Cold weather magic

I posted a video on Instagram earlier this week that caused a bit of a buzz! Shot by Sage, it showed me throwing a pot of just boiled water into the air, the liquid flashing into a cloud upon making contact with the cold air.

Indeed, it was magic.

So when a friend posted his own video of this cold weather experiment, his version backlit by the sun, I knew we had to give it another go.

At sunrise.

On the coldest day I can remember in 46 Wisconsin years.

So this morning I encourage my sweet family to bundle up and head out into the the -30 F/-34 C morning as the sun crested the hills, for the sake of some winter fun and some photos.

Here are the results:


A necessary postscript, because, safety: You can burn yourself terribly while doing this if it’s not properly executed. Because really. You are literally pitching hot water into the wind.

The water does not cool instantly, and if thrown poorly can easily rain down scalding water onto your head. If you try this at home, be safe and start slow. Notice how in the photos of my kids (versus my husband) they are throwing small quantities carefully away from themselves, not overhead. And mind the wind!

Also, this was simply hot tap water. (Possibly not even hot by the time we hiked to the marsh.) It worked brilliantly because, well, -30 F. If you’re using hotter water be careful for goodness sake.

Also, cold this intense can cause frost bite within minutes. We made two brief trips outside to capture the shots above.

A HUGE shout out to Pete, Sage, and Lupine for indulging me with this foray into the cold, and to our friends and Driftless-neighbors Mary G. and Joseph F. for the sunrise inspiration.

What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?

Stay cozy, dear ones!

Love,
Rachel

Random acts of (cold weather) kindness

This week we are hitting record cold temperatures here in the midwest. As I type this, the temp is approaching -30 F (-35 C) in my neighborhood. With windchill, it’s supposed to reach around -60 F or colder. I don’t even know what that means. That will break my face.

And then a friend reminded me about all the people (like her partner, a postal carrier) who still have to get out in it. Who don’t get a snow day or an ungodly-cold-day, as it were.

Last week when the cold just began inching in, Lupine and I left a Go Macro bar in our mailbox with a note that read: “For our mail carrier–stay cozy!” It felt good to us, and I’m certain it did for her, too.

Knowing that people see your work matters. Kindness matters.

And it occurred to me that the KonMari craze and this bitter cold snap might be the happiest recipe to random acts of kindness ever. Stick with me. 

What about if–during this week of surreal cold–we become radical in our kindness? What if we do a mash-up of our shared obsession with the KonMari method along with the kindness that the world so desperately needs, and we spread all the joy and warmth we can?

It works like this—as you sort through your outerwear and winter gear, set aside the hats, mittens, and scarves that don’t spark joy. Throw them in a bag and keep them in your car if you’re out and about. Then keep an eye out for anyone outside with exposed skin, or looking miserable in this supremely cold weather. Then give those warm things away with a smile and a “stay cozy!” to the passing stranger in need.

Or go through your kitchen for travel cups and thermos jars that no longer get much love, and leave a serving of cocoa or hot herbal tea for your mail carrier or UPS driver along with a note thanking them for braving the elements for the sake of their work. We left a snack bar last week along with a note, but tomorrow… brownies and cocoa, I think.

Not everyone has the luxury of hunkering down for this intense stretch cold. Not everyone has the luxury of home.

So let’s each do our part to spread all the warmth and kindness that we can. What do you say?

Postscript: thankfully, the USPS has cancelled mail delivery for today in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Small blessings! Than means you have today to prepare for tomorrow’s kindness. Stay warm, dear ones. 

Love,
Rachel

In the thick of it

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Nurturing sick ones when we’re already feeling stretched or depleted can be challenging, can’t it? Yet it’s a frequent theme of motherhood—to give the things that we most need.

I’ve been feeling pulled in too many directions these past few weeks. Spread too thin, I have been desperate for some hard to come by solo time to simply nurture my own thoughts and dreams and desires. How grateful I was to carve out an hour last week for a much needed coffee date with a friend. It refilled my cup, and left me with some space to breathe during this brimful season.

