fall 2020 “firsts”

The first day of school this fall was a first day like no other. We took the obligatory first-day pictures of our fourth grader

…and our seventh grader.

But no one got on the bus. The boys logged in for Google meets, though I think the middle schooler missed a few. Distance learning is no one’s favorite around here, but we’re focusing on the positives. No long bus rides. You can take breaks when you want. You get to have a hot lunch at home – and you don’t even need to pack it.

The back-to-school shopping was different this year too. In addition to typical things like jeans and shoes – which were still necessary because they’re both growing like weeds – we bought a globe, a couple of magazine subscriptions, and portable desks (actually TV trays). Now everyone has a designated work space (including mom and dad).

Another, perhaps more exciting, first happened this week. We got to return to our local public library for browsing. It was the first time since March that we could wander through the stacks. (Though we were thankful for contact-less pick-up to tide us over.) We came home with a nice selection of library books, which we can hang on to for a whole month if we wish.

Other firsts have included a socially-distanced outdoor fourth-grade meet up, joining a masked soccer league, and the first day of youth group. We’re developing resiliency as we figure out how to thrive in this new normal. Some days are exhausting, some days are tear-filled, and some days I feel like I’ve accomplished almost nothing. But I’m holding out hope that one day we’ll look back at this period of time and remember it with a certain fondness. Here’s to the memories we’re making!

grateful for our garden


When my Hungry Mungries believe they simply can’t wait until the meal is cooked before they eat, I tend to pull out the vegetables – carrot or celery sticks, frozen peas (served still frozen), cucumber slices… Today their “first course” at lunch was all from our garden plot. Can you believe I had to ration the green beans?



nature photo journal, late July 2020

You immediately registered your dissent when your mom suggested we all grab our iPads and try our hand at nature photography. But, as usual, it turned out better than you were expecting.


Our first stop was Villa Park, where we immediately saw the egret-in-residence wading at water’s edge. But it was hard to get a good shot among all the trees. Our amateurish attempts did yield a few memorable pictures of the bird as it decided we were getting too close for comfort.


Then there was the green heron, perched peacefully just near the shoreline,


the deer that was calmly browsing, pausing several times to stare back at us,


and some cool fungus that seemed particularly photogenic.


After taking these photos, we headed to Harriet Alexander Nature Center, where we mostly kept our iPads tucked away, protecting them from potential pond water mishaps. We paused several moments to watch this caterpillar up close, gobbling up its dinner.


As you and your dad were walking toward the parking lot, your mom managed to capture a photo of some bees busy collecting nectar.




Across the street, at the arboretum, your brother found the gravel just as fascinating as the flowers.


The blacked-eyed Susans were as lovely as ever,


and the silver sage looked so soft you may have had an impulse to pet it.


It turned out to be a lovely evening for a walk, and a bit of cloud-gazing. And the picture-taking added a fun new twist to our outdoor time that day.



blueberry week

D4368DEE-6708-43AD-816D-27F56F3125B9We have had a number of blue days this summer, days in which we have felt just a little too confined and too stuck in a rut. We’re missing the variety and spontaneity that ought to be hallmarks of summer. Of course there have been laughter and fun moments too, but the waiting and wondering about when we’ll see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel lingers in the back of the mind and adds a little extra heaviness on the down days.

But this week is blue for a different reason: blueberries. Tuesday we picked blueberries at Blueberry Fields of Stillwater. Wednesday we baked blueberry kuchen. Today we are still enjoying both the fresh berries and the cake.

some defining words of fourth quarter

ACEACE92-F184-4BAD-9B4B-8AB66499B421This week we’re closing the books on a school year like no other, complete with some big life lessons and the unique twists and turns of distance learning. Let’s recap by reviewing some of the defining words of this last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year.    

Racism. You got a glimpse into just how much racism continues to plague this nation. The disturbing images on the news in recent weeks have left us all grieving. It’s been a bit overwhelming to witness such injustice, rage, and brokenness in our system and in our city – even in ourselves. You’ve grown up in a household in which two different races and cultures are represented. You have seen that people with different skin colors can live together in harmony, that our lives are richer for the diversity within our family and  reciprocal friendships, and that different perspectives can be an asset when working together toward a shared goal. Your parents still have much to learn, but we hope we have at least been an example of recognizing our own shortcomings and working through misunderstandings with grace and humility. We are confident that you can be agents of positive change in this world as you discover your purpose in life and live out your part in the ultimate redemptive plan. 

Fragility. We rarely like to think about our own limitations, but this pandemic has reminded us of our vulnerability and our mortality. It has shed light on the truth that we are not as in control of our world as we tend to think. As concern and fear of the coronavirus spread, leaders felt they had no better option than to call a halt to life as we knew it. We stayed home. Nearly everybody stayed home – all the time. You heard stories of empty grocery shelves (didn’t see them yourselves because you were at home.) You’ve grieved the loss of our familiar routines. You’ve felt pangs of isolation, missing friends from school, missing all the casual, commonplace interactions in a given day. We have all felt emotionally exhausted. We have been crankier than usual. We have been more easily moved to tears – or emotional outbursts. We have gotten lots practice asking for and extending forgiveness. We’ve grown closer. And stronger.

