Survival of the Fittest

I was channel surfing looking for things to watch on TV, and I came across a show about Preppers. Preppers are people who are preparing themselves for some major disaster, like the complete collapse of government or society, or an environmental disaster that results in needing to survive by going back to the basics of growing their own food and eating whatever animals are available. This particular show was focused on living off the land by hunting, gathering and growing their own food. It piqued my interest, so I watched for a while as they talked on about their preparations. Well it did not take long to realize this was a group of city dwellers who were now trying to guess how they would survive off of the land by growing their own food and hunting and preserving that food.

It was a lot of theory as opposed to any type of experience. I don’t want to judge them on how to prepare, but to me as a farm girl from Pierz who grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, anyone who IMG_1737grew up on the farm will have all of the skills necessary to survive. Our farm was like many others in that area.   We raised chickens, hogs, cattle and crops. We had a large garden and fields for the animal feed. We had some cows for beef and we always had two cows for milk. We made butter from the cream and my mom could make cottage cheese. It was a very self sufficient operation.

One of the things that seemed to be missing in the “Preppers” show was to learn the skills to utilize all of the crops and the animals year round. Granted it was a short show, but growing vegetables is not that hard; preserving vegetables so you have them all year takes some knowledge and practice. My Mom could can any fruits and vegetables. Also, butchering of animals is a learned skill and not wasting IMG_1739takes practice. We ate almost every part of the animals, so there was little waste. We ate the tongue, heart, tail and made head cheese. Yup, don’t ask. It is actually made from parts of the pig head, but it is surprisingly delicious! My kids don’t think so, but being adventurous as they are, they did try it.

Even as kids we had to help butcher chickens and help with the feeding of all animals and giving them medicine. There was not a lot done on the farm without everyone’s help. Grandpa and IMG_1744grandma came over when any big butchering or harvesting was done, and all the kids did what they could to help, depending upon age. Grandma always brought a big batch of homemade donuts, that were fried in lard of course, when she came for anything. We loved them. You probably would die early if you ate too many, because they were fried in lard, but it was worth it. They were delicious!

I have also eaten wild meats of every kind. I saw them eating squirrel on the show Duck Dynasty and had to laugh because we ate squirrel one time to taste it and we quite frequently ate rabbit. Rabbit was a quick growing and quick breeding stock and my grandpa raised them and it was a IMG_1745great source of protein, and they tasted good too.

I was in college when I went to visit a friend and her husband. While I was eating the delicious stew they served, the husband, in a very matter of fact way, announced that the stew was made with wood chuck. The wood chuck had been eating his garden, so he ate the wood chuck. I had no problem eating wood chuck. It was delicious.

In our area people hunted raccoon, deer, bear and every kind of bird.   Many of us also trapped. IMG_1740My brother and I actually had a trap line in the winter that we checked every morning before school. We were in High school at the time. We made some extra money that way and learned some skills. On the farm you learned to fix anything with what you had. You did not run to town for every little nut, bolt or piece of wood. You made due and got the job done. You threw little away and many things were used and reused. We built fence and rode horse. We swung in the barn and learned to watch the weather to know when to cut the hay. We knew how to bake pie with the apples from the trees and make jam from the berries we picked in the fence line. We were good to the animals and we did not kill for pure sport or fun. We used the meat of anything we killed as humanely as possible.

IMG_1741The term “simple farmer” has always bothered me. There is nothing simple about them. These are people with amazing skills and abilities who are constantly finding ways to grow more food for our growing and demanding needs as a population.   In any survival scenario, for the best chance at survival, I would pick the farmers every time.

The Duck Dynasty guys, while entertaining, have nothing on those of us who lived or still live on a working farm in rural Minnesota. The Preppers have some good theories and ideas, and you have to applaud them for trying, but these skills that rural farmers actually lived cannot be duplicated by reading about it or talking about it. The actual hands on experience give those from the farm an instant level of competence and confidence.

Some people may be embarrassed to admit they ate tongue and heart. I have always embracedIMG_1738 my past and appreciate the skills that were handed down to us on the farm. It was a gift that not all are lucky enough to have lived. The diversity and variety of life skills that we have from our experiences on the farm are irreplaceable. We learned our work ethic, confidence in our own abilities, respect for the earth and its bounty and most importantly, problem solving skills. Farmers have been working together as families and neighbors for years to accomplish tasks. There is no group that is better prepared, who could survive and thrive if a disaster occurs, and most importantly, farmers are also the best at looking after their neighbors. These are real people with real skills.

Touching Volcanos

I have always been fascinated by the earth’s natural beauty and mysteries. If I had been born independently wealthy I would have put that money to good use. I would fly over volcanoes, and I would have been to every continent by now, and done every eco tour in cool places like the Galapagos and Madagascar. But even though I was not born independently wealthy, I have done my best to see some cool places. We took a lot of family vacations when the kids were young. I do think it is important to travel with kids, but that is not why I traveled with them. I traveled with them because it was really fun and we saw a lot of cool stuff. It was not a burden; I really looked forward to it. I loved the planning part and I loved being on vacation. I still do love vacations even though it is just Joe and I, but it is different without the kids. Not worse, not better, just different. Still amazing and still seeing cool stuff.

