Keep Christmas

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal December 20, 2011

Christmas is busy. Christmas is hustle. Christmas is bustle. Christmas is hurry and Christmas is scurry, but I don’t care. I still vote that we “keep Christmas.”
Keep Christmas by giving. Despite popular belief, Christmas isn’t just for children, it’s for adults. If the “very best part of Christmas is the presents you give away,” then parents have the best part. I don’t care what the scrooges say, I love this time of year. Imagine shopping for nine children. Just the thought calls for a long winter’s nap. It’s crazy, exhausting, overwhelming, but sooo much fun! My husband and I thoroughly enjoy planning, scheming, dreaming, giggling and wrapping. We generally go shopping about 9 p.m. Once most of our children are asleep and the older ones are keeping watch, we can go to the store for hours. Other bleary-eyed parents are usually out as well, making last-minute choices, shopping, discussing. The stores are generally quiet. Associates are close to answer our questions, or reach the bikes on the highest shelf. We can make decisions and plan our secrets without too much distraction. Something about late-night shopping and hiding gifts makes magic. I’ll keep it.
Keep Christmas by dreaming. “Let’s do a live nativity!” suggested one of our children excitedly at dinner one evening. The idea caught on like wildfire. “Our goats can be sheep!” “I’ll be the shepherd!” “We can borrow a donkey for Mary to ride in on!” Soon our rustic goat stable was transformed into Bethlehem, the tool shed became the over-crowded inn, and the chicken coop became the cloud for an angel to stand on. Our good-natured friend brought the donkey (a mule) for the children to practice with a few times. Finally, it was dress rehearsal. With the karaoke machine plugged in on the outside porch, I started reading the Christmas story. Out of the shadows stepped the donkey, led by our oldest son (dressed in a bathrobe). Daughter number two rode on top, trying her best to look pregnant and tired. At the inn, the couple was turned away, and stepping carefully across the snow, they made their way to the goat stable. I tried to control my voice, reading in a serious tone, although I had to cover up a giggle every once in a while.
The shepherds kept watch in our pasture as another daughter, hiding in the bushes, flipped on the flood lights. There stood our six-year-old, a white costume draped over her snowsuit, her pink ski cap on her head, and her mittens extending from the flowing angel sleeves. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy ...” she began. Just then a car drove past. “They must wonder about this heavenly scene at our farm,” I laughed silently. The shepherds made haste to the stable as the goats pulled impatiently on their harnesses, bleating softly. As the next verse began, a wise man appeared (only two years old) riding solemnly on the donkey and supported with a steady, older hand. Our makeshift star lit up at the nighttime sky above the shed, and we all gathered around to see young Mary holding a child in her arms. It was perfect. A memory to keep.
Keep Christmas by remembering. A miracle happened in a Bethlehem barn. A miracle happened in our barn. Everyday barns, everyday people, everyday lives. It’s good to be children sometimes. It’s good to be childlike at Christmas. Despite the hustle and bustle and hurry and scurry, it’s worth it. Keep Christmas.

Over the River and Through the Woods

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal December 6, 2011

When we moved from Las Vegas to Casper, I was thrilled to start a new life of simplicity in the “wild” west. As we packed our belongings, I put our plastic Christmas tree into the “donation” pile. “We won’t need a fake tree in Casper,” I told the surprised children. “There’s a mountain there, and we’ll just cut down our own.” In my mind I pictured our first Wyoming Christmas, driving “over the river and through the woods,” to select the perfect Christmas tree.
As our first Thanksgiving approached, I reminded my husband that we no longer owned a Christmas tree. “We’re Wyomingites now!” I told him in a patriotic tone. “We’ll cut down our own tree.” Dutifully, he drove to the BLM office to purchase a permit. “It only cost $7!” he said when he returned. “What a deal!” He also showed me the map of designated tree cutting areas. Words like “Shirley Basin” and “Medicine Bow” were new to us, but they didn’t seem too far away, so we weren’t worried.
The day after Thanksgiving, we bundled our children into the van and set out. Our spirits were high and we sang carols as we drove. However, our happy “over the river” singing soon drifted into silence as we drove out of town and around Casper Mountain. When civilization had been out of sight for what seemed like hours, the map guided us off of the paved highway onto a small, gravel road. I looked around. The land for miles seemed deserted. I had anticipated seeing other happy tree-cutting families, but realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a house, a car or even a decent tree. “Oh well,” I thought. “Surely there’s more civilization up ahead.” The falling snow and barren landscape nearly swallowed us as I tried to swallow the sudden, uneasy knot in my throat.
Our van was silent now as we drove on for what seemed like hours. “How much further?” I finally asked. “We’re almost to the mountain turn off,” my husband assured me. Sure enough, soon the road turned to the left, up a mountain. “Christmas trees!” the children shouted. As if by magic, we were suddenly surrounded by hundreds of beautiful trees, the first we had seen in miles. Our spirits brightened. Still, the mountainside seemed silent. “There are more people around here,” I told myself, hoping also for a civilized restroom. But besides a lone parked car, the landscape was white and still.
“There’s the perfect tree!” my children called out excitedly. Sure enough, a beautiful pine tree was standing just off the road in the falling snow. “Yes, let’s take it!” I said, a little too eagerly. “This isn’t the designated area,” my law-abiding husband said. “It’s still a few miles up the mountain.” Looking ahead I saw only the faint outline of a road. Knowing that our Las Vegas van had never attempted a snowy mountain pass before, I wondered aloud, “Will we make it?” Armed with determination, my husband revved the engine and drove the van through the first feet of snow. For a few yards we skimmed across the icy whiteness, and then the van stopped. The wheels spun and stalled. He tried again, and again, but each attempt took us deeper into the snow. “How about we just cut that cute little tree right there and go home?” I suggested again. “No. We’ll get a fine,” my husband insisted, and put the van in reverse.
Wondering who would possibly see us illegally cut down a tree in this forsaken land, I held my breath as we slowly backed down the mountain. “Watch behind us,” my husband instructed my sons. “There’s nobody,” they said glumly. “No cars. No people. You’re all clear.” But just as we backed out of the snow, we felt the van slip to one side and were soon in a ditch. “Will we die here?” I wondered. It had been several hours since we’d seen another human being, and our Las Vegas heater wasn’t very efficient. With two screaming babies in the back seat and snow falling outside, my husband and sons dug and pushed and dug some more. After a good hour of working, we miraculously pulled the van up onto the graveled road.
“Now let’s really cut down that tree over there and go home,” I suggested. I saw my husband’s jaw set. “We’ll try the road on the other side,” he declared. The next hour was silent as we drove back around the mountain. The sky grew darker and the snow fell harder.
When the second road grew steep and snowy and the van stalled (this time with no picture-perfect trees in sight), my husband stopped in the middle of the road and reached for his saw. “Is this the legal tree-cutting area?” I asked. There was no reply as he tramped up the hill. In 15 minutes he returned with the scrawniest tree I had ever seen. The three half-hearted branches on one side made Charlie Brown’s tree look like a forest. Without a word, my husband tied the twig on top of our van, and despite the fact that we were still going “through the woods,” we silently drove home.
As we arrived back into town we passed a tree lot filled with thick, gorgeous pine trees. “$40” a sign read. I glanced at the $7 permit and our empty gas tank.
The next day we pulled out our Christmas decorations, and the children were each allowed to choose two to hang on the tree. “Let’s turn the light off,” my daughter offered when we stood back to admire our work. With only the tree lights shining in the dark room, our twig didn’t seem quite so scrawny. In fact, despite its few branches, the scent overwhelmed our house. “People pay money to have their house smell like that,” suggested my husband with a smile. “You’re right,” I sighed.
We’re now looking forward to our third Wyoming Christmas. Although we do love living in the “wild” west, we have a new Wyoming tradition: we buy a sweet-smelling tree at the in-town lot. And after we tie our gorgeous, full tree on top of our van, we always sing, “Over the river and through the woods,” all the way home.

