Monday, June 30, 2008

What It's All About

This photo exemplifies what this blog is all about.

And I didn't even take it.

Photo courtesy of Riley (who, for those who wanted to know, is age 10 and is taking Photography as a 4-H project).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ruling the Roost

We spent some time in the chicken condo today. It is currently vacant, but that is scheduled to change any day now. We needed to make arrangements for the new arrivals to be sure that their accommodations are adequate, and the subordinates were a bit disgruntled to be put to work in the heat of the day. They took an unauthorized break on the only seats in the room: the roost.

This subordinate is proof positive of his mother's inability to sew. We call those air conditioned jeans.

This subordinate is proof positive of her mother's neglect. Pink shorts, blue and red shirt, and pink rubber boots (on the wrong feet) to bring the ensemble together. Add the uncombed hair and the dirty face and you have the true definition of an urchin.

But there is absolutely no doubt that this urchin rules the roost.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gripe of the Day

I'm usually pretty positive on this blog, but I can't help but gripe today.

Regular readers will know that I have a particular interest in Asperger's Syndrome, the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum. That's why this article, which appeared in several of the state's newspapers today, caught my eye.

Actually, it caught my sister's eye, and she emailed the link to me, and I would have missed it because I spent all day at a t-ball tournament two hours from here and never saw a paper today. But I digress.

The story reports that Montana's governor, Brian Schweitzer, was on hand at the opening of a new home for individuals with autism. The home, apparently the first of its kind in the state, will serve those who cannot live independently. Schweitzer has a personal connection with the cause, he mentions, because his 21-year-old son has Asperger's Syndrome and will "live with Nancy and I for the rest of our lives."

The little tidbit at the end of the article made my heart rate spike and caused my temper to flare.

"Schweitzer said his work on the project was less influenced by his experience with his own son than by what he said has been a theme of his administration. 'It comes down to our treatment of the mentally ill, reforming our corrections system, all the ways we help the last and the least in Montana,' he said."

My points:

a) Autism is not a mental illness. It is a developmental disorder.

b) Anyone who has spent any amount of time with a person with Asperger's would never describe that person as "the last" or "the least."

c) A person in his position has the potential to educate people about the autism spectrum and how it affects people. He needs to become better informed about the topic and be accurate in his definition of Asperger's. He should also make it clear that not all people with Asperger's must live with their parents in adulthood and that these people can make significant contributions to our society.

Guess who will be mentioning these points in a note to our governor?

Friday, June 27, 2008


I’ve been talking to my kids a lot these days about the importance of following rules.

Rules, I have tenderly explained, are made for good reason. They keep us safe. They protect us. They make sure we can live in an orderly manner.

The most frequently whined question in this house is “Why?” Even the two-year-old has caught on.

“Don’t pour your milk on the dog.”

“Why, Mama?”

“Because the dog doesn’t need a milk bath, you need to be kind to animals, and milk costs $4 a gallon.”

“Why, Mama?”

“Because the input costs of farming are becoming so outlandish that more and more dairy farmers are going out of business, which reduces the supply and thereby inflates the price. Add to that the rising costs of oil, our inability to drill new wells of our own, our growing dependence on foreign oil supplies, and the rising costs of transportation, and you have $4 a gallon milk.”

At this point, the toddler has dropped the milk cup and wandered away to throw the cat down the slide. This disregard for logical explanations is why I have abandoned my previous responses to the question “why,” which included a careful dissertation on the merits of obeying. Three more kids and a decade of eroded patience later, I have since resorted to “Because I said so!”
But it has struck me lately that some rules are just plain stupid. I’m not sure I want to teach my kids to blindly follow the rules when some of them are made to placate the demands of people who have no common sense or decency.

I think, in some ways, our society has become addicted to legislation. A couple hundred years ago, people lived without the benefit of a gargantuan government. Through the years, people realized that the government could provide certain benefits, such as public road systems and schools. These functions of government seemed to improve the society, so people looked for more ways that the government could be of service.

Eventually, the attitude of the people changed. Instead of appreciating government services, people began to demand them and become dependent upon them. They forgot that all those “free” services are not free at all; the more services provided, the more tax is collected to pay for them.

But now that the system is in place, it will not cease growing. Each generation expects more services, more benefits, and more rules to protect themselves. That’s why we have legislation introduced to ban certain foods to keep us from killing ourselves, to hire people based on color instead of ability, and to ban cutting down trees. We have created so many rules for our society that it takes several government agencies just to keep track of them all.