94BadlandsI have a fairly high stress job, and if you asked my employees what I am like they would probably
say type A, and that I can be really driven and intense, but none of those things were true when I was on vacation. Once I crawled into our Yukon packed for adventure with the kids, the stress all melted away. I felt patient and more go with the flow than any other time, and that was true no matter what the age of the kids. I still relax the minute I start my vacation. When they were young and in car seats we stopped if they got restless, we fed them when hungry and they took naps when they got tired. We went with the flow, had a good plan and if something unexpected happened, we just dealt with it and some of those unexpected events led to some of our best stories.

94YellowstoneaI always wanted to see Yellowstone National Park, as I was fascinated by the photos of volcanic waters and bubbling mud pots coming to the earth’s surface, and the best part is that it is not that far from Minnesota. It is one of our oldest and most impressive National Parks and a must see for every family. In July of 1994, we packed up our two little kids, five year old Sara and two year old Ben in our big four wheel drive Ford Arostar van. At the time, I was huge and pregnant with our third child, Jenny, due in December. We packed our cooler with cheese and sandwiches, water and Gatorade, and a back seat with a treasure of crackers, colors, toys, smarties candies and dollar store finds to stay busy on long drives. Each child got to help pack their own bags and a backpack with their special things to stay busy. We bought Sara a Polaroid camera and film for her birthday, which was in July, to take pictures at each sightseeing stop. IMG_1491We bought her a small photo album as well so she could put the “instant pictures,” as we called those Polaroid’s back then, into the album, and she wrote the location on each one with some help with the spelling. She was ready to start kindergarten that fall.

Sara was always a good traveler and the best at going with the flow. She was the oldest, so a good helper with the younger kids and very patient if she had the wait for anything. She was our sweet Sara and still is our sweet Sara. Ben was an active kid even at two and so every once in a while when we had been driving too long, he would say, “Daddy I have to run” and so Joe would find a spot at a gas station or fast food parking lot and we would let him out of his car seat and let him run his energy off. He almost always had a smile on his face and was so excited any time we saw any animals at the park like the buffalo and the moose and bear. It was fun to see the world through his eyes. He loved books and would look at those as we drove or I had a bag of cheap simple toys from the dollar store and when he got bored, I would let him pick one. It took a long time for him to get it out of the packaging, so that kept him busy while we made IMG_1488more miles.

On our 1994 trip, we stopped at the Bad Lands and we eventually made it to Yellowstone. When we got there we tried to check into the park accommodations, but it appeared some mistake occurred and while we thought we had reserved a room with two queen beds, they had us down for a small room with just two single beds. Now this is just another reason that Joe will always be my best adventure buddy. He did not get upset or excited. He remained polite to the young woman behind the desk, but he was insistent that there had to be something else available for us. She was as insistent that it was July and everything was booked. He finally looked at her and pointed to me standing a ways away, clearly very pregnant, hot in the July weather, holding a two year old and with Sara beside me. He told her as he pointed at us this is what we are working with. Two small beds will not work; you need to give us something else. You must have some place set aside for these kinds of things or if someone important comes or a celebrity. It was so cute and he was half smiling as he said it. It was charming. She smiled because it was so cute and funny at the same time. She talked to some supervisors and they brainstormed as I went to the gift shop and looked to keep the kids busy and entertained. Well it took some work on their part, but I have to give them credit. They were awesome and got it figured out.

IMG_1492We ended up with a cabin in the park with two bedrooms.  It was even better than what we had reserved. People are generally good. They tried their best to fix this problem and they solved it. They could have just said tough luck, we cannot do anything, but they worked and I don’t know how, but they solved our problem and made it a very special and memorable vacation for us. When we woke up the next morning the buffalo were sleeping around in back of our cabin. The kids watched them from the windows as we packed the car for the day’s adventures in the park. We stayed in the cabin for three days while we went sightseeing throughout the park. We saw the geysers bubbling boiling hot water from deep within the earth, and we hiked around the mud pots and Yellowstone Falls. I was as mesmerized and amazed by these surface volcanic waters as the kids. We saw moose with their babies and we saw bear and buffalo.IMG_1493

We loved it so much, we visited again in 2003 when the kids were a little older and Jenny could see and enjoy it too. She was and still is always up for an adventure.   The kids were big enough on that trip that we had them participate in a park program for kids to become junior rangers and they soaked in the cool waters of the Yellowstone River and hiked to all the great spots. We would tailor our activities to their age on each vacation and as they got older we could do more things.

