MONDAY MEMOIR: IMPOSSIBLE

STEINHAUER BARN BARLEY DARTS

Impossible!  I thought.  But, I recognized her.  She’d been my son’s teammate.  The last time we had really talked, she was a little girl who’d come to play with our goats.  That was a decade ago.  But, honestly, I didn’t feel that old.  Looking at her uniform now, however, there was no denying this gal was a dental hygienist.  Yet, I continued to wrestle with the fact that she was an adult.  Still, and whether I believed it possible or not, she was all grown up.  And she assisted the dentist with my root canal.

Impossible!  Before the dentist began, this gal suggested that I watch a movie.  As I reclined, it would be played on a digital image screen, “on the ceiling” above my head.  It was the exact same one that, moments earlier, had been “on the wall” with photos of my teeth.  I was told it would entertain me; the whole time.  I laughed and scoffed at the idea.  However, I decided to humor her, anyway.  I chose a nature documentary.  Ironically, it was on mountain goats.

Impossible!  I mumbled (and drooled), as I watched adult goats scale vertical cliffs.  Had my mouth not already been wedged open, it would’ve dropped when the baby goats followed.  They dangerously slipped and slid, with marble-like pebbles underfoot.  I just knew that they’d fail and fall.  And I was certain, they’d be broken and shattered on the unforgiving ground, thousands of feet below.  I wondered, would it be an instant or a slow and painful death?  Yet, the baby goats held their ground.  They didn’t fall.  I questioned why.  Perhaps, the answer had something to do with their special hooves, vision, and youthful agility.  And perhaps, they’d never been told that it was impossible to do what they were doing.

Impossible!  Yet, my root canal was done.  Indeed, the movie had made the time pass more quickly.  I was also surprised when the hygienist asked about our homestead.  After all, she’d only visited once, ten years ago.  Then I realized that for her, that ten years was a long time ago.  So, I pulled a telephone out of my pocket.  And on it, I showed her pictures and videos of our goats.  If there had been another camera on our goats’ pen, she’d have watched them “live”, too.  (No, the goats weren’t dead.  I mean “live” as in, real-time and not previously recorded.)

Impossible!  The dental hygienist then shared her own homestead hopes.  Her income, little by little, would contribute to her dreams.  Even her partner didn’t discourage her.  In fact, he worked on farms, in the summer months.  And maybe, just maybe, one day her homestead would be close to where she grew up.  Perhaps, it’d be so close, she’d live in her childhood home.

Impossible!  Only two days later, another young someone told me of her homestead dreams.  She said she wanted healthier food for herself and family.  Meanwhile, her spirit cried out for the direct connection to chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, and goats.  After all, she grew up in touch with lots of critters on her grandparents’ farm.  It was a farm that had been built, little by little, over decades.  It required sacrifices, hard work, and persistence.  Still, some folks doubt that such a farm and it’s massive barn was built by a young man with a passionate dream.

Impossible!  She said she still remembered her first chicken and a duck.  In fact, they’d been gifts from her parents… when she was a little girl… decades and decades ago.  But, it could’ve been the fairy tale without the happy ending.  Why?  The family dog ate her chicken.

Impossible!  Decades later, this gal has a score of chickens, but her dog protects them.  And her heart has bubbled over with the addition of baby ducks.  Now, she’s wondering if pigs, cows, or goats would be possible, too…

 

“Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done.  God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.” – G.M. Trevelyan

MONDAY MEMOIR: TONS

ANTIQUE SCALE 5 PLUS POUNDS BARLEY DARTS

 

How much food do you eat every year?  Don’t know?  Well, thanks to the Google god, you can find out with the press of a button.  Unfortunately, you can’t eat Google and you should know this stuff.  BEWARE!  It may shock and offend you.  And you’ll most likely deny it, too.  Statistically, you eat five and a half pounds of food; every day.  Seriously.  That’s just you.  It doesn’t include your family members.  Add that up for twelve months and you’ll get 1996 pounds.  That’s nearly one ton of food every year.[1]    Yet, this post  is not about dieting or eating too much food.

