Winter has arrived!

We had a frosty Halloween, Berenstain Bears so bundled, we should’ve been hibernating.

Christmas clocking in at an awkward 54 degrees.. my winter boots and wool socks sitting idly by as I slip on… Fastenal tennies?

And now, in the middle of January, I wake to -5 degrees and a half foot of snow in all directions. I wonder about the woodstove and the goats. For some reason, I wonder less about the chickens. I have a healthy assumption of their sturdiness.

After the usual egg breakfast, my wool socks sit idly by no longer. My Darn Toughs are in healthy rotation as I tuck them under by Berne bibs and into my LaCrosse boots.

Yes, I have finally found the right combination of clothes to keep me warm in every temperature. Cheap sweatpants under Berne bibs and any old sweatshirt will do as long as it’s under my Duluth Trading shoreline fleece jacket. A thick hat, girthy neck gaiter, and insulated deerskin mittens are also essential.

While some people advertise their skin care routine with a level of enthusiasm that surprises me, I can now relate as I write out the details of donning my perfected winter wear. I finally feel like I have a routine worth advertising!

I notice the joy that grows in me as I slip my feet into those Darn Toughs. Perhaps this joy is something akin to rubbing tingly serums on your under eye.

(In an attempt to report the use of serums correctly, I do admit to googling “skin care routine” and going into a mini deep dive. What a world!)

Within my Google research, I was surprised to find that there are commonly 5-10 steps to this phenomenon. This only validated me in my desire to share the value of a thoroughly tested routine.

I will now move forward with discussing winter wear in a 7 step format, something that might be reminiscent of your favorite skin care regimen. GRWM.

Step 1: Cleanse

For me, this means a stern cup of coffee with plenty of additions. Personally, I use the Homestead Honey Farm brand, a well-crafted and local purchase in addition to Organic Valley half and half. Multiple sources discuss the importance of cleansing morning and night. I couldn’t agree more. If my Norwegian roots have proved anything, it is the value of stiff coffee at all hours, a true cleanser of the soul, mind, and body.

Step 2: Toners

I actually had no idea what this was until I took to reading about it today. After reading a few articles, I am still highly unsure. The purpose seems variable, almost subjective, but the most relatable application may be to “rebalance”. As that morning cup of joe oozes into my neurons, I certainly begin to feel rebalanced from the inside out. While my innards are warm and ready, my outtards are still bra-less and in dissaray. After some tooth brushing, tying my hair back, and contact lens application, I consider a bra to rebalance the girls. With a little stability, I am ready for the day.

Step 3: Exfoliation/Masks

I learn that masks and exfoliators come in many forms. Lord knows I have tried every mask under the sun! From the balaclava to the fleece neck gaiter to the weird form-fitting neoprene option, there are masks for every face. After much trial, I landed on the only one that I haven’t lost- a thick 1/3 wool and 2/3 acrylic gaiter gifted to me from my mom in 2010. So, for the mask options, I have stuck to this slightly itchy old timer, mostly because it ran out of opponents.

Step 4: Serums

It appears that serums are used as underlayers of sorts. This applies perfectly as I don my $9 sweatpants and whatever sweatshirt I see first. While some influencers may tell you to buy the top shelf serum, I commonly scavenge my underlayers from the bottom drawer or the dirty laundry pile.

Step 5: Moisturizer

Now, this is where inescapable joy infiltrates my entire system. This is when I want to scream my seven step routine from the top of my lungs, perhaps on an Instagram story, or more commonly, within the confines of my burgundy colored garage.

As I slip my toes into the silky soft Darn Tough socks pulled fresh from the dryer, I smile a simple smile. What a luxury! No peptides or retinol needed, just natural wool to keep my skin feeling soft and warm. Now, remember, as you age, you will need more expensive moisurizers… I mean socks, to keep your skin feeling vitalized! Darn Toughs are worth every penny! The secret to true radiance!