And then last week Sage started feeling under the weather, and ended up with the flu. Needles to say, it’s been an intense week of parenting in that ways that illness or injury always area. That’s life, that’s motherhood, but I’m tired.

These ordinary bumps in the journey of having loved ones under the weather are just that–ordinary. Yet they’re awfully trying, too. I think we sometimes negate the feeling that bubble up around these ordinary hiccups of motherhood and life.

What might shift if we instead honored these messy feelings, and ourselves along with them?

So I’m reaching for balance as best as I’m able. Knowing when to say no, when to dial in my expectations, and when to rest. To sleep as long as I’m able, to pause for tea or to knit a row when I can, to steal away for a long, quiet soak in a hot bath. To remember that I, too, matter. And that I can’t nurture others without first taking care of myself.

It’s something many of us struggle to honor.

My self-care game has never been strong. But during these moments of need, it’s imperative I do better.

And so I will.

To all of the mamas out there, just struggling to get through this day or this season for whatever reason: I see you, I feel you; you’re not alone. You’ve got this.

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One piece of my keep-it-together medicine is to get outside everyday, no matter what. Alone, with dogs, or with family, it’s keeping me sane. Fresh air, the light on the hills, the weather varying wildly day after day.

Yesterday Lupine and I headed out for white pine needles (Pinus strobus) from the tree in the yard for tea for Sage’s cough, and it was restorative just to feel the cold air on my skin. It wasn’t even a walk, but it was still a pause.

Back inside she chopped the needles and brewed tea for her brother, I organized the herb cabinet, and we strained tinctures, elixirs, and oxymels together. It felt like order in the chaos. It felt like an exhale.

We’re keeping the tea and bone broth and hot toddies flowing, and we’re keeping our sanity, day after day. I’m grateful.

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As his illness moves its way toward closure, and the rest of us are doing our best to stay well in this small house full of abundant germs.

We’re all taking daily doses of elderberry and echinacea to shore up our immune systems and keep the crud at bay, sipping lots of herb-spiked teas and broths, and Sage continues to take elderberry, chaga, and other herbs as the symptoms call for.

Wild Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) and ginger-sage tea for sore throat and chills, yarrow and elderflower for fever, white pine and elecampane for cough, etc., etc. I even offered him a little rose elixir last night for his (emotional) heart, which is so weary of all this time in bed, feeling miserable.

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Since the flu has largely settled out at this stage as throat discomfort and cough, Lupine and I crafted two types of throat lozenges for him yesterday as a part of our homeschooling day. Unlike the sugar- or rice syrup-based candy-like throat lozenges, these are crafted only of powdered herbs, raw honey, and an optional few drops of herbal tinctures or elixirs. Intuitively, they feel much more nourishing than a sugar-based remedy.

The herbal pastilles we made were based off of this recipe. We modified the formulation based on Sage’s symptoms and the herbs we are most called to use.

Our first version (shown at right) we crafted from homegrown marshmallow root powder (in place of the slippery elm), homegrown garden sage, powdered rose petals, homemade wild rose elixir, and a pinch of ginger root powder.

In our second version we substituted Monarda (wild bee balm) for the sage, omitted the ginger we added to the first batch, and added some elderberry tincture for good measure.

As we rolled these little herbal throat balls in slippery elm and marshmallow powder, Lupine popped one in her moth to test our formula. “These are amazing!” she said. Amazing little herb balls.

So there you go. We made Amaze Balls. 

And if nothing else, there will always be humor to get us through!

Return to the light

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Happy holidays, dear ones!

I hope you are enjoying a joyous holiday season, however and whatever you choose to celebrate.

As many of you already know, our family’s big, annual celebration is the Winter Solstice. While we both grew up celebrating Christmas, Solstice always felt like a wonderful match for our family, and in the past 20-some years, we have woven our own traditions around this celebration of the returning light.

The four of us gather and celebrate the longest night beside the fire, spending our time playing board games, often dipping candles, and exchanging small handmade gifts with one another.