 

Perhaps, you’ve talked about donating a ton of food to a third-world country.  Maybe, you’ve said you’re getting a ton of food at Walmart, as you’ve filled your cart with cheap pizzas.  Maybe, you’ve raved about the ton of food, at the local all-you-can-eat buffet.  Sadly, you may have made fun of America’s obese, by saying they eat a ton of food every day.  Less likely, you’ve ordered a ton of feed at the elevator for livestock.  But, have you ever talked about an actual ton of food for yourself?  Do you know what an actual ton of food looks like?

Yes, one ton of food can be hard to imagine and growing it is definitely a challenge.  Then again, starving to death is hard to imagine and morbid obesity and urban, food deserts are challenging, too.  Alas, there’s no arguing that to live, we need food.  However, who grows it, the type, the quantity, and the quality have and will continue to be sources of heated debate.  Meanwhile, we work hard to stay in touch with our own food; every day.  And believe it or not, it ranges from about five and a half pounds to a ton, per day!

 

 

[1] (Aubrey, 2011)

MONDAY MEMOIR: A HUMBLE POTATO

POTATOES PURPLE FINGERLINGS BARLEY DARTS 2018

Ah, potatoes!  Humans have had a love/hate relationship with them throughout history.  They were “The Spore of Witches” to colonists in Massachusetts.  Russian peasants knew them as, “Devil’s Apples”[1].  And folks like Shakespeare called them, “Apples of Love”.  And during the Klondike Gold Rush… well, let’s just say that potatoes were “Solid Gold”.  In fact, miners may have traded for them, ounce for ounce.[2]

Think about it.  An average restaurant potato is 8 ounces.  Today, gold is selling for $1255.75 for one troy ounce.  A troy ounce equals 1.097 ounces.  But to make it easy, we’ll say it’s just 1 ounce.  Multiply 8 by $1255.75.  In today’s dollars, a single, eight-ounce potato would’ve been worth $10,046.  And, believe it or not, those expensive potatoes may have been worth every penny.  Why?  Potatoes have vitamin C.  And without vitamin C, one can die from scurvy.

Who’d have ever thought wealthy men would die in need of a humble potato?  Alas, starvation is not classist.  Remember the million Irish peasants that died from lack of healthy potatoes?  They went from eating 45-65 potatoes a day, per person, to starvation.[3]   True, it was a different situation than the miners.  However, it was another history lesson that healthy, homegrown potatoes can save lives… and “noses”.

Yes, there was a time that potatoes even saved “noses”.  In fact, it was the government food program of the day!  In the 17th century, Germany’s poor were required to feed themselves.  If they didn’t plant and tend their own food (potatoes), they were told their noses would be cut off.  So, how did the people respond?  Well, apparently they survived and their monument is still standing.  The inscription reads, “‘To God and Francis Drake, who brought to Europe for the everlasting benefit of the poor – the Potato.’”

And here in Minnesota?  Well, in the 1850’s “the state’s population grew, agriculture was so minimal that Minnesota was not raising enough to feed itself, and nearly all food except garden produce and wild game had to be shipped up the Mississippi from regions farther south.  … in August of 1857 when a large New York finance company failed…land speculators living here ‘were forced to become farmers’…Those who were farming suffered rough times…after planting their seed potatoes, ‘had to dig them back up to feed their starving children.”[4]

 

 

[1] (Howell, 2016)

[2] (Howell, 2016)

[3] (Landsburg, 2001)

[4] (DEVELOPMENT PERIODS IN THE HISTORIC CONTEXT “EURO-AMERICAN FARMS IN MINNESOTA, 1820-1960”, n.d.)

MONDAY MEMOIR: HOG WILD!