The Pilgrims' Progress


My family is living in poverty. Shocking, I know, especially since my husband has a steady income, we have food on the table three times a day, and we even go on vacation occasionally. However, our income is thousands — even tens of thousands of dollars — below the government determined level for a family of our size.

It’s strange that we could be poor (according to federal standards) and not know it. In fact, when I think about it, we have at least as much abundance as the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock did: a bit of earth, a house, a well with clean water, orange-golden pumpkins, several fat chickens (no turkeys), blue sky, a fireplace and a home full of children.

  In addition, we enjoy the freedom to worship as we please, and the ability to determine our own destiny.

Still, caring for a large family every day is hard.  This is America! Shouldn’t life be easy? Perhaps I could drum up some sympathy for our situation if I took my nine children and camped out on the lawn of the County Building. I’m sure that if we pitched a tent and stayed for a week, people would truly understand how destitute we are.

Good grief! The Pilgrims didn’t come to America to live on Easy Street, or because houses, food, or doctors were free; they came because of opportunity! “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have nothing tangible attached: no mansions, no perfect jobs, no great health benefits--just freedoms. Wealth isn’t about having things, it’s about having choices — choices that can progress to abundance if made correctly.

Although we celebrate abundance as a trademark of those first colonists, life wasn’t a piece of pie for the Pilgrims. Just days after the 1621 Thanksgiving celebration, another ship arrived bringing 36 more people to the fledgling colony. These new Pilgrims were as poor as those from the Mayflower. The added mouths were an additional burden on the original Pilgrims, still weak from the previous harsh winter, and preparing for another one.

The first Thanksgiving didn’t guarantee a life of ease ever after; it was only an expression of gratitude for their progress so far. There were still many long winters, cold days and difficult years before “plenty” became the norm in their lives. Landing in Plymouth wasn’t the end, it was the beginning. I believe their eventual progress was, in part, due to their gratitude.

My parents recently lived in Detroit as church service missionaries. They combined their efforts with many denominations to gather blankets, clothing and food for destitute people in the area. One medical student from Africa was happy to help their humanitarian efforts. However, although he had lived in downtown Detroit for several years, he remarked, “I still have yet to see real poverty in the United States.” Indeed, American poverty is a breed all its own, very different from the terrible hunger in many other countries.

Perhaps, in some ways, poverty in the USA is a state of mind. A stamp (no pun intended) that’s placed upon us and can potentially damage our free way of thinking. Maybe the real remedy isn’t freebies, but freedom.

Perhaps those who think that protesting these freedoms is patriotism should try gratitude instead.

So Happy Thanksgiving! This distinctly American holiday is founded on gratitude, not “gimme.”

Are we living below the poverty level? Not in my book. If this is being poor, I’ll take it! I’d rather live on a small income in America than above the national average in any other country. My family is rich! The blessings the Pilgrims enjoyed when they arrived on the Mayflower are still here. I would be honored if my own posterity’s progress mirrored that of the Pilgrims’.

No matter what our income level, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” can still be served up in abundance on our platters and in our lives, if we will but partake.

Thank you, Pilgrims.

The Victory of Veterans

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal November 15, 2011

A month ago I visited my sister in Los Alamos, N.M. The small mountain town may not ring a bell for people of my generation. However, I’m certain that it strikes a chord in the hearts of an older generation.
I first heard of Los Alamos somewhere in a high school history class ... something to do with the making of the atomic bomb, something about a national laboratory. But visiting the town was an eye-opener.
My sister picked me up at the airport, and we drove up, up through the rugged mountains of New Mexico. Sagebrush, scrub oak and pine trees dotted the beautiful, red landscape. Aside from a few cars traveling with us, it was hard to imagine that anyone lived nearby. Suddenly, the mountain road leveled out onto a mesa, and there was a town: “The Town That Never Was,” according to archives of World War II. But it did exist in the 1940s — hundreds of people, houses, schools, stores and, of course, the national laboratory.
The land was originally owned by Mr. Ashley Pond. He had a sophisticated boys’ ranch, where wealthy young men came to study both books and botany. The students had lessons indoors, and spent time swimming, hiking and camping outdoors - strengthening both their minds and bodies. We toured the original ranch lodge, beautifully built of logs, the inside with large fireplaces and inviting classrooms.
However, when the government purchased the land, the school was closed and the buildings were inherited by a group of international scientists. Their mission: develop a bomb to end the war.
Within a few months, the ranch was transformed into a town. Those who lived there during those tense times must have found some peace. The view was gorgeous. From my sister’s back yard, we could look down on the Rio Grande River. The tree-covered hills and hiking trails were perfect for any outdoor enthusiast and well-secluded from the world ... and potential enemy invasions. It was a time of secrets. Residents of Los Alamos couldn’t use the town name off of the mountain. Their address was a P.O. box in Santa Fe. Children born in Los Alamos had the same P.O. box listed as the location on their birth certificates.
Secret messages were sent to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman from the laboratory, informing them of the experiments and successes taking place on the mountain. Those involved in the project sensed the implications of their work, and did it with a heavy heart, yet with fervor to bring peace back to a crazy world. And, after months of experimenting, the weapon was ready. When the bomb was tested, less than a month before it was used, the light and explosion were seen for miles. Mankind had changed forever.
My sister and I toured the museum. Replicas of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were there, complete with details of their creation and destructive powers. Having been to Hiroshima and having seen the “other end” of the story, my heart was heavy. There were real people in Hiroshima. There were real people in Los Alamos. However, the victory and peace that came from the war’s end were also powerful.
We wandered through the museum for several hours, learning the history, studying what the lab does now, and feeling great gratitude for those who protect our nation.
My generation has lived mainly during peaceful times. Military drafts, rationing and bombs are words that don’t forcefully affect our lives today - at least, not yet. When I returned home and shared my travelogue with my children, they asked, “What’s the national lab?” I tried to describe it to them: the town today, the beauty around it and the incredible history involved. It was hard for them to grasp the feeling that was there, but I want them to comprehend it. In fact, I think I’ve already planned our next family vacation. Veterans aren’t just those who fight at the forefront of battles; there are those behind lines working and sacrificing as well. And their victories also deserve our gratitude.
The national lab isn’t part of our everyday vocabulary and could potentially be forgotten in the history books. However, just as we honor our veterans, we must never forget people who gave up everything and moved their families to a small, mesa-top town to defend us.