I look forward to our quiet, meaningful, joyful celebration all year.

This year (like last) we spent our holiday at my parent’s cabin alongside the Wolf River. It added so much to our celebration, to step away from the day-to-day of laundry and to-do lists (and Wifi!) and just sink into the silence of the long, dark nights.

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This cabin was built by my grandfather’s and my great grandfather’s hands. Even the smell upon unlocking the door each time we visit is as familiar as home.

This river, where I learned to navigated sharp rocks and swift currents; where I learned to tie on a hook and cast for trout is familiar as well. I know which rocks offer safe purchase, and which ones wobble, which are slippery and which will safely hold my feet. My parents and grandparents before me knew the same, and my children have unlocked many of her secrets as well. This river where we spread my grandma’s ashes, and where Pete and I–both clad in leaky chest waders–became engaged, and later married (arguably better dressed on that latter date).

It’s the river from whom we borrowed our name, and the place where we return again and again.

And so, for Solstice, we returned once more.

To rest, to celebrate, to savor. While this place isn’t home, it really is (if that makes sense).

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We arrived at the cabin a couple of days before Solstice, allowing us time to finish gifts and preparations for the holiday. On Lupine’s request we didn’t cut a scraggly balsam from my parent’s woods as we have before (and as is always my first choice), but instead visited a nearby tree farm to purchase something fuller and, well, a little less “Charlie Brown”. Lupine was over the moon, of course, and I was happy to accommodate.

Back at the cabin strung up twinkle lights, hung our favorite homemade ornaments on the tree (some made by me, and others by my grandmother decades ago just for me, and right next door to where they now were displayed), and  we set to work baking cookies and gingerbread for the coming dark, and wrapped up gifts to exchange throughout the day.

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The gifts we exchange are small and simple: Lupine knitted a cowl for Pete, and I made him a hat; he is carving me a wooden kuksa cup. The kids got a windfall of mama-made Totoro creations on their request (t-shirts, hand knits, and ornaments).

One stand-out handmade gift was the gorgeous burl wood shawl pin that Sage carved for me, after hearing me express my wish for one for years. So thoughtful, so beautiful.

We played board games and nibbled cookies and gathered by the fire long into the night.

It was a lovely celebration.

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After Solstice we packed up and headed to visit my parents for Christmas eve.

More handmade and thoughtfully chosen gifts were exchanged (like the towels my sister printed for my mom and I, below–gah!–), too many cookies were eaten, and lots of time was spent knitting and visiting beside the wood stove in my childhood home.

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And now? We’re home again.

And after a busy season and a full week away, there has never been a cozier sight than that of our farm. This hardworking, scrappy, weathered home—messy floors, worn paint, and all.

It’s home.

And no where else feels better than that.

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Wishing you and yours a joyful winter season, filled with peace and patience, self-love, and kindness for all.

 

Love,
Rachel

Lefse

* If you happen to be a family member and on my holiday gift list (for example, if you are my DAD, ahem), kindly go away and come back after Christmas.

Mom and Leah, you can stay as long as you can keep a secret.

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I’ve been thinking about my Norwegian grandmother for days. My dad’s mom, my Grandma Katie, raised her children in the same hills where I’m raising mine. I’ve thought about her a lot, actually, since we said goodbye when Sage was just a baby.

Of her nine grandchildren, I was the only one who lived close enough to swing by each week to help out with whatever needed doing as she grew older. To plant her fall bulbs, to vacuum the living room, and (lucky me!) to share an occasional Sunday supper of roasted chicken, fried potatoes, and lemon pie.

I am still grateful for this time that we shared. I got to know her more in adulthood than I did in childhood. It was a richer relationship, too. More real, more intimate. And most weeks until she died, I drove to Elroy to chat, to help out, or both.

But the visit we both looked forward to most of all was our annual lefse date.