Yellowstone is one of those amazing jewels where around each corner is a natural mystery that grounds you to the bigger universe. It confirms you are a small thing in a big and fascinating IMG_1490world. To share that inner beauty and understanding with your kids at all ages is a gift to them, and a renewal for you to remember what is important. It’s not the paperwork that never seems to be done at work, but to really enjoy our time on this earth.

I have found out there are two parts to every vacation. The first is the amazing part of spending time with the kids and your husband when no one is stressed and everyone is having a good time. Also getting to know that the guy you married cares deeply about his family and can solve an unexpected problem that occurs without getting upset or treating the people who are doing their best to work with all of the tourists with respect. After all, he clearly learned a long time ago that he can catch more flies with honey than IMG_1489with vinegar. He made it all better.

The second part of vacation is to see the natural beauty of our earth and to be amazed and surprised. Kids need to be amazed and surprised and we all need amazement and wonder in our lives, no matter what age. When we lose the wonder of life, we spend too much time sweating the small stuff and losing the focus of our short time on this earth. When we touch volcanoes we see the power and wonder of the earth. It renews our spirit and resets our priorities. Amazement and wonder is absolutely necessary for a happy life.

I Have Been Lucky Enough to Hold Life in My Hands

I graduated from St. Scholastica in 1980 with a degree as a Registered Nurse and took the nursing boards that summer. In 1987 I graduated from Law school after being a nurse for almost seven years. I have said many times since 1987 that it was a lot more challenging education, and much more difficult to do the classes and exams to become an RN, than it was to become a lawyer. An apology to my lawyer friends, but it is the truth. The bottom line is that it took a lot NurseJoanmore studying to become a nurse. As a nurse you hold lives in your hands.   As a lawyer you are almost always fighting over money, and while it is important work and I am proud of it, I have been most touched by my work in nursing.

Nursing is one of those things that once you are one, no one can take that away from you. Once a nurse, always a nurse. You cannot undo that state of mind and education, so even though I have been a lawyer for many more years, I am still proud of being a nurse and I feel like I think like a nurse and my relatives and friends think of me as the nurse. My nurse friends will understand that.

I have had people in my law office that ask nursing questions and I cannot tell you how often employees and other lawyers have said, “Can you take a look at this, I know you are a nurse.” I don’t want to tell you all of the things and body parts I have seen on coworkers and family members, but it is kind of like the attorney client privilege. As a nurse I keep their secrets. I even took out stitches in one of my law partners eyebrow’s because he did not want to take the time to go back to the doctor to have them removed. I was also the one they called into the office when one partner appeared to be having a heart attack. He was not, but after that I insisted JoanWork1981cupon getting a defibrillator in the office, because if that guy’s heart would have stopped, I had no equipment to help him and would have been left with only CPR.

Right out of college in 1980, my first job was in OB/GYN at Ramsey Medical Center in St. Paul. I really wanted Labor and Delivery and it was a good choice for me. We had a level three center at the time, which meant that we were capable of giving the highest level of care possible and we received transfers of high risk mothers from all over our state and western Wisconsin. We had a very competent perinatologist and a great group of OB doctors and nurses and we were a residency site for the University of Minnesota. The nurses were top notch and I was excited to learn from them and become part of the team.

The learning curve was steep in that Labor and Delivery was a very specialized area and we had a lot of high risk cases, and twins, and just a high volume of babies being born. It was exciting and scary all at the same time for a new nurse. I had great mentors in the nurses who were experienced. They trained and watched over me. Bonnie, who has been a lifelong friend, was known as the queen of the night shift in Labor and Delivery, and we new nurses were afraid of her. She ran a tight ship, ruled with an iron fist, was one of the most competent L & D nurses of any hospital, and demanded perfection from the other nurses and doctors. She was famous for pointing her finger in the new doctor or nurses’ face and saying after training you, “If you screw anything up, I will kill you.” She was demanding, but an excellent teacher and she had immense courage, competence and calm in the face of adversity. She remains a gJoanWork1981bood friend today.

I had been in Labor and Delivery for only a few weeks when one of my other favorite nurses, Mary, told me I would have to learn to deliver a baby on my own to work there. My heart leapt with both excitement and fear at the same time, but I figured I had to get my feet wet to become comfortable and I had to be comfortable doing a delivery to work there. I had helped deliver animals on the farm, but this was very different. I had seen quite a few births at the hospital in the first few weeks there, but did not know if I was ready for this.

Mary chose a birth that was going smoothly and we had our Doctor back-up for safety. It was a
teaching hospital, and so teaching nurses and doctors was a big part of the program. As the patient became closer and closer to delivery, I became more excited and of course nervous. I did not want my hands to shake and I wanted to do a good job and make my mentors proud. But the bottom line was that I would have a life in JoanWork1981dmy hands, and while everyone was there to ensure a safe birth, it was still me alone who would have my hands on that child for the very first time. Mary ran through the process with me in a separate room for a final time as the patient was close to delivery. I can still hear her, control the head, check for a cord around the neck, and let the baby rotate itself to the side once the head was out, then push down on the head slightly to gently deliver the top shoulder and then up on the head to deliver the bottom shoulder and the rest of the baby follows easily. Keep a good grip on the baby and keep its head down to drain its lungs, clamp the cord and let it take that first breath. I felt ready. I still remember exactly how it feels to deliver a baby and I could do it with my eyes closed.