In some places, there are rules about how tall your grass can be, what kind of flowers you can plant, and what kind of car you can drive. I think most people want our government to be more diligent about protecting us from ourselves than about protecting us from outside threats to our country and freedom.

I went to the car dealership awhile back because I had received a notice in the mail that our vehicle was on a recall list. When I presented the card to the shop foreman, he chuckled and said he would take care of it in just a second. He procured a pair of scissors and snipped a leather loop the held the seatbelt in place near the seat.

“That’s it?” I asked incredulously.

“Yep,” he said. “Apparently someone got their finger stuck in it and got hurt, so they implemented a recall.”

Because people expect to be protected from such atrocities as stuck fingers, we have government recalls. We have voluntary company recalls to protect companies from getting sued by people who are now accustomed to being protected against their own stupidity. People expect Uncle Sam to be hovering around every corner, keeping them safe, fed, educated, housed, and medicated.

Rules and regulations are necessary in an orderly society. But teaching the kids to follow them “because I said so” is probably not going to work in today’s world. They need to know that we have to respect rules given by those in authority, but they also need the skills to recognize that some rules are just stupid. With some common sense, the Ten Commandments, and the Constitution, I believe our society would be better off than it is now with all the rules that have been legislated throughout the years.

Next time I answer the question “why,” I will try to keep my answer somewhere between a dissertation and the typical retort, “Because I’m your mother!” We need to equip our kids with the tools they will need to discern what is right and wrong in this world.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


We were out and about doing some 4-H photography today, and when I looked at the morning's pictures, I realized there was a common theme.

The calves are growing.

The kids are growing (time for the next size of pants!).

The grass is growing.

The trees are growing.

The crops are growing.

The sneezes are growing.

Even the daydreams are growing.

It is truly amazing what several inches of rain followed by some sunshine will do.

All photos are courtesy of Riley (who is going to have a difficult time choosing his fair entries).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Loose Ends

Since I don't budget the time to respond to all the comments here, I often leave unanswered questions. That bothers me. It seems pretty rude to just ignore people like that, so tonight I will attempt to tidy up a few loose ends.

Hi! Question from the uneducated swede: What is 4-H? - Julia in Sweden

From Wikipedia:
4-H in the United States is a youth organization with the mission of "engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development." The four "H"s stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. The organization serves over 6.5 million members in the United States from ages 5 to 19 in approximately 90,000 clubs. Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization as a result of its history, 4-H today focuses on citizenship, healthy living, and science, engineering and technology programs.

4-H is great! As a 4-H mom, at least you'll have the wide resources of your blog readers at your fingertips. Need a quick idea? Ask us... we'll help! - Dawn

Oh, you're going to regret that offer. I'm in need of many ideas. . . like what in the world is a Cloverbud supposed to take to the fair? How do you prevent your kids from waiting until the last possible second to do their projects? How do you potty train a very, very strong-willed two-year-old? (You didn't specify whether or not it had to be 4-H related!)

So, you don't use horses to gather cows either? We just use a feed truck and 4-wheelers, too. But I think doing it on horseback again would be fun. I miss that. - Jenny

Actually, we use both. There are some places where we pasture cows that we just can't access with anything but a horse, and there are some instances when a four-wheeler is more helpful.

I know I missed more questions along the way, so if you have been ignored and would like to ask again, please feel free. I will actually answer this time.

Meanwhile, if you would like to read about my future political career, click here.

If you would like to see all 685 (!) photos I have uploaded since beginning this blog, click here.

And here's my question of the day for you: What is your favorite blog or website?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

4-H Moms

In my mind, no one epitomizes motherhood more than a 4-H mom. If you ever want to see a mother’s love and dedication to her children in action, visit a county fair about a half an hour before the beef showmanship contest.

Along with my admiration for the 4-H moms is a fear of becoming one. I had successfully avoided the topic for years by changing the subject whenever someone asked me when our 10-year-old would be joining 4-H. I could dodge the topic with such skill that the inquiring person did not even realize what had happened.

But when Riley expressed interest in joining, I was unable to dodge. I was rendered excuseless. And I was struck with the cold fear that I would actually have to become a 4-H mom.

