Farm Work Ethic, Productivity, and the Power of the List

Growing up on a farm teaches the most powerful work ethics. There is no way you can be a successful farmer and not be a hard worker. Farming is so dependent on weather, and accomplishing many things in a certain order, by each season and on time. If the crops are not planted on time you have little to harvest. If you cultivate too early you could kill the budding plants. If you wait too long after planting, the crops are too big and will be full of weeds resulting in a poor harvest, and I could go on and on.qz1-5img_20140401_0003_new

The saying that you have to make hay while the sun is shining is a real farm motto, not just a nice cliché with bigger meaning. Literally if you don’t make hay while the sun is shining, you get moldy useless grass instead of nice hay to feed to the animals. To get everything done you had to have a good plan and sometimes it meant that you had to work late into the night after getting up before dawn. Eating and sleeping had to wait many times to get the job done. After a long day like that, there was no better feeling of satisfaction than the accomplishment of getting the job done, and no better sleep than after a hard day of work.

qz1-5img_20140401_0003_new1You cannot be a procrastinator and be a farmer.  If the weather is right and it is the right time of year, there is something that must be done that day. You learn this at a young age on the farm. The rocks have to be picked, the cows fed, the gardens planted and the fences mended. There is nobody more productive than a farmer. But you also get to pet the cats and have the dog accompany you out to the fields, and maybe even ride your horse to go mending fences instead of taking the tractor or the farm pickup.

You get to feed the chickens and play in the tall fields of hay. There were so many wonderful things about the farm, but the best thing that helped me through college and law school and in all of my jobs, was the work ethic that I had learned. It was not a problem for me to work late and to get projects done long before they were due. I did not procrastinate because I learned you had to get things done, and to get things done you had to have a plan.img_20140318_0076_new

Many times I heard my parents list off the things that had to be done the next day, and they also maintained a list for everything to be done each week. If they did not have a paper list, they had a mental list and they followed it. The work ethic learned from my parents and having a plan or list of things that needs to be accomplished leads to great productivity. It is something I have tried to pass on to our kids and I have used to be successful all of my life.

From an early age I taught my kids that hard work and a good plan always pays off, whether it is hard work at school or on a team or just at home.  I tried to make it clear that just because something is not due right away, there is a certain comfort in knowing it is done early. 54bProcrastination equals stress and sometimes equals failure.  With the kids, and especially with their technology, one could easily get a glitch that causes a last minute project to be deleted or lost in cyberspace. I have tried to teach them to get things done early so that there is plenty of time to fix problems, and also that with a good plan or list they will can accomplish anything.

I live by my to-do lists. Without a good list little gets accomplished. Before the weekends especially, soon the weekend is gone without much accomplished if I don’t have a good plan. Some of the things on the list are fun things like kayak around and explore a certain area of the lake, and there is other stuff, like clean my kitchen cupboards and wash windows before the fall weather sets in.

There is no greater feeling than to cross things off of a list and feel the accomplishment of getting things done. My husband sometimes cringes when he sees my lists, but has to admit that we get a lot done when we follow them. If we have a home weekend project, we make sure we 54chave all the supplies picked up by Friday, so we don’t have to spend our project day buying the supplies. There is no better way to get a lot done.

My lists used to be kept on paper. Now I have most lists in the notes section of my phone. I have work lists, and lists of fun places we want to visit. I have lists of projects that need to be done around the house, and wish lists of remodeling projects to be done in the next couple of years. I have garden lists, and boat and outdoor building projects. I have a list of the things that need to be done during the week and the weekend project lists. I have work lists and lists of goals to accomplish. I don’t need to follow them exactly, and I can be flexible with when things are accomplished. I have a real satisfaction in having the plans, and when I find myself with extra time, I can consult the lists to take on a project or sometimes the lists can wait and I do whatever I’m feeling called to, like going on a bike ride.

The reverse list is a special and powerful type of list. I am not sure exactly where I learned it, but it was sometime in college. The reverse list is where you write down a goal you want to accomplish, and then you work backwards to show the steps you would have to take to get there. In the 1980’s while working as a nurse I decided I would like to be a lawyer. I wrote down on the paper: I am a lawyer. I stared at it for quite a while before giving myself permission to z3dreverse list it. I thought for a while and wrote, take the Bar exam, and continued with graduate from law school, attend law school, gain admission to a law school and so on backwards until I had the very first step of what it would take, which was buy the books to study for the entrance exam to law school called the LSAT.

I put down the pen and stared at it. The one thing that was clear was this list would take hard work, but as I learned on the farm, hard work pays off and I was committed to go forward with the list. I have used the reverse list many times and it allows for full introspection, and breaks down a goal that seems unattainable into smaller steps, laying out a plan to achieve that goal.

