Wednesday, July 23, 2014

At My Wits' End - A Plea to All You Parents Out There

I'm not shy about giving out parenting advice, whether I know what I'm talking about or not, but right now I am the one in need of some advice. There's one question that has been bugging me for a couple of years now, and I have finally worked up enough gumption to throw it out there. I am hoping there are some other parents who will feel my pain and help me through this troubling situation I have found myself in. It's almost too difficult to put into words, but I'm sure I will feel an overwhelming sense of relief once I do. So, here it goes....

How long do we have to keep all of the projects that our kids bring home?!?!? Our kids bring projects home from school, Sunday school, grandma's house, other people's houses, and I think there must be some secret kid-only project-making workshop they sneak out to when the Wife and I are sleeping. It's crazy how many projects our kids can bring home. And for the most part, it's only the two older kids who are making the projects! The Little One just acts as a pack mule to help get all the projects to our house.

Please, please don't get me wrong. I really am excited that the kids get to be creative and that they are learning new skills and exercising their artistic muscles. I just want to know what the cut-off date is for keeping things. We have two entire walls that are already completely covered in projects and artwork, and piles of the stuff sitting around in our house, car, van, and anywhere else we can set it. I am tired of having to shuffle sideways through the house!

Is it OK to throw some of the older stuff away? Do the kids even remember some of the older things they made, or are their brains incapable of such thoughts? Do we need to set up some kind of storage system so our kids can throw the projects away themselves when we're dead?  This is, by far, the part of parenting that I was least prepared for, and that's saying something, because I barely knew which end of a baby did what when we first started having kids. I am asking for help.

If you have any thoughts on the matter, or an extra large accordion file, or a super-sharp paper shredder we could borrow, please contact me. I am at my wits' end, which some people might say is not all that far from where I normally am... Please help!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pigs and Corn...and Bass? Oh My!

If you have read this blog much over the past couple of years, you should know that I have written my fair share of outlandish statements. I am about to write something that may top them all. But it's perfectly true - I promise I am not making it up. Are you ready for some outlandishness? OK, here it goes...

The family and I just had a wonderful weekend of camping in...Iowa!! Really, I am not lying about this. I know you are probably thinking two things: First, Iowa is nothing but pig farms and cornfields. And second, nothing fun has ever happened in Iowa. But, it's true, there are some really pretty parts of Iowa, and we, along with a few hundred other people, really had a fun time. It's almost beyond belief!

We spent the weekend at our church district's Family Camp, just like we have every year since we became a family, almost nine years ago now. And every year, Family Camp is held at the Cedar Springs Wesleyan Camp in Floyd, Iowa. When most people hear the name of the town, they probably have visions of Mayberry, Little Opie Cunningham, and Barney Fife. The real Floyd, Iowa is not much different than that. Floyd is a tiny little town just off the highway. Most people who drive by probably don't even realize there's a town there. That's OK, as far as I'm concerned.

The Camp sits a couple of miles up the road from Floyd, right on the banks of the Cedar River. I am a fan of rivers in general, being the avid fly fisher that I am, and the Cedar doesn't disappoint. It doesn't hold my beloved trout, being a little too warm for them, but it's got its fair share of spunky smallmouth bass, which are as much fun to catch as any fish out there.The kiddos love to splash around in the shallows, finding enough clam and snail shells to fill the back of the old minivan. Every year I amaze them with my ability to catch some crayfish with my bare hands. I guess I can't deny it, it truly is amazing...

Aside from the river, the campground sits in a lovely little wooded valley, with gurgling springs and babbling brooks, and lots of trails leading here and there. Hardwoods line the banks, and there isn't a pig within eyesight. Sure, there might be a cornfield up on top of the valley, above the dining hall, but this is Iowa. You can never fully get away from the corn...

Cedar Springs Camp is a wonderful place to get away for a while and get in tune with God and nature, and they are happy to have other groups use the facilities. If you or your group is looking for a great place to get together and meet, check out Cedar Springs Camp at www.cedarspringscamp.com. I know it's in Iowa, but check it out any way! You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hold on to Your Tire Covers!