Apparently there are many 4-H moms. My sources tell me that there are 6.8 million 4-H members nationwide. Assuming that many of those 6.8 children have mothers, there are more than a few women who have embraced the idea of 4-H motherhood more readily than I have. In fact, I know a few 4-H moms. They are the women who look very frazzled during the third week in July and are barking directives such as, “Johnny, you have to get out of the pool NOW! Your 4-H interview is tomorrow, and you haven’t even started your record book yet!”

My reluctance is not a reflection of the 4-H program itself, which I know to be very beneficial to its members. When all those little voices recite, “I pledge: my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world,” it cannot possibly be a bad thing.

I am a proponent of encouraging kids to tackle projects and responsibilities. I think seeing a project through from beginning to end is a valuable life lesson that the 4-H program successfully fosters in its members. The adult-youth partnerships and the community service components of the program are also benefits that my children could stand to reap.

In fact, I’m a big fan of 4-H. I think it’s a great idea that my kids become members.

Now I just need to find a good 4-H mom for them.

They’re going to need someone who can brightly encourage them to work on their record books as they go without nagging them and turning it into an episode of tearful tantrums. They will need someone adept at baking cookies for meetings, entertaining toddlers during said meetings, and “helping” to make those demonstration speech posters at the last minute.

The right person should be able to know how to trim a chicken, train a cat, give proper feed rations to a steer, and show a pig. She should know the secret to washing an animal and keeping it clean while it occupies a 10-square-foot pen in which it eats, drinks, and has nowhere to lay down except in the spot where it just dropped the results of the eating and drinking.

The kids’ new 4-H mom should be able to load and unload a calf and drive a pickup and stock trailer in town. She should also be able to back up the camper to the proper position and cheerfully pack enough clothes and food in said camper so that the family can live there happily for several days. She should enjoy using public showers and washing the 4-H child’s only white shirt in the sink.

The ideal mom should be creative and artistic, able to whip up clever display signs and slogans. She must also have a comforting shoulder for the child who is learning about a world in which there are winners and losers.

She should also be familiar with all 110 different 4-H program areas and know the nuances of each well enough that she can coach the child who chooses as his projects Advanced Visual Arts: Draw/Fiber/Sculpt, Sportfishing III, and Meat Goat I.

Since I am not likely to have many applicants for this unpaid and underappreciated position, I will likely have to tackle it myself. I will have to face my fears and recognize my weaknesses. I will have to ask questions, learn the rules, and give it my best shot. And in doing that, I will likely be teaching my kids the best lessons of all.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Didn't Take My Camera

Today we moved cows, and I didn't take my camera.

Last time we moved cows, I dropped my camera and ran over it with the four wheeler. After dusting it off and realizing that it was unscathed, I vowed never to take it with me on such an excursion again.

It turns out that it was a good decision. Although the day was beautiful, the cows were shiny, the grass was green, and the scenery was breathtaking, I would not likely have captured any Kodak moments. Most of my time was spent looking at the not-so-shiny ends of the cows, which happened to be about eye level. The other problem was that the terrain on which I was riding required two hands and my full attention.

I also neglected to take my camera to the t-ball game to capture the thrill of the game and the filth of my two youngest children who mixed Sprite, orange soda, and dirt and then greased themselves with it. The sunscreen and bug spray cocktail with which I had doused them earlier in the day served as a nice foundation for the mud pie facials. Because I am the tired mother of four, I didn't even bother washing their hands before giving them their hamburgers. I figured (and was later proven right) that they would just drop the food in the dirt at some point, anyway.

Today I missed many photo opportunities. I also missed laundry opportunities, gardening opportunities, and floor scrubbing opportunities. Happily for me, tomorrow will soon be here, and those opportunities will once again present themselves. And I'll probably have my camera.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Changing Landscape

When we first moved here, I didn't realize how many old buildings were scattered throughout the neighborhood. There were plenty in our yard (and we were living in one of them). But so many others dotted the landscape that it was difficult to count them.

To me, they represented the pioneering spirit and the absolute strength that was required to live on this land and eek out a living prior to the invention of little luxuries like refrigerators, electric stoves, and indoor plumbing.

I also caught the irony of the fact that if we had lived here 60 years ago, we would have had many more neighbors than we do now. While the population of urban areas continues to rise, our rural neighborhoods are being vacated.

In addition to houses, barns, and root cellars, the rural areas of Montana also boast quite a collection of abandoned schoolhouses.

