Blood Knots and Swedish Pimples

As many of my blog followers know, I do not like to let grass grow under my feet. My year is divided into a plethora of outdoor activities that run the gamut from ice fishing to antler shed hunting to duck hunting. Every season is full of reasons to be in the woods, stomping around the marsh, or on the water.

Ice fishing is in full swing right now and I have been getting out every weekend since before Christmas to enjoy some quiet time in my portable ice shack and catch fish. My shack is of the old Fish Trap variety with a myriad of holes in it from a combination of much use and critters who have a taste for old canvas. The fact that it probably belongs in a fishing museum does not take away from its usefulness in keeping me cozy, with the aid of a propane heater, even on days when the temps dip well below zero.

So, what is the draw to pulling a 50lb shack out across a stretch of frozen sloughs with the sting of negative degree wind-chills freezing my face worse than a Hollywood Botox clinic? For one, I am a sucker for braving the elements. The feel of icy air in my lungs is invigorating and to be out on a frozen sheet of ice at a time when everyone else would rather be tucked in at home makes me feel like I am truly living. Also, ice fishing holds a certain nostalgia for me in that it was something I did with my dad when I was a child.

As I mentioned before, my dad taught me about life. He was all about showing me how to fend for myself and that included hunting and fishing lessons which I absorbed with great gusto. I was no girly girl. In the summer I would dig worms to fill rusty coffee cans and fish the creeks for chubs that we kept in a dented milk can full of spring water. In the winter we would load up our rickety ice shack with thick summer sausage sandwiches on homemade bread, thermoses of hot chocolate and coffee, a few rods, our bait and we would be on our way. I remember the anticipation I felt riding in that 1970 Chevy pickup. I can still smell the vinyl of the seats and feel the cold of the window nip my fingertips as I drew pictures in the frost.

When one is a child, everything is magical because the imagination has not yet been tamed by the reality of adulthood. Even mundane events have the potential to be an adventure and for me, arriving at the frozen lake we were to fish was akin to landing upon a newly discovered planet. The wind whipped across the barren landscape like a scene straight out of Star Wars and old ice holes became indentations left by ancient meteors in my 7 year old mind. We were on a great quest to find life below the crust of this whole new world and I was ready to begin.

The buildup to the actual event was more dramatic than what gernerally followed but, once we were settled, my dad and I would spend hours chatting about anything and everything in the warm glow of a sunflower heater. I heard every one of his childhood stories, advice on how to tie the perfect blood knot, how to properly thread a wax worm on a freshly sharpened hook, and how the Swedish Pimple was the ONLY lure to use for picky pan fish.

My dad was a gruff man who never showed much emotion except anger but when we were alone in that ice shack he was a different person altogether. If I got bored with fishing he would pull out my ice skates and tell me to go for a spin but to not fall in any spear holes. He wanted me to have fun and to learn. For me, however, the icing on the cake was to have my dad actually want to spend time with me.

I have not been fishing with my dad in years. He is 83 years old now and entering a new stage in his life that involves relocating my mom into a permanent nursing home for her Alzheimer’s care. His lungs can no longer take the cold and he just doesn’t have the energy anymore. So, I go out and in my mind he is right there with me making me laugh with his stories, telling me what I need to do next time to catch more fish, and just being there enjoying each other’s company.

Life goes by very quickly, as we all know, however, things slow down a bit when you go out on the ice or into the woods. I can flip the top closed on my ice shack and shut out the entire world for hours. Basking in old memories, making new ones, continuously learning lessons that will help me when I go out again. Then, when it is time to go home, I open up my shack and blink against the sudden brightness of light on new fallen snow. Everything is the same as it was but somehow it is different. Or perhaps it is me that has changed in those hours on the ice and my eyes are more focused on what is important because I allowed myself a moment to slow down, to stop time and just live.

In Solitude But Not Alone

The topic of this post was inspired by questions I get concerning my penchant for being alone. Do you really go hunting and fishing alone? Don’t you get scared? Don’t you get lonely? The questions go on and on so I feel it is time to address them.

