Friday, February 27, 2009

Debi: Out and About, Perpetually

I've been meaning to respond to Stori's post about her rhythm being shaken by outings lately, but ironically, I've been out of the house too much!

I've said before that I did not set out to be home full time with my kids. I am a very, very social creature -- just spend ten minutes with me and you'll notice that I am highly engaged in whatever conversation I enter, and at least partially engaged in any conversation I can hear in the surrounding area. I just love being with people. Even if I am not with friends, I'd rather be alone in a crowd than in my house. For that reason, freelancing has been a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it gives me exactly the freedom I need -- I can take the kids to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, and I never have to worry about school holidays or sick days -- but on the other hand, I have no colleagues, no coworkers, no peers, and no structure at all. (Right now, on top of it all, I also have basically no work. Darn economy.) It can be lonely. It is lonely.

This is why the community I live in is so important to me. My average day requires me to leave the house at least twice -- on the way to and from school -- but I usually do a lot more than that. When I have work to do, I love to do it while I sit at a locally-owned coffeeshop called The Brothers K. I have my standard order (large soy mocha and a cranberry-pecan scone), which I milk for several hours, sitting in my favorite seat by the window, in the upper left of the photo here. This cafe is less than a mile from my house, so as long as it's not raining and the streets aren't covered in snow, I ride my bike, my laptop in a backpack.

These days, though, I can't justify the expense of the treats at Bros. K, so I've been staying home. It's driving me completely crazy. We belong to the Evanston YMCA, and so I've been trying to go there and run on the track or the treadmill most days. I'm the last person I'd have thought would do that, but my youngest child is three-and-a-half now, and I'm starting to lose the excuse for not having the energy for exercise! The YMCA is also one of my employers, since I became a toddler swim instructor this past August (mostly for the half-price family membership that comes with it!). I teach two hours of classes on Friday mornings -- more fun than you'd think.

By mid-afternoon, I have to start thinking about getting the kids from school. Waiting outside Ronni's school for her is a social scene all in itself. I've usually retrieved Sammi by then, so I stand there with her in the stroller munching a snack, and I gab with the other parents. Notice that I didn't say "I gab with the other mothers." This is a liberal town, folks! There are many, many fathers at school pick-up. That, and nannies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, and those of us that absorb a revolving cast of extra kids for after-school play, emergency child-care, or just because another parent's younger one is still napping at home. In all weather, we stand there and wait for the doors to open and our progeny to stream out. In nice weather, impromptu snack picnics form on the playground, and we all sprawl on the grass to let the kids blow off steam and to put off getting dinner started.

On Tuesdays, one of my best friends (and the mother of Ronni's absolute best friend) teaches a "Creative Movement" class at the local park district building. I've enrolled both my kids, though Sammi is too young for it, really, and spends much of the class doing her own thing. More than a dozen kids from Ronni's school are in this class, and so I often help walk all of them over to the park district with my friend after school. There we are -- two adults, sometimes three -- with a gaggle of children making our way three blocks down a busy street in the late afternoon, backpacks and lunchboxes flying. No time for chit-chat during that scene; it brings out the sheepdog in all parents! The class, held in the beautiful sunny studio at our often-neglected historic park district building, is a wonder of free energy and happy wiggling. Boys and girls alike find amazing ways to move and stretch, thanks to the thoughtful teaching my friend provides.

After class, it's getting late. We've stayed until our friends are locking the door of the building, chatting and running around the studio. If I've thought of it, there's something waiting for us in the crock pot at home. If I've lazed too long, the walk home consists of me musing on the contents of the refrigerator, deciding between leftovers and scrambled eggs. The kids are still wound up from their dancing, and this week, Sammi refused to get back in the stroller. "I want to run, Mama!" And so she did...the whole three blocks home.

Sometimes that's the end of my forays outside. Some weeks, once my husband David is home and we've eaten dinner, I'll kiss the girls goodbye and drive into the city with my fiddle on the seat next to me, ready to meet my musical partner for a night of practice in a room at the local folk music school. As I think of this very typical Tuesday for us, I imagine Stori in my place, and then I imagine her domestic homebody head exploding, just as mine would staying in my house all day, alone with my girls. I think she and I are exactly the people about whom someone said, once, "opposites attract!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stori: I don't think we are in Kansas anymore

This state has to be the most backward place to live in. I don't mean backwards in the sense of my husband's home state of Kentucky and it's "hill folk". It's backwards in the sense that if you took a normal daily Alaskan conversation and had it in the lower 48, you would get looked at kinda funny. For example, getting Paige ready in the morning to catch the bus. "Paige, you had better put a hat on honey, it's kinda chilly out there. It's -20 below." Or in the case of this morning, "Paige, don't worry about wearing your winter gear today, just take it with you. It's plenty warm outside." The temperature this morning at 6:25 a.m. when this conversation was taking place was 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Now how nuts does some one have to be to consider 13 degrees "plenty warm"?

These past couple weeks my husband has been busting butt to clear trees and get firewood in. We have two oil burning Toyo monitor stoves in the house, but with the cost of heating fuel, we heat our house with a wood stove. We usually have about 4 fires a day when it's colder. Since it's so warm out right now, we'll probably only burn one and the cabin logs will hold enough residual heat to keep us cozy. We had a really ugly cold spell last month and it used up more of our wood reserve than we had budgeted for. 3 weeks of -40 to -60 below weather tends to make you burn a couple extra fires, go figure.

