Musings, North Dakota Living, Teaching

Waiting on Baby

I’ve written before about the crazy life we’ve built since getting married 14 months ago — and we certainly aren’t slowing down anytime soon with Baby #1 on the way. We found out a few weeks ago that it is a boy, which makes perfect sense in my family. I grew up with 5 brothers and numerous male cousins, and learning that the newest member of my family will be a boy too, well, came as no surprise to me.

Plus in our own little family, considering our dogs Lucy and Scout are both girls, now my husband will be slightly less outnumbered.

IMG_4565 2

So here we are, waiting for Baby with another four months to go. These are exciting times in our little home on our farmstead — but they are nervewracking too. Worries overwhelm me sometimes: Will I be a good mother? Will I even know how to be a mother? Will our home be a good place to raise a baby? Where is all this baby stuff even going to fit? Our little house already seems packed to the brim! Will I ever sleep again? Everyone tells me no, I will not. And I REALLY like to sleep.

Teaching while pregnant adds a whole new level of interesting. My feet and my back have never hurt so badly — and I’ve got four months to go yet.  At least the emotional turmoil of the first trimester has stabilized; it was pretty rough and I think my students knew something was weird. Sometimes though, even still, I get home and I’m so exhausted from dealing with other humans all day that all I want to do is curl up and stare at the wall. My poor husband, who spends much of the day working in solitude, just wants to have a conversation with someone. He’s very patient, thank goodness!

Then, of course, there is the fact that high school students have no filters:

“Mrs. M, you are HUGE already. You’re only half done?!” (I don’t think some of these kids have ever seen a pregnant woman.)

“Mrs. M, you look like you’re going to pop! Is your baby due soon?” (Um… no. It’s going to get a lot worse, kid.)

“Mrs. M, can you feel your baby kick? Will you let me feel next time he kicks?” (Um… double no. I like my personal space!)

“Mrs. M, can I babysit your kid?” (Well, if you didn’t lose every assignment I give you, I might be less worried about you losing my kid.)

“Mrs. M, you better name your baby after me.” “No, me!” “No, me! I’m your favorite!” “How about Hank?” “At least give him a middle name after me!”

“Mrs. M, you are so cute when you are fat!”

Sigh. And, once again, I’ve got four months to go….

But all of this is okay, because so far Baby is healthy, and deep down I do know that this, our farm, will be a great place to raise him. I can’t wait to buy him a pony when he gets a little older and teach him about country life and working hard and that nothing is owed to anyone for free. I can’t wait to give him some of the life I had growing up, full of family and love and siblings and pets and adventures.

IMG_0005

IMG_0008

My husband can’t wait to teach him about music, hunting, and carpentry, and all that other guy stuff. My dad can’t wait to take him out on the tractor. My mom can’t wait to retire from her job and spend more time visiting her grandkids, including this one. The baby’s aunties and uncles and cousins will welcome him with open arms, and my grandma is busy these days making a blue baby quilt, like the pink one I still have today.

And you know, despite all the worries and backaches that come along with waiting for Baby, I think we’ll do alright.

Musings, North Dakota Living

Quiet on the Western Front (and Why I Love North Dakota)

It’s been quiet around here. Winter is, by nature, quiet in general. People don’t venture out as much. The long hours of dark at night send everyone indoors to spend cozy nights at home. With many of the birds migrated and animals hibernated, the blanket of snow covering everything mutes the otherwise busy sounds of the outdoors.

IMG_2313

IMG_2211

IMG_2215

IMG_2202

 

Here in the oil patch, there’s another reason for the quiet. The slowdown in the oil market has sent many of our transient neighbors home, perhaps for the winter, perhaps permanently. I can barely believe the lack of traffic on my way to school in the mornings. It was just a couple years ago that a lot of my writing was devoted to the crazy oil traffic. (I wrote blog posts like “Rules of the Road: Oil Field Edition” or even “Oil Field Dating Service” inspired by one very interesting traffic incident.)

It is difficult to predict when, and how much, oil production will pick up again. Experts discuss the issue in the news, mentioning the foreign oil market and America’s export laws. Who knows? In western North Dakota, we don’t have a lot of control over those worldwide issues, but we do feel the immediate effects of both the boom and the slowdown.