Step 6: Eye Care

I am reading a lot of hoopla related to the eye. Apparently, there can be a lot afflictions such as crow’s feet, dark circles, and even puffiness. In my humble opinion, the fresh air and sunshine we are about to engage in will most certainly affect your ailments. You can expect to be squinting or laughing, actions sure to cement those gorgeous wrinkles! However, a good thick hat will be the ticket to preventing runny eyes which often lead to frozen lashes- a look you may or may not be going for. I don’t have a particular recommendation in brand of hat. There are many looks and styles. Just make sure that the hat covers your ears and not your eyes. Whether you suffer from fine lines or dark circles, it really doesn’t matter, as long as those beauties can show you the magical wonderland you are about to embark on.

Step 7: Makeup

We are now on our final step of this routine! This is the where we bring our uniqueness to life. For me, I was always told “Carhartts, Carhartts, Carhartts!” but just last year, I discovered the Bernes. With a women’s size perfectly tailored to my short stature, I am sold. I am here to tell you, pick the makeup that accentuates your attributes! For me, this meant doing away with the child-sized Carhartts and buying into the slightly less known Berne women’s insulated bibs. Finally, a short sized option for a person with hips.

Like red lipstick before going out on the town, I paint on my red Duluth Trading fleece coat adorned with leftover hay from my last visit to the goat’s clubhouse. I quite literally brush my shoulders off.

On go my LaCrosse boots with the thick heel. They are hot hot hot in whatever definition you choose to use.

Lastly, the essential insulated deerskin mittens- finishing off my signature look, making me feel invincible and ready to handle some wood.

Now, after completing my GRWM tutorial, I find myself perfuming my body with the scent of burnt firewood. This is a bonus to my morning routine. I smile as my eyes squint in the smoke of the woodstove- sure to secure those hard earned fine lines. I admire the glimmering snow, a sight so welcome after our 50 degree Christmas.

I remove my gloves as I get to the goats, eager to pet down into their winter coat, assuring myself that they too are staying warm in these negative temps.

I talk to the 22 chickens as they strut around like queens, always unbothered and always delivering- still well over a dozen eggs a day.

I march through the snow to see the creek- freezing now- a delightful sight.

I stay outside longer to hike up the state land just to stand among the pines. I feel both significant and insignificant here, one with the winter world, warm and happy.

2024 Resolutions: Harmonicas & Misdemeanors

I am approaching my 35th birthday and Year 2024 which is the year I learn to play harmonica. For the greater part of a decade, learning the harmonica has been my New Years resolution. It has yet to be resolved, not even close.

The New Year is my favorite holiday. I love that finally and collectively, we slow down and think about the passing of time, what it means, and how we use it. I tend to consider the passing of time more often than your average jane. It slaps me in the face every week from 6:30 on Friday morning to 7pm on Sunday evening as I watch my patients and their families grapple with the loss of it or the new found appreciation of it. Then, on Monday, I come home to find my kids have gotten taller. Time is a thief they say.

To implement another common saying, I would simply describe time as the devil we know. It is better to familiarize yourself with it, hold hands with it, and understand it’s intricacies rather than shun it, run from it, or ignore it. Time can be brutal and precious and so intensely beautiful or sad or both. It will be here whether you want it to or not. We might as well love it.

“We might as well love it.” I like that sentence. It feels like a sentence that would fix a lot of little problems- cleaning the house, bad weather, irony, a bad haircut, naughty goats, or loose pigs.

I thought I would save the loose pigs story for another time, but here we are. It occurred on October 17th. I was at work for a mandatory class that I felt like I’ve taken 25 times before.

Unbeknownst to me, Michael was dealing with something much more challenging- the pigs were out.

We had the pigs in a temporary electric fence as we were utilizing their snouts for garden cleanup with the idea that their hinders would also be useful for fertilization.

Turns out, their snouts are not only useful for tillage and weed control, but they also make quick work of grounding out a fence. The old adage is true- pigs are smart.

The pigs are so smart that they much prefer me over Michael. This proved a bummer for us when they got out on Michael’s watch, and he was unable to coerce them home. Instead, Rosie and her 4 daughters- Pearl, Esther, Ruby, and Sweets darted. Poor Michael was juggling five loose pigs and two loose kids and none were cooperating. Michael rarely makes things look difficult, but this must have been a sight to see.

We live off a gravel road with farm fields to three sides of us and dense woods to the other. A decent sized creek separates our woods from a large state forest. Our pigs are of the mangalitsa breed- a robust, wooly breed that would certainly thrive through the coming winter with or without us. This piece frightened me- did we just lose our pigs to public land? Will they turn feral and cause some problems? I’ve traveled to a handful of places where feral hogs are a real land and water disturbance.