I grew up in a very strict German household. I had few friends growing up and my nearest sibling was 20 years older than me. I was an imaginative child surrounded by adults and was expected to behave as one myself. I was taught to read and write long before I entered school so books became my escape. My kindergarten teacher signaled me out each day as a classroom nuisance because I could read at a level far beyond my age therefore I was bored with school and acted out. I was forced to spend my recesses alone in the classroom because I was too “disruptive.” Solitude became the best friend of a strange lonely child.

At my uncle’s farm I would spend hours alone in the hay loft or calf pen making up elaborate adventures in my head so vivid that the real world faded before my eyes and the world of my stories became reality. I never felt alone, in fact I sought solitude as a way to escape from my parent’s constant arguing over my father’s infidelity. I hid under the walnut table in the dining room pretending I was in a vast cave full of jewels and gold.

By the time I entered college, writing my stories down in journals became a passion. I had, again, few friends and spent most of my time holed up in my dorm room studying, writing, and drawing as art was another one of my outlets. 

Academia aside, I also discovered hunting and fishing at a young age. Long summer days would be spent sitting on sun bleached docks catching fat bluegills. Fall brought hunting and I would again spend hours alone in a deer stand or duck blind conversing with my God and truly feeling at peace.

The problem with solitude is it becomes an addiction, a need, one which must be fed or the consequences are devastating. I have hunted in groups and fished with others but the older I get the stronger the need to do it on my own becomes. Perhaps that makes me a hermit of sorts, so be it. 

When I am alone in the swamp during duck season the sunrise does not have to compete with senseless conversation. The whisper of duck wings is not missed because someone next to me coughed. The beauty of nature is absorbed through every pore, I am at peace, I am happy.

The same can be said of deer hunting and fishing. The joy in solitude comes from the absence of endless prattle. The pure quite broken only by nature itself and not man. 

The enjoyment of nature is not the only benefit of solitude, the enjoyment of life is another. All too often we define our lives by how many people we can befriend while at the same time being a horrible friend to ourselves. We enter relationships out of desperation in fear of being alone. We love people who don’t love us in return and we break our own hearts over and over. 

I am not exempt from this. I fell, more than once for men who quickly grew bored with me, cheated me, lied, used me and completely knocked me down to a sniveling mess. I blamed myself, staring into mirrors cursing my lack of beauty, my lack of money, my redneckness, my unladylike penchant for hunting and fishing, the fact that I wasn’t a woman a man could love, the list went on and on of reasons why I was alone. Then I realized how much better I always was in life when it was just me. I was more alone when I was in love than when I was by myself in the past. 

So, I embraced solitude once again as a balm for my broken heart. My art flourished, my writing came back, hunting and fishing became once again the things that I poured myself into. I got my happiness back. I quit basing the value of my life on the estimation of others and as a result I am once again moving forward. 

Now I am not saying that you should all be like me. Even I know that human interaction is necessary and something I do seek out in moderation but, again, I have very few friends. They are few but of high quality because that is what I deserve. I tried loving and failed miserably, so, I shall continue to focus on what I am good at and that is living. 

If you get anything out of this I hope it is the understanding that there is a huge difference between solitude and being alone. With solitude you have yourself and the ability to silently enjoy everything around and within you. With being alone you fail to realize that you have yourself and that you should love that person with all your heart before you let anyone else in. 

Little Blue Dress

I remember silently opening the bottom drawer of my mother’s dresser when I was 7 years old. Inside were boxes of cheap paste jewelry, ornate hankies that smelled of sunshine and mom, baby keepsake books, and a dress.

The dress was the palest of blue, piped in white with pearly buttons, an impossibly tiny bodice accentuated a full calf length skirt. The style spoke of the demure 1950’s and it was beautifully handmade. It was my mother’s wedding dress.

On January 19, 1957 Joanne buttoned up a blue cotton dress with trembling fingers as her best friend Myra fussed over her hair. Dark, glossy ringletts fell from Joanne’s forehead matching dark chocolate color of her eyes. Sitting in front of a pitted mirror in the visitor’s quarters at Fort Chaffee, she touched up her bright cherry lipstick and was ready.