Pet Perfect

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal November 1, 2011

Last month we inherited a rooster, two cats and three goats (all within a few days of having a new baby). The rooster was promptly named “Bar-B-Que” by the children. We didn’t tell him about his name, but have thoroughly enjoyed his happy crowing each morning, the perfect touch to any farm. The cats (still kittens) will hopefully soon be trained in their duties - mousing — a great help as the cold weather sets in. And the goats? Their cute, furry antics and friendly bleating from the pasture have won our hearts over. Perhaps they’re the “perfect pet” we’ve been searching for.
I’m from a large family, and my parents raised children, not pets. No cat. No dog. I was never introduced to the task of caring for animals. However, wanting to be good parents, my husband and I eventually gave in to our own children’s pleading for a pet.
The first pet we agreed to was a fish. After a day of selling lemonade, my three oldest children had money in their pockets, and soon we had a fish bowl with a pretty “kissy” fish inside of it. The fish was the center of attention for the first hour or two of joining our family. She (or he) was fed often, perhaps too much, as feeding is the only activity one can really engage in with a fish. After a week, the fun wore off, summer ended, and the children went back to school. “Feed the fish” was one job marked very blackly on someone’s morning chore chart, yet it was often forgotten. Not wanting to fix meals with a hungry fish watching me, I often gave in and fed Kissy. Feeding wasn’t as much of a nuisance as the fact that Kissy would sometimes “flip” out of her fish bowl onto the floor. Although I eat fish, I don’t touch them, yet several times I found myself chasing a loose, flipping fish across the linoleum to carry her back to safety. When we went on vacation a few months later, I was secretly thrilled when Kissy died under our neighbor’s care.
Despite our sad fish tale, when our boys became excited about raising gerbils, we agreed to try some new pets. However, this time we required that the children read several library books about gerbils before we purchased the animals. Once the boys had studied up on their new hobby, we all made the exciting trip to the pet store. Inside, the store associate positively assured us that we were only purchasing male gerbils, and by evening we were all watching the cute, furry things run happily through their tunnels. The gerbils were friendlier than fish, and aside from making lots of noise during sleeping hours and successfully chewing up the bedroom curtains, they seemed relatively harmless.
One day, after a month of gerbil peace, my youngest called, “There’s a bug in the gerbil cage!” Everyone hurried to look. A strange, naked looking creature with a huge head was burrowed into the sawdust. Next to it was another, and another, and another. “Those aren’t bugs,” I ventured. “They look more like baby gerbils.”
“Oh!” offered my excited daughter. “The library book said that gerbils can reproduce every 28 days!” My eyes popped out. Someone had failed to fill me in on that detail. “But how did we get a girl and a boy gerbil?” asked my son. I’m sure the overly-eager store associate couldn’t answer that question.
The next few weeks were definitely interesting as we not only cared for the new babies, but welcomed two more batches of gerbils into our growing family. After the third litter, I had had enough. One afternoon, we took the cage and all of the inmates to an “exotic” pet store. “We’ll gladly take the gerbils,” one associate smiled. We followed him to the back of the store where he placed our cage among a menagerie of snake aquariums. I stifled a gasp as the children waved goodbye.
It’s been a few years since our fish and gerbil pets. In the meantime, we’ve also tried hermit crabs and a desert tortoise (both as cuddly and exciting as fish.) The children are older now, and we gave in again. My daughter received a goat for her birthday. Of course, one goat deserves another, and my son purchased the twin goat so they wouldn’t be “lonely.” Now they’re prancing around in our pasture, watched by the rooster and kittens.
I’m not sure exactly what the next few months will bring. However, this time, we have a deal: I feed people inside the house (including the baby) and the children must feed the animals outside. In addition, I’ve done my own research. Goats are cuddlier than fish, they sleep when it’s dark, and they do NOT reproduce at gerbil speed. I can only hope for the best.

Twice Blessed


Published in the Casper Journal October 19, 2011

I’m the mother of twins. Hooray! Hooray! Friends warned me that there would be twice as many diapers, twice as many feedings, and twice as much crying. “Never mind,” I thought. “By now I’m twice as good at being a mother.” Besides, one mother told me that the first six children are the hardest, after that it “just gets easier.” Now that I have nine children, I’m

Welcome, Autumn

Published by the Casper Journal October 4, 2011

Last week we celebrated autumn with a joyful harvest. Among other things, we harvested our garden ... a bit unexpectedly. The overnight frost forced us to gather tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, potatoes and onions into our dining room. Our kitchen table suddenly became a cornucopia, spilling over onto the floor. Although we were sorry for the end of the season, we were filled with joy at seeing what our labors had produced. The spring and summer months of planting, weeding and watering were suddenly worth it.

Summer Dreams

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal September 13, 2011

After three summers in Wyoming, we FINALLY made it to the downtown farmers’ market. What fun! A lovely evening, good music, friendly people and great booths - a perfect example of the American entrepreneurial spirit. Oh, did I mention? We went to the market as a vendor ...
After our successful family garden last summer, we had the bright idea to expand, and planted part of our land in corn (a long shot for former Las Vegans!). We planted, weeded and watered it all by hand. It was an experiment and, except for the seed and the deer fence, cost us nothing but time. When only 1/3 of the plants grew, we were a bit discouraged, but still watered and weeded throughout the summer.
Two weeks ago, my son came running in to tell us our corn was ready. We could hardly believe it! Like magic, the stalks were full of rich, ripe ears. After a few nights of corn on the cob (which is yummy, but redundant), we hit the farmers’ market with a van full of corn and a home-painted sign.
Within an hour, we had sold out. The kids were elated. Was the corn extra yummy? I hope so. Were the kids extra cute? I think so. But more than the profit, we were thrilled with the fact that our “corn dream” had worked!
Our corn experiment also brought out the entrepreneurial spirit in our children. One afternoon they put their heads together and made a list of jobs: lawnmowing, tree cutting, weed pulling, and even “barn painting” (not sure how that one got on there). With a hand-written flyer naming their price (between $5 and $10 per job), they bravely approached several homes in our neighborhood. It was a hot afternoon, and when they returned an hour later, they were a bit discouraged.
“We gave everyone a flyer, but no one said they wanted us to work.” I said nothing, knowing the seeds of their experiment had at least been planted.
Two days later, a neighbor called, asking for help to weed her garden. More than thrilled, the kids went out the door and returned with cash in their pockets. A week later, they were called on to watch a dog while the owners were gone. Another day, they washed windows. They were in heaven! Trying not to interfere, I let them work out the details of each job, noting that the neighbors were generally more generous than the initial price my children had listed. (No barn-painting jobs, though.)
Watching his older siblings come home with money in their pockets, my 4-year-old asked one day if he could sell eggs. Slightly embarrassed about a small child and an egg stand in our driveway, I tried to hold him off. However, his eager spirit finally convinced me to let him try. He set up a table with a hand-printed sign near the road: Eggs .25 each. I put six of our chicken eggs in a bowl and watched him go out and sit in the sun, certain he would be disappointed. However, glancing out the window a few minutes later, I was surprised to see our neighbor carefully put four eggs into his pockets and hand my son a dollar bill. My little boy pounded on the door. “I sold some eggs!” Within 10 more minutes, his other two eggs were sold as well, and I made him clean up the stand. (I needed the rest of the eggs in the house for dinner.)
Thankful that he had been successful, I was also grateful to our considerate neighbors who gave him and my other children a chance. The corn, the eggs and the odd jobs not only provided my children with a great experience, but helped them each purchase most of their school supplies.
The money is beside the point, however, and the real victory is the opportunity to set a goal and reach it. Some day they’ll be beyond homemade egg stands and handwritten flyers, but for now, thanks to the farmers’ market and some very friendly neighbors, they’ve experienced the American dream.