I don't know if you heard this or not, but we went to Yellowstone National Park last week on vacation. We had planned on taking my in-laws' hard-sided pop-up camper, but due to an unfortunate incident that was caused by someone who shall remain nameless*, the in-laws' hard-sided pop-up camper was not in working order. We found out that it would not be fixed in time for our trip two days before we planned to leave.

This news wasn't the end of the world, since we still had our trusty 8-person tent that we have camped in a billion times in the past 9 years. But, for some reason, when you think you are going to be spending the week in a luxurious pop-up camper, a tent seems like a huge letdown.

So, the Wife and I did what any normal married human beings would do, we decided to buy our own pop-up camper. We had about 48 hours to find one, sell one of our kidneys and/or children to raise some money, and get the new camper packed and ready to go half-way across the country. Somehow, we did just that (minus the selling of a kidney and/or child. We realized we didn't have to because we made enough money by only selling 9 pints of blood each...)

That Thursday night before our trip was a whirlwind of searching on craigslist, sending out emails, phoning up sellers, and trying to figure out just what we actually wanted in a camper. We had talked about getting one for a couple of years, but it never seemed like it would actually happen any time soon, so neither of us really put all that much thought into what kind of features we would want.

We went to go see one that was for sale in Falcon Heights, a suburb a few miles from our house. It seemed pretty nice online, but in person it left a lot to be desired. We also found a possible one in Jordan (about an hour to the south) and another in Chisago City (about an hour to the north). We weren't sure what to do, and it was getting late, so we decided to sleep on it. I'm glad we did, because another possibility entered the race: a lovely little Jayco pop-up that came with everything you would need while in the great outdoors, and a few things you probably won't ever need. Don't tell my diehard, granola eating, backpacking friends this, but it even came with a little pop-up camper-sized microwave.We never had one of those in our tent!
The whole family in front of our new camper on our first night of the trip. Has there ever been a more idyllic photograph in the entire history of the world? I think not...

So, after dinner on Friday night, we took the short drive up to Anoka and bought it, and we took it across the good ol' U.S. of A. the very next day. Everything went swimmingly on our trip, except for one thing. Apparently none of the previous owners towed the camper at the speeds it will now have to become accustomed to in our family. Somewhere along the way we lost one of the built-in levels that was glued to the outside of the camper, as well as the canvas cover that had been on the spare tire for the past 21 years. Oh well, at least it was nothing major. I think before our next trip I'll have to have some racing stripes painted on it. Seems fitting to me!

* He's remaining nameless because of the 5th Amendment...

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Middle-Aged Man and the Fish

The middle-aged man wasn't always middle-aged. At one point he was a strapping young buck who lived off the land - hunting, fishing, hiking and camping. The fact that he went home and slept in his cozy bed most nights is beside the point. He loved the outdoors, and he spent every waking moment thinking about it. He was totally in-tune with nature. He could catch any fish in the stream; he could start a fire with nothing but the greens from a dandelion and a limp fettuccine noodle; and he could set up a three bedroom, two bath lean-to in record time during the heaviest of downpours. His favorite hobby was wrestling rabid wolverines after dinner. He was a manly man, that's for sure.

He spent countless hours catching every fish within a 40 mile radius. But there was one fish he had never caught. He had never ventured out to the Wild West to catch one of the native cutthroat trout that lived there. This caused an emptiness deep in his soul that brought with it sleepless nights, sweaty palms, and gastrointestinal unease that would make a hyena frown. Now that he was approaching middle-age at the speed of light, he finally decided he needed to do something about this.

The Wild West, where cutthroat trout prosper. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org
So, he marched through cornfields. He trudged through miles of soybeans. He slogged through oil fields. He tramped through the badlands. He plodded through swamps. He clambered up steep slopes. He ate only what he could forage from the wilderness, and drank only rainwater, and the occasional Pepsi, if he was near a Quik Trip.