When the moment arrived I was full of butterflies, but tried not to show it. I stood at the bottom of her delivery bed and tried to sound confident in directing her to push and then stop pushing as I delivered her baby girl. I consider myself a passionate person, but not an overly emotional person, but as I delivered that baby the tears rolled down my face. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever done. I was overcome with emotion, holding her as she glided out. I felt her wind JoanRandiup for that first breathe and let out a cry that instantly made her entire body pink and flush with oxygen. My tears were tears of joy and amazement at the miracle of life as I placed that crying, breathing new life on her mother’s chest. I will never forget the look on the mom’s face. It was one of calm, because the pain was now gone and she had this beautiful new life on her chest, looking healthy and perfect. She named the baby June, as she was giving birth in June of 1980. I often wonder how June turned out. I have an image that she is healthy and happy and gorgeous and now in her mid thirties, and has had a good life and a family of her own. The experience was overwhelming and even today, now over 30 years later, I remember every minute of what happened and how I felt inside.

I delivered a lot of babies by myself over the next seven years in Labor and Delivery, but there was no other one as memorable as the first. We had a lot of women come in and deliver so quickly that there was no time to call a doctor. Yes, that happens more often than you think, especially in a high risk level three center.

I loved my work in Labor and Delivery. After a few years, my bother and his wife came to RamseyRandi to deliver their baby girl. It was great to help her into this world and even though I did not get to do the actual delivery, I was able to be in the room and be a part of her entry into this world. She was cute as a bunny, dark hair and long legs. She was a beauty then and turned into a gorgeous and successful young woman, who is now pregnant with her own child. The circle of life is amazing!

Over the years I was able to do all kinds of fun things. I was lucky enough to go on air ambulance transport and I worked once for 72 hours during a winter storm and received a snow team pin from the hospital. We had undiagnosed twins come in a few different times, we had severely ill mom’s with preeclampsia-high blood pressure and protein in the urine which could lead to death or stroke in the mom and death of the baby in utero, and we sometimes, unfortunately, lost some babies. I learned that there is no deeper sadness than the loss of a baby. There was no more difficult case then to induce a mother to deliver a stillborn. The sadness was indescribable. This is going to sound odd, but this was also a lifetime experience for which I am grateful. I felt like I could help make a difference for this very sad couple, by trying to make them as comfortable as possible and do what they needed and be respectful of their feelings as they went through the saddest event of their life.

JoanWork1981aLuckily we had more joy than sadness in Labor and Delivery. We became very close to the nurses and doctors that were on our team. When you go through the joy of birth together and the loss of life, even when we had all done our best and worked our hardest to save them, you become very close to each other. There were times we left a room having lost a life with little discussion, but with hugs and support for each other. Everything in our being made us work towards saving the life, but not everything was in our hands and you learned that very quickly. We held life in our hands, but in so doing we realized that there were powers greater than ourselves. We were a part of a big universe where some things were not meant to be and every birth was a miracle no matter how many you experience.

Having my own children was an indescribable joy and a miracle, and assisting other women in their birth experiences was the privilege of a lifetime. In my life, I have been so lucky to have brought new life into this world and to have held life itself in my hands. There is no greater emotional connection with one’s own life and purpose, then to see, witness, and assist in the birth experience.

One Man’s Trash

When I was three years old, my parents bought their own farm by Buckman, Minnesota, after initially living on my grandpa’s farm. The farm house at the new place was in rough shape and so they made a decision to tear it down and build a small new house for their growing family. IMG_1226The farm had great land, but the buildings and farm yard had been somewhat neglected over the years. They cleaned it up over the next few years, and over 30 years made it one of the nicest places in the area. They took a lot of pride in their farm.

When we first moved in the farm had what we lovingly referred to as the junk pile. It was back in a wooded area behind the barn and not visible from the house or driveway. It contained 50 years or more of discarded machinery and parts, an old car, fence posts, a sink from the turn of the century, a fish house, railroad ties, wagon wheels, hitches and harnesses for horses, old glass bottles, an old suitcase, tires, tools and the stuff went on and on. There were trails through the things, many of which where getting very overgrown by this time in the 1960’s and there was even a tree growing though the discarded car body. In hindsight it looked like the opening IMG_1221scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the leaves and trees are growing over the statues and you have to swipe the green leaves away to reveal the treasures being hidden by years of jungle growth.