I can’t decide if I’m overjoyed about the quiet or not. I yearned for it when all of this started, and I admit I love my drive in the mornings now, but it’s funny what a person can get used to. And there is our economy to consider. As a teacher, I see the direct effects in school, as well. We have lost a handful of individual students, but our enrollment overall is staying pretty steady and is even predicted to continue to grow whether the oil prices pick back up or not. I wouldn’t mind going back to my smaller class sizes, but it’s also nice to have the hustle and bustle in the hallways, especially when you consider where the enrollment of our county WAS headed before all of this oil stuff exploded. In the news last week, I read an article stating that North Dakota’s population has hit a record high, and that is something to be grateful about.

Regardless of personal or professional feelings, it is what it is: quiet on this western front. At least for now.

The quiet of winter, on the other hand, is not dependent on oil. It is something familiar to anyone who’s grown up here. I love it. Oh, I love summer too, and the color and the warmth and the activity, but winter forces everyone to slow down, to be more selective about outings to town, to get out the slow cooker and enjoy those cozy nights at home when there is little work to be done outside.

IMG_2209

This weekend, the temperature is at zero degrees, the windchill below zero. This morning, Hubby and I ventured to the little Lutheran church in a nearby town. My grandpa attended this church his whole life, and my dad and his siblings grew up attending there. When we pulled up for 9:00 service, there were only a few pickups parked next to the church, fewer than usual. Sure enough, we were 2 of only about 10 people in the congregation today. (I did say that people in winter need to be selective about their outings! Or maybe people have escaped to warmer weather this week, I’m not sure.) Either way, as I looked around, I realized that the people there were the same people I used to see in church 10 and 20 years ago. Almost everyone at the service this morning was a local, an original local.

After the service, we headed down to the basement for coffee and cookies and struck up small talk with one of the ladies.

“A little chilly out today, isn’t it?” she remarked. (Mind you, the windchill really is below zero.) When we agreed, she continued, “But it could be a lot worse, a lot worse. We really can’t complain.”

Spoken like a true North Dakotan.

The men who sat at our coffee table, all in their 60s and 70s, struck up another conversation about the lutefisk feed today in a neighboring town. “Headed over there today at eleven,” one remarked. “They do a real nice job with their lutefisk. Steamed, not boiled.” The others all chimed in with which groups in which towns host the best lutefisk feeds. The conversation shifted in time to other Norwegian foods, and the table as a whole decided that those Vikings really weren’t that nice until they started adding cream, flour, and sugar to their diets.

Spoken like more true North Dakotans.

It reminded me that despite the roller coaster of the last few years in this area, and the booms and the slowdowns and everything in between, some things stay the same. It’s harder to see those old constants through the craziness, sometimes, but they’re there: People who grew up here will always downplay the nasty winter weather. What’s the use of complaining about it, anyway? It’s as constant as the oil field isn’t. Those Norwegian roots are still there, and towns still host lutefisk feeds. And hopefully, little churches will always be having coffee and cookies in the basement after the service.

I love those things, I love North Dakota, and I love this quiet (for now) western front.

Musings, North Dakota Living

One Year Later

Hubby and I had a whirlwind courtship (can I still use that word?), a whirlwind engagement, and a whirlwind first year as a married couple. We really don’t know anything else but whirlwinds. I keep telling myself that life will slow down, but based on past patterns and future plans I just know that’s not going to happen. Either way, making it through the first year is an accomplishment, and that deserves some reflection.

When we got married last November, we were as happy and hopeful and scared as any couple jumping into the big commitment. We were hoping for a fall day, although in November you never know what you will get. That turned out to be an understatement: What we got was a frigid 5 degrees, freezing wind, and several inches of snow.

On the plus side, the sun was out for most of the day and we managed to get a few decent pictures outdoors before rushing back in to warm up.

 

I was far from a giddy and blushing bride. I was at a new job and had limited time off. To make things worse, the weekend before the wedding, my wedding dress was still too big in places, so I had spent the last of my free time getting it altered. I was short on sleep, and I definitely didn’t like all the pressure of trying to look perfect on my big day (looking perfect has never been my strong suit). Most of all, I was stressed out about being the center of attention for an ENTIRE. DAY. — my worst nightmare.

But despite all of that, it really was the best.

First of all, our wedding party was darn good-looking.

Dwyer-Meuchel-Wedding-414

 

And I loved how the decor turned out.

 

My grandma made our favorite kind of cake: chocolate with peanut butter frosting.

Dwyer-Meuchel-Wedding-853

 

The dance rocked.

Dwyer-Meuchel-Wedding-983

 

I had almost all of the people I love the most surrounding me, and the fact that everyone traveled all that way just to be there made my heart so full that I can’t even really describe it.

image

 

And of course, there was this guy.