In front of the entire platoon, Joanne married the man of her dreams. 6ft tall and muscular, Duane filled out an army uniform in a way that turned heads and he knew it. Amid cheers and cat calls they sealed the deal with a kiss and prepared for a long life together.

Now, 60 years later, black and white photographs tell the story of their early years together, the two children that were born right away, and the years of struggling to make ends meet. It was not easy. Duane was a provider but he also liked his drinks and he loved his women. If he didn’t come home at night mom would load up the kids and drive to his favorite bars and ladies houses. Not to interrupt him, just to make sure he was safe and not dead in a ditch somewhere.

They stuck it out. Through hard times, infidelity, two heart surgeries that nearly killed my dad, all of the worst things that could happen in a marriage and now my Mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.

The woman who was once a fiesty 5ft tall, 100lb beauty is now an old woman sitting in a nursing home while the memories of her youth play tricks with her confused mind. She cries out for people who are long since deceased, she gets angry, she gets frustrated, she knows who I am and then she forgets. She holds my hand in a death grip then turns to caress my cheek with the kind of tenderness only a mother can show. She has become a contradiction. A once strong, smart, active woman reduced to wandering the halls of a place that is not her home, searching for that which is no longer there.

My father rages silently to himself about how things could have been different. How he wishes he would have changed the course of his life, moved to a different town when they had the chance to buy that restored ranch on two acres, and spent their money before the nursing home came and took it all.

Yet, amid all of his musings, he fails to find comfort in the fact that some people would give up all they own just to have a woman like my mother by their side if only for a day. He had 60 years of unconditional, unrelenting love from a woman who made everyone around her better from just basking in her light. My dad taught me about life, Mom taught me about love.

I will never have someone love me for 60 years, some of us do not even get the privilege of living 60 years, and the lesson in all of this is realizing what it is you have been blessed with before time runs out. Some of you have been together decades, some of you have lived alone for decades and are now just meeting the love of your lives, some of you are regretting never trying, while some of you may not have love but you are giving love to those in need. Of all the things that transpired in the past 60 years for my parents the one thing I learned is that unconditional love should never be taken for granted because few people have the strength and capacity to love the way my mom loved all of us and all of those around her. As my mom once said “With all your heart or not at all!”

Silver Spoons

Some people are born with silver spoons while some people have to carve theirs out of wood with a dull knife. The struggle teaches far more than the privilege yet we are conditioned under that archaic system of classes to believe that the value of a person is relative to the size of their coffers. 

I was born the daughter of a man who had an 8th grade education and a mom who graduated high school to go right into marriage and child rearing at the age of 18. We were never rich, the majority of my clothes came from garage sales and clearance racks. I remember the envy I would feel towards the “popular” girls with their designer clothes who always got picked first while I warmed the bench at basketball and volleyball games. It was frustrating, disheartening, and even when I landed myself a pair of coveted Nike Air tennis shoes the rest of me didn’t match the expense.

To this day, as an adult, my origins are as engraved into my appearance and psyche as a battle scar. I have the college degree, earned after 5 years of cloistering myself in a 10×8 dorm room and studying as though my life depended on it. Back then I thought it did. I thought that if I immersed myself in academia I would bleach out my past and be reborn a smart, chic, intelligent woman of the times with high heels clicking down the hallway to success.

The truth is, I never used that degree that I gave up 5 years of my life and a huge chunk of my parents savings for. Instead I work sometimes multiple jobs to make ends meet and while my main source of income comes from an office in which I click around in those proverbial high heels, I am not treading the hallway to success. I am inherently reminded of my place. Sometimes you just have to play by those rules, and then get a backbone and make your own because you know you are better, deserve better.

I’m still that awkward kid in second hand clothes deep down. Yes I dress the part and try to appear chic and put together as the girl in my last post called me. But, I look down at my hands and see dirt under the nails from cleaning barns so I scrub and paint my nails only to noticed how chapped and unsightly my hands are from the cleaning solutions I use. My clothes look cheap and shabby next to the women I see while running errands in their expensive wool coats and Italian leather boots. The silk purse and sows ear adage suits and I duck my head in shame.

