December 15, 2010 – Picking up Claire

Today I ventured to St. Paul to pick up Claire.  The section of road between Clear Lake and Owatonna was particularly slick.

snowy I-35

There was the usual assemblage of cars in the ditch, an SUV driver’s door down on the pavement in the middle of the interstate, and most rare of sightings was a truck towing another vehicle with a solid towbar in the oncoming lane.  The truck lost control on the ice and starting doing a dosi-doe around each other, still attached.  They did a couple of spins around, the semi trucks behind them shuddering as they tried to stop.  Fortunately, the truck and towed car ended up facing the wrong direction on the shoulder as the trucks passed on by.  We arrived home safely, now Claire is safely tucked in back home after her first semester is complete.

one year ago…”No Windspire Today”

December 14, 2010 – You Know Winter’s Arrived When…

You know winter has arrived when you step outside into the 12 degree weather and say to yourself, ” Gee, it’s really nice out today!”

frosty branch

Those winter days in the teens that you can actually go outside without covering each molecule of your body are a relief after the brutally cold days that preceded.  Won’t be long before we’re dashing outside without coats when the temperature rises above freezing.

one year ago…”Moving Around the Farm”

December 13, 2010 – In Memory of Margaret Kanis

Today, I received the first mail item that I’ve sent that came back with the “DECEASED” stamp.  There’s something so final and cold about the official post office rubber stamp announcing a death.  Death is usually communicated in person or by voice.  It’s not that it is particularly shocking that Margaret, age 93, passed away.  But even though it’s been over 25 years or so since I worked with her, and probably 10 years since I last visited with her,  it still struck me as a loss.

Margaret worked as a cook at YMCA Camp Miller the eight or so years I worked there.  The first few years, I didn’t pay that much attention to her, but as the years went on, and especially when I became the camp caretaker for a year when the previous caretaker suddenly passed away (during the fall and winter weekends the camp opened for retreats and such) I got to know Margaret much better.

Margaret was a robust woman, strong, and slow to anger, but certainly capable of indignation.  If the mood was right, and not too many people were around, we could coax Margaret to play the piano.  She had a roaring, raucous style.  After Margaret found out my grandfather was Polish and played the accordion as well, she really thought I was OK!

I think it also helped when one year I was the cabin counselor for one of her grandchildren who was attending camp.

One of the jaw-dropping moments at camp for me was when the strapping young teen boys assigned to help in the kitchen that week were struggling and complaining about carrying what must have been a 120 quart stainless steel vat of  “bug juice” (essentially institutional kool-aid) to the counter. Margaret couldn’t stand it any more, shooshed the two of them away (one struggling on each handle) and picked up the vat herself and carried around the room as though she was moving a pan of brownies.  Margaret was no-nonsense about many things, but when you could tickle her funny bone, she would turn red in the face and offer up a great belly laugh that meant something.  Margaret also seemed to be one of those people that lived as though she had a finite number of words they could utter during a lifetime and judiciously used them, at least until you got to know her very well.

For some reason, across the years, Margaret and I clicked and had a real fondness for each other.  I felt honored when this shy woman invited me out to her farm.  I’m not sure that more than a handful of camp staff over her 25 years or so at Camp Miller ever got that chance.  She had an absolutely gorgeous farm.  She and her husband, who died many years before she did, had a dairy farm, and she lived there many years after his death.

The farm was nestled in the woods, but had some nice, open pastures and hayfields, a charming farmhouse and beautiful barn.  She had a fondness for Collies that seemed a natural part of the farm.  And at the back of the property, a river snaked through the forest.  I’d live there in a second.

Later, after she moved to town, (and she greatly missed living on the farm) on our trips to the BWCA in far Northern Minnesota , we’d stop in and visit with her to catch up on things and show off my babies and young children.  Now, I don’t think I’ve stopped since Martin was born, but we still exchanged Christmas letters, at least up to this year- she had beautiful handwriting and always included a long note catching me up on life in Moose Lake.

This year, there was no flowing artistic handwritten letter, just my returned letter to her with a hastily stamped imprint simply saying “DECEASED.” I suppose that might have been the way Margaret might have preferred it to be  – simple and direct.

