The Little Things

I say this all the time as I work with my rehab patients coming back from a stroke or a traumatic brain injury or a spinal cord injury, “The little things are the big things.” I say this to the woman that wiggled her fingers again, the man that said “hello” for the first time in a month, and of course to the constipated patient that finally pooped. “This is big. Way to go!” And when the patient starts to minimize their accomplishment, I drop my line, “The little things are the big things. You’re doing great!”

I think that sometimes, especially with the powers and curses of social media, we are under the impression that big things just happen. We see a simplified image, the face of a greater story. You may see a picture of a smiling mom and her sweet baby. It may invoke a feeling of ease and joy but it’s missing a pile of details. 
I want to remember that pile of details. I want to remember the mess underneath.
This is why I write- to remember it all and make sense of what I can. I want to remember feeling the start of contractions on Father’s Day morning, the sun shining through the windows matching my excitement. I want to remember my sister joining us with coffee in hand and Winnie’s relentless and loud cry when she joined the world.
I remember that grunting noise she made when she breathed five days later and how it brought us to the ER in the middle of the night. I remember Taylor, the nurse that reassured me and made me feel safe when I was scared to death. I went through orientation with Taylor three years earlier when we both started at that hospital. She was my orientation bestie, and I knew she’d be amazing; her tenacity inspired me then.
In this messy pile there were sleepless nights, postpartum anxiety, postpartum hemorrhage, and one scary panic attack. There was beauty even there- Michael hugging me as we sat outside at 2am until the panic passed, reassuring me repeatedly as the cycle of fear consumed me.
Some day, I might look at that picture of a smiling me and my happy baby and think it was all easy and beautiful. My memory might drop the mess- the bleeding, the panic, and all the pokes, lines, and oxygen the hospital brought to my newborn baby.
As blissful as selective amnesia sounds, I want to hold it all. I want to see that picture and be proud of us for smiling among the mess.
For the record, our little pile is a lot smaller than many piles. I know this well. I work on a unit that cares for people with a lot of undeserved baggage. In a surprising turn of events, this job has made me more of an optimist and not because everything has a happy ending, but because people live, really live, amidst their piles. More often than not, people find joy in the middle of their mess. They smile in it, grow in it, or celebrate their power within it. It’s quite beautiful.
I’ve begun to really appreciate the strong souls who haul their baggage around shamelessly- the storytellers, the helpers, and the friends. These are the people who live with resilience, joy and wisdom. They do not crumble under the weight of their mess. Instead, they get stronger. The pile gets easier to carry. They maintain their stories so they can learn, understand, and empathesize. They are better because of their big beautiful mess. They are our greatest teachers.
The little things are the big things. This is a sentence that carries Michael and me in many parts of our little life together. The little things are the big things in parenting, health, stewardship, friendship, happiness, and marriage.
In celebration of “the little things”, I thought it would be fun to pick three pictures that I have on Instagram and share the beautiful messy pile behind the snapshot. I encourage you to try it too.
Picture #1
I almost chose a picture of our completed boathouse shining in the light of a perfect sunset, but this picture tells more of the story. You can almost see the humidity in the air. It was thick and the cloudless sun beat on our backs all day until now. Now, the sun is setting behind the island and we are breathing easier as the shade covers us. The cooler is empty. My dad is a man of few words which means we don’t sit around and talk very much, but we do here. Dad is happiest when he’s working and even happier when he’s helping someone else with their work.
He’s outside too and on the river, a place we both feel most ourselves. Conversation flows easy like this, in jokes and witty comebacks. To be honest, this picture represents my relationship with my father more than any other picture I can think of. As always, it is Dad doing everything he can for my future. He makes it look easy even when it’s not.
It is us outside in our element. It is me asking questions and him giving me responses like “I ‘spose” and “sure”. It is us side by side, always understanding each other. It is loving the little things, something I learned from him.
Picture #2
Most of these flowers come from my Grandma and Papa Larson’s farm, the place that Michael and I got married. It is where my parents got married and my sister and brother-in-law too. The flowers in the top left are the ones that my sister-in-law lovingly weaved into my hair on the morning of our wedding.
The red flower in the middle looks like a cardinal flower which brings me straight to the island, puffs of red sprinkled between the cottonwoods giving life to the boathousers and hummingbirds alike.

Purple sage on the top right always reminding me of the sacred. Sage is a plant used by my Native American patients to promote healing. The burning of sage in a hospital room, a very important convergence of modern medicine and spiritual tradition.
Picture #3
There is so much feeling to this picture. My nephew and I are driving Neighbor Girl, Michael and my first home together (floating and otherwise). Driving Neighbor Girl reminds me of many firsts. I remember our first time out on this boat. Neither Michael nor I had ever driven a boat with twin engines before. Long story short- we scraped a neighboring boat almost immediately. We lived on this boat for four years after. We never bonked another boat again.
We had neighbors that were just like us- green. We had others that were salty old freshwater sailors.
I think back to us and the other fresh young liveaboards and there is a lot that makes me laugh. I think of Josie climbing up her mast and perching atop as Adam drives under a bridge; this big experiment was to see if the sailboat’s tall mast could make it under the bridge.
Spoiler alert- we did make it and Josie did survive. The survival piece would have been in jeopardy with a couple more inches. I think about running that same sailboat aground as we practiced sailing on a river with unannounced wingdams galore.
Another new liveaboard couple tied their boat off to a rope as they went through their first lock and dam. As the water dropped and pulled their boat sideways, they found a kitchen knife to free themselves from impending doom.
Neighbor Sam did a lot of weird moves. Some of his activities included swimming across the main channel for recreation midday on a Saturday. I remember waving at a boat cruising by as warning that, “Hey, my friend Sam is out there. I know he’s about as visible as a small fish but please don’t hit him.”
Of course, because we were all a bit underfinanced/ resourceful/ independent (amongst other adjectives like dumb and silly and also happy), we did our own boat repairs, especially Sam.
Sam’s passion projects and disimpassioned projects ranged from welding the whole keel to attempting to rebuild the 1946 engine to replacing the whole top deck. It was a boat that kept him tinkering. I guess that’s what you get when you buy a boat with a Bowie knife, grape flavored lubricant, and a love note all cached in the same spot of the ceiling. Oh yeah, he tore the ceiling apart too.
The flood season was always a memorable time with the floodiest year meaning we had to kayak to the nearest working toilet. Date night was driving downstream passed Saint Paul’s city lights and throwing an anchor while hoping no barge would wake us so hard that our bowl of fruit would hit the floor.
God, I love that sturdy little houseboat that rocked us to bed for four years and sometimes housed gatherings far too big for it’s little britches.
All of these memories flood me from just a little picture.
This picture was also taken during a really hard time. My nephew Olle was hospitalized at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. He had emergency surgery for an unexpected diaphragmatic hernia.
Hank spent nights on our boat while my sister and brother-in-law stayed at the hospital.
On this day, it was a special day during a hard time- it was my brother-in-law Sean’s birthday. We wanted to still make it special so my parents, Hank, and I boated through the one lock that separated us from Minneapolis. Sean and Jess met us there, and we surprised Sean with cake, balloons, and a little river time.
This picture reminds me of special time with family while fear and uncertainty lingered around us. It also reminds me of joy amidst heartache, living life fully in it’s valleys as well as at it’s peaks, and just being there for each other.
So, when my patient says the word “shit” clear as day for the first time since his stroke, I smile. It’s the little things. 

Sweating In Togetherness

This is our first winter living on land since 2014. Whoa.

In 2014, we took the winter off and spent it in all the countries with sunshine- Peru, El Salvador, New Zealand, Malaysia and Thailand to name a few.

In 2015, we moved onto Neighbor Girl, our houseboat in Saint Paul, MN. With little cash left in our pockets, we thought we’d save some money and stay in Watergate Marina for a simple summer. It turned into four years.

In 2019, we fixed up an old boathouse in Winona, MN and moved in just days before Hutch was born. We lived there for just over two years when our dreams of a hobby farm called us home.

Last March, we bought my grandparents’ house and part of their farm. The timing was right as we welcomed our second child, Winnie, into our world in June.

For those of you who already know our timeline, sorry for the repetition but I needed a refresher myself. 2014 seems like a generation ago.

Our seven winters living on the water included included inconvenient novelties like ice cracks that sounded like thunder in the night and frozen pipes that forced a era of glamour during which we urinated in a pickle jar for a bizarre amount of time.

We shrink-wrapped our houseboat each winter which made me feel like a cave woman as I huddled close to our heater on the coldest nights. We helped houseboat neighbors chop up ice that threatened their fiberglass hulls and helped boathouse neighbors who needed the occasional propane tank refill or annual winter wood haul. We always watched the weather with a close eye knowing it would make the difference in how we lived our days.

When we first moved into this house in the spring, Michael and I felt a bit of imposter syndrome, like we didn’t belong in a place that had a laundry machine. We didn’t have to ration water out of necessity and heating our home required no physical labor outside of pushing a button. Suddenly, after 8ish years, we have to remember to flush.

Of course, as every life ebbs and flows, sometimes slowly and sometimes suddenly, there are new challenges and joys that fill in for the old. Instead of waking to the thunders of ice cracking under our floor, we wake to the train rumbling through the stillness of the valley. We wake to Hutch yelling “Dada, I’m awake!” or “Dada, I have to peeeee!!!” (always “dada” which is great for me:)), and Winnie making herself known every two hours every single night.

Instead of hauling our own water as as part of a daily chore, we visit the pigs, goats, and chickens to feed and water them, planning for their warmth on the coldest nights.

Of course, there are still neighbors to help out and who also return the favors tenfold.

Well, we couldn’t succumb to the luxury of push button heat activation. Before the crisp of fall arrived, Michael hand shoveled a 86 foot long trench in which to install the lines for the new old woodstove we bought from my parents. Sure, Michael could have forked over $200 for the use of a mini-excavator. It would have saved him 10 hours of sweat but then he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to coerce his best pals into an afternoon of digging holes together.

Having a woodstove feels healthy in multiple ways. It requires physical labor, planning, the use of renewable resources in lieu of non-renewables, attention to weather, and a sense of earning our keep. It is reminiscent of daily skills used in boathouse/houseboat living, one of those “same but different” deals.

In our case, having a woodstove is also a bit of a community activity. If we are gone, my dad drives down the road to keep it hot; we do the same for them. Chopping wood is another community practice, an excuse to sweat in togetherness which is apparently how we enjoy ourselves.

Sweating in togetherness. We have not socialized much this winter but when we have, we have done it in a 200 degree environment or submerged in 32 degrees.