This particular schoolhouse was built just down the hill from our home, and it was one of my favorite old buildings. While driving by, a person could peek inside the open window frames and glimpse the chalkboards at the front of the classroom.

It doesn't sit in its footprint anymore. Last spring, it was moved into town to become a museum.

While part of me is happy to see it restored and appreciated, another part of me is saddened each time I glimpse the horizon and see its profile missing. It's another little piece of the neighborhood (and the rural culture) that is gone.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What Could Be Cuter?

Awhile back, my kids found a nest of kittens in the straw stack. They were quite possibly the cutest little balls of fluff ever born on this place.

I picked a favorite, which is never a good idea; since I was a youngster, my favorite animal is always the one that dies. I have not outgrown the curse. We had a week-long deluge of rain, and my favorite kitten did not weather the storm well. The mama cat wisely moved the remaining two kitties closer to the buildings, and since then, they have been pampered drug around by the kids. They have been christened Twinkle and Squirt, names that are much more inventive that my names for cats: Blacky, Yellow Kitty, Spot. . .

My oldest child is taking photography for a 4-H project this year, and I instructed him to get on the level of the kittens and snap away.

I stayed inside. I knew I couldn't resist bossing him around, and I also knew that he has a good eye for photography. He needed to frame up his own shots and do it his way, and I needed to mind my own business. It worked out beautifully.


Few things in this world are cuter than a chubby kitten.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Brandin' Iron Saloon

As I sat belly-up to the bar at the Brandin’ Iron Saloon, I gazed up through the Smokey haze at a portrait of John Wayne. He looked down at me with a bit of a grin, as if he knew what kind of a day it had been.

I took a swig of my drink and glanced at my companion.

“Well,” I said, “I suppose our husbands aren’t going to let us out of the house for another 20 years after this.”

She nodded in agreement.

I went over the events of the day in my head. We had been looking forward to this trip for years. We each had two small children at the time, and a trip to the city without them sounded like sheer bliss. Although our plan would entail six hours on the road, we were excited as we embarked on our shopping excursion that morning.

The day went as planned. After a leisurely lunch at a restaurant that does not serve Happy Meals, we set off for the stores. We completed our shopping with efficiency and were poised to make it home by our kids’ bedtimes.

When the vehicle began to lose power at the top of a hill, we laughingly attributed it to the large amount of merchandise we had purchased that day. We became more concerned as we continued down the road, but the temperature gauge indicated no problems. It was suddenly apparent, however, that something was drastically wrong.

We pulled off the road into the parking lot of a log cabin-style bar. My friend popped the hood and looked for any obvious issues. Something smelled hot, but beyond that, everything looked normal. We were 150 miles from home and several miles away from a town, and of course we had no cellular service.

I took a deep breath and started for the bar. All heads turned my way as I looked around for the pay phone. Seeing none, I walked up to the bar. Explaining my circumstances, I brandished my calling card and asked to use the phone.

Since my husband was combining wheat and my friend’s husband was on a horse gathering cattle in the middle of the Missouri River Breaks, I considered my other options. It was past business hours, so calling a nearby service station would not yield any results.

I dialed my brother-in-law, who happens to live about half an hour from the site of our distress and also happens to be a mechanic. I attempted to describe our problem to him, and he told me to try to make it to the next town.

We started up the vehicle and had made it 100 yards down the highway when a terrible scraping noise attracted our attention. I looked in the mirror and observed smoke pouring from the rear of the vehicle. Recalling the time our grain truck had caught fire with my mother, sister, and I in it, I flew out the door and down into the ditch.

My friend, laughing at my reaction, ascertained that the smoke was coming from the brake drum. We left the vehicle where it was and walked back to the bar.

My brother-in-law graciously agreed to drive over and investigate the problem. Meanwhile, we called our babysitters to explain our situation and sat down at the bar. My friend ordered a Sprite, while I went for the hard stuff: root beer.

The locals were quite accommodating, letting us use the phone a number of times and offering to help any way that they could.

My brother-in-law arrived to rescue us. After taking out the bits and pieces that were left of the rear brake, he gave us a can of brake fluid and sent us on our way. We grabbed a cold drink at a gas station a few miles down the road and were all set to complete our journey home. Just then my friend looked as if she were afflicted by a terrible illness.