It is good to have thoughts, goals and dreams, but once those goals are written they gain a power of their own. There is real power in the list. Even if the list is just a weekend project list, the act of writing it down creates the goal and the work ethic creates the accomplishment of that goal. Good planning, knowing the downside of procrastination, and the work ethics I learned on the farm have been instrumental in my accomplishments. I love my lists and I love the productivity and the sense of accomplishment that comes with striking things off lists.  I thank my farm roots for the productivity, work ethics and the ability of good planning with the power of the list.

Childhood Flower Memories

It is amazing how our human minds work. Our memories can be sparked by little things that trigger past memories and transport us in time.  A song that reminds us of our prom days, a team that was the champion at our high school or a lost love.  A taste, a smell, or a sight conjures up our childhood, or the smell of our Grandma’s big soft hug. For me flowers are a powerful memory from childhood. Dandelions, lilacs, tiger lilies and meadows full of buttercups. I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm, and at a time when life moved slower. We enjoyed the beauty around us, or at least I did, as a carefree child running barefoot through the fields. I can still remember the smells, the warm farm earth on my bare feet and the sun on my face.IMG_2460

Sometimes we loose track of our roots and our history in busy lives. I was recently traveling along the prairie roads from Minneapolis to Fargo on a beautiful sunny spring day. As we went, mile after mile we saw many old farmsteads from the past, now neglected as farms have become larger and consolidated, leaving the stone and brick houses and barns to slowly wither with time. Many were still surrounded by the beautiful lilacs, probably planted by some young woman many years ago who tended her garden and the farm animals, and raised her family on the Minnesota plains. She planted the hardy lilacs to surround her yard, provide a break from the winds and of course provide beauty and color. I could imagine her picking the flowers in the spring and putting them in a mason jar on her farm table. As we drove I could smell lilacs in the air.

It triggered a flood of childhood memories of our own farm. There is no flower that has a more lovely color. Sometimes in a soft light hue and others a deep purple. I would rather have lilacs IMG_2380than roses, and lilacs smell better too. They have a beautiful smell, but part of their beauty is the memories of warm, spring days, and in particular they remind me of my grandma. She would literally pick buckets of lilacs and we would dig in every cupboard scavenging all of the vases in the house to put the aromatic lilacs in every room, including our bedrooms.

I knew when I had my own house I would like my own lilac bushes. When our kids were young, I actually went and dug some at an abandoned farm in Blaine, right before they bulldozed the entire site for a golf course. It was a farmstead from the past that now had to make way for the new golf course. I had those rescued lilacs at our last house, but they were never big enough to pick as many as my grandma did to fill the house with that distinct smell. When we first looked at our current house on the Lake, I was really excited to see many beautiful mature lilac bushes. We have a variety of colors and they are so prolific, I can pick all of the lilacs I want, just like Grandma.

I can still see grandma in her flowery house dresses doing her gardening and tending her raspberries and her flowers. I can still see her and grandpa’s 1960’s blue car, as it drove down our long driveway into our farm yard. They only lived a mile away, so they came frequently. We were all excited to see her, but our dog went particularly crazy when he saw their car, IMG_20140302_0035_NEWbecause she always brought him food scraps. He could not wait for her to get out of the car, and he would practically knock her down, as she unwrapped the neatly folded peach crate papers to reveal the scraps of fat and meat she brought for him.

It never took him long to devour it all, and she would praise him the whole time, what a good dog he was. She always brought something for everybody. In the spring, she brought her galvanized pail full of the lilacs in water, nicely tucked into the back seat, so it would not tip on the ride over. She often brought her homemade donuts along in a dishpan carefully covered with a towel. They were usually still warm. We would snitch donuts from the pan, as they were being brought into the house and we would carefully put all of the lilacs in vases. I can still smell the fresh lilac fragrance as it took over the house.

My mom also loved her flowers on the farm and still loves tending her flowers in their retirement home in the city.  I don’t know how she does it, but she can grow hydrangeas the size of a basketball. When I was very young, she had pots of violets growing in the kitchen window. I still remember their fuzzy leaves and the deep purple colors. She also had a lot of dragon lilies. I cannot see those without thinking of the farm. She had bunches of them in flower beds around IMG_2459the house and the yard, and as I got older I was charged with watering them. I loved the color and the little brown stems waiting for the bees to spread their pollen. I recently planted some around my mailbox, because they invoke so many strong feelings of home and warm summer days on the farm.