When we moved out of the boathouse, we brought nothing sizable with us; but then fall arrived, and with it, a large desire to sweat again. With an unhealthy willingness to risk an injury, Nikki and Lalo, the current keepers of the boathouse, assisted in the sketchy transfer of the sauna from boathouse dock to flat bottom boat to our current garage. The sauna got a little makeover and is now fired up on the daily.

Michael, always known to take things one step further than necessary, decided that our bodies need to not only be sitting in a 200 degree box for 20 minutes, but must then become submerged in ice water until numb. Lucky for me, I declare my peak level of body numbness to occur at 20 seconds. Michael sits in the ice bath for 4 minutes. He calls this his “regimen”- 4 minutes here, 20 minutes there, repeat x2. A friend who visited from Florida just called it “torture”.

There must be some level of practiced meditation that makes you especially good at ice bathing because my friend Katy and cousin Nikki, both yogis, knocked this morning activity out of the park. They were both able to sit in ice for multiple minutes on their first time. I was impressed. I should yoga.

Now that you know a visit to our home includes an obligatory sauna session and ice bath, I will know you really love us if you come anyway. We promise to include hot coffee and fresh farm eggs after the torture. In surprising news, I collected 13 eggs today (from 15 chickens) in the dead of winter, so we’re doing pretty well in that department.

Now, just because we’re living off the water does not mean we get to miss out on the boathouse trials and tribulations that arise at the most unfortunate times. That would be a shame.

On Christmas Eve, with our boathouse keepers out of town, the boathouse was found to be froze up. This was nobody’s fault except for Mother Nature who may have created just the right amount of ice buildup to jam up the in-floor heating system.

The tragic part was twofold. Nikki & Lalo’s beautiful plants that they nurtured and loved for many years experienced instant demise, lots of sentiment and memories living in each one. And secondly, Michael missed out on warm lefse and Hutch’s tears of fear over Santa’s arrival to our family Christmas. The boathouse reheating process took three days time, a lovely multi-day holiday event. Also, shout out to the multiple sweethearts that provided Nikki and Lalo with cuttings and new plants to bring the boathouse back to life.

Now, in a land home, we are learning the ropes. We still suck at getting our mail every day. We do shower quite a bit more which probably benefits everyone we know.

We have our daily ritual of stocking the woodstove twice a day and feeding the animals too. Also, turns out, having a laundry machine is awesome. We were able to cancel our cloth diaper service (which we loved and used ever since Hutch was born, highly recommend Small Change Diaper Service in LaCrescent, MN) since we now have the ability to wash our own diapers whenever needed.

And certainly the largest perk of land living is being able to have guests sleep here with the ability to offer them multiple amenities- a bed, a shower, a little bit of space from the incessant talking of our three year old. This winter brought my high-school pal from England and his partner from Switzerland, friends from Florida, and Michael’s family from the wild west of Minnesota. Sure, nearly all of them were forced into sitting next to us in a 200 degree box, but only the lucky ones got to sit in ice while the winter winds whipped them in the face. So, yes, land living is quite luxurious.

To wrap up our winter stories, I cannot forget to tell you about Carl. Carl was created after our first big snowfall on December 9th.

Carl is our snowman/snowwoman/snowthem (not quite sure, Carl changes his identity quite often, usually depending on the weather). Carl has been restructured multiple times, sometimes by one of us, other times when Lalo visits.

Carl has been both large and small, with and without a nose, donning a scarf in colder weather but losing it again as temperatures rise. So far, we have kept Carl alive in some capacity or another. Carl often keeps a Mega Blok eye on the road. Other times, Carl is looking straight at our window, smirking at us with his Magna Tile smile.

Hutch talks about Carl often, daily in fact. Hutch named Carl without ever meeting a Carl which I found impressive since he typically comes up with names like “Fapwinz” or “Frotz”.

Anyway, as I type this on February 10th, we might actually be seeing the end of Carl. We had an unusual stretch of 40 degree weather that Carl simply had no business staying put for. Carl is a bit symbolic of us- changing with the seasons, rediscovering ourselves, needing a little help from time to time, ebbing and flowing with life around us.

So, Carl, thank you buddy pal; you were fun. Until next year… or next week… or whenever Lalo comes back to play.


Itty Bitties

My passion for reading began with my mom reading me nursery rhymes and myself reading me Shel Silverstein books. My first writings were poems written for my family members’ birthdays. My maid of honor speech at my sister’s wedding entirely rhymed. As you can see, I like a good rhyme time, homes for my poems. So, when I titled this “Itty Bitties” for reasons you’ll discover later, I couldn’t stop myself at “Bitty”…

Itty Bitty Witty Titty Shitty Pity City Kitty. I think that covers all the words that rhyme with Bitty. I could’ve included “nitty” but no one wants to hear about that time I had lice or the summer I was a camp nurse and picked nits for two weeks straight.

So, anyway, itty bitty witty titty shitty pity city kitty. This blog post will include details of each of the above. I’ll spare you some and not spare you most. I’ll start from the latter and work my way to the former. Here goes.

Kitty. Should we get one? My childhood at Grandma J’s house (the house we now live in) was synonymous with kitties. We dressed them in doll clothes and made them houses out of sticks. We cuddled them and snuck them treats. I think this kitty love might surprise some of my friends as I have never had interest in having a house pet… except for Turts, the little hard shelled love of my life.

This is the thing- our childhood pets were always outside. I’ve realized that some people believe this to be cruel as the elements in Minnesota can feel borderline unbearable. However, shelter, some hay, and even cozy companions make all the difference. I remember having envy for the cats that got to cuddle in the barn’s haystacks while my caregivers wrangled my cousins and me to come inside for food, sleep and the dreaded shower. Lucky kitties.

Anyway, no one tried to sell us on dogs or cats when we lived on the boathouse. Somehow, having any sort of acreage makes you a prime candidate for pet ownership. After all, our little farm has a lot of bunnies and some mice too. “A cat would help with that,” they say. “The kids would love a cat,” they say.

Unfortunately, we love our wild bunnies. They make us smile as they run around at dusk, and they leave our cabbage alone. What more could we ask for? For now, no farm kitty… maybe next year.

City. Or as we call it, “going to town”. It is an event these days. It’s a mere ten minute drive but we plan for it like we’re going cross country… “Can you change Hutch’s shirt? Did I grab the diapers? Winnie hasn’t pooped today… I’ll pack a spare outfit. Where should we stop first? Will you bring Hutch there while I go here? We should probably be back by nap time. Winnie might sleep in the car. I’ll bring her pacifier. What if the weather changes? Should we stop at the riv? I’ll bring snowsuits and also lifejackets… just in case.” Let me clarify- this is all my dialog. Michael will forget his own shoes. He likes when things are forgotten… makes him adapt, keeps him sharp.

And then I remember the days we traveled out of a backpack. Gosh, being a mom has made me weird.

Pity. Specifically self-pity. Something Michael has never known. This makes him an excellent hobby farm companion. He will wake before the sun with his son, do all the dishes, build a treehouse with his nephews, clear out all our poison ivy plants, shovel a trench for our woodstove water pipes that’s 18 inches deep and 80 feet long, and chase Rosie, our escapee pig, back to her pen. This might all happen in one day, and Michael loves it.

I could move right on to Shitty, but I just cannot let the runaway Rosie story go untold, so here it goes.

We started the summer season with three pigs- Rosie, Finn, and Sawyer, all mangalitsas- a wooly and fairly docile foraging breed. Rosie is our big 250 pound sweetheart and more mild-mannered than the little guys- Finn and Sawyer. However, on this particular summer evening, Rosie was anything but sweet and certainly not mild. 

Finn and Sawyer, the “Itty Bitties” as Hutch immediately named them, are smart little piglets who mastered the art of escape. We had all three pigs contained with three lines of electric fence. The Itty Bitties figured out how to root up the ground near the fence and pile the rooted up soil onto the lowest line. This maneuver pulled the lowest line down enough to ground it out so they could escape between that low line and the middle line… stinkers.

Well, this was perhaps the third time Finn and Sawyer escaped, so when my aunt Arlette came to our door to let us know, we weren’t too alarmed. I stayed back with the kids and worked on dinner and bedtime while Arlette and Michael went to round up the Itty Bitties.

The Itty Bitties are smart, but like me, their love for food outweighs their intelligence, and they were easily coerced back to their pen with strategically placed oats.

This would have been a quick chore except when Michael opened the electric fencing to allow the Itty Bitties back in, Rosie made her unexpected big move- she bolted.

The setting is dusk. Unlike the Itty Bitties, Rosie is a good student of the fence so she’s typically an easy keeper. Also unlike the Itty Bitties, Rosie is not easily manipulated with oats… or any other tactic that Arlette and Michael employed in the two hours to follow.

Like I said, Rosie bolted, and what I would give to observe the following two hours of chaos… Arlette and Michael are like good cop, bad cop when it comes to the animals. Arlette gives them the treats and all the TLC. Michael plays hardball. I’m sure they were both staying true to these roles. In this scenario, Arlette had food and sweet talk. Michael eventually utilized the skid-steer and booty slaps.

I will preface with the fact that the skid-steer and booty slaps were last resort moves. Before these were implemented, Rosie bolted for the cornfield, was steered away from there, tempted with treats to no avail, and then ran toward the creek that separates our land from the state land.

Before reaching the creek, there is a cliff, and yes, Rosie ran straight for it. While Arlette and Michael did their darndest to steer her away, Rosie had no regard for their wishes. It was Rosie’s wild night out and she went full bore in that direction. The next thing Michael heard was a crash, tumble, and silence. Rosie had fallen off the cliff.

As Michael peered over the edge, he saw nothing but brush for a handful of seconds and then observed Rosie clumsily rise to her feet, slightly disheveled but uninjured, just caught in the brush. Whew… kinda. Now she was trapped on three sides by fallen trees and one side by water. This is where the skid-steer comes into play.

To get Rosie out of that space, Michael had to move one of the trees surrounding her. He had fear that Rosie’s next move would be toward the water, and if she got free on the state land… the DNR would eat us for lunch.

Michael got the skid steer down the hill and moved one of the fallen trees. The sun was now set and only a glimmer of daylight remained. Time was ticking. Michael got off the skid steer, positioned himself behind our wild Rosie, and from a place of pure desperation and adrenaline, Michael ran at Rosie full steam ahead slapping her ass over and over as he chased her up the hill. “Git Rosie, git! (slap) Git Rosie, GIT!! (slap) GIT ROSIE!!!”