“I think I locked the keys in the vehicle,” she said, slapping herself in the forehead.

A man in the convenience store gave us the name and number of a tow truck operator, so we called and then sat on the ground next to the vehicle and ate the bag of candy I had purchased.
When the tow truck operator arrived, he must have thought we were quite a sight. He asked if we were okay, and I hastily explained that we had spent the past few hours at the Brandin’ Iron. He raised one eyebrow and looked as if that explained a lot, so I hurriedly clarified that we had been drinking root beer. I don’t think he believed me.

We eventually made it home that night, and I am quite sure that we had some guidance from above. The helpful and friendly folks at the Brandin’ Iron; breaking down in the vicinity of my brother-in-law; the person at the gas station who just happened to have memorized the number for the tow truck operator; the many, many deer that just stood by the side of the road and watched us rather than dart in front of us on the way home – despite our bad luck with the breakdown, the fortunate happenings that night are just too many to be coincidental.

Unfortunately, I think our children will be grown before our husbands turn these country girls loose on a trip to the city again.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

From My Front Door

These are pictures I took from my front door this week.



The last two pictures were taken within a minute or two of each other; one was facing south and one was facing west.



I love that when I don't feel like I have anything to say, I can always find something to show.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How Do You Know When The Romance Is Gone?

When we were first married, my husband would sometimes bring home a lunchbox full of wildflowers after he spent the day fixing fence.

It was a sweet gesture. In our marriage, we don't often exchange material evidence of our affection for one another. We tend to be frugal as well as practical, and the nearest flower shop is 50 miles away.

I'm not so certain that today's gift was a token of affection, though. It left me wondering. . . how do you know when the romance has vacated your marriage?

Could it be when the flowers are replaced by toads?

This little princess thought she had found her Prince Charming.

Don't worry. I didn't let her kiss it. She is only 7, after all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Farmers Do For Fun

What do the area farmers do for a relaxing getaway?

Go drive tractors, of course.

We spent last Sunday afternoon at "Pioneer Power Days," where the events included the always-popular barrel race.

This event is unique in that it is difficult to ascertain who is having the most fun. The old?

Or the young?

We find that it's a great opportunity to teach our kids to appreciate how difficult farm work was just a generation or two ago.

They are amazed that wheels used to lack rubber.

They marvel that tractors didn't have air conditioners or stereos.

But mostly, they get to dream of what it's like behind the wheel.

They take it very seriously.

Girls drive tractors, too, you know.

The End.

Monday, June 16, 2008

You Can Never Have Too Many Cookbooks

One of my after-the-kids-go-to-bed jobs is editing and doing the graphic design for a 10-page agricultural newsletter that is distributed in our region twice a month. Tonight's issue features six kids who lost their mom last fall. They have been virtually adopted by the agricultural community in Montana, and the newest venture to assist the family is to sell cookbooks containing 400 kid-friendly recipes and give the proceeds to the kids.

Since I enjoy cookbooks, and I have a soft spot in my heart for country kids, I thought I would share the article with you in case you want to help their cause. After all, you can never have too many cookbooks.

The Ranch Kids Cookbook is what happens when the worst that life has to offer (the death of a mother with six young children) intercepts the best that life has to offer (the outpouring of help from a large number of complete strangers).

On October 11, 2007, Montana native Kelly Moline died. Just 40 years old, Kelly left behind her husband Chris Moline and their six children—Colie (13), Jake (12), Victoria (10), Josie (7), Ian (4), and Colt (2). The daughter of Eldon and Betty Allard, Kelly was raised in the Loma, Montana, area and attended school in Fort Benton. She did a short stint in the U.S. Army before marrying Chris Moline in 1990. They made their home on his Geraldine, MT, ranch.

Kelly's greatest joys in life were her family and her horses. She home-schooled their children and was a 4-H leader. Kelly was also a reporter for the National Weather Service in the Geraldine area. Throughout Kelly's life, she touched many lives with her ready smile and friendly personality.

On October 9, 2007, while gathering cattle, Kelly complained of a headache. Somewhat later, she was thrown from the horse she was riding. She got up, walked a ways, and then collapsed. Kelly underwent emergency brain surgery for a ruptured aneurysm. She was in the ICU unit surrounded by family and friends when she died. She was buried at the family ranch.