As we drove along that road to Fargo, I had a vivid memory of myself as a young child when I saw the meadows full of yellow buttercups. Buttercups have bright yellow, almost glossy leaves and grow in wet lowlands and meadows.   I hadn’t seen those in years. I was instantly transported in time to my childhood.  I remember putting on my rubber boots as a grade school child and walking through the moist meadow, picking the short yellow flowers and bringing some home, where my mom would help me put IMG_2451them in a glass on the kitchen table. They grew so thick in our meadow along our driveway that it looked like a fine carpet of yellow and waxy green. We had meadows full of buttercups on our farm in the spring.

Every child should have beautiful flower memories of warm spring days and lovely scents; of picking dandelions, of running through the meadows free of all cares and playing in the bright sunshine. Of a mom who grows tiger lily’s and keeps violets on the windowsill and a grandmother who brings homemade donuts and fills the house with the scent of beautiful purple lilacs. We were lucky to grow up on a farm, with a loving, but hard working family, but childhood flower memories can be created anywhere for any child. Make time to create beautiful flower memories for the children in your lives. Pass on the beauty to our next generations.

 

Fishing with Grandpa and Dad

We grew up close to Mille Lacs lake in Minnesota, and as a family spent a lot of time on Mille Lacs. We swam and water skied and fished in the summer. We had a ski and fishing boat, and
would bring our Winnebago to camp at Father Hennepin State Park. Winter was even more fun when it came to fishing. It was an event and special time with my dad and grandpa.IMG_20140318_0072_NEW

We were only about twenty minutes from Mille Lacs, and my dad and grandpa loved to go ice fishing. I remember one fall the two of them gathered scrap lumber from around the farm, and built themselves two ice houses.

Grandpa was really good at building stuff and so was dad. As father and son they were a good team. They built hard sided, dark houses which were needed for spearing. We watched as they worked for days in the large farm machine shed, with its wall full of tools and piles of salvaged parts neatly stacked under the work benches and around the outer walls. We marveled at all of the old treasures and how easily Grandpa could make old parts fit and work together to make something new.

We walked around the shed and looked at all of the old things. Sometimes we had to ask what they were. He had old parts from horse harnesses, from an era gone by and even square nails and triangular barn hinges. They saved small windows and wheels of all sizes. Grandpa was very 53dgood at saving things. He had weathered the depression and still saved everything.

It was a good attitude that more of us could be better at in today’s world. We so easily throw things away that are perfectly good. We buy too much and we waste even more. My grandma even saved bread bags and bread bag ties and the old metal band aide boxes. They learned to waste nothing and on that day of building fish houses, all the parts and saving they had done came in handy. They did not have to go into town for anything.

The houses each had a wood burning stove in it with a proper smoke stack protruding out of the roof. They built the wood stove by welding old metal together in a small box shape, the size of a large bread box. It had a small hinged door on the end to add the sticks of wood, to keep the house warm and it worked really well.   As a matter of fact, its problem was sometimes too much heat and then we had to open the door to vent it out. It was very warm and snuggly in there even on very cold days. The top of the stove was flat and so many times my mom would send cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup along and we would open those cans and heat the soup on the stove. It made a perfect lunch, especially since she sent along bologna sandwiches made with white squishy bread. It tasted best if actually dipped into the noodle soup.

After the houses were fully constructed and painted a light green sea foam color, a paint left from past projects, they had to be taken with the pickup, one at a time to Mille Lacs. A lot of IMG_20140318_0062_NEWdiscussion always occurred between Dad and Grandpa over the decision about where to put the houses. Should the houses be placed over the shallows, fifteen or more feet, or the deep waters? Knowing where the fish would be was a decision based upon years of fishing knowledge.

The houses were built on skids to make pulling them easier on the lake. They were considered seasonal houses and so they stayed on the lake all winter, but could be moved around by Grandpa and Dad if they wanted to try a new spot. Once set onto the lake, we could go whenever we wanted to fish. As a truck driver, Dad was laid off in the winter and there was not much farm work in the winter either. Grandpa was retired so they could go fishing anytime they wanted.

When we were not in school we could go along. We would leave with Grandpa and Dad before sunrise with our lunch in the black hinged top, old fashioned lunch pail. We usually had rice krispie bars along with our soup and sandwiches and some peanuts or other snacks for mid-afternoon. We took the pickup truck drove onto the ice along makeshift roads plowed right on the ice of Mille Lacs.

We pulled up to the fish houses and file into them. The first thing Dad and Grandpa had to do was to cut the large square holes, and then they lowered a big minnow into the hole. The minnow was held low in the hole by a loop of string around its gills, like a leash and the other end was attached to the ceiling of the fish house. This allowed the minnow to swim around in the hole, but not get away.