As we were growing up this should have been named the treasure area. We were fascinated by it. I spent a ton of time back there digging through the piles and piles and into the ground around it looking for treasures. I had a large ring where I collected all of the keys I found out there. I had glass bottles in multiple colors and I had treasures that I did not know what they were, but I kept them because they were cool. Hopefully I had a tetanus shot back then, because a lot of these treasures were rusty and some were sharp. I don’t ever remember getting hurt, but I do remember spending a lot of time looking at stuff, digging for stuff and collecting stuff. I still have some of that stuff.IMG_1225

On a back eighty acres on our farm, far from the farm yard was also an old farmstead sight. It was cow pasture for us, but in the 1800’s it had been a homestead for a local family. Many farmers in the 1800’s only had about 40 to 60 acres. As time went on and equipment got better, each farm could support more land. So more of the homes went away and land was sold to neighbors to increase the size of their fields. We knew little about this old homestead, other than we could see part of the foundation sticking out of the ground and the earth was all sunken around where the house used to be. A stray lilac bush stood a ways away almost as a silent tribute to a woman who had once lived there and tried to bring a little beauty to her prairie homestead. We had heard tales that the couple who had lived IMG_1217there traded and got along well with the local Native American tribe and in fact the woman would get a visit from the local Native Americans when she baked pie or bread and she would share it with them. I cannot remember where we had heard that or even if it was true, but it made for a really nice story to go along with the mysteries of the old homestead.

Growing up we found a lot of arrow heads in the fields all over our property and at our grandpa’s property. My mother still has a box of spear points she has collected form the farm land around there. We pulled old pottery pieces from the ground surrounding the foundation and we even found old tins and medicine bottles. I was reminded of all of these digs the other day when talking with my daughter who is studying Archeology. She is doing exactly what I was interested in back on the farm. I just did not know what to call it. I dug stuff up and I tried to figure out what some things were or were used for, and I tried to learn something about the people that had lived there. I day dreamed about it. I always wanted to know more about them. IIMG_1227 missed my calling. I should have been an archeologist. She had said once people are messy and I love looking at their garbage from the past. I said me too.

I have always liked to read about past cultures and see their things. So it occurred to me, was it a genetic predisposition for my daughter to get her interest in digging into the past by looking at another man’s garbage, or in raising her did I make that sound interesting, or is it something that we humans all find interesting. I think we all want to know someone else’s story, especially a story from an era gone by. I would have loved to have met the young woman who planted the lilac on the prairie and gave bread and pie to the Native Americans. We make connections in this world on a daily basis with those around us, but when we dig into the earth and look to the people of the past, I feel we gain better insight into our own existence and it reminds us again to appreciate our time here on this earth. It reminds us that man has been living and loving on this earth long before us, and will hopefully continue long after us. What is important is for us to live each day to our fullest, to follow our dreams and passions and in the process to build good will, be kind and leave behind something to inspire others.


The World is a Small Place

In 1975 a seventeen year old boy from Nagasaki Japan landed in Minnesota, brought here by AFS, to be a foreign exchange student in the small farming community of Pierz, Minnesota. Junichiro Yamaguchi had to have all kinds of bravery to make that trek. He grew up in a high density city, one that was completely devastated by a nuclear bomb dropped by the U.S. during WWII.

JYIn Japan, he lived in a high rise apartment, he rode the bus everywhere in the crowded city, and his only focus was school – he took his education very seriously. He was sent to Pierz to attend high school in a community that was mainly German Catholic, hard working, cow milking and crop raising farmers. The land is beautiful, and open fields stretch as far as the eye can see. There could not be two more different places on the planet.

June, as he was called for short, was to live with a local family and learn the culture and the language. To say there was culture shock for all is an understatement. He had started with one family and it did not work out well, and then was living with a teacher’s family for a while and JY4that was not working out so well, and so by January the school counselor was desperately looking for an alternative. I was a senior in HS and the class VP. I had not gotten to know June very well since he had landed in September for the school year, but the counselor came to our class officer’s meeting and begged for help in finding a new family for June.

They wanted one with HS students in the home, so the transition would not be so difficult. The teacher he was living with had small children and no one to help June out with homework or his social life. He had hardly made it to any sporting events and was not doing well getting to know his classmates. He was having a little difficulty with his English and he was a really shy guy. Well I was always the kid at school who volunteered to take the hamster home over spring break and I fed any stray animal that came into the yard, so a kid without a home was an easy decision for me. I got right on it that evening and convinced my parents that we had room for June since my older brother and sister were in college and I wanted to bring him home. My parents kindly agreed, and within a week or so we had June living with us.

Well, I was from a big loud family and no one minces words, which in hindsight I think was really good for June. Everyone prior to that was treating him with kit gloves and yet not JY1getting to know him or really talk to him. If we wanted to know something we just outright asked without beating around the bush. We questioned him on his culture and family and found out all kinds of interesting things we did not know about life in Japan. His mother sent him food from Japan and we asked to taste it and he seemed to really appreciate our interest. He did not even mind when we were honest and told him certain things we did not like. Like the thin sheet of dried seaweed that came in what looked like a Pringles can. He put it in everything, and in particular, when he put it in soup it looked like pond scum. It gave him permission to be honest with us as well. We told him about our culture and family and traditions and asked him about his and when he said English words wrong we corrected him, since he made it clear that he was here to become proficient at English. The first night home my Mom had made soup and as we talked around the table he ate the soup with chopsticks and made all kinds of loud slurping noises. We all laughed and told him that here we don’t make that kind of noise at the table. It is not polite. He smiled and used the spoon. When he first got to our house he was shy and barely talked and never smiled. He only talked when questioned. Within a few weeks he was running around the farm with us with a smile on his face and seemed to be enjoying school.