Unfortunately, like many young families, the Molines did not have medical insurance, and Chris and the children face not only a future without Kelly, but also tremendous medical bills. Naturally, numerous fundraising events were held for their benefit by family, friends, and neighbors, and a college fund was established for the children. Following the death of their mother, the family received two crock pots and a number of recipe books for Christmas. Then a weekly ag paper published in Billings, Montana, arrived on the scene.

Agri-News editor Tami Blake suggested to her nationwide readership that they raise money to augment the college fund, and Agri-News columnist Susan Metcalf, who writes Cooking in the West, put out a call for “kid-friendly recipes.” The recipes poured in from all over America, and pretty soon people were suggesting that a cookbook be made and sold to raise yet more money for the college fund… Here’s your opportunity to order a cookbook or two and do your bit to help these kids!

Cookbooks must be pre-ordered and paid for by August 1. $20 postpaid.
Ranch Kids Cookbook, PO Box 85, Billings, MT 59103.
Christmas 2008 delivery.
Discounts available for multiple orders.
Questions? 406-967-2161.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Visiting the Neighbors

Our family visited one of the closest homes to our own this evening. Our mission was to borrow some asparagus, but we came home emptyhanded.

We nearly brought home some rhubarb, but it wasn't quite ready to pick yet.

We tried knocking on the front door, but we were pretty sure that no one would answer.

Many, many of these houses dot the landscape in our "neighborhood." I am always fascinated by them. How did their occupants survive the winters? How long did it take them to build that house? Was it a family or just a bachelor who tried to make a go of it here?

Sometimes there are remnants of the former occupants of the house like clothing, books, shoes, or furniture. Other times there is just a dirt floor littered with the rubble of a fallen roof. Here we found, in addition to the rhubarb, an apple tree and a few other trees that were obviously introduced by a human hand. We were unable to find the asparagus that my husband had located on a previous trip.

Who were these neighbors from generations past? I'm not sure, but I do know that visits like these always make me feel fortunate to be back in my home where I don't have to light a fire in order to cook supper.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hallmark just hasn't figured out Father's Day

Choosing a Father’s Day gift and card is no simple task anymore.

I remember when we would make our fathers gifts and cards in school before we went on summer vacation. An empty jelly jar, some macaroni, a lot of Elmer’s glue and some gold spray paint, and presto! A handy little pen holder made just for Dad.

A piece of notebook paper folded in half made a perfect card. We just wrote “I love you” on the front and signed our name in the middle, underneath a drawing of a stickman with spiked hair holding the hand of a stickchild, and we had a card that was sure to melt our daddy’s heart.

I remember the joy and pride that went into making and giving those projects. I would watch carefully as my dad unwrapped the newest use for macaroni and tried to figure out what it was.
He would beam as he set it on the table, the gold spray paint rubbing off on his hands. He would even glue the pieces of macaroni back on when they fell on the table. Even though that man had no idea what the gift was supposed to be, the look on his face told me I had given him the best Father’s Day present he could have received.

As the years went by, the gifts became more sophisticated. New projects in school led to more interesting, and sometimes more useless, gifts.

For example, we learned the art of batik in art class, so my dad received a lovely purple and orange cloth. This time, I wasn’t even sure what it was supposed to be, but my dad liked it anyway.

He stuck with me during the wood burning phase, the leathercraft phase, and the tissue paper art phase. No matter how many useless gifts I bestowed upon them, he had a genuine word of thanks for each one.

In shop class, I crafted a small tool carrier with a handle in the middle. I was sure I had found the perfect gift, and my dad still uses that gift to this day. Never mind that it weighs so much that it’s nearly impossible to carry it around with tools in it. The hours of my time that went into the gift are what made it special.

At some point in high school, I stopped making my father gifts and cards. Instead, I would try to buy my dad something meaningful on his special day.

Even buying a card is no simple task. After weeding through the racks of cards for your stepfather, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, your nephew, your brother, your husband, your brother-in-law, your uncle, your son, your grandson, and your mother’s uncle’s cousin, you finally reach the section for your father. Just a plain, ordinary father.

None of the cards seem to fit the image of the perfect Father’s Day card, though. They seem either too sentimental or too crude. There is nothing on the racks quite like the cards I used to make with the stickmen drawn on them.

Choosing a gift is not simple, either.

Being a rancher, my father has little use for traditional Father’s Day gifts. He didn’t even wear a tie to his own wedding, and I’m quite sure he doesn’t secretly golf out in the pasture with all the gopher holes.

