Mothers of the Mayflower

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal November 24, 2010

            One hundred two passengers.  Twenty-four children.   Nine cats.  One cargo ship, ninety feet long.  Sixty-four days on a stormy sea.  A possible recipe for disaster—at least in this day and age.
            If I had set sail with my children, I would have preferred a private room, catered meals, and disposable diapers.  And I would have requested a cruise liner instead of a 1620’s trading vessel. 
            At the end of the voyage I would have demanded my own bed—not an isolated beach inhabited by “savages;” a lonely place where nearly half of their company would be buried that first year.

The End of Elections

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal November 10, 2010

The elections are over, and although I wasn’t thrilled with every single outcome, I am grateful for the democratic process. 
Last April, I interviewed First Lady Nancy Freudenthal.  She mentioned that one particular benefit of living in Wyoming is the opportunity to be involved politically.  With such a small population, every single Wyoming resident can have a direct influence on city, county and state elections.  I agree.  It’s been wonderful living here this election period, where we had the opportunity to personally meet candidates and be involved in their campaigns. 
Even my children caught the political fever.  “There’s another Matt Mead sign!” my three-year-old would often shout as we traveled down the road.  “Are you voting for Cindy Hill or Mike Massie?” my other daughter questioned.  We have all enjoyed the political “small town feel” of Wyoming.  However, even though we are now registered to vote in Natrona County, some of our political heart strings were still drawn back to Nevada, and we kept close tabs on several elections there. 
It just so happened that we traveled to Las Vegas the week before the election to attend the funeral of a close friend.  We were gathered with the family in a small room for the viewing.  Imagine our surprise when Senator Harry Reid and his wife walked through the door.  At first, I did a double-take.  (It’s hard to place someone when you’ve only seen him on the news.)  But after half-a-second, I realized who he was.  The four security personnel, stationed at both doors of the room, complete with ear pieces and stern looks, caught all of our attention.  Senator Reid and his wife, both in dressy, black outfits, were gracious and empathetic to the family, who had been previous neighbors of theirs.
After visiting with them, the Reids then took time to personally greet most of us in the room.  Although I rarely (um…never) agree with Harry Reid’s political decisions, I must admit that I was impressed with his demeanor, genuine caring, and kindness.  He and his wife knew several of our close friends, and it was nice to see them interact and greet each other.
A few minutes later, we went out to the parking lot to meet our babysitter who was picking up our youngest children.  Senator Reid’s vehicle was parked right next to ours, along with several other huge, black cars in his entourage.  Just then, our babysitter pulled up and stopped just in front of Senator Reid, blocking his exit.  She left her car idling while we loaded several babies, baby car seats, diaper bags, bottles and snacks into her car.  The Reids sat graciously in their vehicle, waiting for us to finish so that they could leave.  (Their driver, with a bit of a scowl on his face, may not have been as patient, but he didn’t say a word; nor did the other security personnel, positioned at strategic positions inside and outside of the building.)  I was grateful for their understanding.
Later, while telling my friend—a staunch Reid opponent—about the experience, she asked, “Did Senator Reid look evil?”  “No,” I said.  “He struck me as a very good person, who sincerely believes in what he does.”  Another friend—a staunch Reid supporter—asked if the senator looked tired and worn out from his campaigning.  “No,” I replied.  “He seemed energetic and happy.”
We have good friends in Las Vegas on both sides of the aisle.  Watching the Nevada election results come in Tuesday night was exciting, even from Wyoming.  We made a few phone calls and kept tabs throughout the evening with several friends volunteering at different polling locations.  When all was said and done, some were happy with the outcome, and some were disappointed.  I was initially disappointed. 
However, after meeting Senator Reid and his wife in person, I must say that I have a better opinion of him.  He’s a person, just like me.  He loves Nevada, just like me.  He loves America, just like me.  And, he believes in what he does, just like me.  At least we have those things in common.
And, whichever side we voted on, the real victory for the United States is the endurance of the democratic process.  On the Wednesday morning after the elections when America woke up again, we all went back to our jobs, our homes, our businesses, our lives.  Those who lost didn’t take it out on those who had won.  We just moved on.
In the end, only one person can win—despite the campaigning, despite the money spent, despite the speeches and the promises.  And somehow, we all accept that.
In fact, “moving on” is a principle I’d like to teach my children.  If someone loses or doesn’t get their way, there’s no need to throw a temper tantrum.  No need to fight or argue any longer, just go back to your own toys, your own interests, your own life.  Isn’t it a miracle that in today’s world an entire nation can do that?  Americans in every town, in every city, in every state can accept the election results and move on. 
No matter who is “in” or “out” of Washington, let’s keep one thing at Status quo: the democratic process.  Even Harry Reid and I can agree on that.