Resilience. You have shown yourselves able to adapt in the midst of adversity and stress. You have applied yourselves and learned the academic content your teachers delivered online. You have turned our kitchen into a science lab while floating foil boats, observing chemical reactions, and twirling convection snakes. You have become better problem solvers. You’ve asked good questions as we read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn together. You’ve been reminded that using one’s skills and time for the benefit of others is our responsibility and privilege. You have held on to hope. One day you will come to understand just how much fortitude you’ve gained by overcoming the challenges and frustrations of these past few months.

You’ve learned a lot this year – we all have – and we want to celebrate that learning. It has been a privilege to grow alongside you and help you develop in ways that will serve you well for years to come. 

distance learning from the perspective of a twelve-year-old

My middle schooler wrote a poem modeled after The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams:

So much depends


the world wide


connecting with distant


on an old





the best banana bread (vegan)

I didn’t grow up making banana bread. I think Grandma may have made some for us occasionally, but the quick bread of choice in my home was zucchini bread. We made it only in the summer, mostly with zucchini that were so big you had to peel the tough dark skin off and scoop out the huge seeds before grating the flesh. The dense, moist zucchini bread that resulted was the best way to get kids to eat a second serving of zucchini.  I’ve hung on to that tried-and-true recipe, but only pull out the recipe in the summer, when the home-grown zucchini are abundant.

I’d never made much banana bread until I had kids of my own. I’ve learned a few things through trial and error. The most important is that when given a range of banana to use in the recipe (say 2 to 3 bananas), always choose the larger number. The higher the proportion of banana, the more intense banana flavor your banana bread will have. It’ll be moister too. I have found that I prefer baking quick breads in small pans, and that a recipe for one standard loaf fits into the two smaller bread pans I have, yielding little loaves with nice domed tops. They bake quicker. They tend to disappear quicker too.

A few months back, a friend from Taiwan asked for a baking lesson. She wanted to learn to make banana bread, vegan if possible. That was when I discovered that the trusty ground flax seed substitute for an egg worked very well in this banana bread. Just replace the egg with one tablespoon ground flax seed plus three tablespoons of water.


Here’s my version of banana bread, adapted slightly from Simply Recipes.


3 very ripe bananas, mashed

1/3 cup canola oil

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix mashed bananas with oil, brown sugar, flax seed, water, and vanilla. Stir until well blended. Mix dry ingredients thoroughly in a separate bowl. Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the banana mixture.

Grease two small pans (5 3/5 x 3 x 2 1/8 inches) and divide the batter equally between them. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for about 5 minutes in the pans, on a wire rack. Then remove from pans and cool completely.

Note: If you don’t need or want it vegan, simply omit the ground flax seed and water and use one large egg instead.

learning a bit of family history

Yesterday we visited my dad on the farm. While there, I helped orchestrate an interview that prompted him (Dennis) to share details about his growing up years, recorded here for posterity’s sake.

Dennis grew up on the farm, which has been in the Wolters family since 1892. To go to elementary school, he walked two miles to the one-room country schoolhouse in the neighborhood. One winter day, he walked all the way home with no gloves. He got pneumonia. His mother scolded him and told him it was the result of not wearing anything on his hands in such cold weather.


Dad is the blond boy in the second row from the blackboard, third one back. His four siblings are in the photo too.

When he was growing up, weddings were held right on the farms. He named several families in the neighborhood who had built a garage or new shed in order to have a space to host these gatherings. As a kid, he never complained about going to such functions (or to church either). They took what ever opportunities that presented themselves to get off the farm and socialize.

Once he completed eighth grade, he rode the bus to school in Little Falls, about 10 miles from the farm. Grammar was a challenge for him in high school. They expected him to know what a subject and a verb were, he recalled, but he’d never learned that in grade school. After graduating from high school, he did a short stint in the Army. It was then he knew he definitely wanted to be a dairy farmer. His peers in the Army laughed at him. They believed he didn’t have enough money to farm. But he was determined.

He returned to his home and told his father Fred he wanted to buy the farm. Fred was a bit reluctant to sell, but his son gave him an ultimatum: sell me this farm or I’ll find another one to buy. So in 1965, Dennis purchased the farm where he grew up, 120 acres of land, 12 cows, plus all the buildings and machinery for $12,000. A hundred dollars per acre was the going rate at that time. It was a contract for deed arrangement. He had to make an annual payment, and if he wasn’t able to pay the portion of interest plus principle that was due, he lost it all. Making the first few installments were a challenge, but he managed to scrape by.

What he didn’t tell my sons, but I happen to know, was that he gradually added more cows and his income went up. Then he bought nearby land, increasing the size of the current farm to 359 acres. He has never taken out an operating loan. His approach, which has seen him through more than 50 years of farming, is save in advance and pay as you go. Now his son Wayne has taken over the majority of the day-to-day farm responsibilities (and the same business approach.) Dennis still plays an important role in getting all the animals fed and cared for daily; retirement isn’t in his vocabulary. They’re currently milking 132 cows. This is still considered a small family farm. (You’ve got to keep expanding just to stay in business, it seems.)

One of the unexpected silver linings in all this time off from school is that children can pursue learning opportunities with more input from their elders. We can encourage them to collect information from previous generations that may help them better understand their personal heritage and even perhaps their identity.