After a frantic Google, I was not reassured. In typical Google fashion, I was greeted by tales of turmoil including articles about “super pigs” that are making their way to Minnesota from Canada and bringing all sorts of destruction with them. I also found a Minnesota statute that prohibits one to “allow feral swine to run at large”; it appears to be a misdemeanor.

I drove myself home from work at an illegal rate. By the time I arrived home, Michael and my dad had scoured our property three times over by foot and wheels and soon by drone thanks to my cousin Zach. The drone told us that the pigs were not in the fields, but the big forest to the east remained a mystery.

The pigs have now been missing for five hours. Michael has given up, and I still think I’m going to get life in prison for swine at large. I tell Michael about my misdemeanor concerns and overall worry about the pigs’ potential impact on private and public spaces. Michael’s immediate reply was, “I could use a misdeamenor,” and proceeded to call the DNR to ‘fess up and get some info on what we should do if our pigs can’t be found. What a guy.

I called neighbors to let them know about our swine at large. Whomever I called only asked how they could help and shared their own stories of lost livestock. I guess the consensus was- “Welcome to farming!”

Michael and I lunched, put the kids down to nap, and when we nearly threw in the towel on our search, I told Michael, “I’m going to take one more walk by the river.”

Rosie, our mama pig, is my girl. I love her very much. As I downtroddenly sauntered along our side of the creek, I shook a little container of corn and in my sweetest voice, yelled “Rosie! Rosieee!” My hope was minimal.

I answered a phone call from my cousin but hung up on her immediately when I heard a distant grunt. It was my grunting Rosie coming toward me on the other side of the creek! Her four little ladies were strutting behind her. I was so relieved.

There is one single bridge that crosses the creek. Did Rosie and her piglets swim across or had they walked the half mile there and half mile back?

I tried to lure Rosie across the creek. She dipped her front feet in the water and immediately backed away. I would need to go get her.

Michael called my mom to watch the kids. I called my aunt Arlette to see if she would come with me to get the pigs. Rosie loves Arlette, and I needed all the influence I could get. Michael and my dad stood by at a distance with their weaponry. I guess you could say that the shotguns were Plan B.

I’m not sure Arlette knew what she was getting into when she showed up in Crocs. We would be traversing little peaks and valleys, inevitably emerging full of cockle burrs, getting muddy, and possibly choosing a water passage. The Crocs did not slow her down.

The next couple of hours were a blur. Arlette and I were in the zone, strategizing paths and constantly coaxing forward while preventing any off shoots. Esther insisted on lying down and taking many breaks while the other pigs stopped to root around when they found something of interest.

For the first half of the journey, we debated if we would try a stream crossing. We opted for the bridge route instead. I got nervous about cars that might pass onto the state land; this could spook the pigs into immediate dispersal. Michael and my dad stood by the road while trying to be out of site of Rosie who would be immediately suspicious of Michael.. and apparently for good reason.

On second thought, this whole scene looked very suspicious- Arlette and I covered in cockle burrs and mud, five pigs trailing us at varying distances, and two guys with guns and a truck and trailer 50 yards behind. At some point, my mom and the kids were also a part of the march.

We passed Arlette’s house on the way to our house. At this point, we thought we would lure the pigs into her garage. I grabbed her decorative pumpkin from the front porch and said, “Arlette, Rosie would love this!” at which point Arlette chucked the pumpkin onto her cement driveway to bust it up for pig bait. This memory lives rent free in my head as I laugh to think about the sacrifice of fall decor for this seemingly necessary intervention.

The pigs did not buy into the garage idea, and instead, we got them all the way back to our barn. The pigs were wiped and so were we.

On the next day, I replaced Arlette’s pumpkin and Michael made an appointment with the butcher. I will not be serving life in prison after all, and Michael never did get his misdemeanor. There’s always next year.

Happy New Year!

Michael Adoration Fest

As we proceeded with our normal summer day of doing animal chores, checking on the garden, and hanging out with the kids in turns or altogether, I found myself to be happy in a very simple way. I took notice of how easy it is to have fun with Michael and the kids.