Kokoro Kara: From the Heart

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal September 5, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve been the “minority” in a crowd. But I certainly was this past weekend at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center dedication in Cody. I’ve studied World War II, I’ve been to Japan, but the weekend’s events gave me a greater appreciation for the Japanese-Americans who were interned during the war. Ten thousand people lived in one square mile of barren land between Cody and Powell below the jagged image of Heart Mountain. They were some of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were relocated during World War II.
Dedication activities of the new ILC lasted three days. The tent at the opening banquet was crowded with people, most were Japanese-Americans — nisei (second generation), sansei (third generation) and even yonsei (fourth generation). The nisei were nearly all in their 70s and 80s. They walked into the tent, supported by their children and grandchildren. I loved their faces, so Japanese, so calm, so traditional. It made me homesick for the quiet ways of Japan. During the presentation, they watched the screen as pictures of Heart Mountain, then and now, were shown ... the old hospital boiler, the swimming hole where Boy Scouts passed their swim checks (only the diving board remains), the irrigation pipe, the water reservoir (now a dustbowl). Although some of the pictures were sobering, the mood in the tent was light, even jovial, as stories and memories were shared.
While we stood in line for dinner, I visited with Judy Murakami. Judy was an infant during the internment. Her mother never spoke of the experience during Judy’s growing up years, after the family relocated to Minnesota. However, Judy kept the wooden doll bed her father made for her in the camp. The bed is now on display in the ILC.
After we finished our peach pie, Tom Brokaw spoke, calling the center a “fitting place for renewal and reflection. A symbol of failure now becomes a symbol of triumph.”
Norm Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush, and Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton, also spoke, recalling experiences at Heart Mountain. Mineta was a 9-year-old boy when his family was relocated from southern California to Heart Mountain. He wore his Cub Scout uniform. Later, he joined one of the seven active Boy Scout troops at the camp and became fast friends with a young Boy Scout from Cody named Al Simpson.
Serving under President George W. Bush, Mineta was the official who downed all flights on 9/11. In a cabinet meeting two days later, there was some discussion about a possible roundup of Muslim-Americans. Thankfully, the president insisted that history wouldn’t repeat the same thing that “happened to Norm.”
Throughout the weekend, downtown Cody bustled with hundreds of dedication visitors. Signs on nearly every store door welcomed the Japanese-Americans.
“I remember signs during the ‘40s that read, ‘Japs not allowed,’” recalled Al Simpson. “The situation was so confusing to me, because as a Boy Scout, I would go with my Scoutmaster out to Heart Mountain and we were friends with those people.”
Well, those times are over, and a time for celebration is here. The dedication, although somewhat sobering, was a joyful event. Eighty-year-old former Boy Scouts Bill Shishima and Donald Yamamoto, proudly wearing Scout uniforms, raised the flag over the new ILC, while cameras everywhere snapped photos. Once boys, maintaining a semblance of their American heritage, they’re now heroes, returned to claim what’s rightfully theirs. The crowd was gracious and spellbound throughout the presentation. At the adjournment, souvenirs sold out and Japanese bentos (lunches) were eaten and enjoyed. The day was warm and dusty and the trails of Heart Mountain were filled with walkers, remembering another time and grateful for the understanding we have now.
I enjoyed the ceremonies. I learned as we toured the grounds. But my most priceless souvenir of the weekend is a greater appreciation of the Japanese people: simple, beautiful, and for the most part, without bitterness. The theme of the weekend reverberated everywhere: “Kokoro Kara: From the heart” ... a time to let hearts heal and stand up together again as Americans.

Plein Air on the Plains

From the Farm:


Published by the Casper Journal August 9, 2011

It’s been an artful summer. I started by watching a friend, Alicia Blevins, complete a pastel drawing of the plains of Wyoming in one hour. Wow! In only 60 minutes, she created a masterpiece. It accurately displayed Wyoming hills, a winding road and wildflowers. I was in awe.
A few weeks later, I coincidentally met one of my neighbors for the first time — Ginny Butcher. Discovering that she was an artist, I checked out her website and saw the term, “Plein air.” At first, I thought it was a typo. Don’t you spell plain with an “a?”
I learned the truth when I visited Ginny’s house a few weeks later. From the outside, her home resembled most of the others in our small, farming community. However, once inside, my children and I were overwhelmed with beauty. Ginny graciously showed me her painting studio, photo studio and display table. But the tour didn’t stop there. Stepping onto her back terrace was like stepping into a painting. The view was incredible. Plains as far as the eye could see. Green vines crawled up her deck, a stream twisted through the property, and wild flowers grew on the hills and in her garden. My children loved the rambling bridge and pathways through the tall grass.
Ginny explained what “plein air” means. In French, it describes being outside — painting in open air, from a real view, not just from a photograph. It wasn’t a typo, artists prefer the French term.
The day after visiting Ginny, a friend gave us a private tour of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody ... another wow. We saw interns carefully checking and preserving historical posters and artifacts. One room stored Remington pieces not currently on display. The room had a regulated temperature, and we spoke quietly while inside. The precious masterpieces portrayed the American West. The worth of the paintings was astronomical.
Did Remington paint in “en plein air?” I’m not sure. (Remington lived in New York.) Nevertheless, the art was amazing.
After leaving the museum, we drove west from Cody, through some of the most gorgeous “plein air” of the world. At Buffalo Bill State Park, the reservoir was overflowing. The Shoshone National Forest displayed its usual incredible grandeur, and we soon were nearly into Yellowstone. As we pulled over to take a photo, the vehicle behind us stopped and the family asked us to take their photo. “We’re from Chicago,” they said. “Where are you from?”
“Wyoming,” I said, almost embarrassed at the short drive we had taken to enjoy what the world comes to visit. We waved as they drove on into the park. Our conversation was a good reminder to enjoy what we have.
A few weeks later, we spent some time on a friend’s ranch in Clark, Wyo. Have you ever been to Clark? It’s a mere dot on the map. I sat on the porch, enjoying the sunny flowers and watching the overflowing stream gurgle by. In the pond, my children spent hours on the paddleboats, trying to catch fish and having water fights. Another “plein air” experience.
I’m not an artist. I’ll never own a Remington, or do a chalk pastel, or have my own in-house studio. I do love good artwork, however, and I may consider myself a bit French now whenever I’m outside enjoying the Wyoming summer. We have views to inspire every artist, even the artist in each of us. And whether or not we capture it on a canvas, beauty is something we’ll never lack in this state — especially the “plein air” on the plains of Wyoming.

Garden Night

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal July 26, 2011

We hold a special “Garden Family Council” each spring. Sitting around a big table and with my daughter acting as scribe, all of us shout out everything we want to plant in our family garden that year. Tomatoes, beans, corn, carrots, lettuce and radishes are regulars. Some years we’re more daring, adding watermelon, big blue morning glories and Jack-Be-Little pumpkins to our garden wish list.
After the list of “crops” is made, each child chooses two or three vegetables he wants to be exclusively in charge of caring for. Our council ends with the family gathered around a large piece of white butcher paper, drawing a sketch of the future garden and assigning vegetables and caretaker children to specific rows.
I remember my own parents holding a “Garden Family Council” when I was a young girl. It was always very exciting. During the following week, my mom would come home with a new pair of garden gloves for each of us children. We tried them on and modeled them all over the house, dreaming about our future vegetables. Then the warm weather came.
At dinner one evening my parents announced cheerily, “Tonight is garden night!” The response was less than enthusiastic.
“I’m too busy ... Too much homework ... Something on my schedule tonight ...” The list of excuses always went on and on.
“No, tonight is garden night!” my parents would insist. So we grudgingly put away our books or toys, hung up the phone, changed our clothes and went outside.
Our reluctance never lasted for long. The minute we were in the garden the fun began. Talking and laughing together, we’d work on our individual rows — digging, furrowing and planting. We prided ourselves on a straight row and marked each one carefully with a stick and a seed package.
As we worked, we sang songs and talked about the happenings of the day. Outside, with no TV or radio blaring, conversation came easily and family ties grew more quickly than the seeds in the freshly turned earth. When the stars came out, Mom would bring a bucket of ice cream outside and we would lie on the grass, licking ice cream cones and admiring the evening’s work. Satisfied, relaxed and a little bit dirty, we reluctantly went back to homework and evening chores and then to bed.
It’s been several years now since I was a child in the garden with my family. I can hardly believe the passage of time as I gather my own children for a “garden night” one evening.
“I’m tired.” “I want to finish my book.” “We just weeded yesterday!” The initial excuses echo those from my childhood, but we head out into the cool evening anyway. Green peas and corn are poking up through the damp earth.
“Look how big the tomatoes are!” yells my daughter, and everyone runs to inspect. Working together we weed and furrow each row, while the toddlers run freely down the garden paths.
“What’s in the new patch of garden?” asks a friendly neighbor.
“Corn,” smiles my son. “Three thousand seeds!” The numbers make us sound more ambitious than we are, but the anticipation is worth it.
“Six more eggs from the chickens!” shouts my four-year-old. He runs to the kitchen, his hands full of treasure.
“Another robin’s nest!” calls my daughter, pointing to a tree and everyone gathers to welcome the newcomers. As the children talk and laugh together, a smile crosses my lips and a fresh breeze fills my heart.
When the stars come out, we sit on the swing and look down at the river.
“We’re rich,” breathes my daughter.
“Yes,” my husband replies. “We have everything.”
Garden night: a tradition passed down to another generation. A tradition I don’t want to forget.

