings (also called growth rings) to the exact year they were formed in order to analyze atmospheric conditions during different periods in history. (Wikipedia)

June. Lovely June.

Thanks to all the new growth, the dead trees that litter our five acres like an enormous set of Pick-up Sticks in March are hidden in June. The big one that split during a particularly nasty thunderstorm last year and fell only part way down before it hung up on a smaller tree next to it doesn’t drive me nuts. The big log that points like an arrow toward the lake has a soft carpet of bright green moss in June. Yesterday, I watched two chubby gray squirrels square off on top of it like Sumo wrestlers. Or maybe they were dancing a jig. In June, anything is possible.

I was a June bride. I stepped off an airplane from Seoul with our son in June. Our daughter has a June birthday.  I get up earlier, sometimes even before the sun does, in June. I go to bed earlier, too, so I can beat the sun the next morning, and the next. I measure the weeks in June by when the grass needs cutting. I tell myself that planning for next’s years courses can wait, because it can. And then, I read books I am not obligated to highlight and plan lessons around.

As a family, we celebrated two different college graduations in May. Two others completed their first year of college. The rest of the trees in our forest are hard at work nurturing their own seedlings or just working hard doing what they do to contribute to society. All of us older trees are happy to see their growth. This is what we all hoped for back when we were wiping their sticky Popsicle faces and telling them to walk, not run, on the boat dock so many Junes ago. One is preparing for a move and new adventures in Chicago. Another is planning a September wedding of fairly epic proportions. Life is good in the woods.

Years ago, we had to have one of the few elm trees on our property cut down near the driveway. After the trunk was hauled away, I looked at the stump to count the growth rings. Something had altered the tree’s growth pattern when it was just a sapling because instead of circles, a heart had formed where rings should have been. A perfect heart.

In June, I think about that tree a lot as I count the growth rings in all the tree people I love.

Not fussy, not fancy

The best time to make friends is before you need them.

-Ethel Barrymore

A handful of us met months ago to decide on a place and a time. Then, we formed a group for the class of ’78 on Facebook and added everyone we could think of to it. We agreed that we’d keep our reunion simple, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. Simple, after forty years, is good. Nobody has the energy for fancy.

The thing about being out of high school this long is that fancy, fussy, affairs seem like more work than fun. This is probably because when we think of “fun” now, the first thing that comes to mind is retirement. We just really want to see old friends, eat potluck, drink a beer and head uptown afterwards for the street dance at the Rice Festival. We will laugh a lot, tear up a little, drink another beer or two and call it a night. Let’s be honest. By this time, that’s about as much fun as any of us can handle.

And so, we are planning. Sort of. Gone are the days when we called the parents of classmates for mailing addresses so that we could send out invitations. Gone are the times when we hired caterers and D.J.’s, collected money, and made up fancy booklets with cute sayings and contact information. We are pretty much over trying to impress anyone with our reunion planning skills. Now, we are just winging it and hoping people show up.

It’s the craziest thing, Time. The life that seemed to stretch to infinity the night we graduated from high school has moved much more quickly than any of us anticipated it would. In four decades, we’ve already lost too many of the sweet souls we once called classmates and friends. They’ll be there, in the stars above us and the stories we tell.

So that’s the scoop. A few of us came together to (sort of) plan a class reunion. It won’t be fussy and it won’t fancy, and on July 7th we might find ourselves with a whole lot of extra potato salad, but that’s fine. We’re not worried in the slightest.

After all, potlucks….reunions…old friendships… generally work out just fine.