Friday, December 30, 2011


My Grandma Bonnie sent a little piece of herself home with me this Christmas. 

Growing up, it was not unusual for my brother and I to spend most nights after school at my grandparents' farm while my dad helped my grandpa with the nightly chores.  Some nights we'd follow Dad outside, but other nights we'd spend in the house with our grandma.  It was with Grandma Bonnie that I learned to bake chocolate chip cookies, to cross stitch, use a sewing machine, and to crochet.  This is the grandma who wins blue ribbons at the county fair for her quilting, as well as the grandma that donates homemade baby blankets to families in need.  She's also the grandma that tied her hair up in a blue handkerchief when she needed to head to the barn in the middle of the night to bottle feed the lambs that failed to nurse themselves.  She's also the grandma that planted zinnias in her garden so her grandkids could use them in bouquets, which they'd place in the neighbors' mailboxes.  Grandma Bonnie is also the one who'd make batches of soup to send over to the ninety-year old bachelor farmers living down the road.  She's the grandparent that insists every Christmas, ignoring the half-hearted protests from everyone, for family photos on the living room couch, which seems to get smaller and smaller each year.  She's the grandma that was the oldest child growing up on a hard scrabble farm who responds with a genuine, "Uff-da," when the occasion arises.  Besides the skills she's taught me, I've inherited my freckles, blue eyes, and Norwegian pride from her.

After all the gifts were opened this Christmas and the day was winding down, my grandma went upstairs and returned with a shoebox containing balls of yarn in varying shades of green.  She also carried a bag of granny squares.  She had begun crocheting this granny square blanket some twenty-odd years ago and thought I might be interested in finishing the project.  Though I saw recognition in my grandpa's eyes as he watched on, I don't think my grandma realized what this half-completed project meant to me.

I've already begun completing my half of the granny squares, using the same pattern and size K crochet needle that Grandma Bonnie used.   Though it's hard to pin down exactly what makes them different, our finished squares are not identical.  Could it be because my grandma's squares were made left-handed, which adds a slightly different angle to her stitches?  Does my grandma crochet with a slightly smaller gauge?   Do I think too much about each stitch making them look less organic?

As I work, I find comfort in finishing something my grandma started.  I try to imagine what she was doing while she completed her own half of the squares.  Was I underfoot?  Was she thinking about a list of chores that needed completing?  Had she attached notes to the door reminding my grandpa to apply sunscreen before heading to the fields?  Did she have her very cliché "World's Greatest Grandma" coffee mug next to her on the end table, which she still uses today?   Was she worried about any of the same things that cross my mind and make sleep sometimes difficult? 

Once my half of the squares is completed, I'll join them all into a blanket; my grandma's squares intermixed with mine.  Grandma suggested donating the finished project to a local organization of my choice, but as my grandpa pointed out, it would be hard for me to give up something containing pieces of my Grandma Bonnie.  It will eventually get tucked away safely somewhere in my house; out of reach of a cat's stretching claws, coffee stains, or food crumbs.  It will get taken out on occasions when I want to feel close to my grandma, and though it may not be obvious to others that the squares were made by two different sets of hands, I will always be able to pick out my Grandma Bonnie's work. 

That will be a comforting thing for me.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Few people have the opportunity to revisit a past life and be reminded of why they enjoyed it, why they left it, and why they don’t want to return to it.  I am presented with this opportunity frequently.

This morning I woke up in the dark, felt my cat stir against my head, and made my way downstairs.  I walked across the cool wood floors to the cold tile of the bathroom and began my old morning routine.  It’s funny how these day-to-day routines come back so naturally even after being abandoned for new ones.  The smell of coffee soon permeated the house, and I stared at the crescent moon while eating my oatmeal.  Soon I was in my car headed west, watching the light break over frosted pastures and fields of corn stubble as I was brought back to a previous life.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I was a high school biology teacher for most of my second decade of life.  Through a lot of hard work and determination, I became exceptionally good at my job.  I had the ability to make difficult content understandable and interesting for many of my students.  Most aspects of teaching came naturally to me, but others required a lot of effort.  As an innately introverted person, it took a lot of effort to be a leader at the head of the class everyday.  In the end, I created a very successful science curricula and gained respect within my school and community.  That’s why it was so difficult to leave.