Once up the hill, Rosie had one of two ways to go- back to her pen or straight for the cornfield. Lord knows she wanted that corn, but Michael was dedicated to the cause and slapped her left cheek to make her go right and her right cheek to make her go left.

I can only imagine that all parties involved were stunned. Arlette watching as they barreled up the hill with all the shouting, spanking, and running. Rosie having never experienced this side of her usually mild mannered caretaker. And Michael himself, wondering how in the world his life had come to this- slapping pig butts in the moonlight. The process was not pretty, but Rosie was home, safe and sound to rest her cheeks.

Shitty. There’s not much to say here except that a big chunk of my days revolve around shit.

The constant diapers of a three month old and the two year old who wants me to hold his knees so he doesn’t fall in the toilet. In return, my two year old insists that he hold my knees as I take my turn on the pot. Michael gets the same undesired assistance from our little helper.

Lucky for me, the poop fun doesn’t stop when I step outside the home. I have the pleasure of addressing many bowel needs in my workplace. My patients either desperately need to poop, desperately need to stop pooping, or need some level of cleanup assist. Basically, there’s a lot of shit happening.

We can’t forget about the farm poo. Hutch’s favorite is the chicken variety. Quite unfortunately, he likes to pick it up. He also simultaneously calls the chicken coop and the chicken poop, “the chicken oop”. So, when Hutch says that he wants to check the chicken oop, it’s up for debate what his actual plan is.

Titty. They have milk in them. It’s a real hit with the three month old.

Witty. My favorite kind of banter. One of my favorite nights this summer was when our little family ventured out to Prairie Island Campground for some live music. The artist was Ben Weaver and his lyrics aligned with our souls.

On top of the lovely musical experience and perfect evening weather, our boathouse neighbor Gerty and friend Paul were there to chat with, which is another soul-fulfilling happenstance.

Anyway, what I meant to get to is a little joke that Paul told us that night as we discussed the bounty of our garden. It went something like, “This is the only time of year I keep my car locked.” In compliance with being a good joke recipient, I ask, “And why is that?” Paul responds, “Because it’s zucchini season!”

I think a person would only understand this joke if they had just pulled out six zucchini that they needed to pawn off on somebody. Lucky for Paul, I had done just that. And two days following this joke, we left our largest zucchini on the hood of Gerty’s locked car.

Gerty and Gina made for beautiful zucchini parents. 

Itty Bitties. I’m not sure why I left the saddest story for last. This feels like poor planning but here we are.

You now know that the Itty Bitties are Finn and Sawyer, the name chosen by Hutch for our two piglets who were indeed itty bitty upon their arrival at 8 weeks old. We planned to raise Finn or Sawyer to breed with Rosie and eventually, at the end of a beautiful free ranging life, we would turn them into pork.

Michael and I both have a deep respect for the lives of animals and for the meat that we consume knowing it comes from a living being. We were able to consume primarily venison this past year from three deer hunted and processed by Michael. We rarely purchased meat from the store; we didn’t need to. It felt fair to know that the animals we consumed had lived a good and healthy life that was local to us. It felt like we lived within the natural food chain, not mindlessly above it.

As described before, the Itty Bitties mastered the art of escaping their pen. After that third time with Runaway Rosie, Michael and I knew we had to make some changes. On a beautiful sunny day during nap time, we deconstructed the pig pen, reconfigured it so that it included fresh forage (maybe this would be incentive for them to stay), moved the lowest electric line higher, and installed a stronger energizer. We were so proud of ourselves for getting this all done within the naptime window allotted us.

While we worked on the fence, we had the Itty Bitties in a smaller pen adjacent to this one. After our task was complete, we were excited to put the piggies in their new pasture.

Now, this is when the story turns sad. Michael picked up Finn around the abdomen just like you would pick up a puppy and lifted him over the fence. From a three foot height, he dropped squirmy Finn into his new pen. Finn quickly scampered away to explore the new digs. Michael then grabbed Sawyer in the same way and dropped him over the other side of the fence. This time, Sawyer did not scamper away. Sawyer had squirmed in such a way that he fell right onto his backside immediately paralyzing his hind legs.

Michael and I watched in horror as Sawyer dragged his legs behind him. “No, no, no,” I remember saying. “Shit, shit, shit!” exclaimed Michael. We were heartbroken. It was evident that Sawyer couldn’t feel his legs, so at least there wasn’t pain. We debated our next move. I argued that we should see if he could recover, and Michael wanted to put him out of his misery immediately. Michael’s plan was probably the kindest, but jeez, it is so hard to know. We ended up keeping him around for one more night in an enclosed pen to protect from predators. The next day came but Sawyer’s impairments remained the same. We decided to put him down.

I knew this day would come. The day when the line between pet and livestock becomes too blurred to distinguish. When it came down to it, we didn’t turn Sawyer into pork. We simply buried him. Sawyer wasn’t the deer we never met. He was an animal that we knew and loved. The part about allowing him a full free ranging life was only half true. He was just a piglet.

If this happened all over again, we would probably use the meat. It didn’t feel right at the time but it also doesn’t feel right not to.
The death of an animal has always gotten to me. It is the reason my seven year old self elected to be a vegetarian for two years. It is the reason I wanted to be a veterinarian and took an animal first aid class at the same young age. It is the reason I have avoided having pets. Now, here we are, trying to be hobby farmers… what in the world.

For the record, when handling a piglet, you should pick them up by a hind leg and then support under the neck as you move them. When you set them down, set them on their front legs first. Arlette shared this tidbit of wisdom after we lost Sawyer. She would know as my grandparents raised pigs on this very farm. She grew up around them. I even remember them in my earliest memories. I remember them as funny and lively animals. They stunk too but that never bothered me. This tolerance of smell has served me well (as evidenced in the “Shitty” section).

Our first summer season come and gone,
Spent too much time mowing lawn.
Live and learn,
Pickles, Lillian, and our Fern.
The three sweet goats,
They sure love oats.
Almost forgot to trim their hooves,
Having a newborn makes you aloof.
Got it done,
Was kinda fun.
Thank you Kristy and Arlette,
My hooved animal mentors who got me prepped.
The goats love walks,
And Hutch loves rocks.
The chickens free range all over the place,
The pigs root up all their space.
The creek keeps flowing,
And we keep mowing.
The kids need naps and so do we,
So much to do and so much to see.
The shed rebuilt,
Plants that wilt.
Oops, gotta water the garden too,
Learning about pasture is something new.
Ryegrass, bluegrass, alfalfa, clover,
Hoping to help the soil start over.
And just like that, fall is here,
Time to plan for the next big year.

Fridays Suck: Where’s My Margarita

My last blog post was three months ago. I could write a whole book about our life in the three months since. It has been full and meaningful and slightly hard and very beautiful. The book would be a little all over the place which sounds… fun. I’ll give it a go.

Chapter 1: Goats, Pigs, Chickens, Oh My

Michael and I don’t do much planning but when life brings you 20 acres and people with animals for sale, you follow the aligned stars and start a hobby farm.

Of course, the purchase of the farm came first. We bought my grandparents’ farm on March 30th. One month later, we bought three adorable and loving Nigerian Dwarf goats. This purchase stemmed from a work conversation. I said, “We’d like to get some goats.” A wonderful woman named Laurie said, “I got goats.” The rest is history. Lillian, Pickles, and Fern became our first farm animals. Fern joined us by happenstance. We were supposed to get Scout but when the guy who wrangled up the goats for us did his thing, he mistook Fern for Scout. When Laurie saw Fern instead, she and I both decided it was meant to be. Fern was ours. Scout would stay.

The piggies came when I did what most modern human beings waste their lives away doing- scrolling through Instagram. Taira, a former coworker, posted her adorable Mangalitsa piglets for sale. The breed appealed to me instantly- a rare wooly breed that foraged much of its diet and had a docile and friendly demeanor; they also make for fine tasting pork. Interestingly, Mangalitsa pigs were first introduced to the United States in 2007. They are indigenous to Hungary. We purchased two 8 week old male piglets from Taira and named them Finn and Sawyer.

On that same day, we picked up another Mangalitsa pig, this one a female, from another farm found on Craigslist. She was a 10 month old gilt named Rosie. With only eight months of age between Rosie and the male piglets, we planned to eventually breed them to expand our herd. It was comical to see the size difference when we got them all home. Rosie was huge. Any sort of natural mating tactic would be physically impossible for quite some time. Rosie could crush Finn and Sawyer with one hoof.

The chickens arrived to our farm with no help from us. My aunt Arlette raised them from chicks. She purchased a wide variety of “heavy layers” and kept them in her garage under heat lamps until they were ready to join the party. Arlette continues to raise them while Michael and I are their proud aunt and uncle who built them their nesting boxes in anticipation of this heavy laying phase. Hutch is their pesky cousin who is always trying to hold them or throw wood chips at them like its food.

The goats, pigs, and chickens live fairly communally. The chickens wander into the goat pen and sleep under the same roof. The pigs are still separated for fear of Rosie’s hoof finding its way on top of little Sawyer. While separated, Rosie’s fencing is shared with the “itty bitty piggies” as Hutch calls them, and the itty bitties are sandwiched between the goat pen and Rosie’s fence.

We love these animals. It is a welcomed ritual to visit them upon waking and again at bedtime and somewhere in between.

The goats are so friendly and sweet. Rosie is equally so. The itty bitties are a little more rambunctious, and the chickens are always up to something. Hutch might be the wildest animal of them all, but we love him too.

Chapter 2: Grandma Johnson

We lost my Grandma Johnson to the heavens on May 21st. I held her hand as she passed. Seeing her to the other side, along with my mom and my aunt, was one of the most important moments of my life. We all whispered love, thank you, and permission to leave and be with Grandpa. I know she was listening.

It has been a great honor to live in Grandma’s home in the wake of her passing. She is present here in so many of my favorite memories.

Her piano stayed and I smile to think of her fingers moving seamlessly across the keys. I laugh to think of her tolerating the pounding of keys performed by my cousins and me, the same kind of joyful tolerating I do when Hutch helps himself to the trial and error of musical artistry.

I look at my childhood climbing tree and remember Grandma’s gentle reminders to “Be careful sweetie!” Michael already has plans for a treehouse in that very spot.

Sometimes, there are parts of the house that smell like my memories. If I cook something in the kitchen, I might get a whiff of all of the cousins huddled around the table passing corn and mashed potatoes around and around.

The laundry room smells like Grandpa Johnson when he came in from the barn. The basement still has his pool table- the one that my mom grew up to be a pool shark on. (She’ll appreciate that acknowledgement.) Hutch loves to “go play pool balls” now, so watch out Mom, there’s a new shark in town.