“Another pig?!”  They squealed and continued, “Don’t you have enough already?!”  After the dazed and wild-eyed stares, came the pleading question, “Why?”  We weren’t surprised.  In fact, both Keith and I were used to such responses.  Fortunately, Keith patiently explained his reasons.  Unfortunately, we knew that any reason given, only provided more fuel.  It was fuel that fed more confusion and fiery retorts.  To them, this was confirmation that we’d lost our minds.  They looked at us, like we were suffering from Mad Cow Disease.  I smiled.  We weren’t buying another cow.  We were buying another pig.

Please don’t get me wrong.  Keith and I are very grateful for our friends and family.  We know they’re just looking out for us.  Besides, most Americans would have agreed that we were out of our minds.  In their books, even one pig is too many.  Alas, we had four pigs and two were pregnant.  A few days later, there’d be an additional dozen.  So, why on God’s green earth, did the two of us need to buy another pig?  The answer was simple.  Natasha was different.  She was a Berkshire.

Now a year later, Natasha’s all grown up and pregnant.  She will give birth in a few weeks.  And guess what?  We’re going to have more than just “another pig”!

MONDAY MEMOIR: FOR THE LOVE OF BRUSSELS SPROUTS

BRUSSELS SPROUTS

It was the week of Valentine’s Day, twenty years ago.  I was standing in the produce aisle, with my three young sons.  My middle son, Ted was sobbing… hysterically.  While, I was doing my best to comfort him, a stranger approached me.  She boldly chastised me “for making him cry”.  And then she demanded, “Just give him some candy!”  True, there was a bulk-bin of candy behind us.  However, I firmly told the stranger, it wasn’t candy that Ted wanted.

In fact, candy would have been cheaper.  Instead, Ted wanted fresh Brussels sprouts, in the middle of winter, for $8 a pound.  I had been explaining to Ted that we’d get frozen Brussels sprouts, when the lady had interrupted.  And when the lady tried to give Ted a piece of candy, he pushed her hand away.  Then Ted once again, very loudly professed his undying love for Brussels sprouts.  The lady’s face instantly flash-froze and she was speechless.  She had no other words of wisdom.  She simply turned and walked away.

 

MONDAY MEMOIR: 4th GRADE LESSONS

FRESH APPLES BARLEY DARTS

All eyes turned to look, as I opened the classroom door.  I was ten years old and a little nervous.  As the principal introduced me to the 4th grade class, I saw only one vacant desk.  The principal asked the neighboring student, “Pat, how about we have her sit next to you?”  Pat responded by nodding and offering a warm smile.  The class snickered.  While I didn’t understand what they found funny, I still took my place at the desk.  Meanwhile, I managed to return a smile to Pat, who was seated behind me.

I had noticed that Pat had long hair like me and we both kept it in a single pony-tail.  Pat wore a plain shirt and jeans.  I had on jeans too, but I thought my shirt was more attractive with its calico flowers.  I also saw that Pat wore glasses with pointy corners.  They looked like a cat’s eyes.  But, I didn’t have time for more observations.  I had entered the class, during a history lesson.

The teacher quickly brought our attention to the overhead projector.  The transparencies displayed the poem, Paul Revere’s Ride by Longfellow.  The class had been working on it, all year-long.  I would have only four weeks.  All 13 stanzas and nearly 1000 words were to be memorized.  And the exam consisted of reciting it aloud, alone, and in front of the class.  It began,

            “Listen my children and you shall hear

            Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

            On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

            Hardly a man is now alive

            Who remembers that famous day and year.”

It ended,

                        “So through the night rode Paul Revere;

                        And so through the night went his cry of alarm

                        To every Middlesex village and farm,—

                        A cry of defiance, and not of fear,

                        A voice of in the darkness, a knock at the door,

                        And a word that shall echo for evermore!

                        For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,

                        Through all our history, to the last,

                        In the hour of darkness and peril and need,

                        The people will waken and listen to hear

                        The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,

And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”

 

Longfellow wrote the poem in 1860, to celebrate our battle for freedom from the British.  But, he also wrote it as a wake-up call, before the Civil War.  According to Wikipedia, Longfellow “used poetry to remind readers of cultural and moral values” and by sharing “common history he was attempting to dissolve social tensions.” His poem included intentional, historical mistakes for effect.  Unfortunately, many textbooks relied on this poem as historical fact.  It was not.  Those in power hadn’t done their homework.