The person fishing had the fishing spear attached to their wrist and standing against the side of the inside of the house ready to grab if they saw a fish go after the minnow. We sat on the wood bench built into the fish house, our gaze fixed on the hole. We IMG_20140318_0090_NEWtraded off sitting with Grandpa and Dad, and a lot of good conversation took place during these outings. This is a sport that takes lots of patience. They would let us have the spear and fish too. We did not have the talent they had, but I actually remember spearing two fish over the years. One was a small Northern and the other a rough fish that is called an Eelpout. It is an ugly fish with skin. When Grandpa saw I speared it, he laughed and said “lets get that ugly thing off of our good spear.”

Sometimes during casual conversation the minnow would get jittery and start trying to swim away, and it was then that you knew there was something big coming. My Dad would grab the spear and wait. Sometimes the large Northern would swim into view, and stop to look at the minnow. Those were easier to spear, but other times you just saw the large fish dart through while going after the minnow, and sometimes there was a chance for a shot. They may came back into the hole for another pass, or other times they grabbed the minnow and they were gone.IMG_20140318_0073_NEW

It was mostly a slow relaxed sport, except for those few minutes of extreme excitement and elation if they actually speared the fish and successfully got it out of the hole. Many of the fish were of average size, but there were those very large Northerns sometimes, that made you think there were monster Northern Pike in that lake. Fortunately, we have pictures to prove that my memories were correct. They caught some really large fish, but more importantly we had some really special times with my dad and grandpa.

Fishing was a special event with Dad and Grandpa, but it was so much more. We did not know it at the time, but they were teaching us many lessons. We learned that my dad and grandpa were really talented at building things and resourceful. They taught us how to fish, but they also taught us patience, and the joy of appreciating our environment and the beauty of our lakes.

They were the best dad and grandpa kids could ask for. They left us with great memories of our times together and taught us lifelong skills. They taught us to work together as a team, to relax and have fun, and to save and not be wasteful, and by their great parenting, I feel they taught us to be good parents and to include our kids in the things we did and teach them lifelong skills. Fishing with Dad and Grandpa is not only a beautiful memory, but the age old process of passing down from one generation to another the many skills needed for a full, fun and successful life.

The Energy of Spring in Our Blood

Spring not only gets the Maple tree sap flowing, the warming sunlight adds a bounce to our step as if spring is actually flowing through our veins. There is something promising in what is to come, with the creeks slowly opening and water starts to drip and then flow. The ice on the lakes slowly recedes as it gets warmer, and we have more sunlight and energy.  The drastic differences between the Minnesota seasons are amazing and spring is a particularly special time.IMG_20140318_0061_NEW

The weather beacons us outside after a long winter. The sound of water flowing on the farm was irresistible for us as kids. Even though the creeks were freezing cold we would take off our shoes and walk into the water until our feet were starting to become numb. We sat on the bank warming them in the sun and marveling at the bird sounds, the re-emerging bugs and frogs and the warm winds blowing in the dry grasses. My brothers, Dave and Jim and I were always exploring the farm and hanging out by the creek and in the woods. It never failed, we always had big ideas to build a raft and try to sail it along the creek in the spring as the water was high and moving fast with the melting snow and spring rains.

We built a raft a number of years in a row. We used scrap wood lying around the farm, and we had work shops full of tools and nails and whatever we needed. Our parents were very tolerant of such shenanigans as it probably kept us busy and maybe we learned some building skills. We would sometimes draw up a crude plan and then search for the materials. It usually took a few days or more to build anything worth while. We had all read Tom Sawyer and so the
IMG_5672conversations we had while building were as much fun as the actual launching. Our anticipation of how it would work and how far we could get always exceeded the capabilities of what we had built, but we were never dissuaded by past failures.

Each year we built as if this was our year to be very successful. As each year passed we grew older and wiser in building our raft. I wish we would have had cell phones back then, because then we would have pictures of those beauties. We just have our memories, which are probably somewhat distorted. When I imagine the rafts, they look like a small version of the rafts from the Tom Sawyer movies.

We had three logs or half logs on the bottom and on the top, short boards nailed into a platform that we could sit on, and some long sticks to try to push and steer it from the bottom or the creek banks. Sometimes our neighbors or cousins helped. We always watched out for each other so no one was hurt and the only injuries I ever remember is minor things like scrapes or the occasional black fingernail from pounding our own fingers.IMG_20140318_0075_NEW

We did not have a very deep creek even when it was swollen for spring, but it was enough to float our little raft about halfway through our pasture if we did not load it too full. Usually only one or two of us could go on at a time and it got stuck often in the weeds or shallow areas, but we always considered the project a success if we could get it to float with one of us on it for even a short stretch down the creek. It was usually my brother Jim who volunteered to ride the raft.