I watched Michael act like a monster with an effortlessly twisted face and hunched over prance as he chased Winnie around the table. He is always like this- making everyone laugh in a way that’s a little unpredictable.

I always admire Michael for his ease in living. He never takes himself seriously while simultaneously living with intention. It’s really cool and oddly rare.

I considered what the world would be like if we all lived like this- true to our inner child for a whole lifetime, unencumbered by societal expectations or loads of stress.

It is a well-known sentiment that having kids brings out reminders of simple joys and child-like wonder. While I do think this helps, I yearn for a culture that celebrates these as skills in all stages of life- simplified joy and wonder in schooling, jobs, adult relationships, friendships, neighboring, etc.

I want us all to see and love the inner child of everyone everywhere, including ourselves. We all have child-like wonders alive inside of us. Dare I say- they are the best parts of who we are.

I like to think about meeting Michael. It makes me smile to think about a time right after college where societal expectations were knocking hard at my rickety apartment door inside an old brick building in a city where my feet rarely touched dirt. Distractions were abundant there on Girard Avenue in Uptown Minneapolis.

Four years of college had been a grind. Playing soccer, pursuing my nursing degree, dating or something like it, and working random part time jobs left little time for clarity. Also, I was 22 years old- my brain was not fully formed and routinely intoxicated.

Then, one night, I met Michael. He came into my life with a lot of bells and whistles- immediate magic tricks dubbing him “the magic man” by a few of my friends.

There was 2am piano playing complete with serenades, donning of fur coats and painted nails (by him, not me), skateboard tricks, rock climbing, and a roommate named Jimmy who often matched Michael in fur coats, manicures, and ridiculous humor.

I loved Michael immediately- not in that very romantic way, but in the way that the child in me saw the child in him and vice versa. We became ourselves together without expectations or judgements.

I certainly didn’t think I would marry my goofy neighbor in the fur coat with weird magic tricks but I loved everything that he was. I was happy to be around him no matter the timeline.

When I met Michael, I was casually dating another guy (who I’ll call Ryan because I truly can’t remember his name). Michael would come to my apartment uninvited while Ryan was visiting and insert himself into our hangout.

Michael would simply outlast Ryan’s waking hours (who was 34 years old then so we’ll give him a pass; I am asleep by 9pm now too). Ryan fell asleep on my couch while Michael and I hung out longer, telling stories and laughing like kids.

I pegged Michael as the friend who was unaware of social boundaries and etiquette, the type of guy we roll our eyes at but love anyway. Michael informed me later that this was all “part of the plan” to help dissolve my casual dating experience. Turns out, Michael was onto the idea of us being us all along.

I’m grateful that I didn’t meet Michael before the age of 22. He was always my soulmate, and I don’t know how the teenage versions of us would have handled that.

This writing got diverted when my mind wanted to sit with early memories of Michael. I landed there when I considered how Michael has always been exactly himself- very curious, happy, aware, adventurous and unfiltered. I can imagine he was the same at age 6 and 13, and now at 35. I’ve loved his consistencies. I’ve loved his surprises.

I didn’t mean to turn this blog into a Michael Adoration Fest. His ego does not need that :).

I am ready to get back on track to the point of this meandering blog which is: seeing and accepting the inner child of another human being has been one of my most favorite and rewarding practices of love. With Michael, it has been easy. My inner child loved his inner child on impact.

We all have this inner child, someone that comes from a really good place. The day before our dear friend John died, we visited him with both of our kids in tow. John was becoming more nonsensical at this point but amidst his talk about astrology and math, he said to Michael, “I am closer to Hutch now than I am to you. I am closer to where Hutch is.” In talking about this later, we think that John knew he was close to that good place, that place where we all come from.

There is a quote I love by Ram Dass that says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I have repeated this quote to myself in tense or sad situations at work. This mantra helps me remember that my job as a nurse is to support someone in the way that I or my family might also need someday.

It is really quite simple- when all the nonsense is stripped away, we are all the same, doing this life together. While it is an honor to be the one walking the other, I’m aware that I won’t always be on that end of things.

To see and accept each human’s inner child is just a fun way of coexisting. I feel it with Michael every day. It is easy with friends, and when I go to work, it is a bit of a fun challenge to find that piece of each person I meet.