After much thought and deliberation, I chose to leave my teaching career to help my husband with our small business.  Being the left-brained thinker that I am, I made list after list of the pros and cons involved in this decision.  I thought of the money and carbon emissions I would save by giving up my long daily commute but also of the money we would lose by having to pay for our own health insurance.  I thought of the extra time I would have to spend with my husband and of the increased flexibility I would have in my daily schedule but also of losing a regular paycheck.  I ultimately went with my gut.  I knew in the long run that leaving my job would be better overall for my happiness, but it was the guilt that kept placing seeds of doubt in my mind.  I not only felt guilt about abandoning students and coworkers, but also about abandoning something I was good at.  I was raised to work hard and see things through, not to quit a task when it became difficult or you grew tired of it.  I was very good at teaching.  How could I simply quit something I had worked so hard to build up?

I eventually got past this guilt, realizing that I am good at a lot of things, but those things need not define me.  It seems so simple now, though it was a difficult thing to accept at the time.  Just because I am talented at something does not mean I'm obligated to do it or even enjoy it.  I may have been a good teacher, but teaching is not who I am.  Once I felt deserving of a lifestyle that puts happiness ahead of perceived obligations, I was able to move forward.  I was finally able to accept that it was okay to make decisions based on my happiness and well-being.  That realization was very liberating. 

It’s been a year and a half since I left my career, but I'm often presented with opportunities to be my old self by subbing for my replacement.  On these days I’m transported back in time and become Ms. K in my old classroom, teaching my old curricula.  I get a chance to remember why I enjoyed teaching but also why I'm not interested in returning completely to my old role.  I get to reconnect with my colleagues and students but avoid those things that wore me down.  These opportunities help me appreciate my past life and to acknowledge the courage it took for me to bet on a new one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Since our greenhouse season came to an end a few days ago, my husband and I were home together for lunch today, which had not happened in a long time. I celebrated the occasion by making a light meal of some potato leek soup and Brussels sprouts braised in red wine vinegar. In times when a typical grocery store aisle contains more food choices than a person could possibly sample in a given year, it's interesting how a simple meal brings such contentment.

Monday, December 19, 2011


I really love fly fishing for trout.  I know it's cliché, but most of the time what I love about it isn't necessarily catching fish.  There are so many other aspects to the sport that can make a slow day on the stream a fulfilling experience.  I feel so lucky for the opportunities I've found over the past couple years to immerse myself into fly fishing and everything related to it.

The Wisconsin inland trout season begins in March and ends in September.  That closing time always comes at a point when the trout I'm catching start getting larger and more numerous.  I've been fly fishing for just two solid seasons now, but the end of September suddenly represents a halt to my favorite pastime for another six months.  I think it's good for the trout in this state to have a break from fishing pressures, and there are several neighboring states with year-round trout seasons I could easily travel to, but I've found relief from a fishless fall by chasing Brule River steelhead.

The fall of 2010 was my first attempt at steelhead fishing, and I luckily had a couple good friends to tag along with and borrow gear from, since my trusty 5-wt is no match for a lake run rainbow.  Steelhead, like muskie, are considered to be fish of a thousand casts, so I naturally prepared myself to be skunked that trip.  Like most fishing trips, it was easy to enjoy other aspects of the experience other than landing a fish.  I actually hooked a steelhead on my first day, but it broke me off within a few seconds.  I continued to have visions of that fleeting silver jump for the next twelve months.  Like they say, it's the fish lost that you remember most.