He finally made it far enough west that he was in cutthroat territory. He was tattered and torn from the journey, and he had just the clothes on his back, a handful of flies, and his trusty 6 wt Scott SAS fly rod to help him achieve his quest. After hours of toil, he finally put his Madam X fly right where it needed to be. The great fish came up, eyeballed the fly for what seemed like eternity, and then finally sipped it in with a delicate slurp. The man deftly set the hook with the skill of a true craftsman, and the fight was on. The fish fought mightily, but he was no match for the man's cunning and finesse. The fight was over quickly, and soon the man held the beautiful cutthroat trout in his hands. His quest was fulfilled. He could finally truly be happy. Middle age didn't look so daunting any more...

An artist's rendering of the man's first cutthroat trout. Illustration by Joseph Tomelleri.
                   ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

That's how I remember it happening, I have always wanted to catch a cutthroat trout, and I finally did last week when we were in Yellowstone, but it might not have been quite as intriguing as I made it out to be. In reality, I just walked down to the Gardner River while the rest of my family was eating a picnic lunch, and caught my first cutthroat a few minutes after I started. It was exciting for me, but I thought I better liven it up a little when I wrote about it.
 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

40 = The New Blah

I knew my 40s wouldn't be able to keep up with how amazing my 30s were. I don't want to belabor the point too long, but a lot of awesome stuff happened to me in my 30s: got married; bought a house; learned how to fix it up; graduated from college; had an amazingly easy-to-handle baby; then another; then the Little One was born, proving to us that not all babies are amazingly easy-to-handle; published several articles in national magazines; started this blog; blog won an award; bought another house; and so on and so on. It was about the most amazing decade any goofball like myself could ever hope to have.

Then, yesterday, I turned 40, and things have gone downhill quickly. First of all, the entire family spent the first half of the day at a funeral. The Wife's great aunt died last week while we were camping, and the funeral was yesterday morning. She lived a spunky 97-and-a-half years, but even though it was fun to celebrate her life, I don't do very well at funerals, so it was a little emotional for me.

Then, after going in to work for a couple hours in the afternoon, the van started making weird rattling noises on my way home. I checked under the hood, thinking it might be a belt that was going bad. Everything looked OK. I checked the tires to see if one was low or flat; they all looked fine. I checked underneath to make sure nothing was loose and dragging on the ground. Everything looked secure.

So the Wife, our two youngest kiddos, and I piled back in to drive the couple of miles to the in-laws' house for dinner. The noise seemed to be getting worse on our way there, and on our way home after dinner it was really bad. I was just making a mental note to call our mechanic for an appointment to have it checked out, when a loud "kerplang" happened, and the van lurched violently. I was able to get the van stopped, and the Wife and I jumped out to find that our front wheel had fallen off. Something happened to all five of the lug nuts...they were nowhere to be found. How could that have happened? Did they fall off? Did somebody take them? Whatever the reason, I'm glad the wheel didn't fall off while I was on the freeway a couple of hours earlier. That could have been bad!

After a lot of jacking around with the wheel (literally, there was a lot of jacking around, because the van fell off the jack twice while my neighbor and I were trying to get the wheel back on!), it's back on, and there's no noticeable damage to the wheel or the van, which is pretty amazing.

Today, on my second day in my 40s, I had to change a flat tire on the car. It actually went flat some time while we were on vacation last week, but I hadn't had a chance, or a reason, to change it until today. Putting the spare on took way longer than I expected, but thankfully the nice guys at Discount Tire were able to get me in quickly and repaired the tire free of charge. It still wasn't fun, though.

And, I just remembered that on Sunday night, just a couple of hours before I turned 40, the heating element on our oven blew up, as we were trying to cook a frozen pizza! Is there a worse time that could happen?!?! I don't think so. I should have considered it an omen...So, so far my 40s have left a lot to be desired. I just hope all these car problems and funerals and uncooked pizzas aren't a trend. Perhaps the third day of my 40s will be better...let's hope so.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Was That a Moose or a Marmot...?

Well, the Hansons just got back from a whirlwind trip to the granddaddy of them all, Yellowstone National Park. If you have never been there, which I find hard to believe because it seemed as though everyone and their brother was there this past week, you should definitely go. Despite the fact that Yellowstone is the most visited National Park in the U.S.A., there is plenty of room to get away from the crowds. In fact, there's so much seemingly uninhabited space in Yellowstone, it seems as though it would be easy to permanently lose yourself there, you know, if you were on the lam from the law, or just needed to get away from the kids for a few decades. Not that that thought ever crossed my mind while we were out there...