While some people have worked hard to cover the goofy and simple version of themselves, others flow freely with their lovable quirks.

Either way, if my inner child is alive in me, I think the people around me feel safe to let theirs breathe too. Soon, with a little vulnerability and acceptance, we can just be a couple of kids wearing fur coats and doing magic tricks. The world is a lot lighter in a room like that.


Princess Blight

Gardening is weird. From what I’ve learned, there are 101 ways to do it. In some years, you might be the Queen of Tomatoes. In other years, you might be Princess Blight.
Overwatering and underwatering exhibit the same symptoms which is highly frustrating for a nurse who wants a clear and concise treatment protocol. And then there is bolting. How dare you bolt and flower and then go sour before we consume all your power (my ode to my beloved but rebellious arugula).
If we are looking for high points in and around my summer garden, you will mostly find them in the around region. My garden was planted in a former hay field abutting the forest. As I labored with love on the weeds on the in region, I took the occasional stroll around the edge to walk it off- the sore hands, the frustration, the crying Winnie in a stroller.
On my stroll, I found forest food after forest foot that had nothing to do with my strategically executed labors.
Earlier on, it was black raspberries. Shortly after, it was gooseberries. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, plums started dropping from the sky. Wild grapes followed. A rogue squash plant grew out of nowhere. You can see how this became both discouraging and enlightening.
After my nice stroll along the fruitful forest edge, I reluctantly returned to my struggling cabbage patch. I continued to pluck weeds that largely consisted of purslane and lambs quarter, two incredibly nutritious and delicious greens. It soon felt silly to throw these aside so I chose one of three options- eat them, pile them up for the pigs, or talk about them with Hutch so at least he won’t be silly enough to dispose of nature’s bounty.
The fourth option took hold around late July- retire from weeding entirely. My new motto became “what takes, takes; screw the rest,” or something like that.
My anti-weeding inspo came from our pig garden that I mentioned in the last blog post. Our pigs perfectly sprinkled their manure and food scrap remnants in last year’s pen which they had diligently tilled up to the point of no weed growth (except some of that lambs quarter).
It was a large space filled with volunteer squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and tomatoes. They were tended to by no one and grew better than anything in my labor of loathing.. I mean love.
I have to admit that some things turned out great. Those some things were okra (which I have never consumed before in my life), tomatillos (which I have never cooked with before in my life), and watermelon (which really made my summer, honestly; Winnie’s too).
Today is September 13th and I want to believe that my tomatoes are still coming. In the meantime, I’ll keep picking the red volunteers over in the pig garden. I do have to walk through burning nettle to get those, but it’s worth it.
Last winter, I read an entire encyclopedia on gardening. It was an awesome book, and as I always do, I took meticulous notes. The book was titled “Fresh from the Garden” by John Whitman. I wonder if John Whitman would read this blog and use my testimonies to promote his very informative teachings :/. John, I’ll do better next year! I promise, your book was really good.
Apparently, studying is only part of gardening. I think I just need practice, a better watering system (which is in the works thanks to Sam and Patty), less distractions, more persistence, and if possible- more predictable weather patterns. Oh, I should also do less. Instead of planting everything, I’ll skip the okra. 

Worst Jobs Ever

I’m learning that farming or homesteading or whatever we’re doing over here in our blissful little bluff-covered corner, is often a series of “worst jobs ever”. After Michael and I relocated the pigs and newly birthed piglets, I thought, “Glad that’s done; that sucked,” after chasing down runaway piglets. It was déjà vu as I remembered saying the same thing to my sweaty self after cleaning a winter’s worth of poop and pee-laden bedding out of the goat pen. As I inhaled ammonia, broke a pitchfork, and sweat through my shirt, I thought, “This must be the worst job ever.”

Since the pig pen relocation, I have also given the goats their CDT vaccines in their neck fat, of which there is hardly any, and held piglets upside down as the vet castrated them. Michael cleaned up dead chicken parts in the aftermath of a predator invasion. In addition to all that fun, I spend nights worrying if we’re feeding the animals enough or maybe too much or probably the entirely wrong ratio of feed and pasture. Hobby farming… what joy!