We built our house right next to a slow moving slough, which is a like a wide slow shallow creek in the lower 48. Our slough, except in a couple hot spots, freezes solid in the winter. Marc runs his snow machine up and down it to collect dead standing spruce. When you drop a tree for firewood, you cut off all the branches and buck up the pole (cut into stove length sections). After the log is bucked up, once a week we split logs with a splitting maul. This is usually Marc's and Paige's Sunday chore. Marc splits and Paige hauls and stacks the firewood on our big porch. Marc has cleared some serious trees this past couple weeks and had all the boughs as trash to dispose of. So here's the backwards part, I have a spruce bough fire burning outside my house, on the ice. These bonfires are hot and huge and we still don't have to worry about it melting enough of the slough ice to be dangerous. Most sane people would never stand on a frozen creek and start a huge bonfire without worry of falling in. But then again, most people aren't standing on 3 solid feet of ice either.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stori: busy little week

It's not uncommon for me to not leave the property but once or twice a week. Usually on Saturdays Marc and the kids and I will make our way into Fairbanks for our weekly shopping trip. We'll maybe hit Walmart, Sam's Club, get some fuel, drop by the chainsaw shop, sell our eggs to the feed store, and pickup some grain for the cows and chickens. For a while there I was getting the chance to meet Marc 3 times a week at the gym on the Air Force base where he works, but that's not really town, just a base. This week is altogether different.

I have had some back pain and finally got the chance to get into see a doctor. Marc is retired Air Force so we still have all of our military benefits. They seem to think I may have a herniated disk, so they signed me up for P/T on Thursday on base. Friday, I'll have to drive all the way to town for an eye exam to renew my contacts, that's end up taking several hours there and back. Saturday is the big day though! My daughter Paige is brilliant. She's a 5th grade student and at the top of her class. Several months ago, they had a class spelling bee, she took 1st. That moved her on to the school wide bee which had 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. She took 1st again! I knew she was smart, but she hadn't studied AT ALL, so we didn't figure she had much of a chance. Boy were we wrong. Since she was first in her school, she now moves on to districts. That bee will be held in Fairbanks on Saturday. We'll have to be there by 8 a.m. and it'll last at least 4 hours. Before I had kids, 4 hours in a spelling bee sounded like a boring version of hell, funny how everything changes when it's your little spawn up there spelling "Animosity". When we get home from town that day, we get the pleasure of castrating, immunizing, and clipping the tusks of 26 angry squealing baby pigs.

It's amazing to me how much little trips like these stress out my family. If my youngest two aren't with us, they stay with Gram and Papa. I never could imagine how much I would come to enjoy our little daily schedules. When you throw a monkey wrench into the spokes via a (gasp!) eye exam, it messes up my whole day. I never feel as content and as just right as when I am at home with all my little chicks around me. I do know how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live this way. My kids have never known day care and I doubt they ever will. The only time they are away from me is school, in Paige's case, or when they are hanging out with their grandparents who they adore. My son Colt is constantly begging me to send him over to Papa's house during the day. He and Pop just hang out, watch cartoons, swing, eat suckers, whatever it is they do. So hopefully by Sunday, my life will be back to normal and I won't be forced to go out in the public eye again for another week. Free to stay at home with my cooking, baking, cleaning, and kid herding.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stori: Moose n Squirrel

I was sitting here this morning visiting with Debi, online of course, about her neighborhood squirrel. As we were discussing his obvious bravery, I notice my horses are bucking up a fit in their pen. Now I believe I have one of the best views in the world right outside my great room and dining room windows, the barnyard. I sit here for hours a day watching the livestock live their lives. I learn so much about them and their personalities just by observing them be themselves. Their private little rodeo action out there made me jump up to see exactly what had them in such an uproar. Outside of their pen, walking along the driveway was a set of yearling twin moose. The horses must have been feeling extra springy this morning to kick up such a fit over simple moose. Usually the horses and cows will just stand along the fence and watch the offending trespassers waltz through their territory. It got me to laughing about the differences of Debi's wildlife and my own version.
I also have a small squirrel problem, but it deals with actual small squirrels. They are a little bigger than chipmunks but very persistent. Living in a cabin does have it's down side. Squirrels love to try to climb in the roof and steal insulation. When the insulation gets disturbed, it causes a cold spot where condensation can form, which can turn into mold when the weather warms up. The squirrels also eat my bird food, which is kinda expensive, therefore not tolerated. Debi feeds her vagrant neighbor popcorn and peanut butter. We shoot ours. We try to prevent the problem by removing trees close to the house. The little terrorists don't like crossing open spaces. There is a man up here that will pay a dollar a spruce squirrel tail. But he only takes them in bundles of 100. Luckily, I have had only two squirrels this entire winter giving me trouble. Needless to say, they trouble me no more. I am, by nature, not a hunter. I do not enjoy killing anything myself, and truth be told, don't really like anybody else killing either. However, I can understand the necessity of hunting. I had never hunted before, until two winters ago when I had finally had enough with the squirrels. The first time I shot one, it made my stomach upset. I was shaking and dizzy. I did not like it, but my home was a bit more secure after that. I figured the only thing I would ever shoot would be squirrels, and if I'm going to be totally honest here, going after squirrels really is fun.

Last year was the first year I really got into gardening. I had a very small garden with lettuce, parsnips, and some herbs. My dad is the one who raises the huge garden over at his place. We put in a flower bed along side my big porch where I tried my hand at flowers for the first time on any large scale. One of my family's favorite flowers had always been sweet peas. Boy howdy did I kick some butt in the sweet pea department for a first timer! They grew up my porch railing and were way over 10 foot tall by the end of the season. Then the sweet pea eating moose showed up in the neighborhood. They hit my sister in laws house first. Then they hit my folks' house, right next door! It was a cow and a small bull. It's funny how an animal gets a taste for something and learns to search it out. Marc left for hunting camp and left me with a moose license and a rifle. In the end, the flowers were saved till first frost, my family has more than enough in the freezer to last us the winter, and that particular flower loving little bull is no longer a neighborhood menace.