Avoiding Apathy

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal July 12, 2011

Life is easy right now. Most of the people I know have a car (more than one), a phone (more than one), a T.V. (more than one), they often take vacations (more than one) and even own a home (some have more than one). I don’t personally know anyone going hungry, and even friends of mine who’ve experienced a “downsizing” in their job status are still able to make ends meet and live comfortably. Some would call our current standard of living “the abundant life.” And it is very abundant. However, we must be very careful that the “abundant” life doesn’t become the “apathetic” life. July is a good time for a wake-up call.
My wake-up call came when my teenage son excitedly told me one day that he had seen a piece of the Berlin Wall. “It was behind glass,” he explained. “A real piece of the wall. Imagine that!” I waited for him to finish the story of his trip to the museum before I replied.
“Actually, I have a piece of the wall downstairs,” I told him. “You do?” He didn’t believe me. “And, you can touch it,” I added. As he eagerly followed me to the basement, I realized that I had never shared with him two important experiences of my youth.
Various circumstances took me to Germany twice as a teenager. The first time was in 1988, to visit Hans and Inge Wittke, scouting friends of my dad’s. They lived in Dusseldorf, and I stayed with them for a month while I practiced my Jr. High school German skills. As active German scouters, the Wittkes provided an opportunity for me to attend a German scout camp for two weeks. Hiking, bicycling and backpacking through the green fields and hills of West Germany is an experience I will never forget.
Just as sharp in my memory as the campfires, German scout songs and quaint German towns are, is the memory of a one day trip to the East German border. We climbed to a high castle, where we could look over barbed wire and “no man’s land” into East Germany. It was frightful to see people - actual people - on the other side. Later, we drove right up to the border and stopped at the sign that read, “Halt! Hier Grenze.” I could see the guard towers and the soldiers inside, and they could see me.
Coincidentally, I traveled to Germany exactly two summers later, as a 16-year-old, to spend a month with a German family in Nurnberg. The year was 1990. Just nine months earlier, the Iron Curtain had fallen. One week of the student exchange involved a trip to Berlin. We traveled by bus from Nurnberg, driving through the old East Germany.
After hours of grey houses, grey broken streets, and grey “Travies” (cars big enough to fit two people and a sack of potatoes) we finally reached the old West Berlin. Warm beds, orange juice (not available in the East) and colorful flower boxes were a welcome sight.
Our tour the next day took us to Checkpoint Charlie. It was now a museum, and we walked uninhibited from one side of the city to the other. The Berlin Wall had been cleared from the Brandenburger Tor, but the rest of the wall remained. The other students and I rented hammers and chisels from the street vendors, and chopped away pieces of the wall to take home as souvenirs. There was plenty of wall for everyone.
Viewing the East - and the grey poverty - first through barbed wire, and then from the other side, was another experience I will not soon forget.
But the Berlin Wall fell a long time ago. My children read about it in history books now. Visitors to Germany can no longer chip away their own souvenir wall piece, and the once grey East German houses are now filled with typical flowerboxes again. Will we forget the Iron Curtain? Will we become apathetic in our abundance? Have we perhaps even forgotten the American Revolution?
Abundance is all around us, but it could turn into apathy if we allow it to. July is a good time to remember; a good time to discuss freedom; a good time to teach children. I think I’ll bring up my piece of the Berlin Wall and use it as a centerpiece on our dining room table. We can look at it as we eat dinner and discuss our blessings and our freedoms: our two cars, our spacious house, our open lands, and our opportunities.
In fact, we’ll do more than look at the wall, I’ll let my children touch it and hold it. I hope it touches their souls like it touched mine. I want the wall and the experiences I share to stir in them a gratitude for the abundant life, a fire of freedom that will teach them to avoid apathy, so that their liberty is never placed behind glass and made a museum piece.

Wyoming For Me

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal June 25, 2011

I just made an executive decision ... I’m moving to San Diego. After two beautiful days of blue sky, warm weather, lovely beaches and indescribable flowers, I can’t resist. My husband and I traveled to San Diego for his business conference. While he was in meetings, I spent my time strolling paths by the bay, watching amazing ships, listening to the seagulls and drinking in the aroma of jasmine hedges lining the walks. While I’m not generally a fan of big, dirty cities, San Diego seemed clean and inviting. Friendly trolley car drivers explained points of interest as we drove through the streets. Smiling shopkeepers offered assistance as they sold everything from produce to Italian ice cream to tourist shirts. The Navy presence — everywhere in San Diego — was astounding and impressive.
Coronado Island was incredible. I visited it twice. The white, sandy beaches and the warm Pacific Ocean were tantalizing. Glittering flecks washed up with each wave (was it gold?) and the beach sparkled as far as I could see. The lovely island history — both Mexican and American — appealed to everyone. I didn’t bring home much in the way of souvenirs — just a few photos and a sunburn — but enough memories to draw me back someday. So lovely. So different from Wyoming. So impressive.
Various circumstances have taken us to many places in the past three months. Besides San Diego, we’ve also been to Denver, Chicago, Detroit, Salt Lake City and Omaha. Quite frankly, every city has impressive sites, and the people are friendly. America the Beautiful shines. On second thought, I could probably live anywhere in our great country and be happy.
But even with the beautiful places we saw, I was always glad to come home. Every city had its downfalls: gas prices, toll roads (who’s bright idea was that???), tornados, security checks and lots and lots of rain. When all is said and done, I’ll still take Wyoming. Nothing quite compares to our beautiful prairies, laid back communities and incredible wildlife, not to mention an affordable standard of living.
In just the past week, summer has come to our farm. Tiny corn, potato, onion, pea and bean shoots are poking through the ground. The irises are in full-bloom, and the aroma of lilacs wafts through the air. Hills all around are green, and our chickens are laying constantly. (We eat eggs every day!) We may not have hedges of jasmine or a deep blue bay to watch, but the overflowing North Platte River, just down the hill, is nearly as impressive! The ponds of Edness Kimball Wilkins State Park may not be the ocean, but my children still spend hours there, catching fish, swimming and playing on the sandy beaches. I also love the miles of open space and star-studded skies of Wyoming. Perhaps we aren’t moving to San Diego, after all.
It’s not quite July, but I’m already feeling patriotic. Poet Henry Van Dyke’s words (with my own, western twist) ring through my mind:
It’s home again, and home again, Wyoming for me!
My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom, beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars!