I could go on and on about my memories with Grandma and Grandpa Johnson in the place we now call home. Memories of them are embedded into our daily lives. I get to pass those on to Hutch and Winnie by explaining Grandma’s garden or where the Brown Swiss cows roamed. I can talk about Grandma’s elaborate cake making and where Grandpa stored his encyclopedias that he read front to back and then over again.

Losing our earthly version of Grandma was hard but so full of love, just like every day with her gentle soul and beautiful smile. I see her still- in the garden, in the red pines she planted on the hill, and in the nooks and crannies of our home. She is with us- felt, honored, and loved.

Chapter 3: The Garden We Almost Never Had

Being 38 weeks pregnant does not lend itself to skillful gardening. The bending feature on my body was temporarily out of service. I could maybe lay down as I plant the seedlings, but passerbys might be compelled to issue a well check or the hawks might think I’m rotund looking roadkill. So, I avoided planting a garden. We actually tried once in May but broke the tiller immediately which led to a three week wait time until a new drive belt could be delivered. Meanwhile, we were out of our house for 10 days while our wood floors got refinished and also fell ill with something fierce. There were many excuses to put off the garden.

Then, on June 4th, a beautiful sunny day, we came home to two of the youngest old folks I know digging their hands in our garden with plants they purchased for us. My seedlings were past their prime now so these small plants and some seeds were exactly what we needed, along with ambition and gardening expertise.

It was Grandma Larson and Papa, my other grandparents that live on a farm a few miles away. They always have a knack for knowing what is needed and when, and they go above and beyond for everyone they love.

Michael and I joined Grandma and Papa in the dirt and asked all the questions that garden novices should ask- questions about spacing, thinning, watering, etc. Grandma passed me the knowledge from her own mom, the woman I remembered to love gardening, the Minnesota Twins, and an occasional cigarette. Grandma Millie was diligent about straight rows in her garden marked by strings that spanned from one end to the other. We followed suit.

I will always remember this summer day that concluded with planting our first garden here. It was special in many ways. First, Michael’s mom was visiting us at the time. We had such a good day of going to the park, making rhubarb dessert, and going for a long walk up the hill behind our house.  Rennae, or as Hutch calls her “Gigi”, was now getting Hutch ready for bed, bath time and all. Hutch adores his Gigi.

Now, our garden would exist in the same place my late Grandma Johnson gardened for the span of my lifetime and even decades before- where I ran by and picked beans to eat as I climbed the trees, ran in the corn fields, and splashed in the creek.

It was special for the kindness of Grandma Larson and Papa to instigate a garden that almost never happened, absorbing their lifetime of gardening wisdom, and getting our hands dirty together on a perfect summer night. Thank you Grandma and Papa for this and the million other ways you love.

To continue the theme of wonderful grandparents who whip up a mean garden, I want to give a shout out to Grandma Ellen who turned 90 years old this year on July 8th.

Grandma Ellen is the sweetest soul you would ever meet. That sweetness got passed down to Michael’s mom and then to… Michael’s sister and brothers. The other trait that Michael did not inherit from Grandma Ellen is her pellet gun skills. We once found a pellet gun sitting on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. Turns out, Grandma Ellen wasn’t a stranger to taking out the bully birds by her feeders, even if it happens to occur in the middle of washing dishes.

Michael took a turn at the pellet gun that day. He missed his target, and when he turned to me, he had blood dripping from his eyebrow. I guess he didn’t expect such a kickback. Perhaps, he should stick to bow and arrow… or get some lessons from Grandma Ellen.

Chapter 4: Welcoming Winnie & Riley Too

I have a knack for moving residence at the most inconvenient of times, mainly when super pregnant. This happened with Hutch at the boathouse and again now. The inconvenient part is being unable to participate in construction and renovating activities that come with a new home- staining, lifting heavy objects, climbing into precarious places. Some may say this is well planned as Michael shoulders the bulk of the work, but that’s only cool for a day or two.

Waiting for Winnie was tough. Again, I was very round in the midsection which made for an interesting time at work where bending and lifting full grown humans was part of the hourly routine.

I always got a kick out of the things my patients would say. They included, “You look like a house on wheels.” One woman just said, “holy shit!” when I walked in the room. Another sweet and slightly confused man who I took care of for five days straight would rub my belly and say “six days left” then “five days left” as each day was a countdown to my due date. From some, the rubbing of my belly would be quite weird or intrusive but this man was so sweet down to his soul that it was nothing but precious. Plus, it was better than “holy shit” or “you look like a house on wheels.” I’ll take my wins where I can get them.

I expected Winona (the name we had already chosen for our baby girl) to be late. Hutch was two weeks late even with an induction. I wanted so badly to have Winnie arrive on her own time. We set an induction date for June 20th. I was bound and determined for her to arrive before this.

My attempts at initiating labor naturally were borderline comical. Starting at 38 weeks pregnant, I did it all- lunges, curb walking, eating pineapple, using my breast pump, raspberry leaf tea, swaying around on an exercise ball, walking up hills, and sex. Sex is probably the number one way to get labor going or so said my midwife when I asked her what to do at my 39 week appointment. She said, “sex, walking, then more sex and more walking.”

On June 18th, I performed all of the above, some of them twice. Yes, two pineapples. Yes, two sexes.

It worked! On 5am on Juneteenth and Father’s Day, I started to feel true labor pains. Hallelujah!

Winona would be born 13 hours later at 5:59 pm. It was a perfect birth experience with Michael and my sister Jessi at my side. The birth team I had at Gundersen Hospital was exceptional and helped make the whole experience incredibly fun.

Winnie came out crying at full volume for 10 minutes or more. Michael and I looked at each other like, “Eeks, we forgot about this part.”

I loved her immediately. I had already loved her but something about her coming into this world loud and proud as a robust 8lb 6oz female with a full head of hair and lots of strength made me so excited to be her mom and watch her take on life full steam ahead. Watch out world, Winnie is here.

Exactly two months before Winnie was born, we welcomed our niece Riley into the world. Just as I was with her two sons, I got to be with my sister during the birth of their beautiful daughter.

My sister is my best friend; she always has been. We are only a year apart in age. Jess and I are so excited to raise daughters together and have them be close in a similar way that we were… or maybe they’ll fight and hate each other. I guess one never knows!

Chapter 5: Neighbor John

For the last three years, Neighbor John has been a prominent person in our daily life. He is our downstream neighbor at the boathouse. John died on July 6th. After he died, I spent some time writing about his dynamic life. I will share some disjointed tidbits from those writings here.

John was 87 years young at the time of his death on July 6, 2022, or as John said at his recent birthday party-  “29 for the third time” as he wore one dangly earring because “that’s something a 29 year old would do”.

The boathouse community at Latsch has a vibrant and tenacious history. It is a place where outliers, independents, creatives, rebels, heartbroken and soulful individuals have landed and often stayed. John was one of those. His controversial life led him away from mainstream society and straight to the river. John was gay and lived in a community of Christian Brothers until his early forties. In 1978, John left the Christian Brothers community, came out of the closet, and found the river. John later writes this as the last line in his own obituary, “The love experienced by the gay people God creates is God’s loving gift to them, a gift to be appreciated, enjoyed, and celebrated.”

John would stay as a resident on Latsch Island and more specifically Wolf Spider Island (the lower portion of Latsch and the part of the island that remains off the grid) until his death. John documented life on the river thoroughly. He was observant and thoughtful. He marked down water levels and knew what ducks were mates. He loved the birds. He protected swallow nests at all costs and fed the ducks while providing them areas to reside by tying floating logs off his boathouse.

He was a man of independence and routine. John was an advocate and a thinker. He often wrote controversial but important letters in the Winona Post about how harmful religious hypocrisy can be and how the current teachings of Catholicism are dangerous to the development of gay kids. John attended protests to stand up for his strong beliefs. At the age of 86, John counter-protested at an anti-abortion protest. At the end of the day, he was the only counter-protester remaining.

John always made Christmas cards that had a picture of the river or an eagle or ducks or some other form of river wildlife on them. He would go to the library to print these off and then would fold them into a card and write on them. He also gave Hutch a homemade birthday card made in the same way for his first and second birthdays. He had a special place in his heart for Hutch, and Hutch loved to wave out the window to John or yell to him from our dock.

John was dynamic and true to himself. He was a simple living man with complex thoughts. He loved the river, the wildlife, and the small circle of people he lent his time and wisdom to. I am so honored we were a part of knowing and loving him. Our family of four went to visit him the day before his death on July 6th. The last words I said to him were, “I love you John.” His to me, “I love you too.”

Also, and this is something I am so thankful for, my upstream neighbor Gina has spent the previous couple of years talking with John to document his life and the history he carries within the boathouse community. She will have a podcast coming out this fall to share this meaningful work. You can follow along with this in the following spaces: or on Instagram @backchannelradio

Chapter 6: Fridays, Buzz Off

Everyone is out there yelling “TGIF” and glorifying Fridays like it brings nothing but sunshine and rainbows and delicious margaritas with salted rims. Fridays got a little weird for us though. If you work in healthcare or have any superstitious bones in your body, you know that unfortunate things happen in threes. I work in healthcare and have a tiny pinky toe bone that harbors superstition, so of course, the power of threes reared its mighty head for us.

On Friday, June 17, Hutch awoke from a nap and was unable to walk. He tried and limped with both legs and cried and stopped… for multiple hours. This is very outside of his personality. When I prodded around to feel for pain in his legs, he withdrew them both as if they were sore. As you may remember, he recently broke his right leg. This pain was different- generalized and in both legs. My nurse experiences led me to think of all the bad things- Guillian Barre Syndrome and Lymes Disease being at the top of the list. We took him to Urgent Care. They did all the necessary tests- all negative. Whew! He was walking normally by the next day. Perhaps a case of growing pains? Apparently, this is a real diagnosis. I found it on Mother Mayo’s website, so it must be true.

By the next Friday, Winnie was five days old. I was living in a headspace short on sleep and in the land of the baby blues. That night, Winnie began to grunt with her breathing- each exhale a grunt. I counted her respirations- over 70 breathes a minute. My intuition told me something was up, but my sleep deprived noggin made me question myself. At 2:30am, we decided to take her to the ER. She spiked a fever there of 102. At only five days old, a fever that high means they have to run every test in the book. They did just that.

She eventually needed some oxygen, antibiotics, and fluids. Her diagnosis was never definitive as all the tests came back negative. The important thing was that she improved. By Monday, we were back home with our baby girl.