I could probably fill several blog posts with intriguing stuff that happened on our trip to Yellowstone, but, for the time being, I will try to cram it all in this one. Let's get started, shall we?

1. First of all, all the books and other reference guides you will read about Yellowstone will mention the potential wildlife you can see when you visit. It's true that there is a lot of wildlife in the park, but 99% of the animals you will see will be bison, or "buffalo", as 99% of people incorrectly call them, myself included. During our 3.5 days at Yellowstone, we saw approximately 4 billion bison, 8 mule deer, 6 elk (5 of which were in somebody's backyard in the town of Mammoth Hot Springs), the tiny head of a black bear cub as it peeked over the prairie grass, 1 pelican, 0 moose, 0 wolves, 1 yellow bellied marmot, and 70 billion mosquitoes. We actually had a bison walk through our campsite as we were getting ready for breakfast one morning, but it had already become so commonplace to see them, we just invited it over to have some pancakes with us. Ho hum.

2. As I mentioned there were copious amounts of mosquitoes, which I still don't understand. The only bodies of water in the park are swift-moving coldwater rivers, icy mountain lakes that are too cold to touch with your bare skin, and boiling hot cauldrons of acid-laced water that almost nothing can live in. So where are all these mosquitoes coming from? I don't get it. The mosquitoes back here in Minnesota are about three times bigger than the ones in Yellowstone, but the Yellowstone ones seemed a lot more annoying. The only thing I can figure is that they must suffer from "short mosquito syndrome". They were, by far, the worst part of the trip.
The Sister-in-law, the Niece, the Little One, the Wife, the Boy, and the Other Niece, in front of some geysers in Yellowstone. I only included this because I thought it was the funniest picture from our trip. Not sure what the Boy's problem was, but I am laughing about it now!

3. I had no idea before we went, but Yellowstone is a great place to learn about Asian cultures. I did a random survey in my brain, and it turns out that at least 75% of all the visitors in the Park are from one Asian country or another. I've never met so many Chinese people in my whole life. Generally speaking, the Asians we met were very friendly people. Except for the one Asian kid who I witnessed get out of the minivan he was traveling in with his family, and fling his dad's iPad about 30 feet into a bunch of sagebrush. He then went running off, cackling with delight, while his dad quietly walked over, picked it up, and did nothing to reprimand his little turd of a child. I would have smacked him upside the head my own self, but didn't want to start an international incident.

4. I've never said this before, but I think the U.S. government needs to raise our taxes. Yellowstone is full of really tall mountains, and to get from one end of the park to the other, you are required to drive up and down some of those mountains. That's all well and good, but those of us who happen to be precipiceophiles (afraid of sheer cliffs) would like a few more guardrails installed, thank you very much. Is that too much to ask? I'd happily pay the government a dollar or two extra to make that happen.

Other than the precipices and mosquitoes, we all had a wonderful time in Yellowstone National Park. If you are a huge fan of bison, it should be tops on your list of places to go. Maybe you can share your pancakes with one, like we did. I would assume they'd like french toast, too, if that's all you've got.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wedding Food Review, Part II

Last summer two of our nieces got married, and they seem to have started a trend. In the handful of years before that, we hadn't gone to all that many weddings, but now there seems to be a wedding bonanza going on. We just came back from our second of the year, and we have at least a couple more to go to later in the summer. I guess 2014 is the Year of Love...

OK, enough of all that mushy talk. Let's get on to the latest wedding we went to: our niece Kayt and her new husband, Jason. It was a lovely, outdoor wedding, on a lovely, sunny day, on Jason's family's lovely, picturesque farm in western Minnesota. Everything went smoothly, as far as I could tell, but, unlike the previous wedding we went to, we brought our kids to this one. If you've ever tried to pay close attention to anything in life while also trying to herd three small children, it's impossible. I am pretty sure Kayt and Jason actually did get married, but if push came to shove, I wouldn't quote me on that, if I was you. One thing is for sure: I've never been to a wedding where so many people were wearing cowboy boots. And I've been to a couple of weddings in Oklahoma, so that's saying something!