I have allowed this false sense of insecurity, yes insecurity, ruin relationships. I feel every relationship is a competition and that the person I am with could do much better than me. I have dismorphia when it comes to my beauty and my value as a partner.  Or, I enter into relationships with men who feed me crumbs and I pretend they are feasts. I have so much to give but feel that what I have is akin to giving someone a bag full of non perishables and no one wants things that last anymore. I’m too old fashioned, too much, not enough. 

The girl I mentioned in my last post comes to mind and I get over myself very quickly. She was not ashamed of her eagerness to find a job, any job. Although she was shy, she made no attempt to belie her class in society and pretend to be something she wasn’t. She marched into our office alone, unashamed, grateful just to have an ear to listen to her story. And, everyday her wooden spoon was judged and scorned by the silver spoons but that didn’t stop her. 

So I tell myself, you are more than just a clothes rack. You are the daughter of people who had nothing but gave you everything you needed to survive on your own. You can hunt, fish, can fruits and vegetables, sew, take on jobs that no one wants, and you have eyes that see not faces but hearts and souls.

Class, money, spoons, they mean nothing in the end. I will take my wooden spoon over privilege any day of the week and I will light that sucker on fire so that others have a light to see just how valuable they are as well!

Freidrich

I am the kind of person who goes through life flying by the seat of her pants. I make flash decisions without doing all the research and yet live with no regrets. I have found that when I allow myself to ponder my ponderings turn to over thinking which turns to insecurity and thus, inaction. So I act quickly and worry about the consequences later.

I had been paying frequent visits to a friend’s dairy goat farm a year ago when one evening I entered the loafing barn and saw a tiny white and black newborn goat huddled in the straw while his mother munched on grain. He was an angel in my eyes. As white as new snow with just enough black markings to create a pleasant contrast. The sound of his bleating melted my heart and the feel of his velveteen muzzle nibbling on my fingers won me over completely.

He was to be sold as a meat goat I was told. My blood ran cold, I felt physically ill and knew I had to do something. I had some money at home from the sale of my ATV. I had a barn at my disposal, I was ready. I took home that sweet little boy and two more baby goats. A female Toggenburg which I named Marta, a female Nubian which I named Liesl, and of course my little boy whom I named Freidrich. 

What joy these babies brought to my life!! Early morning feedings with soda bottles fitted with nipples, sitting in the pen with them as they crawled all over me nibbling and pressing up against me for hugs and kisses. They filled a very large hole in my life, they brought me happiness that I never dreamed myself capable of. 

In May all of my happiness came to an end. Friedrich started yelling day after day as though he was in pain. I spoke with the farmer I got him from. He was silent on the phone and I feared the worst. At 8pm I rushed him to the emergency vet and at 9:30 he was taking his last breath. Friedrich had developed urinary tract stones and there was nothing they could do so I had to make the decision to wait until his bladder burst or allow him to pass peacefully without pain. Friedrich was 3 months old, he was my greatest comfort, my joy, my baby and he was lying lifeless in my arms. 

I was numb all the way home. Friedrich’s little body lay in the backseat wrapped in a towel, my heart was broken. Then I started crying, I cried for hours over the loss of life, over all the things I had been through in life that no one but that little goat could mend, I cried in loneliness, I cried in rage over how everyone I ever have loved either left me or died, I cried until I went still. I thought I would lose my mind, to be honest. 

Friedrich was buried under a pile of boulders in the new play area being constructed for my goats. Liesl and Marta called out for him day after day, I could not heal. Headaches were frequent, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t move on. People would tell me that he was just a goat, a farm animal, get over it. Those words hurt. I am not able to have children, my mom had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, things were not going well at work, and those goats were my only source of joy. 

After particularly bad days at work I would go out to the barn and Friedrich would be the first to come running. He would jump into my lap and snuggle his little head under my chin while I let my tears of frustration flow. He loved me, he was always so happy to see me, and he healed me in so many ways. How does one just simply “get over” that?