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Every year, sometime in November, I’d drive through these hills to my grandma’s house: first alone, then pregnant, and later with a baby Sage in tow. She would pour coffee and we would gather supplies as we talked, her cheerfully cluttered kitchen packed with colorful vintage dishes, shiny canisters, and worn metal tins filled with homemade donuts and cookies.

Despite the lack of donuts in my world, (and my pantry tins holding exotic ingredients like cassava flour and chia seeds), I see her in me more with each passing year. In my mismatched vintage dishes, my cluttered countertops, my shiny metal canisters of flour, sugar, and salt. And even, on occasion, in my own reflection.

There’s no disputing my genetics. I’m all her’s.

Sipping Folger’s (or whatever was on sale this week down at the IGA), we would get to work.

I’m not sure how many times I made lefse at her side–or even when we began this annual tradition–but we did it enough for her to teach my hands what my brain still can’t comprehend.

How small the fat should be when cut adequately into the flour; how slowly to pour in the boiling water; how thin to roll each ball of dough.

In my grandma’s kitchen we used her glittery formica counter as a rolling guide: roll them thin enough to see the flecks of glitter through the dough. Here at home it’s not as easy. Mostly because she’s gone, and isn’t here to check my work, but also because my staid countertops lack bling.

We pull out an old marble board. We improvise.

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If you asked me as a child to name the more delicious food I knew–a food synonymous with family, love, and our own heritage–this would be it. Back then we made it from  bleached white flour (“I don’t want dirty lefse!”), Crisco, and copious amounts of pale butter and white sugar.

Here at home, we modify.

We use a locally milled organic white flour (unbleached, because, obviously) and pastured pork lard from a friend’s homestead that she carefully rendered on her woods stove, then generously shared. Our sugar is organic and raw as well (“dirty” by grandma’s standards) and our butter a glorious golden-color that only comes with time on pasture. And we’re drinking locally roasted, fair-trade coffee from our friends over at Kickapoo instead of Folgers.

Would Grandma approve of our upgrades? I think so. I’m sure she’s just happy we’re making lefse again.

We pull out her lefse stick, her lefse cloths, and her rolling pin, and set to work. We long ago burned out her teflon-coated griddle with overuse, so we happily set our cast iron skillet on the stove.

I’m ashamed to say this is the first time we’ve made lefse in years.

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Why did we stop making lefse? For so many reasons. Mostly because wheat fell off of our meal rotation for so very long. And unlike potato lefse, ours is all white flour. (We tried once to make it gluten-free and it was an unabashed disaster. Thick, gummy, and not at all lefse. So we quit until wheat could be on the menu once more.) And then there was GAPS. Then Paleo.

Show me the sugar-free, dairy-free, grain-free lefse. It’s just not happening. So we stopped trying.

But then last week Lupine asked me what lefse was and I’m certain I hear an audible “crack!” from my heart. What is lefse? From a child who is more Norwegian than anything else? It was some sort of colossal mothering failure.

This child who can make a batch of chai with her eyes closed, who is obsessed with tofu and miso soup, who once made croissants from scratch on her own, didn’t even know her own roots. How American of us: to fall in love with delights from around the world, yet grow unfamiliar with some of our own family traditions.

What is lefse. Uffda.

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And so it was time.

Despite our overflowing Solstice calendar and a laundry basket full of unfinished gifts, lefse would dominate this weekend. Half would be earmarked as our Christmas gift to my dad (who misses his mom’s lefse so very much, but never learned to make it himself), and the remaining half would be all ours, for our Winter Solstice celebration. (Minus the package I’ll drop off at my uncles on our way out of town. I suspect he misses it, too.)

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Without Grandma Katie to call on, I had to step up, to remember all she taught. And when we pulled out her old,  yellowed recipe card last night, it was time for me to step into the role of teacher. With no backup. With no one more knowledgeable than myself to call upon with questions.

My grandma didn’t pull any punches when teaching me how to roll and cook lefse, and I attempt the same. She was quick to tell me me when I rolled them too thick or my edges were too lumpy, and I instinctively reached out to check thickness as the kids walk by on their way to the griddle. I’d call them back to roll again when theirs were too thick.

