Girls Gone Wild

They are in my fridge and on my counter and in little glass jars on the windowsill.  I am pressuring my loved ones to eat them three meals a day before they “go bad”  and at this point, my fingers are dyed pink from all the slicing and dicing going on around here.

Because I have a problem.  A big one.  I may even need an intervention.

Hello….my name is The Loonwhisperer and I am a berry-picking-a- holic.

Before last week, I was in denial.  I had convinced myself that I was just a recreational berry picker who could stop any time I wanted to.  And then I went to one of those pick your own places during one of THE best strawberry seasons in years and went completely out of my mind.  Is there anything more wonderful than a freshly picked, ripe strawberry?  As I butt-crawled my way down the row plucking berry after berry, I fantasized about all the wonderful things I’d make with my harvest.  The strawberry short-cake and jam and endless supply of fresh berries for cereal and yogurt. A pie or two.  My friend, Cindy, worked her way down the row next to me and we visited and giggled our way from plant to plant as we filled ice cream pails, one after the other.

A couple of hours later, we both stood, stretching the kinks out of our backs and wiping sweat off our brows and then lined up our buckets,  pleased with our bad selves.

Eleven.   There were eleven buckets full of strawberries between us.

Now, the thing about strawberries is that once you’ve picked the little suckers, you have, oh….about forty eight hours to make some decisions about what to do with them before they start disintegrating into mush and mold.  At least this is true for the ones in season. Those chewy, half-ripe berries that grocery stores try to pass off the rest of the year as “strawberries” stick around for weeks whether you want them to or not. Real, freshly picked berries are sweet and good and have an extremely short shelf life, like summer itself.

I made my family eat strawberry shortcake for dessert again tonight.  I admit that they were less than enthusiastic.  We will be eating strawberry jam until next July.  But at least I have stopped having nightmares about giant strawberries reproducing in the fridge while we sleep now that the jelly roll pan that was full of them inside of it is slowly emptying day by day.

This is good, because here’s the thing.  By my friend’s calculations, the wild blueberries will be ripe in about two weeks.  We’ve already made plans to head to the forest to do a little berry picking just as soon as they are.  Because everyone knows that wild blueberry pie is just about THE BEST pie in the world.  And it would be so nice to have a few fresh ones to sprinkle on cereal and yogurt, and blueberry muffins are just wonderful, and…….

I’m beyond help.

Got Kimchee?

“I sustain myself with the love of family.” – Maya Angelou

I was raised by in the Land of Cream of Mushroom Soup and Hamburger Hotdish and so,  for this Scandinavian girl,  Kimchee, a Korean side dish made from fermented cabbage and radishes laced with red peppers and garlic and buried in a crock in the ground for months is, well, a culinary stretch, to say the least.

We have just returned from a week at culture camp ( and I’m happy to report that I dodged the kimchee bullet for one more year.  When I was a younger mom, I used to put a little on my plate every day at lunch.  I guess it was my feeble attempt to appear tolerant and adventurous and at least somewhat “with it” culturally in front of the rest of the parents who were actually eating and enjoying it.  Then, I’d make pleasant conversation and eat around it.   When lunch was over,  I’d rush to put my napkin on top of it before throwing my plate in the garbage can.  This worked unless I happened to be having lunch with one of my brown-eyed darlings who were masters at hiding things THEY didn’t want to eat on their plates at home and would say (loudly)  “Mom!  You didn’t eat your KIMCHEE!!!!!!  You need to try it!” while I stammered and blushed and cursed the slimy mound of wet cabbage bubbling and giving off toxic fumes under the napkin, mocking me.

Through the years, I have grown to love and even crave many of the  Korean dishes that are served at Kamp.  Gochujang, a condiment made of red pepper paste,  tender, grilled strips of beef called bulgogi,  shiny black beans, and other delicacies that I would never have tasted had it not been for Kamp are some of my favorites now.   But Kimchee?  I’ve tried to like it, really I have.  Sorry, Korea.  Sorry, Kids.

I think I finally became okay with this parental flaw of mine when I realized a few years ago that it wasn’t the food, or the language lessons, or the fan dance that kept us coming back  to a tiny elementary school in Baxter, Minnesota every July for Kamp Kimchee.   It wasn’t the evening pizza parties or the waterparks or the meals out every night that made the week magical for my kids.

It was the friends who became like family through the years for us all.

In Minnesota, our family looks different from most families for 51 weeks  out of every year.  We are reminded of  this whenever we pull out of the driveway and venture out into the world.  However,  At Kamp, we match just fine.  For a week, nobody asks us if we are “together” when we are clearly together in a restaurant or a store.   For a week, sweet kindergartners are carried on the backs of handsome young men and lovely young women who were once kindergartners at Kamp themselves.  I am grateful to a group of adoptive parents who, more than three decades ago, had the foresight to dream and plan and work on a singular goal: to form a community for the kids they’d adopted and were raising in predominately white, rural communities in Minnesota.  That community lives on at Kamp Kimchee.

I have accepted the fact that I may never learn to love Kimchee… but because of this family, this community, I will always, always love Kamp.

A Gathering

Once upon a time, there was  a little boy who loved the Rice Festival more than any person I have ever known before or since.  Each July, the week before Festival time, he made it his sole mission in life to report to others on the progress being made Uptown where the carnival rides were being unloaded from large, red semi-trailers by sweaty, sun-tanned men with large muscles who must have looked upon this well-scrubbed, well-loved child as something of an oddity.  In those days, if they’d given the kid a wrench, he probably would have gotten right down to business and joined the crew.

Because, when you are a small boy, it is hard to wait for amazing to happen.  He is a graying executive now with a lovely wife and three kids of his own who spends the bulk of his time in the air, having traded the Ferris Wheels in his life for different types of tilting and whirling.

I was missing him last weekend when most of our family gathered for the Rice Festival.  There was a time when I thought that you had to actually BE from Deer River to appreciate the Festival since what it is, more than anything, is a great big family reunion.  But then we all had children who, even as adults, wait for the first weekend in July and all that the Rice Festival offers.  This year, they and their cousins and college friends ate their way from one end of the midway to the other,  consuming copious amounts of hamburgers and fry bread tacos, playing card after card of Bingo, and rocking out to The Dweebs until the wee hours of Sunday morning.   They’ve gone from begging their parents for one more ride, one more Sno-cone, one more of everything to pitchers of beer they buy themselves.

When I walk through town,  I run into old classmates and neighbors and spend a few minutes catching up.  I see another generation of men who look like their dads and women who look like their mothers doing the heavy lifting that keeps a summertime tradition alive in a small town.

It is good.  This being from a small town thing.

I’m glad that little boy of long ago and I and all our relations were born in this one.