He still is an adventurous guy, and also was the youngest at the time, so probably the lightest for riding the raft. Nevertheless he was always game to give the untested raft a try. I still remember dragging our heavy creation to the creek and the elation we felt as we actually got it floating with Jim aboard, riding proudly like one of the Spanish explorers we had read about. It was a spring ritual for a number of years. I suspect that there may still be remnants of some of our creations in the area where the creek turned narrow and shallow and we were all done navigating the creek for the year.

I think the ritual was more about being outside and feeling the sunshine and the cool waters than any real need to navigate the creek. We also slopped around in big boots in the pastures as IMG_20140318_0053_NEW (1)we let our beef cattle out of their winter pens. Most of the mamas had calves by this time and the beautiful deep red colored calves with white faces were as happy as we were to be let free in the green, fresh spring grasses. They would follow their mamas and would literally kick up their heals when they first felt the grass on their hooves and smelled the freshness of spring.

Spring is still an exciting time for me.   It seems as if winter makes our blood thick and slow, but as soon as that spring thaw starts I have an overwhelming urge to dig in my garden and to step in the puddles. I cannot wait to plant my flowers and plan a little vegetable garden. I look at garden websites and survey my dry dead gardens and imagine what they will be with some tender loving care. I love digging in the dirt in the spring, andIMG_5758 even cleaning the leaves. There is still a lot of farm girl in me. I even own a small tractor despite the fact that I am not farming. I watch the lake edge at our home and marvel as we slowly get running water past our shoreline and eventually full ice out. I don’t have to build a raft to enjoy the water as we now have boats and kayaks but the memories of building rafts on the farm with my brothers came flooding back this weekend when standing on the edge of our lake in the warm sunshine, watching the ice melt before our eyes.

The energy of spring flows in my veins as I open the windows wide and the fresh spring air fills the house with the clean smell of a new season. The buds start forming on the trees, and the birds even their pleasure with the end of winter. We walk the dog in the sunshine and feel warm and energized. Spring is a time of fresh renewal and infinite possibilities, of beautiful flowers being surveyed by the butterflies, cooking with the fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden and floating along the lake watching the herons and the eagles emerging in the ever increasing sun leading to summer. Enjoy and appreciate the spring for its fresh possibilities!

Kids and the Family Farm

Even though my career took me off of the farm and into the city, I tried to keep my farm roots and connect my own city-raised kids with farm life. Growing up on a farm is a wonderful life for kids. We had kittens and chickens, pigs, cows, dogs, horses and lots of green grass in which to run, and creeks to play in. All of the barns, corn cribs, chickens coops, farm fields and line fences filled with choke cherries, and rock piles – these were our playground. In the summer our bare feet were black on the bottom with ground in dirt that could not be removed even by a long hot bath. We usually Farm_Tractorlooked dirty and we were happy and free.

When we had kids I knew I wanted to give them a taste of that open range and of being able to get dirty and do exploring, so I knew a town size lot would not do. We bought three acres in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, adjacent to a large preserve. We had heavy woods and a large pond to explore. My kids got dirty, they collected frogs and they loved to climb trees and play in the woods.

We took our kids to the Minnesota zoo for animal time and one of my favorite parts is the farm area with goats to pet and baby animals to hold. But we also took every opportunity to visit my friends and relatives’ farms whenever we could manage it. We took them when they were quite young to a dairy farm during calving season and they actually saw a calf being born. My kids got to bottle feed the calves and they watched the elaborate milking operation. It was a fun visit for them, but I enjoyed getting back to the farm Farm_Sara2more than I had expected. I forgot how calm things are and how relaxed I felt around the animals.

I sat and petted the barn cat while watching my kids bottle feed a little calf. They were hesitant at first, but quickly became very comfortable and seemed to be enjoying the fact that they were helping in the chores that needed to be done. It was not staged for them, this was work that had to be done to feed the animals on the farm and they really had a sense of purpose and accomplishment in getting the job done. It helped that my cousin was very patient with them, and as he handed them a bottle he said we have to feed the calves twice a day so they grow big and strong.

As they would finish he would assign them another job to feed the cats or use the fork to spread hay for the cattle. They fed chickens and they rode the four wheeler to deliver more hay to the pasture. The kids did not want to leave and neither did I. As I petted the animals and watched the cattle being milked and saw the milk being Farm_Bencollected in a bulk tank for transport, I felt a sense of loss for no longer being on the farm. There is such a basic sense of purpose when you have animals dependent upon you for life and you are producing the most basic of healthy food. There’s a lot of work to do, but it seems relaxed and everything is moving at a slower pace. The cows are fed, but they also get a little pet on the head as we pass each one. The cats are picked up and cuddled. It is that extra love that goes into the farmers work.