I’m not sure how I know what I know, just that I do. Rather: my hands know, though not my head.

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That’s the way with traditions; with the things we hand down mother to daughter; grandmother to grandchild. It’s there, in our hands and our hearts, rather than our heads.

And what an honor it is to be the one to carry these traditions along.

Though we didn’t “eat ourselves sick” (what my grandma always proposed she and I should do after working ourselves to exhaustion rolling, cooking, and sugaring) we did indulge in some scraps and “mistakes” yesterday.

It wouldn’t be lefse-day without a bit of sugar on our tongues, now would it?

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I’m certain these are messy, and many are a bit too thick. And the color? Well, they’re “dirty” by Grandma’s standards, on account of that unbleached flour. But that’s just how we roll (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Honestly, I’m sure my grandma would be delighted just the same, if only in the knowledge that never again will her great granddaughter ask what lefse is, and this most treasured of traditions lives on (however clumsy our efforts).

And this year at least, we’ll celebrate Christmas (and yes, Solstice) in a way that tastes just like it should.

That tastes like family, like tradition, like love.

That tastes like home.

Merry Christmas, Grandma. Thank you for the gift of lefse. I’ll take better care of it from now on. We all will.

 

We miss you so.

 

Love,
Rachel

 

A Winter Book List

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Early yesterday morning, Lupine woke with a sore throat and a queasy stomach. It quickly unraveled into something of a mild (yet, um, productive) stomach bug that kept us busy for much of the day. Poor thing. We’re just not “pukers” (if you’ll pardon the expression) and stomach bugs are a particularly nasty surprise to wake up to, especially when the lot of us so rarely throw up.

And so the homeschooling rhythm was scrapped, and a bed was made on the couch by the fire.

There was a hot water bottle filled to soothe a sore tummy, teaspoons of water dispensed, and homeopathic remedies to take.

And, of course, a pile of favorite picture books from when she was small. Because what could be more comforting than that?

Before long the wave of sickness had subsided, a tiny bowl of brothy wild rice + chicken soup was devoured (and then a second, and then a third) and we were well on our way to health once again.

I thought it would be fun to share with you a few of our childhood-long favorite winter books, in case you’ll hoping to restock your winter book basket this season. All of the photos are clickable links (afflinks).

Most of the books listed we happily own; others we check out each December from our public library.

Wishing you all wellness this season. And happy reading!

Love,

Rachel

A Winter Booklist

Around the Year, by Elsa Beskow is one of our favorite books. Though not a winter celebration, it’s a journey through the year. We can’t get enough of Elsa Beskow, or this title in particular.

Sky Sisters, by Jan Bordeau Waboose is a delightful tale of two Ojibway sisters, setting off into the darkness to see the northern lights. We adore this book.

It’s Snowing, by Olivier Dunrea is a simple, charming story about a mother and baby’s adventures in the snow. A gift for Sage when he was small, this book has a permanent spot in our bookshelf.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston is a bittersweet tale of family, motherhood, and Christmas. A tattered paperback copy of this book found its way into our world many years ago, and it’s pulled out each December.

The Shortest Day, by Wendy Pieffer is one of the few Winter Solstice celebrating books out there! We were delighted to stumble upon the whole series at our library years ago, and continue to enjoy these seasonal books.

Children of the Forest, by Elsa Beskow is not a winter-specific tale, but a lovely journey through the year beside the charming forest children and their parents. A perennial favorite in our home since our kids were tiny.

The Big Snow, by Berta and Elmer Hader is an old-fashioned sweet story of wildlife (and people) through a blizzard. It’s charming.

We love Cicely Mary Barker’s fairy books, and the winter collection is no exception. Short poems about plants and their fairies are a simple celebration of the season.

Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, and the Yellow Sled by Maj Lindman is a tale of kindness and generosity. Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Reindeer is a lovely winter tale as well.