In June the farmer I got Friedrich from presented me with a tiny, floppy eared, Nubian buckling to help ease the pain of losing Friedrich. Then a couple weeks later he called with directions to a farm 2 hours south and when I got there the owner came out of the barn with a tiny, yet long legged, white and black Alpine buckling just like Friedrich. It was June 11th, my birthday.

Gunter and Gustav became my world. I kept them in the house and would wrap them in blankets so they could nap with me on the couch. They went with me all over and Marta and Liesl soon adopted them as their new brothers. My family was complete again. My heart was still broken but I had not lost the capacity to love.

Animals are great healers. Somehow they have the ability to enter our lives and make them better. They love unconditionally, do not judge, do not suddenly decide to stop loving you, and they give everything they have. I will never be fully over the loss of my Freidrich but his death taught me a very valuable lesson in how short life truly is, how things can change at the drop of a hat, and how you are never truly alive until you have loved someone so much that to lose them is like losing yourself.

Someday

Perhaps one of the most depressing words in the English language is the word “Someday.” When I hear it spoken it always comes out with a hint of longing or regret. A word of defeat, a word of hope without hope, a word that, in some cases, is synonymous with “never.”

The older I get, the more I dispise the word “Someday” because it reminds me of how, no matter how many years, decades even, have gone by, my somedays just keep getting farther and farther away. Then I fall into berating myself for how much time I have wasted, how many mistakes I have made personally, financially, and spiritually. I get frustrated, I give up, I get motivated then fail to get started, I cry, I rage, but nothing changes.

I know I am not the only one caught in this web of wanting to move forward to our somedays but being held back by routine, lack of funding, lack of guidance, lack of ambition brought on by the sting of too many failures, bad relationship choices,  lack of faith in ones own self, etc…

To re-write a saying I once read; It is sad when you have failed so many times that you start saying “I’m used to it.” But, are bumps along the road really failure? I think not!! Refusing to get started is what constitutes failure, refusing to work hard at what we want is failure, refusing to keep trying, that is failure and I have failed more often than not.

45 minutes from my place of employment is a farm. It is for sale. 9 acres of woods and pasture, a white farmhouse with a porch, a red barn, an outdoor brick oven for baking… I see it in my minds eye, that utopia I have searched for, given up on, then searched for again. It exists, however, it is real and tangible, it is for sale. It is $269,00. It might as well be $269,000,000 that negative voice in my head tells me and in the tip of my tongue is that horrid word “Someday.”

I don’t want to wait for an obscure date in the future that may never come. I am tired of excuses for why I am not living the life I deserve because frankly I got right where I am because I didn’t do anything to deserve more. I refused to acknowledge that I am an artist who could be making money off of my art, I scoffed at the fact that companies wanted to publish my writings, I degraded myself to the point where I felt I was not worth working on. “Someday” I would pursuse those things, I said, just not today.

As we speak my mom sits in a nursing home not knowing where she is or even what day it is. Years ago she looked forward to her retirement and how “Someday” she would finish all those quilts she wanted to make. Well, here we are and all those somedays don’t mean a damn thing because time ran out. Mom will never sew again, never see new places, never have dreams to keep her going, or hopes for the future. 

I wonder what she would have done had she known what would transpire in her later years. Would she have stayed single, joined the WACS like she always talked about, would she have lived for more than just 3 children and a difficult husband? Or is what happened to her a glimpse into my own life’s mirror? A chance to throw a stone at the reflection and see more in the shards than what was displayed before?

9 acres, a home, a place to keep my goats, all of my somedays in one physical location, happiness, dreams coming true, a business of my own, freedom, how? By changing all of those somedays into someways, and some hows. Someday has no guarantees and I am tired of banking my future on that kind of uncertainty. We always think we have more time but the harsh reality is that we have less and less each day.  I may not get those 9 acres overnight but it will not be from a lack of trying. 

Christmas Cookies

This time of the year the one thing I miss the most is baking Christmas cookies with my Mom. Every holiday season our baking was something akin to an Olympic event involving painstaking preparation and powerful tests of endurance. We would line up our ingredients, crank the Loretta Lynn Christmas album and get to work.