While other people scroll through funny TikToks at bedtime, I’m reading forums about the best loose mineral for goats or studying what to do when kids (goat babies) are being birthed in a bad position. The answer is that you get your hands in there and fix it. As I write this on July 10th, our arguably favorite goat, Pickles, is due to have her kid(s) tomorrow. For a generally calm person, I’m quite nervous.

Since I didn’t intend for this blog post to be about my sweet preggo goats, I’ll move on from the idea that I may have to stick my hands in their vagina very soon. Instead, let’s talk about pigs.

One year ago and a couple extra months, we bought three Mangalitsa pigs. It started with an old coworker of mine posting about her cute little piglets for sale. Since we had lived on water for the previous 7 years of our lives, you could say that Michael and I were eager to put this newly acquired green space to practical use.

Pigs? Why not! Two males? Sure! Potential for pasture-raised pork from the only remaining wooly breed to exist, yes please!

With two males (Finn and Sawyer) in the works, I perused Craigslist for an unrelated female. As always, Craigslist delivered and Rosie was acquired.

I have a major soft spot for Rosie and not just because she has the same colored hair as one of my favorite human beings- Arran Davis. Rosie is both gentle and fierce, also a bit like Arran.

To make what could be a lengthy series of stories short- Sawyer died and Rosie nearly died once- thank goodness for Arlette and my mom who nursed her back to health while we were out of town.

Finn, who was initially much smaller than Rosie, attempted to breed her for 6 months straight before his size allowed for success, and on May 4th of 2023, our hog herd went from two to eleven!

Michael and I tend to jump into things eagerly with minimal preparedness. In other words, what we lack in experience or expertise, we make up for in spirit. While Michael will binge handfuls of Youtube videos for some quick knowledge, I have subscribed to upwards of a dozen homesteading/pig/goat/gardening podcasts that keep me company to and from work.

While Michael had not interacted much with oinkers before, I do have some familial background with piggies. I remember playing with Grandpa Johnson’s piglets in the hog barn here. That same barn exists today and got a new updo last summer when Michael rebuilt the fallen roof.

Unfortunately, Grandpa J did not include us in the pig chores as much as we were included in evenings of milking his Brown Swiss cows. I now understand why as I have seen our pigs bite through a pumpkin in one chomp and would not want the same kind of chomp delivered to a child’s arm or leg. We also keep our kids out of the pig pen. Retrieving a severed appendage would actually be the worst job ever.

Sometime in early spring, with no background as to when consummation occurred, we decided that Rosie was definitely pregnant. As rural folk say so eloquently, she was “bagging up”. We had the hunch we should separate Rosie and Finn prior to the birth but had zero clue as to when the birth should occur.

On May 1st, after a weekend of Rosie showing increased aggression towards Finn (not so casually ramming him into the side of their shelter) and being incredibly “bagged up”, we separated mama and papa.

On the morning of May 4th, I went out to do the chores and came across a site that nearly brought me to tears. Mama Rosie had just finished birthing her 9th piglet. She was still laying down and panting, but she appeared calm and comfortable. The last two piglets were trying to maneuver their way to any available teat. They were tiny, squeaky and incredibly adorable.

I watched the scene from afar as I had made the goal to steer clear of the natural birthing process. Mangalitsa pigs are known for being able to handle their births independently. We did not use a farrowing crate. Instead, we provided plenty of hay for Rosie to make her own nesting area. We didn’t touch the piglets for a full week. When we did, we picked them up only out of necessity and to get one good picture.

Rosie did great. She was a first time mom, and she bonded quickly and equally with all of her babies. I loved watching this and easily related to her as she grunted at them to go back in their shelter at night and as she layed down to feed them whenever they squealed at her feet.

One of the sweetest things to see was when the piglets were done nursing, they would go up to Rosie’s face and rub their noses on hers as if to say “thank you mama”.

Our first farrowing experience was a success. Rosie had nine piglets and still has nine. We got four males and five females and a nice mix of ones that look like Finn and others even redder than Rosie.

We did have one injured piglet, cause unknown. It was one of our largest males who showed back leg weakness that was worse in the evenings. He also demonstrated balance issues. It looked like an incomplete spinal cord injury. He ate and drank well; time was all he needed. After a month, he appeared fully healed.