So, Debi, I'll see you one obnoxious peanut butter eating porch squirrel, and raise you a flower eating bull moose giving my BBQ the stink eye.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Debi: Scrat the Aloof Squirrel

This is the city version of wildlife. Scrat lives in a garbage can in our alley, enjoys sunning himself on our back porch, and has shameful table manners. Seems like an excellent candidate for reality television.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stori - what a long day

There are some mornings when you wake up you realize, this is gonna be a pretty easy day. Today was not one of those days. It all started with a pig named Eugene.

Our third sow had her litter of 9 yesterday. Everything seemed pretty uneventful. As of yesterday afternoon when Dad and I checked her, all babies were good, all mommas were fine. Today being Saturday means Marc is home to stay in with the youngest two kids so I can go do the horses' morning feed. Usually when Marc is at work, my Dad throws them their hay in the morning on his way to do the milking. I love Saturdays. No real alarm clocks besides my kids hollering for us to wake up. Marc is home, which I love. We get to sit together in piece, drinking coffee until 9 am when I have to go do the chores. Feeding time is one of the highlights of my day.

So off I go this morning to visit my horses. I stop inside my folks' house to let Paige know we are going to go into town to get her that haircut she has been asking for. Paige sleeps over at my parents house every Friday night. Not because she has to, but because it's all their special time together. I poke my head into the barn to say good morning to my Dad. He informs me that we had a little pig that was stepped on, looked hurt, pretty weak, could hardly walk. Time to take him into the house and patch him up. We got a 24 hour old pig for breakfast, but not in bacon fashion. Meet Eugene. My kids name him Eugene after Mr. Krabs on Spongebob since he is the crabbiest pig I have ever met! He squeals, and barks, and grunts, and growls. Never settles down to snuggle, fights us the entire time. After a physical check I find a tiny little tear in his skin in front of his left leg along his belly. It didn't bleed, was barely puffy. I sprayed some pain relieving antibacterial on it. I was starting to lose the excitement over a house pig. I feed him a bottle, put him down for a nap and Gram and Paige and I head to town for her haircut. Since town is over 30 miles away, it takes us several hours before we get back. I feed Eugene several more times during which he yells at me, fights me, and bites my thumb with this tiny tusks. What a difficult little brat!

After I feed him his 5 pm bottle, I'm getting ready to put him back in his sickbed when I unwrap his towel (he has a horrible case of the scours and I didn't need any pig poop on me) and find his intestines poking out of his little wound. He had fought me so hard and was so mad, he had pushed his little guts right out of his sore in his side. When Dad gets to my house for supper, we proceed with surgery. For the record, guts come out a lot easier than they go back into little holes. Luckily, both of my parents had EMT training at one point and both were pretty good with stitches. It's amazing how quickly my laundry room counter can turn into an operating room. Out come the sutures, the betodine solution, cotton balls, alcohol, q-tips, towels, and paper towels. My husband holds the light, my Mom holds the baby's head, I'm the officiating "Gofer" nurse, and my Dad is the surgeon. Even after over an hour of surgery, that pig, barely a day old, never passes out and never stops fighting. My Dad would get all his little guts stuffed back in, the pig would scream and push them right back out again. We had to increase the size of the hole in order to not pinch the bowels when shoveling them back in to the body cavity. At one point, Mom goes out to referee supper time for the kids, they were eating moose stew at this point, while Marc, Dad and I kept at the pig. After a lot cussing and cajoling and cramming, we got Eugene the Grouch sewed back up. All his parts close to the places they originated from and him none the friendlier. So far so good. As of 10:30 tonight Eugene is still well enough to keep on complaining. We will have to see what the morning will bring us. Will it be a miracle or a finally quiet pig?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Debi: Urban winter

Winter in the city is a lot different from winter in the country or even the sprawling suburbs. I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, a place with no sidewalks or public transportation, where even the kids who lived across the street from the elementary school took the bus. Winter meant going everywhere in something powered by gasoline.

Here in Evanston, which may as well be Chicago for its dense population and pedestrian focus, the weather takes on entirely new meaning. Ronni's school has no buses for neighborhood children, and the parking lot has room for perhaps twenty cars. The streets surrounding the school have little parking available during school hours, and everyone lives within less than a mile radius of the school itself. As a result, the vast majority of the students there get to school on foot.

This is something I love about it, but also something that requires a whole set of gear I never anticipated. Sammi is still too small to make that six block trek through the snow at anything approaching a reasonable speed, and so it is crucial that we have a way of transporting her on our journey. With clear sidewalks, a stroller works beautifully -- and becomes like a rolling luggage rack too, holding backpacks and extra shoes and lunchboxes and random necessities.

With snowy sidewalks, all bets are off.

Sidewalks are cleared by the residents of the houses that face them, and not all of those residents are imagining a stroller passing through. Handicap ramps from the sidewalk to the street at each corner often only reveal a shoveled path wide enough for the narrowest feet. Hoisting a stroller -- and its 30-plus-pounds of cargo -- over the snowbank there is not an option. When it snows, I am left without the ability to push Sammi to school in the stroller. What's a city mom to do?

  1. Thank heavens for the soft carrier made by CatBirdBaby. I have about five pounds of leeway before Sammi gets too big for it, and I hope by then she'll be able to walk. When the snow is too deep for the stroller but not deep enough yet for option #2 (below), I strap Sammi to my back in this carrier, and we stomp off to school. That's her in there on a hike last summer -- imagine this but with both of us in heavy winter coats, hats, mittens, and her in snowpants and boots.