Rest well Margaret, rest well.

one year ago…”Snowbanks”

December 11, 2010 – A Day at a Lego League Tournament

Today Martin’s team participated in their first lego league tournament.

Here some of the team gets excited during the opening ceremonies of the day.

first lego league

It’s all concentration as the team tries its first run on the challenge table.  Each team uses the same board, with the same “missions” and designs and programs a robot to complete as many missions as possible in 150 seconds.  Only two team members can be at the table at once, so they need to strategize when and how to move team members in. Each team gets three runs and only the highest run counts.

The team’s first mission ran into problems as the light sensor didn’t work the same in the gymnasium as it had in the classroom.  The quality of light was different, so here the team ties to reprogram the robot between missions.

Another part is the team presentation on a topic related to the year’s theme.  The Technic Medic 5’s chose to present their information about the spinal cord in a format entitled “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” Being 5th graders, they thought it was funny.

Another part of the judging is the technical interview where judges review their robot design, look at the code design, and ask questions about both.

Yet another part is an “instant challenge” where the team has a minute to prepare to solve a challenge they do not have any knowledge of before they enter the room.

Finally, teams are evaluated on “gracious professionalism, their enthusiasm, and how well the team members interact with each other.

The ending was like the movie “Hoosiers” for this team.  This tournament was for kids in grades 5-8.  Since it was the team’s first year, they were young, and it was their first year, their hopes to move onto state faded with each passing announcement during the awards ceremony.  Eight of the teams move onto the state tournament.  I kind of thought the team had a chance for the “rising star” award – given to a new team with great potential.  When that, and all the others came and went, except for the overall champion, the kids looked pretty disappointed – until they were announced as the top team of the day!  They practiced many days, took great instruction from their teacher who taught them how to speak and think like gracious professionals.  Congrats Team Technic Medics!  Good luck at state Competition at Iowa State after the new year!

one year ago…”Subersnow”

December 8, 2010 – Holiday Irritation

Very few things are more irritating to me than the cheap holiday lights.

Like on this string, some work, some don’t. Last year when I carefully put them away, all the strings worked, this year when I got them out, 3/4 of them didn’t work at all or 1/4 of the string worked or 1/2 the string worked. I have slowly been buying LED strings (none of those have stopped working yet). Although the LED light isn’t as cheery as the incandescent lights, at least they go on from year to year!

one year ago…”Martin’s First Music Gig”

December 6, 2010 – LED Mag Lite Testimonial

I found this LED Mag Lite on sale at Lowe’s and thought I’d give it a try. All the LED flashlights I’ve tried to date, while being very energy efficient, didn’t put out a whole lotta light.

LED Mag Lite

This flashlight is another story – it throws a great beam, easily reaching to the top of the pine trees (and beyond) from the front porch. I no longer have reservations about LED flashlight, or at least this one!

one year ago…”2009 Gift Boxes”

December 5, 2010 – Lambs off to the Freezer

Today, we brought four lambs on the first step on the way to the freezer.

These guys and more are already have an appointment at the locker.

Emma and sheep loading don’t always get along well. Many years ago, when she was perhaps too small to help, we backed the pickup truck to the barn and posted Linda on one side of the tailgate and Emma on the other side, while I tried to move the sheep into the back of the truck. We told her that her job was to “be the wall” and prevent sheep from jumping off of the edge of the tailgate (the truck had a topper). Well, when one decided to skeedaddle out of the truck, it saw her as the path of least resistance, so as the lamb escaped under her legs, she grabbed on and held on as the sheep ran away, dragging Emma behind until we told her to let go.

During the loading experience today – don’t let the docile little faces of the sheep in the trailer fool you. Emma and I were tag-teaming one into the trailer, she had the front legs, and I on the back legs (the thought was that I would have the heavy end). Well, the sheep butted Em in the head and there’s a sudden rush of tears and vivid red blood on the dusting of white snow on the ground – just a few feet away from where the turkeys were butchered a few weeks ago. It was a bit of an unsettling feeling, to say the least. As Linda rushed over to attend to Emma on the way she said, “There goes the sheep profits” thinking Emma’s nose was all busted up and in need of an ER visit. But the story has a happy ending as no major damage was done, but once again, Emma found a way to get out of loading the rest of the sheep!

one year ago…”Gift Box Assembly”