The first recipe on the docket was always the one for rolled sugar cookies because the dough had to chill in our “Polish Refrigerator” aka the un-insulated back porch, for a couple of hours to firm up to make the cut outs.

Everything was done from scratch from the fragrant smooth dough to the decadent icing tinted every color of the rainbow. Mom would pull open the stubborn bottom drawer of her kitchen cabinet, the one that always smelled of the brown sugar stored in the drawer above, and retrieve an ice cream pail full of cookie cutters as old as time.

In the yellow glow of the kitchen light the aluminim cutters reflected warmly on the worn Formica countertop. I would eagerly dig through the pile to find Santa with his gift bag, the snowflake, and my favorite leaping reindeer cutters, relieved that they survived another year.

With the table liberally dusted in flour, Mom would roll out sections of dough with a 50 year old rolling pin that creaked with each push. Silken dough, perfectly chilled, was rolled to 1/4 inch thickness before cutting into the cheerful shapes of the season. Hearts, diamonds, spades, Santa’s, reindeer, snowflakes, clubs, and stars covered well seasoned cookie sheets lined in parchment.

The cozy house soon filled with the scent of warm sugar, butter, and of home at Christmas. I would eagerly watch through the amber tinted glass of the oven door for the cookies to finish baking and then hours were spent in decoration. Mom would whip up a large batch of basic powdered sugar icing with just enough Watkins vanilla to turn simple into spectacular and set me to work with bowls for mixing colors.

Red for Santa was the most important and drop by drop from a tear shaped bottle of coloring would be added to achieve the correct hue. Containers of sprinkles emerged from the battered spice drawer perfumed with the exotic scents of cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. The icing was applied and quickly after the dusting of sprinkles, silver and gold baubles, and colored sugar that dyed fingers red and green.

Sheets of waxed paper spread across the dining room table like red carpets awaiting special guests. Soon, row upon colorful row of cookies littered the table painstakingly decorated by clumsy yet determined 7 year old hands. A Christmas mosaic of sugar laden artwork.

The memories of our special baking days sits neatly in the part of my heart reserved for that which I hold most dear. I cannot stir flour, butter, and sugar together without picturing Mom in her calico apron piped in peach fabric, her work worn hands gently guiding my soft childish ones in the making of so many recipes. Yes, one could say, the golden glow of a mother’s love never fades even when she is no longer capable of expressing it.

With this post from Christmas Past I wish to share with you our favorite rolled sugar cookie recipe so that you too can create memories to cherish like mine.

Corn Syrup Cookies

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 cup butter at room temp

2 eggs

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Dash of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of Watkins Pure Vanilla Extract

1/4 cup corn syrup

Beat sugar and eggs until lemon yellow. Add syrup and vanilla, stir in dry ingredients to make a smooth dough. Chill 2 hours. Roll out on floured surface and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.

And at 350° on parchment lined cookie sheets until the edges are slightly golden. When cool, ice with your favorite icing.

Icing on the Cake

With winter fast approaching I always laugh at people who bundle up like they are headed out on a trans Siberian adventure when they are merely going to the mailbox at the end of their drive.

Living in Wisconsin the number of complaints filed to the weather gods rivals that of the daily postage arriving at the North Pole this time of year. People curse the cold, stomp their feet, and proclaim loudly about how much they hate winter. What is the reason for so much animosity? The cold temps, messy roads, snow to shovel? With all the energy that goes into hating winter isn’t there at least one positive? Oh yes my friends, there are many.

Ice fishing! The best tasting fish of the entire year are the ones caught through the ice from December through March. Every winter I drag out my Fish Trap ice shack and treck across frozen backwater sloughs to my favorite spots. The crisp air stings in my nostrils and through watery eyes I survey the bays for the perfect local to drop a line. It is either feast or famine out there and while nothing beats sunfish fried in butter, just a few hours out in the peaceful quite of my shack melts away the stress of a long work week.