JY2I was a senior, so we drove to school. It was not cool to take the bus and he liked the camaraderie of that. We sometimes picked up others on the way to school, so he got to meet and hang out with other students. I was on the varsity volleyball team too, so he came to that every week, and I went to all of the Football games, plays, and social events, so I dragged him along. When he first got to our house he seemed to always say “no” when I asked him to go anywhere with me. I think he was hesitant because of not knowing what it would be like or just being afraid. He also got up at 5 a.m. to do homework, which to me at the time seemed pretty excessive. After a few “no’s” from him I did not give him an option. I just said, “get your stuff we are going to the game” and made him come. After a while he never said no. I even took him to some outdoor beer parties. He was very hesitant about that at first, but I assured him it was part of the culture. After all it was the spring of 1976 and it was the culture. The beer parties were mainly in the woods with a big campfire and when I was ready to leave one night I found him being kissed by a drunk girl. I have to say no matter where in the world a guy is from, they need at least once in their life to make out with a drunk girl.

After a few beer parties and with the social events he got to know a lot of classmates and even had a date for prom. He was profient in English in no time with us helping him. We tried to teach him to water ski behind our boat and that was a failure, but he did love riding in the boat and being on the beach. When he first came he was also afraid of the farm animals and even our dog just because he was large, but he learned to like him and eventually seemed to love him soon after.JY3

He helped on the farm with some cattle chasing and rock picking and even gardening. He had so many culture differences and not all of them worked out but we all made it work. Everyone was tolerant of the others and we learned as much from him as he learned from us. We all knew some Japanese words and I can still count to ten in Japanese. We knew a lot about life in Japan in getting to know that young scared boy from the big city and he got to know a lot about us. It may seem funny, but even today, just because we knew him, I feel a connection with Japan. The purpose of AFS is to build good will between countries and you would not think just exchanging kids would do that but it does. After this experience, Japan was not just a country, it had a face for us and it was June.

We lost track of him after a few years with him in college and all of us going our separate ways. Back then keeping in contact was more difficult. Now that we have email and the internet it has been easer. We have exchanged a few emails with him over the years and he became a successful business man in Japan and raised a family. I would love to hear what stories he tells of his time on the farm in Minnesota. I can imagine his children listening to his stories of trying to water ski, going to beer parties, going to American football games and chasing cows around in a field. Also him telling stories of driving our pickup through the creek and the back pastures and fixing fence and picking rocks. His kids probably think he is making it all up or at least exaggerating. We did have some fun and I think he did too.

The world became a smaller place for all of us after having June live with us. I thought I was doing him a favor by convincing my parents to let me bring him to our home and maybe we were, but it turned out to be a great experience for our whole family. It is funny in life how some of those small decisions become a big part of who we are. We learned that it is OK to be different. We learned that people from other countries have more similarities than differences from us, and we learned to not only respect the differences between us, but to appreciate and learn from those who are different. Most importantly we learned that showing respect, being honest, sharing laughter and sometimes a hug, bridges oceans and cultures and makes a scared boy feel safe, wanted and made for a positive experience for him to share on his side of the world about us.

The Karen Carpenter Connection

In the mid 1970’s my close High school friends and I listened to a lot of Karen Carpenter at our slumber parties. Slumber parties were a big part of our social life. We drank soda and ate frozen pizza, the kind that tastes pretty close to what the box would taste like, if you baked that. It was terrible in hindsight, but we did not know it, because it was before the age of pizza delivery. We sat on the floor and sang to Karen’s songs, especially our favorite, “We’ve Only Just Begun.” We sleepover7had high hopes for our futures, even though we had no idea what that would entail. We dreamed of romance, but, surprising for our age, we were pretty set on going to college and finding our own way in the world. We loved the farm life, but by 16 we were tired of the rock picking and chores. Maybe we just needed new sights; of course I miss the farm now. We did not appreciate how awesome farm life was at the time.

My vivacious, smart, and fun cousin and good friend in High School, Laurie Millner Menke, and Mary Joe Wimmer, Marilyn Gerwing, Linda Faust and Dorothy Weber were all a big part of our Karen Carpenter loving circle. Laurie was actually a professional quality singer and could really belt it out at our slumber parties. She was amazing and usually had the lead in any musicals and skits. She graduated from St. Ben’s and sang for many weddings and has been in plays over the years.