Moral Madness

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal June 14, 2011

I’m sick of immorality. I don’t care if you’re rich, or famous, or even (especially!) if you’re a politician. Cheating on your spouse is dishonest and wrong, and it hurts others.
Recent newscasts (which I sometimes have to turn off if my children are listening) have shared stories of political leaders on each side of the aisle who act immorally and then spend money to cover it up. Incredible! How can we trust people to be true to their country if they can’t even be true to their spouse? If you’ve made a commitment, then keep it! No matter what your societal status is, if you can’t control yourself, you have no right to lead others. Did you never study Shakespeare? “This above all: to thine own self be true ...”
What is it about our society today that makes morality so old-fashioned? Why do we think we can break timeless laws without consequences? This nonchalant attitude, blatantly displayed by those in political power, is filtering down through the ranks until every part of our culture is affected. Henry David Thoreau said, “As if you could kill time without injury eternity.” I say, “As if you could kill chastity without injuring society.”
My husband and I have been married for 15 years. (I know, I know. That’s just the blink of an eye for some of you old-timers out there.) Despite the fact that our current lives allow less time alone then when we first courted (eight children constantly vie for our attention now), we’re happier today than when we were married. Somehow the passage of time deepens love, understanding and respect. I can only imagine that our next 15 years, and the 15 after that, and the 15 after that, will continue to improve our relationship.
A one-night fling can never afford the same satisfaction that long-term love brings. It’s the difference of opening packages on Christmas morning compared to the joy of giving a gift to one you love. It’s eating ice cream, compared to holding a newborn child. It’s the thrill of a Ferris wheel ride compared to an exhausting yet exhilarating mountain climb. Pleasure and joy are sisters, but one is much younger than the other.
As election rhetoric, debating and mud-slinging get underway, I care only about one thing: Are you a moral candidate? Really? Truly? Will your spouse second that? Can we trust you with your family, and with your most important relationships? Then no matter what side of the aisle you sit on, perhaps we can trust you with our country.
However, if you think immorality is in style then don’t even try to set a toenail on my ballot. You don’t deserve to be anywhere near the leadership of this nation. Despite worldly trends, we’re still “one nation under God,” and morality is at the top of His list. If you think double standards outside of marriage are “no big deal,” then go home to your private life and your dishonest ways. Stay out of the White House and off Capitol Hill. As a country that trusts in God, we need leaders we can trust. And that trust begins at home.

Traveling With 10

 From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal May 25, 2011

We found it at last ... the vehicle which five car salesmen said “didn’t exist,” an 11-passenger, all-wheel-drive van with doors on both sides. I saw it on the internet and called the dealership, in Indianapolis.
“Does that eight-passenger van have a third bench option ... to seat 11 people?”
“No ma’am,” the salesman responded. “Those vans don’t exist.”
“Well, if there’s any way to add a bench, call me back.” I hung up. Ten minutes later my phone rang.
“I just went out to look at the van and it already has 11 seats.” The salesman sounded a bit surprised.
“What about a passenger door on the driver’s side?”
“No ma’am.”
“Well, I’d still like to see some pictures,” I told him. Within a few minutes I had several photos in my inbox. I pulled up the first photo: three benches, 11 seats. I pulled up the second photo: AWD, printed on the back door. I pulled up the third photo and called the salesman back. “It looks like it does have an additional door.”
“Yes ma’am. It does.”
“DO NOT SELL THAT VAN TO ANYONE!” I nearly yelled into the phone.
“Where are you calling from?” he asked.
There was a stunned silence before he asked, “And you want to purchase a vehicle in Indianapolis?”
“Have you ever tried buying an 11-passenger, all-wheel-drive van in Wyoming?” I questioned.
“Well, ma’am we can only hold it for 24 hours with a deposit.”
“It will take us 24 hours just to pack our family,” I said. “I’ll give you a deposit every day next week, but you can’t sell that van.” He transferred me to a manager, and the deal was made.
“It’s very red,” the kids said when they saw the pictures that night. “It’s an apple van,” my daughter piped up. “Remember, it’s from Indian-APPLE-is.”
“What should we say when people make fun of how big it is?” one son asked.
“Tell them people made fun of Noah’s ark, too, but it sure kept his family safe,” joked my husband.
And so, we planned our trip to the Midwest to pick up the van. Have you ever taken a long trip with 10 people? Clothes for 10, food for 10, backpacks for 10, entertainment for 10 ... what might any of these people need at any time during the next week? Coats for the cold, swimsuits for the sun, shoes or sandals, pajamas, underwear, socks, and a change of each, just in case.
We’ve traveled to the Midwest before, but this time we tried something new and took the train. Driving to Denver was the most stressful part ... almost as stressful as boarding the train. Each child had a coat, a backpack, a small bag and a blanket. In addition we had three car seats, a double stroller and a huge food cooler. A friendly conductor seated us near the front of the train, with lots of space.
Once the ride started, it was heavenly. No red lights, no traffic, no seatbelt signs, both parents free to help with kids. In addition, everyone had their own comfy seat. It reclined, it had a light, and the bathroom was available whenever anyone needed it. (No, Amtrak isn’t paying me to write this.) In addition, there were pillows for sleeping, foot rests and an observation car with huge windows.
The scenery was incredible. As we stared out the window at the green fields of Iowa my preschooler commented, “How about in Wyoming we stop planting yellow grass, and start planting green grass?!”
The travel seemed to take a fraction of the time, and we arrived rested and cheerful to pick up our van. There it was: big, red and all ours. We all climbed inside. All-wheel-drive? Check. Fifth door? Check. Eleven seatbelts? Wait ... there were actually twelve, an unexpected bonus! The van had other surprises as well, including a cool DVD player.
The ride home was as enjoyable as the train trip there. Everyone had their own comfy seat, plenty of foot space and big windows to watch the green fields go by. We left on the Amtrak and returned in the apple van. Traveling with 10? There’s nothing like it.