The Return of the Light by Carolyn McVickar Edwards is a collection of winter tales from around the world. On our library reserve list right now!

The Tomten, by Astrid Lindgren (yes, the author of Pippi) is a charming look at the mythical Tomten on the farm. There’s another title, The Tomten’s Christmas Porridge that Lupine also enjoys.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer, by Jan Brett is another wintertime favorite. If you’re familiar with Jan’s artistic style, you can expect this book to captivate you as much as her other titles. Beautiful illustrations and a sweet message.

The Mitten, by Jan Brett, is another visual feast. A charming story of childhood, wildlife, magic, and knitting. What’s not to love?

I would be remiss in not mentioning (one more time) my own book (ahem), Herbal Adventures for winter reading. What better time to get to know the plants that will spring up come April? And some (mullein and pine in particular) can even be foraged now for use this season. You can pick it up on my website as well!

And let’s end where we began, shall we? With another Elsa Beskow favorite, Ollie’s Ski Trip. Magic, innocence, and winter cheer abound in this charming classic tale.

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A new addition

Despite all that I shared about Thanksgiving’s roots and deeper meaning last week, it is still a day my family has long treasured and spent together, focused on gratitude. With this in mind, we slipped away last week for a brief but lovely visit with my parents back at my childhood home.

I’m so grateful to live close enough that a two day trip isn’t a ridiculous prospect, and that we are fortunate enough to have my family to call on–during the holidays and every season.

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We read aloud a couple of the books from the Decolonizing Thanksgiving book list, then dove in being helpful as best we could with dinner preparations. Lupine harvested some of my mom’s herbs, then bundled and labeled them and hung them up to dry. So sweet.

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During the weekend, my mom pulled a worn gold ring out of a jewelry box, and despite not having seen it for nearly 25 years, I recognized it instantly. It was my grandmother’s wedding ring, and I slipped it onto my finger, awash with memories.

Later that night, knitting beside the fire, her ring was in context once more. Juxtaposed against my yarn and needles, the sight of ring and wool together transported me back in time. My grandma was the only knitter I knew as a child, and she (like me today) was rarely far from her yarn.

I suppose she’s at the heart of why I make.

Seeing that ring alongside my yarn took me back to a seat on the floor beside her chair as she patiently talked me through my first clumsy stitches. I watched as she expertly maneuvered the work in her hands. Like magic, those fluid stitches flowed off her needles.

Such a gift to remember her in this way.

And then… another gift happened.

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This guy.

On our return trip from Thanksgiving, we detoured past a farm that we visited on our arrival trip as well. A farm with a single, sweet-faced puppy for sale.

We were smitten the first time we met him, so–logically–we brought him home.

This puppy pick-up wasn’t half so spontaneous as it sounds. It was a year-and-a-half in the making.

A short time after my sweet Charlie died, Lupine began asking in earnest for another house dog. We delayed while my heart healed, but the requests never slowed. A year passed, then more.

She asked weekly, sometimes nearly every day.

Finally, Pete and I decided that we were ready (all of us).

And so, for her 12th birthday, we gave her a book on dog training – this favorite – (afflink) and tucked a coupon inside for a dog or puppy of her choice. Upon reading it she shrieked with joy, disbelief and tears in her eyes. That night as she drifted off to sleep she whispered,  “I can’t believe you gave me a puppy. This is the best gift in the history of every gift that has ever been given to me. In. My. Life.”

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A girl of my heart, she was set on a golden, but when we saw this goldendoodle (half golden retriever, half standard poodle) she was sold. We’re not poodle fans per se, but loved the idea of a golden’s personality crossed with another breed to provide some hybrid strength after losing Charlie so young to kidney failure. The fact that they’re touted as hypoallergenic and non-shedding didn’t hurt his case either.

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This little newcomer’s name has changed a few times since coming home… first Moose, then Fredland, and now O’donoghue, after our favorite pub in Ireland.

I think this last name is going to stick.

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And this little face? Yeah, I think we’re all pretty smitten. Welcome to the family little guy. I hope you love it here.