  2. Remember that sled you pulled up the hill hundreds of times as a kid, only to throw yourself onto it on your belly and slide down again? The big plastic one with the rope tied to the front? That's Sammi's chariot when the snow is so deep that I can't bear to trudge through it with 30 pounds on my back. She has learned to grip the sides tightly as I drag her over unshoveled sidewalks, across snowy yards and even -- scraping the bottom as we go -- across one busy intersection, depending on the mercy of motorists seeing a five-foot-tall woman in snow gear pulling a very overstuffed preschooler in a red sled.
All this is so that I can get my kids to school on foot. I could drive, but it's six blocks. SIX! Driving is just too ridiculous for me to bear. As a result, we've invested in good boots, long underwear, a decent carrier, and no small order of cojones. Be kind to your pedestrian parents everywhere!!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stori- furry and fuzzy friends

There was only a very short period of time in my life that I was not surrounded by animals. It was the loneliest I had ever been. My family had a small farm when I was growing up, and a good portion of my folks' income was made from selling weaner pigs, milk, cream, and eggs. We would have anywhere from 1 to 6 milk cows, about 50 or so laying hens, a handful of sheep, and quite a few brood sows. And of course, horses. Always my horses. Along with having milk cows comes having barn cats, and what's a childhood on a farm without a dog? Needless to say, I had lots of friends to play with, just very few of them walked upright.

It was not uncommon to have a baby pig living in the house on a bottle. My family never took to the philosophy of getting rid of runts, we just gave them a little extra TLC and they made it fine. Having very little in the extra money department, but a whole lot extra in the "we can do this ourselves" section, I can only remember one time having a vet on the place. We did all our own castrating, calf pulling, butchering, and even surgery when the need arose. We had one little pig get her front leg almost ripped right off when her momma accidentally stepped on her when she was only a couple hours old. My dad brought her up to the house and proceeded to stitch her up from the inside out, bandaged her up tight, popped a bottle in her mouth and called her good. We named her Dottie and she was forever the grouchiest pig I had ever met. She lived to adulthood and we sold her as a sow to someone else. I don't know how many hundreds of animals I have watched being born. Every time it's a miracle. It was also a fantastic sex ed lesson for us kids. There was no question to us about the birds and bees. We witnessed it, from beginning to end, a hundred times. We knew what sex caused and that nature was messy.

I wanted the same education and lifestyle for my kids, and thanks to my parents living next door, they're getting it. Last May, on Mother's Day, our milk cow Molly had her baby at 8:30 in the morning. I was right there helping, along with my dad, with my husband and kids front row center. What a wonderful Mother's Day gift to be able to help create another Mother? My kids got the chance to watch a live birth of a baby calf. It was bloody, and slippery, and looked horribly painful, but they watched. I was glad my oldest daughter, Paige, was right there witnessing the end product of sex, especially since we are entering the ever painful puberty stage of her life. There will be no questions from her on where do babies come from. She was able to watch that particular door open. The baby was healthy, the momma was natural, the day was perfect.

On February 15Th, my youngest girl, Sunni Sue, and I went out to give the horses their afternoon feeding. Paige and Colt, my two oldest, were over hanging out with my folks. We had 3 sow pigs that were due about this time and we had been keeping a careful eye on them. Pigs are like alarm clocks when it comes to babies. If you are able to watch the boar cover them, it will be exactly to the hour of the day they were bred, 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days that they will have their babies. But, since we hadn't been able to catch the love birds in the act, it was a guess of a couple days. So Sunni Sue and I were going to poke our heads in to the farrowing barn for a quick look to see if any of the ladies had built their nests yet. Momma pigs are pretty smart, they will gather any little bit of building material they can to get ready for babies. Straw, sawdust, dirt, anything. They gather it all up and build a mound and lay on top of it for labor. They are so big and the babies so tiny that this way, the babies roll right off the hill and don't get squashed by the momma. Sunni Sue and I peeked just in time to see out come a baby! Our white sow already had 6 nursing and we watched another. Little Sunni Sue was so excited, she recognized right away that those were different pigs. She's only 16 months old, so that was a pretty big observation in itself. All in all, 2 of our 3 sows had their babies that day. Each sow had 12 and each lost 2. Those are both huge litters for first year gilts, a usual litter size is only 8 for a first timer. Losing two isn't uncommon for pigs either. We still have 1 sow due any minute, plus 2 others that aren't ready for another month or so. Spring is in the air!

Pigs are the cutest of any babies I have seen. Within minutes of hitting the ground they are fighting. Vicious little newborn fights, little barks and squeals. They are the toughest things going, just ask them, they would be happy to tell you. They are so clean and so shiny. Their little noses so tough skinned. They put up such a fight when first picked up, but are completely tame within minutes. They are happy to curl up in your neck for a little nap. Nothing cuter than a baby pig. The baby that Sunni Sue and I watched being born was, unfortunately, a runt. Barely half the size of her siblings. Baby pigs will immediately after birth pick a teat. This is theirs, they do not share, and once picked, stick with it. The closer to the head of the momma the more milk a teat will produce, farther back, less milk. My guess is this is where the saying "sucking hind tit" comes from. When we notice a runt, we try to get him a front teat as soon as possible. This will give the runt the best possible chance at survival, but of course, since they are smaller and weaker, they are usually pushed to the back. Dad noticed on the second day that the little runt wasn't doing so good. Weaker than the rest and getting thin, Dad decided to bring him in to the house and bottle feed it to make sure it was getting all it needed. I was so excited, how fun it would be for my kids to have a bottle baby of their own. To really know how much work a baby is. I was fully prepared to take over the care of this little guy. The first night, Mom and Dad were able to get it to eat two good sized feedings. By the next morning, it was too weak to feed and died shortly after. Sometimes the babies just don't make it, no matter the good intentions. This is life, and death, on a family farm.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Debi: Yummy in a crowd

I made these "carrot cupcakes" for Ronni's sixth birthday last year, at her request.
Stori is right; we are both passionate cooks and love experimenting with new recipes and food ideas. I don't know if she'll get around to bragging about this, but Stori has invented the most delicious bread I've ever had. She calls it Mimi Bread, named after her mother, who was seeking a bread low on the glycemic index. Stori's Mimi Bread (aka "million grain bread," since the number of different grains and seeds in it is astounding) has been in regular rotation around my house for a while now, and is now a request of some of my friends and family when I ask "what can I bring?"