 

Since then, things haven’t slowed down at all. We finished out the school year in Bismarck, where I worked at a local middle school and my husband worked for a custom woodworks shop. We moved twice in that time, adopted a dog, and then made the decision to move back to the family farm. We packed up our stuff yet again (though some of our stuff was never even unpacked), put some of it in storage, lugged ourselves and our pup out West, and settled into the same little modular house where I started my crazy oil field life four years ago.

Speaking of that life, when I quit my job here two years ago and went overseas to Asia, I didn’t know if I’d ever live here again. I definitely didn’t think I’d find a guy who wants to live here too. But in a lot of ways, now, it feels like I never even left. I’m back in my old job in my old classroom and even teaching some of my former students. I’m back with my horses and my farm dogs and my brother living down the road.

The only (big) difference is, I have a good man by my side now, and that was definitely worth leaving for. I think back and am sure the Big Man Upstairs whispered to me to leave my old life, just so I could go find Corey and we could start this new one together.

IMG_2490

 

Yes, it’s been quite a first year. We’ve had some big laughs and nasty fights and I think I can safely say we’ve both had a pretty giant learning curve regarding each other. I wonder why he has so many towels hanging over the door, and he wonders why I leave the cupboard doors open after rummaging through them. I bemoan giving up closet space, and he bemoans the fact that he gets so little of it. He hates doing laundry, and I hate sharing food. (He made the mistake of eating my leftovers from a restaurant once.) Every day, we’re still learning how this whole married thing works.

We’ve got a long way to go.

But one thing I know for sure: I love him more now than I loved him on our wedding day. And I thought I loved him a lot then.

Speaking of whirlwinds and learning curves, things are about to get even crazier…

IMG_3201
Enter a caption
How To's, Musings

Pheasant Feast

I know, I know, deer season has just come and gone and here I am still writing about pheasant. And yes, it was a successful deer season, with 3 out of 3 tags filled in my family. But I did say I would write about those delicious little pheasant nuggets sometime, and I’m not one to back down from a promise, and pheasant season isn’t over yet, so back to pheasant hunting it is – specifically, my family’s favorite ways to cook up pheasant.

My dad invested in a dual basket gas cooker (basically a heavy duty deep fat fryer) a few years ago.

IMG_4325 IMG_4327

Since then we’ve been working on that pheasant nugget recipe, experimenting with different Shore Lunch flavors and the oil temperature until we now consistently get these tasty little morsels you see here:

IMG_4340

Mm, mmm!

To make these nuggets, cut up thawed pheasant breast into nugget-sized pieces. Roll each piece in egg, and then shake it in a bag of Shore Lunch (we use cajun). Heat the oil in the gas cooker to 350 degrees. Drop in the pheasant nuggets and fry for about 5 minutes, or until they float and look golden-brown.

Easy peasy, as they say.

IMG_4342

If you don’t have a deep fryer, or don’t think you like deep fried food (in which case, I don’t get you at all), we have another pretty tasty pheasant recipe in the form of cajun pheasant alfredo.

To make the alfredo, I like to soften up the meat a bit beforehand, as pheasant can be a little gamey. To do so, I soak pheasant breasts in milk overnight and then throw them in the slow cooker on low, with a cup of chicken broth, while I’m at work. Then that night, I drain and shred it. Perfectly soft and shredded for pasta! Regardless of how you end up with your cooked and shredded/ diced/ chopped pheasant, here is what you do with it:

First, boil water and set linguini to cooking. Also, toss cooked pheasant pieces in cajun seasoning.

Next, in a large saucepan, sauté diced tomatoes, green peppers, and green onions in a little bit of oil (I’m sure other veggies would be great, too.) Add seasoned pheasant pieces. Season veggies and pheasant with basil, pepper, salt, and  garlic powder. Pour in 1-2 cups of cream and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese; stir all together until cheese is melted. Pour over linguini and toss. (There is a bit more detailed recipe below.)

Pretty tasty!

IMG_3269

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Cajun Pheasant Alfredo

2 pheasant breasts (cooked and cut into small piece)
8 oz linguini
2 tsp cajun seasoning
1 green onion, diced
2 T tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp garlic powder
2 C cream
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese

Cook linguini according to package.
Coat cooked pheasant evenly with cajun seasoning.
In a large skillet, sauté green onion, tomatoes, and pepper in olive oil. Add cooked pheasant pieces to skillet. Season with salt, pepper, basil, and garlic powder.
Add cream and parmesan cheese. Stir all together until cheese is melted.
Pour over linguini and toss.