We visited often to give the kids the appreciation for a simpler time and real things that matter. They were so present in the moment as they helped and enjoyed everything that the farm had to offer. They learned to treat animals well and to share and enjoy the days outside. I miss the farm and especially the animals. The farm is a way of life and a connection that we lose in the city if we are not vigilant. Make the time to be outdoors, to visit the zoo and to visit the farms. Almost everyone knows someone on a farm and
Farm_Saramost farm families love to share their way of life. They now even have farms you can visit for a day or stay overnight. It is actually becoming a tourist thing.

Do what you can to keep your connections to the farm, the animals and the crops. Have a garden in your backyard or a pot. Let the kids dig in the dirt. Pick berries and go to the apple orchard. Make butter from cream just for fun. It is sad when kids don’t even know where our food comes from or how to grow simple food. When we do these things for our kids we are many times very surprised by how much fun it is for us and how relaxing a day outside on the farm can be. We don’t think of a farm as entertainment, but it is the most entertaining and relaxing day you can spend with your family.

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Sister Love

IMG_3436I come from a family of five children raised in the 1960’s and 70’s. I am in the exact middle of
the five, with an older sister and brother and two younger brothers. My
only sister, Kathy is the oldest in the family and we are three years apart. We are alike in as many ways as we are different, but we are sisters and that means something, including that we were each other’s first girlfriends and we learned about life, fashion, relationships, boys, and dreams from each other and we always had a closeness that only sisters would understand.

We were each other’s first sleep over buddies as we shared a room while growing up, and we shared clothes and learned how to get along and how to treat others. We played Barbies, house, dress up and we did each other’s hair. We almost always got along, other than one fight that IMG_1218involved kicking each others bikes and some hair pulling. We learned very early from each other, that we did not like fighting and of course we were given a penalty by our mother of picking all of the strawberries in the strawberry patch for our misbehavior, which was a hateful job. My mother was very clever, because having to do the hateful job together for hours, brought us closer together. By the end, we were laughing and throwing strawberries at each other, all in good fun and so we would have less to clean.

As we got into high school and college, we shared clothes and I visited her on campus, and we even went on a double date. We confided in one another and we sought advice on everything from our college plans, to guys and dating. She would come home on weekends from her college and we knew some of the local guys. Don’t tell our mother, but a common activity was IMG_3430parking in the gravel pits. I went with a date one time when Kathy was home. We had been at the bars, her with her friends and me with mine and we each knew the other was out. It was common after the bars closed to continue the party at the gravel pits. It was more of a party place than a place to be alone with a date. When we would get to the gravel pits there were other cars and it became a social event talking with others. My date pulled up to another car to talk to his buddy before we joined the bonfire going on at the pits. I leaned over to see who his buddy was with and it was Kathy. We both laughed and did not say a word, of course until we got home and then we had a good laugh. True story, so don’t deny it Kathy!!

Kathy married a really nice guy and moved to Ortonville, and I moved to the cities after college.
Even though it was hard and even though sometimes we went weeks without contact, we managed even when we were busy raising kids and building our careers to stay IMG_0515close. We called each other when we needed to, but even when we did not have contact for periods of time, we knew the other was there for us anytime we needed a confidant or just someone to listen. We still relied upon each other for that sisterly advice and to gain support or an honest opinion.

After being a nurse for a few years, I decided to take the LSAT and go to law school, and Kathy was the first person in my family that I told. I told her first to have a respected opinion before I told my parents. I think I needed reassurance that I was not crazy to pursue this career especially since I was entering law school, having never even met an attorney. It was a way to test to see if she thought the idea was crazy. She did not know it at the time, but my career and future may have depended in part on her reaction. I respected her opinion and wanted some input from someone who knew me the best of anyone in the world.140220 859 Had she said anything to make me think I was out of my mind to think I wanted to go to law
school, I may have rethought the idea. In true sister fashion, she was one hundred percent supportive. She started with “If that is what you want, you go for it.” And she was supportive in telling me she believed in my ability to handle the challenge. She always knew what to say and she knew how to be supportive.

As we have aged, we have grown even closer. We have called each other with worries about our kids or now with our parents, and we provide each other that listening ear and advice. We are IMG_0519now both empty nesters, and Kathy has an early retirement as a teacher. This gives her more time to come visit and plan for our sister fun. In the last few years we have become concert buddies, going to Billy Joel, the Eagles, Madonna and Fleetwood Mac. She usually buys the tickets online, as she is good at watching and buying at just the right time to get the good seats, and then comes to my house to stay and we get dressed up and make an event of it. It is so much fun, we take selfies and post on Facebook, and we dance and clap to music that was popular when we were in college. We reminisce about our college days and we catch up on our lives and our kid’s lives.