Are you ready for Friday #3? I’m not. Friday #3 involves another Urgent Care visit for a baseball sized blood clot emerging from the lady parts of yours truly. Yes, baseball sized. Being a woman sucks sometimes. The Supreme Court has exacerbated that sentiment exponentially.

And on Friday #4, we decided Michael should stay in bed. The End.

Chapter 7: Grateful

Thanks for hanging in there. I hope I didn’t lose too many people at Supreme Court or baseball sized blood clot because this is the part where I acknowledge all the good stuff.

The last three months have involved life and death and illness and baby blues and lots of change and new responsibilities. It has also included laughter, fulfillment, milestones, and inescapable joy. The people in our lives have a lot to do with the latter.

When Winnie was in the hospital, I went two floors down to see my coworkers. I didn’t expect this but seeing them made me cry instantly. All of the tears I carried from that day of constant tests, pokes, and interventions fell on the shoulder of my coworker Elizabeth as she held me in a hug.

I felt so safe with these people, like I knew they could carry my stress and sadness. We do it every day at work, and these coworkers and dear friends of mine do it with such honesty and love. They were my safe place.

Later that night, my coworker Karly brought me all the snacks, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen a mama could need. My other coworker Elizabeth and her husband Andy brought us their own clothes so we didn’t have to be dirtballs for three days. Their delivery also included snacks. Our needs and wants were more than met.

When we got home from the hospital, we were greeted with a fridge, freezer, and cupboard full of food. My friend Katy did this and she did it big- ice cream, chips, guacamole, fruit, all the fixings for s’mores, and the list goes on. This friend of mine since high school knows me deeply… as evidenced by the cotton candy ice cream.

The gratitude list goes on. Grandma and Papa brought us dinner on our first night home from Winnie’s birth. Our upstream neighbor Marla made me an herbal bath mix to use postpartum. My aunt Arlette tended to the animals while we were gone. My parents checked on the animals too and took Hutch for multiple days at a time… twice. My parents have also helped with nearly every project going on at our new place- roofing the shed, cleaning up scrap metal, cleaning up brush, etc. I often think we’d be lost without them.

My friend Kelly checked in frequently just to remind me she was there to talk when I needed it most. 

Good people have been our greatest blessing. To all of you, thank you.


So, that’s my book! The titles I am playing with include Fridays Suck: Where’s My Margarita, Life as a House on Wheels, Sex Works & Other Induction Wisdom, When John and Arlas Meet in Heaven, and Having the Best Grandparents and Other Gardening Hacks. I guess it depends on what section of the library I’m going for… TBD.

River to Farm

In a matter of 24 hours, Hutch broke his leg and we bought a farm. Life is feeling… bittersweet. I type this sitting in a hospital recliner getting an IV iron infusion for my pregnant and anemic body. I sit in a space where the other patients are older, here for their fifth or fiftieth time for mostly cancer.. I assume this by the conversations I overhear and the fact that they have all come with a chest port (a long term IV access device implanted in their chest).

As a nurse, I am around this kind of thing all the time. Being a part of someone’s illness, pain, life-changing moments, and hard conversations are parts of my daily routine; ones that I hold sacred.

This week everything feels a bit more sensitive and meaningful- personally sacred. It could be the fact that Hutch and I were both the patients this week. It could be the increased sensitivity I have to Hutch’s pain and courage and adaptability and the knowing that soon, he will not be the only baby that I give all my love to.

It could be that my patients this week remind me of my own family- a young man with a multi-month hospitalization under his belt and a baby due soon and another man who is near my dad’s age who is nonverbal now but has a list of likes written on his board which include Diet Mountain Dew, 80s rock, and chopping wood.

(pic of my dad below)

My sensitivity could be coming from pregnancy hormones or the multiple days of gloomy clouds. It could be that my sister will delivering her baby any day now and the anticipation and gratitude I have in knowing I get to be with her when she meets her daughter (as long as I get there in time).

Finally, it might be the bittersweet transition we are making from living on the boathouse we built and love to buying and living in my grandparent’s house on the farm where my mom grew up and where I also spent much of my vibrant childhood.

When we built the boathouse, we moved into it just two days before Hutch’s due date. Once again, we make this transition of place just two months before bringing our baby girl into the world. It all feels very… soulful.

So yes, a lot is going on. It is mostly good things except for that one little limping leg.

I skimmed over some details in that fairly brief but definitely tangential life update; I’ll provide more context here now…

We’ll start with Hutch’s injury as I’m sure you’re wondering how on the list of 101 ways did this two-year-old break his leg. As most injuries go, it happened unexpectedly…not to mention in the presence of 4 adults. We were hustling to get to my dad’s birthday dinner. While moving the car seat with Hutch in it, in search of a seat belt so we could all ride together, Hutch’s foot got caught and twisted between his seat and the seat in front of him resulting in a nondisplaced low tibia fracture. We never made it to dad’s birthday dinner. Instead, the Urgent Care provider told us we would be carrying our 26 pound toddler around for six weeks- the prescribed time that Hutch would need to be non-weight bearing.

I suppose you could say that our timing in purchasing a more accessible home was somewhat serendipitous. The morning after Hutch broke his leg, we met with my parents and aunt and uncle to sign for the purchase of my grandparent’s homestead and 20 acres. Suddenly, after seven years of living on the water, we were land dwellers again.

After meeting with Orthopedics a couple days later, Hutch’s leg was casted and we were told that he could now walk on it. This was a huge relief. We could see our toddler play on his own two feet again and his pregnant mom wouldn’t have to carry around a toddler on top of her bowling ball tummy for the final two months of pregnancy. Whew.

Now, I’ll reflect on the reasons why our move feels both bittersweet and soulful…

Of course, you know that we love the river. The title of this blog might give you some indication. We have also loved living in our small spaces (142 square feet in the houseboat and 576 square feet in the boathouse). The perks of a small space include minimal stuff, quick cleaning time, and lots of togetherness.

We value being off the grid on the boathouse; that has felt meaningful.

Being on the river has also brought interconnectedness to nature and its cycles and changes. There is a humility in having your home and travel to your home be directly affected by the climate much like the birds and the beavers that live so closely among us.

The river is a magical place. If you watch the sun set on a calm night or marvel at the beauty of birds during migration, you’ll understand.

Lastly and maybe mostly, we have loved our communities. At both Watergate Marina in Saint Paul and Latsch Island in Winona, we have known and loved people that live purposefully, simply, and with joy, humor, and grit. They include the rebel, the recluse, the scholar, and the artist. They are as kind as they are eclectic. These people feel like kindred spirits and have become like family.

We will continue to keep the boathouse. I love it too much. Michael knows that I plan to spend my dying days there. Michael has plotted his final days to be at our cabin up north, so we’ll see how this all turns out…

When people ask about raising kids on the boathouse, I can say that it was the perfect place to spend our first two years of Hutch’s life. We were together, undisturbed, and so very alive.

Now, as Hutch gains independence and can wander on his own a bit, I recognize that Hutch has two options in playing outside. On one side of our boathouse is a moving river and on the other side is an island full of poison ivy. You could say that these are not the most toddler-friendly settings. As a young child, I once used poison ivy as toilet paper so I’m well aware of its consequences.

So, that was the gist of the bitter and the sweet in my whirlwind of emotions this week. I will now elaborate on the soulful part of this transition.

When Michael and I got married, we had a vague but incredibly aligned idea of what our life together might include. To live a life in harmony with the earth was one of our biggest ideals. This can be practiced in many forms- buying local food, using solar energy, conserving water use, buying less, disposing of less, etc. These are practical ways to respect the earth but there is a spiritual aspect as well. The spiritual connection happens when you put your hands in the dirt, make something grow, watch the animals and learn the purpose of their patterns, or when you base your activities around the wind, temperature, or rain.

I grew up around farming. Both of my grandparents had dairy farms. They also crop farmed as my dad currently does on a smaller scale. He’s always loved the land and is the happiest outside, a trait I’ve also inherited.

(pic of my dad and me below)

It is hard to write about my family because it is such a deep and important part of me. Words seem to do no justice.

(pic of my mom below)

I grew up within three miles of most of my relatives, the majority of those were within a single mile. On many days, I would see both sets of my grandparents at each of their farms, and sometimes my great-grandparents who were also next door.

My best friends were my cousins, and two of them were just a gravel road bike ride away. I spent my days riding bikes, doing chores, playing in the woods, visiting the animals, making hay forts, jumping in the feed, swimming in the creek, milking cows, or playing hide and seek in the cornfield.

Now, of course, with a little life experience under my belt, I realize my fortune in growing up like this. I was so free and in touch with the land and the people who love me. Growing up is a funny thing in that you gain so much wisdom and insight but you are still that curious and sensitive person with all the wonder still in there. I think that many of us strive to return to that wonder but don’t know how to fit it into our adult lives with work and schedules and responsibilities and the many societal expectations that we are expected to adhere to.

By the way, our inner child would probably care less about societal expectations, mine would anyway.

I say all this as buying this 20 acre slice of my Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s farm is like returning to my inner child and bringing my own kids and husband there with me. It feels like the most soulful thing I’ve ever done.

I do want to talk about my four grandparents a little more. While words will never do them justice, it might be fun to give you a little snapshot of who these people are to me.

Grandpa Johnson was very smart. He was serious but witty. He was curious but afraid to fly so he did all his learning through books or conversation. He raised beautiful Brown Swiss cows; they were even featured on the cover of a national farming magazine. He was a ruthless card shark and went to play cards frequently with his brother, Ray. Grandpa knew every answer to every question on Jeopardy. He read encyclopedias for fun. I often wish I could talk to him now- about history or land use or any of the other million topics he was so well-versed in. As an adult, I think I would understand and appreciate him a little more. I think we’d be really good friends, and if I could, I’d try to get him to go on a plane with me. His parents, “Grandpa Art and Grandma Dorothy” were also next door. We spent many afternoons and evenings there reading books with them and eating all of their Fig Newtons.

Grandma Johnson is always calm and full of love. For multiple years, she took care of her four and sometimes five grandchildren day in and day out. I marvel at the ease in which she fed us, kept us behaved enough, and still allowed us to be free and curious throughout the farm or down by the creek. Grandma J did all the most nurturing things for us- she rocked us on her lap for hours, crocheted afghans for each of us, made cakes for all our birthdays and each of our weddings, and always always always stepped outside to blow us kisses and give us a wave when we drove away. Grandma J may sound overwhelmingly gentle, and she is, but she is also very strong and resilient. Grandma took care of Grandpa for multiple years. She kept her house and her garden and yard beautifully cared for. She was and is a true caretaker and role model. I adore her for her coexisting grace and strength. Also, she was a beautiful pianist and singer- two qualities I definitely did not have the honor to inherit.