Decolonizing Thanksgiving

When my great, great grandmother Anna was just 16 years old, she and her sister said goodbye to their parents, their community, and their homeland, then boarded a boat in Norway destined for America.

I wonder what what she thought about on that journey across the sea at such a young age.  Was she fearful, hopeful–both?

And I also wonder–at any moment on that long, 6 week journey did she pause and wonder about the people who already called the “New World” home?

I don’t mean the other European immigrants who had similarly embarked in search of a better life, but the indigenous people of this continent. The people who already occupied the land she now planned to make her home.

This world, of course, was only new to the newcomers.

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On the long timeline of North American human history, my great-great grandmother’s arrival on this continent wasn’t all that long ago. I still have her spinning wheel; her stories of the seven waterfalls of her childhood home in Norway are still shared in our family today.

I’m a fourth generation life-long Wisconsinite. My great, great grandparents arrived here from Norway and Eastern Europe, chasing the dream of a better life that the “new world” offered. These hills looked like the home they had left behind, and so they stayed.

And a brief four generations later, I am keenly aware that I live on stolen land.

State (or national) pride will only take us so far, and what we’re left with is a tragic and violent legacy that as a collective we often choose to ignore.

Growing up in Wisconsin, I remember tracing my hand on brown construction paper each November, then affixing colorful paper “feathers” with paste to create a turkey in elementary school. I also remember cutting a strip from that same shade of brown, and affixing those paper feathers into a mock-headdress as our teacher explained the friendship between the pilgrims and the non-specific Indians of lore.

Most Americans grew up hearing a similar story (if not making similarly culturally inappropriate crafts).

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The land beneath my feet in my childhood suburban Milwaukee home was Peoria, Potawatomi, Menominee, Miami, and Očeti Šakówiŋ (or Sioux) territory. The hills where my dad grew up in the Driftless (and where my family now calls home) was the homeland of Očeti Šakówiŋ, Sauk, and Ho-Chunk. And the northern Wisconsin land that my mom (and her parents before her) grew up was that of the Menominee. 

My mom grew up in a predominately white community just across the county line from the Menominee Reservation. She has a lifelong friend to this day grieves never having learned the traditional Menominee ways.

Despite growing up on the remnant sliver of her people’s tribal land, thanks to colonization, neither her cultural traditions nor her family tongue were passed down to her.

Not because she left her homeland, but because Europeans arrived.

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And each year as Thanksgiving approaches, I think more and more of America’s true history surrounding this holiday. I sit with increasing discomfort at our table laden with food and steeped in myth, struggling with the story we have painted of the first Thanksgiving.

I feel a strong pull in two conflicted directions. The first is to find deep gratitude in this day that we devote to family each year. This is the Thanksgiving I have convinced myself we are celebrating, with our gratitude tree, homemade food, and time shared as a family.

The second pull, of course, is to acknowledge (and begin to heal) the historically accurate version of what we celebrate.

This more important tug is rooted in a need to decolonize a holiday whose traditions run deep in our cultural belief system.

If America focuses on Thanksgiving as simply a day to celebrate the people that we love (as I personally have done for most of my of adulthood), we are conveniently overlooking the bloody handprint that exists upon this day, and upon our place here in North America if we are of European decent.

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To be clear, I’m not here to take your turkey and stuffing away; rather I ask you to dig deeper than modern traditions to understand the backstory of what we celebrate. And then (when they are old enough to be ready) to share that truth with your kids.

I acknowledge that there is discomfort in sitting with these stories, in opening ourselves to the implications. I’m certain in even opening this conversation here I will make some missteps. But putting away the myth and picking up history is our responsibility–as parents, as the descendants and benefactors of colonists, as Americans.

Sure, the tidy history that we learned in elementary school (had it been factual) carries a greater appeal. But learning the truth, and peeling it back layer by layer to realize how it effects indigenous and non-native peoples to this day is crucial for deeper healing.