North Dakota Living

Farm, Family, Pheasants: The Fifth Season

In my family, the year is broken up into not four seasons, but five: Winter (also known as basketball season), planting season, summer break (pretty much the month of July), harvest, and hunting season. Each year pretty much follows this pattern. If you want to get married in this family, you can choose July, or risk having someone joke that they can’t make it because of harvest, a basketball tournament, or deer hunting. (I had the audacity to get married during deer hunting season, and some of my relatives really didn’t understand.)

Well, anyway, harvest wrapped up over a month ago, and we are officially in the throes of hunting season. I do love pheasant hunting! I love the crisp fall air; I love hiking around outside; I love camouflage and the smell of gunpowder and the crunch of dried grass underfoot. I love the way the last bit of color is stubbornly clinging on before winter rolls around:

IMG_4390

I love those cozy fall nights when everyone piles into the house for dinner, and the sun has gone down, and we cook and eat and laugh together and everyone’s hair is matted to their heads from wearing hunting hats all day.

I love pheasant nuggets, too (I will share a little more about those with you later).

IMG_4340

Just a few minutes ago, the last visiting family members drove away from our annual family pheasant hunting weekend to their other cities and their other lives. This year was a success, like always. Everyone except my oldest brother and his family made it out to the farm, and other than missing them in our big group, it was great: The other little ones had a lot of fun running around outside; we realized our little black lab mix, Scout, just might turn out to be a bird dog after all; and the freezers are now stocked with pheasant to use for some tasty meals over the winter months.

IMG_4283

IMG_4383 IMG_4291 IMG_4287 IMG_4286 IMG_4388

Tonight I was reflecting on all the memories of countless pheasant hunts I have been on over the years. Several years ago, I quit carrying my little Mossberg shotgun and started carrying my Canon instead, and that suits me just fine. I still get the experience, the exercise, and the fresh air, but none of the guilt because let’s face it, I’m a little too tender (or weenie, however you interpret it) to actually feel good about shooting things myself. Anyway, today during one of our last hunts, I tagged along with my camera as usual. This time, though, I took a few minutes to just listen and observe what was happening around me. We were spread out around an abandoned farm yard close to our own farm. The sky was spread with thin gray clouds, and it was just cool enough to chill the tip of my nose. The air in the farmyard was still — there was no wind and little nearby traffic — but punctuated occasionally by flapping wings or squawks of fleeing pheasants, shouts of “Rooster!” or “Hen!” or “Abby, come! Scout, come!” and sporadic gunshots. A flash of blaze orange through the trees now and then, one of the black dogs bounding through the undergrowth, and pheasants fleeing out of the shelterbelts gave the normally quiet yard an electric feel. I was in the center of it all, just taking it in. I loved it. It reminded me of all those pheasant hunts before, from the time I was a little girl until now: each one with a slightly different group of people and each one in a slightly different time or place.

These same observations inspired a poem that I wrote years ago. I had just left a pheasant hunting weekend like this one and was headed back to college, and the words flooded in. I composed the whole thing in about 20 minutes. It just happens sometimes. Some things in my life just make the words pour out.

Maybe it will bring back memories for some of you, too:

A Gunpowder Morning

This morn to remember dawns cold in November
Far to the east are the lightening skies
And six drowsy hunters arise from their slumbers
To rub all the sleep from their eyes
And give birds unaware a surprise!

Up to the north noble pheasants come forth
Among quiet cattails, feeding their fill
Bold in their splendor, about to surrender
To knowledge that breaking the still
Will be hunters bound fiercely to kill!

The pheasants are snacking and white frost is cracking
Beauty runs deep on this day in the fall
The trees form a cage over green-scented sage
This natural haven is small –
But this day is dearer to all.

For off the horizon the sun’s further rising
Has painted the eastern sky soft glowing red
But then there’s a sound, an approaching dust cloud
And one rooster raises his head
He’s filled with a dull sinking dread!

The truck climbs the hill and moves closer still
Then slams to the stop at the edge of the brush
The men pile out; there’s a point and a shout –
Where moments before it was hush
Now there’s maddening rush!

The pheasants are fleeing; one’s flying, not seeing
His fatal mistake on this mad morning run
A shot, then one louder; the smell of gunpowder –
This pheasant is only but one:
Another fall hunt has begun!

IMG_4403 IMG_4401

Teaching

Don’t Forget the Trees

Sometimes, I get so busy in the throes of teaching — handing out papers, collecting assignments, turning on projectors and turning off lights, picking up gum off the floor, repeating what page we are on, helping students remember passwords and telling them for the 17th time what size font to use in MLA style, and ordering them to get out writing utensils, to sit down, to stop poking their neighbors — that I miss out on my very favorite part of teaching: Getting to know the students not as students, but as actual human beings. Humans with stories and lives and experiences and dreams that, unless I do some digging, I might know nothing about.