Laurie Millner

Laurie Millner

She came back to Buckman for my wedding and sang. I had a big Catholic wedding with three priests officiating. My uncle the priest, my cousin the priest, and the parish priest, who was good friends with my Dad. When you get married by three priests the marriage sticks real well. We will be celebrating 30 years of marriage next year. Everyone at the wedding had goose bumps when Laurie sang the Ave Maria. Some of my law school friends still talk about that singer and that song, after all of these years. She did a great job and the song was really moving. She has since built a career and raised a family and it is fun to keep up with her shenanigans on Facebook. She still is a fun loving and talented gal.


Mary Wimmer

Mary Jo had big dreams of joining the Peace Corps and she did and spend time in Africa. She met her husband there. They then raised their family and built their careers here in Minnesota. She has a beautiful and loving soul and that has never changed. I love seeing how her family has grown over the years and to see how successful she is in her business.

Marilyn Gerwing

Marilyn Gerwing

I saw Marilyn working at the Minnesota Zoo many years ago and unfortunately a few years after that I found out that she passed away from a severe diabetic complication. It is incidents like this that make you renew your ideal to live life to the fullest, as you never know how much time you have.

Linda Faust

Linda Faust

Linda was extremely bright and was wise beyond her years. She was also artistic and the kind of person that never once forgot to do her homework. She was the voice of reason and the go-to-gal when you needed a well thought out decision. Obviously she is still the wisest. She was the one person who was smart enough to move out of the Minnesota weather and now lives in warm and sunny New Mexico.

I lost track of my good friend Dorothy for a while, but she too graduated from college, had a family and a career, and lives in the city. Dorothy and I went to all kinds of parties in high school and luckily never got into anyreal trouble. Well there was that one beer party in the woods that we had to run from when the cops showed up, but we never got caught! There also was that little fender-bender on graduation day, and luckily the police did not see the empty Boones Farm wine bottle that we drank at the Skunk River dam in the afternoon to celebrate graduation. Oh, and there was that car owned by my brother’s friend Frank Shermers that we called Victor. He had used an Axe to chop a hole in the top of the car sleepover6to make a Sun Roof and someone had put a goat in it all night so it smelled bad. We took that car to the drive in movie one time and when Frank pulled the back seat out and put it on top of the hood to sit on during the movie. We almost got kicked out. The Movie Theatre manager asked us if someone had died in that car. When we agreed to put the seat back into the car, he let us stay. At this point you probably think I am making this stuff up but I am not. It is all true. We did have some fun back then. I wish we would have had cell phone cameras. We would have a picture of Victor the car. I would frame that.

We once staged a sit in to protest the cafeteria food. The School administration could not see why we did not like the cut up hot dogs in tomato soup poured over mashed potatoes. I wish I was exaggerating, but that was a meal we had every week at school. Back then we were not thinner because we had healthier food at school, we were thinner because the food was so bad you only ate enough to survive. The protest did no good at all. Our parents just all told us to knock it off because there are starving children in Africa and we should be grateful for what we have. That was the end of it. The food stayed the same.

Say what you will about Facebook, but all of us are overly busy nowadays. The time since I graduated from High School has flown by. If not for Facebook, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with these fun people. They were a big part of my life in Pierz, Minnesota, up until we all graduated in 1976.

After we left High school everyone went their directions and I would have lost track of everyone. These people had a profound impact on who I am. We shared some great times and some great dreams. I think we pushed each other subconsciously to be better and to dream big. We had only just begun to live, as the song goes. There were bright lights and promises. We scattered to the wind to follow our dreams. Each person touches us and our life. It is nice that we can reflect back and sometimes reach back, when our busy lives allow it, and rekindle some of those friends from long ago.

My Mom Has Skills

My mom is one of the most competent people I know. She has never been afraid to try anything, and in any situation, she always seems to know what to do. Even though she is in her eighties, she can work her cell phone to text her children and grandchildren, and she can even send pictures. She is on Facebook and can navigate her computer better than many people who are a lot younger than her. She has really kept up with the new technology.

19dWhen I was growing up, she sewed our clothes on the farm, kept a clean house, and could bake the best bread and pie. She cared for the farm animals and her family as if she had advanced medical training. My brother once dislocated his shoulder playing Tarzan in the big barn, and when he came screaming into the house she grabbed his arm and snapped the shoulder back into place and he went back to playing. Growing up we believed she could do anything.

She has many talents, but she has always had a knack for caring for both babies and animals. After I had my first baby, she came to help me within a few hours of our return home from the hospital. Even though I had been a Labor and Delivery nurse for seven years, the baby and I were both crying within an hour of being home. Between hormones and exhaustion, I really needed her. She barely had her coat off and she sent me for a nap, while she rocked my baby to sleep. I invited her into the operating room with my husband and me for the c-section birth of my third child. We have always 2been close.