And right there is a very key difference in Stori's and my food-lives: we city mice eat with lots of different people, all the time.

Stori mentioned in his blog that, living remote from town as they do, her parents and her brother's family make up their little community. For me, living in a densely-populated urban area, and with large numbers of extended family members living all within an hour radius of my house, my "community" is quite a different thing. In a given week, I'll sit down to a meal (or at least a cup of coffee at a cafe) with half a dozen different friends or family members. Impromptu gatherings after school sometimes turn into "just stay for dinner," with someone running home for an improvised side dish while their kids play in my basement. It's not uncommon to have dinner consist of whatever soup I've made, homemade bread, someone's quickly procured batch of hard-boiled eggs, and a big bowl of fruit.

In the summers, my family gets a weekly box of organic produce from a farm about 90 minutes away, delivered with dozens of other boxes to someone's garage nearby. It's called a "CSA share," (CSA is Community Supported Agriculture), and we pay a premium to get these delicious, fresh, locally grown vegetables for 20 weeks of the year. We pick up our box on the same day as our neighborhood farmer's market, and so our routine last summer was to go home, make a quick picnic dinner, and eat it at the park adjacent to the farmer's market, where we'd supplement our picnic with fresh fruit from the local farmers who sell there. Lots of neighborhood families meet there to picnic together and watch our kids play.

If I make that Mimi Bread, I almost always end up with an extra loaf to give to someone -- a neighbor with a new baby, or a friend of Ronni's with a sick parent, or someone who has stopped over here to say hello on their way home from school. When I bake cookies, I'll often stick a baggie of them in the lunch box of Ronni's best friend, or leave a plate of them at the front desk at Sammi's preschool. A particularly good batch of soup might find its way into a single-serving container and handed to a friend with a cold.

This is all to say that for me, food is part of the way I communicate with the people around me. I love to cook, but mostly for an audience!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stori: yummy

One of the major things Debi and I have in common is our love of food and our passion for making it! Although our styles are INCREDIBLY different, we both truly enjoy making fun healthy food for our families. It is not uncommon for the majority of the ingredients in any given dish I make for my family to have come directly from our hand. We garden, we harvest, we farm, we collect. One of the most common meals we eat is chicken fried moose steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn. The moose is one we would have harvested, we grew the potatoes, the milk for the gravy comes from our milk cow. The corn, of course, is bought. I would like to see the guy who can grow corn in interior Alaska!

My 10 year old daughter, Paige, wanted to make some special Valentine's cookies for her friends. My husband always talked about the sugar cookies his Mama used to make and after his dad died this past February, we found her recipe book and her special sugar cookie recipe! After baking these the first time for Marc shortly after we got home from the funeral, I also realize these were some dang good cookies! So of course, this is the cookie that I'm making for Paige and her friends and since I had the book out, I thought I would share it. I think there are better way to show love than boughten greeting cards and dead cut flowers. In my life, food equals love.

Sugar Cookies

2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp grated orange peel
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
4 tsp milk
2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Throughly cream shortening, sugar, orange peel, and vanilla. Add egg; beat till light and fluffy. Stir in milk. Sift together dry ingredients; blend into creamed mixture. Divide dough in half. Chill dough 1 hour. On lightly floured surface, roll to 1/8 inch. Cut into desired shapes with cutters. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 375 about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool slightly; remove from pan. Cool on rack. Decorate. Makes a little under 2 dozen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stori: Love is in the air

I love the sounds this time of year brings. After supper last night, I was walking back to the barn with my Dad to finish evening chores. We stopped for a moment to listen to the owls. There must have been 4 or 5 of them calling to each other. I'm not sure which kind were being so talkative, there are several types that live around us. They are one of my favorite bird calls, hauntingly spooky. Lonely sounding, yet comforting. We have several Great Horned Owls that hunt our fields, they are so regal looking, perched atop the very tip of a spruce tree. Dad casually mentioned mating season and how vocal they get. I had to stop and think about what he said. The huge increase of bird activity this time of year has always just been a given to me. I guess I never really thought about why everybody was so excited all of sudden. The woodpeckers have also gotten into the raucous act. Drumming on trees constantly trying their hardest to call in a potential partner. We have two kinds of woodpecker that are very common around the place. The Hairy, which is the smaller of the two, and the Downy which is a fierce looking fellow. They are the acrobats of the place, dangling upside down as they look for their treasures. Living in a cabin can get pretty noisy when a couple woodpeckers decide to look for their next dinner in your logs.

This afternoon I was walking to the barn to give the horses their afternoon feeding. I feed 3 times a day to stoke their body furnace and to help them with the winter boredom we all experience, even the livestock. It was a beautiful afternoon. We are finally getting some radiant heat from the sun, so the light was warm on my face, it was nice crisp -10 below. Not uncomfortable at all. I stopped to listen to all the courting songs around me of the neighborhood. The blue jays were having air born dogfights, trying to impress the ladies. The chickadees and red polled finches chattering away, interrupting each other the whole time. I guess it's not just colors that are impressive, but the ability to brag about them. I heard Molly the milk cow give a grunt and a sigh as she lay down to chew her cud. Heidi, my favorite lady horse's hooves squeaking on the snow with impatience. She knew what my job was out there, and all I was doing was standing there looking into the trees like an idiot. That's when I heard it. A song I didn't recognize. A shrill sweet song repeating over and over. I searched the trees for quite a while before I spotted the culprit and seen a female Pine Grossbeak at the top of a birch. Her man flew to her and they squabbled in the air for a time then flew themselves away. Grossbeaks are one of my favorites. Very shy, and very rarely come to my feeders. The males are so brilliant red, they catch your eye as they fly past the window. Mating for life, you always see pairs. Such a treat when they do visit. I guess today, they were feeling the promise of spring too.