We have also gotten together at the lake house for a little sister bonding time. We went paddle boarding, kayaking and biking. It is so nice having a sister who enjoys the same things I enjoy, and it is different being with a sister than a friend. Friends are great, but a sister is special. A sister will support and encourage you even if your dreams may be far fetched, but a sister will also be brutally honest if that dress makes you look like a grandma, in a bad way.IMG_2312

Kathy has worked really hard to be in top physical shape.   She is an inspiration with her competitive running and daily bike rides. I need to emulate that more, as I sit behind a desk too much of the time. I had a great bike ride with her a few weeks ago. I had always poked fun at bike riders who wear lycra. I do trail rides and while I can ride easily for 25 miles and have done 50 miles many times, I had taken pride in the fact that I do not wear lycra.

On this particular ride with Kathy, she broke out the riding shorts with the gel padded seat and put them on for our anticipated 25 mile ride. I laughed, because that is what sisters do and she told me in that big sister voice that IMG_2814she brought a pair for me to try. I said I was not wearing those, because they make my butt look big. She said, in a very matter of fact way, “What do you care, you’re not for sale anyway.” (Referring to the fact that I am married and have been for almost 30 years). A good point and one I had not really thought about. “Besides…” she said, “who sees you on the bike trail anyway?” Another very good point. She was always the smarter of the two of us. She was so right, but I have to say I was hesitant at the utility of the shorts in relationship to the butt magnitude.  Well it only took a few miles to appreciate what I have been missing for years. The bike shorts were awesome and it not only made the ride better and smoother, but I could go a lot more miles without discomfort. I admitted to her that she was once again right, and then in IMG_2780true sisterly fashion, she had not only convinced me that the shorts were awesome, she took that extra step to buy me some on her way back home through St. Cloud and mail them to me. That is a sister!!

I have always been close to my family. I have wonderful brothers and have great parents. I am lucky to have close friends and to have stayed close to many of my cousins and extended family, but a bond with your sister is like no other. I have only one sister and maybe that affects my perspective, but a sister is unique. The bond between sisters is not like any other. We do not need to talk to each other every day or even every week, but we know the other is always there and would drop everything we are doing if the other needed help. We share experiences together and enjoy each other’s company. We confide in each other and look to the other for advice, comfort and sometimes just to listen. I have been lucky to have a sister in my life and to share the sister love!

 

Crazy Fun Cousins

84cI grew up in Buckman, Minnesota in the sixties and seventies, surrounded by great grandparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and all kinds of cousins. The Buckman/Pierz area was settled by German Catholic farmers. It was a great place to grow up. Our farm was just outside of Buckman. My dad had grown up in Buckman and my mom in Pierz. My dad’s parents lived about a mile away across the fields, and my mother’s family lived a few miles away just south and east of Pierz.

My great grandparents settled in the area when they came from Austria and Germany with their families in the late 1800’s. It was, and still is, a tight knit community where everyone knows everyone else and they socialize mainly through church activities and hunting, fishing and farming interests. We were always surrounded by extended family. If anyone got married or died everyone attended. We went to every church Bazaar and our family social 34elife was mainly visiting and hanging out with relatives.

My dad had only one brother, who was a priest, but he had a cousin, Ray in the area who was like a brother and his kids were close in age and we played with them a lot over the years. My mom was the oldest of a family of six and her dad was from a family of six, and her mom was from a family of ten, so there were a lot of cousins and second cousins and great aunts and uncles and so on. Family reunions were a blast!

27fMy mom had two sisters who were close to her age. In her family they had three girls and then three boys. One of her sister’s, Marilyn, settled in Buckman about two miles away from our farm and the other, Corrine, settled just east of Pierz. Marilyn had seven children, Corrine had five and we had five. The kids spanned in age over about a 15 year or more period, but we usually all played together. We were very good at being inclusive rather than exclusive. As one of the older ones, I remember having big family get togethers and I would almost always be carrying a baby or watching after a younger child. I usually had a little one on my lap and it usually was not my younger brother, but a young cousin.

Everyone got along really well or at least after all of these years, I don’t remember any real 82econflict. I do remember that we stuck together on our outdoor adventures and we watched out for each other and the little ones. Back then our parents did not hover. We were left to run around the farm and play without any supervision. The parents played cards or visited and they expected us to get along, play nice, and not do anything dangerous. We knew the expectations and most often followed the rules.

We sometimes went to parks together and sometimes just got together at each other’s farm or Grandma’s farm. We played ball in the summer and had just enough kids to make it work for fielding. The pitcher and everyone moved in when a little kid went to bat and pitched it slow and we older kids pretended not to catch the ball, so they could run some bases. We went ice skating and built snow forts in the winter, and we sometimes stayed in and played board games like Clue, Operation, Monopoly and Life. We
11cplayed in the hay barns and the corn fields and we climbed trees and we rode bikes. We were outdoor kids.