Hiking! I absolutely love going hiking in the winter through snow frosted forests. Like a sparkling wedding cake, the landscape is perfectly iced without a single flaw save for the tracks of woodland creatures going about their winter routines. The clear sharp air clears my lungs and the most minute of sounds is amplified and carried to my cold nipped ears. Squirrels rustling, deer foraging, and birds of prey swooping almost silently down into the snow to catch a meal while the sun reflects off of crystalline surfaces painting rainbows on pure white templates. Every sense is heightened in winter. Unable to succumb to the sluggishness that warm weather fosters, the cold has a way of heightening and sharpening awareness of ones self and ones surroundings.

I could go on and on extolling the joys of the season and I am a firm believer that people who partake of the outdoors regularly, no matter the weather, are happier and, as a result, healthier people. I am living proof of this in the fact that I can feel a change in me when I have not had enough time in the wilderness. Headaches become frequent, irritability takes over, and my mood becomes generally glum until I get outside for a few hours. Yet there are those who think I’m crazy for feeling this way. The outdoors is my therapy, my spa, my place of renewal despite the weather because there is so much to experience when you head out into the woods, fields, and valleys.

Tell me how one cannot find beauty and peace while standing amid falling snowflakes. Angel feathers dropping from the sky to gently kiss upturned faces. Or the watercolor glow of a January sunset melting across sky and frozen land like a overturned painters pot spilling warm color before darkness falls. How can one complain about the cold when bearing witness to mornings following a fresh snowfall when every twig and surface is flocked in lacy white sweaters knitted by unseen hands?

There is beauty in the death that signals winter. Life yet to be discovered and savored with each icy breath, each crunching step. The cold months are a time of inner renewal, a time to explore and push ones limits and find splendor where others see only despair. Perhaps the sole purpose of winter is to serve as a test, a test of endurance, a test of appreciation, a test of imagination. Or maybe it is what I have called it all along; a gift.

The Art of Giving Thanks

I am well enough aware that the internet and blogging community will be full of Thanksgiving posts speaking volumes on the origins and meaning of the Holiday. I will not try to veer from that theme but merely share my thoughts and memories about a the day we all gather to give thanks.

At 5am the motor fired up on Mom’s ancient meat grinder as she fed through it’s churning blades the various and unexpected ingredients for Grandma Lenzen’s German stuffing. I would pull the covers over my head in an attempt to drown out the incessant noise to no avail. Mom and Dad made preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the 6 of us sound like they were creating a feast for the 7 kingdoms. Dad would bark orders, Mom would scurry around the tiny kitchen dicing here, peeling there, stirring this, and mashing that. I watched, learned and then crept off to find the turkey coloring page in the newspaper while watching Macy’s parade on TV.

Then came the wait, and I’m not talking about waiting on the food. The wait for my sister and her husband to make the 30 minute drive to our house which seemed to take them 40 days and 40 nights. When they finally arrived, my sister would unpack her kidney shaped Tupperware container of 7 layer salad and I would go about the business of snatching off as many hard boiled egg slices as I could while no one was looking.

When it was finally time to eat, we all gathered around that old butternut table, said Grace, and dug in. Each flavor was one to savor, so familiar yet foreign in the fact that it had not been partaken of in an entire year. We ate until our eyes bulged then Mom wold bring out dented aluminum pans filled with desserts and we would eat again.

Dishes were washed and games played while Bing Crosby crooned in the background about a white Christmas. It was a cozy time, a time to soak in all the love and comfort that a small family shares. A time to make memories and to recall old ones to laugh over again. I miss those days.

Since being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my mom can no longer commandeer the kitchen. Part, a huge part, of the Holiday cheer has vanished. The food doesn’t taste the same because her hands and her love are not preparing it. The memories are not as funny, home doesn’t quite feel like home anymore. Yet, time goes on.

Change is something we expect in life except when it comes to the holidays. We never want to see that picture postcard Thanksgiving or Christmas of our childhood to ever end. The holidays are the one thing we can still count on as adults to give us the wonder of being a child again. We look for Santa at the mall, we gaze fondly at brightly wrapped presents, we snatch colorfully iced cookies off of sugar laden trays, and we watch Christmas programs on TV just to capture the nostalgia of a time when innocence had not yet been lost to the demands of adulthood.