Later that afternoon, Pat and I shared the same lunch table.  Most of the kids were eating a hot lunch from the cafeteria, like mine.  Although, there were a few who brought sack lunches from home.  Pat was one of them.  However, Pat’s sack lunch was different from anything I had ever seen before.  Pat’s sandwich was not in a plastic baggie.  Instead, it was wrapped in a cloth napkin.  It was made with bread that was brown and thick with flakes and seeds.  The filling was bizarre, too.  There were green plants in it.  Pat’s carrots were not pale orange, cut into wavy sticks, or wrapped in more plastic.  The carrots were whole, long, almost red, and the tops weren’t even cut off.  I even watched Pat eat some of the green tops.  And Pat’s apple was sad-looking.  It was small and not very red.  Green and yellow stripes dominated it.  And it had bug bites on it.

Honestly, I felt sorry for Pat.  So, I offered to share my hot-lunch.  My offer was graciously declined and then reciprocated.  Pat offered me a bite of a living sandwich.  I thanked Pat, but I could not accept.  Pat’s wasn’t normal.  It was different.  All the other kids had normal sack lunches.  Things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonderbread, Hostess snack cakes, and fancy bags of potato chips.  Some had apples, too.  Jumbo sized, ruby-red, and shiny apples exactly like the one offered to Snow White.  There were no bug bites, spots, or dents.  They were so perfect they didn’t look real!  However, I noticed that kids only took a bite or two and tossed ‘em in the giant garbage cans, on their way out to recess.  Whereas, Pat ate all the “pitiful” lunch and didn’t throw anything away.

At recess, I quickly found out that the girls’ cliques were all full.  And the boys’ games followed a top-secret playbook.  Unfortunately, it was the end of the year and there was no room for anyone new.  Then I spotted Pat, reading a book under the slide.  Apparently, Pat was either shunned or opted out of playing at recess.  I interrupted Pat’s reading and we spent recess together, talking.   I discovered that Pat was really smart.  I’m not talking about triple-digit, multiplication smart.  I mean genius smart.  So, I reasoned that’s why the other kids must have snickered.

However, I didn’t find Pat’s intelligence funny.  I found it fascinating.  Pat even knew that the poem we were studying wasn’t all true.  Wow! I wondered, did the teacher know, too?  After we returned from recess, one of the girls in my class taunted me, “Are you friends with Pat?” Then a group of girls surrounding her giggled.  I saw Pat’s head lower in what appeared to be shame.  I looked at the girl and defiantly said, “Yes.  I am friends with Pat.”  Pat looked up and smiled.  The class roared and the girl doubled over laughing.  When she could catch her breath again, she announced, “Pat’s not a girl, dummy!  Pat’s a boy.” So, that’s what had been so funny to them.

Yes, Pat’s long hair had given me a different impression.  It was a conservative time when most boys wore short hair.  And I’d soon learn that Pat’s hair was not the only thing that set him apart from the others.  Pat loved books and not contact sports (dumb!).  His father was a rocket scientist for NASA (yeah, right!).  His mother and father did not live together and were never married (scandalous!).  And there was a man who lived in their home, but had not fathered all his brothers (shameful!).

Even Pat’s brothers brought sack lunches to school.  They all ate strange-looking bread and nothing with white sugar (weird).  Pat’s family didn’t believe in store-bought deodorant and they made their own soap (eeewww).  They didn’t buy anything that was not a necessity, saying they had enough (no such thing!).  They didn’t purchase birthday or (gasp!)– Christmas gifts.  They had even done school at home, depending on where they lived (illegal?).  They told stories of staying at home all day, just reading books, gardening, and learning about nature (whoa!).  They grew all their own food (no way!).  And (shock of all shocks!) they had no T.V.!