I also know that the food was really good. I am not sure if they had somebody cater it, or if they just did it themselves behind the barn, but the main course was a yummy pig roast. It was roasted to perfection, tender and juicy, and full of smokey flavors. Most people made sandwiches out of it, but some people, like the Girl, just gobbled it up by hand. "This is some delicious chicken!", she told me. Over the years I have learned that if your child is shoveling food in their mouth while thinking it's something other than what it actually is, you just let them go ahead thinking that for as long as possible. Besides, she was right - it was delicious! Even if it wasn't chicken...

The rest of the meal consisted of some tasty roasted red potatoes, some of the best baked beans I've ever had, a couple of pasta salads, and some adorable fruit skewers on wooden sticks that could have been used as weapons, if the need arose. Thankfully it didn't, but you never know...

We had to blast before the cake was served. Two of the kiddos were starting a joint meltdown at the same time, so we hustled them off to bed. That's OK, we had a great time, and were stuffed full of delicious pork or chicken, depending on your viewpoint. Congrats Kayt and Jason!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Her Final Days...

Today marks a turning point in the Wife's life. It's her last day in her 30s. Gasp! I know, right? I can't believe the dreaded Big 4-0 has sneaked up on her so quickly. I can talk about it so cavalierly because I still have a long time until I turn 40: 25 days. Believe me, I am not going to let the Wife forget that she's older than me for a single second during the next 25 days. We'll see if I make it to my birthday alive...

This sweet baby is turning the Big 4-0 tomorrow. Isn't she the cutest?
Yes, the Wife is having a big birthday tomorrow, but the amazing thing is that she doesn't seem the least bit concerned about it. I don't have any experience turning 40, because, as I said earlier, I don't turn 40 until 25 days after the Wife does. But I do have experience turning 30, which is another milestone birthday, and I remember not liking it one bit.

I did not want to turn 30 at all. In my head, which is not always the smartest place on Earth, I thought that life was going to go nowhere but downhill after I turned 30. Not that my life was all that sweet in my 20s, but for whatever reason, I thought my 30s were going to bring nothing but heartache, despair, and white whiskers. Thankfully only the whiskers materialized..

Let's just look back real quickly at what happened during my 30s, the decade I was despondent about before it happened. First of all, despite all my ineptitude, I succeeded in talking a most amazing woman into marrying me. Next we bought a house and totally gutted and renovated the entire basement. Before that I wasn't sure which end of the hammer I should be holding. Whilst that was going on, I decided to go back to college and get my degree. Shortly after that, we found out that we were going to have a baby, something that I was completely convinced was not going to happen. Then it happened again. And again. And, despite the fact that I like to write about our kids as though they are insane, all three of them are at least some of the time very good kids. We pretty much hit the jackpot with our kids. That does not mean we want any more...

Yes, my 30s have been pretty amazing. I don't know what I was worried about back when I was 29. Hopefully I won't repeat my mistake when I turn 40, 25 long days from now. If you see the Wife tonight, wish her a Happy Last Day of Your 30s. I'm sure she would love to hear it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I've Got Worms

Like every other warm-blooded American human, I learned how to fish using worms. Good ol' American earthworms. When you sit down and think about it, worms are possibly the freakiest creatures on God's green earth, but fish think they're yummy, so who am I to judge? They're slimy, wriggly, they can contort their bodies to all sorts of different lengths and thicknesses, they don't seem to have any eyes or other facial features, they live in the dirt, and when you put them on a hook, it seems like their insides are even gooier and slimier than their outsides. They're more than a little freaky, if you sit down and think about it. Not that they freak me out or anything, just that they're freaky. I think maybe, instead of sitting down and thinking about worms all day, I should stand up and not think about worms for a while. Sounds like a good idea to me...

For some reason, when I googled "large worm", several photos of Jimmy Carter were included. I will let you make your own joke. For those of you under the age of 35, Jimmy Carter is a former President of the U.S.A and peanut farmer.
From worms I graduated to minnows, leeches and even the occasional kernel of corn. Around the age of ten I got my first fly rod, and even before I learned how to cast it, I took on the snootiness that sometimes gets associated with hoity-toity flyfishermen. I would never be caught dead fishing worms again. In my 10-year-old brain, only little kids who didn't know any better, and complete rubes, fished with bait. Me, fish with worms? Never again!