Debi & Stori: Mouse Chat

We were chatting about our last two posts, and it was so interesting, we decided to just post our chat transcript. It IS a small world, but it sure does have a lot of tiny hidden corners.

I would not last two hours on your farm.

I AM sorry that you've had such sad and difficult experiences with city life.


i guess that was a public apology to you about my 1st reaction with the school news

i did exactly what you were fighting against


You didn't owe me one. I wasn't angry with you. You are like someone from another country in that regard -- you don't understand what it's like. That reporter knew exactly what he was doing.



i just wanted to make sure


I think it comes down to a very simple question, for me:

Are people generally good, with some bad apples, or are people generally bad, with a few nice exceptions?

Naively, perhaps, I think they're generally good.


i just can't trust the general public. but i would hope it would be the good way


This is going to sound really dumb...


i doubt it


...but I actually believe that putting out positive, trusting energy into the world can make it manifest.

I send out love. Love reaches people. People return it.


that is a wonderful thought

wouldn't that be a great world to live in?


Stori, I am going to say this with no attitude at all, but that's hard to hear over text on the internet...


...we DO live in that world.

Think of you and I.

You and I do live in that world. You and I trusted each other and it worked out well. How many chances to have that same experience with other people have we BOTH missed out on because we sent out scared, mistrustful vibes instead of loving ones?


i'll have to think about this


I promise that I am not saying that in any kind of angry tone.

But perhaps it answers any question you might have about how I can live in a city.


i don't take it that way at all.


I look around me and see all these people, all the time, people everywhere...

...and I think about all the friendships I could have with them. Any of them. All of them, if I had the time.

I have been so surprised by who I can connect to, given the chance.


ok, think about this

this is another small example of how different our worlds are



It's funny -- I was thinking about the types of things that would worry me in your world.

#1 among them would be letting my kids so near to animals all the time.

And me too -- a horse could kick someone! bite someone! cows are huge -- what if one fell on Sammi?!

What if one of the dogs didn't trust these new people around him/her and just attacked?


LOL, they only fall if you push it over


All of this, I realize, sounds ridiculous to you.


and my fears of the city sound just as ridiculous to you



I can see why you'd be afraid, given the experiences (or lack of them) you've had.

And the same for me.

So if I came to visit you, I'd just have to ask a lot of questions, follow your lead, and trust you.


the same as i would you

but i'm afraid after a while you feel like you were leading a short bus version of tour chicago


Hell no

I'd get a kick out of watching your eyes widen and your mouth droop open. :D


this is EXACTLY why i love the idea of our blog


Yep, me too.

Stori: the other side

When Debi first told me about this horrible thing that had happened in Ronni's school, I admit, I immediately became one of the people that made Debi feel like she had to play defense against. My first reaction was "Are you going to pull Ronni out of school?" I think Debi was a little surprised with my question. Of course not she said, why would she? In my way of thinking, there were a hundred reasons that she should of. I'm not sure any of them were valid, but they all were gut reaction. How did it happen? Why did it happen? Who did this? I was sure, it was a who, not an accident. Now I do hope I am completely wrong and it was just a horrible senseless accident, but it goes against my better judgement.

We can blame it on the media, or on the way I was brought up. We can even blame it on my total ignorance of how things really are, but I cannot help but picture cities as these dark, crowded, uncaring places that are totally filled with people out to get you. Bad things happen to people in cities. They are populated by killers, druggies, and people who work in small cubicles. I love to watch TV shows based on city life in the same way as I enjoy watching animal planet. It's hard for me to find anything to identify with.

I was raised on an acreage in northwest Colorado. The town only had about a 1000 people in it, and it was where my Mom was born and raised. My family lived about 12 miles outside of town. The road we lived on was a small two lane highway that led out of Colorado to Wyoming. Now our house sat way up top a hill surrounded by hundreds of acres of empty land. From a very young age, my Dad put such a fear in me of that road, that I would only dare to go down there if I was on a horse. Never would I have dreamt of riding my bike alone on that small highway. It was such an empty place that hours could go by without a car driving by at all. Now my Dad always said that I was safer on a horse because I could escape pretty easy across country. He always told me that someone was going to snatch me up and drive right out of the state and they would never find me. I had red hair you know....for some reason that was supposed to put me at higher risk for kidnap? So I think that is where it all started, the deep mistrust of other people outside my family. Every car coming up behind you was a potential murderer/kidnapper/bad guy. My father was a Sheriff's Deputy before I was born and I think when you work a career surrounded by criminals, you see bogeymen behind every bush. Assume the worst, prepare yourself for all. After we moved from Meeker after the oil shale bust, we moved to the front range to Canon City. My Dad got a job with the prison system in Canon that at the time I think had 13 prisons in the area. This did not improve my Dad's outlook on the world, nor lessen his fear for his daughter. Canon was a larger town than Meeker, but still not a city by any means. To me, it was huge! It had two grocery stores and restaurants, and even a McDonald's! We still lived outside of town, still had our farm animals. I was never led to believe that I was in too much danger when I was in the town of Meeker, we knew everyone, literally. Nor was it too dangerous in Canon, it was still a small town. People talk too much in small towns, a person can't get away with too much. Mess up enough and eventually you will be found out. If I was smart, I would stay safe. That was the mantra I grew up with, Stay Together. Be Careful. Don't Wander Off! I had never lived with a locked door, or a closed curtain. I don't think we even had keys for our doors.