And sitting in our own discomfort is one small first step along this healing path.

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I have a few links to share today if you, too, are interested in decolonization, putting away the paper headdress-perpetuated stereotypes, and playing your part in acknowledging the generations of violence done to Indigenous people across this continent.

As a white person, what I have to bring to the table is to simply acknowledge that we have work to do, then digging in and beginning to educate myself and my children with facts instead of myths. From there I hand the floor to the people below who know far more than I, many of them indigenous.

I hope you will spend some time reading what they have to share, and reflecting on the true story of the America that we call home.

If you have additional resources to add to the list below, I invite you to include them in the comments. 

Thank you for stepping into this uncomfortable space with me. It’s not easy to change traditions, or to acknowledge that our own actions may cause harm. Healing generations of trauma is no quick fix, but–like so many of you–I’m ready to show up and do what I can to begin moving in that direction.

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Decolonizing Thanksgiving: a few links to get you started:

American Indians in Children’s Literature’s list of good Thanksgiving books for kids

This list includes:

 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (afflink)

Four Seasons of Corn, A Winnebago Tradition (afflink)

Thanksgiving: a Native American Story

The Native-Lands Map and (as importantly) the accompanying Teacher Guide

With Thanksgiving: a Native American View

The Future is Indigenous: Decolonizing Thanksgiving

Racial Justice Resources for Thanksgiving

Decolonizing Thanksgiving: a Toolkit for Combating Racism in Schools

“Kill the Indian, Save the Man” Indian Boarding Schools

 

Special thanks to my friend Shawn Nadeau for editing help with this post.

 

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Celebration

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Few things are more of a pleasure than celebrating birthdays and holidays with my family.

Our birthday traditions have been pretty well cemented since my kids were small. Yet time continues to catch me by surprise as our need for the candle spiral and birthday buntings seem to grow closer together year after year.

What is the saying when our children are small? “The days are long but the years are short.” And each year they grow shorted still.

This weekend it was Lupine’s turn to celebrate as we marked her twelfth trip around the sun.

In lieu of a friend party, she had requested that we go as a family to a trampoline park an hour or so from home. It was a ridiculous amount of fun for all of us, and a quiet follow-up day on her actual birthday was just the ticket to rebalance that crazy energy. (And rest our collective sore muscles!)

Have you been to a trampoline park with the people you adore the most? It’s madness, I assure you. And totally not our day-to-day jam. But honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard, or jumped so high.

Her desires for her birthday itself were simple: a quiet day at home spent eating favorite meals, wearing PJs, and playing board games together. (Yes, please on all counts!)

She pulled out her favorite games, and we whiled away the day drawing one box after another off the heap. I think we got halfway through the stash below before the day was done.

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In the evening as we set out candles and dessert, I found the birthday crown that my sister and I made for her when Lupine turned 2.

It was buried at the bottom of the birthday bin where we keep the buntings, candle spiral, and other celebration necessities. She hasn’t worn it since she was small, having preferred a newer, less juvenile crown that I made her when she was five, or – more recently – none at all.

I jokingly offered the bluebird crown to her last night, and, surprising even herself, she enthusiastically agreed.

I gave her mittens for her birthday the first year she wore this crown. Carefully snipped and sewn from an old cashmere sweater, she adored them. Yesterday, a decade later and with her crown again in place, we repeated that storyline.

New mittens, a beaming smile, and a birthday story by candlelight.

Life changes, children grow, and childhood is fleeting. Yet there are things that – if only through magic – remain poetically the same.

Hang onto your hearts, parents of wee ones. You’re in for a beautiful ride.

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Postscript: If you’re curious about our family’s longstanding birthday traditions, there are a zillion posts in the archives if you search “birthday Lupine” or “birthday Sage”.

I also wrote a two part series some eight years ago about our favorite traditions. You can find them here and here. Many of the customs I outline (from the spiral to the story) are still in joyful use. And my free bunting tutorial is here, and my birthday crown pattern is up in my Etsy shop.