My attempts to find a meaningful gift for Dad in a store usually ended in failure. Dad received a gift he didn’t need or necessarily want, and it wasn’t really from the heart.

When I entered college, I had the perfect solution. I just sent a card, since everyone knows that college students are too poor to buy much more than the weekly supply of Ramen noodles.

Now that I have a job, though, I feel like I should compensate my dad for all the years of toil and turmoil it took to raise me. After all, this is the man who got whiplash while teaching me how to drive, chocked down my first attempts at cooking, and didn’t say a word when I slammed a motorcycle into the side of his house.

When I began shopping for that perfect Father’s Day gift to summarize all my feelings for my dad, I realized that I would never find that gift.

This year, I’m not going to give my dad a Father’s Day present. Instead, I’m going to ask him to dig back through his memories of being a father and pick out his favorite one.

It may be the memory of the camping trip that my dad took my brother and me on when we were in high school. It might be the times when the two of us worked livestock together when the rest of the family had left home. Maybe he will remember the high school and college graduations of his kids, the weddings, or the births of his grandchildren.

It might be the simple times he shared with us, like watching the cats, dogs and kids all piled on sleeping bags in the lawn during warm summer nights. Whichever memory he recalls, I’m sure it will bring a smile to his face similar to the one he had when I presented him with his annual Father’s Day mystery gift during my childhood.

That’s my gift to you, Dad. It’s the best gift I can ever give, and it comes from the heart.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Heritage

I'm not likely to get much of an inheritance in the form of money or material possessions. I'm okay with that. My inheritance has come in many other forms.

My grandma and my mom are two of the best cooks that ever graced God's green earth. That's a pretty tough act to follow, but I have been paying attention for the past 32 years, and I think I have picked up a few things. Although they have never written down the recipe, one of the meals that they have handed down through the generations is chicken and noodles.

Today's weather (a heavy rain and a windchill of 16 degrees) indicated that I would need a comforting meal to warm up my husband when he came in, so I gathered a helper or two and began making some noodles.

The recipe itself is quite simple:
2 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 T. oil
1/3 cup water

Mix the flour and salt together. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients and then incorporate into the dry ingredients. Knead until smooth and elastic (I cheat and use my KitchenAid).

Let the dough rest for a few minutes. Generously flour two or three cutting boards.

Making tracks in the flour on the cutting board is an essential first step.

Divide the dough into three or four pieces. Make sure your helpers pat the dough down formidably.

Roll out the dough thinly. The two-handed roll is essential. I set out to make three rectangles that were about 10 inches by 14 inches.

I ended up with less-than-rectangular shapes, thanks to my geometrically challenged helpers. The nice thing about noodles is that they don't have to be uniform, and an occasional handprint won't hurt a thing.

I use a pizza cutter to slice the noodles. I use the "rule of thumb" when slicing; the noodles should be about one thumb-width wide and about four inches long.

I leave the noodles out to dry a bit before I lift them off the cutting boards and pile them up.

Meanwhile, I'm cooking up a chicken. My unscientific recipe is as follows:
3-4 stalks celery and leaves, chopped
1 cup carrots
1 onion, quartered
a few shakes of parsley
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
3 bay leaves
8 cups water
1 chicken, skinned

Dump all those things in a pot. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for an hour or longer. Remove chicken to a cutting board and pour the liquid and vegetables over a collander lined with cheesecloth.

This is what you want to toss away.

This is what you want to keep.

While the chicken is cooling a bit, chop up some more vegetables. Anything goes here, but I used onions, carrots, and celery because that's what was in my fridge. Dump it in the broth that you strained. Then pull all the meat off the boiled chicken and chop it up. Add it to the pot along with some salt, pepper, thyme, a bit of sage, and whatever else strikes your fancy. Bring to a boil and add the noodles. Cook until the carrots are tender. Add 3 T. cornstarch to 1/2 cup of cold water. Mix well and dump into the pot to thicken.

This is how my husband likes to eat his chicken and noodles. It requires a spoon.

My heritage requires that I do something a little bit non-traditional.

I start with a heap of mashed potatoes, heavy on the butter.

Then I pile on the noodles.

Why do we put soup on potatoes? I have no idea. All I know is that Grandma does it that way, Mom does it that way, and who am I to argue with my heritage?

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