When we got thirsty and hungry we sometimes snuck into the house and one kid took potatoes chips and another took a bottle or two of pop and we went out to the barn and shared our loot. Sometimes we also took the Ketchup from the refrigerator and used it as dip. Once in a while we took a package of Jell-O and shared the powder out of the box. It was exactly like the old time candy called Pixie sticks. I think that may still be around. Had we asked for the treats, I am sure our parentIMG_3177s would have given them to us and I am sure they knew we were taking them, but sneaking in to take them was a lot more fun and adventurous.

My aunt Marilyn lived closest to us. She originally had an old farm house that was two stories and we loved playing there. When we were young I remember we had Pop It bead fights. Pop it beads were plastic, hand-size beads that connected together to make things. It was really a baby toy but we used them as grenades for Pop It bead fights. If you grew up in the fifties and sixties you have seen them. I am not so sure they still make those, but I still have some that I found for my kids and I kept them because of my fond memories of sitting behind furniture in teams and having a pile of Pop It beads next to us, and throwing them at each other in a Pop It bead war of sorts. This sounds strange, but I have vivid memories of playing that in my aunt’s farm house. I also remember doing Light Bright with my cousins, and then turning off the lights y60r00442ato admire our creation. They also had one of the coolest doll houses. It was made of metal and had rugs and wall paper painted onto the metal. We had doll furniture and dolls to arrange in the dollhouse, and surprisingly that kept us busy for hours in the upstairs play area. Marilyn had the seven children and she had a really fun and loud house. We liked going there.

My aunt Corrine also lived in a two story farm house, but outside of Pierz, so it was a little 84afarther away. They had a horse before any of us, so that was our first opportunity to become comfortable around horses. She had a fun farm with rolling hills and dairy cows. I distinctly remember being upstairs at Corrine’s house playing with multiple cousins and playing on the bed, which of course got carried away into jumping on the bed and one of us jumped too high and hit the light fixture and broke it and the light bulb. It made a crash to be
sure and we all became very silent waiting for the yell from the parents who were playing 25acards on the main level. It took no time at all for one of the parents to be yelling what was going on up there and of course we gave the standard answer of, “Nothing, the light just broke on its own.”

The parents had their standard laugh and exchanges of those statements of those darn kids and then the standard reply was to tell us to settle down and behave. We played a lot in their hay barn and in the outbuildings which were full of cool old farm stuff. Corrine had an apple tree and was an excellent cook and baker. She was the best! We looked forward to her dinners and her apple pie.

We played and got together at our farm too. We had endless fields and beef cows and lots of outbuildings including a storage shed we referred to as the shendy. We played a game over the top of the shendy called Annie Annie Over where you had teams on each side and the ball was thrown over the top of the shendy. If 24athe team on the other side caught it, they all came running over to the other side to tag out the other team. If we got tired of games we thought of other shenanigans. We climbed in the barns and the silo. Once at our farm we convinced my cousin Karen to climb a knotted tree of ours that was not very high and then to jump down into a large blanket being held around the sides like we had seen firefighters do on TV. There were about ten kids holding around the edge of the blanket, but that blanket never even slowed her down. She hit the ground with a thud. Luckily she had jumped feet first and only had a sprained ankle. Sometimes we tried things we should not have. We played a lot of Kick the Can at our farm and hid in the corn fields around the house. We swung in the barns and we made hay forts. It was a nice place to grow up.

We played at Ray’s farm too. Our cousins there were also close in age and his farm was the most fun. He had chickens of all colors, geese, and turkeys wandering lose in the yard. You could hunt for eggs and play in the corn cribs. Ray’s farmyard was, and still is, full of beautiful flowers.24e

Some of our cousins were almost as close as siblings and even though some of us have left the Buckman/ Pierz area, and are scattered around Minnesota, we remain close. Some of us still go camping together and get together for dinners, parties and family events. We still see each other at funerals and weddings. We make time for family, because family is important.  

Our parents and aunts and uncles taught us to be good people and to value family. They taught us to let everybody play, to be fair and to be nice to the younger, weaker kids. Nothing else would have been tolerated. They taught us to be gracious winners and good losers. They taught us to be polite, respectful and helpful. They taught us that it is OK to explore, but they also taught us to watch out for each other.   These were all great life lessons that are just as important today in our workplaces, in our homes, schools and in our neighborhoods as well as just the right way to live our lives. The world would be a beautiful place if everyone lived by the rules we learned with our cousins. We may not be able to change the entire world, but we can do our best to live by these rules in our daily lives and hopefully set an example for others. Living by these simple rules not only is the right thing to do, but it makes our little part of the world a better place for all.Cousins Galore