Grandpa Larson or “Papa” has the kind of qualities that everyone in the world could use a little more of. Papa is patient, kind, playful, and hard working. He started his own farm as a young man and continues to keep a beautiful homestead complete with gardens and a basketball hoop for anyone who dares to challenge him to a game of horse. He has mastered the art of tinkering in his shed. Hutch will always say, “Papa will fix it” whenever a toy gets broken. Papa is often the only person I know that would give an old toy the patience and time needed to bring it back to life. I’ve watched Papa take care of his animals and play with his great-grandchildren with the same kind of love and undivided attention. He will watch birds or play in the sandbox for hours with Hutch. I remember him doing this for me too. My heart knows true goodness because of Papa. I am so grateful that my kids get to know Papa like I have; it is one of my greatest blessings.

Grandma Larson is dynamic. “Dynamic” is one of my favorite adjectives and one that I use sparingly for a person or experience that can be described in no other adequate way. I am certain that I get my deep feelings from Grandma. She can be passionate, sensitive, and even fiery. I love this about her. Grandma is the ultimate people person. She welcomes everyone into her home and will show them love and a good time until the moment they leave. She taught me how to set a table and that you should always greet your guests at the door and walk them out when they leave. She served Michael shots of Drambuie the first time he visited. Smart lady- booze will make the boyfriends talk. Grandma has been there for my every milestone- athletic games, spelling bees, graduations, proms. She traveled 3 hours to watch my nurse pinning ceremony and showed up at my first hospital job when I was surprised with a DAISY award. Grandma had ambitions to be a nurse, and in every step of my experience to become one, she has been right there in my corner. Grandma likes a party, but she also likes to spend days with her hands in the dirt pulling weeds or planting flowers. She works hard, always has, and she makes it look easy. She is the perfect example of living life to the very fullest.

In describing my grandparents, I hope you can understand why this move is incredibly soulful. It is a return to my heritage, to the wonder of my inner child, and to the land that my grandparents chose for us. These are the spaces that raised my parents and later raised me. Within three miles of the farm we’ve now bought, my parents and Grandma and Grandpa Larson remain along with my aunt and uncle, my mom’s cousin and his family, and my great aunt. The roots run deep and wide around here, like Garvin Brook after a spring flood.

In a world of distraction where we could be anywhere doing anything, returning here and digging deeper into our roots and ourselves feels exactly… perfect.

A Boathouse Summer

As the weather changes to frigid and life slows down a bit, I have a little more time to write again. While I was able to share our hiking, camping, and raspberry picking along the Superior Hiking Trail, we also had plenty of good weather (and bad weather) moments from our home base- the boathouse.

As a refresher- Michael, Hutch, and I live off grid in the boathouse we rebuilt over two years ago. We live on the Mississippi River on an island in Winona, MN among 100 other boathouses but only a handful or two year-rounders like us.

We have “tea” with our neighbors on Thursdays when the weather is right. Tea might include tea. It might include Tullamore Dew whisky. On special occasions, Tea will be an entire bloody mary bar. Whatever beverage Tea is serving, it always includes good company, interesting conversation, and a couple of neighborhood dogs (not ours) and one neighborhood toddler (ours).

Living off the grid means no bills but arguably more chores. In the winter, these chores are tedious. In the summer, they are fun. The boathouse chores include but are not limited to: refilling propane tanks, refilling drinking water, refilling our 55 gallon drums of water used for showering and sinks, and the occasional emptying of our compost toilet. In the summer, we are fully powered by solar energy. In the off seasons, we may need occasional help from a friend- the Honda generator.

In the summer, chores are done by jon boat. We get our water from the local marina which is a quick jaunt upstream. We can also transfer our propane tanks by boat to vehicle to gas station and back again with much less effort than the sled pull technique that winter provides.

The only downfall of summer chores is when the fruit flies make their way into our toilet and proliferate like… like flies I guess. That cleanup is a dreadful job, and one that Michael has taken on 100% of the time. For the record, I did take care of the maggot situation we once had in our cloth diaper bin. This was a lesson not to leave dirty cloth diapers outdoors, and to potty train immediately- which is going quite well.

Some summer highlights on the boathouse include the following: the sunsets, watching our neighbor Gerty cruise by via boat no less than 3-4 times per day- almost always with his dog Banksy in tow (Hutch loves the doggies, he loves Gerty too but Banksy more), watching the Steamboat Days fireworks on the deck, using the boat as our primary transport (to the grocery store across the river, to “daycare” aka Grandma and Grandpa’s cabin on the river, or just to the parking lot which is a solid five minute walk otherwise), jumping off the deck into the river (diving board coming next year, already purchased via Craiglist ad), and e-bike rides to town or to the adjacent wildlife refuge… so many e-bike rides, 2,200 miles to be exact.

This year also brought us some roommates for a couple months.

Our friends Sam and Patty took up residence in our houseboat Neighbor Girl, the little steel hulled houseboat we lived in for four years before moving in to our current river residence.

You may remember Neighbor Sam from being a neighbor of ours when we lived in this boat in Saint Paul, MN. Sam had an adorable tugboat that he acquired from Lake Michigan. He also lived on his boat for four years.

Together, our boats and our selves navigated four wildly different seasons in an elusive wooded marina smack dab in the middle of the cities.

Now, having Sam & Patty here allowed us to revive Neighbor Girl as she had slowly become a glorified tool shed over the last two years.

Their presence also brought a lot of fun, a welcomed sense of community with shared meals and game nights, and new memories together like co-parenting an abandoned duckling, mastering “patty boarding”- pulling a kite surfing board behind the boat (named after Patty as we accomplished this on her birthday), and assisting in the capture of a fugitive.

Okay, I will share the fugitive story… It started on a blissful sunny afternoon when Patty, Michael, Hutch, and I boated to the boat landing to pick up Sam so he did not have to walk that treacherous five minutes across the island. Sam was briefly chatting with a stranger drenched in river water when we arrived. The stranger was frantic upon our arrival and requested a ride “down river”. I asked multiple questions like “are you okay?”, “what’s the matter?”, and “where do you need to go?” The stranger eluded my questions and became increasingly demanding that we give him a ride.

Meanwhile, Michael spotted a police officer pulling up to the landing and asked the stranger if this had anything to do with the cop over there. Michael got the cop’s attention, and the cop hurriedly made his way to the landing. The stranger became frantic as Michael started to pull the boat away from the dock. The stranger jumped onto the front of our boat. He slipped around with his wet feet as Michael gunned it in reverse. The stranger fell in the water. We were caught between the police officer coaxing the stranger to “just make it easy on yourself and come on in” and the stranger saying “I’m trying but I can’t, the current!” while the current was indeed aiding him in the officer’s direction.

We hung around as either a rescue or a capture boat but luckily, neither was needed. The stranger swam in and was arrested as a fugitive with a history of sexual assault. When I told my coworker this story, she asked “What is up with you running into criminals this year?” She was referring to my vehicle being stolen on Superbowl Sunday and being found outside the scene of a homocide… Well, let us hope 2022 brings less crime and more patty-boarding.

While one of our 2021 summer goals was to hike the Superior Hiking Trail, our other family goal was to take a few days to navigate our jon boat downstream and simply take in the Mississippi River in all of it’s raw and unassuming glory.

This would include tent camping on whatever sandbar we landed at, cooling off with a swim, and the occasional mingling with small river towns when we stopped to refill gas or groceries.

One of our greatest inclusions was to bring our e-bike along. All three of us can ride, and it was an easy way to see a town from top to bottom and side to side.

I try to keep a sort of travel journal whenever I go somewhere new. This started when we took our trip around the world and continues with trips within our own region or state. I highly recommend this practice as even the most magnificently tangible details dilute with time. Instead of trying to recollect the details of this river trip, I’ll include tidbits of the unrevised journal entries below.

Day #1

Michael has outfitted the boat nicely with a new spotlight and navigation lights, made a console hatch that locks, made a cover for the engine compartment, added our cedar chest to the front for our items, got a new prop, and strapped on our e-bike as well as our two gas cans and a water jug. We’re taking our jon boat with a bimini and the pack and play for Hutch.

We get to Lock #7 where a barge is headed upstream. I call the lock and find out it is a 1.5 hour wait. We find a sandbar nearby and hang out. Hutch runs around. We eat and drink and get in the water a bit. We find a baby turtle that Hutch is very afraid of.

I find camp just downstream across from Brownsville on Ryan’s Point. Hutch is asleep by 8pm. Michael and I join him in the tent at 9:30. I read a bit, fall asleep quickly, and wake to high winds and light rain at midnight. The tent is shaking and I’m amazed Hutch doesn’t wake. Rain starts again around 5am and sticks around until 8:30am. We play in the tent until it clears. We debate going home already as the weather forecast shows scattered storms all day and into the night. We take a gamble and keep going.

Day #2

We are glad we gambled. It is a perfect day.

We strip Hutch naked and let him play in the sand and water for at least two hours. He loves to have a cup and scoop and dump water over and over again. After two hours, I ask Michael, “How long do you think he would do this for?” Michael says, “at least a year.”

The blue herons are very active here and louder than I’ve ever heard them. I usually see them alone but here it seemed like they were playing some sort of game- calling eachother and dodging around. I love to watch them. They are my favorite birds.

We do family river baths tonight, giving Hutch a rinse with our clean water. The forecast states a 90% chance of rain tonight so we prepare for that. We are all together in the tent by 9pm.

Day #3

We never got rain last night. It is the driest year yet this year and the first time I’ve heard the word “drought” used for the state of MN, so I celebrate rain whenever it chooses to come.

Hutch woke twice in the night but very briefly. One time just to say, “mama, yup. dada, yup,” then back to sleep.

We biked around Prairie Du Chien for a good while on the e-bike. The weather was perfect in the morning but we knew rain was on the horizon. When we hopped back in the boat, a barge was ahead of us. I cruised to get ahead and get to Lock #9 first. It was 5 miles away but we did it.

The rain was headed our way from the north so we made a plan to drive just south of Lansing, park under a bridge, and visit the Driftless Area Museum while the rain poured down. We parked perfectly so the boat was spared of the 1.5 hour torrential downpour, and we enjoyed the museum.

Day #4

We wake early, of course, because Hutch always wakes early- 6am. It is already a perfectly calm day. We got on the water quickly and cut through the glass-like river. We see pelicans, a cormorant, and two eagles chasing each other in flight- a full grown and a juvenile, the juvenile chasing the full grown out of a tree.