The Law of the Harvest

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal October 27, 2010

Fall is finally here, and the harvest is in full swing.  Thank goodness!  When summer days are hot—and there are weeds to pull, rows to hoe, and plants to water—it’s hard to explain to children what a harvest is. 
“Didn’t we just weed the garden yesterday?”  “It’s too hot to work today,” and “Do we have to?” are phrases I heard often during the summer.  But at last, we now have something to show for our labors.  
In Las Vegas, our garden was the size of a small sandbox.  The days were hot and the summers never-ending, but we still planted every spring (that is, in January.)  The neighbors around us would lean over the fence and say, “You can’t garden in Las Vegas.”   They would watch, smiling, as we dutifully plowed the postage-stamp area, planted the seeds, and put out a water drip system.  Surprisingly, we had great gardens every summer.  Perhaps it was the compost, or the watchful tending of our many children, but we always produced plenty of vegetables to eat. 
In addition to our garden, we also enjoyed a yearly harvest of grapes from our patio vine.  We ate, juiced, dried, and gave them away—by the bagful.  Our neighbors soon adapted to the idea that they would often open their doors and find a bag of produce waiting for them. 
Moving to Casper last year made our gardening efforts even more ambitious.  The previous owners of our house already had a huge garden, but we decided to till twice as much land.  Then we eagerly planted everything we could think of.  Just like in Las Vegas, our neighbors watched and commented on our progress. 
“Why aren’t the deer bothering your garden?” “Why did you plant so much corn?”  “Do you think all of that will grow?”  I’m sure that gardening activities of any kind with eight children are entertaining.  Still, we persisted.
The summer wore on.  The hot days came, and we wondered if we had outdone ourselves.  Our children, remembering our tiny Las Vegas garden, wished we were back in the big city.  “Why did we ever complain before?” they groaned.  “These rows are ten times as long!”  We persevered, hoping our efforts would produce something of worth.
And now, the harvest is here!  The first to come was the lettuce, chard and peas.  Then, tomatoes, onions and zucchini.  Soon we had yellow squash, carrots, corn and potatoes.  Last week we made autumn soup—all with homegrown vegetables.  Complete with hot, homemade bread, it was a wonderful meal which made it all worth it.  There is something indescribable about eating food you have produced yourself.  Even the most doubtful children could taste the victory of it. 
The next night we had fresh corn and tomatoes with our rice, and then had red, juicy watermelon for dessert…homegrown!  The finished rinds we fed to the chickens, and felt especially good about the food going “full circle.” 
My three-year-old son has been the most excited.  “Can I go dig potatoes today?” He asks every morning.  Then he takes his yellow bucket and red shovel, and digs up our dinner.  He also gives a daily report on the pumpkins:  “They’re getting big!”  “We have seven now.  There are two little ones for the babies.”
Our first year of Wyoming gardening hasn’t been without incident.  We certainly never dealt with deer or antelope in Las Vegas.  After returning one July weekend to find our rows pocked with hoof prints, we quickly invested in a tall fence. 
But, deer aren’t the only ones who want to share our harvest.  Once, we accidentally left the garden gate open.  As we were eating dinner, we glanced out the window and noticed that the chickens were inside the fence. 
“The chickens are in the garden!” yelled my daughter.  Everyone immediately jumped up from the table and went running outside.  Soon there were eight people and ten chickens—racing around the squash, jumping over the potato plants, and dodging the corn stalks.  If you’ve ever seen chickens run, you can fully imagine the scene which unfolded.  Fortunately, even the youngest in our family can catch chickens, and soon all ten of the wandering birds were outside of the garden gate.
I know that winter snows will be here soon enough, and this year’s garden will be a thing of the past.  But the real harvest of the summer is the truth learned by our children:  we reap what we sow.  In future years, when they are making their own choices, I trust that they’ll look back on a hot summer day, weeding a garden row, and then remember the taste of homegrown watermelon in their mouths, or the joy of husking their own corn.  Perhaps this experience will help them to plant other fruitful crops—both in garden rows and in life.
And when spring comes again next year, we’ll head back outdoors to start planting.  This time we’ll already have our deer fence in place.  I’m sure the neighbors will be watching again.  Who knows, we may even till twice as much earth.