I continued being an elitist snob, walking around with a stick up my butt, looking down my nose at bait fishermen, for a long time. It wasn't until my early 30s that I began to realize that it didn't really matter how anyone caught fish, as long as it was legal. Who was I to judge? I was just some jerk who knew how to expertly cast a fly rod, that's all.

That's not to say I started fishing with worms, though. Not until I had kids, at least. Once the Girl was a little over 2, I wanted to teach her how to fish, and there's no better way to learn how to fish than impaling a wriggly worm on a hook and catching some scrappy sunfish. So, that's what we did.

This spring the kids have been fishing hard. That is to say, they have wanted to go down to the lake at least three separate times to try to catch some sunnies and bass. We even ran out of worms the second time. Since I had been out of the "worm wrangling" business for almost 30 years, I didn't know where to find many worms. I dug holes all over our yard and my in-laws' yard, but mostly only found little puny worms. I was thinking we may have to go buy some worms at the local bait shop, but then the Wife just happened to turn over a pile of leaves that had been sitting in a far-off corner of our backyard (right outside our back door), and unleashed an enormous glob of huge worms that would have looked super tasty, if I was a largemouth bass.

About half of those brave worms gave their lives to help the kids catch a bunch of fish last week. But then the kids left on a road trip with their Aunt the next day. I had no other option but to go back and fish with worms myself after they left. What else was I supposed to do? Let those poor worms die in a cottage cheese tub in my fridge? No way! If you want to look down your nose at me, I fully understand.

  

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Lunker Hunters

If there are two things I want to teach my kids, it's to have a love for the outdoors, and to not be afraid to touch a fish. I've got some work to do on both regards...

The Girl, who is now 5, caught her first fish almost three years ago, while we were on a camping trip across the border in the crazy land known as Wisconsin. We had been fishing from one of the many man-made fishing piers on this certain lake for about 20 minutes when the Girl's bobber suddenly disappeared. She cranked on her little princess reel as hard as her 2-year-old muscles would allow, and reeled in about a 4-inch-long bluegill that tried to eat her worm. Thankfully the Wife was nearby, so she came over and took a couple of obligatory "first fish" photos, which I showed to anyone who would stand still long enough for me to hogtie them. It's possible I was a little too proud of her accomplishment... When the fish squirmed, the Girl backed away and hid behind me. The fish was released unharmed, and untouched by anyone but me.

Despite a couple of valiant efforts, none of the kids have caught any fish since that day. Until this past weekend, that is. We took all three kids to the lake that Grandma R & Grandpa D live on. I snuck over there the night before to "scout" it out on my own, and had a blast catching bluegills and the occasional bass on my fly rod.

None of the kids know how to use a fly rod yet, so when we went over the next day we brought a cup full of worms from our front yard and their diminutive spinning rods. I wormed up the first rod and cast it out, thinking I would have plenty of time to get the next rod ready, but the bobber instantly went under, and I reeled in a nice sunfish. Learning from this mistake, I got both rods ready and called the kids over to be nearby when the action started. I'm glad I did, because bobbers were bobbing, worms were getting eaten, and fish were getting caught pretty much nonstop for the next hour. The Little One's first fish was a nice sized sunfish, and the Boy's first fish was a robust largemouth bass. It was as much fun as you could hope to have while fishing with worms, except for the part where neither the Wife nor I brought our camera. Thankfully the Wife's sister had her phone with her, so she took a few videos of all the action. 

Since we forgot to bring our cameras with, these are an artist's rendition of what the actual events looked like, except that the Boy didn't actually touch his fish. Other than that I think the artist was able to accurately depict the jubilation that occurred, but the fish seem a little small to me...

When I pulled the Boy's bass out of the water, he ran off to hide, much like his older sister had three years earlier. The Little One is the only one that stayed put for her first fish, and she even reluctantly reached out to touch it with one finger. That sure made her Daddy proud! Maybe some day she'll even bait her own hook...