We reach Stoddard. At the landing, there are many pickup trucks, and also a horse tied to a tree with an Amish cart nearby. We take the e-bike to explore and restock our ice.

It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful ride home. I drive us toward the sunset and play some music. We hit the last two locks perfectly- no wait time and we’re home by 6pm. I could live on this river forever with these guys… I just might.

I write about much of this as way to hold memories. Anyone who knows me knows that my memory for things, people, and events does not hold up well. Perhaps, this is why I was given a joy in writing- it is my way to to memorialize moments.

I want to remember Hutch’s unadulterated joy in watching the ducks swim by. I want to feel the swift euphoria as I jump to the river from the edge of our spiral staircase. I want to dwell in the admiration of watching our 86 year old neighbor diligently care for his boathouse, for the ducks, and for the island for over 40 years of purposeful boathouse-dwelling  existence.

I want to close my eyes and see the summer sunset as it casts it’s pinks and it’s oranges across the quietude of a still river, always interrupted by the noise of a landing duck or a family splashing at the beach across the water.

I know that our boathouse winters will hold and have held memories that would be equally painful to lose. I will transcribe those again too. In the meantime, I could not let this year pass without reflecting on the spontaneous, untroubled (except for the very sweaty, unair-conditioned days), and very colorful existence that a boathouse summer provides. Thanks for partaking in my untimely contemplation of a summer passed.

Oh, and happy holidays! May your cup of cocoa have perfectly melted little marshmallows, and may someone make you frosted cut-out cookies with multicolored icing so that you don’t have too. Cheers!

Raspberry Parade

If I were a physician, a medicine woman, a psychiatrist, a marriage counselor, or any person that’s expected to provide prescriptions for problems, I would grab my prescription pad and scribble “take a hike” for a good chunk of today’s troubles.

Michael, Hutch, and I are fresh off of eight days of hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).

We had guest appearances by our easygoing, adventurous friends Pete and Tracey (plus Kip the dog). We got to have them at The Northern Post as well. This was a true highlight. 

On another day, Neighbor Sam joined us for a full 13.5 mile day that ended at the dynamic Temperance River.

While near Grand Marais, we got to have my highschool pal Arran, who usually resides in Switzerland, along for probably the most beautiful and certainly the most dramatic section- Pincushion Mountain Trailhead to County Road 14.

We also got to stay with Arran’s mom and dad for a couple of nights. This is always a joy. Our time included good food, soccer, feeding goats, wonderful chats, and for us- necessary showers.

We made it a goal to jump in Lake Superior or any other body of water after each hiking day- a form of bathing I suppose, certainly the most enjoyable kind. 

With Pete and Tracey, we got a mid-day swim in Bear Lake. A loon was living here. His noises reverberated in the valley of this special lake that remained untouched by any road.

With Sam, we reached the mouth of the Temperance River at the end of the day and swam there. Being with Sam near the water always feels right. We met him five years ago as our neighbor in the the marina when we lived on the houseboat in St. Paul. Our memories with Sam always include water… or that damn tower (see tower tale blog post for details).

With Arran, we found ourselves very sweaty and in the right place for a cure- Devil Track River.

Our other swimming holes included Illgen Falls (a slightly hidden gem) and the classic Lake Superior dips at Split Rock River Wayside.

Outside of swimming, our eight wonderful days (in this third trip anyway; 20 days in total this summer) on the SHT included 102 miles of berry picking, song singing, joke making, discussion diving, and tidbits of silence… but not much of that.

Most of my quiet, tranquil moments were abrubtly interrupted by a sweet little voice yelling “Mama! Ra-berry!… Mama! Ra-berry!”

Raspberries, juneberries, thimbleberries, serviceberries, gooseberries, and the beginnings of blueberries lined our trails and filled our bellies. It’s no wonder all the bear scat is dark with berry juice and sprinkled with their seeds- the berries are everywhere.

We referenced our guide book Wild Berries & Fruits by Teresa Marrone to learn more about what was what. We sampled chokecherries (astringent AF) and rose hips (mostly seeds with a potato-like skin). Sam tried the bunchberries with an unimpressed reaction. We avoided the baneberries (toxic, both red and white ones) as well as the sarsparilla and the blue-beaded lilies (both inedible).

Michael proofread this blog and didn’t want me to forget the scootberries. Our guidebook stated that they are inedible because they cause problems like diarrhea. In Michael’s words: “That sounds less like a problem and more of a solution.” And that’s all you need to know about scootberries.

The raspberries were the most abundant. We would spend 10 minutes picking at one patch and still leave hundreds for the next hiker.

Like a true Minnesotan, Michael began to sing this well known Prince song whilst among the berries: Raspberry parade, the kind you find in a second hand store. Raspberry parade, if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more.

Like me, you are probably thinking, “whaaaattt Michael?..”

I paused for a moment and said, “Michael, did you just say raspberry parade?”

Michael, “yes.”

Me, “Michael, it’s raspberry beret… the kind she finds at a second hand store.”

Michael, “….”

We both eat a handful of berries now and have a moment of silence.

Michael, “I don’t think so.”

Me, “… are you serious?”

Now, in the middle of the woods, I must dig my phone out of my backpack, turn it off airplane mode, hope and pray for cell service, and Google this very obvious win I’m about to experience.

With pride, I show him the true lyrics of the very popular song titled RASPBERRY BERET.

My ego is large now. My belly is full of raspberries. Michael is humbled. Life is good, and we sing his version of Raspberry Parade the rest of the trip.

When you hike for 8 plus hours per day, you and your hiking partners cover a lot of conversational ground. Hutch’s content revolved around the word “ra-berry” 90% of the time. This is now the longest word in his vocabulary, but he learns it out of necessity so he can direct his mama from his borrowed (Thanks Tannica & Sam!) Kelty carrier throne atop his father’s back.

“Mama, ra-berry!… Mama! Ra-berry!” Sometimes, I oblige and hand-pick the juiciest berry for our little forest prince. Other times, I’m simply too sore or exhausted or blistered to perform one more bend in the hot sun mid-ascension to the rocky ridgeline. During those times, we’ll pass the alluring berries quickly and ignorantly and say, “let’s keep looking,” and in 0.2 seconds, Hutch has scouted out another patch.

This is our third hiking trip on the SHT this summer. We have completed 221.5 miles with the goal to complete a total of 249.5 miles from Martin Road in Duluth to the northern terminus by the end of this year. We only have 28 miles left now.

This trail is one that we’ve wanted to acquaint ourselves with since buying land here in Two Harbors in 2015. These northern woods are both wild and comforting, two adjectives I also use to describe my husband; perhaps that’s why I love them both so much.

These north woods are different than the Hutchinson prairies that Michael grew up on or the deciduous driftless region that raised me.

These woods have an abundance of northern white pines (Michael’s favorite tree) that draw your eyes straight to the sky and cedar trees (my favorite) that grow erratically yet purposefully from any boulder or bog.

The trail has both robust and trickling streams, beaver ponds that come alive at night with a delightful cacophony of creature noises, waterfalls that feel other-worldly, backcountry lakes untouched by any sense of civilization, ridgelines that bring you close to heaven, and valleys that make you feel small again.

We scare up grouse a couple times a day, and on once occasion, we were attacked by what I assume to be a mother grouse.

The bears remained elusive while we saw their berry-ridden poop everywhere. I now fear the grouse more than the bear.

Moose prints were seen a couple of times- an animal we dream about catching a glimpse of. Unfortunately, we are much too chatty to allow for this fortuity.

Human sightings were only occasional- a surprise to us as this trail is incredibly accessible with trailheads every 1.7 to 11.8 miles. Some days, we saw nobody.

One day, we met a 73 year old woman named Jean. She was hiking 11 miles by herself. Her husband would pick her up at the end of the day. He did this every day for her- drop her off at the start and pick her up at the end.

Jean ran into a bear before she ran into us. We had our lunch break with her as she regaled us with her decades of hiking stories. I loved her.

Near a trailhead, we met a family with a little girl who greeted me by saying, “I like your purple everything,” as they skidaddled past us. It strangely made my day, and I thought: should I start using a version of this compliment? Perhaps, I will tell others, “I like your everything,” or “Your everything is wonderful.” I don’t know.. maybe this statement is most endearing from a five year old.

Another observation about the Superior Hiking Trail humans: most hikers (and especially the solo thru-hikers) were female. This was a pleasant surprise.

I have been hiking in a variety of ways and in many places for over a decade, and my gender is usually outnumbered. I find the same trend in boating- males everywhere.

Perhaps I share certain pieces of me most online- the forest activities and the river living- because I want other women to know that these places are for them. Of course, women have always been here, but it is harder to find the representation- the books about them, the public figures, etc. I have read my fair share of Mark Twain, Sigurd Olson, and Henry David Thoreau, but it is harder to find a book written by a woman like Jean.

(Side note: After intentionally seeking these out, I have found two books about women in the outdoors and am reading them both right now. I highly recommend these books pictured below. Rivers Running Free is now on my list of favorites. Thank you Gina for the book borrow.)

Back to the SHT shiz. I have talked about the incredible beauty of the trail, but there are hard parts too. I feel obligated to include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My feet blister every time. My combination of moleskin, tape, and nylons under wool socks only ease the discomfort. By day four, the blisters finally pass the stage of pain with every step.

Camping with a one year old can be amazing or terrible. We changed course to day hiking after a night in which Hutch acquired a face full of bug bites nearly swelling his right eye shut. In that same night, Hutch woke at 4am crying to leave the tent and go into the darkness to play with the bears and the bugs. I should include that the camping sites are all group sites which is wonderful but not at 4am with a crying baby.

We decided to complete our third trip by day hiking only. This eliminated some of the aforementioned problems and allowed us to carry lighter.

We needed a “shuttle” to park or get back to our vehicle each day, so we utilized our electric bike.

The bike was a perfect shuttle service and even allowed us time on the Gitchi Gami bike trail. We are able to triple up on the bike, so it’s as good as a car for these short distances. It is also Hutch’s very favorite thing. If you see his front perch view here, you can understand why.

We only had one biking hiccup- a flat tire. It was being used for shuttle in the morning when Michael drove it alone back to us after leaving our car at the endpoint. He went flat with 4 miles to go and got a text through to me in a place with minimal cell service. In 10 minutes, I recruited a stranger named Maddy who had driven to our trailhead from his direction. I asked, “Did you see a hitchhiker a few miles away?” She said, “Yup, I thought about getting him but knew my mom would kill me.”