A Mother's Day

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal May 10, 2011

Happy Mother’s Day! As a mother myself, I’m quite convinced that Mother’s Day wasn’t created by a mother. I’m equally as sure that the day can only truly be appreciated by mothers.
As the mother of eight children, my Mother’s Day begins early. “Clink, clank, crash ...” I hear sounds from the kitchen. Pretending I’m asleep, I listen to my children (and husband) whispering and scurrying around making breakfast. The slight aroma of burned toast reaches my nose, and I hear the kitchen window opened quickly for some fresh air.
Soon, their voices “wake” me up. “Happy Mother’s Day,” they sing. I pretend to sit up groggily and act completely surprised by their efforts. “Breakfast in bed? How nice! Wow! All of my favorite foods!” I do like lying in bed, and I do like eating breakfast, but combining the two can be a bit tricky, especially with eight little people sitting around me. They watch my every bite. “Is it good?” “Is this really your favorite breakfast?” And eventually, “Can I try some?” Soon, we’re sharing spoonfuls of the special meal all around, spilling a bit of juice, toast crumbs, and granola on the bedspread. Happy Mother’s Day.
“Guess what, Mama? Today you won’t need to do any work!” pipes my six-year-old. I smile as they clear the breakfast away. Yes, a lazy shower is enjoyable, but just as I get out I hear a wail from the baby room. No one can decide what the twins should wear, or quite how to tackle and dress them, and so I help. I go in to the kitchen and quietly wipe up counters and sweep the floor and then ... we’re late! (Only mothers ever look at the clock.) It’s into the car to leave for church.
On the way, everyone reassures me that the Mother’s Day program will be wonderful. “I can’t wait!” I smile. It’s nice to go to church on Mother’s Day, but somehow the program always turns out a bit differently than planned. My four-year-old refuses to sing, my eight-year-old is hidden on the stand behind a tall boy, and the twins are fussy during the music. Still, who can resist a group of children singing sweetly to their mothers? Happy Mother’s Day.
At home, everyone begs me to “put my feet up” in the living room while they make a special dinner. And so I lounge on the couch. As I turn the first page of my magazine, the fire alarm goes off. My husband, apron on, assures me that all is well and I hear more kitchen windows opened. Lots of discussion and busy noises come from the kitchen as the sound of shattering glass makes me jump. Never mind. I’m putting my feet up. But wait ... a diaper must be changed and everyone else is busy ... and so I fill in.
Soon I’m escorted into the kitchen. Gourmet food? Well, in the minds of eight children and one devoted dad, yes. Perfectly gourmet, despite the idiosyncrasies. And besides, I didn’t have to cook it. Happy Mother’s Day.
After dinner, it’s back into the living room for a special party. Starting with the youngest, I’m presented with an assortment of gifts wrapped in a variety of paper. Construction paper cards, homemade necklaces, photos in hand-painted frames, and lots and lots of coupons. “I’ll sweep the floor every day for a month!” “This coupon is good for a week of breakfast in bed!” (Oh goody!) “This coupon may be exchanged for as many hugs as you’d like.” “I’ll do all of my jobs without being asked.” Piecrust promises? Perhaps. But solid gold in a mother’s scrapbook. Happy Mother’s Day.
Speaking of pie, we gather on the lawn for pie and ice cream. Yes, it’s my favorite. Yes, I’m going to eat two pieces. Yes, Sara Lee or Marie Callender (whoever she was) made it to perfection.
Who invented Mother’s Day? It wasn’t a mother. We’re too busy cooking food, herding children and changing diapers to stop and celebrate. And it’s hard to commemorate a role we all feel so imperfect in. However, despite our perceived motherhood weaknesses, it’s certainly nice to be celebrated. And, we don’t require much. Singing, pie, children ... a perfect Mother’s Day.

Happy Holidays!

 From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal April 26, 2011

Happy New Year! Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Happy Easter! At our house, we love holidays and celebrate them to the fullest. From green pancakes on St. Patrick’s Day, to egg hunts at Easter, we do it all.
Holidays in Wyoming are a bit different than in Las Vegas. Be it Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Easter, Vegas celebrates holidays with a bit of a twist.
The first clue I had that Vegas wasn’t “holiday happy” was when my son was in kindergarten. As my first school child, I was excited to celebrate the holidays in his classroom. A week before Halloween, we received a note from the teacher explaining the school would celebrate “Nevada Day” on Oct. 31 in memory of Nevada’s statehood. (Yes, Nevada became a state on Halloween.) Only western costumes were allowed. I swallowed my disappointment that he would have to save his official costume for trick-or-treating and helped him pick out a pair of chaps, western vest and a cowboy hat to wear to school. When we arrived, I expected to see cowboys and cowgirls milling around everywhere. Instead, all of the other boys were wearing sombreros! My son was the odd man out.
The next holiday was Thanksgiving. I recalled my own “Thanksgiving Feast” as a first-grader and anticipated helping out in the classroom with a festive meal. However, when the note from the teacher came home, the holiday was called a “harvest feast.” Yes, fall is definitely harvest time, so the teacher was politically correct. “What about the Thanksgiving feast of the pilgrims?” I wondered.
In December, I began to grow wary of school holidays. Sure enough, a note came home about a “Winter Concert.” At the concert we heard the children sing about Santa Claus and Rudolph, dreidels and Kwanzaa. At the end of the evening, the music director stood and invited us to sing “Silent Night,” as a standard American tradition. I breathed a sigh of relief. There was a touch of Christmas in the concert.
When February rolled around, we learned all about Black History Month, with barely a mention of Presidents Lincoln or Washington. On Feb. 14, the children were invited to exchange “friendship cards.” No, I’m not Catholic. I don’t know much about St. Valentine, but our family certainly celebrates Valentine’s Day. At home that night we decorated our sugar cookies and exchanged pink hearts.
In April, another note invited the children to bring filled, plastic eggs for the “Dinosaur Hunt.” I must admit, I’ve never seen a real, live Easter Bunny. But then again, aside from bones in a museum, I’ve never seen a dinosaur either.
Yes, I’m glad to be in Wyoming. Our family celebrates Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. We do all of them whole-heartedly. We dress up. We cook special food. We hang decorations. All of the holidays didn’t stem from our personal religious beliefs, but they’re American, and we are, too.
When I lived in Japan, I wore a yukata in August and enjoyed the Obon parades. I watched families set lights on the water in memory of their dead. Over New Year’s I ate mochi and gathered with friends at the temples to observe. I’m not Buddhist, but I enjoyed the celebration. It was Japan!
This is America, and some celebrations are just American. I don’t mind adding holidays to represent a variety of nationalities, but let’s not forget some of our original customs. Besides, traditions provide comfort and stability to children. I don’t want that comfort watered down.
So, if you see me on the street some time, I may just say, “Happy President’s Day!”, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!”, “Happy Easter.” No political correctness here. We celebrate as often as we can. Can I say it again? Glad to be in Wyoming, proud to be an American.

Money Matters

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal April 12, 2011

I had an argument with my husband last week. It was about our family budget. He wanted to cut spending. I wanted to expand it. He thought we should spend less on oatmeal. I wanted to spend more on paper plates. He threatened to shut down our family. I threatened to stop making meals. We held a conference behind closed doors. The kids waited outside, breathlessly. Finally, we exited the room with an agreement in hand.
“Well,” my husband began, “instead of cutting out oatmeal, we’re just reducing to once a week.”
“And,” I added, “we’ll now be using paper plates every weekend.” The kids cheered. The compromise was accepted and signed into law.
Really? No. Although I do fix more oatmeal than my husband cares for, and we all wish we could use paper plates every day, I doubt that either issue would shut down our family. Besides, how do you shut down a family? No matter what disagreements are had, people need to eat, sleep and be clothed. I’d suggest that the government act a little more like family.
Does money matter? Of course it does. However, money may not matter as much as some people think. I remember when we were expecting our sixth child, one well-meaning friend asked, “But how will you afford another baby?” Others questioned, “What does your husband do for a living?” For some people, “children” is synonymous with “money.”
I’ll be the first to admit, children do cost money. It takes resources to keep 10 people going. We often subsist on hand-me-down clothes, second hand furniture and large doses of homemade bread. However, I don’t believe we’re any worse for the wear. Daily entertainment involves playing outside or with siblings, while the X-Box doesn’t exist in our house. All of our babies have slept comfortably in the same wooden cradle (the one I slept in) and shared many of the same blankets and sleepers. Birthdays are simple, with lots of cake and singing, and a few memorable gifts. Weekends are rarely spent at the roller rink, but at the nearby park or building a fort in the back yard.
Yet, despite our lack of “worldly goods,” we’re all rather happy. In fact, I’d say that our happiness comes in large part from our simple lifestyle. Singing together while washing a stack of dishes, a good family swim and a side-splitting game of charades are memories likely to last a long time.
As you can imagine, anyone with eight children qualifies for every government program under the sun (unless, of course, you’re a millionaire.) Still, I was raised old-fashioned and taught to do without government handouts. Our family chooses liberty over dependence. We don’t mind eating beans for a few meals at the end of a month.
I also appreciate the work ethic my children are learning. When my son went to the National Scout Jamboree, he sold popcorn and did odd jobs for nearly two years to pay his way. My daughter bakes homemade bread to finance her violin lessons.
I’m certainly not opposed to money. I love quoting Mark Twain who said, “I despise people who have money, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.” I wouldn’t mind a little extra cash to take a trip to Disneyland or go out to eat on nights I don’t feel like cooking. Sometimes I’d rather purchase name-brand clothes at the store, instead of saving hand-me-downs. These things would be nice, but would we be any happier? I doubt it.
Money can buy convenience, but it doesn’t buy happiness. Wasn’t that what the Revolutionary War was all about? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Those opportunities are priceless and cost little.
Then listen up, folks in Washington. We depend on you to ensure our rights. Leave the other details up to us. We can choose our own financial compromises along our pursuit to happiness. It’s time to get in, get out and get on with it. I’m sure most people would agree. Our family would.