Then I moved to Texas. I lived in an apartment building. I was scared to death. We lived in a really poor part of town and the city we lived in had over 100,000 people in it. I heard gunshots, but it wasn't from pheasant hunting. Every time a car drove by I ran to the window to see who was coming to my house. My entire life I lived with the knowledge that if you heard a car, someone was in your driveway. For the first time I had curtains on my windows, I tried not to, but people would walk by AND LOOK IN. Our car was broke into and someone stole the quarters out of the console. The majority of people were black. There was one partial black family in Meeker, we were actually related. And only a small handful of blacks in Canon. This racial diversity was something so foreign to me, it was hard to deal with. I had no racist feelings, just total ignorance. There was man named "K' that lived in the apartment above me. He would try to trade cigarettes for opened packages of food he had. Like if I gave him 2 cigarettes he would give me a half a can of Nestle Quik chocolate milk powder. Living there confirmed everything that my Dad had unknowingly taught me growing up about cities and city people. I had a customer jump over the counter of a convenience store I was working in one night and punch me in the face because I was enforcing the prepay for gas after dark rule.

After my family moved to Alaska, it was much better. People were too busy trying not to get themselves killed from the land to bother each other too much. When I lived in Grand Junction for a short time, I had a small break down on the freeway. No one stopped. Not one person stopped to help me. When I slid off the road in North Pole on the way to work several years ago, my car had barely slid to a stop before 3 vehicles had pulled over to help me. Yet, as I send my daughter off every day to go to the 5Th grade, I'm scared. She goes to school on the Air Force Base since that is the closest school to us. It is filled with people that had come from cities and were only forced to live this type of lifestyle. They bring with them their city ideas. Once again, we live way outside of town. I pass on to her the gift of social fear. Be Careful! Don't Talk To Anyone! Just because someone is in the military does not mean they are not psychotic! While other kids in her class go to the youth center, I won't allow it. The only reason those kids go is because they have no parents at home waiting for them. She asks if she can have a sleepover at a friend's house. No, we don't know those people. I can't be sure they would keep her safe. She is teased by kids in her class because she lives on a farm. They say she stinks and we must be poor because we have pigs and milk cows. What kind of people are these?

Even as an adult, the fear of the city and the people that live there still exists. My husband and I were discussing a possible trip for me to go to visit and meet Debi in Chicago a while back. His greatest issue was my safety. Will she be able to keep me safe? Would I find myself the victim of one the million crimes that exist in those places? Bad things happen in the city. There is not safety in numbers.

Now that this short explanation has turned into a long novel. I hope it might explain a small bit why my first question to Debi was if she was going to take Ronni out of school. It was the most logical step to me. See,"I told ya", my psyche said, people with get you in the city, even kids in school are not safe. If this horrible thing happened to that 10 year old boy, obviously Ronni is at danger. I know this does not make sense to most. Now I only wonder what kind of fears a city person would have walking in my world?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Debi: Playing defense

Almost as I typed the last of my blog post last week, a tragedy occurred within the very school community I was praising.

Last Tuesday, just before the end of the school day, a fifth grader at my daughter's elementary school was discovered hanging from a coat hook in the bathroom. He was unresponsive, and he died the next morning. Early autopsy reports label it a suicide. The community is shaken to its core -- this boy was ten years old.

The school, like any school in this litigious society, is unable to comment on whatever speculation the administration may have about what really happened. Our school principal is a man I deeply, deeply trust. He invited the school's horrified parents to meet with him, hear his story of what happened, and ask questions. The story he told of discovering this poor child reduced him -- and many of the rest of us -- to tears. I was moved beyond description watching this strong, competent, intelligent, and able leader break down under the enormity of what had happened, and then pick himself up, straighten his tie, and begin the process of helping his students and staff to grieve and heal. I imagine he will never be the same man again, in his heart, and I ache for him in the same way that I ache for the parents of the boy who died.

Our community is doing what good people should: raising money for the boy's funeral costs, arranging meals for the family, bringing in homemade lunches for the teachers and staff, and standing strong against the unconscionable media attention that has focused on the lack of details provided by the school to the tv and newspapers. I approached a camera man perched on the corner of the school grounds on Friday and asked him if they would please be sensitive to the children when they left school. His response? "We can't talk to the kids without their parents' permission anyway."

After a few moments, the anchorman agreed to interview me. His first question was "Are you considering pulling your child out of Oakton School?"

You can imagine where it went from there. I have no intention of pulling Ronni out of this wonderful school -- and it IS a wonderful school, a wonderful school that was the scene of a terrible, terrible accident. Either the boy did indeed hang himself, or someone put him there as a joke, or he got himself stuck by mistake -- but no matter how it happened, I cannot imagine a way to turn it into a systemic problem. This reporter needed to have answers fast; in the absence of fact, he was desperate to find an enemy, any enemy, the most convenient enemy. He chose the school administration. He promised to air my supportive views of the school, but the report on the ten o'clock news was an angry, accusatory one-sided rant. He told me in passing, as I left, that the good things we were doing were "not news."

This is a world where terrible things happen, sometimes. We should work to reduce the terror when we can determine its source. We should not run from it with closed eyes, frightened to recognize it, but face it with questions, ask it to show itself, and discover its weaknesses. Blame is a popular way to face what we fear; name the perpetrator and you may solve the crime, but discovering why it was wrought may bring us closer to eliminating it. As the families of Oakton School -- and especially the family of the boy whose life was cut short -- wait for these answers, I am sending my most fervent wishes for gentleness and patience to surround us all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Debi: City Mouse

Stori's done a great job introducing herself, and so now it's my turn.

My husband and I have two daughters: Ronni is 6 and Sammi is 3. We live in a wonderful midwestern suburb called Evanston, literally four blocks from the northern border of the city of Chicago. We chose Evanston for several reasons that really get to the heart of who we are as a family. Explaining it requires me to backtrack a little into our history.

I never intended to be a stay-at-home mother. My hope, years ago when Ronni was born, was that I would be able to work outside the home a few days a week, and work from my home the rest of the time. That worked beautifully until Sammi was born, and her chronic illness (which was later diagnosed as a congenital heart defect) made it necessary for me to quit working outright.