Maddy offered to pick him up now. She was smart though and asked me a few personal questions that she then made him answer before letting him in her car. He got the questions right, whew.

He hid the bike there in the woods until we could pick it up after our hike. Maddy wouldn’t take the payment we offered her. She said, “Someone did the same for me a few weeks ago.” People are good. Thank you Maddy.

Unfortunately, this year was much drier than normal leaving some trail water sources unavailable. We use the Sawyer filter (highly recommended) to filter water from any stream or pond.

The lack of water is usually a non-issue on the SHT. This year was different, so while we used our filter frequently, we also carried more water to assure hydration.

The wildfire haze was another new feature. Our weather report provided air quality alerts telling us to avoid extensive activity in the outdoors…hmmm, and our views of Lake Superior had a smoke-stained filter.

Campfires were banned completely. None of this is normal.

I write in this blog for fun, for a place to keep memories, for a place to share lightness in a sometimes heavy world, and to show a life that we work to keep simple, clarified, and reduced down to only what feels real- free of excess and free of societal expectations.

In time, I find that I cannot both enjoy the simple life that the woods and the waters offer us and omit the important discussions of stewardship as well as the environmental detriments being caused by human greed, gluttony, and the generational conditioning that has led us to create such harmful habits to each other and to the earth.

I have a lot of thoughts on these things. They are stored somewhere important in my brain, probably right next to all the Prince lyrics. I will share more of this in future writings, potentially more Prince as well.

I will keep my writings balanced like I believe life should be. Living lightly and living purposefully is not mutually exclusive.

I hope you stay along for the ride. Like forest prince Hutch in his Kelty carrier throne, I will feed you many sweet and sun-kissed raspberries and a few sour ones. They will both be worth a taste. Thanks for joining our raspberry parade.

Well, SHT

And within a matter of ten minutes, we came across a police officer. She seemed to be taking inventory of the miscellaneous items astrewn across the Superior Hiking Trail: a broken folding chair, a torn shirt, garbage, and plastic bags stating “Patient Belongings” pouring out items like puke bags, kleenex, and gauze. As she talked to us, these statements stuck hard and fast to the deep place where my mom anxieties live: “we’re looking for this guy”, “he’s well known to police”, “we think he’s camping in the area”. I muttered, “Do you think it’s safe to be camping with our baby?” She replied, “Well, yeah, just get out of this general area” as she waved in every direction. And with that, I was ready to complete our 47 miles in that single day.

I never watch crime shows. I always say that I spend far too much time in the woods to infiltrate my brain with that. The scenario above would have been the perfect set for such a show- sunny day, unsuspecting couple with baby, friendly cop, bizarre items placed perfectly in disarray. Even without crime TV influences, my mom brain spent the next two hours considering every scenario. I thought, “shoot, I should’ve asked for his name or what he looks like… now, we’ll meet a guy on the trail and have no idea if it’s him.” At some point, I decided I would befriend him. If we met him, I wouldn’t want him to feel threatened. If things really escalated, I had bear spray- something I insist to bring and Michael believes is unnecessary. To be honest, he’s probably more correct.

I start with this whole story to show you that fear is alive and well when trying something new. This would be the first multi-day hiking and camping trip that we’ve done since Hutch was born. We would be backpacking 47 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) on this trip with plans to complete the remaining 250ish miles in separate trips later this summer and fall. This flatter first section (from Duluth to Two Harbors) would be our trial run. We slept in a tent with him the night before the trip to see how he would do. It was a total disaster.

Hiking and camping without our one year old child would be business as usual. Backpacking with a baby was new territory.

Would he tolerate being carried for most waking hours? Would he nap in the carrier or would we have to stop and put up the tent? Would he even sleep at night next to us and not in his crib? Would he cry all night and wake up every other camper? How would the bugs be? Will it rain? Will it get cold at night? Will he get eaten by a bear? My dad warned about bears and reminded me that Hutch would be “a tasty little morsel”. I don’t worry much but I found my mom mind exacerbating every little idea.

Backpacking with a baby also comes with extra weight. We do cloth diapers which are not light, especially when wet. He still breastfeeds but needs extra milk in addition to that; dried milk formula would have to be brought. I insisted that we not only filter the water we give Hutch but that we boil it too. We used a thick sleep sack for his sleeping bag, and I brought him snow pants to wear on the cold mornings when he wanted to play in the mud. Our packs were not light.

After two hours of hiking away from “this general area”, every single worry dissipated. We got in our groove with good conversation, plenty of play breaks where we strapped Hutch’s shoes on and let him run around, snack breaks of Nutella slathered on tortillas (highly recommended), perfect weather, and a basic joy of just being together in one of our favorite places- the woods.

Hutch was incredibly adaptable. He fell asleep easy and was able to sleep straight through the night by the 3rd night. He tolerated being in the carrier for 8ish hours per day and napped there too. While Michael and I got at least three ticks on us per day, Hutch had none. We were very dedicated to twice-a-day tick checks. The mosquitoes were not out yet- a true luxury.

We learned that we could dry the wet cloth diapers on the back of our packs; they would then be lighter and reusable. I got nearly a dozen painful foot blisters (waterproof shoes might not have been the best idea). A friendly hiker borrowed me moleskin, and I soaked my feet in the rivers. They no longer hurt by the third day. We were faster than we expected completing 11 to 15 miles per day and averaging two miles per hour. We finished two days earlier than we expected. The section completed was Martin Rd. to Reeves Rd. We will continue northbound as time allows.

The uninterrupted time together outdoors is truly as good as life gets. It’s incredibly refreshing to be removed from society with phones off and our eyes on what surrounds us. Being a little unnerved about something felt good for my system; I think everyone should try it- let fear happen and embrace some healthy discomfort. Also, I will continue to avoid crime shows at all costs.

Swinging And Missing

“You’re really swinging and missing lately.” I said this to Michael after a day of driving and disappointments.

First, we drove to the Minneapolis Police Impound to retrieve our stolen vehicle that just got released from its homocide hold. Next, Michael drove three hours to Two Harbors to pick up our fourwheeler from the mechanic who could make it drivable but not fixed.

Third, Michael drove three hours back to River Falls to pick up Hutch and me but not before running out of gas on the freeway in the dark three miles from a gas station in -5 degrees.

He hopped on his bike that he brought with “just in case”. After getting 2.75 miles along, a police officer pulled him over on his bicycle telling him “you can’t be biking on the freeway”, so now he had a police escort. When he began to get his gallon jug that he brought with to fill with gas, the officer said, “why don’t you go ahead and get yourself a gas can.” Apparently, he also can’t be putting gas in an old water jug.

As Michael sat in the cop car on his way back to the vehicle, Michael thought about explaining our stolen vehicle situation and asking for his perspective. Michael reconsidered, thinking that talk about stolen vehicles and homocide holds might increase the cop’s suspicion about him- a slightly disheveled guy who was driving a vehicle that doesn’t belong to him (it’s my sister’s). Instead, Michael discussed the weather and thanked him for the ride.

Now, I would not have told Michael he’s “really swinging and missing lately” had we not had a whole week that resembled this day.

Earlier in the week, while we were house sitting at my parents’, our battery inverter/charger at our boathouse stopped working. We switched it with the one in our houseboat along with the houseboat batteries. We charged our batteries with a generator but in the cold, the oil gets so thick that sometimes the generator does not detect enough oil and shuts itself off. This must have happened right after we left the boathouse leaving the batteries not fully charged. Our heating system is in-floor heat only.

The next time Michael returned to the boathouse, three of the floor in-floor heat loops froze solid. Michael switched back to our new batteries since the houseboat ones were having difficulty taking a charge. Once the batteries were working again, the hot water heater would not kick on. The boathouse was now an igloo.

Our trusty neighbors Moses, Gerty, Polly, and John saved the day by lending a shed heater to get the temps up and a multi-meter to help troubleshoot the hot water heater situation plus an allen wrench to fix the hot water heater and oil needed for the generator. It took a village.

The problem with the hot water heater ended up being the pressure switch which was likely overpressured by the frozen pipes. Finally, after two days of this, the charger, the batteries, the generator, and the hot water heater were all working again. It took an additional two days for the in-floor heating to unfreeze, and luckily, without leaks.

Shout out to Gerty for checking on our house multiple times while we were gone to make sure everything was trending in the right direction. We have the best neighbors.

Okay, I know I breezed over the whole stolen vehicle and homocide hold situation earlier, and I know that we have some true crime junkies that read this, so I’ll briefly explain the scenario.

Michael, Hutch, and I were in Minneapolis staying with friends for a weekend.

On Sunday, we loaded up our vehicle and started it. We went inside where we could visualize the vehicle from the window and got wrapped up in our Minnesota goodbye that lasted 5, maybe 10, probably 15 minutes- you know the standard tradition: say goodbye, hugs, chat about the weekend that evolves to when we’ll get together next, then “let me give you some snacks for the road”, goodbye again, another side discussion, more hugs, etc.

When we got outside, we no longer had a vehicle. It was found six days later but was on a “homocide hold”; we knew only this until two days later when the detective called back telling us we could retrieve our vehicle as it was not determined to be part of the incident but just at the scene. Two days after that, we got our vehicle back.

They took most of our things and left their own treasures: half a bag of Cheetos, a bag of gummy worms, a bar of Ivory soap, some makeup, air fresheners hung up to mask the newly acquired smoke smell, baggies that once contained something, and some women’s jeggings- multiple pairs but not my size. They did have good taste in Cheetos- jalapeno cheddar- my favorite. Michael threw them away before I could finish them off.

The vehicle ran but has some new noises to it including a grinding noise in the vents when you turn on the heat; how does that even happen?… When Michael first looked at the vehicle, he told the Impound Guy, “It could be worse. It doesn’t look like they used it as a toilet.” Impound Guy, “Yeah that happens quite a bit actually.” Michael, “Really?” Impound Guy, “Yeah, they usually use the center console.” Michael, “I could see that.”

If you know Michael, you know he’s a swinger. Wait, that came out wrong… I’ll try again. If you know Michael, you know that he doesn’t sit on the bench. He’s the first to go to bat no matter the pitcher, the score, the… I ran out of baseball metaphors.

Anyway, Michael always goes for it, and he most always hits home runs. He tries everything and is successful 95% of the time- about the same efficacy as the Pfizer vaccine.

So, this week, Valentine’s Day week, I told my husband, “Hey, you’re really swinging and missing lately.” I told him that because it’s true, and whether he’s hitting homers or striking out, I love him like crazy.