The next looming “worst job ever” was castration. Should we or shouldn’t we? If we did, should we do it ourselves, include a vet, or recruit someone wiser than us? My mom and aunt were able to recount what Grandpa J and Uncle Ray did. Michael’s dad had another rendition. It seemed that the holding of the pig was the biggest variable with the rest of it being consistently dreadful- cut a hole, grab the testicle, yank, repeat. The holding part varied from draping over a fence, cradling on the farmer’s lap, or positioned in a five gallon pail.

As a nurse who’s grossed out by nothing, I knew I could handle the gory details of the job. But, as a nurse who appreciates evidence-based practice and proper training, I called the veterinarian.

The animal doctors were great. Shout out to Karen and Aliyyah. We were happy to have them here. We were hoping to establish ourselves as patients should we need an emergency visit during off hours or prescribed medications. As of June 11, there was also a change by the FDA that all animal antibiotics will need to be prescribed rather than available over the counter. I’m sure this is controversial in some spheres as it creates another step for farmers who are already doing so much, but it makes sense to me. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics have been prevalent in the human medical field as well and this has led to antibiotic resistance and hard or impossible to treat bacterial illness. I’m sure the same problem is happening in veterinary medicine.

Back to the testicle tugging. It was almost as displeasing as the stories told. Michael and I did the holding while the docs did the cutting. We held them upside down, sanitized their region, and used a razor to cut a slit. The testicle was found and pulled.

If you came to this blog for tips and tricks on castration, look no further (or if you’re wise, you might want to). We learned not castrate on a very hot day. The additional stress could be detrimental.

It is definitely a two or three person job. One person holds the pig upside down by the legs. Another person can hold the head and front legs more comfortably. The lucky third person cuts and pulls. If you have a friend who agrees to help you with this event, keep them forever; that person is a treasure because once again, it is a “worst job ever” kind of thing.

Another tidbit, castrate early. It’s easier, and they heal faster. With hot spells and scheduling conflicts delaying our appointment, we did not castrate until the piglets were 7 weeks old. Within 8 weeks is okay, within two weeks is best.

Lastly, it wasn’t quite as intense as I had expected. The piglets were immediately moving around like normal, and they healed quickly. The long-lasting benefit is that they can now live together in harmony for the remainder of their lives.

I finally understand the cliché of eating like pigs. Pigs really do eat. We feed ours grass clippings, weeds, garden waste, food scraps, and finally- dealer’s choice of a corn, oats, and sunflower seeds. This year, thanks to my dad’s help, we planted a field of oats that we plan to turn to hay for winter feed.

While pigs are generally raised for pork, we have found a few bonus benefits. After throwing them scraps of squash, pumpkins, and gourds last fall, we now have a magnificent surprise garden of the aforementioned produce.

I’m not sure if the seeds made a trip through the pig and out their rear ends or if they settled in directly from the produce, but they have certainly established themselves! I’m sure the soil was very fertile from all the excrement.

I would like to utilize the pigs as tillers this fall by putting them in the space that we use for a garden next spring. Not only would this enrich the soil with some good old manure fertilizer, but pigs are experts at rooting up all the weeds. We have seen how quickly they can create a blank space of rich soil.

Another unexpected benefit of our pigs was predator prevention. Before moving the pigs early this summer, we had them next to the goats and chickens. The chickens free-ranged without consequence; the goats too.

This summer, after moving the pigs to their own area, we went from 15 chickens to just three.

I can’t help but believe our big wooly grunting beasts were a reliable deterrent to the raccoons and minks of our world. In their absence, our live trap has been busy. Deciding what to do with a returning predator… another worst job ever.

I’m being dramatic with the “worst job ever” complaints. The worst jobs ever are always done in balance with all the beautiful/wonderful/pinch me parts. It’s a little like everything else- eating a salad with a brownie for dessert or giving birth to then holding the little person of your dreams.

My job as a nurse knows this well- some days really break your heart and others are all the more life-giving because of those worst days. When it’s all thrown into the big bucket of life, it might be filled with a lot of shit, but it’s going to be growing the best damn surprise squash garden you never expected.

* pictures (in order from top to bottom) 1, 2, 17, 23, 24, 29, 35, 38, and the cover photo were taken by Brooke Rihn Photography, you can find her on IG or Facebook by the same name 🙂

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.