Wyoming Wildlife

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal March 22, 2011

We recently moved to Wyoming from Las Vegas. For that reason, I’m not totally “up” on my Wyoming wildlife. In fact, it took me a while before I could differentiate between an antelope and a deer. (Don’t worry ... I’ve got it down now.)
Still, in Las Vegas we generally saw roadrunners and tortoises in our neighborhood. Now we have a plethora of deer, antelope, Canada geese and rabbits.
Although I’m a bit slow at figuring out the wildlife, I was still surprised when I was awakened early one morning last week. It was dark, about 4:30 a.m., and I heard a loud barking outside my window. It was one of those freezing “negative teen” nights, and I wondered why a dog would be out and about the neighborhood. My husband was gone, and I lay in bed listening to the barking for another minute before I sensed that something was wrong.
Hurrying to the back door, I flipped on the light and saw a pack (well, several) animals just outside the window. One of them, his hindquarters covered in blood, was barking a loud, odd bark at two others who were circling him.
I woke up my two oldest boys. “There’s a pack of wolves outside of our house,” I said. The boys were awake immediately and followed me to the back door.
“Those aren’t wolves, those are coyotes,” my son corrected, a bit exasperated at my lack of intelligence. “My mistake,” I murmured, wondering what the difference was.
My daughter joined us then. “We just watched a movie about coyotes in school yesterday,” she said excitedly.
“How timely,” I replied. “Now we’ve got our very own pack at our house.” More of the children gathered, their noses pressed to the glass door.
“What about the chickens?” exclaimed my son. We ran upstairs and peered out at the chicken coop. Although coyote tracks were all around our house in the fresh snow, there weren’t any tracks heading towards the coop. I was grateful for my diligent son who’d closed the hen house late the night before in his pajamas and boots.
Back downstairs, we watched the fierce animals barking and circling. They didn’t seem at all interested in the faces pressed up against the glass behind them.
“What are we going to do?” asked my son. We had been so enthralled in watching the coyotes that we hadn’t felt any fear.
After a few more minutes of watching, I decided that the coyotes were indeed fierce and dangerous, and I should act.Casper Journal
I called Metro Animal Control, and told the nice operator lady what we were witnessing.
“Are you sure they aren’t dogs?” she asked, kindly. “No. I’m sure.” I responded. Give me some credit.
“Then I’ll have to call Game and Fish,” she said. “We only deal with domesticated animals.” We waited a few more minutes, cameras in hand, watching the coyotes, until they backed off of the injured one and drifted off into the field next to us. Just then, two trucks pulled up at the house.
The wardens at the front door had guns and were ready for adventure. “The coyotes just left,” I explained. Still, the men took their spotlights and weapons and went up and down the road, peering into the dark fields.
When they came to the door again, they told us that coyote tracks were everywhere, but the animals were gone.
“Next time, just shoot them,” one officer told me. “You don’t need a license to kill predators.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, not wanting to admit that I was a city girl. Shooting coyotes was mentally added to my “can do” list.
The trucks left and we all tried to sleep for the last few minutes of the night, but our eyes were wide open. When the kids left for school, no animals were in sight, and the children all walked safely to the bus stop.
When my husband came home that night there were no coyotes to shoot, and unfortunately the excitement was over. But, we can report that we’ve had another experience with Wyoming wildlife, a good Casper tale to send back to Las Vegas.
Don’t worry. Next time I’ll correctly differentiate between a wolf and a coyote. And if I adjust to Wyoming wildlife a bit more, I may even have a gun ready.

Prayers for Japan

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal March 16, 2011

I’m Japanese.  I know, I know, my hair is brown and my eyes are green.  And, my ancestors come from Germany and France.  Still, I like to consider myself Japanese. I lived in Japan as a college student for a year and a half.  I ate their food.  I lived with Japanese people.  I spoke their language.  And, I came to love the people. 
My heart stopped when I turned on the news Friday morning and heard about the massive earthquake and tsunami there.  I could picture it all:  the manicured rice fields; the ornate homes; the small cars; the organized cities.  I could picture school children walking to school, their crisp uniforms worn to perfection.  I could picture the mailmen on their green motorbikes, delivering mail quickly and efficiently.  I could picture the shopkeepers personally welcoming each guest into their stores.  I could picture mothers, with a child on the front and the back of their bikes, pedaling the narrow streets to take a child to preschool.  And I could picture the devastation of an earthquake.
When I first received my assignment to Japan, the land seemed foreign and strange.  Friends assured us that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world.  They were right.  During my time there, I was never afraid.  Even when I was out after dark, or sprained my ankle, or was alone on a train, I knew I was in good company.  I did experience one, large earthquake, but was unharmed.  There is something very dignified and kind about the Japanese people.  The friends I made and the culture I learned have shaped my life since then.
It was difficult to return to America after living there.  When our plane landed in San Francisco, everyone around me looked big, boisterous, pushy, and a bit rude.  Americans tend to gobble their food down, instead of enjoying it bite by bite.  Americans barge into homes, muddy shoes on their feet, as if carpet will last forever.  Americans want everything big, and bigger, instead of being grateful for what we have. 
The Japanese culture I learned there now permeates my home and my family.  We leave our shoes in the “genkan” (entryway).  We often eat with chopsticks.  My children are all relatively talented at Origami.  And, we eat rice daily.  Our large rice cooker has a permanent spot on the kitchen counter.
Once, when our favorite Botan Rice was on sale at the grocery store, I stocked up.  When I arrived at the cash register, the cashier eyed my shopping cart full of rice.  “Do you own a restaurant?” She asked with raised eyebrows.  “Oh, no,” I responded.  “I’m Japanese.”  “Oh,” she said, glancing at my eyes, my hair, and my skin.  She silently checked me through the register.  
Seven years ago, my husband and I returned to Japan to attend the International Rotary Convention.  Although it had been ten years since I had stayed there, the people were still as gracious and polite as I remembered them.  And, the food was just as delicious.  We took the country train back through the small towns where I had lived.  The terraced rice fields were just as green and neat as ever.  It seemed that the same, old grandmas, their heads covered in scarves, were bending to plant the seedlings.  Bikes still crowded the train stations and the roads, although most people now had a cell phone to their ear. 
We took a day and toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  After several hours inside of the museum, my heart was ready to burst for the terrible tragedies caused by the atomic bomb.  As we exited the museum, a choir of school children—dressed in uniform—was singing a beautiful song on the patio.  Their voices were clear and unified.  It seemed they were singing victory; the victory of a broken people who had risen from the ashes. 
It’s been several days since the quake.  Thankfully, I’ve made contact with friends and family members in Japan, and have found that they are safe.  There are still others that I worry about.  However, I have no doubt about the resilience of the Japanese people.  They came back strong after the devastating Second World War.  They will come back again—organized, polite and grateful for what they have.  Their culture teaches them patience, hard work, and service.  It will bring them through this tragedy.  That’s the Japanese way.  A way Americans might take note of.  Until they recover, my prayers are with them; prayers for my beloved people of Japan.