Like a time machine, boxes of decorations take us back as we unwrap memories with each ornament. We prepare food that has the flavor of times long past that allow us to cling to happy memories of moments that will never be again.

For me, the holidays may have lost a bit of their cheer but I give thanks for the memories I do have of a warm home, good food, and family. Although things will never be the same perhaps it is a sign that it is time to make changes of my own. To share the blessings, invite new members to my circle, volunteer more and give others the chance to expierece the holidays through my eyes. Giving thanks is not to be isolated to one day but something practiced the year over. The gifts of the season are not to be contained in boxes and stockings but to pour forth from full hearts and believing souls. So, on this approaching Thanksgiving I wish all of you the very best and challenge you to make one change in your routine that includes touching a life that might not otherwise have reason to celebrate. God bless.

Antlers for Supper

“You can’t eat antlers!” My dad used to say to me when I was a kid and complained that no big bucks ever came our way. I was not impressed by shooting does, I wanted that big 30 point buck to come my way so I could prove to the world that this 11 year old was a force to be reckoned with!

Looking back on my dad’s simple wisdom, I see how much times have changed. Back in the 1960’s Dad would load up his buddies in a renovated school bus with questionable breaks and head out to Buffalo, Wyoming for their annual mule deer hunts. They didn’t go out there to bring home trophies, they went to enjoy the camaraderie of deer camp and to bring home meat to fill the freezer, and memories to fill the year ahead.

Black and white photos from back then often depicted A-framed structures lined with deer harvested. There were no photos of a guy and his 40 point, non typical, mineral fed, selective bred, food plot deer. Just photos of rangy men standing by decrepit shacks in red wool and tattered hats.

What changed? How did the age old tradition of hunting become so glamorized, so Hollywood? Is it the TV shows featuring people in perfectly clean expensive camo always getting monster deer without breaking a sweat? The female hunter has morphed into women on the screen so perfecty coiffed that they look nothing like the women in my life who grew up hunting. Meanwhile, guy hunters show up to events in bedazzled jeans. It’s all about the big show, who is better, who gets more ratings.

These days, it seem like the whole atmosphere of the sport has changed from fun and camaraderie to a cut throat competition over who can shoot the biggest deer. Social media is littered with images of guys and gals posing strategically behind behemoths of the forest so as to make them look even larger than life. It is all about the size of the rack and even that is not real anymore. Not even deer could escape man’s constant quest to alter nature and now there are whole industries dedicated to producing products to “enhance” antler growth to the point of absurdity. Selective breeding on deer farms is also a norm and people pay thousands of dollars to get the opportunity to bag “trophies” inside fences. Why?

Because it is not good enough anymore to be common, to be that redneck hunter in dirty, blood stained orange who hunts on instinct and the will of God. It is not “glamorous” enough to come home with your tag limit of does and a small (by today’s standards) buck to fill the freezer. The network and code of honor among hunters too has died in the sense that social media is filled with trolls waiting to pounce on anyone, man, woman, or child for shooting anything under 14 points. Hunting has become a competition to see who can bag the biggest and the best.

Is that really what it’s all about? I think not, but that is my opinion. I’m old school and to me hunting is all about the unknown. It is about going out into the woods and waiting for days and not seeing one deer. It is about freezing and sweating and pushing yourself and your patience to the absolute limit then going out and doing it all over again the next day. It is about no guarantees, it’s hard work, intuition and skill not gleaned from watching TV but from years of training, years of disappointments followed by years of victory. Gadgets and equipment can’t make a hunter, they may make things easier but is anything really worth having ever easy?

I have probably hit a nerve with this post and pissed some people off but I’ve never been one to mince words or worry about offending others. All I am saying is that we can learn a lot from those old deer camp photos. Namely that sometimes size doesn’t matter. Isn’t it supposed to be about tradition, bringing home stories, lessons, and if you are lucky, some meat for the table?