Everyone rationalized their family’s oddity with poverty.  The local gossips wanted to know, just how did Pat’s mother pay cash for the acreage they were farming?!  The gossips were even busier when she later paid cash for the house that they built.   It fell on deaf ears when Pat and his brothers would patiently explain, they were not poor and it was a lifestyle choice.  “Who in their right mind would choose to live that way, if they had money?” was the response.  And they were damned when they didn’t even know how to farm the “right way”.  According to our Big Ag neighbors, they were doing something called, “Organic” and it was just plain stupid.

To make matters worse, many of the students’ parents were malicious.  Some went so far as to say that Pat and his siblings  should be taken away from his mother.  But, the kids were healthy and smart.  They weren’t neglected or abused.  So instead, their house “mysteriously” burned down.  Thank God, everyone got out, but they lost everything.

To add insult to injury, the gossips then accused Pat’s mother of doing it for the insurance money.  But, my family knew better.  She didn’t believe in supporting the insurance market.  And unlike everyone else, they had no coverage.  My parents offered what they could, but Pat’s mother refused.  Besides, she had had enough of the local ignorance.  And while Pat’s mother was a strong woman, her determination to stay was not worth the lives of her children.  So, they moved and I cried.

“A cry of defiance, and not of fear,…

In the hour of darkness and peril and need,

The people will waken and listen to hear…

the midnight message…”*

 

Attention class! This 4th grade poem is now for 8th graders.*

 

 

*(source: glencoe.com “Paul Revere’s Ride”)

MONDAY MEMOIR: DIRTY TRUTHS

ASPARAGUS TRENCHING 2016 BARLEY DARTS

 

It happened on one of my first weekends in Minnesota.  Ted, my eight-year old son, needed to be seen by a doctor.  Since the clinic was closed, we had to go to the hospital.  There, the registration clerk called for a nurse.  She in turn, lead us to the emergency room.  The nurse then asked questions, checked Ted’s vitals, and recorded the information.  Before she left, she told us the doctor would be with us shortly.

Ted sat on the hospital bed and I sat in the chair beside it.  The only other person in the area was a man wearing dirty boots, jeans, and a plaid shirt.  He smiled at us and continued his janitorial work.  When he finished sweeping, he walked over with his broom to say hello.  We were new to town and welcomed his friendly chit-chat.  However, when he asked Ted to lift his shirt, I turned on a dime.  My protective, motherly instincts took over.  This man was a stranger to us.  He was a janitor.  I snapped at him, “No.  Thank you.  We will wait for the doctor.”  I firmly told Ted to put his shirt back down.  Ted complied.  The man backed away and then burst out laughing.

When the man regained his composure, he introduced himself as the doctor.  He apologized for the confusion.  He offered a handshake and an explanation.  The doctor shared that he was on call for the emergency room.  Prior to our arrival, there had been a life-threatening emergency.  He had been working in the fields of his farm, when he got the call.  There had been no time for him to change his field clothes.  He rushed to stabilize the patient, who was then transported to another hospital.

Afterwards, the doctor saw the mess he had made with his muddy boots.  He teased that the nurses didn’t like it when he made such messes, so he got a broom.  As he was cleaning up the mud, we arrived.  And as the nurse did her assessments, the doctor had paid attention.  From my own account, he already knew Ted’s previous treatment plan.  All he needed to do was to listen to Ted’s lungs.  And to do that, he needed Ted to raise his shirt.  The doctor teased that he’d change into medical scrubs first, if needed.

I was flooded with a mess of emotions.  I had arrived concerned for my son’s health.  Now, I was worried I had offended the very doctor that would treat my son.  I was also embarrassed and frustrated.  Honestly, I try hard not to stereotype people based on clothes, homes, jobs, etc.  And yet, I also found myself desperately trying not to laugh.  Such things like this only happened in movies; think: Doc Hollywood.  Yet, this was not fiction.  It was the real deal.  I fought back the tears and then squealed with laughter.  There were some down to earth doctors here.  So down to earth, that one of them left behind a trail of mud…