I made it up to the Brule twice this past fall.  Steelhead weather is supposed to be crummy---cold and overcast---but this trip was characterized by bluebird skies and eighty-degree weather.  
Mouth of the Brule River
To make the situation worse, the river was low and clear.  I again prepared myself for a fishless weekend and thought of it as a chance to practice my roll casting.  At about mid afternoon on the first day, I returned to a stretch of river my partners were fishing and waded in upstream from them.  I picked out a nice run and got a couple swings of my fly in when a silver body suddenly porpoised out of the water across from me.  My adrenaline kicked in, which gave me a bad case of the shakes, but I swung my fly in front of the fish's position a few times.  On the second or third swing, I felt the bend in my rod and saw the silver flash as my first steelhead performed a couple aerobatics and headed downstream.  In the end, it was small on the steelhead scale but a steelhead nonetheless.  Although I went without a bite the rest of the weekend, I was a pretty happy camper.

My final trip to the Brule occurred a month later.  The water was still low and clear but at least the seasonal temperatures had returned.  I continued to go fishless, but that hardly dampened the spirit of the trip, which was filled with good companions and good ol' Northern Wisconsin scenery.

Although the steelhead season is now also closed, there's just three short months to get through before the inland season opens once again.  Until then, I'll fill my seasonal void with musings about past seasons and attempts to master new fly patterns.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I've been pretty darn lucky in life.  I had a great upbringing with a great family, all of which lived within three miles of my childhood home.  I was an excellent high school athlete and student, achieving high honors in three varsity sports and graduating as valedictorian of my class.  I went on to a very reputable state college and was a Big10 athlete there, while meeting my future husband and future best friends.  After college I became a successful biology teacher and earned a master's degree in environmental education.  During my time teaching, my husband and I got married, bought a house, adopted some cats and hens, and built up a family-operated greenhouse and landscaping business.  Recently, I had the opportunity to leave the teaching field to help my husband run that business. 

I guess it's my Midwestern roots that tell me, "Keep this to yourself.  If you admit to your good fortunes some of them will be taken away."  I don't necessarily believe bad things will happen if I discuss my good fortunes, but at the same time I've never verbalized them to anyone before.  Things in my life have a way of falling into place rather smoothly.  Of course I've worked very hard to be successful and to obtain certain goals, and I've had setbacks, but I have yet to experience any huge obstacles in life.  Does that make me lucky?  weak?  spoiled?  Perhaps my work ethic and attitude help deflect major obstacles before they get in my way.
Either way, I'm very happy with my life, including the people, companions, and opportunities in it.  Sure there are weak areas in my life that could use some focus, but overall I've got it pretty good:  I've got a first-class education; a first-class husband; an exciting and enviable career; supportive family and friends; a cozy household with three wonderful cats; a backyard with three hens, a view of the woods, and space enough for a vegetable garden; and time to read good books, crochet, tie flies, and fly fish for trout.  I don't need much more in life than that .......except maybe children. 

The topic of kids has been more and more in my radar recently.  Children are the next logical step in a logically-lived life, but there's no looking back once that decision is made.  I'm thirty-two years old but still don't feel mature enough to start having children.  I didn't start menstruating until I was in college (TMI), which makes me feel like my biological clock is ticking ten years behind those of other women my age. There's also some selfishness in putting off pregnancy.  I find it disturbing to think about the physical nature of pregnancy,  not to mention the actual birthing scene.  Also, how will I get chances to trout fish once I have a couple offspring to take care of?  How will I possibly continue my annual camping trips with my girlfriends and the yearly road trip to Montana to fly fish for cutthroats?  I'm sure I'll still be able to do most of the things I currently enjoy doing (I won't be the only parent involved, after all), and it's logical that I'll enjoy being with my kids more than I do these other activities.  But the truth is, I won't have the freedom I currently enjoy.  Kids are a total game changer.  I feel selfish for associating children with vanishing independence, but I also realize that children will surely give me greater rewards than the activities I lament losing.  In the end, though, who knows if I'm even fertile?  I guess the possibility of children in my near future will help me appreciate my independence in the present.