It was a terrible shock to me, to go from managing a department of web developers to sitting home, all day, with a preschooler and her very sick and very needy baby sister. We lived in a townhouse complex in the city of Chicago, and while I knew a few people with small children, most days were excruciatingly isolating. I felt trapped, terribly lonely, and desperately in need of a community around me. My parents lived far away; my brother was single, young, and working; my in-laws, while only about an hour away, were busy with their own lives on a daily basis. I was parenting in a vacuum most days. It was, in a word, miserable, especially since I hadn't expected ever to do it.

So, when Ronni was nearing kindergarten age, and we knew the city school would not meet our standards, we began looking for a place to move. Our neighborhood in Evanston met the most important standards we'd set, namely:
  • It had a good elementary school.
  • I could walk to coffeeshops, the library, parks, preschool for Sammi ( who, by then, was healthier), and the elementary school.
Evanston also had several other benefits, less crucial but definite advantages over more distant suburbs. One was that it was very diverse; the school Ronni attends is 58% African-American, and perhaps 30% Caucasian, with the rest a jumble of all sorts of other ethnic groups. The income level also varies widely in Evanston, so we knew that moving here would introduce our children to a range of different people of different heritage, means, and cultures. That opens its own share of issues, of course, but these seemed preferable to us.

We love living here. After my husband goes to work, our day starts with a walk, every day: to drop Ronni off at her elementary school, then Sammi at her preschool, all within a four-block radius of our house. I come home and begin working; I've been able to pick up several freelance contracts that keep me busy enough to cover the costs of our "extras." In the afternoon, I head back out to do the walking commute in reverse -- pick up Sammi, then pick up Ronni. When the weather is nice, we all stay at the elementary school for an hour or two for the kids to play outside and for me to visit with the other parents who do the same. In the winter -- which I admit is nothing like Stori's winter, not even close -- we all scurry home. Sammi is in a stroller when the sidewalks are shoveled clean enough, and when they're not, she's on my back in a backpark or pulled behind me in a sled.

We go home. We play. We read. We cook. We eat. We read some more. We put on pajamas, brush teeth, snuggle and love each other, and sleep. The rhythm of life when you have children largely varies in the details, between families. This is our City Mouse rhythm.

Stori: frozen mouse

The very first thing we do every morning is go look what the temperature is. While most people may go to the bathroom, let the dog out, or pour the coffee, we thermometer watch. My house has 4 inside thermometers, and 3 outside the house. We have 3 because the heat coming from the house changes the temp, only by maybe 4 to 5 degrees, but enough. This morning we woke to -30F. That's below zero. The temperature dictates what we will do during that day. I find myself looking at the temp probably 10 to 20 times a day. My husband and I talk about whether or not folks in the lower 48 really understand what cold is. My sister in law emails me from Minnesota the other day saying how it was horribly cold, almost -10 below! I'm thinking to myself, -10 barely dictates a coat, I don't even wear a hat at -10. The borough school district has a recess policy for the schools, any temp down to -20 below, the kids still go outside for recess. The weekend my husband and I met for the first time, it was -62 below. That has been the coldest I have seen it so far, and it was absolutely terrifying. We were camping and I had my 4 year old daughter with me. Now I don't say this to prove how tough we are, or to make it sound worse than it is, the cold is just a fact of life.

In order to exist this far north, there are certain things one has to put up with on a daily basis. My husband refers to this as your acceptable level of discomfort. We, obviously, have to deal with extreme cold. Then we also have to deal with the darkness. Never before I lived here was I so aware of Winter and Summer Solstice. Summer Solstice, June 21st, is near depressing since that is the day we start losing minutes of daylight a day. That is the day that it doesn't get dark at all. Winter Solstice almost feels like the halfway mark in a marathon. That is the day we start to gain minutes of daylight once again. It is the darkest and shortest day of the year. But once you have hit December 21st, it's almost a sigh of relief, that's the worst of the darkness..whew. It the deepest of winter, we are lucky if we even see the sun itself, it does get light, but almost dusky. In the height of summer, the darkest it ever gets is the same level of dusky. The sun never rises overhead, just circles around you along the horizon. There is no such thing as high noon in the interior. We also have 2 to 3 months, twice a year, when our light to dark ratio is almost normal.

Now there is more to dealing with the oddities of the arctic than just brrr, it's cold, or wearing sunglasses at 2 a.m. Driving a car during the winter requires either a heated garage, or 3 separate heating pads on your engine. You must have your vehicle plugged in at least 2 hours prior to actually driving or the fluid in your engine is frozen. If you didn't plug in early enough, you can always resort to a blast furnace pointed to the undercarriage of your car. You must be very careful though, or you can end up melting the plastic and rubber parts of your engine.
Every other time you gas up, you need to put in a fuel additive called Heat. This prevents condensation in your gas tank which causes water in your fuel in the winter. There is also "square tires". When a car is parked in the cold for any period of time, the rubber in the tires hardens which causes a flat spot where the tires touch the ground. Once you start driving, for a couple miles, it feels as if you have square tires since that flat spot stays there till the air can heat up inside the tire. A person must also ALWAYS carry a cold weather pack for each person in the car. Inside this pack you must have enough cold weather gear, water, food, and light to allow you to survive walking 1 mile. Now that may not seem like very far, but a mile at -40 is not as leisurely a stroll as you would like.

This may all sound like a horror story, and granted, it can get pretty miserable. But I cannot let myself forget all the beauty and advantages to living here. The clouds here are the most breathtaking I have ever seen. The amount and level of green-ness in the summer. Falling asleep at night watching the northern lights put on a brilliant show, or falling asleep listening to the birds putting on their own version of a great show. Never knowing what you may run into around the next corner, or who is behind those trees. Moose are almost a guarantee, but wolf and bear are also a very real possibility. This is a place of hardship, beauty, struggle, and adventure.l