She is legendary with my kids when it comes to animals. They know she kills spiders with her bare hand and is not afraid of anything. My kids tell the story of one particular Thanksgiving at our house. Mom and Dad were there, and lots of relatives. The house was full and loud with pre-dinner activities. The kids were pre-teen and running around playing.  While setting the table and cooking the meal, the kids accidentally let the parakeet out of its cage. It was a mild mannered bird, except if you tried to hold it. Then it was a crazy biter and they referred to it as birdzilla. They were afraid of it. Mom suggested that the kids just pick it up and put it back in its cage. They were insistent that one could not touch it, because it was a biter. My mom just laughed and told them it’s just a little bird, as she swept it up so quickly the bird did not have time to fly or know what happened. To the surprise of everyone, she had it in one hand with its little head between two fingers. The kids were in awe as she did not flinch; while it was biting her all the way back to the cage. She just talked to it in a soothing voice.

When we were growing up on the farm she cared for our farm animals, and taught us to help as we got older. She tended a large garden and we grew a lot of our own food. She was the one who almost always said yes to our pet requests. She brought home a little baby house dog for us when we were very young, and we all agreed on the name Sparky, with her help.

IMG_0764She brought him home and set him on the floor with us, as we sat around in a circle. I think I was only about three at the time and my sister was six and my brother was five. She told us to be very gentle and she showed us how to pet our new puppy, so as not to hurt it. She was such a good teacher. Giving us the knowledge and know how to take care of him and yet not hurt him, even if it was by accident. She showed us how to put a mother cat at ease by petting her and talking calmly to her, reassuring her that it was OK for Mom to hold her kittens and show them to us. Animals were at ease with her.

50aA few years later she let us get a larger outdoor farm dog when our cousin’s dog had puppies. We were convinced that the one puppy wanted to go home with us after playing with them. She made sure we were responsible to feed him. Forgetting to feed him and give him water was not an option. She made it clear that the animals depend upon us. We ended up being very close to that dog. He was never more than a few feet away from us as we played on the farm.

She and my dad still fish a lot in their boat, and she has learned to run their GPS and fish finder with great ease. She can even trouble-shoot and change settings as she needs to, depending on the lake they are on. She is good at fishing and loves traveling. She and dad have been everywhere in their RV, and she has been the navigator for them through mountains and in large cities.IMG_0394

My mom was as strict as she needed to be, to keep us from getting into trouble and making sure we did well in school and respected our elders. I distinctly remember my mom sending my brother and me out to weed the corn field after she caught us shooting homemade bows and arrows at the playhouse door while our sister was inside. She came and got us after an hour or so and made us promise never to do anything that dangerous again. She had to deal with a lot of shenanigans.

She had a lot of tolerance for our love of pets. Once when we were pre-teens we visited the elderly farmer next door and came back with a box covered with a towel, and carefully carried it into our kitchen. We walked very gently, and my mom had just finished putting dinner on the table and could see that we had what we thought was a treasure. She came over and asked what was in the box, knowing she probably would not like the answer. We giggled and pulled the towel off showing six puffy yellow baby geese. We told her our neighbor Lawrence had given them to us and we were going to keep them in our room. She rolled her eyes and without hesitation said you cannot keep them in your room, but she did not say we had to take them back. She told us they have to be under a warming light and she helped us set it up in our kitchen, until they were big enough to go outside. I loved those geese. They were like watch geese. They were very loud when someone drove into the yard.

IMG_0762Likewise she let us keep a horse from that same neighbor when we convinced her that it kept coming to our farm because it was lonely, because Lawrence told us he was getting too old to ride it and he said we could have it. I had my own calf every year to bottle feed and we had chickens, baby pigs, and once she let us get a chinchilla. She helped us nurse a pigeon back to health after it hit a window and hurt its wing. She helped bandage its wing and showed us how to feed it oats until it was healed enough to fly. Mom taught us to milk a cow and how to pick chicken eggs. She taught us how to give medicine and vaccinations to calves, and once in a particularly cold rainy spring, she brought a newborn calf into the house to save it. It was in bad shape and would have died had she not dried it out by putting it into a large box and warmed it up with an old bonnet hair drier.IMG_20140318_0043_NEW

Mom could fix our ouchies with a kiss, and she could fix the bailer when it broke. She always looked good, and even though she had all of us, we were clean and well behaved in church on Sundays. Her house was clean and we were well fed. She accomplished it all and kept up with the farm. Looking back on it, I do not know how she did it all.

Mom was good to us in tolerating our curiosity, and she has always been good with her grandchildren in teaching them kindness and care of animals.   My mom taught us to be gentle and to care for soft, small helpless things in this world that depend upon us. We all have called her often over the years for advice on kids, puppies, baking, fixing things, and just to talk when we were stressed.

I have only fond memories of growing up on the farm with her, all of us running barefoot, playing with the animals and eating tomatoes right out of the garden. Mom showed no fear in how she approached any project and we have tried to show her same confidence and competence in our endeavors. She taught us independence, self reliance and she had confidence in us that we could accomplish anything.  IMG_20140302_0048_NEW (2)