It’s as if the metaphorical thick and tangled forest of teaching is so dense that sometimes, despite my best efforts, I just can’t see the trees. But those trees are what I’m here for, and every once in a while I get a precious few minutes to focus on one “tree” at a time.

So I get a little break from teaching last week when the senior class is on a class outing for the morning. To my surprise, one lone student shows up to second period senior English. I inquire why she isn’t with her classmates, she gives me a reasonable answer, and we spend the rest of the period working on our various projects in comfortable silence, broken here and there by amiable conversation. I had liked this girl from the first day of school, but she is in a large class of almost 30 seniors and the truth is, I just haven’t had the chance to talk to her much one-on-one. This particular student is one of our oil field transplants, here from Louisiana. I’ve never been to Louisiana, I tell her, but I would like to visit someday. She tells me I should visit New Orleans, but not during Mardi Gras, and Baton Rouge is nice anytime of year. She loves to read; so do I, and the hour passes quickly as we talk about books and music and her other classes.

Sometime during this conversation, I ask about her family. She moved here a little over a year ago with her older brother and his wife. In a matter-of-fact manner, she tells me that both her parents died of cancer — her mom when she was 7, and her dad when she was 11. As she tells me this, her sweet but straightforward voice is broken by  the tiniest trace of sadness.

I am ashamed in this moment, and sad. Sadder than I expect to be. In fact, I need to excuse myself for a few minutes (to the copy machine, because where else does a teacher get a minute to herself?) as I feel tears welling up in my eyes. How have I had this student in my class for almost two months and not known the heartbreak of this young girl’s life? She has experienced more heartbreak than I have, and more heartbreak than any young girl on the brink of womanhood should have to.

Should I blame it on the fact that I have almost 150 students this year, and really, how would I have known this? Six groups of 20 to 30 students rotate through my room every day, 50 minutes at a time. We have 50 minutes to get settled, open books, take notes, cover sentence structure or the Anglo-Saxons or the life of Edgar Allen Poe; to get ready for standards and standardized tests and ACTs and college and careers; to do an assignment, put away books, clean up, and move on to the next 50 minutes. The few rowdy students in each class demand more than their fair share of my attention, and sweet girls like little Louisiana, while I’m so grateful to have them in my classes, sometimes get less. Furthermore, a big classroom full of one’s sometimes judgmental teenage peers is not always the greatest place to share real thoughts, troubles, anxieties, past experiences, and dreams for the future. At least not out loud. Sometimes I get a glimpse of it in my students’ writing.

But it doesn’t matter. I can’t let the craziness of teaching make me forget why I’m here in the first place.

She lives with her brother and his wife, she says, because it is a better option than living with her other brother and his wife, and besides them, there is no one else, nowhere else for her to go. When they moved to North Dakota for her brother’s work last year, she moved too. When they move back to Louisiana this November, she will move too to finish her senior year.

I’m going to miss her when she leaves. I will think about her and wonder how my little student from Louisiana is doing. Where will her life take her? I will most likely never know. I hope with all my being that she succeeds wherever she ends up. And I hope, secretly, that she remembers that senior English teacher she had once when she lived in North Dakota.

I am grateful for the reminder she gave me, yet again, that no matter how thick and tangled and dense that forest of teaching gets, no matter how overwhelmed I feel during the daily grind or how much I feel some days that I am getting absolutely nowhere, that I can’t afford NOT to see the trees.

The trees are why I’m here.

IMG_3090

IMG_3091

IMG_3092

IMG_3093

North Dakota Living

Gold

When life gives you a beautiful September Sunday and the trees are exploding in color, there’s really only one thing to do in our neck of the woods: Go walking. Go driving. Go horseback riding or biking or cartwheeling — Just get out there! Yesterday, Hubby, Scout, and I went down to the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, camera in tow, just to drive around and soak it in.

I wish the colors could stay. I wish something could hold them here a little longer before we slip into the long cold of winter here on the Northern Plains.

Maybe then, we wouldn’t appreciate it quite so much though.

Robert Frost put it best. If you ever happen to suddenly find yourself teaching middle school English, you will more than likely run into this little poem in the classic teen novel The Outsiders:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

If only it could!

IMG_4189 IMG_4192 IMG_4194 IMG_4199 IMG_4204 IMG_4207 IMG_4227 IMG_4230 IMG_4255 IMG_4258